One of the things that most amazes me about the universe is its order. And its order is even more striking in the face of another force of apparent disorder. Let me explain.
The Source of order. When we look at things we can observe that, left to themselves, things tend to fall apart and and become disorderly. I think that science calls this process entropy and that it is related to the second law of thermodynamics. But consider with me for a moment a house in Detroit. Let’s say that in 1890 human beings assembled basic elements like wood, nails, brick, glass, and so forth and ordered (or assembled) these materials into a complex system known as a house. It has divisions, known as rooms. It has a purpose, known as shelter. Now, as long as humans live in or near the house and maintain it, the house continues to exist as an orderly and purposeful system. But suppose now it is 1985 and, due to the economic factors, the house becomes abandoned. Within a few years the order of the house will begin to decay. Perhaps within fifty years it will have completely collapsed and been reclaimed by the earth. This illustrates the tendency of things to fall apart unless they are acted upon by some force outside themselves to order and sustain them.
The Paradox of order – As we look around we DO see that entropy (the tendency of things to fall apart or revert to less complex states) does exist. And yet we ALSO observe the exact opposite. All around us is order and purpose. Somehow things have sprung up into orderly systems. Explosive disorder (the big bang) swirled into orderly and complex systems known as Galaxies and solar systems. Here on earth from the most basic elements of dust and water, complex life forms have developed. These life forms exhibit order and purpose. A complex ecosystem interacts at multiple levels and exhibits tremendous order and synergy. And all of this exists in world where we also learn that, without some unifying force things tend to fall into disorder. Life is ordered energy and death is disordered energy. Order is a paradox.
What causes the order and directs the purpose and complex interaction and order of all things? To me, creation shouts the existence of one who orders and directs its. We who believe call this someone, “God.” It seems evident to me that without God’s purposeful ordering of things, the tendency of things to fall apart and return to basic, less complex systems (entropy) would envelop all things. Just like the abandoned farmhouse described above, all the complexity and biodiversity we see in the world around us would collapse and be reclaimed by more basic elements. Like the farmhouse, something or someone sustains all this, and orders it. Creation shouts out God.
I suppose I might call this argument for the existence of God, the Argument from the Paradox of Order. But in reality it is rather close to an argument that St. Thomas advanced in the Summa long before my current feeble attempt:
The fifth way [of demonstrating God’s existence] is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God. (Summa I, 2.3)
Here is a beautiful video that rejoices with wonder and awe at what God has made:
One of the seeming premises of the culture of death is that human life is essentially a bad thing. The thinking goes that there are too many of us and that we destroy the planet by our mere presence and use of resources that could be put to better use by more noble creatures like the animals. The Culture of Death has used a lot of fearmongering over the past decades to make great inroads into the western psyche. One of the fearful images I vivdly remember from a Star Trek episode where they visit a planet that is horribly over-populated. Since I am away this week preaching a priest retreat I thought I might re-post this blog from about a year ago. I will monitor comments and so encourage you to comment.
It was always drilled in to us when I was growing up that the planet was overpopulated. We were promised famines, and disease by the doomsayers. Clearly we were headed for disaster and only contraception could save us. Some also suggested forced sterilization and abortion for recalcitrant reproducers, like they have done in China.
But really! How overpopulated are we? What kind of a physical footprint do we really have on this planet? Try this on for size.
There are currently about 6 Billion people on this planet.
Lets put them, four to house on a quarter acre of land. This is the typical size of a traditional suburban lot.
Now, physically, how big is the suburb of houses we’ve created?
Let’s see, 6,000,000,000 four to a house is 1.5 Billion houses.
1.5 Billion Houses on a quarter acre each is 375 Million Acres.
What does 375 Million Acres compare to? Well lets see, The state of Texas is 171904640 acres. 375 Million Acres is just over twice the size of the State of Texas (2.18 Texases to be exact). It also equates to 3.6 Californias. Why Alaska at 420 Million Acres could hold them all and still have 45 million acres left over.
So there you have it. “But Father, but Father… we can’t all live in a suburb like that. We need roads, shopping centers, parks, farmland, schools, etc.” Yes indeed, but as you can see there is a lot of land left over. I think we’ll squeeze it all in somehow. Point is, there’s plenty good room. We are a long way from fulfilling God’s mandate to “be fruitfull and multiply to fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28)
What of famines? True there are shortages in the world here and there. We have plenty of food here in America but it is sometimes hard to get it to famine regions due to war and corrupt governments. We have the food, it’s getting it there that is the problem. That’s why allowing starvation is so immoral. We have so much abundance in the god ole USA that our government actually pays farmers not to plant to help keep prices higher.
What of water? Fresh water is limited. But we can desalinate. Right now it costs too much but I have little doubt that as the need grows for more fresh water we will find more cost-effective ways to desalinate.
What about climate change? – not too sure about that. It does seem clear that the climate has always been changing. That was the case even before we were here. Climate has always changed, quite radically actually, and we, and the planet, have adjusted.
Why is this on a Catholic blog? Well think about it, contraception, abortion, sterilization, even euthanasia all march under banners that, among other things, appeal to fear about overpopulation. The Church has often been ridiculed for being out of touch and insensitive to the great question of overpopulation. This little presentation has had as a goal to spark a discussion if such fears are really justified or is it just another fear mongering myth? How say you?
Here’s the scary Star Trek video I remember. Look at the terrible crowds outside the window. We were told to expect such terrible things if we didn’t stop reproducing. Notice how Kirk suggests contraception and sterilization.
The following video gives a little more background to the history of overpopulation concerns. I think its a good video but, as you will see, I think they underestimate a little the acreage necessary to house six billion. They say one Texas I say two. But hey, it’s all pretty clear, we’ve got a lot of land, God’s been generous. Also, the video says population will peak in 30 years and then start to go back down. I am not sure how they say that or know it.
Today’s reading at Mass from the Book of Ecclesiastes says something that is quite powerful if we meditate upon it.
I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. (Eccles 3:10-11)
Somewhere in our hearts is something that the world cannot, and did not give us. This passage calls it “the timeless.” We also often refer to it as eternity, or even, infinity.
But where did this come from? The world is finite. Time here is serial. Things have a beginning, a middle and an end. We do not experience anything here of the timeless. Rather everything is governed by the steady ticking of the clock of time. Every verb we speak is time-based. Everything is rooted in chronological time. But somewhere in our hearts we can grasp the timeless. It is hard to put in words for we know it deeply. Yes, we do know it.
The experience of “forever” does not exist in this world, but it is there in our mind and hearts. There is no way to time travel here in this world. Yet instinctively we know we can, somehow. Science fiction and fantasy often feature going to the past or into the future. The world could not teach us this for we are locked into the present and we have never actually travelled in time. But somehow we know we can do it.
Eternity comes from a Greek word “Aeon” which means the fullness of time. It is not just a long time, it is all time: past, present and future all at once. Look to the center dot on your watch and behold how 10am may be past, 6pm the future, and 2pm now, but at the center dot they are all really the same. This is Aeon, this is eternity, the fullness of time, this is timelessness.
Where did we get it? The world cannot give it, for the world does not have it. It is finite, it is limited, it is time-bound, not timeless. Where did we get it?
Spetember 16th is the feast of St. Cyprian and, since he is an important witness to the truth of the Catholic faith from antiquity, I want to present a few of his teachings below. Perhaps first just a short account of his life.
He was born to a rich, noble family about the year 210 A.D. His full name was Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus. Raised in a pagan family he would not convert to the faith until his mid thirties. He attended the finest schools and became a master of Rhetoric. He then took up a career in law. He, like many of his elevated social class, enjoyed a comfortable life without career worries and filled with the luxuries and pleasures of that his high social rank afforded.
We do not know that the exact time or manner of his conversion but it is clear from his writings that he became increasingly besieged by a feeling of emptiness and a hidden desperation. His own riches seemed burdensome and whatever pleasures they offered were empty. More and more he was disillusioned with the immorality of his age. He wrote sadly not only of the sexual immorality of his day but also of the horrible violence displayed in the arena and on the stage where the death of gladiators was entertainment for the crowds. He lamented the injustice and bribery in the courts where “justice” often went to the highest bidder. And then there was the neglect of the poor.
Cyprian had been introduced to the teachings of the Christian faith by Cecilanus, an elder in the Christian community of Carthage. He took instructions and was baptized on April 18, 246 at the Easter vigil. He was now thirty-six years old and newly baptized. On year later he was ordained a priest.
In 248 A.D. Donatus, the Bishop of Carthage died. It was the practice of the early Church in many parts of the ancient world to permit the members of the local Church to present a man for the office of Bishop. And so it was that after the burial of Donatus, a groundswell began that would lift Cyprian to the office of Bishop.
He proved a good administrator and was a prolific writer of many letters and treatises. Through these he provides an important glimpse into the beliefs and practices of the early Church.
He was exiled twice and eventually martyred on September 14, 258. I have placed an account of his martyrdom here: The Martyrdom of St Cyprian
That the early Church was Catholic in her beliefs and practices is clear from reading the Fathers of the Church, of whom Cyprian is one. I present here a brief listing of some of his teachings that emphasize the Catholicity of the early Church. It is clear that things such as Confession, Holy Communion, Church authority and unity were all established at this time and that those who disputed them were departed from the received apostolic and Catholic faith. As these debates continue today it is good to have a voice from antiquity so clearly rebuke the common errors of today:
TEACHINGS OF NOTE AFFIRMING THE ANCIENT BELEIF OF CATHOLIC TEACHING:
That the Church was both founded and intended by Christ as a necessary means of salvation and that those who wilfully depart from the Church thus sin against the unity willed by Christ. If someone does not hold to this unity of the Church can he imagine that he still holds the faith?…He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his mother. If anyone outside the ark of Noah was able to escape, then perhaps someone outside the pale of the Church may escape….Does anyone believe that in the Church this unity, which proceeds from the divine stability and which is welded together after heavenly patterns can be divided and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? Whoever holds not fast to this unity holds not to the law of God…(The Unity of the Catholic Church 4,6) Letter of Cyprian to All His People,” 43)
That unity with the successor to St. Peter, the Pope, was an essential ingredient and expression of Church unity.The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you, you are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church…and to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever things you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth they shall be loosed also in heaven.’ (Mt 16:18-19). It is on one man that He builds the Church and although he assigns like powers to all the apostles after His resurrection ….nevertheless, in order that unity might be clearly shown, He established by His own authority a source for that unity which takes its beginning from one man alone. A primacy is given to Peter whereby it is clear that there is but one Church and one chair (“The Unity of the Catholic Church,” 4).
On the fact that there is one established faith and one altar around which ae are to gather: There is one God, and one Christ, and one Church and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering. (“Letter of Cyprian to All His People,” 43)
On the Confession of Sins to the Priests – St. Cyprian clearly taught that sins, especially serious sins, must be brought to the clergy for there to be reconciliation. His teachings in this regard are significant since they provide important evidence that the Sacrament of Confession was celebrated in the earliest days of the Church. St. Cyprian was bishop in the middle part of the Third Century. This means that by the middle 200’s A.D. confession was an expected remedy for serious sins. It is also interesting that Cyprian does not give lengthy explanations or defenses in requiring this practice of sinners under his care. This provides additional evidence that the practice of confession of sins to the clergy was an accepted or at least normative part of Church life that had been received from the earliest days. Here are some references to confession in St. Cyprian’s writings:
Finally, of how much greater faith and more salutary fear are those who…confess to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. Thus they remove the weight from their souls and seek the saving remedy for their wounds, however small and slight they be…I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned, confess his sin while he is still in the world, while his confession is still admissible, while satisfaction and remission made through the priests are pleasing before the Lord. (“The Lapsed,” 28).
We [i.e. the Bishops of North Africa] think that no one should be held back from the fruit of satisfaction…We know by our faith in the Divine Scriptures, of which God Himself is the author and initiator, both that sinners are brought back to repentance and that pardon and forgiveness are not denied the penitent. Inasmuch as the Lord is merciful and kind, we find that none of those imploring and entreating his mercy should be prohibited from doing penance, then peace is able to be extended through His priests. (“Letter to Bishop Antonianus,” 55).
On the need to receive Communion worthily– The anxious cares of my office and the fear of God leave me no choice but to send you…words of admonishment…Certain priests behave, without a thought or fear of God or respect for their bishop…They acting contrary to the law of the gospel…before penance has been done, before confession of the most serious and grievous of sins has been made, before there has been the imposition of hands by the bishop and clergy in reconciliation, they have the audacity to make the offering on their behalf and give them the Eucharist, that is to say, to profane the sacred body of the Lord. And this in spite of the words of Scripture: “He who has eaten the bread or drunk the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor 11:27) – (Letter 15 of Cyprian to the Martyrs and Confessors).
On the Necessity of frequently and worthily receiving Holy Communion – As the prayer [Our Father] continues we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask that this bread be given us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation may not, by falling into some more grievous sin and then, in abstaining from communion, be withheld from the heavenly Bread, and be separated from Christ’s Body…He Himself warns us saying, “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, You shall not have life in you” (Jn 6:54). Therefore we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given us daily that we who abide and live in Christ, may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body. (Treatise on the Our Father, 18)
On the necessity of Baptism and why infants should be baptized – As far as concerns the case of infants you [Fidus] expressed your view that they ought not be baptized within the second or third day after their birth; rather, that the ancient law on circumcision ought to be respected and you therefore concluded that the newly-born should not be baptized and sanctified before the eighth day. Our Council [of African Bishops] adopted an entirely different conclusion. No one agreed with your opinion on the matter; instead without exception, we all formed the judgement that it is not right to deny the mercy and the grace of God to any one that is born….We must do everything we possibly can to prevent the destruction of any soul….For just as God draws no distinction between persons, so neither does He between ages, but shows Himself Father equally to all, being evenhanded in the distribution of His heavenly graces….In our view no one is to be prevented from obtaining grace…Rather, every one without exception, has the right to be admitted to the grace of Christ. We ought not be the cause for debarring anyone from access to baptism and the grace of God for He is merciful, kind, and loving towards all men. And whilst this is a rule that ought to be observed and maintained concerning the whole of mankind, it is our view that it is to be observed most particularly in the case of newborn infants; they have all the more claim upon our assistance and God’s mercy for the reason that, right from the very first moment they are born, in their crying and wailing they are doing nothing else but imploring our help (Letter 64 to Fidus, 2,3,5).
On the Power of Grace to Transform – St. Cyprian taught emphatically on the power of God’s grace to effect dramatic change in one’s life. This he did not so much by a long discourse as in a vivid description of his own experience of what God did for him. In this testimony written in 247 A.D. he describes first his condition before baptism and then turns to a beautiful description of the glorious freedom of the children of God. And I myself was bound fast, held by so many errors of my past life, from which I did not believe I could extricate myself. I was disposed therefore to yield to my clinging vices; and, despairing of better ways, I indulged my sins…But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the waters of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man. And then in marvelous manner, doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened…and what had been thought impossible was able to be done(Letter to Donatus, 4).
A Cross, not a cushion – Some argue that religion, faith, is a man made fiction, meant to soothe our difficult life with stories about ultimate victory in a heaven somewhere. I believe is was Karl Marx who thought of religion as an opiate of the masses in that it blunted the difficult reality of life in the same way that opium dulled the minds of drug users. But a charge like this cannot apply to the true Christian and Catholic Faith. There are consolations, to be sure, from faith. Yet at the center of the true faith is a cross, not a cushion and this is an important corrective to those who think of religion merely as something to soothe us.
The cross also goes a long way to speak to the Divine origin of our Holy Faith. If the faith were an invention of man what is the cross doing there? I don’t just mean Jesus’ cross, I mean ours. Jesus did not just carry his own cross, he told us we’d have to carry ours. And this teaching on the cross is not just an incidental sidebar, the cross is absolutely central. Now it seems to me that if our Holy Faith were man-made, there would not be a cross as the central tenant, but rather a pillow, a giant fluffy pillow.
Man made religion would exult pleasure, prosperity, consolation, affirmation and so forth. But true religion, God’s Holy Faith, holds up the cross, the cross of repentance, self-denial, self-discipline, sacrifice, living for others, and so on. This hardly seems to be something that we human beings would devise, given as we are to selfishness. And what’s even more amazing, and surely something no human being would think up on his own, is that the cross truly brings life. It is in losing our life that we find it and gain it (cf Matt 6:25). No human wisdom is this….it must be from God!
The Cross is like a tuning fork – It’s what you use to be sure that the preacher is “in tune” with the true faith of God or to discover that he is just preaching a false version of the faith, one not of God. There are false preachers out there today and one way to tell that they are false is that they seldom or never mention the cross. They talk about prosperity and blessings, rewards and gain. Nothing intrinsically wrong with those to be sure. But do they mention the cross? Do they mention self-denial, self-discipline, repentance and the fact that we are all called to share in the sufferings of Christ? If they do not, they are not of God. Beware the preachers of the “prosperity gospel.” Beware of a cross-less Christianity. There is joy in faith to be sure, but there must also be the cross. God does not only affirm, He also disciplines, matures and quickens the Christian, always with love.
St. Augustine rebuked the false shepherds of his day in these words:
“The Apostle says, ‘All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution.’ But you say instead…’All things will be yours in abundance!’ Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. [But] The rains will come….! [Rather,] put him on the rock. Let him be in Christ. Let him consider Scripture which says to him: God chastises every son who he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son. (sermo 46:10-11)
The video below from a very strange little comedy called “Dogma.” The scene here depicts a mixed up bishop who wants to refashion the Catholic Faith and make it a more “pleasant affair.” It’s a pretty silly scene but there is a serious point: The cross is like a tuning fork. Without the “A 440” of the Cross the whole symphony is out of tune. With that in mind, watch this video of a false teacher (comically portrayed) who wants to substitute a pillow for the cross, a false Jesus for the real one a false teacher who exults affirmation in the place of transformation.
The last words of someone are usually considered extremely important. Perhaps they express a final wish, or summarize what was most important to the person. Thus we do well to consider the final words of Jesus just before he ascended into heaven:
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).
This is often called the “Great Commission” in the sense that it is the overarching mission, job one, the standing orders for the Church, for any Catholic. There is nothing ambiguous about it either. Jesus says go! But where Lord? Everywhere! Every nation, every person. And Do what? Make disciples of them by drawing them into the sacramental life of the Church through baptism and teaching them everything I have commanded. Finally He bids us have no fear of this for he is with us to the end.
Pretty clear, right? And yet it is possible for the Church, a parish or a Catholic to push Job One down the list. Pray, sure, attend Mass, OK, tithe, I’ll try. Evangelize? Oops, I’m a little busy and rather shy too, you understand…..
Time to Obey – After years of declining Mass attendance, churches closing, schools, seminaries and convents shuttering their doors, children and family members no longer practicing their faith, perhaps it is just time to get back into the business of obeying Jesus Christ and his command that we evangelize. It’s not the job of some committee in the parish, it’s your job and mine. It’s not merely the pastor’s job, it’s the parishioners too. Remember, shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep. It’s easy to blame the Church or the liturgy or poor catechesis but the primary place the faith is handed on in the family. Pastor’s have to lead but the Pastor isn’t at your dinner table every night, not at your workplace, family gathering or neighborhood meeting. All of us have to do this, all of us must obey.
A Parish that Obeys has a Future – In my own parish, after years of declining numbers we’ve decided to obey Christ. I had been assigned to this parish in the early 90s and Mass attendance was at about 800 each Sunday, about average for a city parish. I left to pastor elsewhere in the diocese and upon my return to this parish I noticed a much emptier Church and looked to the usher counts for recent Sundays: 482, 502, 473, 512. In ten years the count had dropped 38%. 300 people had drifted away. People seemed unaware of this. When people disappear one by one over ten years it’s less noticeable. But I, returning after ten years noticed it. And my parish is not unique. Most parishes are down in numbers from what they used to be.
Now some folks like to “explain” declining numbers by talking about demographics, sociological trends, secularization and the like. But thank God, I’m blessed with a parish that wants to hear from God, which knows that God can make a way out of no way, a parish which prays for their pastor to get a Word from the Lord. And the Lord did not disappoint. The word was simple, “Obey.” Obey the great commission, obey Job One. The Lord seemed rather clear and put it on my heart to say to the Parish that if we will obey the Lord in this we have a future. If we do not obey him we do not deserve to exist. For too long the Catholic approach to evangelization was to open the doors and expect people to come. But Jesus sent them out to where people were to call and invite and evangelize. It’s time to obey.
So, for the past year we have been preparing through prayer and study to go forth in a door to door campaign into our neighborhood. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and so we also will go in obedience. Almost Fifty people have agreed to make the weekly walk for 8 weeks starting September 11. Fifty will pray while we walk and others will prepare a meal on our return. We’re stepping out. I do not know if the Lord will give us many new souls or few but only this I know, if we obey, we have a future.
We are also reaching back into our families and inviting them back, listening to their concerns and setting forth a host of activities. These activities are designed to draw them back and interest our neighbors so we can get to know them and make the invitation to be disciples. We will have concerts, the blessing of the animals, Bible studies, civic meetings etc. Anything to get folks here and meet them, befriend them and invite them to discipleship. Just the beauty of our building and joy of our parishioners preaches Christ. I preparation I’ve been walking the neighborhood and meeting people.
In the Archdiocese of Washington as well we are getting focused anew on Job One. The Archbishop is preparing a pastoral letter on Evangelization. He’s been restructuring the Central Pastoral Administration around the task of evangelizing. We’re reaching out in new ways such as this blog, and preparing to do far more by revamping the Website, reaching out through Youtube, podcasting, direct and targeted e-mail, focused facebook pages and other social media. The Archbishop’s letter will reveal other plans as well. We want to be more pro-active and obey Christ by intensifying our work to explicitly evangelize using all the new methods available.
And perhaps you’ve heard that Catholic Radio has come in the last month to the Nation’s Capital: WMET 1160 AM. You can also stream the signal at their website here: http://grnonline.info/ The station presents EWTN programming and is part of the Guadalupe Radio Network. Soon enough, local programming will also be presented in addition to the EWTN lineup. This presents a great leap forward in the ability of the Archdiocese and the wider Church to fulfill the mandate of Jesus to evangelize, to proclaim the Gospel to everyone.
And what of you? How do you obey the mandate of Christ to evangelize? Every Sunday at Mass you are sent forth by the deacon or priest with these words: The Mass is ended, go in peace.” There’s that word again: Go. It means “Go and tell someone what you have heard and seen. Tell someone of Jesus whom you have met in this liturgy and who has ministered to you with his Word and sacrament. Tell someone what a difference he has made in your life.” Go.
These days evangelization comes in many different forms. Even if you’re shy, what does it take to do things like:
E-mail a friend a link about a great blog post or article you read?
There are great Catholic Websites and blogs. The New evangelization has made it easier to connect people to answers and resources. Sites like www.newadvent.org and the Catholic Answers website www.Catholic.com are rich veins information and encouragement.
Some of you who are technically savvy can help your pastor podcast his sermons or get them out on YouTube. Maybe you can help breathe new life into an out of date webpage.
Talk to your family members who are fallen away and ask them “where it hurts.” Find out what has kept them away and share the story of your own faith.
Get in the habit of inviting unchurched people to join you for special events at your parish. Not everyone is ready for a pew but a Chicken dinner might at least establish some connections where evangelization can take place.
Tell folks you’re praying for them and actually do it. Ask for prayer requests.
And pray, pray, pray for an increase, for a new springtime in the Church. Too many souls today are drifting and the Lord needs us to obey in order to save some.
The Bottom line is that we have got to get back into the business of obeying Jesus Christ in the mandate to Evangelize. To be a disciple means to obey. Jesus was not ambiguous about his final wish: Go, Go everywhere, in every available way. Go. Make disciples of everyone by drawing them into the sacramental life of the Church and teaching them everything the Lord has commanded. Go.
The Didache is one of the earliest written documents of the Church other than Scripture itself. It was written sometime between 90 and 110 AD. It may not have had a single author but may have been compiled from the Apostolic Teaching as a kind of early catechism and a summary of the essential moral tenets of the Faith. It’s existence demonstrates that many current teachings of the faith, often under attack by modernity, are in fact very ancient, going right back to the beginning. Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the Didache that are especially pertinent for today’s controversies. My comments are in red after the italicized quotes. The Full text of the Didache is available here: DIDACHE
Sins against life, sexual sins and abortion: You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten. (# 2) Hence the teaching against abortion is not recent as some have tried to suggest. It was not proposed in the 1950s, it was not proposed in the Middle Ages. It goes right back to the beginning. “Pederasty” refers to a homosexual relationship between an older man and a post pubescent adolescent boy. It is distinct from pedophilia which involves a sexual relationship between an older person and a pre-pubescent child. In the modern sex abuse scandals, proper distinctions have not always been made. Cases of true pedophila are rare compared to pederasty (male homosexual involvement with adolescent boys), and statutory rape (the sexual violation of an underaged post pubescent female by a male). In the Greek world Homosexual activity was a widespread moral evil and the Didache’s specific mention of it (as also with Paul) indicates this. The statutory rape or sexual abuse of young females was probably more rare given the early age of marriage which took place soon after puberty for girls.
That the clergy ought to be worhty and then respected and honored –My child, him that speaks to you the word of God remember night and day; and you shall honour him as the Lord; for in the place whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord (#4)…..Therefore, appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proven; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Despise them not therefore, for they are your honoured ones (# 15)
That confession of sin should be frequent and precede the reception of Holy Communion and fellowshipIn the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. (# 4) It is thus, the long standing practice of the Church that one ought to confess serious sin prior to attending Mass and surely prior to receiving Holy Communion.
That Baptism may be conferred by pouring only if immersion is not easy or convenient – And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (# 7) Some, among the Protestants consider that Baptism must be administered by immersion. But this text indicates that in the ancient practice, simply pouring water over the head is sufficient. Living water (i.e. moving water such as in a stream) is preferred. Cold water is preferred over warm but warm water is allowed (perhaps in winter to avoid colds?). And yet, in the end, if such arrangements are not possible a simple infusion of water over the head suffices.
An Early Eucharistic Prayer or Hymn: Now concerning the Eucharist, thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever. But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. (# 9). This prayer of thanksgiving (Eucharistia) is beautifully preserved in the hymn “Father We Thank Thee.” The contents of this prayer mysteriously do not include the words of Institution (This is my Body….This is my Blood….). However, another more detailed description by Justin Martyr written around the same time does include these words (See video below). Note too that the restriction of the Eucharist to fully initiated Catholics is an ancient practice. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion was not to be shared except by those who had true communion by the Grace of God working through the sacraments. Namely, Baptism and Confirmation which both sanctified and incorporated one into and as a member of the Body of Christ. Holy Communion thus had to be preceded by the Communion effected by Baptism and Confirmation.
That Sunday Attendance at Mass was required – But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned (# 14) Again note that attendance is required every Sunday and that such attendance be accompanied by any necessary confession of sins. See how ancient these practices are.
That the practice of the faith must be consistent and that without the practice of it and the attendance and reception of the Holy Mysteries we shall not attain to the holiness necessary to see God. But often shall you come together, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made perfect in the last time….. (# 16).
Thus many of the current practices and teachings of the Church go right back to the beginning. Our Tradition is thus intact and ancient, reaching back to the Apostles and Jesus Christ.
Here is a video of another ancient writer: Justin Martyr who wrote just shortly after the time of the Didache. The quotes in this video demonstrate the ancient quality of our Liturgy. Thanks to April for calling this video to my attention:
To me there are three kinds of atheists, in a broad sense. First there are the lazy ones who simply want little certainty. The trouble with certainty is that, once it is manifest, you have to take a position. They prefer the vague and uncertain. Then no commitments are necessary and life can be pretty well lived as I see fit. If there is no God then I am god. I will do what I want to do and I will decide what is right and wrong. This is the lazy atheist. They have little reason for their unbelief other than as a premise for doing what they please.
The second kind of atheist is the “intellectual” atheist who claims that there is no proof for the existence of God. They tend to be materialists in that everything that is real to them must be physical, touchable and physically observable and measurable. Science, which is the study of the physical and measurable is therefore (for them) just about the only validator of truth. Thus when they claim that there is no evidence for God they usually mean scientific evidence. It seems to me that they live in a rather narrowly described world as the though the physical was all that was real. Even what most of us call spiritual, concepts like love, justice, appreciation of beauty, longing, conscience, desire. These too get reduced by them to phenomena of the brain, brain mapping, anthropological archetypes and the like. But alas, their time may be running short as modern science and physics keep bumping up against and blurring the line between physics and metaphysics. Quantum isn’t as “clean” in its distinctions and is moving the discussion in very new directions. This second sort of atheist may be walking with his science into terra incognita very soon.
And then there is the troubled and dare I say, “thoughtful” atheist who does truly struggle with some aspect of God or religion and this struggle leaves them unsatisfied. All the answers of scripture and organized religions to their questions are somehow inadequate. The biggest single issue is the “problem of evil.” If there is a God who is omnipotent and omniscient how can he tolerate evil, injustice, and suffering of the innocent? Where is God when a young girl is raped, when genocide is committed, when evil men hatch their plots? Why Did God even conceive the evil ones and let them be born?
The problem of evil cannot be simply answered. It is a mystery. It’s purpose and why God permits it are caught up in our limited vision and understanding. The scriptures say how “all things work together for the good of those who love and trust the Lord and are called according to his purposes.” But how this is so is difficult for us to see in many circumstances. Anyone who have ever suffered tragic and senseless loss or observed the disproportionate suffering that some must endure cannot help but ask, why? And the answers aren’t all that satisfying to many for suffering is ultimately mysterious in many ways.
I have some respect for atheists of this third sort. I do not share their struggle but I understand and respect its depths and the dignity of the question. At the end of the trail of questions, often asked in anguish, is God who has not chosen to supply simple answers. Perhaps if he were our simple minds could not comprehend them anyway. We are left simply to decide, often in the face of great evil and puzzling suffering, that God exists or not.
As in the days of Job, we cry out for answers but little is forthcoming. In the Book of Job, God speaks from a whirlwind and He questions Job’s ability to even ask the right questions let alone venture and answer to the problem and presence of evil and suffering. In the end he is God and we are not. This must be enough and we must look to the reward that awaits the faithful with trust.
The final and most perplexing aspect of suffering is its uneven distribution. In America we suffer little in comparison to many other parts of the world. Further, even here, some skate through life strong and sleek, wealthy and well fed. Others suffering crippling disease, inexplicable and sudden losses, financial setbacks, and burdens. It is a true fact that a lot of our suffering comes from bad choices, substance abuse and lack of self-control. But some suffering seems unrelated to any of this. And the most difficult suffering to accept is that caused on the innocent by third parties who seem to suffer no penalty. Parents who mistreat or neglect their children, the poor who are exploited and used, caught in schemes others have made, perhaps it is corrupt governments, perhaps unscrupulous industries.
Suffering is hard to explain or accept simply. I think this just has to be admitted. Simple slogans and quick answers are seldom sufficient in the face of great evil and suffering. Perhaps when interacting with an atheist of this third kind, sympathy, understanding and a call to humility goes farther than forceful rebuttal.
A respectful exposition of the Christian understanding of evil might include some of the following points. Note, these are not explanations per se (for suffering is a great mystery) and they are humble for they admit of their own limits.
The Scriptures teach that God created a world that was as a paradise. Though we only get a brief glimpse of it, it seems clear that death and suffering were not part of the garden.
But even there the serpent coiled from the branch of a tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and EVIL. So even in paradise the mystery of evil lurked in minimal form.
In a way the tree and the serpent had to be there. For we were made to love. And love requires freedom and freedom requires choices. The Yes of love must permit of the No of sin. In our rebellious “no” both we and the world unravelled, death and chaos entered in. Paradise was lost and a far more hostile and unpredictable world remained. From this fact came all of the suffering and evil we endure. Our sins alone cause an enormous amount of suffering on this earth, by my reckoning that vast majority of it. Of the suffering caused by natural phenomenon this too is linked to sin, Original Sin, wherein we preferred to reign in a hellish imitation rather than serve in the real paradise.
This link of evil and suffering to human freedom also explains God’s usual non-intervention in evil matters. To do so routinely makes an abstraction of human freedom and thus removes a central pillar of love. But here too there is mystery for the scriptures frequently recount how God does intervene to put an end to evil plots, to turn back wars, shorten famines and plagues. Why does he sometimes intervene and sometimes not? Why do prayers of deliverance sometimes get answered and sometimes not? Here too there is a mystery of providence.
The lengthiest Biblical treatise on suffering is the Book of Job and there God shows an almost shocking lack of sympathy for Job’s questions and sets a lengthy foundation for the conclusion that the mind of man is simply incapable of seeing into the depths of this problem. God saw fit that Job’s faith be tested and strengthened. But in the end Job is restored and re-established with even greater blessings in a kind of foretaste of what is meant by heaven.
The First Letter of Peter also explains suffering in this way: In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7) In other words, our sufferings purify and prepare us to meet God.
Does this mean that those who suffer more need more purification? Not necessarily. It could also mean that a greater glory is waiting for them. For the Scriptures teach Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison(2 Cor 4:16-17) Hence suffering “produces” glory in the world to come. With this insight, those who suffer more, but with faith, will have greater glory in the world to come.
Regarding the apparent injustice of uneven suffering it will be noted that the Scriptures teach of a great reversal wherein many who are last shall be first (Mat 20:16), where the mighty will be cast down and the lowly exulted, where the rich will go away empty and poor be filled. (Luke 1:52-53) In this sense it is not necessarily an blessing to rich and well fed, unaccustomed to any suffering. For in the great reversal the first will be last. The only chance the rich and well healed have to avoid this is to be generous and kind to the poor and those who suffer (1 Tim:6:17-18).
Finally, as to God’s apparent insensitivity to suffering we can only point to Christ who did not exempt himself from the suffering we chose by leaving Eden. He suffered mightily and unjustly but also showed that this would be a way home to paradise.
To these points I am sure you will add. But be careful with the problem of evil and suffering. It has mysterious dimensions which must be respected. Simple answers may not help an atheist of this sort. Understanding and an exposition that shows forth the Christian struggle to come to grips with this may be the best way. The “answer” of scripture requires faith but the answer appeals to reason and justice calls us to humility before a great mystery of which we see only a little. The appeal to humility before a mystery may command greater respect from an atheist of this sort than pat answers which may tend to alienate.
Here is the video which got me thinking all this. I saw it over at Patrick Madrid’s Blog. He posted it as a reason why you shouldn’t let you kids watch MTV. I agree, don’t let them! But the video is a kind of cry to God from an atheist who is struggling with the problem of evil. Not every charge leveled in the video is fair but overall it illustrates well the problem of evil and suffering from an atheist perspective. It is not a view I share, but has one who has struggled alongside with some who have experienced appalling suffering and evil I cannot simply dismiss questions like those asked in this video. Another disclaimer, I have no idea who XTC is and have heard none of his other works. Posting this video amounts to no endorsement by me of any sort. It is not an easy video to watch.