Sunday, July 24, 2016

What is Truth?

The collective chaos and insanity that seems to be casting its shadow over over the world has led me to to the thought: How does this come to be, that human beings are so willing, even eager, to cast aside the humanity of other people and, instead, to view them as objects that need to be destroyed? Why does the world seem to descending (as my pastor put it in his Sunday homily) descending into a "collective nervous breakdown?"  What first comes to mind is that humanity, as a whole, seems to be experiencing the same phenomenon that anyone might experience individually when their perception of reality, of who they are, who others are, and what the relationship between them ought to be becomes detached from what they actually are or ought to be. We are receiving the full prescription of idolaters, accounted by St Paul in his letter to the Romans (bold emphasis mine):
The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper. They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. - Romans 1:18-31

Originally Posted July 18, 2011

What is Truth?

Those three words, asked of Jesus by Pilate as he stood falsely accused (cf. John 18:38), reverberate through history.  They seem to be amplified today, at a time when so many in our culture searching for the answer without finding it, or worse, have given up asking the question altogether.  Despite the temptation to give up in the face of what seems to be so much diversion and misinformation, the question has to be asked and cannot be avoided, for Truth cannot be found unless it (He) is sought with sincerity of heart.  The greatest danger lies when the seeker asks the question as a "loaded" question, with unmovable skepticism, and refuses to believe that it can lead to any answer other than that it is unanswerable.

The question, and the scene that surrounds it, are the centerpiece of the Pope's discussion in Chapter 4.  He begins the chapter by reflecting briefly on the prerequisite condition of freedom, that eventually leads into the deeper discussion:
The participation of everyone in power is the hallmark of freedom.  No one is to be merely the object of rule by others or only a person under control; everyone ought to be able to make a voluntary contribution to the totality of political activity.  We can all be free citizens only if we all have a genuine share in decision making.
So, to be truly free, we must all be able to contribute our "two cents," and know that our opinions are heard, weighed, and valued.  But being free in the sense of society does not mean being free to act on whatever whim we choose.  That freedom itself has to be anchored, grounded in something:
...the freedom of the individual to order his own life is declared to be the real goal of societal life.  Community has no value whatever in itself but exists only to allow the individual to be himself.  However, if the individual the highest goal lacks contents, it dissolves into thin air, since individual freedom can exist only when freedoms are correctly ordered.
So our freedom must be ordered, or oriented, toward something in order to have meaning.  But, if we have billions of people, each a sovereign, what common goal or purpose can their freedom all be oriented toward?  Probably the most common and widely accepted answer is the "common good" (i.e. the best possible opportunity for each individual to reach their full human potential, not to be confused with the collective good of society at large). But even the "common good" of man remains vague and has to be further defined and grounded.

When it comes to evaluating the ultimate goal of a democratic form of government, digging deeper into the meaning of the common good leads to one of two positions.

1. First, the radical relativistic position, which makes the governing activity itself the highest source of good, by replacing the historical, Christian concept of good and goodness with the idea that will of the majority ultimately decides and comes to occupy the position of "truth."  This is the secular-humanistic view, and is the basis of pure democracy.

2. Second, the "truth first" argument that, to quote the Holy Father, "truth is not a product of politics (the majority) but is antecedent to political activity and sheds light on it.  It is not praxis that creates truth but truth that makes praxis possible." This is the Christian view, and is the foundation of the republican form of government that began to be explored even before the time of Christ by Plato and Aristotle, where certain preexisting realities (what our Founders referred to as inalienable rights) set boundaries on the power of the state, which derives its power, in turn, from the consent of the people.

In his conclusions, the Pope notes that, in order to properly fulfill its role of regulating society the state must "[create] a balance of freedom and good things that allows each individual to lead a life worthy of man." This requires some power to guarantee the law, but it must remain clear that the government must use its power to "safeguard the rights of each individual and the welfare of all.  It is not the task of the state to create mankind's happiness, nor is it the task of the state to create new men. It is not the task of the state to change the world into paradise--nor can it do so."

The bottom line is that, to preserve freedom grounded in truth, that state must "receive from outside itself the essential measure of knowledge and truth with regard to that which is good."  Further,
According to Maritain, the primary right of a people to govern itself can never become a right to decide everything.
This reality--the clashing of  two opposing views--plays out briefly and dramatically in the exchange between Christ and Pilate.  Referring to the German scholar Heinrich Schlier, who wrote against groups within the Protestant churches who cooperated with the buildup of National Socialism, the Holy Father notes that, according to Schlier,
...although Jesus in his trial acknowledges the judicial authority of the state represented by Pilate, he also sets limits to this authority by saying that Pilate does not possess this authority on his own account but has it "from above" (19:11).  Pilate falsifies his power, and...the power of the state, as soon as he ceases to exercise it as the faithful administrator of a higher order that depends on truth.
Jesus didn't comment on which specific form of government would best serve the needs of man and society, but he did lay out, in this exchange, what a government--no matter what its form--could never do.  It could never take the place of God or supplant his truths with the will of a fallible majority.  The minute it seeks to do so, and attempts to eliminate him from the position of ultimate authority, it loses any legitimate claim of power.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Why We Call Friday "Good"

(Originally posted April 3, 2015)

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
(Is 53:4-6)

It is accomplished.
(Jn 16:30)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Waking to New Life

(Repost from April 9, 2012)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

One of the (many) things I love about being Catholic is that Easter is not just one day.  It's a whole week, followed by another six weeks of joy of the risen Christ, culminating in another celebration, the "birthday" of the Church on Pentecost.  When celebrating the single greatest event in human history, the conquering of mankind's greatest, common foes--sin and death--by the God Man who came among us, celebrating for one day, or even a few days, simply will not do.  But that is not why I wanted to write today, so I'll save a few more thoughts on that for later.

What was the experience of rising from the dead like?  What was Christ's personal experience of having the surge of supernatural energy regenerate his lifeless body into a glorified, immortal state, and how unimaginable must the joy have been when he first greeted his mother, whose fiat had allowed him to take on human flesh.  One day we hope to know the answers to those and many other questions, but for now, let us be satisfied to live in the joy of their certainty by pondering, reflecting, and adoring.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Walking by Faith: The Courageous Example of St. Joseph

Not much is said about St. Joseph in the Gospel.  His biographical information is extremely limited: He was a carpenter, the devoted and most chaste husband of Mary, and lawful foster father of Jesus. And, unlike most of the other figures in the Gospels, Joseph is never quoted as having spoken a single word.  What is recorded about him is his actions, and they are actions that speak volumes about the faith that he lived, and the example he can be for us as we walk our journey of faith.

For we walk by faith, not by sight ~2 Corinthians 5:7
St Joseph is the perfect model for living these words of St. Paul.  He our example par excellence of one of the most important virtues that's needed as we lead our families through the perils of the sinful world in which we live: courage.  Joseph made two very difficult choices that many men would balk at, because he trusted in what the Lord was asking him to do as it was revealed to him in a dream, for the sake of his Holy Family:

1.  He took a woman as his spouse who, during their betrothal, had conceived a child that was not naturally his.

2. He led his family out of the land that was their home, to a far-away and foriegn land, with little more than the clothes on their back and sandles on their feet, to avoid the wrath of Herod.

Think about that.  If you were asked to make decisions like these, to take such decisive and counter-intuitive actions based on what had come to you in a dream, would you have the courage to do it?  I'd like to hope that I would have the courage to do so, but often times it is difficult enough just to get the family to sit down to prayer, or to decline a request to work extra hours when it would be to the detriment of my family.  St. Joseph did exhibit this courage, and in doing so provided us all a very simple and powerful example of how we should live our lives:

1. Trust God with everything.  And I mean everything, not just the big decisions or help needed in moments of desperation.  He is certainly needed there, but he also wants to enter into the small, sometimes seemingly insignificant moments and daily issues of our lives.  Call on his help and he will provided the help that is needed (which is not always the same as what we want).

2. Love and trust Mary.  Trust her implicity, for she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit and a powerful intercessor.  St. Joseph had to trust in her and in what was revealed to about her pregnancy through the angel, though by all external appearances the situation was scandalous enough that, by Jewish law, she could have been stoned.  But Joseph, no doubt knowing her purity of heart, made the decision to remain with her.  We should do the same.

3. Remain close to Jesus. St. Joseph did this because it was entrusted to him by God.  Now that Christ has been revealed to us in the flesh, by taking on and suffering in a human body and leaving us the gift of the most Holy Eucharist, we are also entrusted with making a home for him in our hearts and in our families.  Invite him in, consecrate yourselves and your families to him, and the blessings and peace that follow will be beyond compare, both in this life and in the next.

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!


Sunday, January 11, 2015


Do you know who Kathy Taylor is?  I didn't either until this Lifenews story profiling her courageous (and short) battle to give her unborn son, Luke, a chance at life, despite the aggressive melanoma that had spread throughout her body during her pregnancy.  She passed on New Year's Day, at the too-young age of 33, preceded by Luke, who was delivered prematurely and died at two weeks of age.  It is a tremendously sad story, and my heart breaks for her husband, Nathan, and their five older children.

Nathan has been blogging at Kathy's Miracle, both during her struggle with the terrible disease,and in the week or so since her passing.  You will have to read the blog to grasp the emotions.  Of course there is pain beyond what those of us who have not experienced the untimely loss of a spouse cannot imagine, though as he keenly points out in the January 6 post, "Perfected in Christ," all who truly share the depth of the bond of married love, as it was intended by, will one day feel.

But that is not all...

What pervades his writing is a sense of (1) hope beyond the pain, of rejoicing in the perfection of character that the pain brings about and hope in Resurrection and the future life to come, where the very real but temporary pain and struggle of this world will be a distant memory; and (2) of real courage, the kind of courage that, along with hope, pulls through the pain and fear.

Kathy's story--and Nathan's after their passing--beyond all else is one of courage.