On The Truest Source of our Dignity

One of our deeper wounds is that we tend to doubt our dignity, especially in times of trouble. We look to human being who are fickle for a sense of honor and prestige in our life. But St. Peter Chrysologus reminds us of the true source of our dignity, and that of others, in a homily in last week’s office:

A virgin conceived, bore a son, and yet remained a virgin….for [God] is the cause, and not nature….Christ’s birth was not necessity, but an expression of omnipotence, a sacrament of piety for the redemption of men….That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonor to him who made him.

Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made? Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvelous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation. And the Creator still works to devise things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might in your person make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative. Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in man. – St Peter Chrysologus From a Homily on the Nativity of Christ.

Yes, God is the true source of our honor. Before we were ever formed in our mother’s womb God thought about us and prepared for us and did what ever was necessary to bringing us into being (Jer 1:5). He knit us together in our mother’s womb and we are wonderfully fearfully made and every one of our days was known to him before one of them ever came to be. (cf Ps 139) Yes, God knowing all about us, our foibles and sins, our gifts and blessings, created us as a free act of love. Human life and the human person are sacred since they are this free and loving act of God who bestows life upon us, not of necessity but simply out of love. And thus Chrysologus asks, “Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him?”

And for all of us together comes this additional dignity, that this whole universe and world was made for us! Modern environmental extremists see man as an interloper in this world, or even worse like some plague of locusts that must be destroyed. But the Scriptures and the Christian vison see that whole universe exists just as it does in a delicate and perfect balance so that on this rare earth, life as we know it, and indeed our very life would be able to exist. God carefully, and in stages guided the emergence of life here, culminating with the Human Person. The second story of creation has God creating Adam first and then designing everything around him and for him, and later for Eve. And thus, speaking from this tradition Peter Chrysologus says, “Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvelous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation.”

And finally, our greatest dignity of all was that our Savior and very Lord chose to become one of us though his Incarnation, humbling himself to elevate us.

Can you really doubt your dignity and worth? Why do we look to lesser sources to assess our worth. Money, popularity, power, and so forth come and go and cannot be valid or lasting sources of our dignity. Look to God, and never forget the efforts and stages he carefully went about to make you. Dwell in his love for you.

Will Our Pets Join Us in Eternity?

Note: Due to health challenges of a serious but not severe nature, blogging will be light this week. Here is one I composed last week: 

Most of you know that I write a column for Our Sunday Visitor entitled “Pastoral Answers.” A few years ago a collection of over 500 questions and answers was complied into a Book called Catholic and Curious. Every now and again, here on the blog I like to feature an interesting question covered there. You see my weekly columns at OSV.COM

So Here is a recent question and my answer:

I am told that pets do have a soul, but not a rational souls as do we. What happens to the souls of pets when they die? Is there any divine consideration?  Paul VanHoudt. Erie CO 

In terms of answering your question, some definitions and distinctions should be made. You are correct in asserting that pets have a soul. The term “soul” technically understood is the animating or life-giving principle of any living thing. Hence animals have souls, even plants do, and clearly, we have souls. When the soul (or animating principle) mysteriously departs the physical aspects of the living thing cease to function and fall into decay and disintegration.  What makes the human soul unique is, as you also point out, we have rational souls. It is that part of our soul we often call our spirit. The spirit is not a third aspect of our being. It is part of our soul. 

Having rational souls distinguishes us dramatically from animals such as mammals and primates. Some today assert that we are not very different at all from the animals. But this is demonstrably untrue. Physically we have many similarities with other mammals: lungs, eyes, heart, limbs, etc. But the similarities stop there. You will know something by its fruits and it is clear that animals lack  a rational soul while we have one. We are highly organized and have made vast technological progress over the centuries. We have governments, universities, libraries, hospitals, courts, cathedrals and endless technologies. We debate justice, hold each other accountable, reward good and punish wrong-doing and mourn our dead. We are innovative and always asking “why?” We have been to the moon and back and search the stars. The list could go on, but animals, even the highest primates do none of this and have shown no progress toward such things. This demonstrates that they do not have rational souls whereas we humans do. 

As to your question, it is revealed to us by God that we have immortal souls and further, that our bodies too will rise in a perfected and glorified state. This is not said of the animals, at least not every individual animal. So the most common and “safe” answer is that when animals die they just cease to exist. 

However, this is not definitively taught and there are indications that animals, at least in some general way will partake of the new creation at the Second Coming. For example, Isaiah described the Messianic age as a time when The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the nest of the cobra… (Isaiah 11:6-9). St Paul also writes that Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21). And finally St. John in his vision of the New Creation saw Christ seated in glory and Christ said to him: “See I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5) 

This does not necessarily mean that every cow or hyena that ever lived will come back to life but only that animals, as a group and in varied species will partake of the New Creation after the Second Coming. 

Therefore I think our pets will, as you state, receive a special  “divine consideration” since they were part of our lives. I cannot know this for certain, but I think the argument can be made. Further, in heaven, we will live in eternity, in the fullness of time. And while we may not experience the comprehensive now that God does, it would seem we do have some access to our past which includes our pets. How we will experience all this is mysterious and so I pose this whole answer as speculative theology. 

There is however, one danger to avoid. We must not reduce heaven’s joys to having earthly things. Heaven is far greater than any thing we can imagine, be it pets or any earthly joy. 

What Is the Hidden Treasure Buried in the Field?

In Sunday’s Gospel we are told of a man who finds a hidden treasure buried in a field and that he goes and sells all he has to buy the filed in order to have that treasure. Why is it hidden and what does that mean for us?

To say that the treasure, an image for the Kingdom of Heaven, is hidden is to indicate that the gift and glory that God has waiting for us is not something we can fathom. Scripture says,

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has ever conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9)

Yes, what God has prepared for us are joys unspeakable and glories untold; a Kingdom, a place and vision so glorious that it cannot be described or understood by us now. Oh the glory of what waits, the heights and depth of it, and the ecstasy of beholding the beautiful, magnificent and wondrous face of God, He who has made us for Himself. We have an infinite longing in our hearts that this world can never supply, no matter how vast its offerings. One day, if we are faithful, our eyes will close on this world and, having been purged of our last attachments and imperfections they will open to the beautiful face of God and every longing will be filled. We will join the great dance of Love that is the life of the Trinity, that which the Eastern Church calls the perichoresis. And the Communion of saints will be ours as well, a union and intimacy with each other and every person that is unimaginable now. This is what we were made for and this is what God offers.

But now, much of this is hid from our eyes, from our understanding. Some of us get foretastes of it in deep contemplative prayer, but even this is a distant glimpse of the glory that waits.

And this hidden quality of the Kingdom of Heaven, like a buried treasure, is also what most derails us in our pursuit of it. There is an old saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” And this is a way of saying that a pleasure that is currently available to me now is deemed more satisfying than some future pleasure, even if it is far greater than what I have now. The trinkets of the world that are present to us now too easily mesmerize us and make us dismissive of some future glory that we cannot see and must trust God that it is ours if we are faithful.

Hence the parable of a person finding a buried treasure and eagerly selling everything to acquire it seems to present a picture too challenging for us; it is like a gamble. Is God for real? Are my present pleasures really nothing compared to the glory that waits? What if I miss out in the pleasures and my favorite sins, waiting for a glory train that never comes?!

It is true, we must trust God who assures us of joys unspeakable and glories untold. The treasure is hidden in the field of our heart and we must give our hearts wholly to God who alone can satisfy us. Deep down we know that this world cannot satisfy our infinite longing; that its offerings are mere trinkets that give joy for a mere moment and then its off to the yard sale. Deep down we know that the final offering of this world is a stone cold tomb. But it is what we know. Can we trust God that something greater waits for us, something so wonderful that we should forsake anything that hinders us from obtaining it?

In this condition it is clear that our heart lacks two things: faith and proper desire. There is only one solution. We have to fall to our knees and beg the Lord for a new heart and mind. This humility is necessary if we are going to get anywhere. If we try to do this out of our own flesh power our efforts will last ten minutes, max. God has promised this if we will humbly ask:

O my people, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a true heart. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you (Ezekiel 36:26-29)

And thus we should pray:

Heavenly Father, I love you but not enough. Increase my love. I tend to desire worldly trinkets more than what you offer. I desire things that I know are bad for me, in abundance, and I do not desire what I know is good for me. My heart is disordered and I cannot fix it on my own. Please, in your love go to work. My life resembles almost nothing of the one who found a hidden treasure and sold everything for it. Only you can bring this about. I give you permission to go to work. I ask that you be gentle, for I am weak and can only take so much. But, please Lord, do what you need to do, in the way you want to do it. All I ask is your grace and mercy.

If You Think You’re in a Hurry, You Have No Idea of How Fast You Are Getting There.

Have you been feeling a little rushed lately? Well, you might be surprised to find out how fast you’re actually moving even when you think you’re “standing still.”

  • Earth, at the latitude of Washington, D.C., is spinning at a rate of about 750 miles per hour [1].
  • At the same time, the spinning Earth is rotating around the Sun at approximately 67,000 miles per hour [2].
  • And the Sun around which we move so rapidly is itself rotating around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at about 483,000 miles per hour [3].
  • Finally, the whole universe is spinning and moving outward at about 1,339,200 miles per hour [4].

It’s dizzying to consider our speed and motion: a spinning earth, rotating around a sun, which is rotating around a galaxy, which is rotating around a spinning universe. So, if you think you’re standing still, think again; we are actually hurtling through space at mind-boggling speed.

Yes, you’re on the move. You’re moving so fast you met yourself coming back! Don’t let anyone tell you you’re loafing.

Here are some biblical “speed texts.” Hurry up and read them!

  • Look! The Lord advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles (Jer 4:13).
  • I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands, O Lord (Psalm 119:60).
  • Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop! (1 Sam 20:38)
  • God has told me to hurry (2 Chron 35:21).

Unless Your Faith Is Strong You Shall Not Be Strong

The first reading at Tuesday’s daily Mass presents a complex picture, but its fundamental message is clear. Isaiah announces that there will be a period of political stability among the nations and enemies surrounding Israel. It is a time of favor during which Israel can repent of its injustice and infidelity. If they do not, however, Israel will be destroyed within sixty-five years. Here is an excerpt from the reading:

Then the LORD said to Isaiah: Go out to meet Ahaz [King of Judah] … and say to him: Take care you remain tranquil and do not fear; let not your courage fail … Damascus is the capital of Aram, and Rezin is the head of Damascus; Samaria is the capital of Ephraim, and Remaliah’s son the head of Samaria. But within sixty years and five, Ephraim shall be crushed, no longer a nation. Unless your faith is strong you shall not be strong! (Isaiah 7:1-9)

Isaiah is warning Ahaz not to seek protection in foreign alliances and entanglements. He is not to follow the example of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which has done this and already lost the faith to a large degree. Ahaz and Judah are summoned to firm faith in God; this is what will make them strong.

Note the final warning: Unless your faith is not strong you shall not be strong! While this is surely true for an individual, the context here is a nation. If the nation’s faith is not strong it will grow weak and fall to pieces.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already lost faith. Prophet after prophet had summoned her to repent of injustice and infidelity, but great wickedness still abounded. Weak and inwardly divided, it sought foreign alliances with pagan nations. This is what happens when a nation’s faith is no longer strong. As Isaiah predicted, within sixty-five years the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed. The Assyrians delivered the lethal blow in 721 B.C.

What of us today? Our nation receives this same warning today: Unless your faith is strong you will not be strong.

How have we fared in the United States of America (and in the Western World in general)? We have collectively moved God and the faith to the margins. Few Americans attend Mass; agnosticism and atheism are on the rise; public prayer and religious displays are being limited by force of law. Religious liberty seems to be under constant attack. Secularism is surely on the rise, and it is more than a “lazy” secularism that regards God and faith as irrelevant. It is becoming more militant by the day, declaring that faith and God’s teachings are hateful, are dangerous, and in some cases should be criminalized.

To what has this led? Our moral lives are compromised, and our families are disintegrating. Sexual confusion of the deepest sort has proliferated. Addictions of all kinds abound. Divisions among fellow citizens are growing wider. Love for our country and for our fellow citizens are turning to hate. Violence is growing, both by individuals and more recently by mobs. We are also becoming fearful of one another. Gun purchases are skyrocketing. The current COVID-19 situation has made some fear the very presence of others anywhere nearby. The list could go on. All of this weakens us and stabs at the heart of the love and loyalty that must exist for a nation and culture to be strong.

This is not new; Isaiah and the prophets warned the ancient Jews of it. St. Paul also described the condition of a failing culture in several of his writings. Doesn’t this description of the crumbling Roman Empire sound familiar? 

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:18-32).

If this doesn’t describe our very times, I don’t know what does! And why does all this happen? St. Paul said it clearly: they suppressed the truth; they refused to perceive God in what He has made; they did not honor Him or give him due thanks. This is a picture of the result when a nation kicks God to the curb, when its faith is not strong. Every sort of disorder and hostility prevails.

In Galatians, St. Paul listed the bad fruits of “the flesh,” which refers to an attitude hostile to the things of the Spirit and of God:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).

This passage, too, describes our times in the United States and in the West, once the center of Christendom.

I do not contend that past decades or centuries were sinless, but there was a time—not so long ago—when people in our land married and mostly stayed married; when fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts were considered sinful; when there was no controversy about which bathroom to use; when abortion was illegal; when what makes a marriage was agreed upon; when the nuclear family was treasured; when the general ingredients for a healthy society were insisted upon. And though there has always been and will always be political division, our general discourse was more civil, open expression of hatred was less acceptable, and a general love of country prevailed even if differently understood. We had sectarian differences, but a generally biblical perspective drove the moral order, and the importance of faith and religion was recognized.

Much of this has eroded as we have allowed our faith to want and have collectively shown God the door. Are we stronger as a nation? Clearly not. And as our social morbidities increase, we are becoming another illustration of Isaiah’s warning, Unless your faith is strong you shall not be strong.

Not Peace but the Sword

In words that are nothing less than shocking, the Lord says in today’s Gospel

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

The words shock, but they speak a truth that sets aside worldly notions of compromise and coexistence with evil. In order for there to be true peace, holiness, and victory over Satan, there must be distinction not equivocation, clarity not compromise. Fire and water do not mix; you can hear the conflict when they come together: hissing, popping, searing, and steaming. One must win; the other must lose. Compromise and coexistence are not possible.

In this there is a kind of analogy to a surgeon’s scalpel. The surgeon must wield this “sword” to separate out healthy flesh from that which is diseased. Coexistence is not possible; the diseased flesh must be removed. The moment one talks of “coexisting” with cancer, the disease wins. Were a doctor to take this stance he would be guilty of malpractice. When there is cancer, the battle must be engaged.

Thus, in this great and cosmic battle, the Lord cannot and will not tolerate a false peace based on compromise or an accepting coexistence. He has come to wield a sword, to divide. Many moderns do not like it, but Scripture is clear: there are wheat and tares, sheep and goats, those on the Lord’s right and those on His left, the just and wicked, the lowly and the proud, the narrow road to salvation and the wide road to damnation.

These distinctions, these divisions, extend into our very families, into our most intimate relationships. This is the battle. There are two armies, two camps. No third way is given. Jesus says, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30).

While it is common that honor for one’s parents and family love are in conformity with God’s will, nothing and absolutely no one can or should take precedence over the Lord. His reign is absolute in our lives. Further commentary will tend only to obscure, so I stop here. 

What Does It Mean to Trust in God?

We are often told to trust in God, and many of us have counseled others who are anxious or downcast to do so. But what does that mean?

In some cases, when people give this counsel they mean this: Don’t worry, God will eventually give you what want. God will come around to your way of thinking at some point. Hang in there and wait for God to answer (your way). He’ll take care of things (in a way that pleases you).

This is not trust.

To trust is to move to the stable conviction that whatever God decides to do is the right thing. It means being at peace with what He does, what He decides. It is to accept that God often acts in paradoxical ways, in ways that are different from, or even contrary to, our notions of what is best. God often permits evils for some greater good, even if this greater good is hidden from us.

At the foot of the cross, we realize that even a total disaster can produce immense good. We call that terrible day “Good Friday” for a reason. The apparent “total loss” of that day ushered in the New Covenant and made more than enough grace and mercy available to save the entire human race—if we but ask.

Many of us have experienced difficulties that were quite devastating to us at the time. In some cases, we have subsequently come to understand why God permitted them. We can see how we grew from the experience or how new opportunities were opened to us that, while not our preference at the time, were in fact best. In other cases, however, what went through still make little sense to us. But if we have learned to trust God, we can be at peace with His apparent “No” to our desired outcome. Trust says, “It is well with my soul.”

An old hymn with that title says,

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul
.

That is trust: the ability to say, “Whatever my lot, it is well with my soul.” It is not wrong to present our wants and wishes to God, but trusting Him means being at peace with His answer, not resenting it.

We are forever asking God to bless what we are doing, but when do we ever seek what God is blessing and then do that?

Trusting God doesn’t mean thinking that He’ll eventually give me what I want. Trusting God means being at peace with whatever He wants; knowing that He wants it is enough for me; there is peace and it is well with my soul.