Monday, September 22, 2014

Let There Be Light Analogies

Light is a special thing. The book of Genesis tells us that light is the very first physical reality God created. Light not only radiates its own beauty, but also reveals the beauty of other things. It stands to reason then; there is nothing quite like a good light analogy to help us “see”.

St. John of the Cross
You might already be familiar with light through a pane of glass from St. John of the Cross. A modern day version for this one could involve a car. On a bright sunny day, as you drive away from the sun, you may think your windshield is not perfectly spotless, but pretty darn clean. As you turn and drive towards the sun, the dirt, blotches, smears & chips in the glass make their presence known. The sins in our life are like the imperfections on the glass. Moving away from God, our faults are barely visible if noticed at all. Facing God and moving toward Him, we see everything as His grace shines through. We then may experience an intense desire to clean our souls.

Here are a few more analogies that are perhaps not as famous, but just as “enlightening”…

The Little Flower
The sun provides the same light upon everything in the forest, from the most towering tree to the smallest flower provided that there are no obstructions. In this same way Saint Thérèse of Lisieux describes God grace as being available to the holiest people and the most towering saints as well as a little flower like herself.

Moon on the Water
Here’s one inspired by lay apologist Frank Sheed. On a clear moonlit night, we can observe a perfect reflection of the moon off a calm body of water. To the degree in which the water is disturbed, the reflection of the moon will become distorted. Even one small rock thrown into the water can set off a ripple effect that can completely distort the surface and thus the reflection of the moon. Of course in a torrent of wind and rain, the added distortion of a small rock would never even be noticed.

So it is with our life and sin. We are meant to reflect Christ to others. The more we are disturbed by sin, the more the reflection of Christ is distorted. Even one small sin can distort us, but in a torrent of sin, smaller faults can go completely unnoticed.

Sun & Distance
Anything seen from a distance seems smaller than when viewed up close. The sun is many times larger than the earth and this never changes, but with all the intervening space between the two celestial bodies, the sun can seem as small as a pea and any small object can block-out its magnificent rays.

So it is with a person’s soul. The further a soul is from God the easier any trifling thing can block His magnificent grace. The closer a soul is, the more God may pour in His grace unobstructed.

The preceding inspired by Fr. John Tauler. O.P.

Mediarix of all Graces
Mediarix basically refers to the intercessory role of the Mary as a mediator in the redemptive role of her son. The CCC is clear about the title. "…Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix." Paragraph 969

We notice that the phrase "of all graces" is missing. Does Mary simply pray to her Son that he may give us grace or does God also use her as an instrument in distributing that grace? Mary's role as an instrument in the dispensation of ALL graces flows logically with the help of an “illuminating” light analogy.

If we are in a room with one window, the sunlight passes through the glass to light up the room whether we know the glass is there or not; whether we like the glass or not. The glass is in no way the source of the light, but ALL the light passes through the glass regardless. The glass can also help to keep bad things out of the room like insects, wild animals and cold air. Incidentally, if God were to make a piece of glass for the light of the world to shine through, would He choose some dirty, cracked or chipped glass that would block and distort His magnificent  light, or would He create an immaculate piece glass?

 As long as we are talking about Mary and light, think of a magnifying glass placed in the sun. What happens? The rays of the sun that go through the glass are concentrated and the heat & light is greatly magnified. How many ants discover this at the hands of mischievous little boys? Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord (Luke 1:46). Mary acts as the “magnifier” of God’s Grace and magnifiers also work both ways. Mary will magnify our feeble efforts before God if we go through her.

Inspired by a book called "33 Days to Morning Glory" by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley and the teachings of St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Louis de Montefort.

"I believe in God as I believe the sun had risen, not because I can see it, but because by way of it, I can see everything else."
C.S. Lewis

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Riddle me this...

As you last recall…
We were able to find your age using your cell phone number.

Step 1: Take the last two digits of your cell number
Step 2: ×2
Step 3: +5
Step 4 ×50
Step 5: +1764
Step 6: Subtract your birth year (example:1965)

You will get 4 digits.
  • The first two digits will be the cell numbers.
  • The next two digits will be your age.

How can it be so?
Answer below…

I found this intriguing when I stumbled upon it since I do some analytical problem solving for a living.  I employed some of the methods we use at work when faced with a perplexing situation. There is also a Faith & Reason connection in here somewhere, so here we go…

1. Identify base premise or premises
For this case:
Your cell phone number and your age correlate. This should NOT be happening!

2. Separate & clarify the situation
Breakdown the situation into specific/actionable elements to minimize/alleviate:
  • Over-generalizations
  • Assumed cause-effect relationships
  • Reality confusion
  • Rationality overloaded by feelings
  • Being overwhelmed by the scope of the problem

3. Make thinking “visible”
Since this is about numbers and variables, knowledge and experience with algebra can be used to simultaneously breakdown the problem and make the thinking visible.

x = last two digits of cell #
y = your birth year
z = your age this year

(2x+5)50 + 1764 - y = 100x + z
100x + 250 + 1764 - y = 100x + z
100x + 2014 - y = 100x + z

4. Sort relevant data from irrelevant data
“100x” is irrelevant because they cancel out in the equation above, so "x” is also irrelevant.

We are left with:
2014 - y = z

5. Track assumptions
Is “2014” just the current year used to calculate your age?

6. Verify assumptions
Pretend it's the year 2024 (you are 10 years older) and re-try the riddle. It doesn't work.

7. Form conclusions
  • The cell phone number (“x”) is irrelevant data in terms of your age.
            - It can be any number.
            - It is not used to find your age.
            - Your cell number is in the riddle to freak you out.
  • The other numbers are a clever way to get you to calculate the current year (2014).
Call the current year “c”
  • We are left with “c” and “y” as the only relevant data in terms of your age “z”.

c - y = z
current year - birth year = age

No concern here.

What kind of faith & reason connection can we make from all this? Perhaps it’s that we cannot reduce the reality around us to only surface observations, or only one way of looking at things. This may not sound very “Catholic” on the surface, but I think it is, as long as we deal with reality in its proper context.

Much in the riddle was invisible to us in the beginning which made it unsettling. It seems your age just “magically” appeared by itself out of some arbitrary numbers and steps, but things became visible with some time, effort and a rational approach that brought clarity and deeper understanding.

Far from being something born of chance, we see that there must have been a mind behind it all, and a very clever mind at that. All I did was discover and sort facts that were already there, and think about what was already thought of before. In the end we found the riddle to be “intelligible”, which ultimately implies “intelligence”. We don’t know how or why the riddler thought of this, but we do know that it requires thinking.

I think the same can be said about the riddle of our “being”, about the course of our lives, about mankind as evolutionary “overkill” (in terms of surviving & reproducing), about how our planet and the entire universe just happened to “magically” appear and “calculate” itself in our favor. Intellectual honesty tells us that it’s all beyond what mindlessness can do. As Albert Einstein once said, “The most incomprehensible thing about our universe is that it is comprehensible”.

Going beyond just deism, when we grow in our catholic faith, we grow in the right perception of all reality, as we say in our creed, of all things visible AND invisible.

“…when we reflect on ourselves as knowers, it is clear that we are pattern-seeking and pattern-loving creatures, creatures curiously made to be curious amidst an order curiously designed to be sought.”

From “A Meaningful World” by Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt


Sunday, August 31, 2014

WARNING: This is somewhat disturbing

Riddle me this…

Let's find your age using your cell phone number…
Step 1: Take the last two digits of your cell number.
Step 2: ×2
Step 3: +5
Step 4 ×50
Step 5: +1764
Step 6: Now minus your birth year (example:1965)

You will get 4 digits:
  • The first two digits will be the cell numbers.
  • The next two digits will be your age.
Why did it happen?

An explanation with a Faith & Reason connection coming next week. Same blog time, same blog channel. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Authority and Responsibility

The other day I was chatting with a Deacon friend of mine and we stumbled upon the topic of Limbo. You know, that place that never was, yet was where the unbaptized babies went? Limbo turned out to be a hypothesis regularly taught until the 1950's, but was thereafter quietly removed
from Catholic teaching as it was never an official doctrine. We discussed how upset mothers of miscarried children were, worried that in going to Limbo their children were denied the bliss of Heaven and the beatific vision. This unofficial hypothesis was nevertheless taught by many well-meaning priests and educators and was believed by these mothers, causing anguish and heartache. At this point, I stated that since a priest taught it, people believed it was true through their authority. He tilted his head and with a broad smile asked, "Do you want to get into it about authority? Clergy don't have authority, they have responsibility."

This took me aback, so I asked him what he meant. He went on to say that bishops, priests and deacons don't have authority in their own right. The authority Christ gives to the Church is delegated. For example, when a steward exercises his authority, he must act in light of his master's wishes. Any steward who makes decisions concerning his master's property of which the master would not approve, will not be steward long. There will be an accounting when the master returns and reclaims the authority given. The recounting of a steward in just this situation is told in Isaiah 22. Jesus himself delegates to Peter this same kind of authority in Matthew 16 using "the key" from Isaiah 22:22 as the symbol of that authority.

So, my friend concluded with a smile, this delegated authority given to Peter, down to today's bishops, is really "a responsibility." Bishops are responsible to teach the truth of the gospel, guide the people of God and administer the Sacraments.

I reflected on this and had to agree. Any bishop, priest or deacon that taught his own gospel or exercised his own authority in the name of Jesus Christ or His Church would place himself out of communion with them.

In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a responsibility is laid upon these men to lead as Christ would lead, to speak as Christ would speak and to bring into the Church all "who labor and are burdened" (Matt 11:28) so that their master can give them rest.

My friend is acutely aware of his own shortcomings and how his words are taken very seriously given the fact his is an ordained minister of the Church. He has no desire to be an unfaithful steward, even inadvertently.

Therefore we must pray for our bishops, priest and deacons that they remain steadfast in this responsibility. There will be an accounting for every word and deed. For to whom much has been given, must will be demanded (see Luke 12:48).

Birth Control = No Birth + No Control

My wife and I have practice NFP (Natural Family Planning) our entire fourteen year marriage. We have three children and used NFP to help achieve our first pregnancy; our son was born about eighteen months after the wedding. Not long after, we used NFP again to achieve our second pregnancy. Our first daughter was born twenty five months after our son. Around this time a co-worker said something to me (in jest).

Co-worker:  Nicely done; you have your boy & your girl. You’re getting “fixed” now, right?
Me: I’m not broken.

Co-worker: Sounds like something is working a little too well.
Me: I’ll see a doctor about a medical procedure when something is wrong with me, not when things are working well.

We both laughed, but it brings up the point that we treat fertility much like a disease; we get prescriptions, have surgery and buy “gadgets”.  If fertility is a gift designed by God, it would not be reasonable to treat it this way. Going beyond unreasonable, we have actually reached the point where not using artificial contraception is viewed as ignorant and irresponsible. My wife and I take the precise opposite view. Many are ignorant about natural law and irresponsible about sex, so what is the result? No birth & no control. Seems the houses where we live are getting bigger and bigger while the families inside getting smaller and smaller.
Look ma, no kids!!
My wife and I now give talks on sex & intimacy to engaged couples at our parish as part of their pre-Cana. We cover some theology of the body, and once couples hear the logic, they may think it’s a nice theory that belongs in the heavens somewhere, but it’s not practical for real people on earth. We then get into the practical benefits of NFP which have benefitted us, but many have never heard before:

More knowledge fosters better family planning: It’s not only for avoiding pregnancy and spacing children, but also achieving pregnancy. When a couple has trouble conceiving, one of the first things a doctor may do is have them try some aspects of NFP.

You’ll know if you’re pregnant before a doctor can know. Many women miscarry without even knowing they were pregnant.  We knew we were pregnant with our 3rd child not long after conception and noticed some unusual signs, so my wife consulted with a doctor. A prescription to boost a hormone may have prevented the miscarriage of our youngest daughter.

It’s “Green”: It’s free & natural. In fact, there are those who use NFP simply because they prefer to do things naturally instead of artificially (no theological reason). It’s really just common sense. Ironically, as we become more health conscious, we’ll avoid natural things like fat, salt, sugar and pay extra for organic foods, but at the same time, gladly encourage women to pump themselves with artificial hormones via pills and patches.

Communication: It fosters better communication between couples. NFP couples have very low divorce rates. Think about it; whether avoiding or achieving pregnancy, if you’re going to be intimate with each other, you’ll need to stay in “intimate” communication on a fairly regular basis.

It only gets better: We experienced how a women’s cycle can become more regular after having children, which makes NFP easier to do. As you start having children, spacing them out can become more and more important, so the woman’s cycle becomes easier to read. God knows what he’s doing when he designs something. Also, if avoiding pregnancy, the cycles of abstaining and being together mirror a natural dating-honeymoon cycle that continually breathes new life into a marriage.

From here we get into the two purposes of sex that should not be separated (babies & bonding). We use an analogy with food. Food has two purposes; nutrition and social bonding. Suppose you go to a party for pleasure and eat all the food you want, but you don’t want all those calories, so you head over to the restroom afterwards and make yourself throw-up. That’s NOT the purpose of food! Now consider the other extreme, suppose a new one-a-day pill was invented which provides all the nutrition you would ever need and you decided never to eat again. No restaurants, no party food, no dining with family & friends, nothing at holidays, no food ever. This would disorder your social life.

We also explain how NFP is not like artificial contraception when avoiding pregnancy because you are using the gift of fertility the way God designed it. It’s the difference between intentionally blocking something vs. just not participating in something.

When we look throughout salvation history we see a reoccurring theme that is really a reoccurring question. It started with Adam & Eve and continued with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, his son Joseph, Moses, all the Israelites, the kings of Israel, Mary & Joseph in the New Testament, all the way up to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The question was and still is: Will you trust God?

My wife and I were also in a “trusting” situation when we started NFP.  All we had was a Church teaching and a class we took; no one we knew was using it back then. No family; no friends. It was hard at times, so we had to face the question head on; will you trust God? We did and we are forever grateful.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Feed the Children — Teach RE

I was asked to speak about Religious Education, or Children's Faith Formation, at our parish this morning. Thought I might as well share on the blog too...

I’ll be entering my fourth year teaching (what we call) Level 2 Confirmation this fall and I’d like to share a little about why I do it.

The book of Genesis tells us we are made in the image and likeness of God. We all have a will and an intellect.
  • The action of our will is to love.
  • The action of our intellect is to know. To know what? To know “Truth”. This where religious education comes in.

You can think of the truths of our faith as a kind of food for the intellect, healthy food, and kids naturally hunger for this food. If we’re hungry enough, for long enough, we’ll eventually eat something; we’ll eventually eat somewhere, but will it be good food or will it be garbage.

Hello...good food here.

In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Mathew we hear, “For I was hungry and you gave me food”. This is not only about physical food, but also about the spiritual work of mercy to feed the intellect.

Obey your master!
We all like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers (both kids and adults), but everyone sits at the feet of a master. Will it be at the feet of Jesus through His Church or will it be some talk show host, some politician or political party, a famous actor, rock star or rapper, an agnostic or atheistic author or speaker or some random You-Tuber, or will it simply be the always "infallible" majority. Who will the master be?

If we don’t teach our children someone else surly will (like the guy on the left). Will it be good food or will it be garbage. It’s up to us; and this is why I chose to help feed our children. If you feel called to help, see if your parish is looking for more catechists for the upcoming school year.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The "Dogma" of Consent

We’ve all heard the teaching. It’s an often unquestioned and perhaps unconscious assumption. It acts as a sort of secular dogma. Nothing is morally wrong as long as you don’t hurt others.

But what if a doctor needs to perform a medical procedure on you involving some physical pain or “hurt”? What if an emergency responder needs to damage some of your property in order to respond to an emergency? What about two sadomasochists? They must hurt each other physically in order to satisfy their depravity. The “dogma” is not really about hurting people or property, it’s about consent. If what you do must affect others, it’s okay as long as you have consent.

Let’s work with this idea a bit beyond things that are already legal in some states like gambling, prostitution & recreational marijuana. If two parties consent to making a wager or to exchange drugs or sex for money, it’s all perfectly moral under the dogma of consent, but…

What if black salves consented?
Life for African-Americans in the South after the Emancipation Proclamation was not exactly the America dream. Imagine house slaves working in a mansion for a very wealthy plantation owner. What if they preferred their life as slaves over the prospect of being thrown out into the mean streets of the South to fend for themselves? They could have willfully signed a contract with the plantation owner to forfeit their freedom and remain his legal property. Under the dogma of consent, couldn’t slavery be reinstituted as legal in the U.S.?

What if the Jews consented?
Nazi scientists preformed inhumane experiments on Jewish people against their will. What if they consented? Suppose some old or terminally ill Jews agreed that the experiments on them could provide valuable data to help others? Suppose poor Jews were offered a large sum of money that could be given to their families after their death in an experiment. Would this not be perfectly moral under the dogma of consent?

How about suicide?
This would NOT be about doctor assisted suicide. Suppose a young man no longer wished to live for whatever reason, but alas, the poor guy does not have the courage to kill himself. What can be done? With consent, a friend (or stranger) could agree to shoot him in the head without any fear of reprisals.

Foolish humans!
We will make them consent!
What about date rape?
Are all the date rape incidents at the college level prosecuted? What if the woman gives consent initially, but then violently resists in the heat of the moment.  Too late; she consented, therefore the act is perfectly moral. In fact, if her physical resistance injures the man, perhaps the woman should be prosecuted instead.

…and marriage laws?
If any consenting adults should be able to marry, then it should be any consenting adults. Three or more should be recognized by the state as well as any consenting relatives. If you oppose parents marrying their adult children in order to obtain state offered marriage rights, then you are a bigot that makes groundless distinctions simply because two persons share very similar DNA.

One thing that confounds the Two Catholic Men is how many people will claim that moral absolutes can’t really exist objectively, but they don’t live that way, which implies they don’t really believe it. They actually do accept certain morals that are universal and unchangeable (just like physical laws) regardless of any consent or a lack of. As a side, the existence of moral absolutes or moral laws would reasonably imply a moral law giver, and what a curious thing that would be.

It’s the same kind of contradiction for someone who would deny the existence of physical laws. You would note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane). Consider the law of gravity; we attune our life and safety around it. Living in harmony with the law of gravity allows us to live a happy life. Disharmony with gravity will hurt us or even kill us.

It seems, deep down, we all know moral laws exist irrespective of “consent”, but many won’t admit it because it points to so much more. We also sense that we need to live harmoniously with these laws in order to be happy. The fact is, we actually can’t break moral laws, just like we can’t break physical laws. They break us; either as individuals or as a society, so it is vital that we strive to know what they actually are and where they come from.

“In you, O Lord, have I hoped; I shall not be confounded forever.”
- St. Claude de la Colobiere