Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Looks like a nice little family flick for the holidays…

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In the past couple weeks, two very momentous happenings took place.

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013First, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”).  This was an encyclical begun by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to which he added some of his own personal touches.  For those who are interested in reading, a link to the full text will be provided at the bottom.

Zimmerman,_George_-_Seminole_County_MugSecond, America got the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was arrested in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.  Much to the dismay of many, he was found not guilty.

I can’t, of course, say for sure if it is providential that the release of “Lumen Fidei” and the Zimmerman verdict coincided.  But I do have some thoughts.

First of all, as far as the verdict is concerned, we must remember something crucially important about the justice system: Guilt must be established beyond all reasonable doubt.

Such guilt was not established in the case of George Zimmerman.  There was simply not sufficient evidence that he racially profiled Trayvon Martin or that what happened was cold-blooded murder as opposed to self-defense.

But we may ask, what if Zimmerman actually is guilty?  What if, in spite of all the evidence we have available, what happened was murder, and Zimmerman got away with it?

This, I think, is one of the many areas where being a person of faith provides great assurance.  If human institutions of justice fail, those without faith are left with little or no hope; but those of us who believe can afford to take heart:

Is not [recompense] preserved in my treasury, sealed up in my storehouse, against the day of vengeance and requital, against the time they lose their footing? (Deut. 32: 34-35)

God is a God of justice.  No crime is ever left unpunished.  Even if a person is ultimately redeemed in Christ, restitution for all wrongs must still be made.

Here, we can bring “Lumen Fidei” into the discussion.  In this great document, we are given a proper understanding of what faith is.  Contrary to what some would say, faith is neither the rejection of thought or reason in favor of blind adherence to an unproven principle nor indifference to the realities of the world and present circumstances on the grounds that “God will make it all better.”

Faith, says Pope Francis, is about learning to look at life, the world, and oneself from a whole new perspective.  Being drawn into a personal relationship with a personal, omnipotent, all-knowing and all-loving God, history and everyday life take on a whole new light.  The horizons of existence expand beyond what we could possibly have imagined.

More specifically, we come to share in the perspective of God Himself in the “shared knowledge which is the knowledge proper to love” (quoted from the encyclical).

Trayvon_Martin_shooting_protest_2012_Shankbone_11It is just this sort of faith perspective that allows for hope and tranquility even in tragic and troubled situations.

We have, I think, seen something of this Christian perspective in Trayvon Martin’s parents, who have urged their supporters not to give into violence regardless of the verdict.  Moreover, Trayvon’s mother publicly made it clear that though the verdict was disappointing to her, her faith in God has not been shaken.

I think perhaps the Pope and the Martins would have a lot to talk about at lunch sometime.

Lumen Fidei Full Text:

Photos from Wikipedia

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Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700“How is Jesus’ Resurrection different from the resurrection of Lazarus, or of others He raised from the dead?”

This question is more important than people realize.  If Jesus’ Resurrection were essentially no different, for example, from the resurrection he brought to Lazarus, then the Resurrection is not the breakthrough novelty in history that the Church claims it to be.

Even if Jesus Himself was the source of previous resurrections, the fact remains that people could still say of His own Resurrection, “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”

LazarusHere is the big point of departure: Lazarus, and the others whom Jesus raised from the dead during His three-year ministry, were raised in such a way that they would die again.  It was their mortal bodies, still prone to sin, weakness, illness, and the limits of time and space, that “got back up.”

In other words, Lazarus and his fellow resurrectees were able to resume their earthly lives more or less as before, though transformed by the life-changing experience of having encountered the Savior.

We see something very different in the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.  Having risen from the dead, He became free from the bonds of death.  Additionally, we read in the Gospels that He was able to walk through walls, be in one place in one instant and then in a completely different place in the next, and “appear(…) as he wishe(d): in the guise of a gardener or in other forms…” (CCC 645)

Short story: The resurrected body of Jesus Christ is unconstrained by the limits of time and space.  Similarly, our bodies will share in His glorious Resurrection at the end of time:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body. (Philippians 3:21)

(The body) is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. (1 Cor. 15:42)

So that’s the essential difference that the Resurrection of Christ makes.  If we consider this difference, we see that the fact of the Resurrection not only reaffirms God’s love for creation, but also gives us an elevated understanding of the glory to which it (mankind, in particular) is destined.

Images from Wikipedia

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Director Ben Afleck’s latest film, “Argo,” did very well at the Oscars.  I’m sure Afleck and all those associated with this movie will never forget being presented with the Best Picture award by First Lady Michelle Obama — a quite interesting occurrence, given the nature of the story.

Set during the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980, ‘Argo’ features Afleck in the lead role as Tony Mendez, the CIA agent charged with rescuing six escaped American hostages receiving shelter at the Canadian ambassador’s home in Iran.

Mendez’ plan involves joining the six of them in posing as a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations for a (fake) science fiction film called “Argo.”  When he arrives at the ambassador’s house, he gives each of the hostages a script with complete information about their fake identities — including minute details such as where they went to school, their middle names, their parents’ professions, etc.

And it is this aspect of the film that I want to focus on.  The hostages must memorize their roles to perfection, and in a very, very short period of time.  Watching the movie comfortably on our couches, we could easily ask ourselves: “How can they possibly do that?  Who could muster the discipline and brainpower for that kind of thing?”

But the answer immediately comes to us along with the question itself.  If our lives depended on it, as theirs do, we would do the same thing.  No matter how hard the task, we would find a way to do it.

The connection I am about to make to Christianity may seem forced, but this aspect of Mendez’ rescue mission turns my attention to God’s great rescue mission.

How many of us, if we truly understood the importance and the urgency of our conformity to God’s will, would become more zealous in our faith?  How many of us would then strive to know our faith and grow in virtue as best we can (without becoming scrupulous, of course), knowing that any moment could well be our last?

I think that the role memorization scenes in “Argo,” while not being among the most memorable or attention-catching parts of the movie, can be very useful in helping us Catholics (and other Christians as well) to think about this.

Jesus Christ does make many demands of us, most of which seem virtually impossible (and indeed they are from a merely human standpoint).  I would say that there are two things that need to be kept in mind here:

  1. The stakes are infinitely higher for us when it comes to living our faith than for the American hostages in memorizing their fake identities.  Their lives are at stake, but our immortal souls are at stake.
  2. While the stakes are higher, the pressure is, in a certain sense, lower.  As Mendez was happy to remind the American hostages, one very small error in communicating their cover-up stories to Iranian interrogators would get them killed.  But with the faith, as long as we are truly doing the best we can to grow in the faith and in holiness, God will not withhold His grace.  In fact, it is safe to say that, due to remaining imperfections, most of us will not go to heaven immediately after we die.  Fortunately, the Catholic Church teaches us that God’s mercy extends beyond this present life, so that all those who die in a state of grace but still without the perfection necessary for heaven will go through a final purification.  We call that purification Purgatory.

So in effect, our sense of the stakes and the urgency can protect us against negligence, while trust in God’s mercy and kindness can protect us against scrupulosity and servile fear.

In both cases, we see God’s mercy at work.  What God wants is not to make things hard for us, but to change us, to make us more like Him…to give us life.

I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)

And He will not fail to give us the strength to do whatever we cannot do on our own, so that we are never taxed beyond our capabilities.

Actually, there is another — though intimately related — aspect of “Argo” that relates to the spiritual life.  When Mendez comes to the six hostages with his plan, he asks them for total trust, assuring them that he has “never left anyone behind.”

Jesus Christ asks us for such trust as well.  And since He is God incarnate and love itself (1 John 4:8), our trust in Him is well placed.

In conclusion: Yes, the challenges of the Christian life can be very daunting.  But hopefully the most recent Academy Award-winner for Best Picture helps, in its own indirect way, to put these challenge in perspective.

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