In his treatise De bono coniugali (Of the Good of Marriage) St. Augustine answers two competing views of matrimony. The Manicheans, to whom his treatise was largely addressed, saw the created material world as debased and corrupt. Human souls were spirits trapped within the created order (i.e. the body). The enlightened must free the soul and thus achieve beatitude by rejecting the material order and its sins of the flesh. Marriage and reproduction were manifestly evil. Read more…
One of the things people in modern times find hard to reconcile is how God can be love (1 John 4:16) and the existence of Hell. The general assumption is that Hell is an arbitrary, disproportionate punishment tacked on to a crime—something like shooting a person for jaywalking. Because of this, it is assumed that God, being “good” (in an undefined way) would not really send them to Hell for their own actions. Maybe Nazis, but not “good” people. I suspect this is where the whole “God doesn’t care about X!” attitude comes from.
But this is to miss the point about what Hell is about. It is not an arbitrary sentence to a crime like, “If you commit theft, I will punish you with Prison.” It is more like, “If you jump off of a cliff, you will die.” In other words, Hell is the logical consequence for choosing to do what goes against what God has called us to be.
Since ancient times there have been those who say that Jesus taught one doctrine openly and another, higher, one secretly to those initiated into His circle.From time to time groups have emerged, and still emerge, which claim to be custodians of this doctrine or to have ‘rediscovered’ it. A claim which, of course, it is impossible to either verify or to disprove. A somewhat related theory suggests that during His youth our Lord went to India and upon His return taught some form of Buddhism or Vedanta Hinduism to those followers whom He had first drawn to Him by preaching a radical form of Judaism.
To some extent these are all conspiracy theories; a way of viewing the world which is notoriously difficult to unsettle. Anyone who wishes to believe such a theory, whatever form it may take, is meeting a psychological need and is likely to be impervious to those facts which fail to meet that need. Nonetheless I think that it is a worthwhile exercise to demonstrate why I think these are untenable approaches for explaining the mission of Jesus.
It is certainly true that there are a number of texts which show our Lord unfolding His teaching in a veiled way (the parables) before huge crowds and in a more explicit way (the discourses) before His disciples. What they don’t show is that there is any difference in content between the parables and the discourses, the latter explain the former they don’t alter their meaning. Moreover the category of ‘disciples’ is not clearly defined….click here to read more
If you read the works of the saints, or their biographies, you can see that they were aware of a truth that America has forgotten—sin is real and it alienates us from God. Instead, America (or, rather the whole of Western civilization) has a bad habit of presuming that God “doesn’t care” about the action we do that falls under the category of sin. As a result, we have an understanding about sin that is both self-contradictory and has nothing to do with the reality:
- When others do something we dislike, we have no qualms about acknowledging it as a sin.
- When we do something that is a sin, we refuse to acknowledge it as a sin and call it an arbitrary decision made by human beings that doesn’t matter to God.
In other words, while people are perfectly willing to denounce others, the fact is that, instead of thinking rationally about the good or evil of our actions we contemplate doing, we rationalize the things we already do to avoid thinking about whether they are good or evil or rationalize a reason not to do what we ought to do.
This mindset actually convicts the person before God—because we call the actions of others “sin” or “wrongdoing,” we acknowledge that there is a good which must be lived and an evil which must be avoided. But because we refuse to apply this knowledge to ourselves, we show ourselves to be hypocrites and evildoers.
Being a Christian today—at least one who takes a position contrary to what is currently favored culturally—is becoming an unpopular and potentially dangerous stand to take. While society is stressing the importance of being nice, and not saying anything negative about someone we disagree with (except when directed against said Christians), we are unpopular because we say “This is wrong, and cannot be done.” To which, the world says “Stop judging, you bigot!” (completely unaware of the self-contradiction). The impression one gets is that society would be perfectly willing to welcome us back into the fold if we would stop being so obstinate and go along with what they hold.
If the society was the source of determining what was right and wrong, then it would be foolish of us to be countercultural. Under such a view, whoever rejected the mores of society would be a hateful person. But this is where the problem lies. Christianity cannot accept society as the source of determining right and wrong. Indeed, we know that societies have a bad habit of going very wrong. In America, our mistreatment of American Indians and African-Americans give us examples of behavior that cannot be considered good even though society once favored it. The totalitarian dictatorships of history give us examples of behavior we cannot condone. So there has to be a source for determining right and wrong which is outside of society. Otherwise, when a new group is in power, people will find themselves without grounds to protest actions they find offensive. And society, in the name of freedom, is rapidly undercutting the pillars that support freedom. They do this by saying, “Stop trying to push your values on us!” while pushing their values on others.
The Supreme Court has ruled today legalizing “same sex marriage” in a very poorly reasoned decision. This is something a Christian cannot support in good faith. Of course we believe that we are called to treat each individual with all the love and respect that is due a human person. But that love we are called to does not mean that we are required to recognize a morally bad act as if it were good. Therefore we deny that our actions are motivated by hatred when we say that homosexual acts are wrong. However, people will accuse us of hatred anyway.
Because those political and cultural elites have decided that the only moral wrong is “hatred,” and because they decide that any action or belief they dislike is “hatred,” it stands to reason that we will become social pariahs in society. I fully expect that families will be divided as Our Lord warned in Matthew:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. 35 For I have come to set
a man ‘against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ (Matthew 10:34-36)
There are a couple of flower boxes on our back deck railing. Anyone who has cats knows what that means – anything growing there has to be pretty persistent or it will be crushed under the furry bellies of our lounging feline friends. In fact, for the past couple of summers we haven’t even bothered to plant anything in them.
That’s where a delicate salmon-colored poppy comes into the story. Even though the parent plants are far below – on the ground below this raised deck – somehow a tiny seed made it to the soil in one of the flower boxes. Not only did it make it, it germinated, set down roots, and has been beautifully blooming for a few days now.
What can we learn from this persistent, lovely little plant?
We aren’t always where we thought we’d be in our lives. Maybe we don’t even want to be where we are at all. It’s easy to focus on an idealistic image of if only. In this imaginary, perfect world we would be saints, may be successful (in a worldly way), or admired by all. Every effort would reap the anticipated reward and failure would only come if we didn’t try hard enough – or didn’t have enough faith.
Yet scripture tells us that we will be tested. That our trials – and how we handle them – will shine a light for others to see. We can become the salt for them and the leaven for their spiritual bread.
13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. 14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
It isn’t always ours to choose where life leads us but it is our choice when it comes to how we react. When life hands us an unexpected detour from our search for perfection, we should choose to react with grace. As a sweet little lady used to tell me,
“We need to bloom where we grow”.
Wherever God has planted us that is our place to shine – to shine with His love and compassion and faithful service. Then we will be headed down the road of success – and toward sainthood!
Why don’t we, as Catholics, give the Holy Spirit permission to do His job? The Holy Spirit is our inner Companion who leads us; we do not live in fear of spiritual revelations. Many of God the Father’s children are so afraid that the devil will lead them astray, they do not even listen to His interior whispers of love. Surely we trust more in God the Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth than the devil, a mere fallen angel?
”But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:13
The love of truth requires a person to find out what is true about a thing in its very nature, responding to that truth in approaching life. But many people are not actually willing to do this. They want to stop searching at the level where they are content—especially if continuing to follow the truth means an uncomfortable change of how one lives. This approach to life is known as Sophistry—which is the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of justifying a position contrary to an unpopular truth.
The difference between the two outlooks are polar opposites. One seeks to find out what is. The other seeks to justify himself or herself in the eyes of others. When shown that his or her position is wrong, the Sophist tends to become hostile—seeing the demonstration as a personal attack on their comfortable little world, and even an attack on the person. It is important to remember, however, that sophistry is not something exclusive to one ideology—where one side is always seeking the truth and the other side seeks to deceive. Anyone of us can become a sophist if we stop searching for truth when it makes uncomfortable or even try to justify ourselves against truth.
Coronation of the Virgin by Bruyn the Elder
The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.
She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.
With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace.
A philosophically minded person might ask the question ‘If God is cause what is effect?’ Those of us who are more simply minded are might ask ‘If God is cause what is His effect on me?’ It was, I think, because faithful Christians were seeking an answer to this second question that they began to look upon the person of Mary the mother of Jesus. If we wish to learn what sort of impact having a direct personal relationship with God could or should have upon us it is natural enough for us to look first of all at those who have preceded us in the faith. We can deduce from them what is likely to be the case for ourselves.First to appear before the eyes of the faithful were the Apostles and still today we can learn much from them through the pages of Scripture. After them were many saints of the Church, male and female, in whom God as effect shines through in the transformations wrought in their lives and the courage with which they gave witness to their faith. Following the principle of ‘think universal, act local’ we should try to see God as effect in the Christians nearest at hand to us, perhaps within our families, perhaps within our communities.
One deduction we should be able to make from this cloud of witnesses is that having a relationship with God can have a profound, thoroughgoing and lasting effect on human lives. Another deduction would be that this effect is not uniform in nature, it is different in kind and degree in each individual depending upon that persons character and the closeness of their friendship with the Father, through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. Given that relationships are different in degree it follows that out of all the actual relationships that exist there must be one which is closer, more perfect and more profound than all the rest. To answer the question ‘if God is cause what is His effect on me?’ it will help us to know who it is that is most effected by Him so that we can learn from that person and through following their example come closer ourselves to God.
If we consider the question of who is most effected purely in relation to God incarnated in the person of Jesus then a number of different answers might be proposed. Apart from His mother we could consider the claims of the Beloved Disciple mentioned in the Gospel according to St John (probably the Evangelist himself) or those of St Mary Magdalene the first witness to the resurrection and Apostle to the Apostles (although claims that she was married to our Lord can be dismissed as fanciful at best.) However, if we consider the question in relation to the Triune God then there can be no doubt at all that the answer will be the Blessed Virgin Mary. The formula in which this is expressed is that Mary is daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, spouse of the Holy Spirit. This is a formulation which is both accurate and necessary but it is most useful for the philosophically minded people whom I mentioned earlier. Is there a more, as it were, human way of describing the relationship which will help us to answer our query about God’s effect on me? click here to read more