Tuesday, December 18, 2012

End of the World Advice

Not that I believe the world ends Friday, but... why not go to confession just in case?  Best case scenario, it's a wonderful outpouring of God's mercy and love that will fill you with life.  Worst case, the world ends Friday and you're in a state of grace.  Oh, and that wonderful outpouring part also goes for the worst case.  It's a no brainer.

Seriously, without regard to the end of the world, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is God's gift to you!  Why would you stay away?

You're nervous?  Big deal.  I usually am when I go to confession.  You know why?  Because sin is real.  It is really something wrong with you, and you don't want to have to admit it.  Take heart:  nervous people do extraordinary things all the time.

You can't handle telling your sins to another person?  I'm not impressed.  Go behind a screen to a priest you don't know.  I've heard hundreds of completely anonymous confessions, and I truly have no idea who was on the other side of the screen.  It works.

You don't believe that you need to?  You can confess directly to God?  Yeah, that's rich.  I guess all those times that Jesus said to the apostles "whose sins you forgive are forgive" and "whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" were just suggestions.  And of course, we don't have to pay attention to the Letter of St James:  "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."

Wake up!  He intended us to actually take advantage this gift.  He doesn't want us to keep our faith locked up in our mind!  We're human beings, with bodies, with mouths and ears.  Confessing our sins requires us to make use of our entire person, body and soul, and to encounter Jesus himself with our senses, as the priest acts in his very person.  If you only "confess your sins directly to God," you will never hear those words you so desperately need to hear:  "God the Father of mercies through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.  Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.  And I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

I don't care if the world ends tomorrow or Friday or after I'm dead and gone.  But I do care deeply for all of you out there who deny yourselves the grace of Reconciliation.  No priest is withholding it from you.  You are choking yourselves on fear and pride.  You're doing it wrong.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Get the ball rolling again.

After nearly a year hiatus and with a newfound urge to blog, I just realized there is a Blogger app in the App Store. I know I'm WAY behind in that discovery, but ooh, just wait. Time to catch up on some blogging.

Wake Up!

Just so we're clear, the Catholic Church does not and never has (for thousands of years, an order of magnitude longer than the age of the United States of America) limited its ministry to serving only Catholics. From the earliest days, Christians sought out anyone who was marginalized in society (for instance unwanted infants that non-Christian parents left exposed), regardless of the beliefs of those they served. That's what you call LOVE. It's unconditioned, even (or especially) by a person's religious or moral beliefs.

The Catholic Church has been serving the world for millennia. You can focus on the ugly imperfections of the Church all you want, but terrible as they are, they do not cancel the remarkable amount of good that Christians have done and want to continue to do for anyone and everyone in need.

Why does the American government, which has only been in the social program business since the 1930s (greenhorns), feel the need to come in and push us around? We don't take issue with the idea of providing health insurance to our employees! We weren't part of the problem you were (purportedly) trying to solve. But you've decided to stir up trouble for no reason, compelling us to choose between some pretty untenable alternatives. Would you really so severely penalize us because we want to serve others beyond our own?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Published Columnist!

Hey, I've got a new regular column in the Catholic Week!  (The Catholic Week is the biweekly publication of the Archdiocese of Mobile.)  It's called Can You Believe It? and it's a question/answer column for high schoolers and middle schoolers.

So if you know someone in that age group whose got a question about the Catholic faith, have them send it my way.  (I need material!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


That is, ee-tee-OL-uh-gee.  No, it is not the study of E.T.

[Let me warn you at the outset:  I get a little philosophical in this one.  And what's worse, it's long.  If it seems too wordy at the outset, I promise it gets back to my usual style by the end.]

I'm not one to get into prolonged arguments for the existence of God.  I'm familiar with many of them, and I'll draw on them from time to time when I need to in conversation, especially if I think it will help someone.  But I think that people are more likely to be convinced that God exists because they experience Him in love shown by believers (and even non-believers), or by the beauty of creation, or something else that is beyond reasoning.  I say this because, if I only believe in a deity because I can prove to myself he exists, or at least that he most likely exists, then I don't believe in much of a god at all.  I believe instead in some being whose existence is graspable and establish-able by my own reason.  I therefore have power over him, and am able to be secure in the fact that I am the one in control of my belief, and no one else.  That is why philosophical reasoning can only be a beginning, a first step towards faith.  It cannot take the place of faith itself (though it does work quite well in harmony with faith).

Thus, I'm more interested in my own constant conversion so that believers and non-believers alike will hopefully be able to see God in me, rather than in their own heads, delimited and packaged into the god they are willing to accept.  God is bigger and more surprising than that.  Like I said, I'll talk to you any time of day about Anselm's ontological argument, or Thomas' 5 ways, or any of a number of arguments for God's existence, but I don't give them too much credence in the actual convincing of non-believers.  I'm fairly jaded when it comes to arguing for God's existence.

However, that doesn't stop me from speaking up when I hear stupid arguments against the existence of God.

I am presently bothered by the conjecture accusing human kind of having constructed an etiological deity.  That means, a god that exists as something we came up with to explain things we don't understand.  In other words, he is just something we've dreamed up as the cause of the things about the world we can't (yet) explain with science.  Once we understand everything (ha!), then it will absolutely clear there is no god.  (This of course rests on the demarcation of knowable reality to that which is quantitative, measurable, reportable, etc.  The etiological postulation loses an awful lot of weight already if you admit other kinds of knowledge, but many scientists just choose to believe that other kinds of knowledge just aren't possible.  However, so far as I know, there's nothing observable in nature that says the only thing you can know is what science can tell you.  That's a decision made in the mind of scientists - not all scientists, mind you.  It is not a proven reality.  But I digress.)

Let me just say this.  I don't believe in a god that exists to explain anything to me.  So go ahead science - explain everything to me!  You won't undo my belief.  I believe in God who exists entirely in Himself and doesn't need the world or the human brain to exist.  I believe in God who, if He wanted to, could have created the world in such a way that it hold no signs whatsoever of His existence, and therefore, even if we proved that He didn't exist, He still would exist, because He'd be outside our frame of reference.  I also believe in God who although He could have done that, He didn't.  He wanted His existence to be apparent, and so has revealed Himself through creation, through the seed of the Word present in every inquiring human mind, through His gradual revelation to the People of Israel, and most fully, through His coming among us in the Incarnation.

It just bothers me when scientists cross outside the bounds of their competency and tell us things they have no grounds to say.  They'll say that science doesn't present any reasons why a god would exist.  But my resounding answer is that even if science did present empirical grounds for the existence of God, I still would not count those as grounds for believing in God.  It would be a nice novelty, a sort of icing on the cake, but nothing more.  Quit talking to me about what science does or does not conclude about God.  Such conclusions are superfluous at best, and nonsensical at worst.  (Now, that's different than talking about what reason does or does not conclude about God.  Human reason's conclusions regarding God are not superfluous, but still, without revelation and faith, it can't take us all the way.)

I believe in God because I know his Love.  If that is a meaningless statement to you, then go spend some time in service to your fellow man.  Go spend some time with believers, and I mean serious believers.  Go serve alongside the Missionaries of Charity (they'll accept the help), or go spend a week praying with monks (they're required to be hospitable by their Rule), or go live with and help around the house of a large family that prays together and shares meals together every day and goes to Church on Sundays.  Laugh and cry with them.  Hear their shouting and arguments and then watch their reconciliations.

If you claim not to know the Love of God, then seek it out where it ought to be found, which is not in the cold reality of a laboratory, nor in the observations of a radio telescope, or whatever.  I'm sitting right now in a library filled with books about God, but if I were the only person in the world, I could read every single one of these books and I don't think I'd come to believe in God (and let me tell you, there are some good books in here).  The Love of God is no more written on their pages than it is to be found in a test-tube.  Love is something that only exists in relationships, even the Love of God.  And we can't ever be in a relationship with God, unless we experience that Love in the way that He has ordained: in other people.  That's how the spread of the Good News works.  Nobody hears it directly from God; we believe because somebody else we know believes.  (Don't forget to take the time to thank that person, by the way.)

You tell me the universe doesn't give you evidence of the existence of God.  I say, well, it gives me evidence, just not the kind of evidence you're looking for.  The people who love me give me plenty of evidence.  They are my starting point.  I dig further (with the help of the Church and Scripture) and I find a font of Truth and Love and Power that can never be exhausted, an infinite that is warmly overflowing, not the cold infinite void of the expanses of space.  A God who is immeasurable by anything even conceivable by science, not because He doesn't exist, but because He's not the world.  He's something else.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Prophet in his own country

I prayed recently with the following Scripture passage, Mark 6:1-6:

Going from that district, he went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him.  With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him.  They said, "Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?"  And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, " A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house"; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

I first read it trying to identify with Jesus.  I thought about how people react to the things I have to say.  I thought about whether or not people seem to be listening, seem to care.  And for the most part, I haven't run into this problem.  I preach in my home town all the time.  Most of my parishioners know some member of my family or another.  No one is dismissing me or what I have to say.  Maybe they'll start one day, but right now, that's just not the case.

I was stuck.  I didn't know how to respond to this story.  I didn't know what it had to do with me.

Then, the Spirit got to work.  Instead of Jesus, I saw myself in the story as one of the complaining Nazorenes.  I've known Jesus for years.  I've been very familiar with him every since I was a little child.  I know what he has to say, I've heard it a thousand times.

But I never listen.

Or sometimes I listen, but I think, "yeah I'll get around to that sometime.  One day I'll start getting my act together, but not yet.  I've known him since I was a kid.   I've haven't ever really taken him seriously for long, and things aren't so bad.  Why change?"

He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Go further than that:  when Jesus comes to you or me, seeking to dwell in us, to recreate us, he can be said to be visiting his hometown - he fashioned us after all; he knows us better than we know ourselves.  Jesus comes to visit me, to speak to my heart.  He comes to dwell in the abode he has fashioned for himself, but I don't make any room for him.  He's always been around, and always will be, so I'm in no hurry to change - I'll do that later.  I will, I promise, just not right now.

He was amazed at their lack of faith.

My normal mode of taking in the good news of salvation is to focus on the good, rather than be bogged down by judgment (and thanks be to God for that).  However, in all of the radical joy I find in contemplating God's work, I sometimes forget that my own obstinacy and selfishness is in fact directly opposed to his plan.  I don't think he sweats it, because his power to forgive is bigger than my sin, but seriously, I'm pretty good about ignoring his will.  In view of all he has done for me (both what I recognize and what I do not) do I not amaze him with my lack of faith?  Should I not amaze myself as well?