Last week, I was riding METRO with nothing to read and so I found myself listening in on the conversations around me. One conversation caught my attention immediately. Two young adults were discussing the practice of building shrines in the family home to honor ancestors. One friend asked the other if he would do this in his home and he said “no, because I don’t believe in any kind of life after death. ” His friend responded,” how can you not believe in life after death, you have to believe that!”
The young man asked, “Do you believe in something like heaven because you think you have to or because you really believe?”
Do you think you have to believe?
This is such a great question. We grow in our faith, we experience deeper conversion when we continue to ask ourselves not only what we believe but why we believe. My experience in sharing my faith is that people are really interested in knowing why we believe even more than what we believe. Do we have good answers for the difference what we believe makes in our own lives? I was stopped in my tracks one night at RCIA when a woman asked me to share from my own experience why I believe the Eucharist is really the body of Christ. She even said “don’t use any of your theological words, just tell me why you believe it is!”
Back to my story
So, the friend, when confronted with the question about why she believes in life after death said, “I think there is life after death because love doesn’t die.” I thought to myself, well, that is exactly what God thinks!
Some people say that if they could see they would believe. But seeing is not believing, seeing is only seeing.
Consider the video just below. It looks like a miracle before your very eyes. Is it a miracle or just some fancy illusion. Most people even upon seeing what looks like it can only be a miracle usually conclude that it is a trick or that there is “some way they do that.”
Now remove these magicians in the video and go with me back in time as Jesus works a miracle. Presume for a moment that you’ve never met Jesus or heard of him. Yet watch him cast out blindness or enable a paralyzed man to walk. Is it a miracle, or is it a clever trick? Should you really beleive his claims to be from God and to be God based on these wonderful works? Has Jesus staged this well or is he really the Son of God? You see? It still takes faith doesn’t it? You just can’t substitute for faith, it is an absolute requirement to accept who Jesus is. Miracles can help but seeing is not believing, it’s only seeing. In the end you have to decide: fancy trick or real miracle? Son of God or just a skilled illusionist?
Watch this video and see what look like real miracles before your very eyes. But pay attention to what your mind does and how quickly you can dismiss the visual evidence. Seeing even fantastic things just isn’t enough. In this case they likely are not miracles, just very well done illusions. But many saw Jesus work wonders which relly were miracles and it was not enough. You have to have faith. In other words, some people think if only God would work miracles in their life, they could believe. But miracles alone cannot bring faith because seeing is not believing it is only seeing.
Cumulative evidence can bring us to accept God’s existence as a reasonable proposition but only faith can really lead us to believe all that God has said. Pray for faith and you will see miracles, and more!
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)
We often think that worry and anxiety just happen to us. But the fact is that they result from our thoughts. Thoughts are the source of our worry. If we tend to think negatively, or to catastrophize or to focus on negative things we will grow anxious and sometimes angry. But the Bible says we ought to “dedicate ourselves to thankfulness.” (Colossians 3:21). In other words count your blessings and have an attitude of gratitude. We ought to discipline our minds every day and spend some time thanking God for what went right. As Phillipians 4:8 puts it: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
What you feed grows. Focus on negative things and sure enough anxiety and anger increase and our sense of the negative grows. Focus on positive things and blessings and guess what, we are less anxious overall and our sense of well being grows.
Try it out for 30 Days. Let me know how it goes. The video below features a classic Spiritual: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? It list the many people God saved of old and then asks, “And why not every man?” That’s right even you and me. It will be alright. God may not come when you want him but He’s always right on time.
Time Magazine recently featured a story by Amy Sullivan on the Conversion of Newt Gingrich to Catholicism along with references to the conversion of other well-known individuals. I thought I might present excerpts for the article along with my own commentary in RED. By the way, I am aware that a figure like Newt Gingrich arouses strong feelings from both sides of the political spectrum. The focus in this post is not on politics, but on the path to Catholicism of several prominent individuals and what we can learn from their stories. Here then follows the Time article and my comments.
Visitors to the Basilica of the National Shrine in northeast Washington often do a double take when they see Newt Gingrich and his familiar shock of white hair slip into a pew for the noon Mass on Sundays. The former Speaker of the House is known for many things, but religious zeal is not one of them. In fact, the social conservatives who fueled his Republican revolution in 1994 often complained about Gingrich’s lack of interest in issues like abortion or school prayer. (I remember these concerns well).
This past spring, however, after several decades as a nominal Southern Baptist, Gingrich converted to Catholicism. With the fervor of a convert, he has embraced the role of defending both his new faith and religious liberty. In his 2006 book Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich lambasted what he calls the “secular effort to reject any sense of a spiritual life as mattering.” …
American Catholicism has been losing members at a remarkable rate; an April 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report found that for every person who joins the Catholic Church, four others leave. (I do not agree with this characterization of the Pew data. It is true that last year for the first time there were fewer Catholic in this country than the year before. But that is the first year that the number ever went negative. The number of Catholics has actually increased in every year prior to last year. What HAS decreased is the number of Catholics who practice their faith by attending Mass each Sunday. That number has dropped from over 80% in the 1950s to 27% this past year. I read the Pew Study and saw no data that support the statement that 4 Catholics leave the Church for every one who enters it. That seems a great exaggeration and, even if true, would only apply to last year. It is true that there are A LOT of former Catholics in this country but that is because we are so big in the first place (ca 70 million). Thus, even if a small percentage of Catholics leave it still a large number)
But a steady stream of high-profile political conservatives have bucked this trend by converting in the past decade, including columnist Robert Novak, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and CNBC host Larry Kudlow. Unlike Evangelicals, for whom conversion is often an emotional, born-again experience, Catholic converts tend to make more of a considered decision to join a theological and intellectual tradition. “Conservatives are especially receptive to the promise of there being some capital-T truth that one can embed one’s convictions in,” says Damon Linker, a former editor of the Catholic journal First Things. Gingrich describes the appeal of Catholicism for him in just these terms. “When you have 2,000 years of intellectual depth surrounding you,” he told me on a recent summer morning, “it’s comforting…. (It is true, Catholicism is a thoughtful faith. We have a long and varied intellectual tradition that stretches back right to the time of Jesus himself. Futher, we exist in every part of the world. This combination of space and time have permitted the Church to develop a very sophisticated and thoughtful intellectual tradition. This ALSO presents challenges for the Church however. In an age that favors sound-bytes, quick answers, and simple solutions, the often nuanced and thoughtful Catholic tradition is sometimes hard to proclaim and the modern media age tunes out quickly. For a faith that makes careful distinctions like ours, it is a special challenge to present simple answers to complex questions in a way that respects our thoughtfulness but does not seem remote and technical. It can be done but it is difficult in the current age of the sound byte).
Catholicism offers Gingrich not just a strong religious tradition and community. It also gives him peace at home. His wife Callista is a lifelong Catholic who sings in the basilica’s professional choir. After the two married in 2000, Gingrich found himself dragged to church whenever they traveled–“she’s adamant that we go to Mass”–and started attending services at the basilica to hear Callista sing. (Pay attention folks. It is usually a connection to the faith via family or friends that brings people to Church. Perhaps the most fruitful field for evangelization is in our own family. With 70% of Catholics having fallen away, we have a bumper crop sitting at our own dinner tables. Further, over 40% of Catholics marry a non-Catholic. This too provides the basis for a lot of conversions. Are you evangelizing your own family?)
It’s not surprising that a man of Gingrich’s ambitions would be drawn to the grandeur of worship at the basilica. Incense hangs in the air as the choir’s descant reverberates off the highly polished walls of the Greek-style interior. “Isn’t it just beautiful?” Gingrich asks. “That’s part of what happened to me.” (Her husband, Callista says, is an enthusiastic but limited singer: “He makes a joyful noise.”) (Pay attention again. Beauty is in service of the truth. Our liturgies should inspire faith and reflect its beauty. Liturgy well and enthusiastically celebrated is also a powerful way to evangelize. How are the liturgies in your parish. Do they show forth beauty and faith? This goes a long way to inspire conversion).
Gingrich prepared for his conversion with Monsignor Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector. Because the institution is not a parish church, Gingrich’s baptism took place at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill, where Robert Kennedy attended morning Mass when he served in the Senate. Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl performed the ceremony, with his predecessor Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in attendance.
He may march to the beat of St. Peter these days, but Newt is still Newt. “I don’t think of myself as intensely religious,” he says. Asked about Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the first economic and social statement of his papacy, Gingrich admits he hasn’t yet read the whole thing but opines that the parts he has examined are “largely correct.” And before Mass one July Sunday, Gingrich took a seat near the aisle and bowed his head. But he wasn’t praying. Instead, the famously voracious reader was sneaking in a few pages of a novel until the service began.( 🙂 Well OK, there is still room for improvement! But isn’t that our own story as well. Conversion is not so much an event, it is a process. We make a beginning with the Lord. Through the sacraments and the liturgy the Lord continues to minister to us and, if we are faithful, little by little we are transformed, we become more intense, more trusting, more faithful, more loving and so forth. An old gospel song says, “I’m not what I want be but I’m not what I used to be!” May God bring to completion the good work he has begun in us! Remember: we never stop evangelizing others and we never stop being evangelized. Keep your hand on the plow – Hold on!)
The times in which we live are often described as “secular.” This word comes from the Latin “saecula” meaning “world.” Hence our modern age is quite worldly. We may think it has always been so but such is not the case. To be sure, it IS the human condition to be a little preoccupied with ourselves. But previous times have featured a much more religious focus than our own. The Middle Ages were especially known for way in which faith permeated the culture and daily experience. The Rose window to the right presents a typically Medieval Notion: Christ (the Lamb of God) at the center and everything surrounding Him. In those days the holidays were the HOLYdays and one’s understanding of the calendar and the time of year centered around the Church’s calendar of saints and feasts. It wasn’t Winter it was advent, and then Christmastide. Even the word Christmas was ChristMASS. Halloween was the “Een (evening before) all Hallows (All Saints Day). Three times every day the Church bells rang the “Angelus” calling Catholics to a moment of prayer in honor of the incarnation. The Bells also rang summoning Catholics to Mass and vespers. In a previous article in this blog (By Their Buildings You Will Know Them) it was noted that even the architecture of the Middle Ages placed a large church at the center of every town: Those days were not perfect days but they were more spiritual and the Christians everywhere were constantly reminded of the presence of God by the culture in which they lived. Seldom so today. Many people today almost never hear of God on a day to day basis.
But the truth is, God is everywhere. He indwells his creation and sustains every aspect of it. The Scriptures say that Jesus hold all creation together in himself (Col 1:17). Most people think of creation as a sort of machine or closed system in which we live. But that is not the case. Creation is a revelation of and experience of God’s love and providence. Not one leaf falls to the ground without God leading it there. Not one hair of our head is unknown and provided for by God. We are enveloped by God, caught up into his presence.
It is especially sad for young people today. Some of us who are a bit older remember a time when God was more recognized. I remember that we prayed every day in my PUBLIC school until I was in 6th grade. I remember my 4th grade teacher often reminding me when I got out of line: “God is Watching!” I remember when Christmas (not “winter holidays”) in School was actually celebrated and that we sang religious songs even in public school well into my High School years. I remember our public high school choir singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and many songs with religious subjects. Can you imagine a public school choir singing today “O let us adore Him, Christ the Lord” ? Gone are the days.
But we need to teach and help our young people get in touch with God’s presence. The culture today will seldom help them. Deacon Curtis in the post below has encouraged us to return to “public displays of affection” for God along with other things such as grace at meals. It is essential, as our world becomes even more secular, to intentionally “put” God in our day. There is a website LIFE AFTER SUNDAY that is dedicated to assisting in this very thing. I recommend it to your attention.
Here too is a video for young people reminding them that God is near, not far. It’s a toe-tapper with a message:
In the Gospel for this Sunday’s Mass Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me, draws him.” (John 6:44) Now the Greek word here is Helkuein which means “to draw or to drag” and the word always implies some sort of resitance. In a way Jesus more than implies that all of us who do believe offered some resistance and the Father had to drag us along! “Oh, not me!” you might say, “I have been a believer since my youth!” Well, get used to it, all of us are a “hard case” to God. Truth is, our flesh (our carnal “sin-nature”) does not want to believe, does not want to be told what to do. God, working through others has to drag us along. It is true, some of us are harder cases than others but all of us are still in the category “hard case.” We can be very stubborn, willful, and stiff necked. We can also rationalize very easily and convince ourselves that sin is no big deal and even not sin at all.
Yes, indeed we have to be dragged along by God and our carnal nature resists. So, if you’ve come to Jesus, thank the Father, he had to drag you and me here! And, like wandering sheep, he often has to go out and drag us back. “No one can come to me,” says Jesus, “Unless the Father draws (drags!) him.” Again, if you have faith, thank the Father! You might say we have a “drug problem.” The problem is that we have to be “drug along” at every stage of our lives.
There is an old Internet standard you may have read elsewhere that reflects this need to be “drug”
I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on Sunday morning. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather. I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher. Or if I didn’t put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me. I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profane four letter word. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom’s garden and flower beds and to do my chores. I was drug to the homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline or chop some fire wood. And if my mother had ever known that I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the wood shed. Those drugs are still in my veins; and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, and think. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin, and if today’s children had this kind of drug problem, America might be a better place today.
Here is the Video for this Sunday’s Gospel from the movie, The Gospel of John available at Amazon: