Thursday, February 23, 2012

Into the desert... alone?

Everyone knows the hymn "Lonesome Valley."

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.

v You must go and stand your trial,
You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you,
You have to stand it by yourself.

Now, I'm not denying that the end of the day, you must stand before your maker, and that you yourself are responsible to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul says. But the path to judgement is not one we walk alone.

No, no one else can walk our path for us, but is not the point of the Church, is not the point of salvation itself that we are not walking alone? Take my yoke, for it is easy, and my burden is light. The yoke binds a team of oxen together, and the Yoke of Christ binds us to Him, and bound to Him we are bound to each other.

Jesus Christ, being God, was always in the beatific vision. He was with the Father and the Spirit through the entire course of His earthly life - He does not say, "I and the Father were one," but "I and the Father are one."

We must make this Lenten journey for ourselves, but we are not by ourselves. The 2,600+ people at all the Masses in my parish yesterday should make that clear. But more than that, even when we flee to the solace of quiet and solitude, God is there! We are not alone in this journey, we are strengthened by our brothers and sisters, by our mother the Church, and most importantly by Our Lord Himself.

For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Elegance of Symmetry

There are three descriptors of God typically used, especially when one is about to bring up the argument against God from evil. While I argue that the list is non-exhaustive, it is widely accepted that these are sine qua non for the traditionally understood "god":

  • All Good - Omnibenevolent
  • All Knowing - Omniscient
  • All Powerful - Omnipotent

All knowing gets flack as being apparently opposed to free will (which is is not), and all powerful gets thrown the sophomoric questions such as, "could God create a rock so heavy He couldn't lift it?" But that is nothing compared to the confusion that surrounds the nature of Good.

There is an (incorrect) notion floating around that good and evil are just words, just terms. They are not absolute indicators, but relative statements of opinion, conditioned by society et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. There are a number of problems with this, but for the time being I want to instead state a positive case in support of the traditional Catholic understanding of evil as a privation of good.

This point comes from symmetry, specifically the symmetry between these three descriptions of God.

First, Power, or Potency. From Latin potens - the ability to do something. The opposite of potency is not anti-potency. It's not like there's some mysterious condition where you perform negative work on a situation such that what happens is in direct opposition to what was intended. This isn't anti-potency, but rather misdirected potency. The opposite of capability is incapability, a lack of potency, impotence.

Second, Knowledge. Again, the opposite of knowing a thing is not to know the wrong thing, but to know nothing. There is no anti-knowledge, but lack of knowledge masquerading as knowledge. You either know or you don't - "knowing" a falsehood means that you don't actually know.

Before I go into good vs. evil, take a look at the thermometer, and keep it in mind as a descriptor while I go into a physical analogy. Temperature is referred to as hot vs. cold, but they're generally considered to be completely relative. However, it is similarly a zero-to-infinity scale - there is such a things as the coldest possible, though the same is not true on the upper end.

So it is with good. Evil is not "anti-good," but a lack of good. It is defect or lack, not something in itself. Tolkien knew this when he wrote the Lord of the Rings - the Orcs were deformed Elves, for evil can create nothing. Evil can only distort and destroy, because it is fundamentally absence.

This set of definitions of course glosses other very important characteristics of which God possesses/is the source of - being, love, presence, mercy, justice, the list could go on and on. There are more and better proofs for why this is a good way to understand reality (some of which will likely show their head on this blog at a later date). I am just struck by the beauty of the symmetry, and the way in which it points to a convergent source - God.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The God of Invitations

Yesterday was a wonderful morning. I was awake early, but feeling refreshed, so I thought I'd take advantage of the morning quiet, let my girls sleep, and get some work done on my blog. As I posted a while back, I repented of my use of the WYSIWYG editor in favor of actually typing up the HTML (so much better). I've been happy with the change (my blogs are SO much easier to edit now!), but there's a fair amount of work left before my blog is up to code.

So anyway, there I am, editing away, when I realize that I haven't said the Rosary in a little while, and now would be the perfect opportunity while the family is asleep to get some personal prayer time in. (Of course, by realize I mean that I was being called to go have a little relationship time with Jesus through Mary.)

Cool, I think, I should do that. Okay, let me finish this post and I'll go pray.

But as I prepared to continue, I realized that that's not what had been asked of me. I had been asked to come pray now. I was being called to go do something more important - my blog could wait.

True enough. I think I am participating in the common good by sharing my thoughts and reflections (else I wouldn't be blogging), but I'm clearly doing it wrong if I forsake prayer for the sake of blogging. First things first and all that.

So anyway, I go and pray through Joyful Mysteries in front of our family altar, and am confronted by the 5th Joyful Mystery (which I have talked about here) - the Finding in the Temple. It is an awesome mystery, and one which also provides fodder to the discussion on "what Jesus knew and when" regarding how divine knowledge plays out when it is unified with human nature in the person of Jesus Christ.

It is a confusing and (potentially) frightening question, but not the point of this particular cogitation. Rather, I was brought to some of the research I had done regarding that question, and how it talked about the modes of knowledge which Christ displays. In particular, I was struck about how Christ was perceived by the teachers in the temple. Luke 2:46f -

And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers.

He was asking questions. Moreover, one interpretation of "his answers" was not so much answers signifying knowledge, but rather (as it says in the scripture) wisdom. That is, it was His ability to answer instructive questions intelligently, and to ask intelligent questions to probe the depths of the scripture. Of course, this could very easily have been a reverse-socratic method on His part, but nonetheless His wisdom is being displayed because He is asking.

Tie this together with Paul's admonition that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and Revelation 3:20 (Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. - see image), and we have a revelation to the nature of our relationship with God.

He is a God of invitation!

Our God is not one of imposition. He's not. One could say that He "imposes" reality upon us (gravity and all), but really that is providing us with an ordered and intelligible nature in which we know our place, and know the rules. But when it comes to ultimate reality, union with Him and living according to His will? No, not even the least bit imposing.

He gives us the room to love Him of our own accord. It will end up being on His terms - after all He knows us better than we know ourselves - but He allows us to discover that. He allows us to assent to that, to cooperate with and participate in that reality of His love for us, and our meager effort to return that love, perfected in the sacrifice of the Son.

It is interesting too, that even though I "heard it twice," the request didn't change. I can't quite explain it, but I first heard in my heart a call to pray. Upon considering delaying this, I heard - almost as a tone in the chord which doesn't come out at first - an insistence in the call. A desire that I come to Him now, without delay. That "tone" was there the whole time, it was I who had changed to hear it.

I think this is true with all of our calls from God. The substance of the call does not change - ever. However our state in life, our receptivity to that call, these things affect our ability to hear His call, and to hear different parts of that call. When I was a bachelor, and then a newlywed, I had more time to serve my parish, and was called to be active in time-intensive activities.

Now that I am a father and still in college, I have a responsibility to devote more of my time to my daughter. With my wife pregnant with our second, I am further called to spend more time at home. I can't do the same things I used to, but it doesn't mean I'm not following the call now, or was failing the call then. Nor does it mean that the call changed.

The music doesn't change, but where we are in the music does. Our part, whether we're melody, harmony, soloing - all of it is part of the same beautiful piece of music.

What is He inviting you to do today?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Frog and the Scorpion

A fable:

One day there was a scorpion sitting by the side of the river. He was wondering how he might get across when a frog approached, clearly intent on crossing the river.

"Kind frog," called the scorpion, "will you carry me on your back to the other side? I cannot swim."

The frog replied, "Why should I carry you across? You will just sting me and I will die!"

"Not so!" said the scorpion, "for if I sting you, we will both drown, for I cannot swim."

So the frog took the scorpion on his back, seeing the wisdom in what he said. However, when the frog was in the middle of the river, he felt a sharp pain, and realized that the scorpion had stung him after all.

As the poison spread, the frog croaked out, "Why? Why would you do that? Now we will both drown!"

The scorpion replied, "I couldn't help it. It was in my nature to sting."

I've been doing a lot of reading, talking in person, and of course posting and commenting on Facebook, but I have yet to post here regarding the HHS Mandate. However, most if not all of what I would have said has been said elsewhere and better (and with T-Rex in a fighter plane), so this post is more of a collection of my favorites.

As to who the frog is, it is most certainly not the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, but aside from that I'll leave it to interpretation.

I'll update with more as I find really good ones. Feel free to add links in the comments.

The mandate of the HHS is a gross assault on the first amendment.
Neither as a Catholic nor as a Citizen of the United States can I remain silent on this issue.