Entertaining Angels and Demons: The Good and the Bad about Dialogue

It may come across as strange to argue that an open mind or dialogue is dangerous, especially considering our culture often asserts the exact opposite.  An education is something highly valued in our culture, and rightfully so, discussion, debate, and demonstrating that we understand the opposing arguments are all signs of integrity.  However, these activities only have integrity when their goal is to arrive at some sort of truth, whether it be admitting what we do not know or what can be demonstrated through logical discourse or the scientific method.  Yet today, it seems that many are content with coming to a conclusion prior to researching an argument, and then seek to facilitate an argument by connecting dots and facts that are pulled out of context, twisted and bent without counter arguments entertained.  St. Thomas Aquinas is a good role model for all students because he carefully studied views that contradicted Church teaching, and fairly represented their arguments prior to arguing against them.  He was not interested in mischaracterizing the opposing position, because he knew that would do nothing to convince others of an alternative argument.  He first validated their position insofar as he recapitulated its own argument, but then began to explain why it was in his judgment not actually reasonable by often offering a broader context.  Yet if he began by merely misrepresenting an alternative position, he would have realized people would have likely tuned out any argument he would propose.  This was the tradition of the Universities at the time St. Thomas Studied; in order to gain a passing mark, they were expected to critically offer arguments contrary to the thesis proposed, thus fostering an intellectual atmosphere that was in a fruitful dialogue that sought to arrive at “truth.”  As G.K. Chesterton asserted, an open mind is like a mouth, it is meant to close down upon something solid.  Or as I’d prefer to say:  don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out!  hard-thinking

What happens however, when we have arrived at the truth and are plunged into a dialogue that causes us to entertain an alternative view which contradicts the truth we already know.  This is precisely the problem Eve experienced when in the garden with the Serpent.  St. Thomas understood the truth of Catholic teaching, and sought to combat error in order to help others arrive at the truth through argument.  His goal was led by wisdom and a firmness in the truth – and thus when he studied the error of others, it was not an error he “entertained” but rather an error that he sought to distinguish from truth.  He was able to isolate the cornels of truth within the argument that made the error appetizing, thus with surgical precision, separating the cancer from the healthy organs.  What St. Thomas Aquinas did not do was entertain the possibility that the cancer growing in the body was good for the health of the body.

Eve, when she dialogued with the serpent sinned, precisely because she listened to the devil.  The term “listen” in scripture often has the connotation of “obedience” meaning that it was not merely the audible experience of hearing ideas different than our own, but rather reflects an interior “entertainment” of such ideas.  It is a type of interior “surrender,” even if momentary, to the thoughts of another.  When parents tell their children not to get into a car or to talk with strangers, we do not endorse them to “entertain” what a stranger says despite what the parents have commanded when an unmarked van swings around the corner.  When Eve entertained the devil’s ideology about who God was, and what the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was all about, she did not merely offend God by distrusting Him, she also offended Truth itself (who is God) by entertaining a prerogative that does not objectively exist within human beings:  the ability to define truth.  Human beings do not create or define truth, we discover it.  Eve’s fault was not entertaining a truth she could discover, but rather a truth she would invent – allowing herself to be deluded to the idea that all of creation revolved around her own free-will – hence:  Pride is the first sin.

Anti-ChristOne thing that I have experienced in the lives of some of the sheep entrusted to my care, is that youth will experience great graces from God, but then when they are thrust into a “dialogue” with the world, they often become ensnared in doubt about their experiences of God in an unreasonable way.  They doubt these experiences because modern psychology suggests that such experiences can be “explained away.”  This truth is so abstract and general, that they begin to doubt the experience given to them for the reason of offering them faith.  Anything can be doubted by a hypothetical truth that is vague and general – but that doubt isn’t necessarily reasonable.  One could have doubted Lazarus’ resurrection, and supposed he was replaced with a body-double, one could doubt Christ walking on water as merely a consensual hallucination of several followers of Christ.  One could even doubt their own existence as we see in the philosophy of Descartes – but all doubts are not necessarily reasonable.  The doubt that Eve experienced pertained to God the Father’s goodness.  Satan sought to imply that God was a moralizing tyrant by exaggerating God’s commandment to refrain from eating the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  By expanding this commandment to all the trees in the garden, he passively sowed the seed within Eve’s heart that God was a moralizing tyrant, an oppressive Father.  The Church likewise is already perceived to be this by many people in the world.  How often does the narrative of the press, and preachers, and legalists, and the lawless all focus on what we “cannot do.”  Almost as if we develop tunnel vision with what we cannot do that we forget about all the good things we can enjoy.  When this tunnel vision powerfully exerts itself, the mind begins to covet what we cannot have, because we forget to channel our desires towards what is truly good.  As a result our affect becomes anchored into sin, without being able to maintain an open mind and spirit to what is true and good.  In fact, our mind has ironically become preoccupied with what we cannot enjoy, and thus is closed to what is good by virtue of such an obsession.  This is why many saints have insisted that sin actually is unhealthy for the mind, darkening the intellect, and closing it to the light of truth.  Sin makes us fools.

Eve sought to contradict the Devil’s argument by stating the truth about what God had actually said.  Yet, by continuing the dialogue one can see that she nonetheless remained open to what the devil said.  When the Devil expressed an unfavourable vision of God, Eve should have simply ended the discussion.  But she kept it going – the devil had already proved himself to be a liar, and to offend the love of her life, God.  Yet she still thought the devil had something to offer her.  The Devil continues this “dialogue” with Eve, whereby she is told that she will not die.  In other words, Satan isn’t the liar, but God is.  How often in arguments about injustice do people quickly deflect criticism by accusing someone else.  Then the ultimate lie comes through the Devil’s words, whereby he convinces Eve that God is actually in competition with Eve, and seeks to prevent them from fulfilling their full potential of becoming “like God” – something they already are (image and likeness of God).

Therefore, what I would like to suggest for your discernment is that there are essentially four dialogues we can have.  According to St. Ignatius, the influential voices we listen to can be defined as:

1)       The world

2)      The self

3)      The Devil

4)      God (the Church, and Sacred Scripture)

We know that the devil can speak through the apostles as Jesus’ own reprove demonstrates that the Apostles, even with good intentions entertain error.  St. Peter sought to save the saviour by the “world’s” political ways.  He trusted in his own judgment. The world, the self, and the devil are all fallible voices, God is not.   In other words, the devil is able to exert his own voice through the world and through St. Peter’s own judgment.  Jesus rightfully rebuked Satan, with which Peter had allowed himself to be entertained within his own intellect.  This rebuke from Jesus, ended the error very quickly – and interestingly enough it might be worth noticing that Jesus identified this as Satan since the words from St. Peter were a recapitulation of the temptation Jesus experienced in the desert prior to entering into ministry.

st-john-of-the-crossThe dialogue we should ultimately be having is with God – when we “listen to Him” in a spirit of faith, our mind is made whole, our intellect is liberated from its obsessions and tunnel vision, and our capacity to be confident about the truth asserts itself.  That dialogue is not a matter of “personal interpretation” as scripture indicates.  Rather that dialogue happens through prayer in tandem with the infallible Institution that safe-guards what the truth is despite its many sinful members.   This becomes a bit of an awkward point, since we know that Popes, Bishops, Priests, and many leaders in the Church have all been incredible sinners.  Therefore, a trust in the infallible nature of the Church is not meant to put our trust in human beings, as if infallibility is a personal capability, but rather a consequences of God’s divine-providence and the work of His Holy Spirit that can bring good out and even perfect out of a sinful genealogy and sinful individual.  As Pope Benedict XVI teaches, Jesus wins in the end.  This doesn’t deny the fact that the apostles of the Church will try to peddle false-doctrine. Nonetheless, Scripture and the Pillar of Truth (the Church) are useless if they are not both infallible – one cannot read an infallible book without an infallible interpreter.  What good is a fallible interpreter of an infallible book?  And so the dialogue we ought to have with God is tangibly experienced through the Divine Tradition of the Church, and the Sacred Scriptures.

Bishop Barron discusses the dangers of maintaining the “Spirit of the Council” in the modern era, simply because once the Church, guided by the Spirit has defined what the protocol should be, constantly revising, debating and entertaining an alternative becomes less about listening to God and more about exerting our own creativity in a lopsided way.  This “creativity” must be under the limits of truth, otherwise we are attempting to create in an infinite manner, as if we can invent truths. The Church becomes an anti-Church when it replaces God as its authority with the wisdom St. Peter sought to express to help Christ avoid suffering.  The temptation we often face is to avoid carrying our cross, and in Peter’s case, an attempt to relieve Christ of His own saving-cross.  This is best called “enabling.”

I think, ultimately the tempter wants to enable us through dialogue.  A concrete example of this might be on the subject of contraception.  The Church, for instance, has explained that Contraception is “intrinsically wrong.”  This means, in theological language, that there is no circumstance where using contraception is ever justifiable.  When this doctrine was being debated, many bishops and priests, along with the “world” were against what Pope Paul VI defined in his encyclical.  “Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong” (HV, 14).  In other words, the many Bishops, priests, and laity who like St. Peter, sought to remove a cross from others were rebuked by God through the infallible office of the Pope. pakistan-christian

In saying all of this, I do not mean to vilify anyone who disagreed with this teaching, prior to the documents publication.  If anything, there are many saints who believed various truths that were later contradicted by the Church.  What matters more is after this reprove, if we listen to God.  If we listen, this is what allows St. Peter, and therefore us, to eventually become a saint.  Once the Church has clarified what God’s command is, do we listen?  Like Eve, once we realize that our ideology or attitude is actually not from God, we sometimes continue to entertain, defiantly “exceptions” to something with which there is none.  It would be better for us to be like our Blessed Mother who rather entertained a good-angel.  Interestingly, many have suggested that Mary, when visited by the Angel Gabriel, sought to discern what kind of message this was.  In other words – was this a dialogue with the devil or with God?  She asked how she was to become pregnant:  in other words by sin or by faith.  The Angel did not tell her to sin, and also gave increase to Mary’s faith by reminding her that God can do all things.  As a result, Mary had discerned that this was a good angel, and thus submitted her will to the word of the angel, knowing it to have come from God.  Mary is thus entitled as the “New Eve” who reverses the error of the first Eve.  Mary entered into the right kind of dialogue.

annunciation2 In order to avoid the error of enabling, I’d like to finalize this blog-post by suggesting how to discern whether we are trying to remove a cross (like St. Peter) or attempting to encourage others to carry their cross, realizing it is actually a gift, if we are spiritually mature.  It might be helpful to realize there is another extreme we haven’t considered.  Jesus rebukes the Pharisees who encouraged people to follow the law, but they did so without compassion.  In other words, while they may have been correct, they did not do anything to help those individuals to carry the heavy burden of the moral-law, and in fact, probably exaggerated the moral law at times to exert their own ego-centric sense of moral superiority.  Christ wants us to carry the cross he has given us, tailored to save us from our addiction to power, wealth, pleasure and honour.
Part of that cross involves depending on others to help us carry our own cross, because others can mediate the graces of God that give us the peace and support we need to carry and endure to the end.  If a couple suddenly develops health problems and wants to use contraception as a way to perpetuate their sexual relationship without the dangers that may come as a result of a pregnancy, the couple is failing to carry their cross.  However, it is insufficient for us to simply say this to another – we also have to help them carry that cross, by first finding people who are also carrying a similar cross.  A celibate might be a good example, one who primarily does not resent his life of abstinence.  Another might be a couple in a similar situation – and to turn to God who also forwent sexual relationships despite being involved in a marriage with the Church.  We should listen to the grief that naturally results from such a sacrifice, but one that maintains the very spirit of the law, which is meant to nonetheless respect the identity of one’s spouse.  In doing the good, it becomes a source of good if interiorized, whereby the sacrifice is an act of love, not of repression.  Contraception, contradicts the dignity of men and women, by compartmentalizing the fertility of one’s spouse, as if it were a disease in need of a pill to supress it, a condom to offer “protection” from one’s spouse, as if it were not a part of the identity of the individual – something to be mutually hated in each other.  The couple needs to not only carry their cross by white-knuckling their way through the moral-hoops of Church teaching, but also to learn how to interiorize the very moral law, so that the cross they carry is actually enabling them to love each other entirely.  Jesus teaches us to interiorize the moral-law during his sermon on the mount – he rails against a purely exterior moralism, and ascribes to the spirit of the law, whereby we love the law, not as a means to an end, but as a revelation of what true love looks like.

This interiorization of the moral law is severely lacking in the members of the Church.  Those who seek an exception to the rule seek an “exception to love.”  If such individuals interiorized this moral law, they would never endorse something that contradicts the very nature or truth to what conjugal love truly is.  Likewise, if the legalists interiorized the moral law, they would not request a cold-adherence to it, but rather encourage interior conversion by accompaniment and patience with the individual as they struggle with letting go of a false type of love.

When we enter into a dialogue about the moral-laws of the Church, this interiorizing of God’s teaching is incredibly important.  It is a sign that we are truly listening to God, both from the mind and the heart, allowing our affect to be aligned to the truth itself.  We are essentially allowing Christ into our hearts and minds.  When we are rebuked by the infallible teaching of the Church may we grow silent and realize that we require interior conversion in regards to what we think love and justice look like.

Bishops and Priests, throughout Church history have regularly fallen into heresy; most heretics were clergy.  We are under attack, and so as a result we must be prudent to whom we “listen to” and to whom we entertain ideology.  Those who surround our leaders throughout the centuries can poison our minds against God’s will, and like St. Peter, become a mouth-piece for the evil one.  No one is exempt from this.  Consider the video below (linked), which is a scene from the Lord of the Rings.  Prior to entering into the keep of the King, the good men are disarmed (mostly) by what might best describe a bureaucracy.   As they are disarmed, they are meant to be intimidated and unwelcome guests.  They are divested of their right to defend themselves, and essentially under the power and authority of the one who sits upon a throne.  But who is really sitting on this throne? Saruman was a Wizard in Tolkien’s mythology, who was meant to depict an angel.  This “angel” of course eventually is revealed to have fallen into the grasp of the evil one.  He later “possesses” the mind of a King, who has been fed the “poison” of Saruman’s lies by the hand of bad-counsel:  Worm-Tongue.    Watch this video carefully and realize that what this instrument of a demon accomplishes is to prevent the mind of the King from seeing the truth as it truly is.  He attempts to “poison the well” of the King’s heart against salvation itself, for his own political and narcissistic agenda.  Worm-Tongue is eventually expelled, after the King is given clarity and space from worm-tongue.  This is what we should pray for, for ourselves, but also for our leaders.  How is the “devil” whispering in our leaders ears?  Are we too naïve to expect the devil doesn’t have a plan to dupe us?  Are we not meant to be on-guard against the devil who is like a prowling lion, looking for someone to devour?  We cannot be naïve to this, while at the same time, we must also be optimistic enough to think that God also is sending his angels to also deliver us from such deceptions, and we should keep our ear to the ground in order to entertain their company instead.  When we encounter others who have forked tongues (they themselves may not even realize it), it might be best to imitate Gandalf, and simply not even dialogue with them.  Sometimes it may so happen that we encounter those who are able to be so crafty with their words that they elicit passionate frustration that leads to our own loss of self-control and charity.  In such a case, even a little dialogue might end up poisoning our own soul, and accomplishing the will of the evil one.  It is better to pray for them, and simply go back to dialogue with what the Church and God have already revealed. 



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False Mercy is False Hope:  Despair and Presumption 

Part of the challenging role as a priest today is preparing others for the Final Judgement in a culture that broadly acts as if all types of judgements are evil. The reason this is challenging will likely result in a long post. Nonetheless, I do think it is worth time to reflect on, because this applies not just to priests, but all the faithful. confession

There are two sins against hope, and both are equally dangerous. In my view, one sin is more dominant than the other, more prevailing within our culture, and even the culture of the Church. Nonetheless both need to be addressed, because moving from one extreme can often lead to moving into the next.

The two sins are the sin of presumption and the sin of despair. I believe that most people who operate from a position of presumption do so as a false-coping mechanism in reaction to despair.

What occurs in most conversations, in any polarized arena, is that at the condemnation of one extreme, the alternative extreme is perceived to be advocated for. I believe this is often due to the fact that the “middle position” (in this case, the theological virtue: hope) is not genuinely understood.

Because of “truth” there is a meaning to hope that is defined, and consequently a meaning contrary to hope that is also clarified. These clarifications can cause the soul to take attention, and awake from whatever snare we might fall in.

Despair is of itself a sin, when we look at it from the perspective of one who denies God’s own goodness. We fail to see, as a victim culture, why this is offensive, because for whatever reason we find ourselves preoccupied with our own wounds. These wounds may of themselves be deep, but it is unjust to project a lack of faith on others, most especially God, as a coping mechanism. I do think in such cases, we ought to distinguish though for those who have undergone trauma and may not have the tools to do otherwise from a psychological point. But it nonetheless remains a type of judgement on another that is unfair and unwarranted. Have you ever been judged as arrogant, hateful, mean-hearted? Well as sinners, these judgements aren’t always unwarranted, so we must take them to prayer. But for God, who is not a sinner, to project them upon Him is blasphemous, and gravely offending. If someone died for you, would you doubt their sincerity, or find a way to become a victim, when they in fact were the victim for you?

Jesus teaches us not to be afraid of Him, precisely because He is good, but for us to insist otherwise is to simply not give credit where credit is due. God deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his own goodness, while fellow sinners might involve a bit more of cautious discernment. It nonetheless remains a fact that if we consider ourselves more benevolent than God, we have effectively condemned and judged God. This is the nature of why despair is primarily wrong. Most think it is wrong because of its effect on the individual, but all sin is primarily condemned for its offence against God, then the community and finally the dignity and destiny of the individual. We experience to some degree that offence against God when our good actions and intentions are interpreted as evil. It seems to us that another prefers to see us as a hateful person. If this displeases us, why do we sometimes act as if God is fair game? Perhaps to rebuke this accusation against God’s own goodness, we should simply gaze on the crucifix and remain silent.
Because our culture seems to be far more occupied with “feeling good” than “being good” those who hate the feeling of despair may run so far away from it, and find shelter in the sin of presumption. Yet, while avoiding despair ought to be done with zeal, it must also be done in a way that is not unintelligent but rather wise. We must avoid The spirit of despair, but not necessarily the bad-feelings of being lost, or in need of salvation. These feelings can be blessings and in fact signs of humility. Yet how quickly our culture comes to soothe these wounds with sentiments of a false hope. “It’s okay, it’s not a sin, keep doing what you are doing.”

We cannot stand to admit that all sinners are justly condemned before God on account of our sinfulness. We feel entitled to view ourselves otherwise. As a result we begin to imitate an error in despair, where we ourselves begin to treat God with less respect than he deserves. We believe ourselves entitled to His gift of mercy, rather than seeing ourselves as beggars who need it. We no longer demand of ourselves repentance and seem to imply that God’s mercy is more of a tolerance or licence to sin rather than a condemnation of our choice but a persistent love of the person nonetheless. Yet we think that we can still be married to our sin, while also trying to Marry God in Heaven. We are like a man proposing to his future wife, while asking to continue a relationship on the side with his other girlfriend-friend. Christ in our Gospel this week says that such a mixing of priorities is in fact “not worthy of me.”

God forgives. Nonetheless we have to repent and be sorrowful for sin, otherwise we are mere exploiters of mercy, like the thieves and bandits trying to enter the sheep-fold. This repentance is not something servile, it is done because by it the soul proves its commitment to the way of love. That it is not merely avoiding just-punishment, but rather attempting to reform one’s life, by ceasing acts that offend. But to be married to offensiveness (sin) of itself, is to naturally exclude ourselves from heaven. Heaven is not a place to enter and de facto become joyful. Heaven is a relationship with God, whereby man’s heart is fully given over to God. If our choice is to give ourselves over to something created, God respects this freedom, and we as a result of having a desire for the infinite, yet a choice for the finite, experience perpetual and eternal emptiness.

Hope does not free us from the obligation of repentance, but finds the activity of repentance hopeful. God’s mercy is without conditions, but mercy of itself is conditioned on one thing: Truth. That is to say that mercy is only found when we spiritually subsist in the truth. We cannot create a false-mercy, because it contradicts the very nature of God’s love. What do I mean? Mercy is the forgiveness of sins, to those who repent. Forgiveness does not exist for those who are without sin. One does not forgive God, Because he has done nothing wrong. If those who sin do not repent it is because we would be justifying our non-compliance. This justification, the belief that I am entitled to hold onto this way of life in sin, is of itself a declaration to God that we do not consider it sin. We have thereby dictated to him the truth, and thus made ourselves-righteous. This self-righteousness is what God meant when he taught us that He came for the lost, not the righteous, not those who consider themselves righteous.

No one is actually righteous, all have sinned. And it isn’t enough for us to admit this in a general and abstract way. There are concrete sins we have done, specific examples which occurred. In history. Yet today claiming to be a “fellow sinner” can be more of a sentiment than a real act of humility. It sounds like something a humble person would say, so we say it, yet rarely actually do the uncomfortable thing and Name our sins, especially the ones we love.

The Hope, scripture teaches us comes from those who have the courage to confront their sin, and work to turn away from it. These are those who God is pleased with. When we truly see the horror and malice of our own sin we are weighed down, in truth. Yet, we do not make God out to be evil by interpreting His laws as unjust. Nor do we make Him out to be evil by suggesting he holds grudges. He forgives, and so we trust in that manifestly generous and benevolent act, whereby we actually pay him a compliment. As we become mesmerized by Him, from His goodness, the weight of our sin departs, and joy embraces our soul. This joy is different from the mere relief of freedom from condemnation; it is in fact a type of joy where we become even less aware of ourselves experiencing the joy itself, but are consumed by awe in God. We are no longer weighed down, not because of our own goodness but rather His, and now we seek to imitate Him, rather than seeking Him to imitate us.

God’s mercy is humbling- because our rebellion draws out the best quality in him: mercy. When we are at war with another, it is common for us to search for reasons to despise our enemy. Yet when they return a blessing for a curse, we are doubly wounded in our pride. We are wounded for our malice, but also wounded by having no reason to hate God, since His generosity, in contrast to our own, becomes a humiliation. We see this vividly, like a mirror, that God is in fact good, and we in contrast are wicked. And so we become silent and humble before his mercy, with nothing to boast, but Him.
“For I will re–establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never again open your mouth because of your disgrace, when I pardon you for all you have done—oracle of the Lord GOD.”
Ezekiel 16:62-63 | NABRE

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Relativizing Sexual Pronouns: A Passive form of Hatred

“The young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” since believing we have “absolute power over our own bodies” might lead to the belief that “we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
– Pope Francis

                As a child I always enjoyed playing RPG games.  Role-playing-games offer us a world of our own making, and often an opportunity to “create a character” as we would prefer them to be.  In the fantasy genre, you not only had the opportunity to pick your gender, but you could also choose a race, your hair-colour, your skills, your class, et cetera.  This world of self-creation is of course attractive but it is also an illusion – a game, but not a reality.  The issue of transenderism today is not totally unlike this, except that an RPG game can be turned off, but for those experiencing gender dysphoria, their affective preference remains, and can weigh heavily upon them.  Their subjective experience is not trivial like a game, but such affective inclinations are also not grounded in an ontological reality, either.  Today however, instead of helping others find self-acceptance in the context of reality, psychologists are entering into their patient’s own delusion or dysphoria, thereby doing harm.

                It is my philosophical view that today the world has now erased that line between preference and reality – and no longer bothers to make such a distinction.  Even within the scientific field where once transgenderism was considered gender-dysphoria, now it is merely a matter of catering to the person’s subjective/affective preferences and allowing them to dominate or violently impose themselves upon reality.

                Bishop Robert Barron has discussed this as nothing more than a recapitulation of the early heresy of Gnosticism, which ascribes to the view that one has a type of “knowledge” that does not necessarily manifest within concrete reality.  In other words, “mind over matter.”  Instead of reality informing us on what the truth is, our mind dictates to the matter what the truth is – and as a result one can slice and dice at our own world in order to conform it to our own affective preferences.

                Another term for all of this could be existentialism.  Existentialism ascribes to the view that things of themselves do not have any intrinsic worth or even a definition or nature.  Rather, man has the capacity to create for himself his own definition, simply by willing it.  This type of philosophy is predominantly expressed by Mr. Nietzsche.  Nietzsche believed that terms such as “good” and “evil” were merely social constructs, typically proclaimed to be “objective” by the powerful as a way of allowing the state or Church to impose its own “will” upon the people.  However, this notion of “objectivity” was merely itself a social-construct, having absolutely no real value.  For Nietzsche, in order to become enlightened man had to transcend the concepts of good and evil, and decide for himself right from wrong.  The man who could accomplish this was termed the “Superman.”Nietzsche187a

                Often what is true of the individual is true of the social momentum within a movement.  When there is an objective reality to morality, there is a specific way to think and argue a point.  However, when one proposes a view that is only elicited by personal preference or an affective inclination there is no real ground to develop an argument.  Therefore those who seek to impose their own will, which is not grounded in logical discourse (that of itself appeals to the logos, or objective reality), only can do so with violence or logical fallacies (sophistry).  What means, therefore, does such a group have to impose its own affective preference upon the society it belongs to?  The answer is simply violence.  It has been a long-time view of classical philosophers that those who begin to personally attack others or interpret arguments as personal attacks, they have already lost the argument. 

                Recently there has been an increase in not only seeking what are considered “rights,” but imposing this way of thinking upon others, without an argument.  There is nothing objectively wrong with imposing upon a society laws which safe-guard the rights that belong to individuals, but those rights need to be grounded in something more than consensus and individual preference.  Rather, the rights should be grounded upon rational discourse and logical assessment of what reality for itself says about what it means to be a human person.

                What I would suggest however is that society’s approach to logic and preference is disingenuous.  Rarely will you find a person who is willing to admit that they reject objectivity in every sense of its possible meaning.   This conclusively means that the good instinct to cling to reason over gnostic preference still remains within man – except man offers himself an exception when his preference or inclination would have to be sacrificed to spirituality subsist within reality/reason.  That is a common-plight – we all have moments where reality is challenging, and love demands of us to let go of our preferences and immediate desires for the good of another.  A parent who hears a child crying is objectively in need of their parents, and despite the fact that the parent would rather rest, he or she gets up to care for that child.  A good parent does not define the reality of their children’s need, subordinating to what is comfortable to them – they know that the needs of their child remains nonetheless the same, regardless of whether they return to sleep. 

                hard-thinkingRationalization, however is a common-tendency within the human person, when reality clashes against our preference for what is not real (an illusion).  Rationalization often can be done by an individual, but when he clashes his views against a society, it can become more difficult to maintain the weak arguments that are constructed not from reason but from preference.  As a result he can attempt to lie, deceive, and convince others of his views in order to gain their own consensus.  Once he has their approval he reinforces the rationalization and subjectively begins to convince himself that what is an illusion is actually a reality, even though deep-down he knows otherwise.

                When a Christian community continues to boast of what the truth is, what the objective criteria is, it naturally creates and fosters conflict.  And this naturally wounds others for many reasons.  One of the reasons could be a misapplication of the argument.  For instance, often the narrative within the LGBT is that Christians view those who experience a same-sex attraction are automatically going to hell.  Therefore, when Christians speak about the subject, the natural responses for such individuals to take offense, and therefore to not realistically entertain or even discern the logic in such arguments.  There is a fear and dread at the prospect of being condemned so arbitrarily.  However, with the exception of a few forms of Christianity, this simply is not a true narrative of Christianity.  Catholicism for instance speaks about the acts of homosexuality as being gravely sinful, but does not suggest that if a person has a same-sex attraction they are “de-facto” condemned to hell.  People are held accountable for choices, not for things that they did not choose, such as a sexual orientation.

                These false-narratives often foster or compound a victim-culture.  This does not diminish the fact that many are factually victims of discrimination, which the Church also condemns, and rightfully so.  But in replacement of an argument, appealing to being a victim often is nothing more than a recapitulation of the logical fallacy of an “appeal to emotion” whereby an argument is shut down, not because it lacks merit, but because it doesn’t make another person feel good.  I once encountered a religious leader who wanted to share wisdom from his diseased mother, wisdom she offered on her death bed.  However, what his mother said was not wise, but to voice disagreement with her view would have seemed insensitive – and therefore he was able to facilitate within the venue he offered an argument that everyone was timid to disagree with publically. 

                Please do not misunderstand this point to imply that we should not be concerned with those who subjectively perceive themselves to be victims.  If a person truly believes this, even if it is not grounded in an objective experience, they are nonetheless still wounded, and wounded as a result of the false-narrative. 

                Applying everything I have said before now I would like to apply to the whole question of pronouns being relativized to cater to the preferences or affective inclinations, specifically for those who decide for themselves what their pronoun ought to be.  Specifically transgenderism.  In this regard, an argument can be made that the Canadian government has passed a bill which will necessarily interpret those who do not cooperate with this relativistic philosophical system of pronoun-assignment as a form of hate.  But I would argue to the contrary.  While it may cause pain to a person to know that someone disagrees with them on a subject as sensitive as this, it does not denote hatred. 

What we have, in an objective world that insists upon its own ordering subordinate to consensus and individual preference is a consensual hallucination.  When a voice speaks to the contrary it comes at a great cost.  When St. Thomas More did not compromise on his faith toward Henry VIII, he, as a friend to the King did not endorse the rationalized course of behaviour that he wanted to have validated.  As a result he was imprisoned and eventually killed.  In this regard, I would say that a healthy Christianity is not one that compromises with the government or the mob or the powerful, but rather the one that is willing to be imprisoned with Christ and St. Paul and all the saints before us.  Selling out Christ for 30 pieces of silver is perhaps just another recapitulation of the dark-side of the gospel that continues to be re-echoed to this day and is found in God’s providence, but this doesn’t denote that we ought to find it favourable or even cooperate with it.  As a Church we need to resist this way of living.  Of course, one needn’t even appeal to matters of faith to understand why morally speaking one should not subordinate pronouns to cater to the preferences of others.  While it might be considered in some cases to avoid offending someone, we must not see this as the supreme good of a healthy relationship.  If reality is itself what is offensive, than it is truth that is unjustly offended by those who promote such an illusion.decisions

Furthermore, for a person to passively reject their own ontological configuration as a man or woman is to passively hate themselves.  The irony here, therefore is that hatred is actually being endorsed by the government, on behalf of those who would prefer they were a different sex than what they truly are.  One, as a Christian or a man or woman of philosophical logic, cannot cooperate with such an illusion precisely for reasons of love.  When one fosters the illusion that truth is always subordinated to our own personal preferences there is no limit to what this type of thinking can accomplish.  At this point in time, man knows he does not existentially dictate to himself that his eyes are for the purpose of seeing, or that his ears are for the purpose of hearing.  These are truths grounded in the very anatomy of the body.  Yet, in our civilization, when it comes to matters of sexual organs these are relativized even though biologically we know better.  This inconsistency must be attributed to the fact that remaining in the truth of this, with an affect that does not line-up with the nature of the body (for whatever reason) requires integrity to nonetheless subsist, spiritually, in truth.  For such an individual, subsisting in this type of truth would likely require sacrifice, and that sacrifice is painful and uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, to subsist in reality is what permits one to have any authentic (truthful) experience of joy and interior freedom.  Man is not a beast.  Beasts get “fixed” because they cannot control themselves, whereas mankind also gets “fixed” because he begins to resemble less of an intelligent being, and rather one controlled by impulses.  Why else do we have people turning into a stampede, killing other humans in a shopping mall on Black-Friday? 

St. Thomas Aquinas defines pride as a problem precisely because man clings to his own fallible judgment that is enslaved to his impulses and affective preferences rather than what is true.  Pride is therefore an exaltation of our own will and intellect beyond what is actually reasonable:  beyond what is good or evil.  What Nietzsche espoused was nothing new, in fact, it was already written about in the book of Genesis when discussing man not having the prerogative to decide for themselves good from evil (eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil).  The humble disposition that requires self-mastery and interior strength is not to subordinate reason to our preferences, truth to our subjectivity, but rather to examine reality and allow ourselves to discover it, rather than invent an illusion and coerce others to follow it. 

Therefore, I cannot cooperate with any notion of referring to a person to another gender than what they are objectively – precisely because who they are, as an ontological reality is worth loving, even if they cannot. This is the type of love that offends, and actually makes love seem like something that is desirable to crucify.  Yet, it must be done anyways – because if no one loves such individuals, who will?  The whole culture, collectively wants us to mutually hate each other, and label it as love.  We consider legalizing prostitution as a liberation of women (and men), and yet all it is, is the commodification of one’s sexuality – reducing their dignity to something that can be sold.   Our culture really has, in many ways turned away from love, while nonetheless nominally labeling hatred as love, and love as hatred.  In a purely subjectivist society, this is possible – anything is possible, except truth.  Truth is not something merely exterior to the individual, the individual themselves is a truth, is a reality.  That reality is made up of matter and soul – and that individual must be loved as who they are – not in a gnostic way, but ontologically (who they objectively are). 


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5 Years a Priest: Still Wearing My Collar

Whenever my parents got into an argument, as a child it was somewhat of a confusing experience.  I didn’t understand how two people who loved each other could disagree, especially when they seemed unanimously in agreement on my own behaviour and how I was to be punished…lol.   They were a united front in most things, and so an argument was an experience that was out of the ordinary and an unexpected experience of observing my parents relationship.  However, arguments happen often because we “care” and we are willing to discuss the issues we think matter and the issues we are passionate about.  I would think that most healthy marriages demand an argument from time to time to demonstrate a spirit of indifference hasn’t taken root, and that our own perspectives are going to continue to be perfected and purified by dialogue and discussion.  But as a child, knowing that divorce was a possibility in many people’s homes, my immediate thought, when I observed arguments fostered a devastating fear that my parents might get a divorce.  As a child I didn’t have the tools to realize that arguments, even heated arguments do not imply that love is absent.  And so I remember asking both my mom and my dad, separately:  “Are you getting a divorce?”  Their response was exactly the same, and it has made a rather large impact on my own priesthood.  Their response was unequivocally, and unconditionally:  “never.”

For our culture, to say “never” is to place limits on our own personal autonomy and freedom.  It is to close off possibilities in the near future, possibilities we feel entitled to preserve for ourselves.  But in reality, love requires a sacrifice of personal liberty, because it recognizes that liberty is not an end in itself, but is there primarily to give way to love.  When we slam the door on unfaithfulness and never allow even the thought to be entertained, we are committing ourselves to love.  But the moment we begin to reserve for ourselves the hypothetical possibility of going back on our word, we have already lost the deeply rooted spirit of faithfulness, as we have built within our soul an escape-hatch that will always remain a cause of temptation and lead to a lack of interior freedom to say “yes” to our commitment to love.

This April marks my 5th year in the priesthood – and it is has been an incredible adventure.  There has been a great deal of hardships, humiliations, failures, arguments, and other things that are best kept between me and those to whom it concerns.  There have also been incredible graces, moments of encountering God in a new way through ministry, and also incredible moments of watching others encounter God in miraculous ways.  I have seen people experience ecstasy in prayers, grade 8 students receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit during Adoration, having faith become borne in their own heart.  I have heard confessions where massive wounds and heavy burdens have been lifted or healed.  I have made relationships with many people in time of death, sickness and joy and sorrow.  I have been greatly encouraged by those who have returned to the faith or returned to confession as a result of something I said or did that God blessed with grace.

Whether it was a moment of desolation or consolation, it matters not – my love for Christ and the priesthood has not changed, it has grown.  This is simply another way of saying that the Priesthood does not “need me” but that “I need the priesthood.”  This vocation is changing my heart every day, humbling it, giving me tougher skin, helping me to put others before my own needs, and above all, placing God in the centre of my life’s priorities, because it is “Truly Right and Just.”  If anyone would ever think I would waver, let me re-echo what my own parents said without qualification, without conditions:  I will never leave the priesthood.

One of the blogs I posted earlier on in the beginnings of this call of the priesthood pertained to my wearing of the Roman Collar.  I still fervently practice this because the level of my commitment and love for the priesthood has taken on this particular means of tangible expression.  That is to say, my commitment to being available in serving others has taken on the tangible sign of being visibly present in public, wearing my collar.  This is both a chance for consolation and desolation, but it is a commitment not to an external practice itself, but through this external practice to achieve the very spirit behind the ministry I am called to.  Not only do I continue to adhere to the wearing of the Roman Collar, but I also maintain boundaries with most people, gently and politely hoping they will refer to me as Fr. Chris, and not the familiar “Chris.”  This comes with some challenge, as people often interpret this to mean that I want respect, personally.  I have, however, never called my own father “Mike,” and I never plan to.  Not because I consider my father as having more dignity than I, and not because “Dad” is a title – but rather because it is a type of relationship that I am called to have with him, and one that I cherish.  I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the type of relationship I have with others, and with a few exceptions, I always realize that I am to be first a Father to others, not just in name, but in the manner of relating to others.  This means I am called to provide for their spiritual needs; I am to not ask them to serve me, but I am meant to serve them.  I am to die for them, and stand in the way of anything that could harm their spiritual life.  These are the things that come to my mind when I hear “Father Chris.”  What does not come to my mind is, “special me.”  This paternal role is not meant to be denigrated to mere authority and power as some begin to believe it is or some have twisted it to mean for clericalist purposes.  Rather, it is more deeply and profoundly a call to love those whom God has entrusted to me, as my own Heavenly Father has loved me.

                People have been most receptive of this – with a minority of exceptions.  The exceptions normally come from those who have been taught by others to interpret these external signs to only communicate something pejorative.  The most enjoyable experience I have of the collar is not when people scorn you publically for being a priest, as I experienced a few times.  Rather, I enjoy the times that I have walked into a Pub in Windsor and had people ask me, right there, to hear their confession.  Or as I walk through Wal-Mart, the same takes place, with a person who hasn’t been to confession in years.  Sometimes at the mall, youth ask for a blessing or simply say hello, and request prayers or we simply share a laugh.  These are not exceptional cases, they happen quite often, and it always makes me wonder how much good would I not accomplish today, had I hidden this simple white tab in my shirt?  More importantly it has made me deeply aware of how to penetrate the secular culture we live in, by simply being visibly present, showing up, and communicating to others that I am willing to drop everything for them – that is to be:  Salt and Light for the world. 

It has been five years since I was ordained, this month, and amongst the failures, successes, and the fruitfulness of ministry, harsh remote-judgments and odd canonizations (others oddly think I’m a saint) – all I can say is I’m in it for the long run.  And with my brother priests who have proven time in again that they have my back, and that I have theirs, we march forward.  To five years in ministry, God I say to you, thank you for this tremendous gift and I will never abandon it:  never.




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Understanding why Husbands as the Head, and Wives as the Body is not Sexist, and yet is True

When Eve was tempted in the garden by the serpent, he was able to convince her that God the Father was a moralizing tyrant who wanted to prevent Eve and Adam from achieving their full potential – and that God sought to accomplish this by lying to them about what would happen if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  I believe that with the vast majority of moral teachings around sexuality, the devil still speaks and tickles the ears of many people today by conveying the same deception about the Church’s moral teaching.  How many people would view the Church’s teachings as chauvinistic (competitive with women), deceptive (cult-like), and a moralizing tyrant with all her moral rules and laws. In order for any of us, who are currently at odds with Church teaching to examine this critically we must be willing to entertain the possibility that the Church isn’t the “bad guy” but in fact is a loving Mother who is merely attempting to tell us what it means to be a man and woman, and furthermore to liberate both men and women in this truth, towards joy and peace.  That is difficult for many, especially those who are actual victims of sexual inequality.  Sexual inequality can occur and does occur, and must not be ignored.  After all, God himself describes the very punishments between Adam and Eve, describing friction between spouses as a result of leaving paradise.  That punishment is not a positive-law punishment, but rather the natural consequences of departing from God’s design – in other words, it is the fruit of their own decisions, and not desired by God.  Sin is its own punishment, and reshaping our own anthropology according to our own egotistical pride will naturally deform relationships even if we cannot immediately make such a connection.

Unhappy young couple having an argument

Since sexism does exist, it is common for people who have been emotionally hurt to be repulsed by anything that remotely suggests sexism or is correlated to it.  This is a defense mechanism, meant to protect us from more abuse.  Men naturally feel objectified when watching a “chick-flick” because the emphasis on men’s emotional expression is objectified – a different type of objectification that women are repulsed by when likewise they witness their husbands viewing pornography.  However, within the confusion and truth of sexism, the devil will insert truths that seem sexist and correlate them falsely to our own wounds and pain in order to habitually foster an attitude that resents Church teaching and thus applies our own emotional resentment towards what is unjust and what is just at the same time, although we may fail to see this subjectively due to our own fallibility.

Therefore in order to examine matters of sexuality and sexual differences between men and women I would suggest taking up the Spirit of Socrates and Plato by first challenging our own presuppositions.  A great work in this life involves “unlearning” falsehoods that we subjectively perceive to be true – and this is probably a difficult task for most of us.  It is difficult, especially for the “activist” who has emotionally invested in a particular mission, rooting their views deeply against what has long been held to be a matter of injustice.  There is no doubt that for many these emotionally invested frustrations with injustice do exist legitimately, but it is what they wrap themselves around, specifically matters of justice that concern me.  A half-truth is more dangerous than a complete lie.  A complete lie is not believed by anyone, which there is no measure of truth to it – and it is therefore laughed at.  But a half-truth is accompanied by a lie, whereby in mixing the two the truth adds to its convincing power, while the lie remains often implicit or fallaciously in correlation to the truth, but nothing more.  Essentially this leads to “throwing out the baby with the bath-water.”  One who hates the lie, throws out the truth, or one who has affection for the truth adopts the lie as well, without proper discernment.  As a result, you develop a polarized position within the community, and no one rests in the truth itself.  The lie poisons others from the truth, or the truth (half-truth) becomes the tool of the deceiver, a Trojan Horse.

Think of a woman who was neglected by her own father simply because she was a woman, while watching her own brothers being favoured by the father.  Her envy springs from woundedness, longing for affection for her father.  She could tell herself she doesn’t “need affection from a man,” but this is merely a coping mechanism to avoid the real pain that comes with mourning the lost affection of what she had a right to, and a childhood need.  She could however try to be like her brothers in order to gain the affection she feels she needs to earn, denying her true identity, placing a mask that will root itself into her life so deeply that she cannot even begin to be aware of who she truly is.  What happens to this woman when she grows up and hears that the man is the “head of the house” and the woman is the “body?”  Does she hear the infallible scriptures without wounds tainting her own reading of it, without the fear and pain somehow boiling up to resent the words themselves?  If a person goes without healing, how can we ever hear the truth without projecting our own assumptions and defensive mechanisms upon the texts that God seeks to offer us in order to liberate us from this sexual inequality?  How can we have a pure vision of God’s own word if we are not in a position of docility towards it, but rather in a place of resentment, bitterness and hurt?

When I was in my first parish, as a priest, I came across the previous lectionary which had crossed out the passage of scripture which indicates that the man is the head, while the wife the body.  In that lectionary someone (whom I presume was a woman) had used a black permanent marker and crossed out that reading.  Scripture, a sacred book, used for the sacred liturgy was so hated, as God’s own law about the true, that it was defaced, and someone felt entitled to commit a sacrilege.  This sacrilege did not happen merely by enforcing something contrary to scripture, but by actually crossing out the Sacred word itself – and this helped me understand the reality, the deep resentment that “some” experience towards God’s teaching on sexuality, but likely and more importantly the wounds that motivate and lie hidden underneath such resentments.Ephesians

Therefore, I would like to offer some reflection on Ephesians 5:23, which has become a source of contention amongst “some” women within the world today.  I offer it, with a sense of compassion for those struggling with Church teaching.  Church teaching, in my teenage years did not come easily to me, and entering into my adulthood, discovering philosophy gave me more tools to understand it.  Furthermore, transcending the medium of apologetics I also began to see the spirituality of the truth in regard to God’s teaching – that these are not positive laws, artificially imposed upon our humanity, but they actually heal us, help us understand our true nature, and bring it to life in a complete and exciting way.  And so what I would like to do in this post is validate the half-truth, and condemn the lie that is often correlated with it, thereby giving women the encouragement to rage against sexism, while also not relativizing sexual differences in the process.


Emphesians 5:21-23

The exhortation of St. Paul is an exhortation of scripture.  We cannot separate St. Paul from the fact that this particular text has been deemed infallible by the Church.  If a person were to say, “I hate St. Paul” in regard to his writing, we must equally say that such a statement applies to:  “I hate scripture.”  Let’s face it, we cannot conveniently compartmentalize these passages as “St. Paul’s writings” as if they are not also and more importantly Sacred Scripture.  How we frame the nature of these words can help us approach the words with faith or derail our approach to scripture with resentment and doubt.  Matters of doctrine cannot be understood without faith first being assented to.  Understanding follows faith, in matters of theology, because the human mind is far too plagued with its own complexity and our fallen nature in order for us to be truly objective.

All of that is to say that in order for us to demonstrate real trust in God, we must not make faith contingent upon our own understanding.  We must approach God as a mystery, realizing that while we cannot understand everything He is saying immediately, we can nonetheless trust that He is good, and has in fact proven it to be the case in all that He has done for us.  Some might say, “But Father, I do trust God, and I don’t believe he meant this to be scripture” or something along those lines.  But is this not merely a symptom of us creating our own God, to whom we would prefer to worship?  We shape a god from our understanding, rather than allowing God to shape our understanding through faith.    We must start in a place of trust, not deferring to our own judgment, and then ask the question, “God I trust this is the true, but I don’t understand how that can be the case.”  When we operate with this disposition, can reform our mind – but not in a deceptive manner.  God is not asking us to avoid critical thought, in fact He is asking for that exact thing – but critical thought cannot exist when we begin by resenting, objectively, God in His law and who He is.  If you have an enemy, whom you resent, and states something true, yet hard to hear about yourself, you know from experience, that it is difficult to agree with what they say, because of either how they say it or who is saying it.  It is difficult to listen to God if we begin by distrusting him.  Therefore, critical thought implies, in this area of discernment first and foremost in a trust in God, which is thereby extended to Sacred Scripture, since He is its authentic author.


Verse 21:  Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ

In this exhortation, scripture conveys challenge not to women alone, but to both men and women.  There is a mutual subordination that both men and women must have for one another.  Therefore, when discussing marriage we begin with a sense of equality between both men and women – both moral creatures who are called to “defer to” one another.  Subordination means “deferring to.”  The Greek term “hypotassō” literally means “to place under.”  In the nature of this language it is clear that this term is expressed in a free or voluntary manner, which means it is not a type of “slavery” or a type of inequality between spouses.  How could it be a matter of inequality, if both were called to simultaneously subject themselves to one another?  Something else is clearly being stated here – and it is quite deep if you spend some time meditating upon it.  In many relationships there is a tendency in our day and age to “look out for number one” before looking towards the needs of the other.  Here scripture is suggesting that one look out for the needs of their spouse before their own needs – and that this should be a mutual endeavour amongst each other.  Love does not foster a preoccupation with oneself, but rather seeks the good of the other for their own sake.  We do not need to worry about our own back that is taken care of by our spouse; but what we need to consider is the back of our own spouse.  We need to not be preoccupied with how I will be loved, but rather how I will love.  If both couples accomplish this, they are entirely liberated from the ego, perpetually loved with abandon and loving with abandon.holy-family

The motivation of this subjection, scripture reveals, is for “out of reverence for Christ.”  Sometimes we forget this – that Christ is really the motivation behind all our relationships.  The Jews in Egypt did not merely want freedom from slavery, they prayed fervently for freedom to “worship God.”  What this implies, friends, is that through the relationship that a husband and wife have, they are in effect learning to love Christ, and be loved by Christ through the very choices and relationship they have with one another.  This is because Marriage is a sacrament of how Christ loved the Church – and therefore, the manner by which Husband and Wife love each other becomes a means to love God through their spouse.  Consider the fact that it is not always possible to love Christ directly as Christ has loved us – because Christ forgave our sins, yet Christ is without sin.  We cannot “forgive” Jesus, because there is nothing to forgive.  However, we can give God the love of forgiveness back to Him, by forgiving our neighbour, our spouse, and thereby demonstrate to Christ that we are not merely receivers of His love, but also imitators of His love.  In the vocation of marriage, the spouses take up the role to be an evangelical sign to the whole world, how Christ has Loved his Church.  Through them, in their interaction, they exhibit the love that Christ demonstrated on the cross, and through grace, actually bring the power of that love into the world, reshaping and redeeming our relationships that are formed by a father and mother’s own witness.

Moving forward to the more controversial passage, we must not depart from what has been previously stated.  This is the context to which we can understand, reasonably what Sacred Scripture says about women and men in their relationship with one another.

Verses 22-24:  Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the Church, he himself the saviour of the body.  As the Church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” 

Women are certainly being singled out in this particular verse in regard to their moral responsibility toward their husband, and if this verse is merely read away from the previous context it would generate a sentiment of inequality with the mind of the readers.  However I would like to examine this passage from my own heart as a man to give it a better understanding of why it is actually incredibly beautiful of both women and men.  But in order to do this, I ask that you be willing to leave aside any assumptions about what this passage might mean, and be willing to understand it in a different manner – if you perceive it as sexist.

First of all, the passage here recapitulates the term “subordinate” which was earlier used to discuss both women and men in the relationship together.  This is now moving from a general truth to a particular person in the relationship.  Verse 21 focused on their equality as husband and wife, now the scriptures are focusing on their differences as man and woman.  Someone can be different, while also being equal, and thus difference and equality are not opposition views – but for some they are perceived that way.  Please consider dropping that perception, because we don’t realistically treat people like that.  People have different ways of thinking, different gifts to offer the work-force and world and community – and yet all of us have the same dignity.  So women and men are different by God’s design, but they are equal in dignity – that has already been established in the previous verse – and now we are constructively discussing the differences between men and women – which are not “social-constructions” but spiritual dimensions that are also manifest in the psychological differences and the sacrament of the body between men and women.  Differences such as hormonal as well as the sexual make-up of each person in body and mind, by design –part of God’s creativity at work.  For some, this is read in a competitive manner:  “If they are different who is better?”  But this recapitulates the same false view that that Eve had of God, being in competition with her.  Despite the fact that competition does exist because of sin, that is not what such differences mean, it just means the differences are exploited as such.  Here we have to confront the half-truth and the lie.  The half truth is that there are differences, but the lie is that these differences imply competition and inequality – a type of quest for domination – which is very different than voluntary subordination.  One is violent, oppressive, while the other is voluntary and mutual, out of love and service of the other.

Some might denigrate this passage to the cultural time and social constructs that existed then, and while that might deserve some degree of merit and consideration it is nonetheless also speaking about something universal, ontological (the nature of things), and objective.  This passage is not about cultural relativism, it is about how God created man and woman, together, and the nature of marriage itself, by His design, rather than our own.  If we are to examine the Greco-Roman tradition, husbands imposed order upon the household, but here St. Paul is using the term “subordinate’ in voluntary fashion which naturally excludes involuntary acts that would intimidate or involve inequality.  So even in the context of the time, what is being written is actually challenging the cultural climate that existed within the domestic home.

St. John Paul II, in examining the difference between men and women insists that this is an equal type of service, but also that it manifests itself in a different mode between each other as male and female.  That is to say that while both are called to subordinate themselves, they do so by utilizing their differences so that this subordination is complimentary not competitive.  So, concretely one might ask what are the differences then between men and women?  Before I state them clearly, I would like to suggest caution – many consider “limitations” to be oppressive.  We live in a culture that states, “Whatever you put your mind to you can accomplish” or “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do.”  The half truth in these sentiments is based upon a rejection of oppression – people from preventing us from fulfilling our potential because they observe our real strengths and capabilities as competitive to our own sense of fulfillment (perhaps as a result of envy).   This type of oppression is unjust.  The lie however is that all types of limitations are a form of oppression.  For instance, if my arm had no limits, it would extend indefinitely and never become useful.  The very limits of my eye-lids permit myself to see, while the limits of skills teach me to rely upon others and give them an opportunity to serve and grow in love.  Without corporeal limits, our existence would be meaningless and horrible.  We appreciate limits all the time – but when we interpret them as oppressive and enslaving we naturally rebel against them.  Our rebellion is against the evil of oppression, but we it is falsely correlated to our sexual differences.

Therefore, in regard to both men and women there are limitations and strengths, but both of these are considered “liberating” and meaningful, lest we exploit them for competitive reasons rather than complimentary.  As St. John Paul II states:  “Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing.” The bodily differences between men and women are in fact probably the most creative aspects within the entire universe – as they, with God’s grace create an immortal soul that cannot ever be destroyed.  That bodily act between men and women should also be understood as a sacrament to the spiritual birth of new life in Christ – that when a man gives to His wife, and she receives that gift as a way of loving her husband, the end result is that the love they have for each other overflows into the creation of a community that transcends their own love for each other.annunciation2

St. John Paul II explains that the very physical dimensions of the body between men and women communicate to us the spiritual and psychological differences between men and women and that these differences also extend to us an image of the Trinity.  Within the Trinity we understand – according to orthodox theology – that there is no inequality between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – that all three persons are equal in dignity, but different in the manner of relating to one another.  If this is the case with God, then we can respectably apply it to the differences within the relationship between men and women.  This is often done, when we associate the Father with the husband, and the Word that proceeds from the Father’s mouth with the wife, while the fruit of that love is the Holy Spirit.  This is challenging for us because we often associate the “second person of the Trinity” as the “Son” which denotes something masculine – and therefore it seems to inadvertently promote an effeminate vision of Christ.  This is not what is meant in this regard.  There are two ways of understanding the Trinity, one is referred to as the Immanent Trinity, and in this regard we examine God as He relates to Himself.  Following this we discuss the “Economic Trinity” in how the Trinity relates to the Human race.  God is generally related to in the masculine in relationship to the human race, as is noted throughout scripture – the reason for this will soon be understood.  But in relationship to Himself, God has no gender – and so when we refer to Him as Father and Son, while these statements are true we cannot allow ourselves to be deluded into believing that these terms are anything more than analogical to who God is – and therefore limited in how they express the truth about God.  God transcends gender – and therefore, the terms Father and Son benefit us in one way, but do not fully capture the essence of who God is.  Other theologians have often described God in the Immanent Trinity as “Lover, Beloved, Love.”  The Father is the Lover or the initiator of the love, while the son is the receiver of the love, and the Holy Spirit is the love itself between them.

To initiate love does not make one superior to another – especially if it is understood as an act of service, rather than enslavement.  Furthermore the act of receiving love (be-loved) is not inferior if it isn’t reduced to some passive act of permitting another to dominate as we would see in the twisted sexual fantasy of 50 Shades of Grey.  Rather, the subordination of the “beloved” (women) is a very active and powerful action, and the act of initiating by the “lover” is often misunderstood as a powerful act of dominance when in reality the vulnerability of a man in initiating an act of love is glossed over or altogether unknown.  Both equally require vulnerability and are as a result incredibly powerful.

Women are thereby to be understood as beloved, while men are to be understood as lovers – this is the objective criteria between men and women and leads to a healthy understanding of the relationship between the body and the head, the woman and the man.  When people hear the term “head” they often think of “what is on top” or therefore what is superior to all else.  This is not the orthodox understanding, since we would not equally say that God the Father is superior to the Son.  We would however say that the Father is the “principle” in the Trinity, or the initiator or the Lover.  The head is often the first thing to move, before the body.  The body moves according to what the mind communicates – yet the mind cannot act without the body and what the body communicates to the mind.  The mind therefore subordinates itself to the needs of the body, and does not dictate or oppress the needs of the body to its own will – if the body is not served, the head dies with it.  In this regard, the head acts “for” the body, and the body acts “for” the head.  This is the mutual subordination that was spoke of before, and the means by which that difference is communicated equally.

When I went into a high-school I gave the common example of how a man is often the one who proposes to wife.  He buys a ring, finds a setting that conveys a context of love and affection and then initiates the proposal whereby the woman either receives or rejects (freely, voluntarily) this proposal.  What the “head” or man does not do is dictate to the woman that she will be his wife – that is called kidnapping – it’s sort of illegal and very wrong.  Rarely and hopefully never, does the man insist in the name of “equality” that the woman buys the man an apple-watch in order to balance off the price of the engagement ring that he purchased for her.  I asked the high-school boys why this was the case.  One of them answered, “because her ‘yes’ is enough of a gift.”  Many in the class were taken back by this statement in adoration of the love that was communicated by it.  But it might be helpful to explain why this is the case – and is more than a sentiment, but strikes to the very heart of men.

As a man, we initiate an act of love, and by it  do not dictate to others what our will is, but rather offer ourselves through our work or act, to another as a gift.  This is not an easy task for us, it involves incredible vulnerability because we have just “offered up our body” or our “everything” to another, and they have the freedom to say “no” which could crush us.  To say “no” to a man who has put everything on the line, means that he experiences in all this vulnerability rejection of not only his act, but what the act itself was meant to communicate:  here I am, this is what I am, would you accept that as a gift for you?

Nonetheless, women should not feel obligated to respond to this proposal – they have the freedom to reject the proposal, and as a result to reject the person in the context of such a relationship.  This is a woman’s right, and should not be condemned but respected with great reverence, as Christ respects the right of His wife the Church to decline an invitation.  Furthermore, because men lack the moral character of Christ as do women, women must answer the question prudently, and not allow themselves to be manipulated or deceived by a man who is selfish and in need of reform.  In saying “no” she would be upholding, like the body does for the head, the man to a high-standard of love and respect that all women deserve.  In this way, women offer men the opportunity to lead, not as a form of oppression or superiority, but as an opportunity to live up to the standard by which they are called to subordinate themselves to the body, to the woman.  Women have the role that often facilitates action in the man, whereby he is no longer lazy and self-absorbed, but challenged to be conscious of the needs of others.  It is my experience that women often initiate actions only after the neglect of men, filling in for the gaps of what men have failed to do for them.  When my sisters or my own mother are direct about a task with me, it is usually because I have missed or ignored hints and suggestions that have attempted to encourage me to initiate a task of service towards another.  Men could not genuinely lead if women did not teach mean how to be conscious of the needs of others.  Women require men to lead, but not because women are ignorant and stupid – but rather because women are intuitive, wise, and aware of the needs of others, and they love their husbands by teaching them to learn to be conscious of such relational needs.  On the other hand, men are not stupid and unwise when it comes to the ordering and structure of family living.  It is unfortunate that today, in an honest attempt to build up women, men are often portrayed in media as a single-minded, selfish, stupid Homer Simpson father and husband.

Husbands build up women by deferring to their wisdom in regard to relationships and the dynamics of emotion and behaviour.  Women are effectively forming their children in relationships, thus forming all of society in how we interpret, empathize and encounter one another.  Women build up men by encouraging them to initiate tasks not because women cannot accomplish the given task, but because they are called to be-loved, and uphold men to this standard.  By upholding men to this standard, they demonstrate not only his responsibility but also encourage him in demonstrating confidence in the task at hand.  They accept him for who he is, which has incredible consoling power to a man.  The very body of a woman demonstrates the spiritual character of the sex act, whereby the man gives to the woman himself, and she accepts him into her own body.  It is only woman who posses an empty space within herself that welcomes another into it.  Furthermore, it is through accepting the man, that she also accepts life into her womb, where the child is nurtured, protected, and perfected to the point by which it can live on its own.  Women receive a gift from man, but women perfect that gift, and return it to the man as a gift.  This exchange of love has an incredible impact of internalized between a husband and a wife.  Consider a woman, protecting the child, intimately being united spiritually and bodily to that child, and to nurture it for its own sake, as well as for the sake of her husband who longs to hold that child, but cannot because of his own limitations.  He longs to receive that child, but it is not yet perfect and ready to be held by him, and thus the man respects this role of woman and yearns for the day to give love to his own son or daughter by way of the mother and wife presenting the child perfected to him.

Reducing, therefore, the reproductive aspect of a woman to a mere mechanical act demonstrates anything but feminism, and rather a desire to be like a man.  The spiritual nature of a woman is directly and beautifully and powerfully tied to her capacity to bear a child within her womb.  In the Christian Catholic Tradition, we behold Mary who crushes the head of the Serpent under the weight of her carrying her own son.  Her faithfulness and receptivity to life is the very means by which evil is shut out from this world and the power of women is exerted – spiritually and biologically. This does not mean that all women need to give birth in order to exert their own authority, but rather this authority of maternity is not mere passivity, and is a spiritual reality that is communicated in the mode of being the “beloved.”  Women who are celibate demonstrate the same spiritual maternity by receiving others into their life, though not biologically but spiritually or relationally.

There is a lot more that can be said, on this note – and there should be more said. 40 days However, at this time, I would suggest meditating on this as a unique dimension to how women relate to men.  Women call me to action, and facilitate that action as a way of accepting them, and upholding their dignity.  Men initiate an act because women deserve to loved and thought of, and considered, and served.  In neither of these cases do men and women demonstrate inequality, but rather both love each other in different modes/ways.  If we can detach ourselves from that lie that these modes of difference involve inequality or superiority then we can also begin to understand who God is as Lover, Beloved, and Love.  God is not in competition with Himself, and while having differing persons, those differing persons nonetheless exchange love in a beautiful manner that is complimentary.  Without that complementarily  there is no real exchange, but only a mundane blandness of giving yet no receiving or receiving yet no giving.  And when the sex-act in marriage is completed, and the man and the woman have lined up their affect to the motions and actions of conjugal love, the exchange of love becomes transcendent in God’s grace.  But if the act of conjugal love is somehow dissonant with the affective design of God, it will always lack the beauty and goodness that truly imitates the Trinity.

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Bridging the Gap between Morality and Spirituality

The Problem of Legalism and Lawlessness               

   Two of the biggest problems in the spiritual life actually often have the same root-cause.  These particular problems have various names, and they are as follows:  moralism/legalism/rigidity, and lawlessness/relativism/liberalism.  Both of them develop from a false understanding of the moral law itself – a type of spiritual disease pertaining to God’s own commandments.  Christ says that if we would like to be His friends, we must keep his commandments.  This is a statement that  perhaps requires a deeper more penetrating glance by legalists who think that merely doing God’s will de-facto makes them friends with Christ – as if some mere adherence to external behaviour, white-knuckling our own sinful inclinations makes us His friends.  The lawless will of course be jarred at this statement as if obedience and friendship are somehow in opposition, and commandments have no place in such a relationship.  The idea of objective criteria existing for friendships to exist seems sterile and off-putting.  Why do these two positions exist in the first place?  I might perhaps offer a suggestion in regard to how we enter into ethics and morality with a few presuppositions that affect our perception of them in the first place.

                There are different types of laws – and St. Thomas Aquinas offers us some distinctions that help purify our mind, so that we can have the proper attitude towards the law itself.  It is my belief that many people view God’s moral law (natural and divine law) as nothing more than a list of precepts that are positive laws.  The contemporary view of positive laws, differ from God’s law.  Positive laws are arbitrarily imposed upon nature.  Early-Modern philosophy suggested that nature was in a “state of war” whereby human reason cultivated laws (social-contracts) to impose order upon something that was intrinsically disordered.  In this case, man creates and defines order around his own will and reasoning.  Therefore, civilization was a way of bringing order to chaos, and that nature should be viewed as something altogether disordered if left to itself.  In some ways this approach assumed a Calvinist approach to grace and nature, whereby in a fallen world, nature was deprived of the good-absolutely.  However, to Catholics, nature itself always contains within itself a purpose, even if for some reason it cannot achieve this purpose.  That intrinsic-purpose in nature, sin cannot change, and thus to some degree, even in a fallen world, nature remains good, but sick.  The philosophy was developed because disorder was observed in nature – but went too far when believing that the disorder was the state of nature itself, rather than nature being unable to actualize its intrinsic order already within the world itself.  Laws therefore, if made in a positive manner should be there to “restore order” to nature, or to help nature flourish.  The positive laws (human-law) is therefore at the service of what the nature of things are, rather than the view that nature itself is evil, and needs to be suppressed.Samara

                Digging a bit deeper, we might realize that if people view God’s law as equivalent to the positive law in relation to an evil world, we would see God’s laws as opposing our own version of the “good.”  But what the Catholic Church wants to teach us is that our objective “good” is the same as God’s version of good in our life – the two are not in competition.  Our perceptions might be in competition, but not the actual reality.  God does not want us to repress our nature, but rather to restore it to full health.  Unfortunately, because many people walk into moral discussions and dialogues, it is often the case that morality is viewed as nothing more than a set of rules imposed upon us.  The natural-law therefore will help to offer a different and more integrated perspective that will thereby exclude both legalism and lawlessness while accepting the half-truth in both reactions.  This leads to an integrated spirituality. 

The Solution

The natural law argues that our nature is not a social-convention, but is something objective.  The technical term would be “ontological” which implies that “who we are” is not something we define or decide for ourselves, but rather discover, and hopefully (through choices) embrace.  Our moral character is something we do choose, according to our decisions, but that defines our behaviour, not our essence.  We notice this attitude is pervasive sometimes in our own language when we describe certain behaviour as “inhumane.”  In other words, when a person is cruel they are not acting as the human-being they are.  Their “action” does not match who they are.  They are not fulfilling their potential as a human being but falling short of it. 

The Natural Law suggests that the moral law is not imposed upon us, but is simply us ascribing to what we truly are – who we truly are.  Aristotle said it like this:  “action flows from being.”  His point was that “what” a thing is helps determine what it should do.  In this regard, a monkey flings its poop at its enemies, while human beings worship God.  What we are helps define what we can do and what we cannot or should not do.  When we discover that the natural law is simply us fulfilling our own potential, by being authentic to who we are, we can begin to understand why morality is actually a great thing that encourages us to accept who and what we are, by allowing our behaviour to coincide with that nature.  God’s law is not in competition with who we are, and the moral law is there to heal us, not repress.

                Unfortunately because of original sin, things begin to get confusing.  If only life were simple, eh?  If we were to use our desires to define who we are, we know from the doctrine on original sin that this is not an infallible method of discernment.  As a result of the fall from grace, every human being is inflicted with desires and inclinations, perceptions of “self” that are unreasonable.  For instance, men at times might be raised in a family where abuse is normal in relationship to a husband and his wife.  This can teach the man the “wrong” thing about what it means to be a man – to which he emulates later in life.  Or perhaps a person is born with a nature inclined to be addicted to alcohol – that isn’t a chosen state of life, but he must learn to not act on this inclination.  Furthermore, he or she must not be defined by the addiction:  we should not say that “John” is an alcoholic.  Rather that John has a problem with alcohol.  An addiction to alcohol is not “who John is.”  Finding freedom from such substance abuse is allowing John to fulfill his potential that in a fallen world is difficult to achieve.  Adam-and-Eve

                Our desires do spring from a good place, but at times come out twisted.  For instance, sexual desire is meant to be conveyed through “giving and receiving.”  To give one’s body to another as a gift is a physical action that is meant to communicate not just the gift of the body, but the gift of the whole self – my entire life, my commitment, my love of everything you are, with everything I am and will be.   And when that gift is “received” love is returned to the other, because he has been accepted, and thereby loved through such acceptance.  What is foreign to this exchange is “taking” love or the fantasy to “take.”  Lust is essentially when a person interrupts the cycle of giving and receiving by interjecting an action of “taking” – and this can happen in rape, but it can also occur in a mutually consenting manner.  A person can agree to have sex with another as a form of entertainment, treating the other person as a means to fulfill their own desires.  People are not means – they are always ends; people are not objects, they are always subjects.  And this is why we consider lust to be a type of objectification. 

                Morality is therefore, when healthy, grounded in a spirituality – but if it is understood as a cold list of laws and regulations there are generally two positions one will take in reaction.  The lawless will see these rules as repressive towards his/her desires and therefore the false-self (false-identity defined by disordered desires/inclinations).  As a result, the impulse to “be myself” will exert itself, but be applied to a false-subjective-self.  This is because the law is perceived to be imposed upon “me” without having a relatable context with how I perceive myself.  The law is therefore arbitrary.  In a more subtle thread, sometimes we see theologians habitually look for “exceptions” to the rule (even when that moral law claims the act is intrinsically evil).  Seeking such exceptiosn which do not by definition exist, they claim this way of thinking respects the complexity of the human condition and is free of “legalism.”  This, at best is termed “nominalism.”  Essentially the person is still looking at the law, not as a revelation to the person, but as a hoop to jump through.  For instance, if contraception in all acts intrinsically violate the dignity of both women and men in “who” they are, and this truth is internalized, one cannot conceive of an exception where it would be okay to “hate” their spouse or themselves.  There is no exception to that rule:  hating your neighbour’s dignity or yourself is always wrong, and amounts to self-hatred – though perhaps a love of a false-self.

False-Coping Mechanisms

Legalism however seeks the over-simplistic route, whereby there is often a great deal of interior shame within the individual.  Knowing that his or her desires do not line up with God’s moral law, man or woman begins to hate himself explicitly (confusing his desires with his nature), whereas with the lawless its often more implicit.  The lawless simply creates a new-identity to love – even if it’s a subjective fantasy.  The legalist however is in denial of his own true nature, and thus represses the desires he experiences, thinking them to make him unlovable.  As a result he places all his hopes in external behaviour, as if that will somehow change his fallen nature into something that God is impressed by.  Jesus refers to such individuals as “white washed tombs.”  They look beautiful, but interiorly is the stench of death. 

                The legalist seems to be the one “picked on” most of all.  Perhaps it’s because at least with the lawless you know where you stand on moral issues.  But with the legalist, he manages to speak a half-truth, while also passing on something very poisonous, which turns other people off from the moral law itself.  He conveys (falsely) through cynicism and bitterness that the moral law brings despair and wrath, rather than peace and harmony in nature.  Nonetheless, in a liberal culture, the legalist is always the biggest enemy, even if both the legalist and lawless are equally culpable for the existence of the opposite extreme.  The issue is “inordinate shame” with both the lawless and the legalist who view their nature to be at odds with God’s moral law.  For the lawless, he reinvents his own definition of his essence/nature to cope with that shame.  To the legalist he works very hard to violently change his desires through an emphasis on external behaviour that never truly changes anything and merely masks the deep need for conversion and healing that both require.sheep-and-goats

                One of the vast challenges we have today is realizing that God’s moral law is actually offering us insight into who we are, and who God is.  For instance, if you were to take the 10 commandments – you could begin to say, “What does this law teach about who I am, in relationship to others?”  I’m told I should not kill – I suppose that means I should respect the life of others and cherish not just my own life.  I am made to protect life and not to take it for some selfish reason.  I’m also told I’m not to steal – I suppose that is because I am meant to share where I can, and to respect a person’s own property or stewardship over their property.  I’m not meant to be selfish and entitled but generous.  I’m told that I should honour God above all, I suppose that means God deserves the credit for everything.  He is ultimately who will make me happy; he should be my first priority because that is where I will find fulfillment and peace. 

                If we can learn to habitually think of morality as drawing us back to the questions about who I am, who my neighbour is, and who God is, then we have begun to embrace the moral law in its right context.  But without this we will naturally fall into legalism and lawlessness.  IF we are lawless, we will only encourage people to hate themselves and create an illusion to cope with that self-hatred.  Today that is promoted because self-concepts are often conceived to be something existential and not based upon reality.  Why else would we see gender-confusion as something liberating, and a binary view of sexual identity as negative?  The former liberates us to decide our own meaning and purpose according to our desires, conforming truth violently to our preference.  Whereas the legalists would coldly insist that people who experience their own body not lining up to their affect should just “do what is right” and deal with it.  That legalism would be the result of their own self-imposed violence on themselves being equally or resentfully shared with those who do not follow the supposed sacrifices they have made for themselves.  But underneath that legalism is a shame towards themselves, and a tireless battle to overcome temptation by white-knuckling their way through temptation.  Jesus teaches us on the Sermon on the Mount that it isn’t good enough to merely not commit adultery, but that we should not harbour lust/adultery in our heart.  The man needs to change his desires, but not through anything but cooperating with grace, rather than self-righteous effort.

The devil is at play in all of this by the way.  He is called the “accuser” because while he inspires sin, his goal is to get us to be ashamed of who we are:  an image of God.  When Jesus enters the desert, Satan asks Christ twice, “IF you are the son of God.”  That statement alone should remind us that at the peek of a spiritual battle is an attack on our nature, our identity – and therefore, once we doubt this, our actions can easily be swept up in sin, since our actions are no longer united to our true-self.   Satan wants us to resent who we are, because Satan resents the one we image.  We should experience guilt for our sins, but not inordinate shame.  What “I’ve done” is wrong, but it is wrong because of “who God made me” and “what God made me.”  Therefore, even in guilt, we pay ourselves a compliment – by suggesting “I’m better than my behaviour.”  Guilt therefore becomes not something crushing, but something encouraging – and an act of love towards ourselves and God.  Shame on the other hand is simply an attack on ourselves, and we either cope by violent repression or by changing the definition of truth.  Both are counterfeit solutions and in the end, deep down, we know neither will give us the peace we are looking for. 

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Silence & Martyrdom

Generally I give Bishop Barron’s commentaries on movies the benefit of the doubt, and after watching the movie “Silence” I found myself entirely agreeing with his assessment of the movie itself.  I would like to offer an additional reflection on a theme in the movie which I found troublesome.  Bishop Barron focused on the particular aspect of the film where there was a great amount of ambiguity between the tensions of the secular and the “missionary.”  In other words, this movie portrays a value that belongs to the secular-humanism of our day, whereby survival and human flourishing under the utilitarian model of morality thrives and triumphs in the face of a seemingly stuck-up insistence on Orthodoxy and avoiding heresy.  This of course is represented by the façade of practicality, where the mere adherence to lofty doctrines becomes a divisive and meaningless hill to die upon.  If we are to pick our battles, will we really die on a hill in regard to who God is – is that what God would want us to do, or would God prefer us to get along, and put His identity in the unimportant reality of indifference or anonymity?  One can see how the secular becomes the over-arching and authoritative principle here, whereby religion no longer transcends the goals of man, but the goals of man transcend the mission given by God to the world.  The two are in direct competition, and as a way of reconciling one to the other, religion or the state must place itself above the other.  God however doesn’t want the two to be in competition, he wants them to be in harmony with one another – seeing the natural law and the divine law as fitting together, enabling the world to flourish as it was designed to.  God’s will, will always be supreme, but it is not in competition with what man truly needs to flourish and survive, eternally.  Without faith, however, the secular mindset will always seek to dominate the religious, and so in this movie what we see is a priest who denies the faith, living in “peace” in a country that continues to persecute and murder his own brothers and sisters.  Of course after he abandons the faith, it does not show the continued persecution of those he was charged to encourage and feed, all it shows is his own inner-struggle to maintain the faith, and yet survive in his temporal life.  What we have here is a “domesticated Christian.”  If the world has domesticated Christ’s message, it is likely because they hope that such a vision will be imitated by this version of “Christ,” and thus weed out the seemingly dumb, unsophisticated followers of Christ who blindly suffer unnecessarily in order to obtain the prize:  heaven.eucharist-silence


The so-called “swamp” of Japan, explained in the movie forgets that we have a God who changes landscapes, turning deserts into flourishing springs of water, while reducing productive places into wastelands.  Christ is not subject to a culture or other religious and secular values, He is rather the very ground of being, with which all things move, breathe and have being – the message of Christ will not only survive the swamp, it will transform it anew, provided the Christians tap into such faith, and move such mountains.

I cannot say the entire movie was bad, because it frankly wasn’t.  The people’s love for the priests was touching, and their fellowship and charity towards one another and most importantly Christ was altogether beautiful.  But this, while demonstrated wasn’t meditated upon enough.  It was not some dialectical version of doctrine that these people died for, nor was it merely to enter into paradise, as if some sort of utilitarian agenda enabled them to endure their suffering.  The saints die out of Love for the very Persons of God.  Transcending mere affection for God, the soul of a saint is entirely united to the Son where they themselves echo the very death of Christ in the world by their own example, and in fact take part in redeeming the world by forgiving their captors and persecutors, while also demonstrating by their behaviour that they must obey God and not men.  This motion is anything but dying for a philosophy “about God” but rather dying “in God” and for Love of Him.  To miss this, is to miss all of Christianity.  To realize in the depths of our heart that martyrdom is actually a gift that can give joy to the soul, the soul that suffers torments but by them are liberated from an addiction to honour, pleasure, wealth, and power.  The spiritual freedom that comes from such torment, the cross which transforms our nature so as to become fully human:  that is what this priest deprived his people of – and had He remembered that he did not feed them bread-alone, but on the very bread of life, the very love of the Father – He would have seen his own actions as depriving His children of that faith by his own witness.

Does any of this mean that a pastor should not fight to protect his own children from martyrdom?  The question must be brought to serious prayer.  We know that when St. Peter demanded that Jesus not die at the hands of the Roman Soldiers, he was reproved by Christ in a most stern manner.  That is all to say, that if it is God’s will that the Son of man, and His followers are to lay down their life for love of God, that a Pastor should not step in their way.  However, we also know that sometimes this death-to-self takes place in other ways, other than martyrdom, and thus we must be discerning of where and when God wants his people to die.  But the matter is already resolved – all of us are called to pick up our cross and follow Christ.  Christ therefore is the antithesis of this pastor – because not only did Christ realize His own suffering, but he also knew of the suffering of those He selected and called to follow Him.  He knew that they, but one, would die a horrible and terrible death – and commanded them to nonetheless follow Him.  Christ did not make peace with the state, and did not use His power to overcome the Roman Empire, though He could have.  Rather he sought to take the fight to a deeper and more secret place:  the soul.  The soul is where the battle is really fought, and without suffering man remains forever in His chains.


                The last thing I would like to reflect upon is simple, but challenging to understand.  I call it the “blame-game.”  One of the things that irritated me to no-end in the movie was the smiling faces of some of the Japanese leaders who acted so caviller about their own behaviour.  It was as if, in their own mind they had shifted the entire tragedy and the killing of so many Christians on the very backs of the Christians themselves.  That is to say, it wasn’t the state’s fault that these Christians suffered, it was their own fault, and ultimately the priest’s fault.   Where do we see this “shifting” of the blame in scripture?  Right after the first sin – Adam and Eve cannot take responsibility for their own actions, and somehow find a way to shift the blame.  Adam shifts the blame to Eve, who then in turn shifts the blame to the devil.  But no one takes responsibility – and as a result:  no one changes.  In this movie, as we see in the history of mankind, those who actively use power create the illusion that they are merely acting in a determined fashion, and place the shame and guilt on their victims in order to manipulate them into believing that they actually have control over the situation.  This priest was manipulated in such a way – he was not to blame for the suffering of these Christians.  Those who were to blame were those crucifying and drowning and torturing them to death.  20120605-203703.jpg

As Christians we have to hold up a mirror to others, and to reflect back to them their own behaviour.  Like water that is still, we reflect in peace and mercy the cruelty of others by turning the cheek.  Here we must see clearly that His responsibility was to not play the game at all – but rather to preach to the guards, to forgive them for their sins against the Christians, and to preach to them about how God could forgive even these Japanese persecutors for their crimes – but in no way to take responsibility or even begin to take responsibility for their suffering and death.  The moment the priest allowed himself to be convinced of this lie, his conscience was then malformed to cooperate with them and deny Christ.

One final word, it must be said in all humility that while I have a clear mind on this matter, even St. Peter believed himself to be able to stay true to God in the face of persecution.  Yet he nonetheless failed – because it requires supernatural grace – and not man’s mere will-power.  The strength of a dying Christian in the face of persecution is the strength of God himself – and to the world this seems like a weakness, but that is because one cannot conceive of how tolerating such pain and suffering for love of God is an actual strength, especially when God is only understood as a thought, an idea, as a fantasy or a fairy tale.  But for those who have been given faith, whereby it has weight, and is more real than our own very existence, to suffer is to be freed and liberated from the crippling effects of original-sin – and to be liberated in this world to express true love and devotion to our God.  So to quote St. Lawrence, the martyred deacon of our faith to the secular world and all those who would persecute Christians inside and outside of the Catholic faith:  “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

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The New Evangelization: Spirituality behind “Accompaniment”


Road to Emmaus

Terminology:  Accompaniment, Assent, and Relationship

Of late there has been an intense reflection in the Church on “accompaniment.”  I haven’t noticed a triggered reaction by many to the word, but rather I see people wanting clarification as to what that accompaniment actually involves.  For those unaware, this term “accompaniment” is applied to people who find themselves outside of communion with the Church for various reasons.  The idea is that people within the Church do not merely say:  “Go clean yourself and then come back to me, then I’ll be ready to love you.”  Rather, people are willing to build and foster relationships wherever the person currently is in their relationship to Christ and the Church.

I believe “accompaniment”  is a good term that the Church has been using to discuss what might be referred at times to as pre-evangelization.  The Church does have a mission to evangelize, and such a call involves facilitating an environment whereby the Church can come to encounter the living Jesus, the mystery of His life, death, and Resurrection, and experience His intense love in a way that generates rootedness (discipleship) in the faith.  Pre-evangelization and accompaniment are not exclusively related to each other, however much of the work of pre-evangelization involves a willingness on the part of evangelists to walk with a person who has not yet encountered Christ with the fullness of their being.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains that faith is not merely assent from one particular faculty of the human person (mind, heart, or will), but involves the complete integration of the three.  After all, faith is a virtue, which we know if we’ve studied means that simply doing the right thing doesn’t mean we have won virtue, but rather when our affect is aligned to a mind that is aligned to the truth through the will, we have reached spiritual health in virtue.  Many people might have degrees of integration, but it doesn’t become a healthy and rooted virtue until the mind, heart, and will all assent to faith in Jesus.  This “assent” seems like a cold and sterile manner of describing faith, and the prieststerm “relationship” can be ambiguous.  Everyone has a relationship with God – it just might not be a good-relationship.  But “relationship” is a better or more preferred word (in my opinion) than a reduction to assent which generally applies to the mental cognitive response to doctrine.  Although I do believe assent of the heart and assent of the mind both imply a relationship through the will, I do believe that people might be more comfortable with understanding faith in the context of a relationship, rather than with terminology that is often associated with a mere dialectic reduction.

Evangelists are therefore called not merely to inform (catechize) people of doctrine but to allow the content of the faith to be integrated in the mind and heart and acted on through the will.  As a result, catechesis must take on a more dynamic approach – and so while it is necessary it must be understood that without the context of a relationship with Jesus, catechesis amounts to nothing more than water sliding off the back of a duck.  Catechesis needs to be interiorized, and rarely can this happen, if at all, if a person has not encountered God as a personal, loving being.  It can often be the fact that either a purely sentimental relationship (just emotion) or a purely theoretical relationship (just intellectual) is facilitated, and when this is the case, a full integration hasn’t taken place in the person because God is either a consoling-fiction of the heart or a hobby of the catechism697bmind.  The will permits us to take the leap, whereby such truths begin to sink into a context of relationality  (integration/internalized). Without an encounter (with Christ), we might mistakenly go after a relationship in all the wrong ways, whereby a person willfully (rather than willingly) seeks to develop faith, and thus becoming self-referential in his or her quest for integration. This distinction was mentioned by St. Theresa of Lisieux, who wanted to emphasize the importance of a will that was not considering itself the “first-mover” in one’s quest for a good relationship with God.  It is crucial therefore to understand the paramount importance of a God who “loved us first.”  While this is true ontologically, it must also be true in the phenomena or experience of our own life.  That is to say we must have experienced or encountered God initiating a relationship with us, so that we can interiorize the foundation of such a relationship as unmerited, zealous love.    If it is the case that we seek to be loved by God through our will, such a self-referential disposition univocally means self-righteousness – and this does violence to our own life as well as the lives of others.

Self-referential spirituality typically fosters legalism or moral laxity as both arrive from a non-integrated vision of who God is as a loving and ever present Father and Brother in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit remains abstract in the mind and heart of the person – a type of “energy” that we tap into – rather than a Divine person.   Without a very down-to-earth awareness of God as a personal being – the simplicity of the Gospel – the heart and mind will never have the proper context in which to discuss God, His law, His liturgy, or even our own identity.  Without such a context, we end up with disjointed ideas and no emotional equilibrium when discussing our various value-systems that become relativized (disordered) in regard to their priority and gravity.

The loss of integration – if it was there previously – can occur too when a person “forgets” to “do this in memory of Me.”  Meaning, when we fail to pray and act as if God is truly alive, present, loving us infinitely and indwelling in our very soul more so than we could ever truly be aware of, we naturally begin to have a relationship with an idea of God rather than God, or a sentiment of God or emotional desire rather than an actual recollected heart, mind, and will that experiences or knows of his penetrating gaze as the Lover of our soul.

Superficiality as a Symptom of Familiarity

Forgetfulness or being malformed by a non-integrated approach involves what the Church now calls the “new-evangelization” whereby the same Gospel is re-presented in a new way – in a manner that people are not familiar with.  As Aquinas suggests, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  When we do not have reverence and simplicity towards God, but rather familiarity, we automatically place ourselves into a disposition where we are unwillingly to open ourselves to a new and deeper experience and understanding of God.  Therefore, Thomas Aquinasmuch of the work of evangelization involves working against this lack of awareness of mystery before a deep, relevant, and infinitely good God.  Familiarity is not only a problem in regard to our relationship with Christ, but also is a problem in our relationship with each other.  If we cannot honour God with the depth he deserves, we will certainly become inconsistent with our neighbour.  This is the case because God deserves such reverence as a result of justice, and if we are willingly neglecting justice where it primarily belongs, our motivation is not out of justice in all our relationships, but rather disordered and built out of convenience.  As we stand before our neighbours created in the image and likeness of an infinitely interesting and loving God, do we recognize that they display in some measure the depth of God?

When we become too familiar with our neighbour, our spouse, or our friends, we have placed them into a box and can quickly summarize who they are to us.  Therefore we lose any sense of surprise and if we do experience surprise we are often alienated by it because it shatters our overly simplistic judgments of one another.  Generally we are more apt to do this toward one another if our relationship is remote – if we live at a distance, and don’t take a genuine interest in the lives of others.  Without accompaniment we are more likely to look at those hungering for the gospel with an overly irreverent glance, not taking heed of the deep yearning currently taking place in their soul.  Likewise, if our relationship with God is perceived as remote or distant, we end up with a more theoretical understanding of God that again leads back to a disintegrated faith.

Familiarity therefore is, in my opinion, the sinful disposition that in fact becomes a stumbling block to the little ones that come seeking Christ.  If we feel entitled like the Apostles to keep at bay those craving for a relationship and encounter with Christ (objectively), it is us who have become far too familiar with Christ to make such a terrible decision. This may manifest itself if we perceive non-believers to have no interior longing for Christ – if this is the case – then we have redefined humanity’s ontological disposition before God.  It becomes a scandal when a non-believer’s views are validated by an indifferent spirit towards what a Christian truly hunger for – but such is often the case when we become overly pluralistic or elitist.  A pluralist suggests a type of satisfaction in knowing God anonymously (which is contrary to a revealing God, and the anthropology of the human person who wants to know Love has a name).  The elitist uses the faith in order to exclude others as if by this act he himself becomes superior by his own merit.  Both dispositions univocally are stumbling blocks before the children of God who are a desert land starving for the Spring of refreshment in Christ.

A Remedy to Familiarity (and the Eucharist)

For a moment, however, I’d like to approach the subject of familiarity in our neighbour and why “accompaniment” offers us a remedy to such tendency today.  Accompaniment again is often used abstractly – people wonder if this “accompaniment” turns into a condoning of morally scandalous behaviour, or the reception of the Eucharist prior to a person’s proper disposition toward the sacrament.  The reason for this tension is that today, people generally want to feel like they belong prior to adhering to a doctrine.  This perhaps is why cults are often successful when they prey on the lonely, because doctrine no longer represents the truth content behind the nature of a relationship with God, but rather a mere hoop to jump through in order to maintain one’s status with the said community.  A desire to belong is good – but the person must be formed well enough to understand that we should belong first to reality – so that whatever love we experience, will be genuine.

In regard to the Eucharist being used as a means to make other people feel as if they belong I’d prefer to bracket that discussion in this blog-post and rather offer the anthropological and spiritual reasons why accompaniment is important.  If we can understand why accompaniment is important from the spiritual point of view, we can then examine the latter question more critically and in the proper context.  I would only like to make the comment that we as a church need to extend our vision of the Church beyond the liturgy – and to see opportunities for belonging and community, in the family, in the marketplaces, and in the world in general.  When we compartmentalize the total work of evangelization to the liturgy, we begin to act contrary to the very nature and identity of the liturgy, which has a part to play, but if not integrated into the life of the Church becomes another form of clericalism.  That is to say, we depend on the cleric for Empty Pewsthe liturgy, by which the whole context of evangelization supposes to takes place.  The world is secular and the Church becomes the only place where the gospel is practiced and preached.   Such an attitude demeans the very dignity and role of the laity which is to extend the presence of Christ to all nations.  This would only contradict the teachings of Vatican II which justly teaches that the laity are called to something great in their respective vocation that is not reduced to “being a lector” at mass.  Rather they are to preach the Gospel in areas where the clergy cannot go, and perhaps do not have the gifts to go.  The clergy need to step out of their way, by not using the Eucharist in a context it was never meant to have.    The Eucharist is the summit of the Christian life – and climbing that summit requires formation and discipleship.  Therefore the Eucharist cannot be used as a method of pre-relationship or pre-evangelization, but it can be seen as something to journey towards as the integration of such a relationship.  When this takes place, the role of the laity is respected and the reception of the Eucharist is received in the right disposition and therefore in a fruitful manner.  So the Church must stop framing the Eucharist as a marketing-tool for pre-evangelization, so that a longing for such communion can begin to well up in those Christians who are in a spiritual state of sacred-waiting.  Elitists likewise must not present the Eucharist as a sort of “prize” for those who are already perfect.  Rather it must be presented as for those who are humbled and open to God’s mercy through repentance, yet still nonetheless limping, because of the effects of original sin.

If we can understand the spiritual meaning behind accompaniment, I believe it will lead to a better integration of what accompaniment really is all about.  Obviously we cannot condone unfaithful behaviour, but we must keep in mind that Christ was seemingly accused of doing this when He ate with sinners.  His eating with sinners who may have not repented does not imply offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist to those in mortal sin, but rather His willingness to initiate a relationship with others wherever they were spiritually.  This act of Christ takes place in their respective homes – and thus offers us something broader than the liturgy as an example.  And it is important for people to note that Christ ate with sinners:  both tax collectors and Pharisees.  Christ had a particular love and paid a particular attention to the Pharisees, at times eating with them.  So often today, you get the impression that Christ hated Pharisees – which is impossible for a God of love.  Rather, perhaps a cleric’s own wrath is projected into the scriptures, not seeing that Christ was at times harsh with the Pharisees, but that such harshness was out of genuine love as a father reproves his sons and daughters.  Christ didn’t avoid those who were likely elitist – he engaged them in discussion and was willing to challenge their view of the faith.  The one thing Christ seemed to do was to break down the cliques or “clubs” that existed by making Himself universally present to all the various groups.

Census of the Faithful?  Lets go deeper!

Accompaniment is where a Christian lays the foundation to a relationship with another person so they can become aware that they are not being reduced to an anonymous number in a pew to fulfill our desire for greater statistics as a sign of success in ministry.  People do not want to be treated like numbers or a “personal project” to satisfy an egotistical aim.  Accompaniment rather is based upon a genuine love for a


particular human-person who is created beautifully by God, has a name, has depth, to whom God Himself purchased at the Cross by His own blood – a soul worth dying for, at least according to God.  And when we love the hungry and poor, how much more should we love the chance to serve those who are hungry for Christ, and poor in spirit?  Man does not live on bread alone, but hungers for something “deeper.”  Are we aware of that deeper ache in ourselves, so as to be aware of it in others?  Or like King David, do we rely, inordinately on a census to depict how we are doing spiritually?  The picture here by the way depicts the plague that occurred as a punishment for King David’s census.


Now, this accompaniment, as I mentioned recognizes that the person we are speaking to is not merely convinced by emotional statements or intellectual syllogisms, but something that is an integration of the two and the deeper healing that needs to take place in their life.  In Jeremiah 6, this superficial or “familiar” approach to conversion was described as:  “They dress the wound of my people  as though it were not serious.  Peace, peace,’ they say,   when there is no peace.” (Jer 6: 14).  If we have a deeper vision of people we can begin to also understand that wounds are deep, and require more than a Band-Aid solution or a “good argument” or a hug.  If we can comprehend our own depth of character we can again be more aware of the depth in others.  Here this wound is not so much addressing mere emotional distress or a physical injury, but more so it speaks about a type of interior peace that is not experienced – something to do with the conscience.  When we lack spiritual-peace it can mean that we are deeply wounded by sin – and this wound of sin is what wasn’t taken seriously enough.  Sometimes our preoccupation is on the emotional wounds of “not feeling happy,” or the error that leads others into very problematic situations.  But there is a deeper wound than both, and it is the wound of sin, from the will, and also the wound of original sin (being born into a world alienated from God and neighbour).  This wound of alienation that Christ experienced on the Cross caused Him to cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  Although Christ was not truly forsaken, in becoming Sin for us without sinning He experienced existentially the deep wound and punishment of alienation from God that we inflict upon ourselves through sin.  This is the truly deep wound that requires our own attention – and if we haven’t attended to it within ourselves, we will not even begin to be conscious of it in others and therefore treat it lightly.

The point is that the wound we are addressing has no easy solution; and that wound is an absence of faith.  Diving deeply into the wound inspires great fear, anxiety, and distress.  pleadingEntering into such a depth takes a great deal of courage, not unlike what we see in Dante’s Inferno.  Some scholars have suggested that Dante’s Divine Comedy is an existential journey through the geography of the soul, whereby we confront within ourselves the evil impulses, and wounds caused by our sinfully inclined nature.  Sometimes when we encounter such horrific things within ourselves we “faint.”  It is a journey that Dante stressed was something we shouldn’t do alone – and so God sent a companion to be with him– that he might not have to walk through hell, alone.

This wound or hell that we need to confront is not for the sake of self-shaming as many might quickly accuse it of becoming.  Rather it is the process of healing.  If we recall in Exodus, Moses sets up a bronze staff with a bronze serpent to become the means by which the Israelites were healed.  The snake of course represented the very wound of their sin, which brought forth distress and death to the Israelites.  It was in their naming and confronting or renouncing of their sin (repentance) that they were actually healed.  Likewise, when we see the Cross which was raised up as “sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21), we are looking upon His wounded side and thereby able to comprehend the very nature of our sin against an all loving and infinitely innocent God.  And it would be by the Cross; by His crossstripes that we would be healed (Is 53: 5).  But who wouldn’t fear this process, especially with an enemy scripture calls the “accuser.”  The devil reminds us of that wound, but not to heal it, but rather to tear it open and infect it with more vice.  It is no wonder that modern psychology associates shame with an ongoing addiction.  Guilt here differs because guilt is born of love, whereas shame is still a type of narcissism where one regrets sin but out of self-preoccupation.  Love or charity therefore does not pull someone out of sin, but selfishness keeps him or her enslaved to it through shame.  Shame is an incredible counterfeit to guilt, and it is inspired by the accuser.  We might turn to sin in order to numb the pain by a superficial awareness of what is really going on underneath the surface. Therefore through addiction or vice we become forgetful of our wounds and again treat them lightly.

When a person comes across as the “accuser” which is a temptation for anyone in ministry, the soul of that person will automatically turn back to sin, because the pain is simply too much bear alone.  Shaming isolates the person in themselves – but love can argument2bear the fruit of guilt – whereby a person weeps for their sin out of love for their neighbour and God, and such tears represent that the healing has begun.   As Jesus says about such individuals who shame:  “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:  4).

Healing the Wound of Shame and Isolation

Accompaniment offers a person who is willing to walk with another, as fellow-sinners.  But in that fellowship the evangelist has also experienced healing in which they hope to share with the other who perhaps is spiritually crippled by fear and may be “acting-out” as a result.  That is to say that often our sin or immoral behaviour is a symptom of a deeper wound which requires healing.  Thus, if we become moralizers, what happens is we begin to attack the “bad-fruit” rather than the root of the problem.  If we become morally lax we simply act as if there isn’t a very profound and deep problem, offering the false consolation that God accommodates for one’s disordered passions and sinful inclinations.

Bishop Robert 20120629-134348.jpgBarron stresses that at the root of all pride is a fundamental fear that God is not actually good.  It was the case that Eve “listened” to an alternative view of God, and in that listening entertained it as a possibility.  Through that entertainment of the serpent, she developed fear that led her to take charge of her own vocation and mission through pride.  It was fear and the wounds inflicted upon the soul of Eve that led to the fall of the entire human race.  Sometimes we do not really understand how significant or serious that wound is.  Even with the communal blame washed away through baptism, the lie planted in each human being that God is not a good Father, nonetheless remains in concupiscence.  Eve was convinced that God was a moralizing tyrant (did God really tell you not to eat of any of the trees?), that God was a liar, (surely you will not die), and that God was in violent competition with mankind (you will become like God).    Therefore God’s authority as a Father is given a false context – it isn’t love, its tyranny;  God’s trustworthiness is cast into doubt because He is a liar; and God isn’t happy unless He is oppressing us.  With that sown in our hearts, it becomes very difficult to obey or listen to God when He asks us to do what seems to possibly cause us grief. And if a person has such a disposition, yet obeys God, they begin to emulate in the god whom the devil has conjured in their own hearts and minds, in how they treat others – and these are the legalists.

Furthermore, when a person has been making decisions out of that fear and pride for years, the fear becomes fortified.  Think of the roots of a tree wrapped around the ground with which the soil of fear abides.  When you tug on those roots in an attempt to uproot the sin, the fear is felt, and comes to a head.  The illusion of sin is beginning to pop, and all that is left is that lie-based-fear!

What does scripture suggest to us, in order to remedy such fear?  “Perfect charity casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).  And that charity casts out fear because it reassures the person that no matter what fear or truths they find as they begin to explore that interior geography, that they are unconditionally loved.  Ultimately when the Christian witnesses to such love they are not communicating themselves as the source of such love, but the infinitely wise and all knowing God as one who loves the sinner without conditions.  When this begins to be the case, the Christian becomes open to looking honestly at that rooted sin, with less and less fear.

Think for a moment of a divorced and remarried person.  Without an annulment – say if it wasn’t reasonably possible – the person has rooted themselves into a relationship that likely involves genuine goodness, but is founded and sustained by a constant abandonment of their only spouse.  We cannot compartmentalize the latter or the former, but we must also admit that the wound of betrayal (even if it was mutual) has not been healed in that soul and becomes a play-ground for the “accuser” to perpetually shame the individual or harden them against what genuine committed love looks like.  That remarried individual might have established the new relationship for any number of reasons, had children in that relationship.  The idea of “leaving all things behind to follow Christ” is an incredibly scary concept when applied to such a situation.  To prefer God over our human relationships is a tense and difficult cross to ask someone to do, and it cannot be treated with flippancy, as if to suggest it was easy.  It may be simple to understand, but incredibly difficult to surrender to – especially when a person has been emotionally invested into such a relationship, compartmentalizing the spirit of adultery that is foundation to such a relationship.  Like the roots of a tree, they have rooted themselves into the ground deeply, and been nourished and sustained on the fear that one’s happiness and peace depends upon such a relationship.  But peace comes from a good conscience, and a healed conscience – one that has surrendered to God’s teaching – not because it de-facto is right, but because it springs forth genuine love in the soul.  Genuine love does not compartmentalize sin, as if such compartmentalization was an alternative to purifying ourselves of sin through confession.  Jesus said with a great deal of compassion about the Rich-man who walked away that it was difficult for the rich to leave all things behind.  We must understand that richness is not merely a monetary reality, but can also pertain to emotional attachments to things and persons.  It is a disordered form of idolatry, that is mixed with some very real good things – as a virus can at times infiltrate a healthy cell.

What of people who are practicing homosexuality and have been for years?  Perhaps their belief is that without such a partner they cannot possibly be happy.  They are tapping into what scripture says:  “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).  All lies have some measure of truth or goodness to them, otherwise we wouldn’t begin to believe in them.  But the failure here is in realizing that the ultimate longing we all have is actually associated to a marriage with God in heaven.  One cannot have such a peace and joy-filled life with God if deep down they realize their conscience is at war with God’s own will.  Furthermore, a person must love their neighbour for who they objectively are, and not merely where their affect is ordered, otherwise it becomes another form of compartmentalization, whereby one hates a part of themselves (what makes us male or female) and only embraces what maximizes pleasure and a sense of belonging.  A full integration of themselves to “belong” is required, but in order for that to happen, no part of the person can be compartmentalized, but rather a total integration of what it means to be male or female.

The interior longing therefore becomes idolized again by creatures, and one has rooted themselves around this idol because of a fear of unhappiness and an absence of fulfillment – what a terrible lie for a person to believe.  Our happiness is no longer grounded in God, but in the same control Eve exerted to define her vocation according to her own appropriation of truth (eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil).  And so a measure of happiness is found in the good that is mixed in with the lie, and this acts again as a false-consolation, and a numbness to a deeper longing for God.

One can see after assessing the dynamics of both situations how a mere syllogism or emotional appeal to know Jesus “loves you” has to actually sink-in through an encounter with God.  If God is hypothetical in His love, people will not leave all things behind for a “hypothetical” loving God.  Furthermore, to attempt to evangelize a person with a flippant “I’m just speaking the truth out of love” becomes inauthentic if the person isn’t willing to eat with them, to talk about deep things, to take an interest in their own good-nature, and to be willing to help them know they are loved unconditionally as God loves them.  That is accompaniment.  A person, with compassion (suffering-with) helps to carry the other cross, by walking with them.  Without that as a foundation, the conversion that might take place could actually be superficial and damaging for the Church.  If a person pakistan-christian experiences a conversion merely for emotional reasons – it may be that they belong to the Church merely to “feel belonging.”  But there needs to be something deeper than seeking a mere feeling which can be false.  Such a habit of seeking feelings, can cause a person to flip-flop constantly between the Church and the world.  Likewise if the conversion is only intellectual it could lead to a sterile, stoic vision of God that later leads to a harmful and cold, tyrannical way of describing faith.  Both add dysfunction to the Church that places a stumbling block in encountering Christ.  And while such conversions may happen, and that those conversions be good to some degree, they must always be founded from charity, otherwise fear is still the driving force behind what they choose to believe or experience as “faith.”  Pride remains deeply rooted, and only the façade of faith is visible.

In summation, I’d like to suggest that those genuinely interested in evangelization first examine the depth of your own relationship with Christ.  If you aren’t praying – please start that up again – because it will help you in becoming aware of your own depth before God, and therefore help you become compassionate to others who also have such depth.  Get into touch with the longings of your own heart, as well as the direction and integrity you can receive from sound doctrine.  In doing so you will develop a more integrated relationship with Christ and therefore have what you need to help others.  St. Thomas Aquinas taught that when serving our neighbour in spiritual matters we must first take a greater focus on our own spiritual life – because we cannot give what we do not have.  With the motivation of being enriched by Christ for His glory and the service of neighbour, you will have the right disposition in seeking your own spiritual good first, not out of narcissism, but out of a desire to serve others well.

Furthermore, I would suggest learning how to listen to other’s suffering.  Interpret the listening as an opportunity to isolate the fear-motivated concepts and attitudes or behaviours.   Their own discussion about such difficulties is really a journey through the hell that is actually tormenting them in their soul.  If you have already walked through this hell, you will probably be able to identify with the essence of what such persons are saying, regardless of the species of their vice.  Listening to them is a way of demonstrating that whatever they say, whatever they express, you are not abandoning them, but are right beside them, in love.  This is hard to do with people who do not recognize their own interior poverty – such people are “rich in spirit” and it is at times impossible to break through that, without them coming to a deeper awareness that the fear that exists within them is actually numbed by the counterfeit of sin. This is why Jesus said:  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  But those who don’t consider themselves lost haven’t opened themselves up to the very deep reality of alienation.   Be patient therefore, and avoid allowing the accuser to speak through you.  None of this means you cannot speak to the person directly.  There are times when a friend can speak towards one in a direct manner that cuts to the heart like a sword – but not a blunted base-ball bat barbed with wire.  The point I’m making is that direct confrontation can be an experience of love – but if love isn’t there, people can generally sniff this out, even if they constantly speak in a nice tone or with words of love.  Therefore be discerning of when to speak and when to defer a conversation for another time.

Finally be careful to distinguish between condoning behaviour and accompaniment.  Laughing at jokes or comments that involve a sort of assent to a false anthropology or theology can in fact reinforce fear (enabling).  Find a way to shift the conversation without shaming.  If they invite you to events that are clearly in contradiction with what is good and healthy for this person, do not attend them, but carefully explain this, and perhaps discuss meeting with them for coffee or dinner after the event – so that they can understand clearly that a door is shut towards a decision they are making but not to them as a person.   Sometimes you might have to step back and allow them some time on their own – do this with prudence, but check-in so that they know you aren’t avoiding them as if they were some sort of leper.  Give them space to breath and listen to what is going on under the surface.  If all you do is dictate to them what is going on – they may become immune to an awareness of themselves in that regard, tuning it out as a possibility.  Respect the fact that the Spirit casts light on a very complex soul in a creative fashion that we ourselves cannot know or even plan to do on our own.  And most of all, pray for them to facilitate within your own soul a person you hope to experience the joy of the Gospel, but add yourself into that prayer as an act of humility, recognizing that you might be where they are had you walked in their shoes.  Be humble and recognize that it is by God’s grace that we are saved, not by our own pelagian merit.

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Healing Young Men of Nostalgia



I was invited by the Director of  Seminarians/Vocations Director of my diocese to participate in a conference directed towards vocation directors.  The workshops covered the four-pillars of priestly formation, involved the celebration of mass and the liturgy of the hours, as well as a good opportunity to connect with each other as brother priests from around the world.  The USCCB is very motivated to promote vocations in an intentional, organized fashion, and it was evident in the speakers they had, as well as the various venues offered to support the clergy.  Although it was run by the USCCB, the focus was largely on the universal standards within the Church in regard to the formation of priests in seminaries and prior to their formation in seminaries.  The emphasis was not on getting “more” vocations, but being faithful to God in the right spirit as vocation directors, as well as seeking a good quality of priest – one who has reached affective maturity, and has allowed Christ to enter into the depths of each candidate’s soul, so as to map the interior geography of the spiritual life in order to lead others through such a difficult place to explore.

We had the privilege of listening to bishops and cardinals from both Canada and the United States – and I’d like to spend in this blog-post some time reflecting particularly on His Excellency, Chaput’s address to the vocations directors on one of the four qualities he is looking for in priests.

Avoiding Nostalgia

The good Bishop said many things, and this was certainly not the centre-piece of his presentation, however there was some good time spent reflecting on a growing tendency within candidates to cling to various “forms of the past” in an inordinate fashion.  The inordinate or “unreasonable” clinging to the past was demonstrated in a seminarian who approached the Bishop, crying, because the Traditional Latin Mass was not offered at his seminary.  The Bishop was clear, he did not stand in opposition to the Extraordinary Form, nor did he bar his seminarians from attending this mass when outside of the seminary, however the ordinary formation of the seminarians was to be in the Ordinary Form. nostalgia

Already, I know for some, this post is likely generating frustration amongst some readers.  Probably those who are somehow hoping that one day the Novus Ordo mass will be canned and replaced with the Traditional Latin Mass.  I know that there is already a defensive spirit rising up in some, while in others a sort of glee and experience of some sort of vindication.  What I’d suggest at this point is to both take a breath and settle down.

The Bishop was truly accommodating the Traditional Latin Mass devotion, and was in no way attempting to treat such individuals as lepers.  It wasn’t so much the “form” he was speaking about, but rather a tendency in some (the spirit behind it): nostalgia.  This does not mean all people have this spirit behind it, but rather that he noted in some candidates for the seminary, nostalgia was actually what was there.  While the Bishop did not see the Traditional Latin Mass to be the direction of where the Church is going, his primary focus was on the affective maturity behind the seminarian who cried because he could not attend such a mass in his seminary formation.  Let’s examine the disproportionate reaction of that individual seminarian.

First, I don’t have much affection for the Traditional Mass, but I also do not have a spirit of antagonism towards it.  I just simply look at it as another way to encounter our God that a minority within the Church finds helpful.  I do not think that this minority should be marginalized.   It should be supplied to common folks while recognizing that it offers the same substance of what is celebrated in the Novus Ordo mass.  Second, I do believe that there are things we can do to fulfill a legitimate desire for increased reverence in the Novus Ordo – and that this topic needs to be explored more thoroughly amongst the various polemics that Cardinal Sarah recently spoke about.  Third, none of the aforementioned points are meant to be addressed in a comprehensive manner in this blog – rather I would like to narrow in on the spirit of nostalgia that was spoken of by the good Bishop.

It must be said that any spiritual disease is by its nature not wedded by definition to some external.  This means that people can be nostalgic about things both new and old – in the sense that there is an attachment that is unreasonable to some external, without a proper level of integration or internalization of that external in relation to God and the Church.  Second, the nostalgia in regard to the past is a reality, observable and it should be corrected.  It is not my concern to dive into the arguments in support of various externals that are being resurrected from the past – as legitimate or illegitimate as they may be.  Rather, I would like to focus on the question:  “why are people holding onto the past forms of worship or church-structure as if they are ends in themselves?”


Spiritual Diagnosis of Historical Nostalgia

There is perhaps a laundry list of reasons of why this might be the case.  People generally, when meeting a crisis, immediately run back to what they are comfortable with and know.  In this regard, when we are consumed by the numerical desolation of Churches with more than 70 or 80 percent of Catholics not practicing their faith – we might think that the solution is to return to the past because clearly what they were doing before the 60s was working.  In logic this might be considered the fallacy of false-cause, where one connects an effect to a cause artificially – simply because the effect occurs after an event- and that is why the SSPX have such a following.  It feels convincing, but fails to look deeply at the question at hand – a very complicated question that involves a fair assessment of the fluidity in our own culture.

The Church needs to adapt to the times without compromising its substance – and this applies to everyone on the spectrum, including those who think the “Glory and Praise” is still a “new hymnal.”  Formation prior to entry into the seminary is undermined by the deformation that the secular culture has borne as a result of radical individualism, consumerism, and a growing agnosticism of indifference.  Addictions to pornography are common, and finally now being recognized as an actual mental-health issue.  Empathy is limited in some people as a result of a pattern of behaviour clinging too heavily on social media – which has also prevented people from reflecting on matters deeply – looking for quick information and sound-bites. spiritual-diagnosis

I would therefore like to suggest a direct correlation between the nostalgia for the past with the culture that has naturally led itself into this unhealthy disposition in many candidates for the priesthood.   And by the way, I do not mean to suggest that such candidates should not approach such a vocation, but rather there needs to be a course-correction in their formation prior to and during formation.  The connection between the culture and the nostalgia has to do with two main errors in the culture:

  1. Relativism
  2. Radical Individualism


Relativism is undoubtably something that exists both within the Church and within the culture.  We need to be humble enough as a Church to be able to recognize that in attempting to extend a bridge to the culture, the Church at times saw this as a bridge out of the Church rather than inviting others into the Gospel.  The irreconcilable dimensions of the culture were sought to be reconciled with the Church and a mixture of confusion and relativism entered as a result – in both subtle ways and sometimes very explicit ways.  This leads to what we might call a “broader-scope” to moral truth, an accommodation of people’s fallen inclinations and ultimately a superficial spirituality.  Instead of going deeper, we went broader.  Let me stress that distinction:  instead of plunging into the simplicity of the gospel, we sought to make things more complex through sin.  That complexity and lack of depth has one spiritual impact on the soul:  exhaustion.  Many of the youth are tired.  Why?  Because they have to make personal decisions about every moral doctrine under the sun, and it is very difficult to find anyone who agrees.  Furthermore, the heart yearns for simplicity, not complexity – and the heart wants to ultimately rest in a simple God.

So the heart of many millennials generally wants things to be simpler – and the wound on the soul of such persons is a wound of complexity and confusion.  Complexity is not something to be embraced in the spiritual life, it is something to validate as a reality, but also to remedy through the simplicity and depth of the gospel.  If a person is experiencing great complexity and confusion, the unhealthy way to seek to find freedom from such a plight might be to over-simplify things – especially on the external level.  Or alternatively look at complexity as “reality” when in fact it’s an illusion that traps the soul.  If one is so complexitywounded by complexity, simplifying the interior life usually is what a person wants to do, but it is the hardest thing to do – and so we do what is easiest, and focus on simplifying the external world.  What is simpler than rubrics that are followed, order restored to the liturgy, and a Church where everyone is simply on the same page about everything dogmatic.  And while that type of simplicity certainly is a sign of unity with a simply United Triune God, accomplishing it through an external imposition of rubrics without the interior life – in tandem – will lead to nothing more than a type of rigidity that actually creates and supports all the unfortunate stereotypes of the so-called “traditional-Catholic.”  Being naive and defensive against this as a possibility is just a sign of pride; the devil seeks to corrupt every movement- so that even if people do what is right, they will do it for the wrong reasons.

Is a desire for simplicity a good thing within the Church and in the priesthood? – absolutely.  But we must go about it for the right reasons and in the right spirit.

Radical-Individualism is both the cause and the result of relativism – it keeps the unhealthy cycle spinning.  It is the radical individual who thinks he can define truth around his own fallible, fallen mind.  And in that he supports a culture which normalizes the pride of appropriating truth to himself, so that the person actually begins to think of it as a virtue, when in reality it is the deadliest vice.  And in the midst of a world of complexity, man begins to think that because things are confusing he now has the conscientious right to define the truth according to His own judgment – exploiting confusion, rationalizing reality – especially in matters that have already been made clear by the Church and Gospel.

But the most basic problem that comes from all of this is the isolation it wounds the millennials with – and this should make us sad.  It is common to experience youth who are growing up in divided homes, divorced and remarried families, with classmates who they can’t find any agreement and friendship is best maintained by avoiding any deep conversation.  And so in both the domestic Church and the universal Church, along with depththe schools and cultures a lack of depth in communion with one another is felt, and we become isolated.  This can actually breed within others a failure to even go deeply into prayer with God, and to share with him the very tender wounds that boil up in our own blood as a result of original sin, past sins, and the isolation of the culture we live in.

Perhaps this isolation is one of the reasons why addictions towards social media, and pornography have escalated.  As a result of not having many people to connect, it becomes easier to express our emotive needs in a manner that doesn’t require the accountability of a face-to-face interaction.  Things can be done with the veil or illusion of anonymity, and as a result young men are being immersed into an affective-illusion of communion, and given a temporary fix to simply “get by.”

Thus in such candidates you might see again a clinging to tradition, not primarily out of a desire to glorify the name of God (though that may be how the argument is presented), but rather out of a desire to heal one’s own isolation, through tangible experiences of solidarity with the past and in the present.  That is perhaps why some men are crying when the simplicity and conformity (material sign of communion) perceived in the past are rejected without a lick of compassion or understanding.  That doesn’t have to be the case, and in many good priests, often is not how it is approached.  The rejection of these external practices is interpreted as a continuation of that isolation and complexity – and furthermore a rejection of their own person.  That is not the right reaction – and it is certainly not the right reason for clinging to such external practices, especially from future priests.  The motivation for the mass and priesthood should not be founded upon some narcissistic need to “heal my wounds” but rather first and foremost give glory to God and say the words that are truly helpful to one another.  If we seek healing while being blinded to the true nature of our wounds we do a lot of damage.  If we do seek healing, it should be out of a love for God and our neighbours.

Possible Healing Remedies

Perhaps for parents I would suggest building up the virtue of speaking about deep-matters with your children, so they are capable of having a deeper type of unity with one another.  It is not enough to simply speak about the faith on a conceptual level, but also to delve more deeply into the very encounters and experiences of God in our life.  This type of communication should be normalized so that it can build the virtue of a strong affective maturity both in relation to God and with others.

Men’s groups should be formed outside of the seminary and prior to seminary formation where men can discuss their love for God as a Father, Brother, and as Love itself in the Spirit.  One does not need to venture into the broad waters of the world to find depth – it is already made known to us in the Creed – we simply need to explore it with depth rather than familiarity.

Chastity groups need to be formed so that the illusions that prolong the inner-healing and capacity for deep interpersonal relationships can be developed.  Furthermore, to overcome interior shame for past sins, it might be helpful for such individuals to experience fraternity and encouragement and challenge in the external forum so that the shame doesn’t keep such men locked into the sin, resulting in a mediocre image of self that always leads to a return to the self-shaming behaviour.  If I don’t measure up to much, I’ll act as if that is the case:  sin.

Discipline and understanding in regard to the use of social media.  The impact of social media can be a good one, especially if it is used in the way it ought to be.  But when people use it to replace the legitimate need for interpersonal relationships – then it becomes unhealthy and builds a habitual way of relating that stunts the affective maturity and capacity for empathy.  We do not want “de-facto” priests – we want priests who speak the truth with love – not with a repressed robotic demeanour – this will only wound the people in their distress.  Furthermore, pulling men away from social media by actually inviting them into a deeper relationship, whereby they feel perused and wanted.  It doesn’t help to merely criticize others, it may only drive them into the addiction further, reaffirming their isolation.

Lastly, and with special emphasis I would say the validation of their wounds from the culture is very much needed.  This is unfortunately hard for the Church, because in doing so, there is some level of recognition that the past generation within the Church has made decisions that have negatively affected the present Church.  And if there is no humility to admit that it is even remotely possible that decisions have been made that have hurt the Church – then there is no real spiritual foundation for a future Church.  Every generation will sin in a unique way – lets not be embarrassed about it, let’s just own it so we can move on.  Now in that regard, it might be helpful not to focus inordinately on blame, because that could actually reinforce a preoccupation with the wound rather than its healing.  So the blame could remain a passive dimension or in the periphery of the vocation-directorvalidation.  That is to say that in validating the candidate’s isolation as a reality that has been imposed upon him unfairly by the world we live in and perhaps his own personal choices, we prevent one major thing from happening:  exaggeration.  When a wound is not validated, the man will typically begin to exaggerate it – and by exaggerating it will only tear it open in a wider fashion.  The exaggeration comes because he wants to be heard and listened to – and so he shouts about it, blowing it out of proportion.  Then in order to prevent feeling like a silly radical in his thoughts he might find support in those who are head of him in this project to “be heard.”  Overtime the exaggeration becomes a falsehood believed as true.   Therefore it becomes a crystallized movement with communal support and validation in all the wrong ways.

If sincere validation is offered for the man, he will have the capacity to “move-on” to other topics.  In being able to cease obsessing and looking upon his woundedness, not through a magnifying glass, he will be then able to see the trees and the forest.  And in seeing things in a deeper context, he will not spend an inordinate amount of time looking at one truth isolated from others.  The problem with only looking at one truth opposed to how all other truths hang together is that it will naturally foster a disjointed relationship between one doctrine and another – and this as we know fosters many of the sects that we encounter in our culture today.

Last of all, what is not needed, as already alluded to, is a reaction against such men – instead of looking at them as a threat, it might be better to see the legitimate wounds that cry out to the Church for healing.  While such wounds can naturally enslave the soul to sin – if they are healed, they can lead to a great character in the priest who will be able to know the healing touch of Christ who does not want to encounter Him broadly but deeply, both through the Church, and in our prayer life.


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Speaking about God Analogically

This blog is for the philosophically minded.  One of the common experiences I have had in discussing “arguments for God’s existence” with non-believers is a common-misunderstanding projected into the arguments themselves.  So I would like to offer an attitude that might help atheists assess scholastic arguments in a different way than perhaps they are familiar.  I don’t mean to imply that they have not understood the position properly, rather I might suggest that things have been explained to them incorrectly, and therefore their disagreement with such arguments might have been reasonable.Thomas Aquinas

When we use the term “God” there is often, within our own mind, some assumed definition that we are working with.  I’d like to, in the name of Socrates begin this blog by stripping away some of those assumed definitions in order to fairly assess scholastic arguments.  First, it is important to consider the language we use, which frames perhaps even the unconscious assumptions we project into the arguments.

“Define God”

If we consider the etymology of “definition” we realize that anything which can be defined, must necessarily be finite.  To put-limits (de-finite) on something is a very reasonable thing to do, because it tells us what something is, and it can help us establish the specific difference between that and something else.  Concepts themselves are not infinite – because they have definitions.  Therefore if anyone has a “concept” of God it will always be incorrect.  It is irrational to ask for a definition of that which is not finite; that is a non-definite definition.

“If you cannot speak of God conceptually, what is the point of even addressing His existence?”

To speak of something which cannot be conceptualized is to speak of nothing.  As a result, philosophical agnostics/atheists will argue that further conversation is as meaningless as discussing a circle-square (something impossible or intrinsically irrational).  This is an absolutely fair point, but again misunderstands the scholastic tradition itself.  Often in my experience we sometimes assess the possibility of things according to two categories:  it either is conceptual or it is non-cognitive.  However, what is required in order to at least understand the scholastic tradition, one has to be willing to see the discussion in a less of a narrow way, by adding a third way of discussing God.

St. Thomas Aquinas, having been influenced by writings of Aristotle and the Islamic understanding of Aristotle explains that there are really three basic ways to address any subject:  univocal, analogical, and negatively.

Negative Language

Plato and Socrates certainly were able to speak about Justice and Piety in this manner of speech.  They were good at stripping away what was “false” of Justice.  None of this implied to Socrates that Justice itself didn’t exist.  Rather if one could authentically say what Justice-was-not, it did not mean that Justice itself did not exist.  To be able to declare that something was not justice meant that there was some principle at work in Justice-itself, that made it possible to deny what was false of it.  Nonetheless, one might argue that to say something is not justice, does not of itself prove that justice exists.  So to many, while this point can certainly be argued, negative proof isn’t sufficient for belief.socrates

However what can be done in this regard is to speak of the temporal (created or finite or contingent) universe and say what it is not capable of according to reasoning.  So for instance, we might say that a billiard ball will not move itself, but that some external cause will move it.  In saying, “some external cause” we have not finally named some-thing specific, but we have said what cannot happen to that particular billiard ball, in-itself.  Therefore, when speaking of the universe in general, excluding itself as a cause for its own existence, we can conclude that some subject, which is not itself the universe, must be responsible for the universe- itself.  In other words we are saying that all-things-themselves cannot themselves be responsible for their own existence.  One can suggest that something extrinsic is necessary, without submitting a definition for that which is extrinsic.  We in fact do it all the time.

This could be explained in more depth, but it is not really what I’d prefer to zero in on.

Univocal Language

Normally the confusion begins with assuming this type of talk about God.  It is the number one reason why false-similes are often used to demonstrate an apparent irrational belief in God.  We hear of flying spaghetti monsters or unicorns and the like, for which there is no epistemological evidence.  These similes hide within themselves a presupposed definition to God where He can be spoken of as if he is definable like such fictional characters.  Pagan gods were often associated with elements in nature or in human relationships, and thus distinguishable from other things.  But the “burning-bush”, suggests Aquinas, offers us a totally new notion of God that is not equal or univocal to the other pagan gods, or any creature or thing.  Aquinas explains that there is a difference between a “thing” and God which is not-a-thing.  What might someone antagonistically argue in response?  sp monster.jpgThey might say, “so God is nothing…case closed.”  But again this reveals a very black-and-white approach that assumes its own conclusion.  We must not be content with such an objection that on the surface seems witty, but in reality demonstrates an inability to understand the scholastic tradition.  I am not suggesting that one must agree with the scholastic tradition, but rather that one must be willing to see its position properly.

When God said to Moses, “I am who I am,” Aquinas explained that God revealed very little about who He was, and yet at the same-time a great deal.  He revealed that His essence was His existence – that will be explained below.  The Jews, earlier-on were considered to adhere to Monolatry, which is to ascribe to the worship of one god among many.  But when God spoke to Moses in the burning Bush he revealed Monotheism instead, whereby God was not definable (he had no name).  Of course, the paradox then began to form where God’s name was that He had no name/definition.  Why would the Jews find this to be something to brag about?  It demonstrated that God was utterly transcendent of definition/genus.  It was not to suggest that God did not have a name because He didn’t exist, but rather He didn’t have a definition because He was in/non-finite.  And therefore we can establish that two realities can be spoken of in a manner that they have no definition:  that which is not, and that which is, yet different than that which is-and-is-finite.

We must then consider how we speak of “things,” things that don’t exists, and that which is not a thing (if we can assume thing here means a definable reality), yet is real.  Things are spoken of within a temporal framework, that is “here, there, where, when” etc..  The castle is over there, my mother is at home, my brother is tall, and I am sitting down.  But what we cannot do is say that God is over-there, and He is 6 feet tall, in my mother’s house.  All of a sudden we have collapsed God into quantitative realities that are finite and limited, and thus begun to treat God as if He has finite dimensions.

So how can we discuss God at all, if not through finite concepts used univocally?  I suppose in one sense we cannot, because all language is made up of words that are connected to concepts which have definitions.  And yet philosophers, theologians, and believers have written any number of books, most especially sacred texts.  Isn’t that hypocritical?  It is as if the language is meant to be interpreted as absolute, final, and definite.  But if it is non-exhaustive or analogical, then it is acceptable.

Analogical Language

Any word used and attributed to God, will automatically be insufficient and incapable of finally explaining/summarizing God.  But that does not mean it isn’t speaking a truth about God, it just means that whatever we are saying is always going to be incomplete.  This is challenging to the human person, because we are seemingly wired to have a definition of whatever subject we are discussing.  However, if we can accept that God is infinite, we must understand that it is unreasonable to expect our finite-mind to contain something infinite.  It would be like trying to fit an ocean into a wine-glass, except the ocean is infinitely larger than Earth’s.


Therefore, there is some rational basis in accepting the fact that our mind cannot contain God through what logicians would call self-evident arguments or ontological proofs. But if we can get past our need to submit all knowledge to our own finite-mind, then we can begin to appreciate analogical language which offers us insight that is non-exhaustive but nonetheless true.  This is the middle-position between univocal language and negative language, whereby we can apply a concept to God, but only sacramentally or analogically.  Like saying:  food is good, health is good, and God is good, but infinitely.

Where do we go wrong?

After the protestant reformation a new way of looking at God developed which had been developing prior to the reformation.  It is what some might call deism, whereby God created the universe, wound it up, and watched it, remotely, unfold.  This, I would say has shaped many minds in both theology and atheism in terms of how we conceptualize discussions about God.

On the one hand, the validation of God as being extrinsic to the universe seems to be similar to the scholastic tradition.  But I would argue that deism doesn’t argue for a true extrinsic God, but in fact a temporal type of extrinsic (remote) relation.  For instance, one might say that I am extrinsic to my house, since I am at the store.  Yet both my house and I are temporal.  But when you say that God is extrinsic to the universe-itself (or all-things), you are saying something quite different.  You are suggesting that God is extrinsic to extension and temporal realities in general.  In other words, deism treats God as if he is extrinsic to the universe is a temporal way, which ends up containing within itself an inherent bible-thumpercontradiction or perhaps equivocation with the term “universe.”  Treating God as if he were an object or thing, greater than the universe, is still nonetheless to treat Him as if He has a definition.  Some reformers understood this contradiction, but walked around it by suggesting that faith did not need to be tested by reason, and therefore God was capable of contradicting reason.  This is when fundamentalism became all the more popular within the Christian communities, and what we might call fideism and rationalism were born as a result.

St. John Paul II, who follows Aquinas (scholasticism) and a phenomenological approach to the question of faith in relation to reason.  He explained that both need to be in dialogue with one another, whereby reason can prevent faith from degenerating into superstition and faith can help prevent reason from degenerating into idolatry of the human-mind (treating the mind as if it is infinite).  Filling-in-the-gaps is often associated with the fideistic tradition because one decides to make reason justify one’s faith at whatever cost, which can amount to nothing more than an internal system with few epistemic foundations that ground the belief fairly.  Aquinas taught that if anything interpreted in scripture was ever disproven by science that would imply that our interpretation of that passage had been misunderstood, and was meant to be understood in an allegorical manner instead.  The view that the Church had long held onto a fundamentalist view of scripture has heavily influenced non-believer’s view of the relation between faith and reason, an unfortunate result of both fundamentalism and an a-historical account of the Galileo episode.  In the Galileo episode, the Church did not so much contend with the conclusions of Galileo but rather his methodology which scientists have admitted was very problematic.  His approach was imperfect, as he ascribed to the tide of the ocean as justification for the heliocentric model.  Furthermore, he began to publicly decry scripture as infallible at a time after the protestant reformation when the Church was trying to explain its view of scripture to fundamentalists.

The view which suggests infallibility without adhering to a literalistic model.  The infallibility of scripture was communicated both through poetry (Psalms), through stories (with a mixture of historical truth and fictive), and historical accounts.  This had been long understood by the Church Fathers in the onset of the Church’s existence, and the writers of scripture who took pagan stories (such as Creation, the great flood, and so on) and noahtweaked, during enslavement in Babylon was an attempt communicate their own theology through redeeming their own stories.  Think of remade movies that offer a different twist to convey a new ideology that either contradicts one in the previous film or makes the issue more relevant to what is currently taking place in the world.  This type of authorship of scripture respects the very human-dimensions of authorship and does not apply a dictatorial approach to scripture which is both unrealistic and problematic.  The point of the story is to convey a message, a truth, whether it is historical, poetic or fictive or a mix of both.  It’s that message that is infallible.  This is why when atheists or liberal theologians who seek to deny infallibility, take passages and oppose them to each other superficially, it doesn’t even begin to touch Catholic theology.  The reason is that moral truths also involve taking into consideration context, where in one case killing is wrong, but in another case might not be.  The absoluteness of morality is not relativized but the complexity of moral situations and the application of immutable principles is respected and demonstrated in scripture.

Ipsum Esse

Understanding God’s revelation to Moses about His holy name is key because it is a great example of how reason and faith intersect on this particular subject.  As I stated earlier, God reveals that He doesn’t have a name; of course the Jews take an ironic step by making God’s namelessness His name.  They begin to boast of a God who, unlike all other gods, cannot be summarized, explained, defined or controlled by our own conceptualizations.  This is true and genuine transcendence that the Jews uphold, and it might seem to make God more distant, but in fact it does the exact opposite if understood properly.

Consider the burning bush an illustration from God of both his transcendence and presence.  God’s transcendence is not to be understood like that of the deistic model; that would just place God far out in outer space.  Rather, God’s transcendence means his mode-of-existence differs from our own.  When the Bush is burning, without itself being consumed this becomes an illustration of who God is.  God, as Bishop Robert Barron mosesbush-gifsuggests, exists in non-competitive relationship with His creation.  All things are generally in competition with each other, since two objects cannot occupy the same space.  Generally fire consumes what it burns, but in the case of God, he can both be present to something, and not destroy it in the process.

How can we understand this notion?  Aquinas uses Aristotelian language to explain it.  He explains that “God’s essence is His existence.”  Or that God is the shear act-to-exist.  To many this sounds either entirely absurd or panentheistic.  It is neither to the scholastic.  God is not the “sum-total of beings” which would be properly considered panentheism.  It is not absurd either, because the explanation is not self-contradictory.

Generally when speaking of things we differentiate between their essence and their existence.  A thing is its essence, and its essence has existence.  That is to say that a pen has a definition (essence), and that essence either exists at a certain time or place or doesn’t.  This implies that all things that exist do not explain themselves.  If a thing has the potential to not exist, then when it does exist, it must be explainable.  In other words, if it could-not-be, why is it?

This brings us to Aquinas argument from contingency which many have interpreted to be reducible to a question of mere local-motion.  However, the question pertains to a different type of motion that we might call essential-motion or necessary motion of that which is contingent (that which isn’t self-explanatory).

What we realize from all of this is that all things which are their essence but not their existence (the entire universe) they cannot explain themselves.  God on the other hand, as we have stated previously is not a contingent being, and as explained to Moses “He is who He is.”  But furthermore, God’s essence-is-his existence.  That is to say that God is suggested to not merely be something that has existence (that would only prolong the problem of contingency), but rather is the shear-act-to exist.

To many this would be confusing because we cannot conceptualize what that “looks-like.”  What does “existence-itself” look like?  Again the human mind, out of habit, is trying to conceptualize something that cannot be conceptualized.  The mind is trying to hard-thinkingthink of something parallel to that which has no parallel or synonym.  But it might help to consider the relationship between those things which “have-existence” to that which “is-existence.”  That is to say that those things which “have-existence” are in fact “participating in God’s own essence.”  Just like the burning bush was not consumed by the fire, so a human person’s existence is compatible with God, who is existence-itself.

This presents an entirely different notion of creation than the deistic model.  Instead of God standing outside of existence in a temporal manner, God’s creation becomes intimately present to all things via concomitance and dependence.  This means that to a God that is a-temporal creation is not something that happened, but is something that continues to happen in the moment.  And while things have a nature of their own and a linear projection, that whole process is held up by God.  In my experience this is where most people check out because they are emotionally invested in only understanding the deistic model.

I suppose the hope of this blog was not really to convince anyone – but rather to merely inform others of a genuine understanding of an alternative view in regard to the rational basis for belief in God.  If that was accomplished, at least dialogue that isn’t slowed down by equivocation or misinterpretation.  Perhaps we could speak to more fundamental questions in regard to essence or the form of things, contingency in light of quantum mechanics and string-theory.

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