Friday, April 22, 2011

Storming the Gates of Hell

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  On this rock I will build my church; the gates of hell will not prevail against it." -Matthew 16:18

"He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead." -Apostles' Creed

Father Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, authored a reflection on Jesus's promise to Peter for the completion of the Lenten 40 Days for Life that could not be more appropriate on this Good Friday, when we celebrate what Christ accomplished by his suffering and death.

When we read this verse, we usually think that the Lord is promising that the church, which is his Body, will withstand all the attacks launched against it. Of course, that is true.  But when we think about it more carefully, we realize that in a battle, the gates do not run out into the battlefield to attack the enemy. Rather, they stand still to defend the city from the enemy attacking it.
So when the Lord says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, who is doing the attacking?
It is the church storming the gates!
The church, all of God's people in Christ, is called to take the offensive, to run into enemy territory, and to gain ground for Jesus Christ.  We do not wait for an invitation; we already have a command.
We prepare, but we do not wait for circumstances to be perfect; we already have one who has gone before us.
During these 40 days, we have stormed the gates.  We have taken the offensive.  We have pushed forward the boundaries of the kingdom.  And we must keep doing so, in numerous ways.
Indeed, the gates of hell will not prevail.  The gates of falsehood will flee in the presence of truth.  The gates of sin will melt in the presence of grace.  The gates of death will fail in the presence of the church, the People of Life!

We call today "Good" because today is the day that Christ, our great high priest, led the way by storming the gates of hell.  Today is the day that the powers of darkness went on the defensive.  Today is the day that we remind ourselves that it is our turn, here and now, to pick up the cross that has become our standard and carry it forward, to continue our share of the fight in the victory that he has already accomplished.


Monday, April 18, 2011

A Reply on Dualism

Last week, I got a comment from a reader named Dana on one of my posts from last year, Fact and Feelings: Objective Truth vs Subjective Experience (Part 2).  She had replied once previously, and while I believe this second installment was her honest questioning of the meaning of truth, the understanding she expressed, at least as she worded it, hinted of a common misconception of the struggle between good and evil, known as dualism.  Dana asked, 

Does the natural law not show us our sin, discernible through our reason? I know by reason it is wrong to steal, i.e. The number "1" exists if I choose to believe it or not, or even know of it, same as "0". It is an object truth. Love is an object truth, as is God. Therefor it's opposites must be an object truths as well. Object truth can not be the exclusive property of the good. The darkness and the light both exist, both undeniable, as John's gospel tells us.

I had not intended my response to go as long as it did, but I didn't feel as though I'd do her honest question justice with a hastily-typed reply, which ultimately turned out to be full-post length:

Thanks for commenting again. The natural law certainly points toward God and helps to identify some of our sins, specifically sins which violate the natural order of creation (e.g. homosexual acts), but falls short of the complete revelation of truth given to us by Christ. Likewise our reason falls short because our wills have been weakened and our intellects darkened by sin.

With regards to good and evil as objective truths, I'm not sure what passage you were referring to in John, but the way that you worded it, "It is an object truth. Love is an object truth, as is God. Therefor it's opposites must be an object truths as well..." hints at what is known as dualism, which views good and evil as "equal and opposite" forces, with a never-ending give-and-take relationship. The dualistic argument is not in keeping with the Christian perspective that (1) evil has not always existed; and (2) evil will not always have an influence over creation. C.S. Lewis gave a good (and easy to read) discussion of the error in dualism in "Mere Christianity" Book Two, Chapter 2: The Invasion:

"There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism...the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war."

He goes on to point out the flaws in dualism, expanding on the two points above. The most important is that evil cannot exist of its own volition. It always comes out of something good (including good desires) gone bad (by choice). Satan, who was the most powerful of angels, chose to rebel and "went bad" at the beginning of time. He was a creation of God, Lucifer, and so by definition the magnitude of his power--now, as Satan--is below and less than his creator. Jesus, the Word through which everything, including Lucifer, was created, "saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky." Jesus describes him in John 8:44, as "a murderer and a thief from the beginning, [who] has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him...a liar and the father of lies."

Satan cannot create. He can only twist and distort what God has already created, through our choice of free will to join him in rebellion. Goodness--God--has existed and is omnipotent from all eternity, from outside time and creation, and will always be so.

Christ--again, Truth incarnate--"has been given all power in heaven and on earth." He, the Truth, is God, and as God is infinitely powerful. His power to create, restore, and heal, is far greater than Satan's power to twist and destroy, but that power can only take effect in our lives through our faith in him. Satan knows that his days of "roaming the earth" (1 John 5:8-9) are numbered, and will end when Christ returns in glory.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Arrayed for Battle

Alright, it's time to get back after it.  I've taken a few weeks off for a Lenten spiritual "cleaning of house" and examination of priorities, so I wanted to begin again as we enter the last two weeks of Lent by sharing one of the things that I've had some time to reflect upon during time away from blogging.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to listen once again to Peter Kreeft's talk, entitled "Culture War."  It's a 1-hour synopsis of his book of the same title (also summarized in his online article, "The Winning Strategy") and is a stark reminder of what we are called to in life, to enter into the epic battle that has been raging throughout salvation history, beginning in the garden with the first sin of our parents.  Kreeft notes that, to enter this battle prepared requires knowledge of three things: (1) Recognizing that we are at war, and (2) Knowing who it is we are fighting, and (3) being familiar with the weapons at our disposal.  Only after that can we hope to have a chance with picking up our armor and marching faithfully into battle.  St. Paul reminds us starkly in his letter to the Ephesians (6:12) that"we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places", and St. Peter further cautions us in his First Letter (5:8-9) to "Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world."

This weekend we had the opportunity to take our Fraternus boys on our third Excursion of the year, where we take a trip and spend time reflecting on the calling and challenge that is handed down to us as Catholic men.  We spent the night onboard the battleship USS Alabama, where they had free reign to explore the ship.  It was an incredible experience for the boys to be able to explore the ship from bow to stern without the confines of a tour, and they had a tremendous time.  What surprised me the most, though, was how much the experience struck me.  I don't think I had ever noticed before just how terribly beautiful a battleship is.  I can't imagine what it must have been like to cruise her and walk the decks when she was fully arrayed for battle.  Guys, you know what I'm talking about.  I was particularly blown away by the way she looked when dawn came and the morning fog began to burn off and her massive 16" guns and towering superstructure emerged from the night mist.  One word came to mind: WOW!  My mind was immediately taken to Song of Songs (6:9), where the bridegroom describes his bride as having the beauty of an army:

Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?

That is how we, the Church are called to live, as members of an army who stand a firm watch through the night of the "present darkness" or a battleship fully armed for battle.  We have an infinite array of weapons at our disposal, beginning with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, together with the beautiful and eternally true teachings of the Church, handed down to us through Scripture and Tradition.  These "arms" against the gates of hell culminate in the infinite grace of Sacraments, most especially the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ himself in the Eucharist.

Armed with this knowledge and Truth incarnate, we must always be vigilant, drilling and training, and ready to engage the enemy who Christ himself described as "a murderer and a thief from the beginning, [who] has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him...a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44).  Above all, we should strive to model the flawless faithfulness of our Queen of Victory, who leads us in this battle and through whom all the graces that sustain us flow, so that we might appear with her and before him at the end of time, celebrating eternally His victory over sin and death.

Our Lady, Queen of Victory, pray for us!