Sober and Serious on Syria. A Pastoral Teaching rooted in the Just War Teaching

090813One of the more common critiques that many Catholics make of their clergy is that they seldom hear from their pastors on moral topics in the news and our culture such as fornication, divorce, abortion, religious liberty, homosexuality, redefining marriage and so forth. Most recently the question of war and warfare have also been in the news.

As a pastor I try my best to teach the faithful under my care when these topics arise and explain Church teachings in these matter briefly. I often provide handouts as well to accompany the teachings that I do, usually at announcement time, separate from the Homily.

This weekend as the question of military action looms in Syria, another teaching moment arose and I spoke for about five minutes on the topic explaining the insights of Pope Francis, the American Bishops and using the catechism. If your clergy spoke to you on this matter I am interested in what they said and how they said it and encourage you to use the combox.

As for me, here is a brief synopsis of my own  comments this weekend.

As you know there is a very savage civil war underway at this time in Syria. And recently this included the use of chemical weapons. According to our own Government and other international investigators this attack is credibly attributable to the Syrian Government.

Chemical weapons, to include poison gas and nerve agents were first used on a wide scale in World War I and the effects were so horrific that the international community later passed strong resolutions forbidding the use of such weapons. So vivid and awful were those memories from WW I, that the international community has largely, with a few exceptions, abided by these restrictions ever since.

All people of good will rightly detest and are gravely alarmed by the recent deployment of these sorts of weapons by the Syrian Regime against its own people. The President, to his credit, is not willing to simply ignore these egregious violations of human rights and international law. And, also to his credit, he has remanded deliberations regarding any military retaliation to the reflections of the American People, working with their congressional representatives.

In accord with this call for reflection, Pope Francis and the American Bishops have all expressed caution and concern regarding military retaliation at this point, considering it premature, and and in violation of the principles of the “Just War” teaching dating back to St Augustine.

The Just War Tradition is not meant to “justify” war so much as it is to frame the decision of any recourse to military action in the mature and thoughtful deliberations of Scripture, Natural Law and and the long experience of the Christian Tradition.

The Criteria to be met in order to regrettably enter a conflict with military retaliation is well summarized in the Catechism as follows:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

– all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

– there must be serious prospects of success;

– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2309)

At this time, based on what is known and has been set forth by our government, it is the respectful judgement of the American Bishops, and Pope Francis that the criteria for the recourse to war or warfare are not fully met.

This judgment is very similar to the judgment that was rendered on the eve of entry into the War with Iraq. As can be seen, the conditions for recourse to war are very strict, and they ought to be. War is a horrible reality and brings great suffering. It is already clear that the suffering in Syria is great and it does not seem that military intervention by the US will have a reasonable hope of ending that.

Let us also be clear, the deliberations about recourse to War involve prudential judgements where reasonable people may differ as to the details. Unlike other moral issues such as abortion which involve an absolute moral evil, warfare, while strongly limited by our principles, can theoretically be a legitimate course of action under strict circumstances, as stated. Thus, the Catechism while giving clear principles to be followed also says:

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (# 2309).

Hence we respect that this is a decision that does finally belong to the President in consultation with the Congress. The Church does obviously urge that our reasonable criteria for “Just War” be at the heart of any deliberations. Our Holy Father and the Bishops must also state that, based on what has been disclosed to the American People, the criteria for just war are not met and that other lesser measures be pursued first.

Let us pray for our President and congressional leaders that they wisely and faithfully execute the offices of leadership entrusted to them by the American People. May God grant his wisdom and insight. For the people of Syria too we pray for an end to conflict and the miracle of forgiveness.

Troubling Remarks From Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu Require Clarification

072813Recent remarks by the retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu are not surprising for an Anglican prelate these days, but remain disturbing. Briefly put, the Archbishop says he would rather go to hell than go to a “homophobic heaven.”  Here’s some more complete report page of his remarks, in yesterdays Washington Times.

South Africa’s iconic retired archbishop, Desmond Tutu, said on Friday that if he had his pick, he’d go to hell before heading to a heaven that condemned homosexuality as sin. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” he said, by way of denouncing religions that discriminate against gays, in Agence France-Presse….He added, AFP reported: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.” [1][2]

In fairness to the good Archbishop, the full context of these remarks is not included in the report but includes (but is not limited to) concerns about violence directed against homosexuals. Further, his many works on behalf of racial justice remain intact and were part of a noble struggle.

That said, there are several disturbing aspects to the archbishops comments:

1. He describes his opponents over-generally in this matter by using the term “homophobic.” And while it may be true that somewhere on this planet there are individuals who are truly “fearful” (=phobia)  of homosexual persons, or who hate them merely because they are homosexual, the use of the word “homophobic” is it best unhelpful, and at worse an uncharitable and inaccurate description. Most of us who oppose the approval or celebration of homosexual acts do so not in fear, but on principle, based on biblical and natural law reasons.

It is possible that the good archbishop is speaking only of the tiny minority who fear or hate homosexuals simply for their existence. And there are legitimate concerns, as expressed by the Archbishop, about countries where homosexual acts are criminalized (along with fornication and adultery). Perhaps this is not the best way to deal with these matters. Where there are acts of violence against homosexual persons, they are rightly condemned, as a are any acts of violence.

But I was not born yesterday, and it seems clear enough that Archbishop Tutu also means people like me when he uses the term “homophobic.” And he most likely includes the Catholic Church when he denounces religious bodies that  “discriminate” against homosexual persons (a charge I certainly deny) because we do not condone homosexual activity. Yes, it would seem he surely includes us in his category of “homophobic.” For he has chosen to use a word that is widely bandied about to refer to all persons, even those of sincere conscience, who oppose the militant homosexual  agenda. And if the archbishop does not mean me or the Catholic Church, at the very least I should hope for a clarification on his part.

It is a tired old tactic of many  who support the approval and celebration of homosexual acts to use terms to describe their opponents that are both ridiculing, and paint us in the darkest possible terms (e.g. hateful, bigoted, discriminatory etc).  Surely the Archbishop must know, even if he does not agree with many of us who oppose approval of homosexual activity and same-sex unions, that we think and speak out of an ancient biblical tradition which we believe to be the very word of God.

And while some today employ many dubious, or at least debatable interpretive theories of Scripture to avoid what the biblical texts clearly do say, it remains very evident to many of us that at every stage of biblical revelation, from the first pages of the Bible all the way to its concluding pages, that homosexual activity is condemned as sinful.  I have written more on that here: Letter on Homosexuality

Disagree with me if you sadly must, but I am no more homophobic than I am forniphobic for opposing fornication.

A simple request, of the archbishop would be a clarification and to avoid name-calling and simplifying the positions of his opponents. Likewise, for all who use similar tactics. It isn’t becoming to serious conversation, and surely is unbecoming of a Christian archbishop.

2. Any version of the words “I’d rather go to hell” should not pass the lips of anyone, let alone a Christian, even more so a Christian leader. Statements like these tend to invite unwanted demonic activity, and open the door to the wrong sorts of forces and drives.

While one can certainly hold the good archbishop was engaged in rhetorical flourish and hyperbole, it remains true that words to wit:  “I’d rather go to hell” should not be uttered for the reasons stated.

And even if it be so that it is merely hyperbole, why should such anger be engaged and deployed so widely? Does he really mean to speak this way, about a behavior that is reasonably rejected among Christians who read God’s word?

If the good archbishop considers me his enemy in this matter, did not the Lord say something about loving our enemies? If the archbishop considers me and others like me his persecutors, did not the Lord say that we should pray for our persecutors? Why would an archbishop theoretically familiar with God’s Word, say to me or others like me in effect,  “I’d rather go to hell than live with you in heaven.” Whence this anger, and the great lack of charity? It is wrong even to speak this way about those who who do act violently or hatefully toward homosexuals. Enemies are to be loved, persecutors prayed for.

3. Archbishop Tutu in an excerpt not quoted above but available by clicking on the links above equates the struggle against “homophobia” with the struggle against apartheid. As the pastor of a largely African American Parish, I know many Blacks who are troubled by the equating of the demands of homosexual activists with those of the civil rights activists some years ago. The concerns about homosexual acts regard behavior, whereas the concern of the civil rights movement was about race and discrimination based solely on that, not on behavior.

In particular, the Catholic Church distinguishes between homosexual orientation (disordered, but not per se sinful) and homosexual acts (sinful, as are acts of fornication and adultery in accord with the clear teaching of Sacred Scripture).

It is unjust to excoriate others for their opposition of  behavior with the logic that pertains to a non-behavioral trait such as race.

Some will argue that “God made them this way.” I am not so sure about that but will accept that most do not simply choose sexual orientation. That said, alcoholics, diabetics, and people who struggle with anger, do not choose these inclinations or struggles either. Nevertheless they must strive to act uprightly in spite of them. Heterosexuals are also summoned to act uprightly in spite of the often unruly sexual passions we possess. The God made me this way argument is does not set aside the question of behavior.

The opposition of the Church is about behavior, not how one is tempted or inclined. Chastity remains the rule for all. Those who have not received the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the Scriptures set it forth must refrain form genital sexual contact. Those who have received Holy Matrimony must stay faithful to one to their husband or wife.

4. Some note should be given to the phrase “homophobic heaven” spoken by the Archbishop.

First of all the concept of a “homophobic heaven” is a null set. For if there is true homophobia, it is rooted in fear and possibly in hate and these do not pertain to heaven. But as for the opposition to homosexual acts (along with heterosexual acts such as fornication and adultery), that is not homophobia, it is the stated opposition of God to such acts as clearly recorded in scripture. God is not homophobic, but he does oppose homosexual acts. Calling God homophobic, or his Church or St. Paul or any other person does not make them homophobic. Opposition to the radical Gay agenda does not thereby make God or heaven “homophobic.” If it does not please Archbishop Tutu that homosexual acts are not approved or celebrated in heaven I suppose he does not have to go there. But he cannot simply expect heaven to be on his terms. Heaven is what it is, the fullness of the Kingdom of God and all it values, one of which is Chastity, and opposition to all acts contrary to it.

There is a lamentable tendency today for many Christians to define heaven on their own terms: “Heaven will be a place of pleasure, as I define pleasure. I will be among the company of those I choose, and everything will be on my terms.”

But of course, this is not what heaven is. Heaven is the fullness of the kingdom of God, the fullness of the values of the kingdom of God. Heaven is to be with God himself who is justice and truth, as he has set these forth. Heaven is about things like love of God, the liturgical worship of the Lord, love for the poor, love for my enemy, mercy, forgiveness, and yes, chastity!

Rather than to define what Heaven is for us, it is our work, to learn who God is and what heaven is as God has revealed it, and to begin by his grace to acclimate ourselves for the heaven that really is. Yes, we must be prepared to meet the real God, the biblical God, not some fake god. And we should be prepared to go to the real heaven, not some fake “designer heaven.”

Pillar of truth – We have no better indication of who God really is, what heaven is, and what God really expects of us than the  revealed Word of God, in the Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition of the Church.

Sadly, the larger portion of the Anglican denomination departed from these pillars sometime ago. Scripture is radically reinterpreted so that it often does not mean what the text clearly says. Further,  The ancient biblical wisdom, both in the Old Covenant and the New, along with the apostolic and sacred Tradition have been set aside in favor of modern teachings barely 20 to 30 years old. This sadly is the course that the Anglican denomination, along with many other mainline Protestant denominations have taken.

On the other hand, the sure and certain testimony of the Word of God, about who God really is,  this is where I, and others like me must stand.  I can do no other, for God has revealed no other certain and surer source to know who He is what I must do. If this makes me the Archbishop’s enemy such that he would rather live in Hell than with with me, so be it.

But here I stand, I can do no other, for the Word of the Lord has spoken through his Church and the Sacred Scripture entrusted once and for all to his Church.

Setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience: A Consideration of the Church’s Role in the Public Square

072413In the Office of Readings today we read from 2 Corinthians 4 where St. Paul well describes the work of the Church in the Public square: Setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2). Not a bad description of our posture and practice toward the secular world.

Yet, that is not often the impression many take from our posture. In what I would called a misplaced fear, many think of the Church as trying impose her power and views on others. In much of the heated public debate on the HHS mandate (that the Catholic Church pay for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization) and over gay “marriage,” there is a strain to the conversation, that somehow, the Catholic Church is trying to “force” people to follow what she teaches.

To think that we have such power is fanciful, but the charge comes up a lot and in different forms. Consider the following comments I gleaned from various sources, mainly from the comboxes of several secular papers. These comments are not made up by me. I cut and pasted them into a reference file over the last two years, they are actual quotes of readers. All of them see us as trying to use power to force others to do what we want. (I have added a few responses in Red just because I can’t resist):

  1. Inasmuch as we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, everyone should be free to follow their own path as individuals. You are. The Church doesn’t have the power to force you to do anything. But you are going further than “following your own path.” You are asking for legal recognition of something that has never been recognized before (i.e. Same-sex unions). Expect a little push back. Further, the Catholic Church does not only appeal to God and the Bible but also to Natural Law, because we recognize that not everyone sees the Scriptures with the kind of reverence we do.
  2. When it comes to owning a business that accepts public funds and which will employ believers of every stripe as well as non-believers, the owners have no right dictating the choice of others Actually it is the Government that is dictating choice. In the HHS mandate, only the government has the power here to compel and punish non-compliance, and they are saying that we must give contraceptives free to anyone who asks for them. The “mandate” says that Catholics, and anyone who objects to sterilization, to abortifacients and contraceptives, (for it is not only Catholics), must pay for them whether they like it or not. As for Gay “marriage,” it is once again the Government that is requiring everyone to recognize what has never been recognized before, that same-sex couples are “married.” And, by gosh, if we don’t recognize them and treat them as married then we will be decertified from adoption services and have to stop providing marital health benefits for our married employees (as happened with Catholic Charities). So there IS a lot of forcing going on here, but it isn’t the Church. We don’t have that power, the State does. And frankly that should make everyone sober, even those who don’t agree with us on these specific issues. EVERYONE ought to be mighty concerned when the State seeks to compel people to act against their conscience.
  3. Just one more example why one should never vote for a Roman Catholic politician who would more likely march in lockstep to the dictates of the Church than follow constitution. Whew! Dream on, we have the opposite problem. Very FEW Catholic politicians live their faith when it comes to political agendas. And if they do, they, like anyone else, they have to face the voters every few years. Further, why is it wrong for politicians to follow, say, environmental agendas, or homosexual agendas, or social justice agendas, but it is WRONG for them to follow religiously inspired agendas?Since when do people of faith have no voice or seat at the table in the world of politics? Are we not citizens who have the right to petition the government for redress etc?
  4. This is about the Catholic church (sic) demanding that people who do not have any allegiance to that church or its dogma live by its rules. We don’t have this power. It is the State (and you?) who are instituting that we pay for what we consider wrong. Why should I have to pay for your contraceptives? Why should you simply demand to get them free?
  5. Today, they are gunning for the gays. Next will be your birth control. We don’t have this power. What we are asking is that we not be compelled to pay for things we consider wrong and sinful.
  6. In pushing your definition of marriage on to all other people and churches, you are in fact trying to ensure that Catholic law remains state law. We don’t have this power. As citizens, and for principled reasons rooted in Scripture and Natural Law, we argue that the law that Has ALWAYS been the law in this land, remain unchanged. We have a right, as citizens, to be part of the political process. One side is going to win, right now it looks like the pro-gay -pseudo marriage folks. How would you feel if I said, “You are pushing your definition of marriage and trying to make it State law?” Why don’t we just admit that we both have a right to be in the public square and advocate for what we think is right? I think you’re wrong headed and confused about marriage and your type loves to call me intolerant and bigoted. I’ll see you at the ballot box. Oh! but wait a minute! Here in DC your advocates on the DC Council would not allow a referendum, you try NOT to allow votes on such matters, but use the legal system to impose your views. And, gee, when we do win at the ballot box as we have in several states, your side runs to a judge and tries to overturn the will of the voters. Hmm….who is throwing power around here? Who’s pushing whose definition on whom? Hmm…?
  7. the church will be better off the more that it gives up its hold on political power. What power? If we’re so powerful, why is the moral meltdown so advanced? Again, are you simply striving to say we should have no voice in the political process? We have a right as citizens to try and influence outcomes, just like you. Frankly we haven’t been very successful lately. I’d love to find out where all this political power we theoretically have is hidden.

OK, well you get the point. A LOT of people think we have a lot more power than we do. Frankly it’s laughable to think think the Catholic Church has all this power. We can’t even unify our own believers. I have written before (with love) that unifying Catholics is like herding cats! I would to God that we could really unify around anything. Then we might be a political force to be reckoned with. And as citizens we would have every right to be such a force. But as it is, we are (sadly) a rather divided lot, even on abortion. I can assure you , most Catholic politicians do NOT have a hotline to the Vatican or take even a scintilla of advice from the Pope or Bishops. And even if they accidentally agree with the Pope or the bishops, for most of them, it is because the politics make sense, not that the faith has “compelled” them. No, don’t worry too much about the “power” of the Church.

That said, I have already commented above (in the red remarks) that Catholics, as citizens of the Untied States of America have the same rights as any other citizen to petition the government, to seek to enact laws that reflect our values and concerns. But we have no more or less power or voice than any other citizen of this Land. We, like others, often band together with coalitions. But again, if this is somehow wrong, then why is it not wrong for feminists, or environmentalists, or unions, or advocates of any number of hundred of other causes to do the same? We are Americans with rights. And people of faith have just as much right to be in the public square and the public conversation as any one else.

Some of the commenters in Comboxes, I survey like to recite grievances from the Middle Ages about Church power then etc. Why not leave the 14th Century politics in the 14th Century, and let’s stay in the 21st Century. There was a LOT of bad stuff in the old days. It wasn’t just the Church, governments too were different then. Modern democratic republics were unknown in those days. Today the political landscape is different. And if the Church ever did have all the power (and some of the claims are exaggerated and the Inquisition is often cartoonishly portrayed) that is not the case today. For our purposes we are in the 21st Century West.

Finally, I return to the quote from St. Paul in today’s office that rather well distills what we, as a Church, and as believers, seek to do in the public square of America. More than acquire power (which is not easy in a wide and pluralistic culture), we seek to commend ourselves, and our message to everyone’s conscience. St. Paul says in context,

Rather, renouncing secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2)

Yes, frankly we do have vigorous disagreement with secret (and not so secret), and shameful practices. And we will not, in order to be popular or conformed to these times, distort or misrepresent the Word of God. Abortion is wrong. Fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts are wrong. Divorce, and chosen single parenthood, and so called gay “marriage” are wrong. Contraception, sterilization, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, wrong, wrong wrong.

But I cannot force you to obey me. Rather I commend myself to your conscience. And even if Scripture will not be acceptable to you, I will have recourse to Natural Law. I, indeed the whole Church, will continue to commend ourselves to your conscience. And even though the gospel is currently “out of season” (cf 2 Tim 4:2) and you laugh at me and call me names like intolerant, bigoted etc., I will continue to commend myself to your conscience.

As long as I live I will speak the truth in love. And however you choose to understand me I will continue to speak. You may wish to call me hateful. I am not. I invite you to conscientiously consider what I say. I cannot command you, so do not fear me. But I do commend myself to your conscience.

I will meet you in the public square, for that is my right as much as yours. But in the end, mandates and forced adherence are not in my power. I commend myself to your conscience, I do not, I cannot, command you.

Those of this world may choose on their own to be pleased or displeased by what we say. As for me, my prayer is and must remain: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you my God (Psalm 19:14).

The Conquering Power of Praise – A Meditation on a Text From Second Chronicles

072113Last week in the Breviary we read the remarkable story of King Jehoshaphat and the victory of Israel against the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites (2 Chronicles 20). It is a story that speaks of the power of praise to defeat a numberless army. Simply singing a hymn of praise can cast out demons, avert war, and send evil threats limping away.

Yes, praise! It is not always weapons of iron and steal and fiery bombs that wins the day. Often it is simple praise, hands lifted in prayer, voices raised in praise.

Never underestimate the power of the liturgy to change world history, to turn back threats and see the devil’s power crushed. Indeed, scripture says, Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger (Psalm 8:2).

I would like to take a more detailed look at this passage from Second Chronicles to see what praise and communal prayer can do. As a Church musician myself, and now a priest, I have often used this text to speak to Church Choirs of the power of praise. For, in this text we see that it is the choir, not the army that wins the day! Lets look at the text.

I. THE ANXIETY PORTRAYED – We begin with a description of a looming Crisis. The text says, After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle.  Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazontamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. (2 Chron 20:1-3)

Now all this may seem a bit remote to us moderns. Indeed it my sound more like recitation for an ancient atlas or recitations from a “Jewish telephone book.” Don’t let all the names and places distract you. You and I also face a triple threat from the world, the flesh and the devil; from sins, sorrows and sufferings or just that situation you’re going through!

Indeed, as a pastor I am keenly aware that many come into our parishes on Sunday fighting demons and enemies. Many are overwhelmed, discouraged  and afraid. They seek wisdom from God through his word and Sacraments.

And we who would pastor and lead parishes must seek above all to make our parishes, and the celebration of our liturgies, healing moments for God’s people, moments that give them hope and victory over afflictions and demons and difficulties. It is much like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who, encountering the Lord, had  their hearts set on fire and their path redirected toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

People come with burdens, and we must be a place of blessing, or instruction in the Lord and a place that reminds of victory to those who persevere. And thus it makes sense that we head to the next step where in the faithful are assembled to seek healing, blessing and victory.

II. THE ASSEMBLING OF THE PEOPLE –  The text says,  And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said, “O LORD, God of our fathers, art thou not God in heaven? Dost thou not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In thy hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee. Didst thou not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and give it for ever to the descendants of Abraham thy friend? And they have dwelt in it, and have built thee in it a sanctuary for thy name, saying, ‘If evil comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before thee, for thy name is in this house, and cry to thee in our affliction, and thou wilt hear and save.’ And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom thou would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy– behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. O our God, wilt thou not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.”  Meanwhile all the men of Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. (2 Chron 20:4-11)

Notice that the people all assemble: Men and women, young and old, children too. Here is sacred assembly and the power of communal prayer. Private prayer is both necessary and good. But there comes a time each week when all the faithful must assemble and join their collective prayers and praises. Here is a time of collective praise and, as we shall see of the sharing of wisdom and mutual support.

Isn’t this what we do each Sunday? We face demons and enemies and struggle with fear, just as did these people of old. But we, like them assemble and find strength. We tell the biblical and personal stories of how we’ve overcome and we draw strength from our story. Yes, there we are, clergy and people together with our God who instructs us in the battle reminds us of the victory, feeds us to strengthen us, and gives us a pledge of future glory in the Eucharist.

The Book of Hebrews says, And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25)

Note that in this ancient gathering Jehoshaphat and the people do four things. There is:

1. The PRAISE of POWER (OF GOD)-  For they say: O LORD, God of our fathers, art thou not God in heaven? Dost thou not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In thy hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee. (vv. 4-6). And this is very much what we do in the Gloria, our collects, and in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. In praising the power of God we acknowledge his capacity to save us and are stirred to hope that He, who can make a way out of no way, will save us.

2. The PROCLAMATION of PAST DEEDS – For they recall that God settled them in this land as blessed them day by day. And they recall God’s promise to answer their prayer. And we too, as we read God’s word every Sunday of affliction, but then of deliverance. We learn that weaping ay endure for a night, but Joy does come with the morning light! This proclamation and reminder of God’s steadfast help in the past, steels our confidence that, as Scripture says, But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The LORD’s mercy is not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness! The LORD is my portion, I tell myself therefore I will hope in him. The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance. -(Lamentations 3:21-26). Yes, we tell the story of how we’ve overcome and we’ll understand it better, by an by! In remembering the Lord’s mercy and deeds of the past we are encouraged that he did not bring us this far to leave us.

3. The PRESENTATION of the PROBLEM – For they say,  And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir…are coming to drive us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. (vv. 10 – 11) Yes, Lord we are afflicted on every side, be it these ancient enemies or the even more ancient enemies of the World the flesh and the devil. Yes, Lord we are in need, we are afflicted.

4. The PETITION of the POWERLESS – And thus they say standing before the Lord with hands raised: O our God, wilt thou not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us.  (v. 11-12) And we too cry out: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us O Lord by thy grace. We afflicted and powerless! Save us O Lord, spare us! And in acknowledging our powerlessness, comes our true power for then we start to rely on God.

III. THE ANSWER PROCLAIMED – And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Hearken, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”  Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.  And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 2 Chron 20:14-14)

And thus in this sacred assembly comes an answer from God. And thus we note:

1. RESPONSE – For God speaks an answer through the Prophet Jahaziel, just as the prophetic voice of His Church continues to speak for him today. And notice too its in the context of the assembled community that the answer comes.

2. REASSURANCE – And Jahaziel says, Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s….‘ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”  Yes, we do well to remember that the battle is ultimately the Lord’s. It is he who will win, it does not all depend on us alone. And we do well to remember this today when we are beset by many difficulties and discouraging cultural trends. The Lord has already won.  Nations may rise and fall, empires come and go, wicked philosophies have their time, and this has all happened in the age of the Church, but the Church and the Lord and the Gospel are still here and we have buried every one and everything that announced our death. Where is Caesar? Where is Napoleon, where is the USSR? God has already won, only the news has not yet dawned on some who choose the losing side.

3. REQUIREMENT – Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. But the Lord who made us without us, with not save us without us. He DOES have something for each of us to do. Our task is to discover our role and take our position on the field!  Perhaps it is being a priest, catechist, teacher or parent. Perhaps it is the witness to and renewal of the temporal order. Perhaps it is raising children in Godly fear or summoning others to holiness. But find your place on the battlefield and be still and stable there, doing what the Lord says, knowing that he is with us and that the battle is His and that he does the real fighting.

In effect we have here a quick synopsis of what a good homily should be. A homily should give, using God’s Word and the teachings of the Church, a response and reassurance regarding the issues and afflictions faced by God’s people. And, it should remind us of our role in finding our place on the battlefield, remaining stably there and doing what the Lord asks, but to do so in supreme confidence.

IV. THE AWESOME POWER OF PRAISE –  And finally comes the remarkable victory, a victory not won by military power, but by mighty praise. It is the praise of God that defeats his enemies round about. The text says: And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy array, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures for ever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, destroying them utterly, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another. When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and behold, they were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take the spoil from them, they found cattle in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the LORD; therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day. (2 Chronicles 20:20-26)

Note carefully that the Choir, dressed in holy array went in front of the Army! It is praise that will prevail this day! And as they go in front they sing: Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures for ever! And this praise throws the enemy into confusion! The threefold opposing armies turn on each other. No one escaped, they were all killed by one another.

Pay attention, there is power in praise. Nothing discourages the evil one more than the praise. Nothing confutes and confuses the world, the flesh and devil more than the joyful shout of a Christian. There is a glory and a power to joy and confident praise that cannot be denied.

I myself am a witness to the transformative power of God’s praise and its capacity to put the world, the flesh and devil to flight. I have spent most of my priesthood in African American Parishes where jubilant praise is a constant practice. Songs of hope, and joy and blessings abound and even our many songs that summon us to repentance are quite often humorous and hopeful, warning of judgment, but promising mercy to the steadfast. And this praise has changed my life. It has put demons to flight, subdued fleshly anxiety, sins, and thinking, and put the world on trial. I am more confident, more courageous, and more equipped to speak the truth in love.

Praise works, my life has had to many victories to say anything else. When the praises go up, the blessings come down and the victory is won. Yes, I am a witness. How about you?

Lord,  save us from sour-faced saints! God grant us joyful, confident and praise-filled Catholics all throughout this world. For in our praise, and joyful confidence in the truth of God’s Word and teaching comes a witness that is hard to refute. Yes Lord, even from the mouth of babes you have found praise to foil your enemies! (Ps 8:2). Yes Lord, teach us to praise you! Teach us the power of our song and of our joyful testimony.

Happy the people that know the joyful shout; that walk, O LORD, in the light of Thy face. (Psalm 89:16)

Unplugged, but not Uninformed. Pondering How to Stay informed when so much of Media is poisonous.

071613Back during Lent I turned off the Radio, which for me consisted mainly of News and talk radio. I also switched off cable TV news. It was the aftermath of the last election cycle, and  all the franticness and severe partisan debate that talk radio and 24/7 news channels love to generate and I was exhausted, had felt ill-served and uniformed. Most of the talking heads I listened to had been dead wrong about the election and the mood of the American people.

As a kind of news junkie I new it would be hard. But I also knew that the all-too steady diet of that stuff was ruining my peace.  Since Ash Wednesday, I haven’t gone back. When I have the radio on now, I listen to Catholic Radio. I also listen to podcasts more.

Frankly the news and talk radio world thrive on generating a sense of crisis, conflict and consternation.  I gave up on them for the same reason I stopped reading newspapers ten years ago, I felt like I was being played. There seemed to be a desire to stir me up, get me angry, or manipulate my thinking and views more than to inform me. I am not sure I need to be told what to think. But it does help to know what is going on. But I wasn’t getting even that.

I was also being pelted with lots of dumb information that was not only useless but was quite annoying, such as what certain Hollywood people were doing, thinking, who they were dating, divorcing, or what strange things they were naming their kids or causes they supported, etc. This is not news, it is infotainment. And all the giggling on morning news shows but on TV and radio really annoys after awhile.

The news does not really seem to be the news. Either it is advocacy journalism, or it is simply trying to peddle crisis and controversy or just showing how shallow and debased our culture has become. The result for me was too much anger, anxiety, and even a sort of bitterness for “them” i.e. the people on the other side.

Yes, I was being played. And I didn’t like it. And most of the people who were trying to play me and sell increasingly insulting news do not share my faith and even feel free to ridicule what I find sacred, holy and valuable.

 Dale Ahlquist in his book Common Sense 101 has some interesting insights that resonate with me. He himself is also reflecting on G.K Chesterton. Here are a few quotes along with some additional comments by me in red:

Modern man is staggering and losing his balance because he is being pelted with little pieces of alleged fact . . . which are native to the newspapers; Chesterton says that journalism consists of saying “Lord Jones is Dead” to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive. The news is either irrelevant or irreverent….…..it is an insult to the common man to say that he is as vulgar and silly as most of the newspapers are.

Yes, at some point too much information is no information. We are simply overwhelmed with distractions and have trouble sorting it all out and prioritizing. And so much of what the news focuses on is banal, trivial and exotic. And all the infotainment stuff really is an insult. 

 The great weakness of the news industry is that it “must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions”. The newspapers, says Chesterton, cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not dissolved, all the murders that are not committed. And so they do not give a normal picture of life at all. “They can only represent what is unusual.”

Exactly. The news is not really the news, it is the bad news, the strange news, the starling, odd, and exotic news. The news is biased, not only because it is left or right but because it leaves out the most important news of the day: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is at the Father’s right hand interceding for us, and that we must prepare for his great second coming.

 [And there is]  the great fallacy that the press is somehow neutral. [This] has in turn fed the idea that neutrality itself is a great desirable quality, that not taking a stand is somehow admirable, that “tolerance” is the supreme virtue.

Of course we all know that that the idea of an unbiased press is and always has been a lie. Frankly most of it is left, and even those on the right, like to call themselves “Fair and Balanced.” Why not just come out and state what everyone really knows: The Washington Post: News from the left. MSNBC, news from the far left. Fox News: News from the right. Just say it!

And as Ahlquist points out, why is neutrality so prized anyway. We in the Church surely need to rediscover that to speak the truth is to stake out a position and to declare that the opposite of what we teach is false. We need to stop all this pretending that we’re just neutral and stand firmly for our sacred teachings without lots of bows to a supposed neutrality, which doesn’t exist anyway.

We live in an age of journalese. The very language that we are forced to use attacks our traditions, our morals, and our faith. Things that are degenerate and sinful are called “progressive” and “liberating”. Good words that were once pure and noble, like “choice” and “gay”, now have reprehensible meanings. Traditional religion, which has given light to millions across the world and across the centuries, is called dull and narrow. 

It is amazing the power that wordsmithing has. The Times and Post have far too much power in this regard. The cultural left has this tactic down cold. We in the Church are real rookies when it comes to this. 

We might be able to take the newspapers more seriously if they would not take themselves so seriously. Honesty always laughs, because things are so laughable.” the only reason to read the newspaper is to find out what the enemy is up to. Hah!

All quotes are from Chapter 5: The Daily Truth

I realize that there is a danger in trying to stay away from the manipulation of the media. I do need to stay informed and have some idea what many of my parishioners are (sadly) being exposed to and listening to. Currently I depend a lot on others to throw items over my transom. I also hear some news on Catholic Radio, and over at sites like New Advent. But I do feel less aware about the “buzz” of modern culture. And that is good, but has drawbacks.

Here’s my question: do any of you know some good news sources that help one to stay informed but without all the deleterious, poisonous and trivial stuff mentioned above? Perhaps there are some good sources, Catholic and otherwise that can keep us informed but without all the poison. I tend to watch little T.V. and am more rooted in Catholic Radio and Internet.

At the end of the day, I want to stay more focused on God and be more immersed in my faith. The pull of culture has become so poisonous and troubling. But, as most of you know I am will and ready to make use of good things in culture and to comment on things that come to my attention. But too much raw exposure to it is not good for my soul. Yet I want and need to know the basics of what is being said and done in our all-too-distressing world. Any suggestions are appreciated and I suspect that we can also help each other find alternative sources for news.

Why "Religion" is a good word that we need to defend.

071413It is “chic” and, I would add, a “cliche” to hear many people say today, “I am spiritual but not religious.” There is a kind of self-congratulatory tone that often goes with this self description as well, and certainly a lot of cultural approval in the secular West for such dissociative talk.

There is even some acceptance of this notion among more theologically conservative evangelicals who, on account of their “low ecclesiology” also favor a kind decentralized and highly personal notion of faith, and entertain a kind of cynicism to “organized religion.”

The Washington Post had a column on the “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon this past Saturday by Michelle Boorstein entitled simply Religion. I would like to present a few excerpts and then discuss why I think we should not only retain the words “religion” and “religious,” but also be suitably proud of them.

First, a few excerpts from the article, along with a few very brief comment by me in plain red text. The full article is HERE.

We’re no longer “religious.” We’re “holy.” We’re “faithful.” We’re “spiritual.”….Diana Butler Bass, author of last year’s “Christianity After Religion,” who says the word “religion” is laden with negative, hurtful and political baggage. (Perhaps, but so is everything: Government, schools, medicine, science, etc. It would seem this is not unique to “religion” but is the human condition).

The 20 percent of Americans who now call themselves unaffiliated with any religious group see religion as much too focused on rules….(but rules and accepted practices are part of life. I wonder if these same Americans would be so pleased if their dentist or doctor threw rules, protocol or accepted medical practice to the winds? There is a place for “rules” that enshrine the collective wisdom of the ages!) 

On the other side are people such as super-popular shock pastor and writer Mark Driscoll, an evangelical conservative whose sermons have such titles as “Why I hate religion.” He preaches that the institutional church has wrongly let people feel good about themselves for their actions (such as going to worship services) instead of what they believe (which should be the Bible’s literal truth, in his view)….(Yes, here is the “dark side” of  evangelical Christianity and its “americaninst” designer-church mentality. At the end of the day, its extreme form is little different from any other modern deconstructionist, iconoclastic, existentialist, and nihilistic movement. The thinking is “away with anything I don’t like, away with anything that limits me in any way with “rules” that look to balance my little vision with the bigger picture. Away with anything I don’t like or think limits me from being…me”).

Polling shows that young Americans are considerably less apt to have religious affiliations than earlier generations were at the same age. (OK, but polls reflect what is, not what ought to be, or what is correct). They attend religious services less often, and fewer of them say religion is important in their lives. (OK, we have work to do! But that doesn’t make us wrong). But more than nine in 10 people believe in God, according to a recent Gallup poll, a statistic unchanged for decades….(but at some point we must ask if this means anything at all. It is good that they are not outright atheists, but sometimes indifference is a worse enemy than hatred). People are walking away from institutional expressions of church. They’re trying to renegotiate man’s relationship to God,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, a major research firm on religion….Now more and more people look to their conscience, however it’s formed, to decide for themselves.” (more on this attitude below). Although some reject the word “religion,” others simply ignore it.

OK, a tough read. Not surprising, but still disturbing.

I want to argue that the very word “religion” so widely rejected by moderns, is the very word that we need to recapture as an antidote to the self-referential, self-congratulatory modern notions that fuel the “I’m spiritual but not religious” ideology.

Frankly, the attitudes expressed in the article and in our culture are not noble or praiseworthy. The increasingly pervasive attitude is a kind of Nietzsche-like nihilism, and existentialism that says, in effect:

“I will create my own reality (existentialism) and design my own god (idolatry). I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong (the pride of original sin). The world revolves around me and what I think, I am the center! (Anthropocentrism and egocentricism). It is really all about me, and what I think, and what I want, and what I say.”

Now if this seems harsh, I ask you, dear reader to tell me what is inaccurate? What we are really dealing with here is a collection of tired old heresies and apostasies. This is not a tall, intellectual argument at work here. It is not a brave new world at all. It is a rehashed collection of notions already tried and found wanting. It is a set of notions that tie in easily with Americanism, and an excessive notion of liberty, detached from truth or any moorings at all. It cannot sustain, or result in anything but further dilution of a sense of community or common ground, and it leads only to the further fractioning of our communities and nation into ever more isolated cells.

This then sets up as a perfect recipe for the cultural anarchy, and power struggle we already have, and will only cause it to deepen. It is ushers in the the “tyranny of relativism.” For if there is nothing outside of us (or “me”) to which we can all look to and agree, the only way to resolve differences is power struggle. At the end of the day, the one with the most power, money, influence, and access wins. Without truth to which we bind ourselves, there is tyranny.

And sadly it all marches under the banner of a kind of self congratulatory “tolerance.” Many people actually give themselves credit for saying, “It’s all about me, and what I think. Truth is what I say it is.” A steady diet of existentialism and nihilism has actually deluded people to the extent that they do not even perceive how vain and egocentric they sound. The majority just nod and say “Amen.” “Power to the People” etc. But its not really even “power to the people,” its really just “all about me.”

But the chic “respectfulness” that such ego-maniacal talk generates also sets the stage for why the words “religion” and “religious” are so important to recover and insist on.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin religio which means to bind oneself, to constrain,  or to be tied to another. As such, the virtue of religion calls us  to look outside of ourselves, both upward to God, and outward to the great accumulated wisdom of our revealed faith.

One of the foolhardy presumptions of modern thinking is that the accumulated wisdom of some 5,000 years of human history and tradition in the Scriptures have little or nothing to say to us today. This is not only foolhardy, but prideful.

The virtue of religion acknowledges the experience of our ancestors as an important source of wisdom for us. And it is not merely their excellencies to which we look, but also their sins and struggles. The virtue of religion also acknowledges that God was in the conversation with our ancient forbearers and revealed important things to them; truthful things which withstood the test of time, and transcended cultures, nations, and empires. Yes, all those nations, culture and empires came and went but the faith perdured.

The virtue of religion recognizes that this ancient wisdom, both of human experience and divine revelation, is something to which we owe a humble hearing, and having heard it, that we should bind ourselves to it; to be tied to it in humble acceptance, such that we learn its wisdom and why it makes sense. It need not remain a simple blind obedience, but of a growing, thoughtful, careful, and humble acceptance. Religion and being religious accepts that there is a wisdom and knowledge that is bigger simply than what I think. And being open to this truth, to this teaching, and having thoughtfully assessed this wisdom, I bind myself to it, I base my life on it.

So, religion is rooted in the humility that there is something and someone bigger than what I think. It is a humility that says I should not necessarily believe everything I think. Religion is “other-centric” and it is Theocentric. By the virtue of religion we bind ourselves to the ancient, venerable and tested truths of God, in our holy Catholic, Christian and biblical faith.

More than ever in this prideful and egocentric modern age we must uphold the dignity and humble insight of the word “religion” and the reality it represents. There is someone wiser, more noble, more holy than I. And that someone we call God. And hearing his voice, we rightly bind ourselves to Him. And He, in a holy embrace binds himself to us.

This is religion. This is the embrace of  the mutual binding of covenant love.

How different, more humble and noble is this, that the prideful attitude of so many in the modern world today who say, God is whatever I say he is, and he says what I say he says. In other words, I am God.

Religion looks to God as he has credibly revealed himself in the ancient and testified sources of the Old and New Testament. And listening at his feet we discover who He is as  He has revealed himself,  not merely as we wish him to be.

Finally, to those who say “Well I’m not really against religion, just organized religion”, this is a false category. There’s no such thing as unorganized religion. True religion is ultimately a communal summons by God for people to walk with Him, not just individuals living in separate stovepipes, but in communion with others. God establishes faith to be the organizing principle of a people, of a culture, even a nation.

We moderns maybe petulantly down on “institutions,” but there are very few entities that are not institutions, it is just which institution we’re down on that we like to dis.  For those who sniff at the “institution” of the Church, still join the “institutions” of political parties, or work for large firms, or government entities,  and get services from medical institutions such as hospitals and medical practicums. So the claim that “I’m spiritual, not religious” just means a person is down on “institutional religion is neither credible nor does it comport with reality. Religion, by its nature is institutional.

Thus, Religion, both the word and its  practice is noble, it must be insisted upon as a magnificent description of what faith really is. Is a clinging to God as he has revealed himself; it is a binding of oneself to the revealed truth of that loving God who embraces us and clings to us in the mutual binding of covenant love. It is a humble submission to one who is greater and wiser, who is indeed the Creator and Sustainer of all things;  it is a wise and reasonable accepting of the fact that there is someone greater than I, to whom I ought to be bound in a and loving and humble submission.

I am spiritual, but I am also religious,  and you can quote me on that.

In this video, Cardinal Dolan reminds, “You can’t have Jesus without his body, the Church.

On the Relationship Between Light, Time and the Mystery of God

"Sun poster" by Kelvinsong - Own work.  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Sun poster” by Kelvinsong – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I was meditating on time today, perhaps because it is my 52nd birthday. But also on account of some new mysteries I have learned about the light of the Sun that reaches this earth.

I have long known that to look up in the night sky is to look far into the past. Looking up at the star Sirius I am looking nine years into the past. Looking over to the star Antares I am seeing 250 years into the past. Looking over at the star Rigel I am looking 600 years into the past. Looking further still at the Andromeda galaxy, I am seeing one million years into the past. That is how long it takes the light of these stars and galaxies to reach us. We are not seeing them as they are now, but as they were then. The past, even the distant past, is very present to us.

Even in the daylight, the light of the sun takes 8.25 minutes to reach us. Thus we see the surface of the sun not as it is now, but as it was 8 minutes ago.

But I learned yesterday that the light of the sun is even older than I ever thought. A little research on my part revealed this astonishing fact. The photons of light that reach the surface of the sun and head out to us in eight minutes were actually generated 100,00 years ago, in the sun’s core.

Emerging from the sun’s core as the result of nuclear fusion, a photon of light enters the radiative zone (see diagram above). The plasma in that radiative zone is quite a maze for the photon to get through, such a maze that it takes the better part of 100,000 years to make the journey to the convective zone and the photosphere where it finally begins a rapid journey out into the vacuum of space.

Why does it take this long? Consider an image of you, at one side of a large room filled with people, and you want to get to the door on the other side. But on the way many, many people want your attention and strike up conversations and thus delay your journey across the room.

The diagram above shows the meandering, zigzag motion of a photon as it makes it way through a maze of plasma that detains the photon for up to 100,000 years!

Thus, the light we currently bask is much more than 8.25 minutes old! It is 100,000 years old! The light we currently enjoy was made in the sun’s core back during the beginning of the last ice age.

There is a great mystery of time on display for us at every moment. The past is present in many ways. And our past is “out there” on display and still present as well. If there is any one on a planet near Rigel and they look back through a telescope to earth, say to France, they do not see us now, they see Joan of Arc and other events of the 14th Century taking place. The light of our “today” will not reach Rigel for 600 years.

What is the present? That is mysterious is the sum total space of the universe and it depends on where you are. God, who is just as present as Rigel as here, has the same access to the images of France in 1450, as he does to 2013. Indeed, being present at Andromeda just as much as here on earth, 1 million years ago is just as present to him as now.

The future is even more mysterious, but that is just as present to God as the past and distant past is.

Do not miss the irony of the fact that the light of the Sun and the reflected light of the moon, by which we set our clocks and calendars to measure the present, to tell time what time it is now, is 100,000 years old.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Only God, only God. Time is very mysterious, and the more we think we know the less we really do.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.How precious to me are your thoughts, God How vast is the sum of them!Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:16-18

Those who seek to eliminate faith for the sake of freedom, get only tyranny

070313On the Fourth of July, in the United States of America we celebrate freedom. In particular we celebrate freedom from tyranny, and a government that is not representative; freedom from unchecked power and unaccountable sovereigns.

Distorted and faithless notions – Yet, as Christians we cannot overlook that there are ways of understanding freedom today that are distorted, exaggerated and detached from a proper context. Many modern concepts of freedom treat freedom as something that faith limits, not enhances.

Alexis De Tocqueville said Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. In America today we are seeing the erosion of all three in reverse order.

Those who want to eliminate faith remove the ultimate basis of morality. For if God, and what he has set forth in Natural Law, and the Scriptures be not the basis of or law and freedom, then we are and there is no real basis to determine right and wrong, it is all just opinion and power struggle. We are our own absolute rulers, answerable to no one. This is dangerous.

And just as it is a bad idea for the inmates to run the jail, so absolute self-governance turns to tyranny. We tend to turn on each other and engage in deadly power struggles.

Welcome to the secular setting wherein freedom is eroded because power struggles have replaced the recognition of a higher law that binds us all. Welcome to the tyranny of relativism, and the bondage and litigiousness of unbelief.

Among the sources of growing and intrusive law is that some refuse to limit their bad behavior, some refuse to live up to commitments they have made, some abandon self control, some insist on living outside safe and proper norms. Many insist that the solution to protect them from others who abuse their freedom, is more laws. And many are successful in getting increasingly restrictive laws passed.

Yes, without a commonly held morality and a salutary fear that we will answer one day to God, bad behavior multiplies and freedom erodes into lots of tedious laws. In this climate, an increasingly powerful and intrusive State seeks to keep a lid on the immoral behavior resulting from the faithless notion that I will never answer to anyone.

Hence, those who seek to eliminate faith for the sake of “freedom” get only tyranny. Even unbelievers ought to be grateful that most people have a vigorous sense that they must answer one day to God. But without God, those in power, and those who act wickedly, think they will never have to answer to anyone and their sociopathic behavior gets more severe and tyrannical.

Those who claim that the truth of the gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside God’s truth shows itself to be far less than free than it claims:

  • Addictions and compulsions in our society abound.
  • Neuroses, and high levels of stress are major components of modern living.
  • The breakdown of the family and the seeming inability of increasing numbers to establish and keep lasting commitments is quite significant.
  • A kind of obsession with sex is evident and the widespread sadness of STDs, AIDs, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fathers) and abortion are its results.
  • Addiction to wealth and greed (the insatiable desire for more) enslave many in a kind of financial bondage wherein they cannot really afford the lifestyle their passions demand, and they are unsatisfied and in deep debt.

The so-called “freedom” of the modern world, (apart from the truth of the Gospel), is far from evident. The Catechism says rather plainly:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (CCC # 1733)

In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for freedom apart from faith lead only to hindered freedom and outright slavery and tyranny.

Ponder freedom on this 4th of July. Ponder its paradoxes, accept its limits. For freedom is glorious. But because we are limited and contingent beings, so is our freedom. Ponder finally this paradoxical truth: The highest freedom is the capacity to obey God.

Note that in the video this song about Freedom, often sung in reference to various political and social struggles, roots the freedom in Jesus. Some seculars eliminate the 2nd verse today, but they thus undermine the basis for freedom. For if there be no Lord to whom we point as the basis of justice, Those who cry for freedom are simply being arbitrary in their notion. Without God and the justice he puts in our hearts, why should the desires of the oppressed have any more merit than the wishes of the oppressor? It is a mere matter of opinion, for there is no outside source for morality or justice. Unbelievers cannot really point to any basis other than popular opinion or raw power to usher in their view. Their notion of freedom without faith ends only in the tyranny of power struggle.

Enjoy the video, especially the second verse: