Monday, March 31, 2014

Why Would God Care About Us?

Q. I read your posts last week seeking to prove the existence of God from the meaning we find in life and the universe. But, even if God exists, I don't see why he would care about us, especially about whether we "sin". Why would God, who created a vast universe full of galaxies and stars, care whether I lied or masturbated, or stole something?!? Ridiculous! If he doesn't care about us, wouldn't that mean our lives still have no meaning?


You're making a basic metaphysical misstep, confusing quantity with quality. Just because something is more numerous or larger doesn't mean it is more valuable. Would you rather have all the sand in the Sahara Desert or a single priceless diamond? Just because the universe is big doesn't mean some (comparatively) small part of the whole isn't of the most value to God. It's not enough to just point to the size of the universe and say, "well God must not care a fig about us, we're just floating around on some small, insignificant speck in this vast universe." It's not like God can lose track of us because space is so expansive.

Let's go back to the Sahara Desert analogy. Even that priceless diamond would be cast aside as a piece of junk if you had to choose between carrying it out or carrying your infant child out to safety. Why? The baby is just a "small speck" in the vastness of the desert. We could increase the size of the Sahara to cover the entire Earth, or indeed the entire universe and it wouldn't make the sand (or even the diamond) worth anything compared to the life of a loved one. To make the analogy sharper, we should change the naturally forming desert into a vast sandbox which we've created for the child to play in. No matter how big the sandbox gets, because we made it for the kid to enjoy, it can never, in principal, be worth more than the child for whom it exists. In much the same way, God loves His children, you and me, more than all the stars, comets, and planets that fill our universe (our sandbox). And just like a good parent who hates what is bad for his child, so too God hates what is bad (indeed eternally lethal) to His children - sin.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Life has Meaning, therefore God Exists (a Thomistic Approach)

This week (HERE, HERE, and HERE) we've been looking at a very simple argument for the existence of God:
If Atheism is true, then the universe lacks meaning.
But the universe has meaning.
Therefore, Atheism is false
Today I want to take a cue from St. Thomas Aquinas and show why, if we find meaning in the universe (which we do) there must be one, ultimate source of meaning.

If everything had to receive meaning from without (from something else), we'd have to posit an endless series of meaning-givers, but such a series would never come to a first meaning-giver, which would mean that nothing could ever "get" meaning. Therefore, if everything had to receive meaning from something else, there would be no meaning in the universe. Yet, there is meaning in the universe. Therefore, there must exist a "first meaning-giver" that contains its own meaningfulness in itself.

A less philosophical example might help clarify why this is. Suppose I lock the door of my CCD classroom and demand that the students present a Catechism to me. But no one in the room has a Catechism. Each student turns to the one behind him and asks for the missing book. Even if I have an infinite number of students, I'll never get the copy of the Catechism because no one has it to give to the student in front of him and ultimately to me. If I get handed the book, then the series must have a beginning, it has to have a student who doesn't have to borrow the Catechism from another student to set the chain in motion and for me to actually get the book. Thus, if I am handed the book, I can know with certainty that someone in the classroom had to have the book (someone didn't need to get it from another student).

In much the same way, if our universe has meaning we know with certainty that there must exist something that has meaning without receiving it. As we saw in an earlier post, this something must have both intellect and will (and thus be a someone). This someone is the ultimate meaning of everything that exists, which is what men mean when they say God. Therefore, if there is any meaning in anything, God exists.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

If Meaning Must Come From Without, Does God Have Meaning?

Q. In your earlier post (HERE and HERE), you argued that the universe is meaningless without God because it has to receive its meaning from outside itself. Is God's existence, which is said to have nothing outside of it, then as meaningless as "a monkey writing a book with his feces"?

You are misrepresenting my argument, I never said everything must have meaning from outside itself, I said nothing that was caused with meaning could have meaning, nothing that occurred randomly could have meaning. A randomly generated universe, one that just began to exist without a creator, is like the book written by the monkey because both are random and thus meaningless.

For something to have meaning it must have intentionality. For it to have intentionality it must have intellect and will. The creation of the universe was either the result of an intentional act of mind and will (and thus is created by God) or it was a mindless chance occurrence (in which case it lacks intentionality and thereby meaning).

God, unlike the universe, has both intellect and will - indeed is intellect and will. Therefore, He doesn't need to receive meaning from without, as He has meaning from within. An example might help. This message has meaning because there is an intellect and will choosing which letters to write to make certain words that convey certain meanings to a reader. If our friend the monkey was randomly banging away on my keyboard in reply to you, his message would lack intentionality and thus meaning.

Therefore we are left with the following:

A universe with meaning was created with intentionality.
Our universe has meaning.
Therefore, our universe was created intentionally.
But an intentionally created universe must have been created by a will and intellect.
Therefore, our universe was created by a will and intellect.
This creator will and intellect is what men call God.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Life Has Meaning, therefore God Exists (a closer look at the logic)

Yesterday we looked at simple argument for the existence of God. It was:

If Atheism is true, then the universe lacks meaning.
But the universe has meaning.
Therefore, Atheism is false.

We then went on to examine why an atheistic universe must lack meaning, at how we all must choose between meaning and atheism. Today, I'd like to look closer at this argument to see if it really succeeds.

This is a particular kind of syllogism is a hypothetical syllogism. To see if it works we'll use a little "symbolic logic" which is very easy, if a bit unfamiliar to most. In testing a hypothetical with symbolic logic we use the letter "p" for our antecedent (the "if" part of our "if...then" proposition) and "q" for our consequent (the "then" part of our "if... then" proposition). So our argument:

If Atheism is true, then the universe lacks meaning.
But the universe has meaning.
Therefore, Atheism is false.
 Is symbolized thus:
p ⊃ q
~ q
~ p
antecedent - atheism is true (let this be "p")
consequent - the universe lacks meaning (let this be "q")
⊃ - means this is a hypothetical syllogism (a "if... then" argument)
~ - negates the proposition (puts a "not" in front of it)
∴ - means "therefore" (signals our conclusion)

For this type of argument to succeed in proving its conclusion, the syllogism must either affirm the antecedent (the second line is "p") or deny the consequent (the second line is "~ q"), if it denies the antecedent (the second line is "~ p") or affirms the consequent (the second line is "q") the argument fails to conclusively prove anything (except for the poor logic of the arguer). Thus, all we have to do, once we put the argument into its symbolic form, is see if the second term is p or ~ q (which means its valid) or if it is ~ p or q (which means our argument has failed). Here, again is our argument, in symbolic form:
p ⊃ q
~ q
~ p
 Where we can see we've got "~ q" as our second term. We've denied the consequent and have a valid argument!

This proves that our argument works logically, that the logic is sound, that the conclusion must follow from our premises. As each term we used has only one meaning (and that a clear one) our poor atheist is left with only two options:

1) Admit God exits (i.e. accept our argument has worked)
2) Admit the universe lacks all meaning (i.e. deny the truth of our second premise)

As the second option is absurd and runs clear against every fiber of our being most atheists won't want to turn to option 2, leaving the abandonment of atheism the only other recourse.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Life has Meaning, therefore God Exists.

Here is a simple argument for the existence of God, one simple enough to put into a syllogism (yes, I'm guilty of loving syllogisms):
If Atheism is true, then the universe lacks meaning.
But the universe has meaning.
Therefore, Atheism is false.
In other words, either the universe (and all within it, including you and your life) has meaning and God exists OR God doesn't exist and nothing has any meaning whatsoever. You can't have both meaning and atheism. You have to chose one.

What I am Not Asserting
It might be best to start out by clarifying what I am not saying. I'm not saying "atheists can't think (subjectively) that there is meaning in the universe." I'm not saying "all atheists agree their lives are devoid of meaning." In fact, for the argument to be successful the atheist has to think there is meaning in the universe, they have to be willing to affirm the second premise. Otherwise, the atheist could just get around the dilemma by saying, "there is no meaning in the universe, thus atheism can still be true." Certainly there are some atheists who will take that view (e.g. Nietzsche), but most people, atheist or not, will not. Most people, including nearly all non-atheists, recognize meaning in the universe and in human existence and would refuse to deny the second premise.

What I am Asserting
Our first premise is saying that, without God, there can be no objective meaning to the universe. No real meaning to anything. Why? Because there must be someone who exists outside the universe to give it meaning. Why? Because the universe lacks intellect and will, both of which are necessary to give meaning to an action. If the universe is just a random occurrence it, in the final analysis, has as much meaning as the shape water takes when accidentally spilled onto the kitchen floor. A universe caused by an intellect and will is akin to a book written by an author, a Godless universe would have the same meaning as a monkey writing a book by randomly smearing his feces on the pages.

Can a Meaningless (Random) Cause Produce a Meaningful Universe?
No, because there cannot be more in the effect than in the cause. An example might demonstrate this better than an explanation. If I punch you in the face and break your nose, there must have been enough force in my blow to cause your nose to break. If my punch lacked the sufficient force to break your nose, your nose could not be broken by my fist. By the same reasoning, if the universe was caused by nothing or by something random (i.e. if it was created without meaning), the universe itself must then have no meaning. To suggest otherwise would be the same as suggesting that my fist both was the sole cause of your nose breaking and that my fist lacked the force needed to break your nose, which is, obviously, absurd.

Could Life Give Meaning to the Universe?
All life will ultimately perish. You will die. I will die. All humans will die. The sun will, eventually, supernova and burn up the Earth and everything humans even did (if atheism is true) will be forgotten and will have as much meaning as what ants did (or what rocks did for that matter). In fact, the entire universe itself will, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, enter "heat death" and cease to have any life anywhere (if such life even exists at all). If such is our fate, there is no real meaning to anything we do or think because, in the end, it will turn out the same. If we can't change anything then what meaning does anything we do have? None. It would be like owing the government $10,000 in taxes, but being able to spend hours pouring over receipts to get extra deductions that will result in owing the government $10,000 in taxes. In such a case, whether or not you take the deduction simply doesn't matter, it has no meaning. If this world is all that exists and it will all end the same regardless, then what you do has as much meaning as whether or not you take those deductions.

Can Human Thoughts Give Meaning to the Universe?
This is also a non-starter, for both the reasons given above (more cannot be in the effect than the cause and life cannot change anything, thus it cannot have any meaning), and for another reason all its own. If atheism is true and all that exists is in a randomly generated material universe of natural processes, then human thought (as a part of that universe) is nothing more than the firing of electricity in a clump of grey matter inside our skulls. Our thoughts too are just another natural process and can no more "give meaning" to the  universe of which they are a part than can the waves that lap onto the sea. In fact, we wouldn't even be able to be certain our thoughts were particularly accurate if our brains were formed by blind natural processes. Would you trust a randomly programmed computer to do your taxes?

In the end, if atheism is true, then Macbeth had it right:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 24-28) 
Tomorrow we'll look at the underlying logic of the argument and later in the week we'll see a common objection refuted.

John Finch as Macbeth, 1971 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Have you met "Mr. Enlightenment"?

It's another Friday in Lent, which means no meat and penance. To cheer you up a little, I thought a little humor might be in order. Anyone who's spent anytime as a Catholic online has met Mr. Enlightenment or, better yet, many Mr. Enlightenments. As you read the following, from C.S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress, ask yourself, does this guy sound familiar? (note: "the Landlord" represents God and "Puritania" represents the faithful.)
   "But how do you know there is no Landlord?"
   "Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round. invention of printing, gunpowder!" exclaimed Mr. Enlightenment in such a loud voice that the pony shied.
   "I beg your pardon," said John.
   "Eh?" said Mr. Enlightenment.
   "I don't quite understand," said John.
   "Why, it's as plain as a pikestaff," said the other. "Your people in Puritania believe in the Landlord because they have not had the benefits of a scientific training. For example, now, I dare say it would be news to you to hear that the earth was round - round as an orange, my lad!"
   "Well, I don't know that it would," said John, feeling a little disappointed. "My father always said it was round."
   "No, no, my dear boy," said Mr. Enlightenment, 'You must have misunderstood him. It is well known that everyone in Puritania thinks the earth flat. It is not likely that I should be mistaken on such a point. Indeed, it is out of the question. Then again, there is the paleontological evidence."
   "What's that?"
   "Why, they tell you in Puritania that the Landlord made all these roads. But that is quite impossible, for old people can remember the time when the roads were not nearly so good as they are now, and what is more, scientists have found all over the country traces of old roads running in quite different directions. The inference is obvious."
   John said nothing.
   "I said," repeated Mr. Enlightenment, "that the inference was obvious."
   "Oh, yes, yes, of course, " said John hastily, turning a little red.

 Of course, there are any number of logical fallacies in Mr. Enlightenment's train of thinking. His whole argument against the existence of a "Landlord" is a series of non sequiturs, arguments that simply don't follow at all. Our theist asks, "how do you know there is no Landlord?" and Mr. Enlightenment responds, "Christopher Columbus!" That may be the most prominent fallacy, but it's hardly the only one Mr. Enlightenment commits. We see an ad verecundiam (appeal to shame - "I said that the inference was obvious."), slogans ("It's as plain as a pikestaff"), ad hominem ("your people in Puritania..."), among others. In the end, we just have to make sure to not give in to Mr. Enlightenment's overconfident assertion that his, illogical and fallacious, conclusions are "obvious."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Power of Prayer

A couple weeks ago, we discussed the importance of having a set daily "prayer plan" and sticking to it. The week before that, we looked at 5 Great Prayers to Say After Receiving Our Lord at Mass which was a follow up to a post on 5 Great Prayers to Say Before Mass. With all this recent focus on prayer, I thought it might be a good idea to take a step back and ask, "why should we pray at all?" Prayer can seem like such a basic thing that "religious people" do that we normally don't take the time to sit back and take in the full significance of what we are doing when we pray or even why we bother spending time in prayer at all, which can cause us to lose sight of the end we are hoping to achieve in and through prayer, which, in turn, can lead to a distorted prayer life. Worse yet, we can grow cold in our prayer life and, surrounded by a sea of materialism as we are, fall into seeing prayer as a waste of time, as something ineffectual.

To inoculate us against such a ghastly prospect, let's turn to the ever wise St. Josemaria Escriva and see what he has to teach us about something as fundamental to the spiritual life as prayer.

One of the things he reminds us of is the raw power of prayer, that it is one of the most powerful things we can possibly do, and therefore one of the most practical things we can do. St. Josemaria goes as far as saying that "prayer is the foundation of the spiritual edifice. Prayer is all-powerful." (The Way, 83). If this is true, if prayer is the foundation of our spiritual life then having a weak or non-existent prayer life is like trying to build a skyscraper on a shallow and weak foundation! We know such a construction project would be doomed to the most catastrophic failure, as will be our spiritual life (the growth in which is the purpose of our Earthly lives) if we don't start with a strong foundation of prayer. St. Josemaria bluntly tells us, "sanctity without prayer? I don't believe in such sanctity." (The Way, 107).

St. Josemaria's confidence in the power of prayer to change us, our lives, and the world we live in is merely an echo of the Master's, "whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive it, if you have faith." (Matt 21:22)

But how often do we treat prayer this way? How often do we, before beginning any undertaking, start by checking and reinforcing our spiritual foundation? How often are we confident that our prayers are being heard and that they can move mountains (cf. Mark 11:23)? Being a man of prayer is sine qua non for a Christian. "If you are not a man of prayer, I don't believe in the sincerity of your intentions when you say that you work for Christ." (The Way, 109).

Find the time today and start growing in prayer. Start small, but start building a life of prayer. Follow the advice of The Apostle who, mincing no words, tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). Remember, St Paul wasn't merely speaking to priests and monks with those words! "Prayer... is a Christian undertaking of men and women of the world..." (Furrow, 451). Which is why we must pray daily and stick to our prayer plan even when we get busy. Indeed the busier we get the more time we need to make for prayer. "Prayer, more prayer! It may seem odd to say that now when you are... working harder... But you need prayer..." (Furrow, 449) because "action is worthless without prayer" (The Way, 81). Read that again. Action isn't "worth less" without prayer, it is "worthless", worth nothing. But with prayer our actions can sanctify the world and save our souls!

Opus Dei

Monday, March 17, 2014

Can There Really be Holy Places for Christians?

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the sacredness of the Catholic sanctuary: about how this sacred dimension affects how we should behave in church (HERE), how the Lord Himself protected the sanctity of the Old Testament Temple (HERE), and how a Catholic church is truly a domus Dei - a house of God, not a domus populi Dei - house of the people of God (HERE). Today, I'd like to ask a serious question, which is bound to come to mind of us moderns - can there really even be such a thing as a "sacred space" to start with, especially in our modern world?

To answer this question, we turn to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict XVI) who answered it perfectly in his book, The Spirit of Liturgy.

Can there really be special holy places... in the world of Christian faith? Christian worship is surely a cosmic liturgy, which embraces both heaven and earth.... Is the whole world not now his sanctuary? Is sanctity not to be practiced by living one's daily life in the right way? Is our divine worship not a matter of being loving people in our daily life?... Can the sacral be anything other than imitating Christ in the simple patience of daily life?

Who ever asks questions like these touches on a crucial dimension of the Christian understanding of worship, but overlooks something essential about the permanent limits of human existence in this world, overlooks the "not yet" that is apart of Christian existence and talks as if the New Heaven and New Earth had already come. The Christ-event and growth of the Church out of all nations, the transition from Temple sacrifice to universal worship "in spirit and truth", is the first important step across the frontier, a step toward the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. But is it obvious that hope has not yet fully attained its goal. The New Jerusalem needs no Temple because Almighty God and the Lamb are themselves its Temple.... But this City is not yet here.... Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of "in-between", a mixture of "already and not yet."...

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the "image", through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven.... We do indeed participate in the heavenly liturgy, but this participation is mediated to us through earthly signs, which the Redeemer has shown to us as the place where his reality can be found.

Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is Sexual Morality Beyond the Scope of Civil Law?

 A commenter, Gabriella Valente, left a very interesting objection in the combox on my post You Can't Legislate Morality...Can You?. In that post I set out to refute the oft heard objection that we "can't impose our values" or that we "can't legislate morals." Ms. Valente respectfully and thoughtfully disagrees. Her comment, in full, was:
The flaw in your argument is that the examples you use are all laws meant to protect and keep people from harm. If by sexual morality, you are speaking about acts between consenting adults, these acts do not place individuals in physical danger, therefore you can not equate them with murder, rape, etc.

When you say you are advocating sexual laws, does that include laws against adultery, fornication and divorce, or are these laws to only be aimed against same sex acts? You must understand that most people consider it hypocritical when there is a demand for laws against homosexual acts and not as strong a demand for laws against heterosexual acts.

Furthermore, with sexual laws you are seeking to impose religious values, since they do not protect individuals or property. Would you agree with the imposition of sharia law? Muslims also have rules about the proper conduct of individuals in the sexual sphere. How would you react if they demanded civil laws which supported their religious beliefs? (I know there are Muslim countries where sharia law is civil law, but those are countries which are not based on the constitutional separation between church and state.) When people see Christians demanding that the rules of their individual denominations be ensconced in civil law they see that as an attempt to violate the separation of church and state. They react the same way most Christians would react to the imposition of sharia law.
You'll note, if you've read the first post, that my original argument (that we legislate morality all the time, so arguing that we can't legislate morality when it comes to sexual morality is a case of special pleading) isn't challenged. Therefore, for the purposes of this reply, I'll assume Gabriella and I agree that a society can and indeed must legislate morality. However, Gabriella appears to part company with me when I extend realm of possible legal action to the sexual area. She gives a few reasons for this, which we can look at in turn.

Paragraph 1 - Sex acts between consenting adults do not harm anyone, laws should only be made to directly protect people and property, therefore sexual morality cannot be legislated.
This is the underlying argument of the first paragraph. Does it hold up under examination? Are either of these premises defensible? I don't think so. In the first place some sex acts between consenting adults do in fact harm people. We need only to think of adultery, which harms the spouse cheated on or a sex act where one member knowingly has AIDS, a case of public indecency where the couples consensual act is done in view of passers by, or any number of other examples to quickly disprove this premise. Further something like prostitution or pornography seem to cause no harm to anyone other than the consenting adults, yet most people would find laws against at least the former of these to be within the scope of government. The second premise is equally indefensible for laws are made every day that do not directly protect people or property. Tax laws, laws demanding equal service for people regardless of race, laws outlawing the hunting of endangered animals, even laws limiting the size of Big Gulps! Many laws are meant to protect people from harm, but others prohibit consenting adults from all sorts of activities. With both premises proven false, the conclusion, obviously, remains unproven.

Paragraph 2 - You are hypocritically singling out homosexual acts for legislation. Hypocrisy is wrong. Therefore laws against sexual immorality are wrong (if they are aimed solely at homosexuals).
I never addressed homosexual acts or persons in the original post, so I'm not entirely sure where this is coming from. This paragraph is a red herring.
Paragraph 3 -  Laws against sexual immorality are an imposition of religious values. Imposing religious values is wrong. Therefore, laws against sexual immorality are wrong.
The thrust of my original article was that all law is an imposition of someone's values. We impose the value of the dignity of a woman on the rapist who thinks women exist solely for his pleasure. We impose the value of personal property on the thief who feels like taking his neighbor's car as his own. We impose the value of the right to life on the murderer out for revenge. In fact, law can almost be defined as the imposition of values through the force of the civil government. Therefore, because all law is "imposing values," then "imposing values" cannot be an objection against a particular law.

Maybe only "religious values" are beyond the scope of legal enforcement. In some cases, I'd agree with this (at least for our society*), but certainly not in all cases. Should the government lock up people who refuse to attend weekly Mass? Of course not. Should there be a law against eating meat on Fridays in Lent? Again, no. These are purely religious acts, but not all "religious values" are of this kind. The 10 Commandments, clearly a major source of "religious values" for Christians, forbid things like murder and theft along with things like adultery and idolatry. Does that mean that supporting homicide and larceny laws should be struck down as an "imposition of religious values"? Of course not, because there are also non-religious reasons to have laws against murder and theft. We can know that we should not kill an innocent person through the natural law (i.e. through knowing the nature of what a person is). So we have to ask whether having a law against sexual immorality would be based solely on a religious prescription or whether we can know it is wrong for women to sell their bodies, men to cheat on their wives, etc. also through reason. Of course, the answer to this is a hearty "yes" making these laws more like a law against the Fifth Commandment (Thou shall not kill) than like a law against the Second Commandment (Keep Holy the Sabbath). Therefore, sexually immoral acts could also properly be legislated against because they are not forcing religious activity, but are enforcing moral activity (which all law is an attempt to do).

That doesn't necessitate outlawing all (or any) immoral sexual acts, but it means we can legitimately do so. Neither my original post nor this one is arguing for specific sexually immoral acts to be outlawed, but we shouldn't dismiss such laws a priori based on some nebulous concept of "not legislating morality" or even of "not imposing religious values". There might very well be good reasons to not legislate against certain sexually immoral acts, as we don't necessarily make illegal all immoral acts, but these reasons need to be applied on a case by case basis, as any attempt to classify sexual acts as in principal beyond the pale of law is bound to fail.

* "At least for our society" because it is conceivable that such laws could legitimately exist in a confessionally Catholic country. Historically, for example, Charlemagne outlawed the eating of flesh for all of Lent, on pain of death (cf. Capitularies, 4)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Basilica of Our Lady of Gaudalupe

I'll say it right off the bat, I'm not a friend of "modern" church architecture. For millennia our Catholic ancestors, far poorer than we, built magnificent churches to house the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in a manner worthy of His great majesty. They saw their church as a true domus Dei - house of God - in the tradition of the Jerusalem Temple, which wasn't primarily a meeting place for God's people, but the unique place of God's Presence on this Earth. Faith in the Eucharist, in the literal physical Presence of Christ in a Catholic Church took this understanding to a whole new level. Christ was just as physically present in the tabernacle as He was when he walked the streets of Judea in the first century. This called for, no demanded, a proper structure - indeed Christ was to be given the best "house" in town. Our Catholic forefathers truly could understand the sentiment of King David when he said, “Look, I am living in a palace made of cedar wood, but the Ark of God is in a tent!” (2 Sam 7:2)

Unfortunately, in these latter days, many Catholic architects and building committees have almost entirely lost this sense of the church being a literal dwelling for the Most High. Instead of seeing the church as a domus Dei, they see the church as a domus populi Dei - a house of the people of God. With a weak faith in the truth of the miracle of transubstantiation (i.e. the Eucharist is Christ, not bread and wine), they opted to build community centers rather than fitting homes to house a mystery as great as the Mass. Dr. Peter Kreeft, in his book Jesus Shock, explains how the Eucharist, and only the Eucharist can explain the the existence of the great cathedrals of Europe:
They were technological miracles, far ahead of their time, like the American moon rockets of the sixties. In fact, they were very much like moon rockets: heavy matter taught to fly like angels... What in the world can explain these miracles? Nothing in the world. That's what makes them miracles. Christ alone explains those cathedrals. Stonemasons did not build them; faith built them. His Real Presence built them, and His Real Presence was worshiped in them. They built to house not man worshipping, but Christ worshipped. (59-60)
 Many Catholics today have lost this sense. They've focused almost exclusively on the horizontal dimension of worship to the near exclusion of the vertical dimension. In layman's terms, many today think only of the "welcoming faith community" and not of the transcend and all-holy Creator of the Universe when they gather to build a church. This can be no better described than by viewing the most sacred church in all of the Americas, the church built to commemorate the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego and the people of Mexico in Guadalupe.

Our forefathers built this mighty cathedral to do this...

Expiatory Temple to Christ the King - 1709

When its foundation shifted and it was no longer safe to use, we built this...

Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe - 1976

We might be more practical, have more money, and stronger building materials, but we also are less dedicated, have less love, and weaker faith than those who came before us and converted a pagan American continent to Christ.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Should the Mass be More Friendly?

Q. I recently attended a non-denominational Christian service and I was really impressed with how friendly the people were. The atmosphere was so nice and warm and inviting compared to the silence I'm used to in the Catholic Church! Why can't we Catholics learn something from our Protestant brothers and sisters and make the Mass a more communal experience?

First, there is nothing wrong with being friendly and inviting and we could all be a little more welcoming to the unfamiliar faces we see at Mass what with the New Evangelization and all, but we should always keep in mind that comparing Protestant services with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is like comparing apples and oranges. The Mass is different in kind, not just degree, from what is happening in any Protestant service and particularly from what is happening at a non-denominational service. So look at how we ought to behave in Mass (or what we ought to wear or what songs we sing, etc) we have to always circle back to the fundamental question, what is the Mass?

The Mass is primarily and essentially worship of God, not, as some would like, a community gathering. We can have community fellowship without proper worship (eg sporting events, coffee shops, parties, Protestant services) but we cannot have the Holy Mass without proper worship. The Mass is meant to be a transcendent moment where we forget ourselves in the presence of the Almighty God. It goes back to the Temple liturgy in the Old Testament, where, again, the focus was on the God being worshipped, not on the people doing the worshipping.

That doesn't mean that there is no communal element to the Mass, there is, but it of necessity must always be subordinated to the primary "vertical orientation" towards God.

The proper time and place for the "horizontal" dimension of Catholic life is outside the Mass. It is once we are sent with the words Ite missa est - go the Mass has ended - that we are to gather in community and focus on building community with our fellow worshipers. The sad fact is that too many Catholics are too eager to rush out of the parking lot, when there ought to be time after Mass, outside the sanctuary (where people might well still be in prayer), to socialize and build the bonds that actualize the reality of us becoming "one body" in Christ.

Again, there is nothing wrong with being friendly, but when we begin to focus on us during the Mass we disorder everything in our lives. In fact, this tendency to focus on "we the people" at Mass is the root of all evil in the Church today. And that's not hyperbole. For self-worship is the grossest form of idolatry, which is the worse sin we can commit. I'd take a pagan worshipping a golden statue over a congregation worshipping themselves (with ample applause no doubt) seven days a week.

That isn't to criticize what is happening at the non-denominational service you attended, for that service isn't a disordered Mass because it isn't the Mass at all. Remember, we are dealing with apples and oranges here. Gathering together in prayer and praise (what Protestant worship amounts to) is a great time for community building. It's something we Catholics can do as well, but it isn't what the Holy Mass is for.

Traditional Latin Mass

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Lord will Protect the Sanctity of His Church

We read, in the third chapter of the Second Book of Maccabees, about a miraculous intervention by the Lord to protect the sanctity of His Temple, His dwelling place among men. To set the scene, Simon, captain of the Temple, had a disagreement with the High Priest. Seeking revenge, Simon decides to desecrate the Temple by having the treasury stolen by the king, Seleucus. The Temple's sanctity and inviolability made it a safe place for the storage of money by widows, orphans, and others. To take the treasury was, thus a brazen act deifying the protection of God to those who trusted in the holiness of His sanctuary to safeguard their belongings. The king, greedily prizing the money of the orphans and widows of Jerusalem, sent Heliodorus with an armed escort to seize the money from the Temple. Desperate to avoid such a supreme sacrilege the priests "prostrated themselves before the altar in their priestly garments and called toward heaven upon him who had given the law about deposits, that he should keep them safe for those who had deposited them." (v. 15). Indeed the whole population of Jerusalem get into the act, "People also hurried out of their houses in crowds to make a general supplication because the holy place was about to be brought into contempt." (v. 18).

In the midst of all this prayer to the Most High to protect His dwelling place Heliodorus arrives and enters the Temple intent of seizing the treasure for his king. Before he can desecrate the Temple with his theft, the King of Kings acts:
But when he (Heliodorus arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien, and it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs. Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold. Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed, who stood on each side of him and scourged him continuously, inflicting many blows on him. (v. 22 - 26)
The Expulsion of Heliodorus by Raphael

Helidorus drops nearly dead to the floor and is only revived through the mercy of God brought on by the intercessions of the High Priest. Once recovered, Heliodorus offered sacrifice to the Lord and "made very great vows to the Savior of his life." (v. 35) Thus, through his intervention, God both protected the widows and orphans of Jerusalem and the holiness of his Temple, while converting a sinner to worship the true God.

We might wonder why, if God so jealously protects the sanctity of His Dwelling place,  the Temple is in fact desecrated time and again throughout its history. We need only turn to chapter five to find this question answered, for in chapter five Antiochus does indeed despoil the Temple.
Antiochus was elated in spirit, and did not perceive that the Lord was angered for a little while because of the sins of those who dwelt in the city (Jerusalem), and that therefore he was disregarding the holy place.
But if it had not happened that they (the Jews of Jerusalem) were involved in many sins, this man would have been scourged and turned back from his rash action as soon as he came forward, just as Heliodorus was, whom Seleucus the king sent to inspect the treasury.
But the Lord did not choose the nation for the sake of the holy place, but the place for the sake of the nation.
Therefore the place itself shared in the misfortunes that befell the nation and afterwards participated in its benefits; and what was forsaken in the wrath of the Almighty was restored again in all its glory when the great Lord became reconciled. (v. 17-20)
In short, God willfully allowed Antiochus to do what He prevented Heliodorus from doing because of the sins of His people. 

If God protected His old covenant people and His old convenant dwelling place, how much more should we, His new convenant people, trust in the Lord and His protection? And alternatively, how much more zealously should we preserve the holiness and sanctity of our churches, where God is not just spiritually present, as He was in the Temple, but is physically present in the Most Holy Eucharist? The episode of the conversion of Heliodorus reminds us that our churches are not just community spaces, are not primarily places for us at all. No, they are dwelling places of the Most High. They are truly Holy Ground.

Friday, March 7, 2014

To Have the Faith of a Marsh-Wiggle

I'm currently reading through the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis with my five year old son. As readers of this blog well know, I'm a huge Lewis fan and I frequently site his writings here. Last night we were reading The Silver Chair when we came to a truly great passage, something only Lewis could write.

To set the scene, our heroes (a human boy, a human girl, and a denizen of Narnia a Marsh-Wiggle) have encountered the evil Emerald Witch who has kept the rightful Prince of Narnia hidden from the world under a spell for the last ten years. The witch has caught them just as they were about to make their escape with the now disenchanted prince. Before they can go the witch sprinkles some magic dust onto the fire and begins playing her mandolin in an attempt to put them all under her evil power. She is the Queen of the Underland and tires to break their wills by convincing them that the "Overland" doesn't really exist, that the sun and the clouds and their memories are all parts of a dream or fairytale. Finally, she rejects even the existence of Aslan (the Christ figure) as make believe. She succeeds in overwhelming the Prince, the boy and the girl, but the Marsh-Wiggle gathers his strength before succumbing to the spell and gives a truly epic speech. Remember, Aslan is Christ. Let's listen.
"All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can to it. So I won't deny any of what you've said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overworld. Not that our lives will be very long, I shouldn't think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
  That is Faith. That is a rejoinder any of us can use when confronted by the "New Atheists." Yes, we can prove the truth of our Faith - the existence of God, the Divinity of Christ, Heaven, Hell, etc. - and no one knew this better than Lewis, but if you aren't a philosopher or theologian or if you find yourself tongue tied, or if you are just tired of arguing, remember to have the faith of a simple Marsh-Wiggle and press on. For if the atheists are right, losing the world would be "small loss" indeed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Get Your Ashes Today!

Here are a few memes from around the internet to inspire you to get to church, get your ashes, and keep them on today! God bless.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ritualism vs Spiriual Message of the Gospel

Q. Doesn't ritualism, in either worship or morals, distract from the pure and simple spiritual message of the Gospels?

A. Only when the "pure and simple spiritual message of the Gospels" is watered down and distorted. For example, if you take the "spiritual message" of Christianity to be "God loves you, Jesus is nice, be nice to each other" then you might see the ritual of the Mass or the obligations of the moral law as "distracting" from this message. But, that isn't the real message of the Gospels. The real message includes sin and repentance (i.e. living a moral life) and proper worship (i.e. ritualized liturgy). Can some people follow the law without love (like the Pharisees in the New Testament)? Of course, but that doesn't put a black eye on morality, but on lovelessness. Can some people love the rituals of the Mass more than they love Christ? Yes, again, but that doesn't call out for abandoning the rubrics, instead it calls for a greater love of Christ. As the medievals would say, abusus non tollit usum - abuse does not take away the proper use of liturgy or the moral law. In fact, if a view of the "spiritual message" of Christianity pits its creed (what we believe), code (morality), and cult (liturgical worship) against one another, it is an infallible sign that you've gotten the "message" all wrong. Remember, it was Christ Himself who instituted a ritual and commanded (not suggested, but commanded) us to follow it (cf. Lk 22:29) and it was Christ Himself who declared that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (cf. Matt 5:17) and in so doing raised the standards of the moral life (cf. Matt 5 - 7). For Catholics, and indeed all followers of Christ, words, works, and worship can never be separated from love because they all flow from the One who is Love (1 Jn 4:8).

Monday, March 3, 2014

St. Faustina Sees Hell

St. Faustina is best known for her teaching on God's love of and mercy for mankind. She is mostly known by Catholics for the Divine Mercy Chaplet which is a great reflection on these themes (which is why I pray it each Saturday). However, St. Faustina had more to say about God than your typical CCD teacher in the eighties might have lead you to believe. God's mercy and love are not the entire story of what was reveled to Faustina. Christ also told her that
Souls perish in spite of My bitter passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation; that is the Feast of My Mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity. (Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul)
Indeed, dispelling all doubts that God's mercy and Christ's death leads to the salvation of all, St. Faustina is given a fearsome tour of Hell which God commands her to write down for our benefit.
Today, I was led by and Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! (Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul)
 She then goes on to relate eight distinct tortures that are suffered by the damned.
  1.  The loss of God for all eternity. This is the most terrible suffering the damned face as we explored HERE.
  2. "Perpetual remorse of conscience", the damned, while not ever being truly sorry for their sins will still be tormented by their consciences, something they probably ignored in this life.
  3. Knowledge of the permanence of Hell. Knowing that there is no escape, ever, from the suffering.
  4. " A purely spiritual fire, lit by God's anger." Faustina, pace to some modern theologians, sees the flames of Hell, showing that Christ's imagery might be more literal than we might imagine (of course, the meaning of "spiritual fire" can be ambiguous, there is no need to necessarily conclude there is a physical fire as well.)
  5. Continual darkness and a "terrible suffocating smell." Despite the darkness Faustina tells us the damned and the demons can see one another, which adds to the torment.
  6. Being in the constant presence of Satan. The saints behold God eternally (the beatific vision), the damned behold the devil eternally.
  7. Eternal hatred of God. The damned curse God and hurl blasphemies at Him. They do not long for Heaven, even though they hate Hell.
  8. Each individual sinner is punished in a way and to a degree that accords with their sins in life. Dante Alighieri shows us what this might look like in Inferno.
 St. Faustina, again pace to some modern theologians, goes on to tell us why we need to know this (emphasis added):
I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there.... most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. (Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul)
Our response, however, to this news need not be despair or terror, for no one needs to go to Hell so long as they continue to live. Christ's Death and Resurrection has given everyone the means to obtain God's mercy and to avoid the terrible fate of those St. Faustina saw in Hell. That is the gospel (the "good news") that Catholics are called to announce to the world (see more HERE)!

No one demonstrates the mercy of God (and the justice of God) more than the great poet, Dante Alighieri. In Purgatorio we meet Manfred who's life mirrored that of his father, Frederick II, but who (unlike dad) is among the saved. How? He tells us,
Horrible were my sins,
but infinite Goodness with wide-open arms
received whoever turns to it. (3.121-123)
Developing this same theme, Buonconte (who's life also mirrored his damned father), tells us that though he lived a life of sin, at the last moment before his death, as he bleeds out on the battlefield, he found salvation. How?
I ended on the name of Mary and there I fell,
and only my flesh remained. (5.101-102)