Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Reality of God

Every now and then, I come across a book that explains things just as I see them.  The latest such book is The Reality of God:  The Layman’s Guide to Scientific Evidence for the Creator by Steven R. Hemler.  Mr. Hemler is the president of The Catholic Apologetics Institute of North America.  The book is published by St. Benedict Press.  I figured that a “layman’s guide” would surely mean that it is written in understandable language.  It did not disappoint.

I especially enjoyed reading Part II, Biological Evidence for God’s Existence.  Let me cite what the author states is what is missing in the atheist’s (e.g., Richard Dawkins’ and Carl Sagan’s) point of view that the whole of creation is naturalistic and that there is no need to invoke the hand of a Creator.  The atheists say that there is nothing beyond what science can determine.  Hemler cleverly uses what he calls a “layered explanation,” meaning that a given observed phenomenon can be explained in a variety of levels of understanding, in a plurality of compatible explanations.   An example is the question “Why are there so many species of life?”  One can answer by saying that it is because of “natural selection acting on random genetic mutations,” which, in keeping strictly with Darwinism and not going any deeper, is what the atheist would say.  In a deeper sense, however, is the theological layer, which states that there are so many species of life because of divine wisdom, creativity, and causation.  Both may be correct and compatible, but they are on two different levels of understanding.

Hemler’s view is the theistic view.  Darwinism (i.e., the theory of evolution) may indeed be true, but the deeper level of understanding, the theist's view that a Creator’s hand set everything in motion because of His wisdom, creativity, and causation, is a fuller and deeper explanation and, to me, one that makes a whole lot more sense and is consistent with the Genesis stories of creation. 

And as far as Genesis is concerned, it is true that the literal interpretation is not consistent with the theory of evolution, a fact that drives the atheist’s denial of God.  Hemler likens the Genesis stories to Jesus’ parables, i.e., they are not meant to be taken literally, but rather to convey some religious truth.  In the case of the parables, they are meant to convey the truth of what heaven is like, not in a literal sense but in a comparative sense (e.g., the prodigal son, the vine and the branches, etc.).  In the case of Genesis, they are meant to convey the truth that God created the heavens and the earth, not literally in terms of how He did it but the fact that He did do it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Meaning of One Fold, One Shepherd

My mom used to say that the Scripture verse “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” refers to the fact that all Christian denominations on earth will one day be unified under the leadership of Christ in the Catholic Church.  I’ve done much reading and research on the subject of Protestantism/Catholicism over the last several years and, while I sincerely wish that my mom’s prophecy would come true, I have come to believe that this verse has a different meaning.

There are many in the Protestant world that can be praised for their strong faith.  For example, I just finished reading the autobiography of Mariano Rivera, the famous and recently retired relief pitcher for the New York Yankees.   The book is titled “The Closer” and it is published by Back Bay Books.  Throughout the book, Mr. Rivera lets us know about his strong faith.  For example, he has this to say about prayer:

“Prayer is not like a vending machine, where you put in your quarters (or words) and then wait for the product to be delivered.  It’s not as if I can say to the Lord, ‘I pray for this World Series victory,’ or ‘I pray for a clean bill of health on my next checkup,’ and then just sit back and wait for Him to deliver it.  I very rarely pray for specific outcomes.  When my agent is negotiating a contract for me, I never get down on my hands and knees and ask the Lord to make me wealthy.  I don’t pray for a new car or a good MRI result, or a strikeout in a big spot.  For me, the most meaningful prayers are when I ask for God’s wisdom.”

While it was obvious throughout the book that his faith was Protestant, I was hoping that he would say in the end that he had converted to Catholicism.  This was not the case.  In the end, after retirement, he started his own church, another of the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations.  While I believe that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ and is the church that has the true message of salvation, I know that Christ makes the final judgement.

And, when Jesus said, “There shall be one fold and one shepherd,” I am convinced that He was talking about life in heaven, not on earth.  I don’t know what God thinks of the Protestant Reformation and the aftermath.  All I know is that there are many Catholics, but also many Protestants, who, in my mind, have a depth of faith worthy of the heavenly reward.  Exactly what we will see in heaven is yet to be determined.  Perhaps the sheep will have a variety of different colors. All I know is that there will be one fold and one shepherd there.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What Martyrdom Is and What It Is Not

Today I’m thinking about martyrdom.  In the Scripture readings at Mass this week, we hear about Christianity’s first martyr, St. Stephen.  Stephen was one of seven reputable men selected to see to the needs of widows who “were being neglected in the daily distribution.”  See ACTS 6:1-7.  Scripture says that Stephen was “a man filled with grace and power [and] was working great wonders and signs among the people.”  See ACTS 6:8. 

The enemies of the young church subsequently “seized” Stephen and “brought him before the Sanhedrin.”  Then, before the Sanhedrin, he proceeded to give a defense that included a long discourse on the history of salvation (ACTS, Chapter 7) that “infuriated” them.  He called his hearers a “stiff-necked people” and made negative accusations against them. He was then stoned to death.

So Stephen was martyred for his defense of Christianity in the post-crucifixion/resurrection community that remained hostile to Christ and his Church.  Over the years since, there are many examples of Christians who died for their work for Christ’s Church, including two whose feast days the Catholic Church celebrated this week, St. Stanislaus in the year 1079 (April 11) and Pope St. Martin I in the year 655 (April 13).

All of this leads me to think about martyrdom as it is preached and practiced today by radical Islam.  Now, I know very little about Islam in general, but “radical Islam” is in the news for their brutal treatment of non-believers.  We read about suicide bombers who sacrifice their own lives and the lives of as many people as they can find by tying bombs around their wastes and setting them off when in a crowd of people, such as in subway stations, airports, churches, and crowded markets.  So they combine murder with suicide and are praised as martyrs for their faith.

This is very different from the martyrdom of St. Stephen, or St. Stanislaus, or Pope St. Martin I. or any other Christian martyr.  St. Stephen was killed by his enemies for his eloquent defense of his Church.  St. Stanilaus was killed for accusing the king of Poland of dissolute living.  St. Pope Martin I was killed by the heretics of his time.  Never does one hear of a Christian becoming a martyr by committing murder and suicide.

I pray for the Christians and others who live in areas of the world who are under the constant threat of suicide bombers and of people who have become brainwashed into thinking that that is the way of martyrs … the way for a person to gain their heavenly reward.  Harming yourself and other innocent people, torturing them, murdering them (often while also committed suicide) is unthinkable to all Christians and cannot be imagined as a quick route to heaven or as a praiseworthy act possibly leading to a just political end.  It just cannot be.

The photo is of one of many sculptures seen at the Shrine of Christ's Passion in St. John, Indiana.  It is of Mary of Magdala encountering the Risen Lord outside the empty tomb.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Turmoil of 1968

I have just finished reading the new book by Fr. Peter Mitchell titled “The Coup at Catholic University:  The 1968 Revolution in American Catholic Education.”  I was especially interested in reading this book because I know Fr. Mitchell.  He was ordained a priest in my former diocese, the Lincoln, Nebraska, Diocese, in 1999 before moving on to the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin.  I also know about the turmoil of 1968, when I was a sophomore/junior at Iowa State University and when I had a summer job at the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago during which the Democratic National Convention was held in this same city, Chicago.  The Democrats were preparing to nominate Hubert Humphrey for president to run against Richard Nixon following the refusal of Lyndon Johnson to run again due to the pressures of the Vietnam War.  Race relations were at a low point in our beloved country because Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated that April.  In addition, Robert Kennedy had also just been assassinated in June of that year.

On top of all of this, the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council had ended in Rome three years before and Pope Paul VI had just published his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), in July, 1968.  Yes, a lot going on.  If you are a Catholic, however, the coup at Catholic University of America (CUA) may have just been the most notable affair of all.  You will recall that in Humanae Vitae, the Pope declared that the use artificial means of birth control is gravely sinful.  It happened that a Catholic priest, Fr. Charles Curran, who was a professor of Moral Theology at CUA, dissented and split with the Pope on the issue and declared that it is okay to use artificial means of birth control if that is what your conscience dictates.

Thus began an ongoing feud between the liberal and conservative factions in the Catholic Church that carries on even to this day.  It is not unlike the liberal and conservative factions at work in modern politics.  In the Catholic Church, it boils down to a dispute over teaching authority.  Historically in the Catholic Church ultimate teaching authority is given to the Pope together with Catholic bishops worldwide, the so-called Magisterium.  The Church teaches that the Magisterium cannot err in matters of faith and morals in its role as this ultimate authority.  The movement at CUA, in effect, set up an alternate authority, that of Catholic theologians at Catholic universities.

I think you can see what intrigued me about this book.  I can recommend this book to you, especially if you are struggling to come to terms with the liberal vs conservative battle going on today as it relates to Catholic education, both at the high school and college levels.  It is why this topic is in MTT today.