Monthly Archives: November 2013

Reflection: Fifty Years Later

This is an off-the-cuff reflection, meaning my beautiful wife, who normally proofreads blog posts, hasn’t check over this.  Maybe she’ll look at it later, but I wanted to capture the immediacy of my thoughts.

Today marks 50 years since the death of three very important men: President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States of America, C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, and Aldous Huxley, author of the classic distopean novel Brave New World.  The fact that all three men died on November 22, 1963 prompted Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft to write his novel Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.  While not strictly a serious examination of these three men’s thought, the work does look at some of man’s greatest questions as these great men might have answered them.

All three men changed the world in which they lived, but in vastly different ways.  I do not know a lot about any of these men, but I do know something about all of them.  Kennedy became president of the USA in 1960.  He faced great opposition while running because of his Catholic Faith.  In his famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) speech to the Greater Houston Ministreial Association, a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, he assured his listeners and the American public the following: “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views — in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”  This speech changed the way in which Catholic politicians in America and around the world viewed their role in government.  More liberal-minded politicians would use Kennedy’s words as an explanation as to why they would not support some law that might seem as if they were supporting the Catholic Church’s view the issue.  More conservative-minded politicians try to critique Kennedy’s words, distancing themselves from liberal Catholic politicians.  

We will never know what might have come from Kennedy’s presidency during the tumultuous sixties.  His death fifty years ago from a bullet fired by Lee Harvey Oswald ended our certainty.  What we do know is that he was a politician.  He wanted to be known as that, not as a Catholic, and so he was.  Everything of his presidency, from his election through the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis to the sordid affairs that everyone remembers from his presidency, capture him as a politician.  And so he was.

C. S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, held views which put him at odds with many around him.  He wrote in defense of Christianity (Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, etc.), novels of high fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia series), novels of science fiction (the Space Trilogy), theological fantasies (The Screwtape Letters, The Piligim’s Regress, The Great Divorce), and many essays on various topics.  He was also a literature professor at Oxford and Cambridge, something many fans of his writings forget.  He was a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, and with Tolkien and Charles Williams formed the Inklings, a group of writers who would share their works in progress.  Though he never became Catholic, Lewis has brought many to the Faith, like a modern-day Virgil for a new world of Dantes.  He spread the Gospel like few of his contemporaries, a preacher to the nations.

Of these three men, Aldous Huxley has perhaps the most variant life.  He was neither on fire for Christ (in fact, he embraced parapsychology and Eastern mysticism, particularly Vedanta) like Lewis, nor was he involved in political life like Kennedy.  However, Huxley wrote a novel, Brave New World, which presented a world over 500 years in the future, a world where the Henry Ford is held up as a god (and people cross themselves with a T, in honor of the Model T cars).  Here people are grown in factories (with propaganda slogans playing in the background while the fetuses develop), women walk in a world of recreational sex with contraceptives on their belts, and the delightful soma pills provide a drug-induced escape from reality.  Into this world enters the hero, who, raised in the wild with those who do marry and raise children and read alone.  He enters the utopia to find it horrifying and, unaccepted in either his original home among the “savages” or in the cities, he hangs himself (which I TOTALLY did not pick up on when I read the novel in high school).

The novel is a dark glimpse into what we might see in the coming centuries.  Like Children of Men, it predicts a world of sterility.  Like Nineteen Eighty-four it predicts a completely government-run world.  Huxley didn’t live to see the horrors which have plagued our world today, nor did he live to see the explosion of “free love” and over-the-counter contraceptives for preteens.  He did not live to see the expansion of political life into every aspect of everyday life.  Some may call him a prophet, seeing the doom of a coming age.

So there were three men who went to their judgement this day fifty years ago.  One was a politician, a man of crucial words, cut short in a flash of red.  One was a preacher, who preached in the darkness with a light in his hands.  The third was a prophet, whose dire predictions rolled snowball-like through history.  All met God, and all gave an account of their life.  I do not know more than that, and I would not dare to guess where they are now, as many have debated.

We shall see their legacy as the decades progress.  In another fifty years, will their words still matter?

For Further Reading

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/john-f.-kennedy-and-c.s.-lewis-where-are-they-now

Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press)

Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley (Intervarsity Press)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldous_Huxley

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God (Part II)

See Part I of this series

Ahhhh!  Running out of time to write reflections on the Creed before the end of the Year of Faith!  I guess I’ll have to continue the reflections AFTER the year ends.   That’s not so bad, though.  One should grow in Faith no matter what year it is.   I’m sure it wasn’t Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s intention to have the faithful look into the Faith for one year and then abandon such pursuits.  No, deepening your Faith involves a lifetime of devotions.

So let us continue where we left off. . .

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty”

Explain the Trinity.  Go ahead, explain it.  Having trouble?  Unsure of exactly how to describe the 3-in-1 thing perfectly?  The language of “three Persons, one God” is helpful, but do you ever still feel confused at the end of your reflections on the Trinity?

As Fr. Robert Barron says at the end of his discussion of the Trinity in his Catholicism TV series, “Good.”

There is a difference, a huge difference, between a discussion of God’s existence and a discussion of his oneness, and a discussion of the Trinity.  The existence of God can be known through human reason, without the aid of Divine Revelation (St. Thomas, that great thinker of all things theological and philosophical, called natural beliefs like God’s existence “preambles to the Faith”).  The resulting knowledge of God without Revelation isn’t perfect, for we need Revelation from God to better understand Him, but it is possible.  We can see “proofs” that show that God’s existence is reasonable.  This is not the case with the Trinity.  Try all he wants, a pagan Greek philosopher could not come to the philosophical conclusion that God is three Persons yet one God (as a side note in speculation, perhaps the ideas of polytheism did somehow hint at this reality, and man formed multiple gods out of the truth of one God in three Persons).

The doctrine of the Trinity, though not apparent through philosophic thought, does make sense on a rational level.  If God is perfect, as He would have to be, being God, then He would have to have pure Love as one of His attributes.  St. John is right in noting that “God is Love” (1 John 8: 8, 16).  Love is a good thing, but it cannot exist if there is not some person to receive the love, someone to receive the affection (and no, you can’t really love chocolate).  You cannot love something that is not a person; love can only be shared between persons.

This is a powerful truth when applied to God.  God is perfect Love, which means that He loves eternally, without beginning or end.  Being eternal, He must likewise love perfectly someone eternal, another eternal person.  This eternal person would have to exist from all eternity, also without beginning or end.  This second person is thus also God, for God alone is eternal.  This is the Second Person in God, the Son.  Thus we can see it follows that God is two divine, eternal Persons.

So the Father (the First Person) loves the Son (the Second Person) from all eternity, and the Son loves the Father likewise.  Their Love, then, is a third eternal existence, without beginning or end, and is therefore a Third Person, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, in case you couldn’t see where this is going, is also God.

Now, of course, this model of the Trinity is not perfect.  It is not without reason that the Church refers to the Mystery of the Trinity.  This is not a Mystery in the sense that you hunt it down and try to find the answer.  No, it is a mystery because it transcends our limited, human understanding.  We cannot fully grasp the inner life of the Trinity, the ad intra workings of God.  What we can grasp, partially, of course, are the ad extra acts of the Trinity, that is, when He works outside of Himself through creation.  God has revealed Himself throughout history and in various steps.  He first revealed Himself through creation, which is why we can use reason to know He exists.  We can look at the created world to know that there is a God and that He loves us (we will look at God’s act of creation in the second half of this post).  God further revealed Himself through His interaction with the Hebrew people.  They were blessed to know God as Father.  God would more fully reveal Himself through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth, who likewise revealed the Third Person of God the Holy Spirit.  We do not have time now to discuss these later revelations of God, but will examine them when we look at the Son and Holy Spirit in later posts of these reflections.

“I believe in One God. . . Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

All of Creation depends on God, from whom all good comes.  God, being perfect, did not need to create.  He did so out of love.  He, being infinite Being itself, is the source of existence for all of creation.  God is the creator.  Nothing exists that He did not create, at least indirectly (so for example, the plastic stuff all around you wasn’t DIRECTLY created by God, but He did make the materials that would eventually become the plastic).

[And no, that does not mean God creates evil.  Evil is a privation, a lack of a good.  God allows evil to come into the world for our benefit.  We can’t know exactly how it works in this life.  Evil is another one of those mysteries of Faith mentioned above.  But evil isn’t God’s fault, as if He were trying to hurt us.  We should stop blaming God for bad things and instead work towards correcting the bad.  We should turn to Him as our model for goodness, rather than rejecting the one perfect thing in existence.]

This line from the Creed, about God creating “all things visible and invisible” went through a slight translation change in the newest translation of the Roman Missal (from 2010).  The prior English translation of the Latin phrase “visibilium omnium et invisibilium” made God the creator “of all things seen and unseen.”  The translation now states that God is the creator “of all things visible and invisible.”  This is not some obsessive translation on the part of churchmen who have nothing better to do than think of new translations of creedal statements.  It reflects a more sound concentration of the importance of God’s revelation.  “Seen and unseen” implies that one could somehow physically see everything in creation (“unseen” seems to imply that the focus of our attention could be seen somehow, but just hasn’t been seen yet); “visible and invisible” puts every thing into a category of things we can sense and things we can’t.

The new translation points towards not only invisible natural forces in creation, such as gravity or even something like the wind, but also includes the spiritual world, namely angels (and demons, or angels that rejected God).  Pure spirits without material bodies, angels are invisible.  They appear to humans, some theologians say, by manipulating light into a form that can be visible to those to whom they are sent.  Angel means “messenger,” and the angels who do interact with people do so because they have special missions from God.  The three archangels, Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are known by name because they appear in Scripture, helping God at important points of Salvation History.  All people have their own guardian angel, as does every church and every country.  Angels were created all at once, the Church teaches, and are not the same as souls who have died and gone to Heaven (contrary to pop cultural references).  And speaking of erroneous ideas of angels, get out of your head the idea of angels as cute and fluffy babies.  There is a reason that the first words angels normally say when greeting humans are “Do not be afraid.”  Visitors from other planes of existence can be quite terrifying.

The Creed affirms not only the existence of angels, but of Heaven and Hell as well.  The existence of both Heaven and Hell are denied rather frequently today, sometimes more frequently than God and angels.  We need to remember that such eternal places exist.  Heaven is a place of bliss, where the souls of the just exist in happiness with God forever.  Dante’s Paradiso captures this reality beautifully.  The souls in Heaven, represented by human-sized lights, swirl around God.  When Dante asks one of the souls who is further away from God if that soul is jealous of those closer to God, the soul says no, because God has placed her where she belongs, and she is still in the presence of God.

Hell, also real, is eternal separation from God.  The most terrifying aspect of Hell is that the people there WANT to be there.  They have chosen to separate themselves from God, and God gives them what they want.  Hell, as strange as it sounds, is a place of justice and love, justice because it gives the souls what they are due (separation from God because of unrepented sins), love because it gives the souls what they want.  Nobody is surprised to end up in Hell.  Again, Dante portrays this marvelously in his Inferno.  At the center of Hell is Satan, frozen in thick sheets of ice.  He remains frozen because, in his pride, the Father of Lies beats his wings, creating a freezing wind that further freezes the ice around him.

Two parables emphasize this point by two very different men.  One is told by Jesus, the other by Oscar Wilde.  The parable of Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man, who would not help Lazarus, even though he saw him daily outside his house, ends up in Hell, while Lazarus ends up in Heaven.  When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they might repent, Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).  The rich man rejects Abraham’s offer: “No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).  The brothers, like the rich man, have separated themselves from God, and the rich man fails to see how God might have offered the key to salvation for men like him and his brothers.

The other story is “The House of Judgment” by Oscar Wilde.  In it is a man who has done pretty much everything bad that is humanly possible.  He is told he has to go to Hell, but he replies he can’t because he’s spent his entire life there.  When Heaven is offered to him, he rejects it because, as he says, “Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it.”  One cannot be with God in Heaven if he cannot build his relationship with God on earth.  In what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of sin, Hell is the only place where such a person can feel at home.

A quick word on visible creation.  There is a lot of debate about whether science or religion has the key to understanding the beginning of the universe.  When man pits science against God or when a man rejects reason in the face of faith, only ignorance results.  Both extremes deny the other’s truth.  Faith and science work together and should agree with each other.  If they don’t, someone went wrong.  The fights over creation vs. evolution are frequently neither scientific nor religious.  Bad science ignores evidence, as many believing evolutionists do; bad religion ignores reason and Tradition, as too many creationists do.

I wrote a paper once trying to reconcile theories of human evolution with the Church’s teaching on Adam and Eve.  Maybe someday I’ll publish it in some scholarly journal.  One thing I found was that there was not a lot of work by Catholics in the field of evolutionary biology, particularly in reconciling the findings of the scientific community with the Church’s teaching on creation, original sin, and the origins of man.  There are some notable contributions by Catholic scientists, but their works are too often ignored by both scientists and Catholics.  Much is said about fitting the scientific theory of the Big Bang into the account of Genesis 1, but there has not been as much work on fitting recent genetic and biological research into the first three chapters of Genesis.  My paper sought to do that, but I am not a scientist, nor am I a genius theologian.  The work still needs to be done.

We Catholics must remember above all that, no matter the details of how the universe came to be as it is today, God must have started it.  If the evolutionary theorists are correct, that the earth and life came to be through gradual changes, then God directed those changes, with our salvation as its goal.  We must also keep in mind that often forgotten point in the debates over man’s origins: man’s ultimate goal, which is salvation in Heaven with God.

It was to regain our salvation for us after we lost it after the Fall that God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, mother of Jesus.  We will reflect on what we believe about this pivotal event in human history, upon which even our dating of history hinges (even if you don’t believe in God): the Incarnation.  And in looking at that crucial historical event, we will delve deep, deep into the mystery of God.

For Further Reading (or Listening)

Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two, Chapter One (198–421)

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Trinity

________.  On “Not Three Gods

Gregory Thaumaturgus, Fragment from “On the Trinity”

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity

Institute of Catholic Culture Lectures

David Brown, Science & Religion: Compatible or Combative? (especially the first talk)

Dcn. Sabatino Carnazzo, Catechism 102: The Creed

Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell, Suffering with God: Job & the Attacks of the Evil One

Fr. Andrew Hofer, Original Sin

Fr. Paul Scalia, Credo: I Believe in God the Father

Fr. William Saunders, Alpha and Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World

_________.  Creation or Evolution: What Does the Church Really Teach?

Pinto, Matthew J.  Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?  And 199 Other Questions from Catholic Teenagers.  West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 1998, Chapters 1 & 2.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part I (deals with God and creation, including parts discussed in the previous post.

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