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For part one, click here Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

We spoke in part one of how Jesus Christ, through His death and Resurrection, takes up the wounded “geography” of our fallen world and makes even the scars of our existence capable of leading us to the Divine.  It is indeed a new Flood, more momentous than the one braved by Noah, crashing upon the world with new life, immeasurable power, and life-giving mercy:

Send forth your spirit (…) and you renew the face of the earth. – Ps. 104:30

Beowulf But before we get into that, it might be helpful to flesh out the “old geography” a bit more with a concrete example.  One particularly fascinating manifestation of the old geography is the worldview of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, which J.R.R. Tolkien touched on in an essay on “Beowulf”:

(…) [H]e who wrote (…) ‘heroes under heaven’, or ‘mighty men upon earth’, (…) [was] thinking of eormengrund, the great earth, ringed with garsecg, the shoreless sea, beneath the sky’s inaccessible roof; whereon, as in a little circle of light about their halls, men with courage as their stay went forward to that battle with the hostile world and the offspring of the dark which ends for all, even the kings and champions, in defeat. – “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

This is just one example, but you get the idea.  Some variation of this ambiguous outlook on life has been present throughout all ages, and survives in more “modern” forms today. Until Christ returns to restore all things, there continues to be hardship, turmoil, suffering, darkness, and even death in the world.  But the whole of creation has in a sense been “baptized” by Christ’s saving work, so that the darkness of a world “ringed with the shoreless sea” and haunted by “the offspring of the dark” — in short, the mystery of evil (both moral and physical) — becomes taken up into and transformed by the mystery of the Cross. Christ Crucified by Velazquez“Cristo crucificado” by Diego Velázquez – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg#/media/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg

The Cross is very important to the understanding of Christianity — not because it is a gloomy or sadomasochistic religion…far from it; rather, because neither does it lean towards the opposite extreme of “Pollyanna-ism.”  The Christian teaching on heaven, redemption, and the victory of good over evil no more minimizes or negates the very real sufferings of the world than the Resurrection of Christ negates the horror of the suffering inflicted on Him.  But Our Lord has joined Himself to our suffering, and has thus given it a whole new meaning. He has done this as a sign of His infinite love for us, and in invitation to fellowship with Him.  This is how He will ultimately heal us, rather than by orchestrating our deliverance at a safe distance. Pieta

“Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450 cut out black” by Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out) – Image:Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg

What we have now is what I would call Pietá spirituality.  Instead of seeing darkness, we can look at the world and see the scourged body of Christ in the arms of His mother, blood and water pouring out of His sacred side as a “fountain of mercy for the whole world” (to quote a Divine Mercy prayer).  As one person, I cannot solve all the evils of the world.  But if in my immediate situation I can minister to my Lord even a little bit, tending to those of His Wounds that I can see in my fellow human beings (or elsewhere), then perhaps I am not doing too badly. One more post — stay tuned.

Images from Wikipedia

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Happy World Down Syndrome Day!

I just saw this video, which was made in response to an expecting mother’s e-mail, and thought I’d share 🙂

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Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700

“Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700″ by Noël Coypel – http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Noel-Coypel/The-Resurrection-Of-Christ,-1700.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg#/media/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg

As Jesus was quickly approaching the “hour” of His trial and crucifixion, he offered these words of consolation to His disciples:

In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world

-John 16:33

Before proceeding, a necessary clarification: When using the term “world “in this context, Jesus is not talking about the material universe.  All things God created, both spiritual and material, are good.  By “the world” is meant those forces which are opposed to God and His plan for humanity.  When we consider that these forces have the devil for their source (or at least instigator), we must conclude that the material universe itself has suffered subjection to “the world.”

But by His death and subsequent resurrection, Jesus Christ has reclaimed creation for Himself.  Now the world — that is, as we understand the term — is not only God’s precious creation, but can even become a sacrament or icon of the Divine.

Ancient Irish0910 Tracht der Kelten in Südpolen im 3. Jh. v. Chr” by Silar – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:0910_Tracht_der_Kelten_in_S%C3%BCdpolen_im_3._Jh._v._Chr.JPG#/media/File:0910_Tracht_der_Kelten_in_S%C3%BCdpolen_im_3._Jh._v._Chr.JPG

I’ll return to this in a moment.  In the meantime, given that we are about to celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, one of Our Lord’s great saints and the patron saint of Ireland, it behooves us to take a look at how the Irish have viewed the world throughout the ages.

For the pagan Irish of ancient times, the world was charged with otherworldly forces.  Every rock, tree, stream and hill was haunted by the presence of some god or spirit, or else was a gateway into fairy realms.  Their mythology and its underlying worldview were certainly filled with romance and wonder…but also with fear and darkness.

In his book “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Thomas Cahill interprets the frequent occurrence of shape-shifters in Celtic mythology this way:

[I]t suggested subconsciously that reality had no predictable pattern, but was arbitrary and insubstantial (pg. 129).

And furthermore…

[I]n the Irish stories the traps seem to lie hidden at every crossroads, and trickster-gods lurk behind each tree.  In such a world, (…) no one can hope to avoid disaster for long (pg. 131).

Quite possibly, the characteristic happy-go-lucky attitude and staunch bravery of the Irish came from a sense of “detachment” born of resignation to “how fleeting life is and how pointless to try to hold onto things or people” (Cahill, pg. 96).  Detachment, perhaps…but a detachment that probably masked deep sadness and dread (Cahill, pg. 128).

Before I move on, let me say this: “How the Irish Saved Civilization” is an interesting read, but I can recommend it only with caution.  Some of Cahill’s historical analysis is obviously suspect (his interpretation of Church history is nothing short of abysmal in certain spots).  However, the book does offer some worthwhile insights into what we can intuit of the character of ancient Ireland, as well as the difference the Gospel made.

Saint_Patrick_(window)“Saint Patrick (window)” by Sicarr – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Patrick_(window).jpg#/media/File:Saint_Patrick_(window).jpg

St. Patrick brought to the Irish an entirely new vision, assuring them that every corner of creation spoke of the providential care of an all-loving and good God.  Again, Cahill:

This magical world, though full of adventure and surprise, is no longer full of dread.  Rather, Christ has trodden all pathways before us, and at every crossroads and by every tree the Word of God speaks out (pg. 133).

This new worldview in no way guarantees the absence of evil or suffering, any more than did Christ’s words to His disciples in John’s Gospel.  But the great Conquest of the King of kings, Who is greater than the world, has made it so that even these can become instruments of Divine benevolence.  Rather than reminders of the futility of existence, they can become like the uncomfortable rigors of final exams before summer recess.

In other words…

In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world

-John 16:33

The humor-filled attitude and generous bravery of the Irish were most certainly taken up into that worldview, and hence given a new character.

Arguably, it was this very faith that made the Irish bearers of light in the darkness that followed the fall of Rome.  The industry and intrepidity of Irish monks who labored in their scriptoria and traveled throughout Europe to convert the barbarians showed forth their zeal in preserving the wisdom of the past, as well as in looking toward Europe’s future.

Let us remember that as we raise our glasses this St. Patty’s Day.

Images from Wikipedia

Reference

Cahill, Thomas.  How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.  New York: Nan A. Talese, 1995.

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Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)“Pope Francis Korea Haemi Castle 19 (cropped)” by Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg#/media/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg

Every month, the Pope comes out with two specific prayer intentions: Universal and Missionary.  I have identified these in the past, but this time I decided they deserved a brief bit of commentary.

Scientists

InvestigadoresUR” by Urcomunicacion – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:InvestigadoresUR.JPG#/media/File:InvestigadoresUR.JPG

Universal Intention: 

That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Let’s be clear: Science is good.  It has been, and still is, an invaluable tool for humanity and has made a tremendous difference in so many ways.
The problem, from the Church’s (and, I hope, from any reasonable person’s) perspective, is not science, but scientism.  Scientism is the misguided belief that science can answer virtually everything, rendering religion invalid.  It reduces all knowledge to what is quantifiable, empirically discoverable, and verifiable by means of the scientific method.
In its most extreme form, scientism reduces the human person at the individual level to mere biology, and at the collective level to numbers or to marks on a “grid.”  With this view of humanity in place, matters of importance are not decided by the question, “Should we do it?”  Rather, they are decided by the question, “Can we do it?  Do we have the capability?”
And if carrying out our capabilities for what we consider the greater good means shutting down a particular biological configuration (the individual) or clearing out a few marks on a grid (groups), then so be it.  As the saying goes, “If you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.”
Let us always make sure that scientific endeavors serve the genuine good of humanity, rather than subjugating the human person to the advancement of science.
I would like to mention, in passing, a fascinating and eye-opening book on this subject for those who are interested in exploring the notion of scientism further: “Technology as Symptom and Dream,” by Robert D. Romanyshyn.
Dorothy_Day_1934“Dorothy Day 1934” by New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection – New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dorothy_Day_1934.jpg#/media/File:Dorothy_Day_1934.jpg
 Missionary Intention:
Contribution of Women:  That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.
It may surprise many people to learn that the Catholic Church has a very robust and inspiring theology of womanhood.  In fact, the Church is at one and the same time more feminist and more “masculinist” than most of Western culture, which tends to regard gender as a mere biological accident (here again is the scientistic view of the human person).
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made humankind in His image, and in the same sentence tells us this: “[M]ale and female he created them.”  Man and woman image God together; neither gender fully does so by itself.  Therefore, men and woman share equal dignity and offer unique gifts to the world, humanity, and the Church.
For more information on this, see my Mother’s Day and Father’s Day posts from 2013.
Images from Wikipedia

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If you are going to accuse me of anything on the basis of this post’s title, let it be lack of originality (a charge I would gladly accept, as I think originality is overrated): I have chosen to construct my title out of those of not one, but two previously existing works — namely, Clint Eastwood’s recent blockbuster film “American Sniper” and popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’ 1940 essay “Why I am not a Pacifist.”

First, the movie.  I won’t go into great detail, other than to say that it is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) — hailed as the deadliest shooter in American military history — his experiences in the Iraq War, and his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home.

Ben ReedAt the beginning of the film, me meet a young Chris Kyle (Cole Konis), who fights a group of bullies in defense of his younger brother.  Chris’ father, Wayne (Ben Reed), tells his young sons that there are three kinds of people in the world.  Most people, he says, are sheep — that is, people who “prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world.”  And then there are the wolves, who prey on the weak and thrive on violence.  Finally, there are the sheepdogs, the strong who defend the vulnerable against the wolves.

Wayne, a Christian father raising a Christian family, intends for his sons to be the latter.  His goal in this instance is to make sure that Chris was acting as a sheepdog rather than as a wolf.

C.s.lewis3

“C.s.lewis3”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG#/media/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG

It is with that in mind that I cite the following passage from Lewis’ essay (which is published along with a number of others in “The Weight of Glory“):

The relevant intuition [used in support of pacifism] seems to be that (…) helping is good and harming bad.  (…) [T]hat intuition can lead to no action unless it is limited in some way or other.  You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man.  (…) [W]hen B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing (which disobeys intuition) or you must help one against the other.

Between these two citations — the scene from “American Sniper” and the snippet from “Why I am not a Pacifist” — we can gain a pretty decent understanding of how a Christian can choose to go to war, or use force in any instance.

americansniperposterIt is not my intention to get into a discussion of whether the Iraq War meets Just War criteria, nor whether sniping, as a practice, constitutes a form of just warfare.  But a lot of people tend to make this automatic, knee-jerk assumption that to fight in a war or use any kind of force is ipso facto incompatible with being a faithful Christian.

But, as Lewis and the elder Kyle suggest, part of one’s Christian duty is to defend the weak.  And sometimes, this requires force — on individual, communal, and sometimes even national and international levels.  To be sure, such force should always be as minimal as possible, restraint must be preferred to killing, and the death of a “wolf” should be avoided whenever reasonably possible.  But if we want to issue a wholesale condemnation of all warfare, it should give us pause that the weight of reason, history, and even Christian tradition itself is against us.

Needless to say, I am only scratching the surface of Lewis’ essay.  But since my main intention is a treatment of Eastwood’s film, I think I’ll just encourage you to read it yourself and leave it at that.

As for the movie, more to come.

Photo of C.S. Lewis from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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This is from one of my favorite contemporary writers/speakers, Dr. Peter Kreeft.  It’s less than five minutes in length, and well worth your time 🙂

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Immaculate ConceptionToday we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

There, I said it.  Feel free to respond with a “So what” or “What does that mean?”

So what do we mean when we say “Immaculate Conception?”  By this, we are referring to the fact that the Virgin Mary was, by a unique grace, preserved from all sin — both Original and personal  — from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb.  She was perfect, as far as this is possible fora human being.

Some Christians are scandalized by this notion, arguing that:

  1. it is un-Biblical; and
  2. if it were true, it would suggest that Mary did not need a savior, which in turn dilutes the significance of Jesus Christ.

These concerns are understandable.  But in the last analysis, they are unfounded.  I’ll address them in the preceding order.

For Biblical support of the Immaculate Conception, we need look no further than the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

…the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

(Luke 1: 26-28 – bold added)

“Favored one” is not a bad translation of the Greek, but the traditionally recognized phrase “full of grace” is probably more accurate.  The salutation in Greek is “Chaire, Kecharitomene,” a salutation that appears nowhere else in ancient literature.  In all likelihood, this is why…

[Mary] was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

(Luke 1: 29 – bold added)

Some would argue that Gabriel is simply calling Mary blessed because of Who she will carry inside her womb.  This argument, however, will not survive an accurate understanding of the language.  Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle; it refers to a current and continual condition stemming from a past action (as opposed to the future conception of the Son of God); it implies a fullness of divine grace freely bestowed by God.

Panachranta

And that brings us to the second objection cited above.  The how of the Immaculate Conception is actually very simple: God, with foreknowledge of the merits of Christ, applied these merits to Mary in a special way at the very moment of her conception.  Given her unique role in salvation history and the closeness to the Lord she was to experience — a closeness totally unequaled in any creature, even the greatest of the angels — this was more than fitting.

Medieval commentators liked to offer the following analogy: Imagine a large, deep pit hidden in a dense wood — a pit that is very easy to fall into unawares and virtually impossible get out of.

One could be rescued after the fact, having fallen into the pit and lingered there until someone came along and extended him a rope; alternatively, someone could step in beforehand and prevent the approaching party from the quite literal pitfall in the first place.

Like everyone else, Mary’s salvation was in Christ alone; but unlike the rest of us, she never got to the pit.

In conclusion, here is a quote from the third century (one of a not insignificant number from the early Church) that should build some confidence in this belovéd doctrine:

He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from putridity and corruption.

(Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me, quoted by Taylor Marshall on a New Saint Thomas Institute video)

Images from Wikipedia

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