Thursday, September 20, 2018

Two "What if ...?" Questions

No human being is on the same level as God.  No human being WILL EVER BE on the same level as God.  Man should never think that he is or could be God, or like God.  When he does think in such terms, he runs into trouble because he is way out of his league.  If he ever rationalizes that he is like God in the future, he will run into trouble for the same reason.  Here is a Scripture verse that applies:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  (Isah 55:8-9).

Some reject this idea, especially in this age of the Enlightenment, when they say that there is no need to invoke the existence of God at all.  They believe that man will some day advance so far in the fields of science, mathematics, and technology that all natural phenomena will be able to be explained with no need to consider any sort of a deity.  Therefore, man’s knowledge will, when this day arrives, meet or exceed all that is currently attributed to God and man will have completely logical and accurate information without saying that God exists.  In essence, they will be saying that Humanity has become the only God.

I remember, back in my college days, when one of my friends (who noted my strict adherence to my Catholic faith) said to me “But what if you live your entire life full of faithful attention to prayer and sacrifice and you are on your deathbed and someone walks in and tells you that the existence of God has just been proven as complete fabrication?”  The implication here, of course, is that I thus would discover that my life of devotion and deep faith has all been proven wrong and that I would have deep regret.  I told him that that would never happen.  Here is another passage from Scripture.

“Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.  Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.  Drill them into your children.  Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.  Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your homes and on your gates.”  (Deut 6:4-9).

Some will say simply that there is no God and it will be proven that the Scriptures are just a collection of fictional stories that have absolutely no relevance to anything real or important.  Well, both these passages from Scripture use pretty strong language in favor of the existence of God.  What we Christians believe today is that God does exist, that He has revealed himself through the Scriptures handed down via the Jewish faith to the present-day Christian faith, and that this God is the one true God, that there is no other.  And men can never and will never become like gods. 

To my college friend, I would now ask this:  “What if you live your entire life full of sin and every kind of debauchery imaginable and you are on your deathbed and someone walks in and tells you that the existence of the Judeo-Christian God has just been proven as complete truth?”  My prayer would be that he would have the time and the courage to call in a priest for a deathbed Baptism, or if he is already a baptized Catholic, a deathbed Confession.  It is so, so important because, when we die, he (and we) will be judged by this almighty and ever-living God and what our eternal home will be depends on the result.  Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Exultation of the Holy Cross

We, here in 2018, are close to 2000 years removed from the days in which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, walked the face of the earth.  People who lived in the 10-20 years following his Death, Resurrection, and Ascension seemed to expect His return at any moment, despite Christ’s caution that we do not know the day nor the hour.  (Mark 13:32).  So, in the year 40, for example, they waited.  In the year 50, no return.  In the years 60, 70, 80, nothing.  They began to think that they should write down the teachings, the parables, and the events in his life so that people wouldn’t forget details and so that they could evangelize more effectively than relying solely on oral teachings.  We all believe that the Sacred Scriptures were then written by the evangelists, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on parchment that was available at the time and preserved through the centuries.

But what about relics?  For example, the burial cloth.  Some believe that this was preserved over time and is on display today as the Shroud of Turin.  Or the tomb.  We believe that the tomb was “discovered” via excavation work.  Today, the “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” stands in Jerusalem over the site of the tomb.  Similarly, many other sites have been identified and venerated through time.  I have not toured the Holy Land, but what an adventure that would be!

What really inspired these thoughts today is the fact that the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross tomorrow, Friday, September 14, with special liturgy at Holy Mass.  The Holy Cross!  The Cross on which hung the Savior of the World!  Was this cross preserved to the present day?  As the story goes, It was “discovered” in the year 326 by St. Helena, mother of Constantine, during a pilgrimage she made to the Holy Land at a time when excavations were taking place on Goglotha, the site of the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is said that the crosses of the two thieves were also found there.

I am inspired by the Scripture readings for tomorrow’s Holy Mass.  Here is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Phillipians, referring to the infamous death:  “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Phil 2:9-11).   Most people don’t bend their knee these days, but I personally make a conscious effort to bow whenever I hear the name of Jesus.  My prayer for today:  Lord, thank you so much for the excavations and preservations that have occurred and for this awesome feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross.  Amen!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Faith, Science, and My Pea Brain

I have an intense interest in the natural world.  To see a hummingbird flitter around the sugar water feeder in my back yard fascinates me.  To notice that grizzly bears seemingly wonder aimlessly around Yellowstone National Park intrigues me.  To observe raindrops falling from a dark sky during daylight hours mesmerizes me.  To know that innumerable planets, stars, galaxies and black holes exist in the sky above captivates me.  To consider that a whole other world of atoms, nuclei, electrons, and molecules are found while observing matter under a powerful microscope (that does not exist) enthralls me. 

I could go on and on.  Sometimes I think I have a pea-sized brain that can’t possibly capture, let alone explain, all that is there in the natural world.  But I gave it a try.  I went to college and majored in chemistry, going as far as a Master’s degree.  In college, I met people who had similar interests.  Some obviously have brains that could go much further than mine in explaining things.  These folks now write and speak their science specialty in ways that clearly show an understanding that goes far beyond mine.  Today, I am seventy years old and retired.  I taught chemistry at the college level for thirty-seven years.  I found myself always wanting to go deeper in explaining things to my students.  Besides needing to obey rules that stopped me from mentioning God, I found myself also stopped because of my pea-sized brain too.

Today, I read books about the science vs faith riddle.  Some scientists feel they can conclude that all of life’s mysterious phenomena can be (and will be) explained by science without invoking anything like the existence of God.  These scientists are obviously atheists.  Other scientists have a long list of scientific accomplishments behind their name (such as the unraveling of the human genome mystery) and conclude that there is no other explanation except to say that God exists, has created the universe, and is in total charge.

I was born into a faith-filled family.  I believe in miracles.  I believe in God.  Besides that, I am a Catholic and am entirely comfortable with the tenets of my faith.  I believe in the miracle of the Eucharist.  I believe that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus at the Catholic Mass.  You may want to call it my pea brain.  You may want to call it indoctrination.  You may want to call it insanity, or all of the above.  But that is who I am.  I look forward to pulling back the curtain and passing from this life into the next.  In fact, I can hardly wait!  My prayer for today:  Lord, you are in charge.  I stand in awe of your astonishing power, your breathtaking creation, your astounding handiwork, and, besides all of this, your overwhelming abiding patience and love.  Keep me ever in the palm of your hand and within your providential care.  Amen!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Abuse Cover-Up: A Possible Scenario

If a person is well-grounded in the Catholic faith, here is what is supposed to happen when he/she knowingly commits a serious sin.  1)  He/she recognizes the sin as being serious and feels remorse.  2) He/she seeks the Lord’s forgiveness by utilizing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing the sin to a priest.  3)  The priest discusses the sin with the penitent and provides guidance and spiritual direction.  4) The priest prescribes some token act of penance to be performed by the penitent when he/she leaves the confessional.  5)  While still in the confessional, the penitent recites the Catholic prayer known as the Act of Contrition.  6) The priest absolves the penitent of the sin (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) and sends him/her on their way.  Here is this Act of Contrition as I memorized it 63 years ago (when I was in the second grade).

O my God, I’m heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pain of Hell.  But most of all, I detest them because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life.  Amen.

By resolving to “amend my life,” the penitent is making what is called a “firm purpose of amendment,” which means he/she is resolving to never commit that sin again.  This resolution is made like a vow before God.  He/she should be leaving the confessional with the mindset that he/she will never commit that sin again.

Very important in this entire scenario is the “seal of confession.”  My understanding is that the priest is bound to never reveal to anyone the sins the penitent has confessed, even if it is so serious that it is considered a crime by the civil courts.  Think murder, or the sexual abuse of a child, for example.  The reason for this “seal” is that if a priest is free to reveal the sin to the civil authorities, then a penitent would likely never make use of the sacrament, would never have the sin forgiven, and would be damned to Hell for all eternity when he/she died.  This is diametrically opposed to what the Church seeks for everyone who ever existed, which is their eternal salvation.  The civil courts accept this tenet of our faith and will not expect a priest to reveal what he knows about any crimes for which a prisoner is accused.  However, the priest may strongly recommend privately to the penitent that he/she “turn himself/herself in” and accept the civil punishment that is due.

Now, imagine that the penitent is a Catholic priest who has sexually abused a child.  I would assume any priest is sufficiently well grounded in the Catholic faith and is familiar with the above process.  He is remorseful, seeks out the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confesses the sin to another priest, or perhaps to a bishop, recites the Act of Contrition, makes his firm purpose of amendment, gets absolved of the sin, and goes on his way.  If the confessor is a bishop, then this bishop is bound by the seal of confession and cannot tell anyone of the abuse that occurred.  Modern society may view this as a cover-up.  The Church views this as a bishop being true to the seal of confession. 

What is missing here is the fact the back in the 60’s and 70’s, when it seems most of the abuse occurred, the word “predator” was perhaps not in anyone’s vocabulary as clearly as it is today, and a bishop would have wanted to believe the penitent (a priest) who has made the firm purpose of amendment, assigned him to a parish where he again has children under his tutelage when this priest is, if fact, likely to offend again (the definition of “predator”).  If this is true, then we have learned an important new word and what it means and such a "re-assignment" would be unthinkable.  However, by the same token, the cover-up seems to continue to this day, which is simply inexcusable no matter what the particular scenario. The question remains:  Where do we go from here?

What is also missing here is the effect the abuse has had on the victim.  If I would have been abused by a priest back then, I can’t imagine the damage it would have done to my psyche and my personal Catholic faith.  It may well have been irreparable.  What we need today is leadership and I think it must come from within the Church.  We need a modern saint of the same ilk as in ages past when a serious heresy or similar error occurred … a saint, perhaps a pope, who will change the culture by his preaching and his actions.  We need a modern saint who has some answers and can see their way out of this situation and lead us back to moral sanity.  Lord, help us.  Amen!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Lord, teach us to pray."

Given the plethora of negative vibes we all get these days related especially to sexual predators among Church hierarchy, exaggerated and biased news reporting, unbecoming (read “un-presidential”) behavior and unseemly dialogue among our elected officials and their associates, and many other things, we might consider re-discovering or doubling down on our prayer life.  But how should we pray?  What should we say when we pray?  To whom should we pray?  Where should we go to pray?  Well, Jesus, has some answers.

One incident in Sacred Scripture was when Jesus’ disciples made the request “Lord, teach us to pray.”  (Luke 11:1).  Jesus responded with what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  The parts of the Lord’s Prayer that I believe have great relevance in today’s world are:  “Hallowed by thy name,” Thy will be done,” and “Deliver us from evil.” 

When we pray to our Father in heaven, we should pray that his name, “God,” be “hallowed,” that is, it should be “honored as being holy.”  This would be the ultimate sign of respect.  People should respect the name “God” because it is, in fact, a holy name.  Today it is often disrespected by, for example, calling upon God to damn someone or some thing.  If we want God to answer our prayer, “hallowed be thy name” would seem to be a good way to start our prayer.  If God has ears, I can imagine Him turning his ear to us as soon as he hears that.

No one knows the will of God.  What we can be sure of, however, is that God wants the best for us.  He created us for the purpose of sharing his heavenly glory with us.  So we can say that his will is for us to ignore the will of Satan and be free from sin, so that when we die, we can be judged as worthy of heaven.  Back in 2016, we had a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to be our president.  It was an unhappy choice to make either way, to say the least.  I could do nothing better that to simply say “Lord, thy will be done.”  When we are faced with this kind of decision, it is about all we can say.  These words are part of the Lord’s prayer.  It is something we should say when we pray.  It seems especially important in these troubled times.

Finally, he says we should say “Deliver us from evil” when we pray.  God has the power to defeat Satan.  In fact, he has already done that by having his Son die on the cross 2000 years ago.  However, it is still up to us to make the right choices in our lives.  To ask Him to deliver us from evil is to ask Him to take us away from the sins of this world and to make us holy.  If you worry about sexual predators within His Church and the other things mentioned in the introduction to this blog post, then this request within The Lord’s Prayer is timely and most appropriate.

In summary, we should pray thus:  Dear God, we would like everyone to respect your name as being holy.  Please infuse this respect into the hearts and minds of all on earth.  In addition, we would like your will for us on this earth to be done in every way possible, including the election of leaders that will govern us according to your will.  And finally, Lord, please allow us to move forward in our lives with no evil, no Satan.  In other words, lead us, please, Lord, with our focus on your heavenly kingdom. 

And where should we go to pray?  Jesus told us to “go to our inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”  Because “your Father, who sees in secret will repay you.”  (Matt 6:6).  For me, that is the solitude of a small Catholic chapel in the presence of Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity in the monstrance or tabernacle there.  “Lord, I love you.  Please sustain us in these troubled times.  Amen!!”

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Politics of the Day

The politics of today:  taxes, abortion, the media, the death penalty, and inclusiveness.  What a list!  Yet, these things dominate the headlines and so also dominate my thoughts this Thursday morning.

Taxes.  Nobody wants to pay a lot in taxes.  Yet, bridges must be built, utilities must be delivered, water and air must be kept clean, etc., etc.  There are tons of important projects that require/deserve public funding.  Yet, people resist and mostly want their taxes to be reduced and they react negatively when an increase is proposed.  It is true that the rich should bear the bulk of the burden.  I take the view of the Democratic Party here.

Abortion.  This should not be labeled as an “issue” for voters.  It is a matter of life and death, not an “issue” to be decided by politicians or judges.  To support the brutal slaying of a preborn human life at any stage of development is beneath our dignity.  It is simply unfathomable to me that anyone would want to do this.  What is so magical about birth?  Okay, this is when we see this human being for the first time.  But this life existed before that in the mother’s womb!  And this life is the ultimate in innocence.  A serious error was made in 1973 when the Supreme Court judges made abortion legal.  I take the view of the Republican Party here but, without strong leadership, it is going to be very difficult to reverse now, forty-five years later.

The Media.  There are many things that President Trump does that he should not be doing in my humble opinion. Vicious early morning tweets attacking his “enemies” is one.  Calling the press the “enemy” of the people is another.  Being a president is serious business.  Making presidential decisions is serious business.  A president should be respectful and, well, presidential.  But, by the same token, the media should also be respectful.  I would like to see unbiased reporting of facts, and not the injection of personal opinions and biases that disparage our leaders, regardless of their behavior.  I take a mixed view here.

The Death Penalty.  Man should respect the dignity of human life as a matter of routine in all areas of life.  To impose the death penalty on another human being is simply cruel and barbaric.  Yes, the criminal was also cruel and barbaric by committing the act for which he/she is accused.  But in killing him/her, we are doing the same thing of which he is accused!  Correct me if I am wrong, but this is called hypocrisy.  Killing another person is wrong, but is it right if we do it as a punishment?  Lynching someone is what they do in western movies, not in a civilized society.  I take the Democratic Party’s view here.

Inclusiveness.  A newfangled term!  It refers to having respect for those in our society who are different from us, be it due to their race, their religion, their sexuality, or whatever.  Of course, we should have this respect!  A white man should have respect for a black man (and vice-versa).  A person of one faith tradition should have respect for a person of a different faith tradition.  Any man should have respect for any woman (and vice-versa).  Whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, or transgender, one person should have respect for another.  I see problems entering into the discussion when someone wants to flaunt their sexuality publicly, such as in immodest dress and trangenderism.

For me, the Republican Party seems the best fit.  But, I wouldn’t mind if there were a new party created that would satisfy all my Thursday Thoughts.  Amen!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Stein, Kolbe and Auschwitz

During the month of August, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast days of two people who were killed in the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.  Edith Stein, aka., St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was murdered in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, and Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941.  The dates were set aside by the Church in their honor on the dates of their deaths, today and next Tuesday .  Both were canonized as saints of the Catholic Church, Stein on October 11, 1998 and Kolbe on October 10, 1982, both by St. John Paul II.

To include all that can be said about these two saints is impossible in in the short space of this blog.  Indeed, entire books have been written.  I am thinking this morning about the facts associated with their lives that assisted their causes for canonization.

First, Stein.  She was the seventh child of a prosperous Jewish family in southern Poland, not far, actually, from Auschwitz.  She was raised in the Jewish faith and was known for her brilliant mind.  She studied atheistic philosophy at a university in Germany and, as a result of her studies, abandoned the Jewish faith and became an atheist.   She became a respected professor of philosophy at the University of Freiburg in Germany and became very well known.  However, she would soon change her mind about God after studying the life of the great Catholic mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila.  So stunned was she about what she read in this book that she began a formal and thorough study of the Catholic religion.  She was baptized a Catholic on January 1, 1922, along with her sister, Rosa.  After this, she became a Carmelite nun at their cloistered convent in Cologne, Germany, an order founded by Saint Teresa of Avila so many centuries earlier.   She transferred to a similar cloister in Holland after the Nazis burned her home to the ground.  Here, she wrote two books of her own that are known as deep spiritual works.  After the Nazis invaded Holland, they captured her and Rosa and transported them to Auschwitz where they were treated as Jews and were both marched into the gas chamber.  Her writings, following the lead of St. Teresa of Avila, were instrumental in herself being declared a Doctor of the Church.

Second, Kolbe.  He was also from Poland, born in 1894.  At the age of 12, he claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary.  A few years later, at obviously a very young age, he was allowed to enter a seminary.  He took final vows in 1914 and was sent to Rome to attend the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he, too, studied philosophy and obtained his doctorate.  He was ordained a priest in 1918.  This was followed by foreign travel to China and Japan where he engaged in religious activity and founded monasteries.  Poor health caused him to return to Poland in 1936.  He was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1941.  He is perhaps best known for the circumstances that caused his death (by fire in a crematory).  The Nazis arbitrarily selected ten prisoners to die because an 11th had escaped.  One of those condemned began to wail and ask for mercy.  Kolbe, feeling compassion for the man, asked to be killed in his place.  The Nazis obliged. 

The stories of these two great saints of the Catholic Church are moving reminders of how Catholic men and women, people of great faith, are often murdered for their faith.  We call them martyrs.  Martyrdom often leads to canonization.  Some may want to draw parallels between these and those of other religions who are killed defending their faith by seeking out and killing so-called infidels.  There is a difference.  Catholic martyrs defend their faith, to be sure, but never does such death involve violence of any kind against another.

St. Teresa Benedicta and St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.  Amen!