Thursday, December 26, 2013
by Susan Fox
We moved to Arizona in 2002.
Ninety-three to 270 million years ago, Arizona was at the bottom of an ancient seabed.
Shortly after we settled in, I received a visit in my dreams from a giant prawn. I opened the front door. Easily six-feet tall, he was undulating in deep ancient waters in glorious pastel colors.
He looked puzzled. "What are you doing under water?" he asked me.
"I am not under water, Mr. Prawn. You, Sir, are out of time," I boldly responded.
Yes, and tonight is Christmas, and I am out of time. No my preparations for Christmas are done. I am not out of time in that sense.
Time is a creature of God, and God lives in eternity. So in relationship with God we can... go out of time. We can travel in prayer. Go back to moments in our own lives, or moments in the lives of Christ or the saints. With God, we can visit the moment of creation itself. Are you a science fiction fanatic? Become Catholic. We have time travel.
So I propose to take us out of time through prayer in order to answer questions bugging my friends, who are Muslim and those who are atheist. Did God take on human flesh? Was he born of a Woman on Christmas Day? Did He tell us of His plans in advance? And why the heck would He do such a thing? What kind of response should we make to God's self-revelation and sacrifice on our behalf?
My Muslim friend believes Jesus was a very holy man, but He did not die on the cross for the sins of others, for that would be unjust. I agree if they decided to string me up for the sins of the world that would be unjust, and pretty useless as well. But if it's true, that the Word, who was God, was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and then was rejected by His own, and killed, that might be the prism by which we can look at the Birth, Life and Death of Jesus Christ. Not to mention His Resurrection attested to by hundreds of witnesses.
St. Paul, one of the witnesses, wrote, "For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures: And that he was seen by Cephas (Peter); and after that by the eleven. Then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time." (1Cor 15:3-8)
Shh, now. Stop talking. We are no longer with St. Paul. Mother Eve has just heard her husband blame her for the entire Fall of mankind. "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." (Gen. 3:12) Ouch, I bet she wondered what rock she could crawl under.
But she had her excuses ready as well when God asked her, " What is this that you have done?" She answered, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." She weakly referred to the serpent in the garden, which tempted her to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil --the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat!
In eons and eons of history, this has got to be the worst moment of time. Our first parents just lost that wonderful intimate time-traveling relationship they'd had with God since their creation. They lost their purpose in life. I am here, and it reminds me of many similar moments in my own life. How will we get out of this mess? I want to cry.
But if I did, I would miss the next part. Oh, I don't mean the punishments. Men have to work. Women bear their children in pain, and the snake crawls on his belly. It's the next part I love, and it's the first announcement of Christmas: (God is talking to the snake:) "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush you head, and you will strike his heel."(Gen. 3:15)
This is the first mention of the Redeemer and His Mother, the New Adam and the New Eve, whose sacrificial love would save us from the First Mess created by our First Parents. The birth of the Word Incarnate from the womb of Mary on Christmas was the beginning of the end for the serpent, the end of all resistance to God. That's why the demons of hell fear this Woman. She utterly terrifies them. With a Woman so powerful in salvation history, why are women upset about the importance of their role in the Catholic Church?
But let us move forward in time to the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles, chapter 6. King David wanted to build a temple for God, but he had too much blood on his hands. So his son, Solomon, built it.
Listen up. King Solomon is dedicating the temple that will hold the actual Presence of God. "But will God really dwell on earth with man? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (2 Chron 6:18) Then he prays that God will indeed hear his people from this temple, "and when you hear, forgive."
Ah still in a mess. But this is an early hint that God will come and dwell intimately with his people. God heard King Solomon's prayer. When he ended it, "fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple." Wow Christmas and Pentecost together! Now the priests could not enter the temple. And the people gave thanks, "For he is good, for his mercy endures forever." (2Chron 7:1-3) What else can you say after a miracle like that?
During this time there was always a barrier between man and God -- a curtain in the temple. This barrier was actually erected by man's sin. But it did not please God at all. I say this because as soon as Jesus died on the cross, God passionately ripped apart the curtain in the temple that separated man from God.
You see, when the first man and the first woman broke faith with God, they hurt Him. They erected the barrier. He had created the entire universe as a playground where He could be an intimate friend of Adam and Eve, and their children. But then the dark afternoon came when he searched for them, and they were hiding! "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" (Gen: 3:11) For my Muslim friend, this is why God had to take on our weak human flesh, become man, it was so He could tear down the barrier man had erected against God.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone," Isaiah prophesized about the coming Messiah, "For a child is born to us, a son is given us ... They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:2-6)
Isaiah also prophesized that "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)
This is an interesting prophecy because it is a sticking point with both my atheist and Muslim friends.
The atheist believes it was not fulfilled because Jesus is called Jesus, not Immanuel. Never mind that St. Matthew wrote, " She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (meaning Yahweh saves), because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").
As far as the atheist is concerned, we don't call him Immanuel all the time, and so the prophecy was not fulfilled. However, we do say, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." This is a clear recognition that we regard little "Yahweh saves" as God in our midst, Immanuel.
The Muslim has another problem. She believes passionately that the Mother of Jesus was a virgin because the Quran tells her so, but she doesn't know why. In her religion, Jesus is a prophet, but only a man. Now Mohammed was a prophet, but his mother was not a virgin. So why would Jesus need a virgin mother, and Mohammed didn't?
Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, answered the question. Greeting Mary, pregnant with Jesus, she said, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Now doesn't that sound like Moses when God gave him his task to free the people of Israel from slavery? But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11) He didn't feel worthy for the job. Yet Moses delivered the Jews from the cruelty of Egyptian slavery and the murder of their sons. His mission -- another great Hint of future events -- sounds remarkably like that of Jesus, first born of all Creation, who delivered us from the slavery of sin by His death on the cross.
Elizabeth rejoiced in Mary's presence because she knew Mary carried the Infant God, and she was the Woman in Gen. 3:15, who through her obedience would crush the head of the serpent. It was God's power that would do the crushing, but with Mary's cooperation. And in the end evil will be defeated. Didn't St. Juan Diego feel the same unworthiness when meeting the Virgin Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, a lady of "unearthly grandeur wearing clothing as "radiant as the sun?" God painted Our Lady's image on Juan Diego's tilma, and within 20 years, nine million polytheists who were practicing human sacrifice were converted to Christianity. No wonder the demons flee in terror when the Blessed Mother arrives on the scene.
Now Abraham also gave us a Hint of what was to come. So let's go watch his prophetic action. Abraham is on a very dismal trip, taking his only son up to the Mountain of the Lord to sacrifice him to God. Isaac is carrying the wood of his own future sacrifice upon his back, making him a type for Christ carrying the wood of the cross on his back. Isaac asks his father, where is the animal for the sacrifice? Abraham answers, "God Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice." And indeed, centuries later, when Jesus meets St. John the Baptist as an adult, John greets Him with the words, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world."
Isaac wasn't sacrificed, but Jesus Immanuel, was.
Did God really come to dwell on earth with man? Yes, and instead of a television camera on the event, God sent his angels to alert the shepherds in the field: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:10-14)
Providentially, those shepherds were both curious and talkative, so they were great at spreading the news of the event as soon as they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger - exactly as predicted!
Did the people living in darkness see a great light? According to Jesus's disciple John, they did, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-6)
Jesus Himself confirmed this: "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12)
John also said that His own people did not receive Jesus: "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:9-13)
Sounds like what is happening today. Atheists pasted billboards up this Christmas with the words, "Who needs Christ during Christmas? NOBODY."
"Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13)
This is where my story and yours begins. I used to be a terribly insecure and sensitive person. My whole childhood I felt like I was the Prophet Hosea's three miserable children named "Disaster," "Unloved," and "Not-my-people." But once I started asking the question, "God, what are you teaching me in this experience?" He answered me, just like He did with King Solomon. The fire came down and burned up the sacrifice. I was freed from the slavery of sin in Christ.
In my perception, I was no longer named "Disaster," I was no longer "Unloved," nor was I "Not-my-people." Instead, I was "Gift." I was "Beloved," and yes, I completely belonged to God. I received the POWER to live as a child of God. This is the greatest power of the Christian life. To understand one's unique identity in Jesus Christ is the highest calling of man, and leads to the greatest happiness possible on this earth. With this understanding one can endure illness, mockery, rebuke, persecution, tribulation and death with peace and joy.
For my dear Muslim sister, the purpose of the death of Jesus Christ was so that He, who is God, could in His human flesh drag humanity back into communion with Our Father. Jesus Christ personally tore down that barrier man erected against God with our sin. He did it with great passion and great joy.
A priest friend of mine once saw Jesus dying on the cross. With a sad look on his face, the priest said, "Jesus, is that You suffering up there?" Jesus grinned. "Yes, it is Me. And I am happy." The priest was surprised. He said, "Jesus, why are You happy when you are suffering?" Jesus responded, "I am happy because I am dying for you."
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
"And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John 1:16-18)
For my atheist friend, why not join the party? I'll serve prawns.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
by Susan Fox
Editor's Note: Religion News Service reported on Dec. 19, 2013, that it is a growing trend to rebuff contributions and volunteer labor from atheists' groups. Atheist Giving Rebuffed I am a Christian, and I don't agree with that policy because every man and woman needs to be able to participate in the act of giving. Giving is the most supreme act of the human being, the one act in which someone might discover they are indeed made in the Image and Likeness of God, who is total Love and Self Giving. These atheists do not know God, but in their love and generosity they are able to reveal His Face to the world and intimately share in His work. So the act of giving can actually be a conduit to a change of heart.
Ever step on a hornet’s nest?
Ever step on a hornet’s nest?
Suddenly Noah’s ark is an object of ridicule, and God killed 3 million babies in Africa, while evolution is established scientific fact. Some atheist groups are even playing grinch and stealing Christ out of Christmas.
|Atheists billboards are "small evil baby steps" |
to another holocaust,
warns NY State Senator Andrew Lanza.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with evolution as a theory of the means by which God created the world. I live in Colorado, and we have more dinosaur footprints than anywhere else in the world. I don’t think the world is only 6,000 years old, and I don’t think the Grand Canyon is carved from faux rock made to look old.
The Book of Genesis is a beautiful work of poetry, which explains that we were made by God in His image and put into the family of man. God is love, so the image we reflect is that of Eternal Love. Our own choice knocked us out of Paradise, and brought suffering into the world. Now all creation groans for redemption. But Genesis is not a science textbook. I know this is a surprise to some Protestants as I met one on Twitter arguing vehemently with the atheists on that very issue.
I thank God one Christian was talking to them. There was also a brave Muslim taking on one hornet at a time.
But really if you are an atheist, how do you cope with suffering? How do you overcome your bitterness at a God Who either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist? Both thoughts seemed to cause enormous pain to my little hornets, who flashed pictures of dying African babies with a vulture nearby ready to eat them.
These pictures infuriated me as well. How dare someone photograph a dying baby and do nothing to help the child!
It reminded me of Pope Francis’ economy of indifference, the “economy that kills.“ My friend, Mary, survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans on top of her roof. She said CNN‘s helicopter flew over many times, and filmed her. (Long before I met Mary I had seen the television images of her struggling to stay on her roof with floodwaters all around) But she said CNN never offered her a single bottle of water -- even as days went by. Meanwhile all the news media complained about President George Bush.
CNN reminded me of my little hornets, complaining about the world’s ills, blaming the president or blaming God, while they had it in their power to relieve at least some of the sufferings of their fellow man. I wasn’t nice. I reminded my little hornets of this option.
But my hornets also reminded me of the story of the kingdom of God in in Matthew 20:1-16. The householder went out in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard, which He did. But going out again in the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place, and he hired them. He did the same in the sixth and the ninth hour. But at the end of the day all received the same wage. This is a welcome reminder to Christians that the last will be first and the first will be last. In the end, even those who convert on their deathbed will receive the same wage – eternal life. And we all rejoice in our brothers’ return to the home of Our Father.
Spiritually, this is the place where my little hornets rest: idle in the market place. They wait for the householder to come and hire them. In the parable, he does. But in the Twitter Feed, in real life, either the householder is awfully slow in coming or his offer of employment was rejected. Pope Benedict wrote about this condition in “Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship between Faith and Reason.”
“Happy the man who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently, who reflects in his heart on her ways and ponders her secrets. He pursues her like a hunter and lies in wait on her paths.” (Sir 14:20-21)
But what is distinctive in the Bible is the “conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and knowledge of faith,” Pope Benedict wrote.
“The world and all that happens within it, including history and the fate of peoples, are realities to be observed, analyzed and assessed with all the resources of reason, but without faith ever being foreign to the process. Faith intervenes not to abolish reason’s autonomy nor to reduce its scope for action, but solely to bring the human being to understand that in these events it is the God of Israel who acts. “
The pope is saying by faith, we can see history unfold in an entirely new light without abandoning our reason. We can see God actually present in history, and we can marvel at His works. If it rained in our evergreen woods, my mother would say, "Isn't God good?" The atheist would assume He didn't exist or else that He wanted to ruin his day.
“The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
But if man abandons fear of God, he runs the risk of “ending up in the condition of the fool,” the pope added. What a nice way to put it!
“The fool thinks that he knows many things, but really he is incapable of fixing his gaze on the things that truly matter. Therefore, he can neither order his mind (Prov 1:7) nor assume a correct attitude to himself or the world around him. And so when he claims that ‘God does not exist,’ he shows with absolute clarity just how deficient his knowledge is and just how far he is from the full truth of things, their origin and their destiny.”
So we see photo-shopped pictures of dying African babies with a vulture standing nearby and laborers standing idle in the marketplace.
Perhaps American memoirist Emily Rapp was one of those laborers waiting in the marketplace for the householder to hire her.
The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Rapp was married and had a nine-month old son, Ronan, when he was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a death sentence for a baby before the age of three. Perhaps in Emily’s life, this was the moment that her idleness ended. The householder had indeed made his appearance.
|Emily Rapp & son Ronan|
"I was definitely not identifying as a Christian long before Ronan was born. I think having that kind of a diagnosis, which really feels straight out of the biblical Job — I mean, it really does — it's like you feel cursed, and what Job does in the Bible is wander around asking everyone why this is happening because he doesn't understand, and I think that's a little bit how I felt,” Emily said in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. Tay-Sachs disease is a genetic and degenerative condition that is always fatal before a child’s third year.
In her own words, Emily said, “Ronan’s body lacks hexosaminidase A, an enzyme critical for brain development, and his brain is, as they say in the neurology world, “devastated.” Nerve damage progresses quickly, leading to dementia, decreased interaction with the environment, seizures, spasticity and eventually death. Before he dies, Ronan will become paralyzed, lose his sight, his hearing and his sense of touch.”
She and her husband watched their beloved baby grow up a little and then become a baby again. “We no longer wonder, “What if he starts talking today?” but, “What if he stops smiling, cooing?”
They watched, put away his more advanced toys and brought out ones he played with earlier in his development. Ronan died on Feb. 15, 2013 just before his third birthday.
In her book published this year, “The Still Point of the Turning World,” Emily ponders, “How do you parent without a future? What is it possible to learn from a dying baby? Rick and I spend each day with Ronan, trying to enjoy him, loving him, taking him for walks, to the zoo and the aquarium. We’re not worried about what college he’ll attend, or what he’ll do with his life. We are not living for him, or through him; we are living with him.”
To be present to her son, and not to plan his future, represented quite a transformation in her life. A Harvard graduate, she freely admits she had made plans for her son’s future. In fact, she had planned out every aspect of the pregnancy including a test for the likelihood of the very disease that her son died from. He died from a very rare form of Tay-Sachs for which there is no test.
“I read all the parenting magazines. My husband and I thought about a lot of questions they raised: will breast-feeding enhance his brain function? Will music class improve his cognitive skills? Will the right preschool help him get into the right college? I made lists. I planned and plotted and hoped. Future, future, future,” She wrote.
“We never thought about how we might parent a child for whom there is no future. Our parenting plans, our lists, the advice I read before Ronan’s birth make little sense now. No matter what we do for Ronan — choose organic or non-organic food; cloth diapers or disposable; attachment parenting or sleep training — he will die. All the decisions that once mattered so much, don’t.”
Her blog bleeds with a newfound understanding that life’s true treasure is simply being with the ones we love. “Love is spilling out without apology,” she wrote in a November 2012 post on “What If This Thanksgiving Was Your Last?”
A writing teacher as well as a writer, she said she used to assign her students the task of creating a Thanksgiving scene, bringing in conflict: the rude uncle, someone falls asleep in the potatoes, or a teenage vegetarian gives an angry speech about the turkey.
But because of her experience, “I’d change the writing exercise I give to students,” she said, “I’d ask them instead to write a holiday dinner scene with all the people they loved best, but with the added knowledge that it will be the last time everyone sat around the table together and passed around crystal bowls full of cranberry sauce and relish dishes. Write the scene knowing that everything, always, can be fractured, broken, dissolved. Write it knowing that the only conflict worth worrying about is this one: When faced with the choice between shutting down your emotion, at the fear of risking pain, or opening up to everything and trusting that you’ll survive it, which will you chose?”
And in that understanding, unbeliever Emily Rapp has uncovered the secret to happiness.
Love someone passionately.
And you will tenderly uncover the Face of God.
For as we Christians know, God is Love.
For as we Christians know, God is Love.
And man is made in His image.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
(Susan Fox's Note: We previously published a Dialogue with an Unbeliever It was part of a three-way conversation between a man, we simply called “Brother,” and myself and my friend, “Grace,” who first appeared on this blog in a piece called Sex and the Mystery of Gravy In this post you see the portion of the dialogue that occurred between Brother and Grace. Brother's posts are labeled "Anonymous.")
Anonymous: If God is so good, then why does he punish us when we don't follow his word? Why did he supposedly wipe out millions of sinners with the Great Flood, an act akin to mass genocide? He created all of these people with the ability to sin, and when they did sin, he murdered them for it. What kind of god does that? Not a loving god - a cruel and testing god.
I don't want to offend your belief but I have spent a lot of time reading objective theological material, particularly on the history of the Christian god. I am convinced, without a shadow of doubt, that he was created by man.
Gods have always been, and will always be, the greatest way to control a society. Why? Because they often rule with:
3: The promise of a glorious afterlife.
And best of all, you can't argue with them, assassinate them, or vote them out. If you manage to convince a large number of people that your god is real, then you can tell them to do whatever you want.
I truly believe that if Christianity didn't come with the promise of reward after death, it wouldn't have a fraction of the followers it does today.
I refuse to be made to feel the way I do by the sheep of a social marketing campaign.
|Are we Meat Puppets?|
“Grace”: I don't know, Susan. This guy seems not to have a hunger for the transcendent. It is very difficult to convince people of God's existence when they think they don't need Him. If they are content with being just an accidental creation of a random meaningless universe, and they have no fear of death, or even a little concern about it, then what can religion mean to them? Most religions are an attempt to make sense of the fact of our existence, and to help us make our way on the path of life, and to give us hope. Various religions approach these goals with very different beliefs, but what can you say to a convinced materialist? If he has made "science" his god, and believes that he is an accidental electronic meat puppet, then conversation with him is not possible. Many people have that belief system today.
Of course, very few of them believe it consistently. A true materialist would have no reason to condemn any action by a fellow human being. True anarchy would reign everywhere, at all times, if there were no moral imperatives. And society would quickly self-destruct. In the end, moral relativism equals NO morality. Do whatever you want. But most materialists have never heard of the principle of non-contradiction, and even if they have, refuse to observe the rules of logic in conducting their own lives. A good thing, too, or the world would be even more wicked than it is. Many people who believe they are materialists continue to behave in conformity with at least some of the moral precepts that God writes on our hearts, and that the religion of the Jews and the Catholics have encoded.
I will grant that it is very difficult to understand why God allows us so much freedom. If the Jews are His chosen people, and the Catholic Church is the fulfillment of Judaism, then why did He permit the Jews and the Church to suffer so many reverses? Why are so many people blind to the truth of the Church? Why did God permit the fracture of Christendom into thousands of competing denominations? Why did He permit the rise of an evil competing cult called Islam that swept away the Body of Christ in one country after another, and continues to do so in our time? Why did He permit the Holocaust and all the other holocausts, which have killed so many millions? Why does he allow us to be so confused about our sexuality that we treat it as trivial entertainment and kill the by-products—our children—in the holocaust of abortion?
As St. Faustina said in her diary, I am amazed that God permits humanity to exist at all. It is another great mystery. It is not wrong at all that Brother asks the profound question of why a good God permits evil and suffering. It is THE question, and one that we will never answer to anyone's satisfaction during our time here on earth, though many have tried.
But it is even harder to answer this question: Why does anything exist at all? Why is there so much goodness and beauty in the world? Why have so many people given their lives in loving service to their fellow human beings in the name of Jesus, if they are just accidental electronic meat puppets who should logically think only of their own desires? If Brother has any curiosity left in his soul, let him read the story of St Damian, who cared for the lepers in Hawaii. Of St Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life for another in a concentration camp. Of Mother Teresa. But even Mother Teresa's story cannot reach angry atheists. They have a great hatred for her, and call her hell's angel. Cf. Christopher Hitchens.
|Mother Teresa of Calcutta|
Her existence is the greatest challenge to their beliefs. But even the thousands of loving saints, and the great miracles of Fatima and Lourdes cannot convince those who are so heavily invested in following their own will that they must deny God.
Why was I given the grace of conversion and other people, much more worthy of this grace than I, have not been favored? I have no idea. But I pray that Brother will someday receive this grace.
P.S. Christians, myself included, often forget about the best reason to believe: joy. Yes, the fear of the Lord is holy and salutary, but it can be servile fear. A slave fears to offend his master. But a Christian is the adopted son or daughter of God the Father, and he or she runs to the Father with joy. Yes, I may fear offending God, the way I would fear disappointing a loving earthly father, but more than that, I just want to love Him and be in His presence. I am His beloved daughter, and He is my everything. Christians are so full of joy that they created the great art and music and architecture of the Catholic Church to praise Him and express their love. Sometimes when I think of one of the great truths of the faith, I get a silly grin on my face and I just want to burst out singing. Since I'm not a very good singer, I ask the angels to praise him as they did on that first Christmas Eve. This joy is what the saints experience to an even greater degree. The patron saint of my city, St Joseph of Cupertino, (1603-1663,) would literally fly when he heard the names of Jesus and Mary. He would fly for joy, and remain suspended in the air for long periods. This is a saint who lived in modern times, and his flights were witnessed by hundreds of people. Why have most people nowadays never heard of him? When they see Cupertino on their Apple products, why do they not say, "Oh, a town named for St. Joseph of Cupertino!”? Why do they just say "Huh? What's Cupertino?" It is literally a conspiracy by the enemy to make sure as many people as possible are ignorant of modern day miracles. Just as it is Satan's object to make more people ignorant of the miracle of Christmas. The devil wants to trample on the joy of Christmas and the joy of the saints, but so far he hasn't managed to win completely. Dear Jesus, may your joy reign in every heart.
Some time went by and “Grace” responded to Brother’s third post already addressed by Susan Fox in Dialogue with an Unbeliever
“Grace”: Brother, I am sorry it has taken so long for me to reply to your posts. I am a mom, and this is a very busy time of year for moms. Also, I am doubtless not the right person to address your many points of discussion; although I have a couple of master's degrees, I am nonetheless just a housewife, not a scholar. But I will try to reply to a few of your topics as best I can.
Anonymous: "I don't see us as simply "meat puppets". We are the result of a truly incredible billion-year-old biological journey. To call us "meat puppets" is unfairly belittling the absolute wonder that is nature, science, and mathematics. This is the true language of the universe. And that is something you can't actually logically deny. It's black and white truth. Maybe God created this language. Maybe evolution is the creation of God. Why not? Would you ever accept that theory - that God created the wonder that is evolution? I love that idea. It's harmonious."
I am so happy to know that you do not see yourself as merely a "meat puppet." You have awe before the wonder of nature, and that means we share a value. Why should I care that a fellow human shares one of my values, such as awe in the face of nature? Because it makes dialogue possible. It is impossible to have a deep conversation with people who have no awe before the wonder of nature. Such people most often believe that we are merely animals, material products of blind forces in a meaningless universe; as such, they also believe that human beings, themselves and others, have only relative value, not intrinsic worth. Such people are scary. The only thing one can do when confronted with one of them is to take cover and prepare for self-defense. But with someone who marvels over nature, one can have a conversation—always better than combat. And I am grateful for this shared value. Awe is the beginning of the virtue of religion. (What is the virtue of religion? True religion means giving God His due. And what can God justly expect of us? Praise, thanks, love, and respect for the lives of His creatures, our fellow humans.)
I am surprised that you would think that all Christians would have a problem with the theory of evolution. I believe that God created everything that has being, and that would include the means of evolution. Here we have another shared value: I, too, enjoy the idea that God created human beings through evolution.
It is true that some Christians have a problem with evolution, or other scientific discoveries, based on a faulty understanding of the Bible, but not Catholics. The Church has never condemned the theory of evolution. Neither has she provided a detailed endorsement of it. The Church has the wisdom to know that scientific theories themselves evolve, as scientists make further discoveries. For example, all we needed to travel to the moon was Newtonian physics, but by the time men had made the trip in 1969, that older system of physics had long been superseded by quantum mechanics as a deeper mode of explaining the universe. And cosmology continues to evolve today, as will the theory of evolution. (Today we have only begun to wonder about the natural processes that brought about life as we know it in the world, and we have labeled our theories about these processes with the name of evolution.)
The Church encourages and applauds the progress of scientific knowledge, but her mission is not primarily to advance science, though many great scientists have been Catholics. Her mission, rather, is to give man the wisdom to use scientific discoveries for good. And that mission is part of her larger goal to help men and women lead lives of virtue as they make their way toward Heaven.
Anonymous: "There are rules in the Bible that we now ignore as they are simply far too brutal and insane for modern society. Well, how do we know which rules to ignore if we are incapable of morality outside of the Bible? Where do THOSE moral judgments come from?"
“Grace”:The Bible is not the easiest book to read, as anyone who has ever tried to plow through it on his or her own can attest. For starters it is written in Hebrew and Greek over a long span of history, perhaps a period of more than a thousand years. Most people would not try to read even well-known ancient writers such as Plato or Virgil without Cliff Notes or the equivalent at hand, so why should they expect to "get" the Bible without reliable scholarly guides? People who just take the Bible and run with it often end up inventing whole new religions, such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, to name some modern examples. There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such inventions down through the centuries. And many of them have gone seriously wrong, such as Jim Jones and the People's Temple, or David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.
The Catholic Church has a long, coherent, uninterrupted tradition of interpreting the Bible. It never makes the mistake of treating it like a science textbook, or a Big Book of Rules, or a crystal ball to read the future, as so many have. The Fathers of the Church from earliest times have recognized that there are many genres of writing in the various books of the Bible; Catholic biblical commentators explain which are eye witness accounts, like the Gospels, and which are the expression of important religious truths in poetic story form, like the account of creation in Genesis.
Although the creation accounts in Genesis are written in poetic story form, The Church has always insisted that they contain important truths of faith and morals, despite the ridicule of those who consider themselves the intelligentsia, from ancient times to the present day. Here is the first truth: God created the world. "Let there be light". And then He created the sun, moon, stars, the earth, the oceans, plants and animals. Whether the biblical "days and nights" represented a short period of time or eons is incidental to the story. The author is using figurative language that the listeners of his day will be able to grasp as the story is told around the campfire. But the essential idea is that there is a Creator, a transcendent being who existed before the universe was created, and who, after the initial "fiat", developed the world over time—here one can easily see that the Biblical creation account is consonant with the theory of evolution, although it is expressed in poetic form.
In addition to the development of the world over time, or evolution, Genesis also describes something that is very consonant with the Big Bang. We have become so accustomed to mention of the Big Bang that we forget that it is a relatively new theory. Many ancient philosophers believed in a cyclical universe. Still others believed in creation, but thought the universe was static. Scientists proposed a static universe into the 20th century. Then in 1927 a Belgian priest named Fr. LeMaitre proposed the Big Bang theory. The idea was not well received by other scientists. Being prejudiced against religion, they thought it was too much like the story in Genesis —(Let there be light)--and therefore couldn't possibly be true.
At present there are still many scientists who are so biased against the idea of a Creator that they cannot accept a universe with an absolute beginning, ex nihilo. To get around the necessity of a Creator they propose an infinite series of "multi-verses", essentially the old idea of cyclical universes, even though there is no empirical evidence to support such theories.
If you enjoy reading about current cosmological theory, you might enjoy the book, “New Proofs for the Existence of God” by Robert Spitzer. The book details the amazing balance of forces that makes our anthropic universe possible, and describes the current state of theoretical physics, including many discoveries made since 2003. The book is written for the intelligent layman. Even if one remains unconvinced by the arguments for a Creator, the book is still enjoyable for the descriptions of recent discoveries in physics.
Although the creation stories of Genesis are consonant with evolution and the Big Bang, it would still be a mistake to try to read the Bible like a science textbook. You would not go to a science fiction movie to learn about science, even though the writers might have done their best to be compatible with current scientific knowledge. But while being entertained, you might also find some valuable ideas embedded in the plot of a science fiction movie. For example, Ender's Game proposes the idea that it is wrong to commit genocide.
The stories in the Bible have tremendous variety, but they all follow the thread of a larger Story, the Story of salvation history, God's efforts to save His fallen children. And there are important truths in those stories that can help us lead good lives. Truths like these: "You are not just accidents of an uncaring Universe. You have a Creator, a Father who loves you, and He has created you in His own image, with an eternal soul, and He wants you to live, not like an animal, but like his child, because you are destined to live with Him in Heaven. Furthermore, every human on earth is literally your brother and sister, because every person has Adam and Eve as their first parents."
The teaching that we are all part of one human family has been confirmed by modern genetics, and scientists even speak of the first human mother as the African Eve. But well into the twentieth century, this truth, insisted upon by the Church in all its centuries of teaching, was disputed by scientists and fanatically rejected by the likes of Hitler and a long line of eugenicists and racial superiority theorists that stretched back into the 19th century. They used a poor understanding of the theory of evolution and ersatz science to propose an "Aryan" super race that deserved to dominate "sub-human" populations. Thank God the Nazi "supermen" were defeated.
Why does the Genesis story matter? Not because it is consonant with modern genetic discoveries, but because It teaches us an important truth: all humans are literally one flesh, bone of one bone, brother and sister, a family. And what are we supposed to do with our family? We are supposed to love them. Not kill them, exploit them, and torture them. We are supposed to love them. We are supposed to do unto them, as we would have them do unto us.
That is what God is trying to teach us in Scripture, but we need the guidance of the Church that He founded to understand Scripture. Only a God with a really cruel sense of humor would give us a book as complex as the Bible and expect us to understand it without a guide.
The truth is one. There can be no compartmentalization of the truth, as in religious truth vs. scientific truth. Otherwise, the term is meaningless. No truth of Catholic dogma is going to contradict a scientific truth. For example, when science teaches, "all humans are mammals," the Church will not say nay. But dogmas, for the most part, are not concerned with science. They are concerned with morals, such as "Do not kill," and with truths of the faith. The latter are beyond the ken of science. Scientists can neither prove nor disprove the truths of the faith, such as "God is a Trinity," or "Christ is truly God and truly man." Science describes truth based on empirical knowledge; faith does not contradict empirical knowledge, but goes beyond it.
If there is a Catholic teaching about faith and morals that contradicts a scientific fact, I would like to know about it, because I have a passion for the truth, and I don't want to believe as truth, something that is false.
Just as religious truth and scientific truth must be consonant, so must truths about history. Here follows one of your statements which contradicts verifiable facts of history:
Anonymous: "And yes, I do not like Mother Teresa in the slightest. She was an incredibly cruel woman. The many accounts I have read about her infuriate me. She was a horrible, greedy, hypocritical, and deluded woman who was knowingly responsible for the suffering of countless people. She could've saved lives but she was so obsessed with suffering that she let people die in agony - because "that's what Jesus would want". She refused people simple antibiotics because it would mean that the Vatican would have to fork out the bill. Of course, when she became ill, she received the best medical treatment money can buy. Go figure.
All that she did was make millions of dollars for the Catholic Church, often through cruel, dishonest, and illegal means. I have no respect for her, and anybody that does either knows very little about her, or is equally deluded. Go tell the families of the people who suffered under her hand about how great she is. Something tells me they will not agree. The world is a better place without her. Please don't tell me you respect this woman, Susan..."
“Grace”: You are right to not take everything written about celebrities for granted. The Church has always been plagued with people who are "faking it" for their own ends, witness the sex scandals. This goes all the way back to Judas. But the case of Mother Teresa should be rather easy to resolve. If you want to know the truth about Mother Teresa, just follow the example of any good professional historian. She lived so recently that she is our contemporary; we are not trying to find out if Socrates was really a good guy or not. This is someone who died in 1997, for Pete's sake! So be a good historian: read primary sources and talk to eyewitnesses.
So many people went to India to volunteer with her that she could have been running a Hilton. Look at the accomplishments and continuing work of the convents and charities that she founded all over the world. I have a friend on my block who worked with her nuns in California. My sister-in-law met her at a religious conference. Mother Teresa was one of the most accessible celebrities the world has ever seen. And to be fair and honest to yourself, don’t just read "accounts" written by her enemies who have an ax to grind, enemies who dislike her faithfulness to Catholic moral teaching and want to discredit her for that reason. Grant to Mother Teresa the same objectivity you would want if someone were investigating you. If you live in a large American city, you could probably find one of her missions and volunteer there in order to get to know her followers yourself.
One thing in your writing tells me that you, like many people, have no knowledge of how the Catholic Church is organized.
Non-Catholics often think the Church is a big centralized corporation, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The Church is organized like a family. It is a family. Just as every diocese in the world is an independent entity, the various religious orders like the Franciscans, Jesuits, and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, all have to manage their own finances. Think of a religious order as a grown-up child that has left the nest to form a new nuclear family. They are financially independent. They don't send money to Mom and Dad, in this analogy, the Vatican. And the Vatican does not send money to them, except occasionally, in very token quantities. For example, maybe one of the Pope's charities will send some modest funds for an order to distribute to the needy if there has been a big natural disaster as an expression of solidarity. But, if a religious order goes bankrupt—too bad. It has to disband. The Vatican is not going to come to the rescue. And the idea of Mother Teresa sending the Pope the bill for anti-biotics is just ludicrous.
Anonymous: "Nothing on this earth has led to more ruthless bloodshed than religion."
“Grace:” This is a belief that is often tossed into debates with no facts to substantiate it. Most wars and bloodshed and human suffering have been caused by people who want to kill/enslave others and take their stuff. It is true that sometimes there is an additional religious or ideological component. I am a reader of history, not an historian, but it is difficult to imagine a belief system that has led to more human deaths and suffering than communism or Nazism, and both of those belief systems were profoundly committed to atheism, and the extirpation of Christianity. But it is right to condemn war and bloodshed, whatever the motivation.
In closing, I will only say that I hope we share another value: a passion for the truth. I want to follow the truth wherever it leads. I want to be a seeker. My belief in the Catholic faith does not mean that I have arrived at the end. I feel like I have just begun to discover the truth. And truth discovered only leaves one hungry for deeper truth.
"Grace" and Susan Fox's dialogue with Brother ended here for the time being. Anonymous, who truly had become our Brother, said:
I very much cherish both of your feedbacks. I will take some time to mull all of this over!
You are both such well-balanced and intellectual people. I really do love reading your replies.
Susan and Grace: God bless you Brother. We enjoyed the discussion. Please feel free to respond any time.
Susan and Grace: God bless you Brother. We enjoyed the discussion. Please feel free to respond any time.