Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blog Tweaking Coming

I don't know when I'll get around to it, what with Blogger about to implement some changes in the blog adminstration platform (to the annoyance of me and many others -- if it ain't broke . . . don't fix it!), but I've found a way to include the "older posts" link that should be at the bottom of the page. The problem is that (1) I'm afraid of losing stuff if I do the change and (2) some of the elements (like the list of links) will need to be redone manually.

But I do want to get the "older posts" link in here, especially because when you click on a tag now, you only end up getting a few of the posts, rather than being able to access them all. You can still find everything by googling, but that is a pain to do.

So, at some point, changes will be made and you may notice some things disappearing for a while (and hopefully not the entire blog).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Sacrament of Confirmation

Summa Theologica III, q. 72

art. 1 Now it is evident that in the life of the body a certain special perfection consists in man's attaining to the perfect age, and being able to perform the perfect actions of a man: hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 13:11): "When I became a man, I put away the things of a child." And thence it is that besides the movement of generation whereby man receives life of the body, there is the movement of growth, whereby man is brought to the perfect age. So therefore does man receive spiritual life in Baptism, which is a spiritual regeneration: while in Confirmation man arrives at the perfect age, as it were, of the spiritual life. . . . Christ instituted this sacrament not by bestowing, but by promising it, according to Jn. 16:7: "If I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you, but if I go, I will send Him to you." And this was because in this sacrament the fullness of the Holy Ghost is bestowed, which was not to be given before Christ's Resurrection and Ascension; according to Jn. 7:39: "As yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." * * *

Those who receive Confirmation, which is the sacrament of the fullness of grace, are conformed to Christ, inasmuch as from the very first instant of His conception He was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). This fullness was made known at His Baptism, when "the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape . . . upon Him" (Luke 3:22).

art. 5 * * * just as Baptism is a spiritual regeneration unto Christian life, so also is Confirmation a certain spiritual growth bringing man to perfect spiritual age. But it is evident, from a comparison with the life of the body, that the action which is proper to man immediately after birth, is different from the action which is proper to him when he has come to perfect age. And therefore by the sacrament of Confirmation man is given a spiritual power in respect of sacred actions other than those in respect of which he receives power in Baptism. For in Baptism he receives power to do those things which pertain to his own salvation, forasmuch as he lives to himself: whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith. This is evident from the example of the apostles, who, before they received the fullness of the Holy Ghost, were in the "upper room . . . persevering . . . in prayer" (Acts 1:13-14); whereas afterwards they went out and feared not to confess their faith in public, even in the face of the enemies of the Christian Faith. . . .

All have to wage the spiritual combat with our invisible enemies. But to fight against visible foes, viz. against the persecutors of the Faith, by confessing Christ's name, belongs to the confirmed, who have already come spiritually to the age of virility, according to 1 John 2:14: "I write unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one." And therefore the character of Confirmation is a distinctive sign, not between unbelievers and believers, but between those who are grown up spiritually and those of whom it is written: "As new-born babes" (1 Peter 2:2).

art. 6. The character of Confirmation, of necessity supposes the baptismal character: so that, in effect, if one who is not baptized were to be confirmed, he would receive nothing, but would have to be confirmed again after receiving Baptism. The reason of this is that, Confirmation is to Baptism as growth to birth, as is evident from what has been said above. Now it is clear that no one can be brought to perfect age unless he be first born: and in like manner, unless a man be first baptized, he cannot receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

The Divine power is not confined to the sacraments. Hence man can receive spiritual strength to confess the Faith of Christ publicly, without receiving the sacrament of Confirmation: just as he can also receive remission of sins without Baptism. Yet, just as none receive the effect of Baptism without the desire of Baptism; so none receive the effect of Confirmation, without the desire of Confirmation.

art. 7. In this sacrament, as stated above (1 and 4), the Holy Ghost is given to the baptized for strength: just as He was given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2; and just as He was given to the baptized by the imposition of the apostles' hands, as related in Acts 8:17. * * * the Holy Ghost is not sent or given except with sanctifying grace. Consequently it is evident that sanctifying grace is bestowed in this sacrament.

Sanctifying grace does indeed take away sin; but it has other effects also, because it suffices to carry man through every step as far as eternal life. * * * Therefore sanctifying grace is given not only for the remission of sin, but also for growth and stability in righteousness.

Further, as appears from its very name, this sacrament is given in order "to confirm" what it finds already there. And consequently it should not be given to those who are not in a state of grace. For this reason, just as it is not given to the unbaptized, so neither should it be given to the adult sinners, except they be restored by Penance. . . .

art. 10. As stated above, this sacrament is given to man for strength in the spiritual combat. Now, just as one newly born requires someone to teach him things pertaining to ordinary conduct, according to Hebrews 12:9: "We have had fathers of our flesh, for instructors, and we obeyed [Vulgate: 'reverenced']" them; so they who are chosen for the fight need instructors by whom they are informed of things concerning the conduct of the battle, and hence in earthly wars, generals and captains are appointed to the command of the others. For this reason he also who receives this sacrament, has someone to stand for him, who, as it were, has to instruct him concerning the fight.

Likewise, since this sacrament bestows on man the perfection of spiritual age, as stated above (2 and 5), therefore he who approaches this sacrament is upheld by another, as being spiritually a weakling and a child.

art. 11. The sacrament of Baptism is more efficacious than this sacrament as to the removal of evil, since it is a spiritual birth, that consists in change from non-being to being. But this sacrament is more efficacious for progress in good; since it is a spiritual growth from imperfect being to perfect being.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mary in the Culmination of Salvation History

In our study of the Sacrament of Confirmation, there is no better model for us than our Blessed Mother Mary.

The Marian doctrines really say more about Jesus than it does about Mary herself. That is because, in all things, just as when she said at Cana, "do whatever He says," Mary always points us toward her Son.

But, at the same time, Mary also points towards ourselves. Or, more accurately, she points us to the people that God made us to be, the people we should strive to be, and the people we will be if we remain faithful to God. The entire life of Mary is not only a model, but the model for all of us. Her entire life, not merely her earthly life, but her eternal life is a model as well.
(1) Immaculate Conception – Full of Grace – Mary is the “New Eve,” who was redeemed and given the life of grace from the first moment of her conception, so that she was preserved from Original Sin or other sin in her life. The grace won by Christ on the Cross was applied to Mary in anticipation of this saving event. In this way, Mary could be a proper and pure “living temple” for the Son of God in her womb. “She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man.” – Pope Benedict XVI. It was this fullness of grace that gave Mary the total freedom, unimpaired by the errors of sin, to say “yes” to God at the Annunciation and throughout her life.

(2) Ever Virgin – The virgin birth of Jesus goes beyond merely demonstrating that the true Father of Jesus is God, not a man. Mary gave herself to God completely, in the entirety of her being, soul and body, including her perpetual virginity. This means that Mary was a virgin before the conception and birth of Jesus, during these events, and after these events. At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church, our pure and holy mother of all on earth, truly made in the image and likeness of the Triune God, a loving communion of persons that brings new life.

(3) Theotókos, the Mother of God – Mary is not merely mother of Jesus in His humanity or merely mother of the Christ, but is rightly called the Mother of God because Jesus is one, both fully human and fully God. The Lord dwelling within her, she is a living temple and Ark of the Covenant.

(4) Bodily Assumption into Heaven – At the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. She did not experience the corruption of the grave. Jesus being eternal, just as He is forever on the Cross, so too is He forever in the womb of Mary. And she is forever joined to her Son, so that if He is in heaven in the entirety of His being, soul and body, so too must His Mother Mary be in heaven in the entirety of her being, soul and body. The bodily assumption of Mary also points the way to all the faithful in the resurrection of the body.

When he appears to Mary, the angel calls her "Full of Grace," as if that were her name. "Full of grace" describes not only who she is, but what she is. And it was the fullness of grace that gave Mary the total freedom, being unimpaired by the errors of sin, to say “yes” to God, in the fullness of her being, at the Annunciation and throughout her life.

Mary was not a mother in spite of her virginity, rather, she is a mother because of her virginity. In her perpetual virginity, she gave the entirety of herself to God, and it was because of the pureness and fullness of that love that Mary’s relationship with God was not only unitive, bringing her into communion with Him, but fruitful, such that a virgin could conceive and bear a Child.* In the mystery that is the all-powerful God who is in need of nothing yet choosing to need our help in the work of salvation, Mary, the New Eve, Virgin Mother of God and model of love, gave her very body to the Redeemer, without which there would have been no salvation.

In her fiat, Mary’s loving "Yes," the Handmaid of the Lord intimately carried Jesus within her very self. She clothed Him, fed Him, cared for Him, and followed Him even unto the Cross, where her heart was pierced, but where she also was made a gift to us all as our own "mother."

This same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and His subsequent Resurrection, which, being eternal, that is, beyond human time, "worked backward" to the very conception of Mary in the womb of her holy mother Anne, so as to preserve her from Original Sin (the Immaculate Conception), also "worked forward" to the end of the Virgin's earthly journey, such that she might immediately know the resurrection of the body, rather than her body having to wait to the end of human time for the resurrection (bodily Assumption into heaven).

Mary is the "new Eve," the new mother of all of those who are truly living, that is, those who have eternal life. Just as she was our model in her earthly life, so too is Mary, now in the New Jerusalem, our model for eternal life. While we were not immaculately conceived in this worldly life, the faithful will be made pure so as to be immaculately conceived into eternal life.

She, the Queen of Heaven who is "with child" and "clothed with the sun," is the eschatological destiny for all the faithful. (Rev. 12:1-2) The bodily assumption of Mary into heaven anticipates the resurrection of the body of all of the faithful into a life full of grace in communion with He who is Love and Truth. We will not be bodily assumed into heaven, but we do profess a belief in the resurrection of the body. We who "die" in Christ Jesus will see our own bodies rise with Him in His Resurrection. On the last day, the old world will pass away, and those who remain faithful to Him, who are privileged to make themselves clean and pure in the Blood of the Lamb, will be raised up and given glorified bodies, fit to inhabit the New Jerusalem where Mary now dwells.

* Mary is the model of love. And through Mary, although so very little is said about him in the Gospels, we can see that her husband Joseph is also a model of love – true love – not the false so-called “love” of feelings and emotions, of merely making himself happy, of satisfying his own wants and desires, but true and complete love, the intense thirsting of purified eros and sacrificial gift of self of agape. The spousal love of Joseph for Mary, and the spousal love of Mary for Joseph, was made complete by their spousal love for God, and it was in that fullness of love that the virginal marriage of Joseph and Mary was both unitive and procreative. (See Bl. John Paul II, Theology of the Body)

The spousal meaning of the human body, male and female, is not merely one of complimentariness, but shows that we are made for relationships that are (a) unitive, which brings about, not simply a partnership, but communion with the other, a mystical transcendental joining with the other such that many become one, and (b) creative, a fruitfulness that is not limited to the biological (sexual), but is transcendent – it was by the love of the Logos that the universe itself was created, and it is by the fruitfulness of love that Jesus transforms death on the Cross into eternal life. In this way, although Mary and Joseph never “consummated” the marriage in the flesh (i.e. sexually), one can say that the marriage was a real marriage, made complete and whole spiritually, in the spirit of love. Their virginal marriage was unitive and fruitful in that very virginity, i.e. in their complete gift of self to God and, therefore, complete gift to each other, intimately receiving the other’s heart into his or her own person in the fullness of love.

The Holy Family is the “Church in miniature” and, together with Jesus, Joseph and Mary mirror the Trinity, a loving communion of three persons in one family, one body. Their spousal love resulted not only in communion with each other and God, but was fruitful — not only the Child they raised together and shared in spirit, if not the flesh (cf. St. Augustine, De nuptiis et concupiscentia, I:12-13), but also all those children who call His Father their Father.


See also, The Blessing of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God

(Note - the above has been previously printed in various postings here and at Cinema Catechism.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Creation and the Fall of Mankind

Adult Confirmation Class Two (Part One)
April 21, 2012

I. The Existence and Nature of Man and the Meaning of Life (CCC 355-384)

If questions about God are unavoidable, so too are the questions:
Where does mankind come from and why do we exist?

Just as observation and reason allow us to come to the conclusion that the universe was made by a Creator, so also do observation and reason allow us to conclude that life on earth, especially human beings, were also the fruits of a Creator's thoughts and actions. But, as with the universe generally, written revelation and faith enlightens our reason to an even greater degree, so that we can know not only where man came from, but why he exists in the first place. For those who have no use for God, the meaning of man's existence has only confounded and confused, leaving them all too often in existential angst and nihilistic despair. For those who accept revelation and faith -- the truth has set them free.

Revelation informs us that, in Love and in Truth, God created “man,” male and female, in His image. Man is a created being; he is not self-actualizing, he did not create himself. He is not accidental, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. We were and are created by a thought of God; each of us is willed by Him as an act of love. Man exists, man lives, only because God the Ultimate Life has breathed into the body of man (Genesis 2:7), thereby giving him life by His own Holy Spirit. This also shows also that man was created not merely as a physical entity, like a stone, and not merely as a spiritual being, like the angels; rather, God created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love.

The human person is naturally drawn toward God -- even if he does not realize it or argues against it -- because man is naturally drawn toward love and truth, and this love and truth that man seeks has a name, they are a person -- God. Now, although love is naturally fruitful, God did not have to create the universe or human beings. He was not forced or compelled to do so out of some narcissistic need to be worshiped. Rather, He chose to create the universe and humanity. God is complete in and of Himself, in need of nothing outside Himself. As the “I am,” the Logos, God is the only necessary being – we humans are entirely contingent upon Him.

Our bodies (male and female) reveal that God made us, like Him, to be social and relational beings who are equal and complementary, beings who are meant to need each other and exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons. That is, “man” as an individual, is incomplete. We are in need of an “other” to complete and fulfill us.

This truth is further explained by scripture, which presents us with a “theology of the body.” Genesis (1:26-28) informs us that
“God created Man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.”
To be made in God’s image means to be made in the image of truth and love. As demonstrated in the Trinity, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature, that is, a love that draws the individual toward a communion of persons. By the words, “He created him; male and female He created them,” we see that there was an original unity of male and female, man and woman; that they are designed to be complementary and intended for each other in equal dignity.

In Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, notice Eve being held under God's arm,
as she keeps her eyes on Adam

In another account of the same truth, Gen. 2:18-25 describes how God said
"It is not good for the man to be alone.”
To demonstrate this, God first had the man exist in an original solitude, so that we could see how much we are in need of other persons. Although the man had the company of plenty of animals, he saw that none of them were like him, he was alone. Having demonstrated by experience that it is not good for him to be alone, God then took a rib from the side of Adam and, from that rib, made Eve, leading Adam to exclaim joyfully, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

This describes how, as individuals, there is something missing in our very being. For both men and women, there is a gaping hole in our side, and we desperately need an “other” to fill that hole. Without that other, there is a void, an emptiness. We need to have that rib returned to our side to be whole again, to be fulfilled. We need the “other” to be one and complete, to be true to ourselves, and the other can fill the void only with and by love.

We cannot be fulfilled if we are left to ourselves in solitude. We can fill part of that hole with a spouse, as with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, but even then God needs to be part of the relationship to bind them together and to fill the remaining void. Indeed, we see that “man” manifests an image of the Trinity, a communion of three persons in one, when man (male) and woman (female) are joined together with God, as husband and wife, by the Love that is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, love in its fullest sense being not only unitive but naturally fruitful, we have the ability to share and participate in God’s procreative power of creating new life and have been explicitly commanded by Him to “be fruitful and multiply.”

For those who are permanently single, God is the only one who can fill the entirety of that void because He is the One who is Love, the One who is Completeness. Unless and until the heart is thusly filled, there is a restlessness and a hunger.

Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning and purpose of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved. (Mt. 22:37-40; Jn 13:34)

After creating mankind, God did not simply withdraw into heaven, sit back, and do nothing. That would not be love. Rather, in Divine Providence, He continues to interact with His creation, sustaining and caring for it by His Love and Truth.

II. Man and Freedom

Man, male and female, was created in the image of God, who is Love and Truth. God loves each of us and seeks our love in return. Accordingly, as individual human persons, we are meant to exist in love and truth, that is, the meaning of human life is to love and be loved in truth.

At the same time, love is not truly love if it is not freely given and freely received, and love does not force itself or impose itself upon the other. That would not be love, but an act of falsehood and an act of violence. As such, God does not force Him¬self or His Love upon anyone. God is not a puppet master. Thus, we are also created with a capacity for free choice of the will. This free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him.

A. The Question of the Existence of Free Will

Does freedom of choice really exist or is it an illusion? Does an individual have the true ability to determine the course of his thoughts and volitions, to decide which motives shall prevail within his mind, and to modify his own character, or are his thoughts and volitions, his character and external actions, all merely the inevitable outcome of his circumstances? Is everything, including our choices, pre-determined by some prior cause, either some physical cause, or by God controlling everything? Are choices and actions all inexorably predetermined in every detail along rigid lines by events of the past, over which the individual himself has had no sort of control? Or do we have the autonomy to exercise authentic control over our decisions and actions?

Addressing the problem of the existence of free will requires understanding the relation between freedom and causation, and determining whether or not the laws of nature are causally deterministic. The issue of free will is especially important with respect to ethics and morality. Unless man is really free, he cannot be justly held responsible for his actions, any more than for the date of his birth or the color of his eyes.

For those who believe in God, the idea of the existence of free will is rather simple to believe in. We have the evidence of its existence in our daily experiences of making choices in thought and action. But the person who does not believe in God, or who rejects the idea of God altogether -- along with the idea that human persons possess a soul, a spirit from God -- both the agnostic and atheist have a dilemma to overcome with respect to the supposed existence of free will.

B. Determinism vs. Free Will

Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinism may also be defined as the thesis that there is, at any instant, exactly one physically possible future.

If the agnostic or atheist persist in their unbelief, then many necessarily must logically conclude that "free will" and "self-determination" do not really exist, indeed, "thought" does not really exist, they are simply illusions that we think that we are experiencing. That is because the physical world is governed by certain fixed and uniform physical laws, as well as the law of cause and effect, and if God does not exist, that is, if a cause beyond and independent of the physical universe does not exist, then all future events or effects are necessarily caused, or determined, by some prior pre-existing physical event or condition operating under the laws of nature.

If there is no God, then the universe is purely materialistic, and the human being does not have a soul, but is merely a body, a biological entity whose apparent "independent thoughts" are nothing more than electro-chemical impulses interacting with chemical markers that have been laid down in brain tissue, and which we know as memory, with both those impulses and markers being themselves pre-determined by other purely physical causes. Thus, “free will” is merely an illusion, a mere feeling of independent agency. And if our thoughts and actions are all pre-determined and we have no personal power to think and do otherwise, then they are not really our own thoughts and actions, and we cannot justly be held morally responsible for them.

C. The Soul and Free Choice of the Will

“Free will” is the metaphysical truth of independent agency and elective power, including the ability to exercise autonomous and rational control over one’s decisions, thoughts, and actions. The existence of free will means that the actions of the body, including the brain and the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality, that one’s thoughts somehow go beyond and transcend the physical body, suggesting the existence of an extra-corporeal aspect to the person, which we call the spirit or soul. It is because we are both body and spirit that we are able to transcend and overcome the mere biological electro-chemical reactions in the brain. It is because we are not purely biological, but have a spirit, that we are able to transcend what pure biology and environment dictate.

The human brain is like a computer. A computer operates strictly according to its software programming and the efficacy of its hardware. So long as there is no physical damage or defect, the computer will only do what its program dictates, without any deviation whatsoever. The actions of the computer are totally pre-determined by its programming. Likewise, the human brain operates according to its own hardware and software, by electro-chemical impulses along synapses, which interact with memory that has been created by certain chemical markers on the brain tissue. However, human persons are possessed with more than a body and computer-like brain.

Faith -- revelation and reason -- informs us that we are also possessed with a soul, and this spiritual component of our being is able to rise above and go beyond the merely physical, including the physical laws of cause and effect. As a result, we are able to make independent decisions with respect to actions taken. We lift our hand and move our fingers because we consciously choose to do so of our own volition, not because of some pre-programmed biological memory and electro-chemical reactions in the brain.

We are made in the image of God, and therefore possess to a certain degree that same power of the Logos, that is, we have a certain power of creative reason, which transcends and overrides the physical brain and permits independent thought and agency. But because humans do have free will, and their thoughts and actions are the result of their own willful choices, they can justly be held morally responsible for them. That is, it is right and just that we should experience the consequences of our choices.

III. The Fall of Man (Gen. 3:1-24) (CCC 385-421)

Free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him. Thus, the man and the woman of Creation were free to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, even though God had warned them not to:
"the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die."

The man and the woman thought that they could be like gods themselves, that they could then choose their own truth, their own reality, their own concepts of right and wrong. They thought that they could be self-fulfilling and self-sufficient, not needing God or other people. Even today, there are many people who still believe this. Indeed, we could easily say that we are, ourselves, both Adam and Eve, that the story of the Fall of Man is one that repeats itself on a daily basis.

However, the man and woman were wrong. In eating the fruit, in freely choosing to oppose God, believing that they did not need the one true God, but could be gods themselves, Adam and Eve did not become gods, but instead fell from truth into error. And error necessarily leads to more error, until ultimately you are so removed from Truth and Love, i.e. Life, that you are "doomed to die," and not merely bodily death, but eternal death, that is, Hell.

By opposing God, by turning against love and truth in this way, man necessarily severed the relationship between mankind and God, who is Love and Truth, and so corrupted human nature that our ability to love and to reason and discern good from evil is impaired. Before the loss of his “original innocence,” man could see – truly see. He could see God, truth, and love.

But after sin, which is an offense against truth and genuine love for God and neighbor, man’s sight is impaired, his hearing is distorted. While hiding in the bushes, vainly seeking to hide from God, instead of being able to see Him clearly, the man now saw only leaves and branches. His ability to see God, to know God, to know love and truth, was grievously impaired. Loss of original innocence necessarily means that man can no longer live in the Garden of innocence and truth.

Thus, we see that, as with this first “original sin,” our own individual sin, which is done by our own free choice of the will, carries its own intrinsic “punishment” -- error leads to more error, until, in your ignorance of the truth, you are in slavery to error and sin and death. By choosing to sin, choosing to set aside the Light and Truth of God, you are necessarily left to fend for yourself in ignorance and darkness, and you will find yourself inadequate to the challenge. And it is that first, original sin that is the root of every other sin.

By sin entering into the world, our entire human nature is wounded, corrupted, and compromised, our souls are tainted. Our judgment is clouded, our ability to reason is impaired, and the influences and temptations of the world overwhelm us, plunging us into darkness and error and slavery to further sin.

Some sin is so grave and deliberate that it destroys love in the heart and turns one away from God, thereby resulting in eternal death if forgiveness is not sought. We call these “mortal sins.” But what is such a serious and grave sin may not be so apparent to us, especially in our fallen state. For example, we might not think that merely eating a piece of fruit after being told not to is all that bad, but that seemingly innocuous act was the most mortal of all sins because by it, eternal death resulted.

There are also those sins that wound love in the heart and weaken grace, but are not so serious as to break the covenant with God, thereby still allowing for eternal life after the stain of such sin is purged from us. We call these “venial sins.” While such venial offenses may not result in eternal death, they do warrant temporal punishment, and they also impede us in the exercise of virtue and the pursuit of moral good, as well as the in the ability to fully love and discern truth. Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the judge who determines whether we are in a state of grace or whether the sins we may commit are mortal or merely venial.

The account of the Fall in Genesis not only shows how sin affects the sinner, it demonstrates how sin is intensely social. Indeed, this Original Sin did not affect merely Adam and Eve, but has affected and infected us all, it has left a stain on our being. All sin, both original and individual, affects and injures not only the sinner, but all of us. Sin severs and poisons all relations.

After eating the fruit of the Tree, Adam not only foolishly tries to hide from God, but the first thing he does when confronted is to blame Eve. What directly follows is Cain’s murder of Abel.

Salvation History - Reconciling Fallen Mankind to God

Adult Confirmation Class Two (Part Two)
April 21, 2012

The Long Process of God Calling Humanity Back to Himself

The book of Genesis informs us that man used his freedom, not to embrace love and truth, but to turn away from love and truth, thereby corrupting our human nature. As a result of this sin of believing that you are equal to or above God, of believing that you can create your own truth, your own idea of right and wrong, good and evil, the proper relationship between mankind and God was and is severed. In opposing God, who is Life, man necessarily brings death upon himself.

The result of Original Sin is that a wide gulf of separation between God and humanity was created, a separation between man and love, truth, and life. The gulf of separation between God and humanity is so great that man is incapable of crossing it on his own. To be sure, following the Fall and expulsion of man from the Garden, mankind even began to lose knowledge of God. And not only are proper relationships between mankind and God severed, but, as we see with Adam turning against Eve, and Cain killing Abel, proper relationships between human beings themselves are estranged, so that, instead of living a life of love and truth toward others, mankind has lived a life of selfish self-gratification and exploitation of others; instead of harmony, there is discord.

Now God, who is Divine Mercy, knew this rupture would happen. God knew that His covenant of love with Adam would be broken, and He already had a plan for reconciliation. This process of God calling humanity back to Himself is called “salvation history.” (CCC 50-73)

God did not abandon His creation, but sustains it and has even physically entered into its history. This history of salvation, which recounts the words and marvels of God, what He has done, continues to do and will do in the future, is organized in reference to and converges upon Jesus Christ. The structure of salvation history, of which creation and eschatology are its beginning and its end, includes the events in the Old Testament, by which God progressively prepared mankind for the Gospel, the life of Jesus, who brings Revelation to completion, and the history of the Church. As such, Christ and His Church were prefigured in many ways throughout salvation history.

The first process of God calling humanity to Himself is, of course, creation itself, with God breathing his Holy Spirit into us to give us life, and man, male and female, being made in the Triune God’s image and likeness, thereby imprinting upon our very being a desire for God. Upon the Fall, in Genesis 3:15, in a passage known as the proto-evangelium, God tells the serpent who had tempted Eve in the Garden that her offspring would strike at his head, thereby foreshadowing the deliverance of mankind by Jesus Christ, who would demonstrate the serious nature of sin, and the high cost of redemption, by taking man’s sins upon Himself and dying on the Cross.

After man had forgotten God, the plan of redemption was to establish a relationship with a specific people and develop them so that they could learn to know God and live according to His will of love and truth. In progressive fashion over time, God revealed Himself to a greater and greater degree while also forming covenants with certain people.

God first established a covenant with Noah. (Gen. 6-9) During a time of great evil, the righteous Noah and his family were granted salvation by obeying God’s instruction to build an ark before the waters of the Flood came to wash away sin. Thus, as with Christ and His Church, through one man and the ark, the whole family of the faithful were saved from death and destruction at the end of the world.

God next established the great covenant with Abraham to set apart a people to be His own. (Gen. 12, 17) To show that He was not merely the god of a particular place, as was believed to be the case by the polytheists of the time, but that He is the One God who is Lord everywhere, God told Abraham (then called Abram) to leave his home in Ur (present day southern Iraq) and go to a far land, Canaan (present day Israel), which would be given to him and his descendents. To demonstrate this covenant with Abraham and his descendents, the sign of the covenant, circumcision, was made on the instrument of procreation. Through these chosen people, God would bring salvation to all mankind.

At this time in human history, not only was polytheism widely practiced, but human sacrifice was a part of some of those religions. In order for Abraham (and we) to fully understand the gravity of the situation, and so that he could demonstrate and prove (to himself) that he had total faith in the Lord, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, God followed the expectations of the times and told Abraham to offer to him in sacrifice, which Abraham dutifully prepared to do. (Gen. 22) God did not test Abraham in order for God to know the extent of his fidelity, the omniscient God already knew. Rather, God tested Abraham so that Abraham would know that he was so faithful that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, whom he loved. However, God does not, in fact, desire human sacrifice; He desires mercy and a loving heart (Hos. 6:6). And in order to graphically demonstrate that as well, God had Abraham proceed to the brink of sacrificing Isaac only so that He could then stop him. Neither Abraham nor any other member of mankind would be asked for such a sacrifice. Instead, as Abraham told Isaac, God Himself would provide for the sacrifice, as He also did in providing Himself as the Lamb of God.

The covenant was renewed with Jacob, also called Israel. (Gen. 28, 35) When Jacob’s son Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and Joseph was then unjustly thrown into prison, God demonstrated His providence by bringing good out of evil. Joseph was later freed from prison and given a powerful position in Egypt, where he was able to save his family from famine. (Gen. 37-46) Thus, as with Christ, one innocent man suffered to bring life to God’s people.

In time, though, the people of Israel fell into slavery, so God revealed Himself to Moses, who would lead them out of bondage in Egypt, and they were saved from death by the blood of the Passover lamb, just as we are led out of the bondage of sin and death by the Paschal Lamb, who is Jesus Christ. And to help them know what He had already written on their hearts, God gave them the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law, reduced to physical written form and kept within the Ark of the Covenant. But still, the people chose to wander in the desert, and that has been the history of man throughout the ages. Nevertheless, God continued to protect His people, even providing them manna and water by which to survive.

Eventually, the people settled in Canaan, to be ruled for a period by military leaders known as “judges.” When they desired a king, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul, who was succeeded by David. God established a covenant with David, saying that his descendent (the Messiah) would reign as King forever. David’s son Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem, but the kingdom was soon thereafter divided in two.

Meanwhile, various enemies and invaders threatened Israel, just as the Canaanites and Philistines had done previously. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Macedonians all imposed their military might upon Israel, which was a major trade route. The land was conquered, many people were carried off into slavery and exile, and outsiders moved in, resulting in intermarriage amongst those who stayed behind. Eventually, however, the people would be restored.

This cycle of events occurred over and over in the history of the people of Israel – The people would rebel by falling into sin and God would allow them to suffer the consequences, such as by being conquered by their enemies. The people then cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness, so the Lord has compassion and forgives. Despite their repeated infidelities, God did not abandon them, but remained ever faithful to His people, so as to continue to prepare them for salvation.

During the unfaithful times, prophets arose, and God in various ways called the people to return to Him. During exile in Babylon, the messianic prophecies of Isaiah told of the Spirit of the Lord resting upon a descendent of David, a suffering servant who would endure pain, hardship, and even death for the sake of the people. In the book of Daniel, it is revealed that one would come like a “son of man” on the clouds of heaven to defeat the beasts of evil, and he would receive everlasting dominion and glory in a kingdom of salvation.

The prophets Jeremiah and Joel also told of God establishing a New Covenant, which would fulfill and exceed the old covenant, and would include the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all mankind. Unlike the old covenants, He would write His law of love and truth on the hearts of the people. They would know Him and, from the least to the greatest, He would forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.

Upon the return from the Babylonian exile, the people of Israel found their land heavily influenced by Greeks and other foreigners. In time, those foreigners included the Romans, who conquered the area they called Palestine and installed Herod to rule as king.

The Culmination of God Preparing Mankind for the Coming of Jesus and the Gospel

It was then, when the Romans ruled in Israel, that God chose to bring salvation history to its culmination. (CCC 50-73, 484-511) A simple and humble girl named Mary was conceived immaculately, in the fullness of grace, without the stain of that Original Sin.

At the Annunciation, in an image of His intended relationship with mankind, God in effect proposed marriage to the human race. This young girl, Blessed Virgin Mary, was like a new Eve, and she accepted that proposal, saying “yes, let it be done” to her as God willed, when an angel announced to her that she would bear the Savior (Lk.1:26-45). Thus, we proclaim that Mary is the Theotókos, the Mother of God. Just as the first Eve was formed out of the first Adam, so Jesus, Son of God and the new Adam, was formed out of the new Eve, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone.

In Jesus, God literally merged into mankind, becoming small, defenseless, and vulnerable while dwelling within the Virgin Mary’s womb, in the most intimate of relationships. To be sure, to show that such an intimate relationship was not meant to be Mary's alone, to show that all the faithful are called to intimately receive Him into our own bodies, the newborn Jesus was placed in a manger. As with the straw that was food for the animals, so too Jesus is shown to be food for us in the Eucharist. And by becoming small in this way, the all-powerful God who needs nothing chose to need us, chose to need our help in bringing about the salvation of man.

Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, by becoming His mother, became our mother too, and the Mother of the Church. As our Mother, like at Cana when the wine ran out, Mary is sensitive and attentive to our needs, and she intercedes and asks her Son to provide for us. (Jn. 2:1-5)

The preparation of mankind for the coming of the Redeemer was completed by John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, who leapt for joy and was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary visited his mother Elizabeth. The Baptist proclaimed to the world that the long period of expectancy was over. The Christ (Messiah) was at hand.

But the One anointed by God would not be as men expected, a military ruler, but the lowly suffering servant and Lamb of God, who would be the sacrifice provided by God to atone for man’s sins and, thus, redeem mankind.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On the Existence of God

Adult Confirmation Class One (Part One)
April 19, 2012

Does God really exist?

The existence of God is not an irrational proposition. To be sure, one can come to know the existence of a Creator-God -- to prove His existence -- by observation and reason, including the observation of the existence and nature of the universe.

In Love and in Truth, God created the universe. By His Word, He created it ex nihilo and ab initio temporis (out of nothing and at the beginning of time). We know this from divine (written) revelation, but even without written revelation, God reveals Himself in nature, such that knowledge that the universe was created by God can be attained by reason and observation of the orderly universe. Indeed, the very word "cosmology," meaning the study of the universe, is derived from the Greek cosmos (order) and logos (reason). (Technically, cosmology is the study of the universe, while cosmogony answers the question as to how the universe first came to be, and that word is derived from the Greek cosmos (universe) and gonia (come about)).

But are not faith and science necessarily in conflict with each other? How can reason and observation alone lead to the conclusion that the universe was created by God?

The existence of a Creator is not a purely religious question, as demonstrated by the fact that, since ancient times, non-religious scholars, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero have posited reason-based theories for a Creator-God. Historically, such theories based on reason and observation, leading to the conclusion that the universe was made by a Creator, have included the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the anthropic principle.

The cosmological argument is a metaphysical argument for the existence of God as a first cause or first mover of the universe. The teleological argument, or argument from design, is an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on order or perceived purpose. The more modern anthropic principle is a variation of the teleological argument, and it examines the extreme complexity of the human organism and the highly delicate balance of conditions necessary for human life, and posits that it is infinitely unlikely that such conditions could have happened randomly.

The very first premise of science is that truth exists, and that reason exists. It is a premise of science that the universe is ordered, and that it strictly operates according to rational laws, including cause and effect, Newton’s first law of motion (inertia), conservation of energy/matter, and the second law of thermodynamics (entropy).

One cannot get something out of nothing. A thing cannot have itself as its own cause, a thing at rest stays at rest unless moved by another thing, and entropy (disorder) in a closed system tends increase over time. The physical reality that is the universe did not and could not have created itself. It did not and could not have set itself “in motion.” Indeed, a universe of chance and arbitrary randomness – a universe detached from reason -- could not have created the ordered and reasonable universe that exists today. Chance and arbitrary randomness cannot account for matter that exists in a stable, ordered form, or for the fact that some of that matter is alive. Chance and arbitrary randomness cannot account for the infinite complexity of the human organism, much less the capacity for thought, free will, and autonomous action. Rather, the universe, order in the universe, and mankind had a cause independent of themselves, and that cause was the First Cause and First Mover of all things – God.

Variations of the cosmological argument were advanced by the Greeks Plato and Aristotle. Plato argued that motion in the world and in the cosmos was "imparted motion" that would have required some kind of "self-originated motion" to set it in motion and to maintain the motion. Aristotle also put forth the idea of a first cause, often referred to as the "Prime Mover" or "Unmoved Mover" in his work Metaphysics. Meanwhile, variations of the teleological argument were advanced by the Roman Cicero, who utilized the familiar "clock in the wilderness" scenario. "When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?" (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 34)

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, with respect to the universe and its origin, the existence of God can be proved in five ways. The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion -- whatever is in motion is put in motion by another. The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. The third way is taken from possibility and necessity. The fourth way is taken from the gradation of perfection to be found in things. The fifth way is taken from the governance and design of the world. (Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 3)

And yet, some insist that the universe and reality itself sprung into existence by an arbitrary and accidental act. Not only did the universe just spring into existence all by itself, it was and is just coincidental that certain sub-atomic particles react with other particles in particular fashion, and that they are thus bound together, so as to permit the existence of atoms, molecules, and compounds, not to mention galaxies, stars, and planets. But the existence of these things, and the fact that they follow rational laws, would dictate as a matter of science that they were caused by something rational and true.

The fact that one of those planets just happened to be so lucky so as to be just the right distance away from the sun, which radiated just the right kind and intensity of light and heat, and the temperature of the planet was just right and that planet had just the right kind of elements in the right proportions so as to be able to form oxygen and water, shows that we are either extra-ordinarily lucky, like hitting the Lotto every single day for 100 years, or we are here because of some rational creative act of reason.

Moreover, some of this matter became animated, that is, alive, which also points to a rational cause; it points to the conclusion that life is not simply the result of haphazard events. Life is not the result of the random collision of molecules and electro-magnetic pulses. And the fact that some of that life actually has the capacity for sentience and thought, an ability to form and create ideas and to exercise independent agency, i.e. free will, which actually transcends the physical, points to the possibility that reality is not limited to the physical universe, but there is a reality beyond it. Indeed, science has repeatedly postulated the existence of realities beyond the known universe, or even the existence of non-corporeal life.

There was a cause to all of these things. That cause was necessarily "Creative Reason," i.e. Logos (God). As we can see, the basis for believing in the existence of God merely from simple observation of the world around us, experience, and reason, is compelling. To be sure, the Big Bang Theory only confirms what revealed scripture has said all along. But as far as reason takes us, it does not take us all the way. Revealed faith, on the other hand, does allow man to reach for and attain the transcendent.

Love and Truth – the Nature and Attributes of God

Adult Confirmation Class One (Part Two)
April 19, 2012

A. Knowledge of the Nature of God

The unavoidable question of life is whether or not God exists. To arrive at a correct answer to that mystifying question, one must, of course, have a proper conception of whom or what God is. It is quite easy to reject any belief in God if all you know is a caricature of Him, rather than the reality. The problem is that, while the mere existence of God is knowable by reason, reason is necessarily limited by what is already known or by what can be imagined. However, reason can be enlightened by revelation -- someone simply revealing truth to us -- helping us to know who and what it is that we seek, that is, helping us to have that proper conception of God, at least to the extent that we can comprehend, conceding that the full extent of the nature of God is beyond our limited human comprehension, which we call "mystery."

Of course, to accept such revelation as reliable, one must necessarily have faith. That said, faith and reason are not incompatible. Faith helps reason to discover itself. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the search for truth in any endeavor never starts from zero, but always presupposes a trust in knowledge, ideas, and data which we cannot always control by ourselves. Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of the transcendent, God and other spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of revealed faith.

Also, when one simply "takes it on faith" that God exists, then it all starts making sense. As St. Augustine discovered, belief leads to understanding, which in turn leads to greater belief. Once we simply flip the switch of faith, the light comes on, and we can see, thereby confirming that we were right to trust. Thus, in answering the question of God, it is good to consult revelation as a starting point from which our reason can determine whether this is a truth to which we should give our assent. It is only by Divine Revelation (the Bible and Sacred Tradition, as authoritatively interpreted and understood by the Magisterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit) that we can have a greater and proper understanding of the mystery of the nature of God.

B. Divine Revelation – God Reveals to Mankind What and Who He is
(1) The Fullness of Being – Truth itself – “I am” – God is
Ex. 3:13-15 – Moses said to God, "When I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is His name?' what am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then He added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.”

(2) The Word – Logos – Creative Reason
John 1:1-4 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.

(3) Deus Caritas Est – God is Love
1 Jn. 4:7-9 – Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.

(4) Creator – source of all that exists
Gen. 1:1-3 – In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

(5) Beginning and end of all, making all things new
Rev. 21:5-6 – The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Then He said, "Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true." He said to me, "They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
As set out above, Divine Revelation informs us that:

(1) God told Moses that He is the "I am." What does this reveal about God? It means that God, as the "I am," is the Ultimate Reality, complete in Himself and, therefore, One. He is Being itself and is therefore Truth itself. Indeed, if something lacks truth, it lacks reality and existence. This Truth is the first principle, from which all else follows. Referring to Himself as the "I am," shows that God is a transcendent conscious reality that has a name, an identity, that is, He is not merely philosophical truth, not merely a cosmic force, but a personal being. He is not merely a what, but a who.
(2) God, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is also the Word, that is, Logos (Creative Reason), and as such, is again Truth itself from which everything that exists proceeds. And yet again, He is (5) the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. In Him, all things are made new.
(3) However, Revelation informs us that God is not merely Truth, He is also Love. And this is demonstrated again and again in salvation history, in our creation and in our salvation. And it is in and by the power of that Love, that He is (4) the Creator and ultimate source of all that is.

C. The Nature of God

From Revelation, reason allows us to discern the nature of God --

    (1) One and Complete in Himself – noncontingent, dependent upon nothing, in need of nothing beyond Himself
    (2) Only Necessary Being – the creator, source and sustainer of all that exists

      (a) God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)
      (b) Divine Providence – God continues to sustain and interact with His creation
      (c) God is Life itself – we are not the accidental products of an impersonal universe, rather, we are each created by the thought of God as an act of love, and we have life because He has breathed His Spirit into us.
    (3) God has a Name – He is not merely a what, but is a who, that is, God is a conscious, intelligent, and personal being; He is not a mere cosmic force.
    (4) Transcendent Spirit

      (a) noncorporeal, nonmaterial
      (b) God exists in and beyond space (the physical universe) and time
    (5) God is Truth – God "is"

      (a) His name reveals Him to be Being itself, existence itself – Ultimate Reality
      (b) The Word – Logos, a Greek term meaning “reason” (from which we get “logic”)
      (c) As truth, God embodies justice and order
    (6) God is Total Perfect Love in Person

      (a) The Love of God is total and perfect love in its truest and fullest sense, a “spousal” type of love that is unitive and fruitful/procreative, encompassing both the unconditional, gratuitous, and sacrificial love of agape (caritas), and the joyous wanting love of a purified and ennobled eros.
      (b) The Love of God is unitive - love is by its very nature relational, and total perfect love in its truest and fullest sense involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons, whereby many become one.
      (c) The Love of God is fruitful (procreative) – love in its fullest sense is naturally fruitful, it is not stagnant or sterile, but instead seeks to spread outward and grow and generate new love and life.
      (d) Divine Mercy – God is ever merciful
D. The Perfections of God

Assisted by Revelation, reason also informs us of certain perfections of God --

    (1) Holy and All Good
    (2) Omnipotent (almighty, all powerful)
    (3) Omniscient (all knowing)
    (4) Transcendent and Infinite

      This One Truth who is also Love is eternal and transcendent, not bounded by time or space. He is pure, infinite, unbounded spirit. The only “limit” to the all-powerful God is that He cannot be contrary to Himself – He is not and cannot be or act contrary to truth or love because He is Truth and Love. Thus, He cannot be unreasonable or irrational or unjust or the source or cause of evil.
    (5) Omnipresent - God transcends and is not bounded by the physical universe, such that He can and does exist in all places
    (6) Eternal – God transcends and is not bounded by temporality

      God exists beyond and outside of space - the physical universe - and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He exists both in and outside of time. He is simultaneously the beginning and the end. For God, time is not linear, as for humans, but is both a singularity and a totality. All moments are for Him in the present. "Eternity" does not mean "forever," but instead means being above and beyond time. Thus, God is not some ancient being who is more than 20 billion years old, but is instead always "new." For Him, all things exist simultaneously, and each moment exists in perpetuity -- thus, for example, Jesus was not merely crucified 2,000 years ago (as it appears from a human perspective), but rather, being eternal, He is hanging on the Cross even now and yet, He is simultaneously also rising from the dead, and leading us into the New Jerusalem.

E. The Holy Trinity – one God in three persons

Most importantly, Revelation informs us that the Lord God is a Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here we see the necessity for revealed truth, for this could not be known purely by observation and reason. But having been revealed to us, reason allows us to now have a greater understanding that God is a loving communion of three distinct persons in one undivided nature, substance, and essence – each possesses the fullness of the other and each has always existed.

The Trinity is a mystery - one that we should always respect in trying to understand it, so that our imperfect attempts at explanation do not inadvertently lead us to stray into error. Nevertheless, since ours is a faith that seeks understanding, we should not simply come to a halt when confronted with a mystery, but should instead proceed ahead to seek understanding, but with caution.

Although a mystery, we can begin to grasp some understanding of the Trinity by understanding that God is Truth and Love. Because God is Truth and Complete, He is One. But He is also Love and love is by its very nature relational – it requires an “other.” That is, love is not self-oriented, but must extend outward -- an "other" is required for love to exist, one who loves and one who is loved. Love does not exist in a vacuum.

Accordingly, God is not a one-dimensional being who exists in solitude, but, rather, being Truth and Love, and complete in Himself, He exists as one person (Father) who loves and is loved by a second person (Son), and this everlasting love proceeding from and to each of them is not merely a sentiment, but is a person as well, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Such complete and perfect love, love in its truest and fullest sense, is both unitive and fruitful. It involves not merely a relation of persons, but a communion of persons -- three are one. This love is also fruitful, that is, it is creative. Love is dynamic, not static, and it bears fruit. Thus, this loving communion of three persons in one divine being, although complete in Himself, chose to share His love even more and create mankind.
There is only one source of true love, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Youth Day 2007
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus' words and guides us to the whole truth (cf. Jn 14: 26; 16: 13), believers can experience, so to speak, the intimacy of God himself, discovering that He is not infinite solitude but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit - Lover, Loved and Love, to echo St Augustine.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 June 2006

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Living Water and Light of God in Our Lives

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass on the Occasion of His 85th Birthday
(delivered extemporaneously in German)
April 16, 2012
On the day of my birth and Baptism, April 16, the liturgy of the Church had three signposts that showed me where the road would lead and which would help me to find it.

First, there is the commemoration of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes; then, there is one of the more unusual saints in the history of the Church, Benedict Joseph Labre; and above all, this day is always immersed in the Paschal mystery, the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection - especially so in the year I was born, when it was Holy Saturday, the day of God's silence, of his apparent absence, the death of God, but also the day on which the Resurrection announced itself.

Bernadette Soubirous. The simple girl of the South, of the Pyrenees – we all know and love her. She was born in almost unimaginable poverty in 19th century Enlightenment France. The prison, which was abandoned because it was too unhealthy, became, in the end – after some hesitations -- the family’s dwelling, in which she spent her childhood.

She did not have much schooling, just some catechism to prepare for her First Communion. But this simple girl, who remained pure and innocent at heart, therefore had a seeing heart that made her able to see the Mother of the Lord and, in her, a reflection of the beauty and the goodness of God.

Mary showed herself to her, and through her, could speak to her century, and to the centuries beyond hers. Bernadette could see with her pure and unspoiled heart. So Mary indicated to her the source: she was able to discover this spring with its living water, pure and uncontaminated - water that is life, water which gives purity and health.

And through the centuries, now, this living water is a sign on Mary’s part, a sign that indicates where to find the waters of life, where one can become pure, where we can find what is not contaminated.

In this our time, in which we see the world in so much anxiety, and in which the need of water bursts out, of pure water, this sign is that much greater. From Mary, from the Mother of the Lord, from her pure heart, comes pure water which gives life; water which, in this century and those to come, purifies and heals us.

I think we should also consider this water an image for the truth that comes to us from faith: truth that is not simulated, but is genuine uncontaminated truth. Because, in order to be able to live, and to be pure, we need to yearn for pure living itself, for unfalsified truth, to be untainted by corruption, for a spotless existence.

Therefore on this day, this little saint has always been for me a sign of where the living water comes from, that which we need to purify us and give us life, and therefore a sign of what we must be - in all things, for all our knowledge and abilities, though they are necessary, we need a simple heart. We should not lose the simplicity that makes the heart capable of seeing what is essential, and we must always pray to the Lord so that he may keep in us the humility that allows the heart to be clear-sighted - to see what is simple and essential, the beauty and the goodness of God, and thus find the source, the spring, from which the water comes that gives life and purifies.

Then there is Benedict Joseph Labre, the pious "beggar pilgrim" of the 18th century who, after various vain attempts, finally found his vocation as a beggar - having nothing, no sustenance, never keeping for himself anything of what he received except that of which he had absolute need - pilgrimaging through the whole of Europe, to all the shrines of Europe, from Spain to Poland and from Germany to Sicily: a truly European Saint!

We can say that he was a most unusual saint, who by begging, wandered from shrine to shrine, wanting to do nothing else but to pray and therefore give witness to what really counts in this life: God.

He is certainly not an example to emulate, but rather he is a road sign, a finger that points to the essential. He shows us that God alone is enough, that beyond everything in the world, everything that we need and everything we do, the decisive thing, the essential is to know God. He alone is enough, and this "God alone" he shows us in a dramatic way.

At the same time, this truly European life which embraced the whole European continent, from shrine to shrine, shows that he who is open to God is not alienated from the world and from men. Rather, he finds brothers, because with God, all barriers fall - only God can do away with barriers, and thanks to Him, we are all brothers, we all belong to each other. Unity with God also means the brotherhood and reconciliation of men, bringing down barriers in order to unite and heal us.

And so, he is a saint of peace precisely because he is a saint without any exigency, who demanded nothing and died with nothing, yet was blessed with everything.

And then, finally, the Paschal Mystery. On the same day I was born, thanks to the care of my parents, I was also reborn by water and the Spirit, as we just heard in the Gospel.

In the first place, there is the gift of life that my parents gave me in very difficult times, and for which I owe them my gratitude. However, it is not taken for granted that man’s life is in itself a gift.

Can it really be a good gift? Do we know what is incumbent on man in the dark times he is facing – also in those more luminous ones that might come? Can we foresee what anxieties, what terrible events he might be exposed to? Is it right to simply give life? Is it responsible or is it too uncertain?

It is a questionable gift, if it remains by itself, if left alone. Biological life of itself is a gift, and yet it is surrounded by questions. It becomes a real gift only if, together with it is given a promise that is stronger than every misfortune that can threaten that life, when it is immersed in a power that guarantees that, yes, it is good to be man, that it is good for this person whatever the future may bring.

Thus, birth must come with rebirth - the certainty that, in fact, it is good to exist since the promise is stronger than any threat. This is the meaning of rebirth in water and the Spirit - to be immersed in the promise that only God can give: "It is good that you exist, and you must know this for certain, whatever may happen." From this certainty, I am able to live, reborn by water and the Spirit.

Nicodemus asks the Lord: “Can an old man be born again?” Now, rebirth is given to us in Baptism, but we must grow continually in it, we must always let ourselves me immersed in God’s promise, to be truly reborn in the great new family of God, which is stronger than all the weaknesses and all the negative powers that threaten us. This is why this is a day of great thanksgiving.

The day on which I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was usual to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would have been followed again by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia.

It seems to me that this singular paradox, this rare anticipation of Light on a dark day, could be almost an image of the history of our days. On one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the “yes” of God. And on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear him speaking, and through the darkness of his absence, we perceive his Light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the midst of a history that is on-going is a strength which indicates the way to us and that helps us to go forward.

We thank the dear Lord for this light he has given us and we pray that it will always be with us. And on this day I have reason to thank Him and all those who have always allowed me perceive the Lord’s presence, who have accompanied me so that I would not lose the light.

I face the final stretch of my journey in life, and I do not know what awaits me. But I know that God's light is there, that He is risen, that His Light is stronger than any darkness, that God's goodness is stronger than all the evil of this world. And this helps me to go forward with confidence. This helps us to carry on, and in this hour, I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who continually make me perceive the “yes” of God through their faith.

Finally, Cardinal Dean, my cordial gratitude for your words of fraternal friendship, for all the collaboration in all these years. And a big thank you to all the collaborators of the 30 years in which I have been in Rome, who helped me bear the weight of my responsibility. Thank you. Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Papa!

Benedetto, We Love You!

V. Let us pray for Benedict, our Pope.

R. May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies. [Ps 40:3]

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Benedict, whom Thou has chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he has charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, he may attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Divine Mercy Sunday

Read more about Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy Sunday, and St. Faustina over at Cinema Catechism.
I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners.
On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.
On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.
My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity.
The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.
-- Diary of St. Faustina, 699

Sunday, April 08, 2012

To the City and to the World: Christ Our Hope has Arisen

Urbi et Orbi Message of Pope Benedict XVI
Easter Sunday, 8 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

Surrexit Christus, spes mea” – “Christ, my hope, has risen” (Easter Sequence).

May the jubilant voice of the Church reach all of you with the words which the ancient hymn puts on the lips of Mary Magdalene, the first to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning. She ran to the other disciples and breathlessly announced: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18). We too, who have journeyed through the desert of Lent and the sorrowful days of the Passion, today raise the cry of victory: “He has risen! He has truly risen!”

Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus “my hope”: He was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil.

“Christ my hope” means that all my yearnings for goodness find in Him a real possibility of fulfilment: with Him, I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God Himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity.

But Mary Magdalene, like the other disciples, was to see Jesus rejected by the leaders of the people, arrested, scourged, condemned to death and crucified. It must have been unbearable to see Goodness in person subjected to human malice, truth derided by falsehood, mercy abused by vengeance. With Jesus’ death, the hope of all those who had put their trust in him seemed doomed. But that faith never completely failed: especially in the heart of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Mother, its flame burned even in the dark of night.

In this world, hope cannot avoid confronting the harshness of evil. It is not thwarted by the wall of death alone, but even more by the barbs of envy and pride, falsehood and violence. Jesus passed through this mortal mesh in order to open a path to the kingdom of life. For a moment, Jesus seemed vanquished: darkness had invaded the land, the silence of God was complete, "hope" a seemingly empty word.

And lo, on the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, the tomb is found empty. Jesus then shows Himself to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to His disciples. Faith is born anew, more alive and strong than ever, now invincible since it is based on a decisive experience: “Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, now lives to reign”.

The signs of the resurrection testify to the victory of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance: “The tomb the living did enclose, I saw Christ’s glory as he rose! The angels there attesting, shroud with grave-clothes resting”.

Dear brothers and sisters! If Jesus is risen, then – and only then – has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world. Then He, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in His message, but in Jesus Himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past, but is present today, alive.

Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution. And He is present as a force of hope through His Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice.

May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights. Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community. May the many refugees from that country who are in need of humanitarian assistance find the acceptance and solidarity capable of relieving their dreadful sufferings. May the paschal victory encourage the Iraqi people to spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development. In the Holy Land, may Israelis and Palestinians courageously take up anew the peace process.

May the Lord, the victor over evil and death, sustain the Christian communities of the African continent; may He grant them hope in facing their difficulties, and make them peacemakers and agents of development in the societies to which they belong.

May the risen Jesus comfort the suffering populations of the Horn of Africa and favour their reconciliation; may he help the Great Lakes Region, Sudan and South Sudan, and grant their inhabitants the power of forgiveness. In Mali, now experiencing delicate political developments, may the glorious Christ grant peace and stability. To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of all its citizens.

Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

"Let there be light"

Homily of Pope Benedict XIV
Easter Vigil, 7 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, as Saint Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:50). On the subject of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, the Church writer Tertullian in the third century was bold enough to write: “Rest assured, flesh and blood, through Christ you have gained your place in heaven and in the Kingdom of God” (CCL II, 994).

A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader. Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day with the old creation, so that we can learn to understand the new one aright.

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word on Easter night, then, comes the account of the creation of the world. Two things are particularly important here in connection with this liturgy. On the one hand, creation is presented as a whole that includes the phenomenon of time. The seven days are an image of completeness, unfolding in time. They are ordered towards the seventh day, the day of the freedom of all creatures for God and for one another. Creation is therefore directed towards the coming together of God and his creatures; it exists so as to open up a space for the response to God’s great glory, an encounter between love and freedom.

On the other hand, what the Church hears on Easter night is above all the first element of the creation account: “God said, ‘let there be light!’” (Gen 1:3). The creation account begins symbolically with the creation of light. The sun and the moon are created only on the fourth day. The creation account calls them lights, set by God in the firmament of heaven. In this way he deliberately takes away the divine character that the great religions had assigned to them. No, they are not gods. They are shining bodies created by the one God. But they are preceded by the light through which God’s glory is reflected in the essence of the created being.

What is the creation account saying here? Light makes life possible. It makes encounter possible. It makes communication possible. It makes knowledge, access to reality and to truth, possible. And insofar as it makes knowledge possible, it makes freedom and progress possible. Evil hides. Light, then, is also an expression of the good that both is and creates brightness. It is daylight, which makes it possible for us to act.

To say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and for love. Matter is fundamentally good, being itself is good. And evil does not come from God-made being, rather, it comes into existence through denial. It is a “no”.

At Easter, on the morning of the first day of the week, God said once again: “Let there be light”. The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed.

Now it is the first day once again – creation is beginning anew. “Let there be light”, says God, “and there was light”: Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies.

The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. But this applies not only to him, not only to the darkness of those days. With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day, new for all of us.

But how is this to come about? How does all this affect us so that instead of remaining word it becomes a reality that draws us in? Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us. The Lord says to the newly-baptized: Fiat lux – let there be light. God’s new day – the day of indestructible life, comes also to us. Christ takes you by the hand. From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life. For this reason the early Church called baptism photismos – illumination.

Why was this? The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil.

The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general. If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other “lights”, which put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk.

Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?

With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify. Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.

Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle.

This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,” as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.

The great hymn of the Exsultet, which the deacon sings at the beginning of the Easter liturgy, points us quite gently towards a further aspect. It reminds us that this object, the candle, has its origin in the work of bees. So the whole of creation plays its part.

In the candle, creation becomes a bearer of light. But in the mind of the Fathers, the candle also in some sense contains a silent reference to the Church. The cooperation of the living community of believers in the Church in some way resembles the activity of bees. It builds up the community of light. So the candle serves as a summons to us to become involved in the community of the Church, whose raison d’être is to let the light of Christ shine upon the world.

Let us pray to the Lord at this time that he may grant us to experience the joy of his light; let us pray that we ourselves may become bearers of his light, and that through the Church, Christ’s radiant face may enter our world (cf. LG 1). Amen.

Heaven and Belief in Christ the Savior

Over at the Althouse blog, the question is posed --

Do you think you need to believe in Jesus to go to Heaven when you die?

And, of course, that depends on what one means by "believe."

Is it necessary to believe intellectually, with one's mind, to have an affirmative knowledge that you believe?

Well, intellectual belief certainly helps. For one thing, the intellectual believer will presumably then go and be baptized, which provides the grace of not only redeeming one from Original Sin, which is absolutely necessary for salvation, but it provides other graces as well to grow in the faith and grow closer to the Lord, if only one accepts those graces in the heart.

However, Jesus says that it is not necessarily the case that the intellectual believer will be automatically saved, that there are many who fed Him even without realizing they were doing so. (Mt. 25:34-40) Meanwhile, Jesus also says that there are plenty who proclaim, "Lord, Lord," to whom He will say "I don't know you because you never really took me into your heart." (cf. Mt. 7:21-23) And Paul notes that the people of Athens worship God unknowingly with their altar to an unknown God. (Acts 17:22-23)

So, what is important that you "know" Jesus and "believe" in your heart, i.e., you have a sincere thirst for love and hunger for truth in your heart. (Mt. 5:3-10) That is enough to be "blessed," to at least open the door to possible salvation, even if you do not intellectually realize that you know Jesus in your heart, for the God of Divine Mercy seeks to save, not to condemn, so He will help you the rest of the way. God is not bound by the requirement of sacramental baptism by water, He is perfectly free to provide the effects of baptism by alternate means. (For example, neither Mary nor Joseph nor any of the righteous people of the Old Testament ever received sacramental baptism by water, but the Church recognizes them to be in heaven.)

At the same time, this "belief in the heart" is made more difficult if one intellectually affirmatively rejects Jesus and/or God and/or everything about Him. And sincere belief in the heart is -- or at least should be -- easier if one intellectually believes.

As for going to Heaven without Jesus -- can anyone tell me "where" Heaven is, or how one can get there without Him taking us there? Can anyone describe to me the process of transferring one's spiritual being from this present physical reality to any other? Or how one goes about resurrecting your dead body and transforming it to a glorified state?

And since Heaven is, by definition, eternal union with God, why would anyone want to be in Heaven later if he does not want to have a relationship with Him now or during this life?

Make no mistake here, though. Heaven is not some exclusive club. God is offering free memberships to anyone who wants them. And Jesus is eager to give tickets for the trip there to anyone who wants them.

Accepting such tickets to heaven does not restrict our freedom or otherwise burden us. All it does is open us to love and truth. All it does is open us to what is truly good. All it requires is that we be the person that we were made to be.

Note also that the idea that you can be a god unto yourself, that you can be your own savior, that you have no real need of God and are capable of being self-actualizing into heaven is the very first error, the very first sin, it is the original sin and such error is ultimately the origin of every other sin committed since then.

Even if you knew "where" heaven was, you do not have the ability to transcend this existence yourself, especially after you are dead.

Heaven being a "place," a state of being of perfection in truth (and love), for one to persist in error, any error but especially the error of self-salvation, is to prevent your very entry into heaven. Error and imperfection cannot exist in a place of truth and perfection.

That error and imperfection must be removed, it must be purged from you, you must be purified before you are capable of uniting with that which is all true and perfect.

If you are incapable of perfection now, you certainly won't be able to do it yourself after you are dead. You need help.

Thankfully, the Lord is a God of Divine Mercy who gives countless opportunities for people to accept His outstretched arms of love.

The Passover in Egypt is a prime example.

God gave Pharaoh chance after chance after chance to do the right thing, to do the good thing, to simply allow people to follow Him.

God did not obliterate Egypt at the first sign of rejection. Rather, He gave Pharaoh a modest rebuke (the first plague) and gave him another chance. And then another, and another, and another.

Ten times God asked Pharaoh to let His people go (the number ten has symbolic meaning, it means completeness). God gave Pharoah a complete number of opportunities to turn to truth and justice.

But eventually death comes. Death comes to us all, and when it comes there are no more chances, no more opportunities. God remains ever merciful, but being dead, you no longer have the ability to accept. Your future (your first born) is no more.

You need to accept His love and truth in your heart while there is still time, while you still live, so that death might "pass over" you. And, again, such acceptance of love and truth does not burden us, it frees us from bondage, it allows us to walk out of slavery to freedom and the Promised Land.