Monday, 25 August 2014

Divine Command Theory and the New Evangelist


Here are two scenarios you might be familiar with.
  1. A young child speaks to a parent. "Mommy, why do I have to eat these vegetables? I don't like them, they taste awful. Why do I have to eat them?" To which the response comes back: "Because I say so, EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!"
  2. A young child speaks to a parent. "Mommy, why do I have to eat these vegetables? I don't like them, they taste awful. Why do I have to eat them?" To which the response comes back: "Well my dear child, vegetables are good for you, they will make you healthy and strong. That is why mommy wants you to eat your vegetables." To which the child response: "Oh thank you for telling me they are good for me. I will eat my vegetables."
Perhaps we might suggest a further take on the first example above. A child complains to a parent that they do not want to go to Mass. They argue, "why do I have to go to Mass if I don't want to?" The parent answers, "because I say so, it's the rule in this house, everyone goes to Mass on Sunday."

In theology there is a principle know as "Voluntarism". It is the doctrine of the primacy of the will. This takes on a variety of forms, for instance, it proposes that in God his will takes precedence over his intellect, with the result that truth and goodness are what they are because God wants them that way. This idea is also known as the "Divine Command Theory." 

But because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we have been given both will and intellect. So not only are we capable of learning what God wants of us, but we can also learn why - why veggies in other words. Obviously God wants us to both know as well as understand the truth of his creation and our place and purpose within it.

There are two strong influences at work in our world today, one is fundamentalism and the other is atheism. The fundamentalist contends that God has spoken, it's written in the book, read and obey. The atheist on the other hand contends that there is no God, so there is no law, no rules given for us to obey, so do what you want to do; it's a world by man's design - no veggies if you don't want.

Between these two ideologies stands the Church with its long history of both seeking God's Word that reveals God's will, as well as intellectual study of that Word, delving ever deeper and deeper into its meaning for our lives. Today, our western society is becoming increasingly secular, drifting further and further away from the inclusion of any divine truth in the design of world affairs. There is no valued place for religion in today's secular society. Fundamentalist see this only in apocalyptic terms, vowing a holy war of purification and a return to obedience to God's law.

So here we are with two quite different tasks before us. With those who are influenced by fundamentalist ideologies we must engage in a dialogue about divine revelation and how to find God's truth in the written word. But we must strive to demonstrate that scripture is the Word of God but not necessarily the literal words of God. The holy books are a record of God speaking his truth to man, but filtered through man's ability to grasp it and understand it. God wants each generation to study scripture, to pray scripture, to meditate on the scriptures, seeking, knocking, asking for an ever deeper understanding of its message for our age.

To those who are influenced by secular and God-absent ideologies a different dialog is needed. We must become "living words", an incarnation of the truth of God by our lives.  "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Mtt. 5:16  Parents must show their children an example of someone living their faith, how God matters to them, how they have learnt from God what makes for a true and happy life, how love of God and neighbour is the first principle of their way of living. This must be an ongoing dialog, not an acrimonious and nagging debate, but an open sharing of their religious life as it informs their daily life in the world.

People of faith must reject outright the pressure to be silent about their beliefs, that religious notions belong only behind the closed doors of churches. Secularist can be as rigid as fundamentalists in their ideology. But religious thought is quite capable of holding its own in any intellectual scrutiny it is subjected to. But we must be prepared to answer the challenges that this age is putting forward. This is the job the New Evangelists face. The New Evangelist is one who has taken God's Word to prayer and asked the Spirit to uncover its wisdom and truth, listening over and over until it becomes clear. At the same time, the New Evangelist must be well versed in the language of reason so they can articulate with clarity the reasoning behind their faith. But their greatest argument will be the evangelist's life and the goodness it manifests for all the world to see. ("Eat your veggies, I did, and look at me.")

For another consideration of these ideas, Fr. Robert Barron has two excellent videos:

  1. Persecution of Christians in the Middle East - LINK
  2. Hercules and the Modern Meta-Narrative - LINK

Thursday, 21 August 2014

God & What's Fair

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Mtt. 20:1-16

Children may often be heard complaining, "But it's not fair!" No doubt when they perceive a brother or sister received a larger portion than they. But this complaint is not exclusive to only child. In the competition of life and in the interest of social rest, we have establish fairness as the key to maintaining harmonious relations.

But our perception of fairness can easily be carried over to the way we expect our relationship with God to transpire. Since we consider that the good should be rewarded and the bad punished, relating to a God of mercy and forgiveness can be problematic. And when we are told that we must imitate this very same compassionate and merciful behavior in our dealings with others, we hit a stumbling block in our relationship with God. Jesus characterizes this very problem in the parable above.

Justice vs mercy is a long standing issue in the scriptures. In the Old Testament people learn what is right through the Law, and so it is perceived that obeying the law should have its reward. But a problem arises when they see the good suffering. The book of Job tackles the question and struggles to answer why the perfectly God-fearing and Law-biding Job is suffering such disaster.

In the gospels, Jesus meets the problem head on, most profoundly and definitively in his passion, death and resurrection. In Matthew 9: Jesus comes upon a paralyzed man begging - (no doubt considered by all as punishment from God for his sins). Jesus announces his sins forgiven, accompanied by his immediate healing. Later he tells his detractors, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (referring to Ez. 9:23)

Jesus has come to redeem, to rescue souls from death. "Death", is existence apart from God, to exist but to have no participation in the glory of God - not to "live" in the presence of God in the heavenly realm, this is death. Living in God presence is not something we merit, it is pure gift, God's purpose and design intended for every one. We did not choose to exist, and we can never not exist, but we can choose to accept or reject living in God's presence. What is fair is that God wants all people to have the opportunity to live in his presence. 

There is a person who lives in Toledo Ohio, who's first name is Walter - he is real, his name is in the phone book. He does not care if you are sick or in need in any way, like he would for others he knows. We would not say that it is not fair that he does not care about you, he does not even know you exist. But God does know that you exist and does care that you have life eternal - if he did not, that would be unfair. 
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.… Jo. 3:16
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.… 1 Jo. 4:9
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.… 1 Jo. 3:1
Death is God's enemy and so is our enemy also. So this is fair; 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Lk. 15:6

Now a further question might be asked, is it fair that we were given a choice to accept or reject life eternal? Are there rocks in heaven. Do they know where they are?

Monday, 18 August 2014

Mass and Jesus Presence

So often you hear the suggestion that religious practice has lost its relevance in today's society. Among Catholics for instance, attendance at Sunday Mass, and participation in the Eucharist have in fact declined noticeably. Going to Mass on Sunday has traditionally been seen as the mark of a strong and committed faith. When asked why one has stopped attending Mass, a common answer given is because they do not get anything out of attending Mass, and that you do not have to go to Mass to be a good person.

So the question then is why does a person go to Mass and what do they get out of going?

We go to Mass to be in Jesus PRESENCE. "Do this in remembrance of me." "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there, in their midst". Two things are at work here, first, personal faith in Jesus, and a certain conviction that he remains among us, alive and active; and second, real and true communion, that when we gather around the table of the Lord, Jesus is really and truly present with us, no less than he was at the Last Supper, and that we are brought into full communion with Jesus, that we are given a seat with him at the Supper of the Lord. Gathered this way, in Jesus presence, we are affected at the deepest level of our being. Even if we where in heaven, we would not be closer to Jesus than we are a Mass.

The nature of this presence is described as MYSTERY, partly seen, partly hidden, yet fully real. The forms of the liturgy of the Mass are intended to help us focus our attention as we move into this mystery, to be embraced by the Light and caught up into a true communion with all the saints. From here we are "sent" into the world to transform it by our lives.

Some suggest that the reforms of the liturgy introduced by the Second Vatican Council had a negative affect on this sense mystery in the Mass. I would suggest that it is more coincidental than causal. At the same time the council was underway, western society was experiencing significant societal changes, which they called, a "New Age". It was marked by a a decidedly secular and humanistic world view, which placed the rational person at the centre of all pursuit, relegating religion to myth and superstition. Finding "myself" was more important than finding God. 

During my work with the Charismatic Renewal in the 70's and 80's, as well as connection to other renewal movements at that time, I witnessed people experiencing and embracing a personal encounter with Jesus, truly present to them - breaking through into their lives with a profound renewal their faith. Subsequently, when these people gathered for Mass, the presence of Jesus was deeply felt. 
(This "Grace of Renewal", is explored in an earlier Post - LINK )

As pastors and people, we often spend a great deal of effort trying to create a better experience of the Mass by improving our performance of its forms, i.e. music and the spoken word. While these efforts are admiral, they are not sufficient in and of themselves to produce the experience of presence. The experience of presence is a grace. Grace is a gift, not a product of our doing, but can be a result of our desiring. Jesus wants to reveal himself to us, if we are willing to have him.

Saul of Tarsus was a man of strong, religious conviction, who was convinced that Jesus had been executed by the Romans and was no longer a threat to Judaism; but that he left behind a few radical followers who were perpetuating some of his radical ideas about God. They too needed to be purged from the scene and Saul was on a mission to eradicate them.  

Then, unexpectedly Saul found himself literally, face to face with Jesus who was very much alive and challenging him. Jesus is real and his message is true, and for Saul everything was about to change. Saul's conversion was not a product of convincing arguments, it was a personal encounter that was real and undeniable - and it was Jesus plan and his timing, not Saul's.

People in the renewal movements of the 60's and 70's came to a deep renewal of faith not by convincing arguments about religion but by a personal experience of Jesus impacting on their lives with his grace of renewal. The Second Vatican Council and the renewal movements that followed it was clearly a plan of God's design and timing. Which raises the question, what is the plan for us in this new millennium?  Who's interested? Who's asking? Are we listening? Speak Lord, your servants are listening!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Lectio Divina

the Book of Christ
Opening the "Book of Christ"

Voices is meant to be a resource for personal prayer. The key to personal prayer is to have a listening heart. "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." Of the many ways the Lord's voice speaks to us the Word of Scripture is preeminent.

In the July/August issue of the Word Among, which we have as one of our links, there is an article entitled, 
"Opening the Book of Christ". It deals with the subject of lectio divina, which is a way of approaching the reading (and listening) to sacred scripture. I recommend this article to you. Here are some excerpts from the article. 

If we let ourselves get caught in this information-age trap, we run the risk of approaching everything, even the Bible, as a “thing” to be analyzed, a set of texts that we can tackle with our minds alone.
In contrast to this functional approach to Scripture stands the ancient practice of lectio divina, or “sacred reading.” This is the way the Christians of the early Church read Scripture. Rather than looking at a biblical text as something to analyze and master, lectio divina can help us encounter the text and, in the process, encounter the Lord himself. It teaches us that the Bible is a living, divine word that can form our lives, not just a book of useful information. Through lectio divina, we learn to read the Bible not just for information, but primarily for transformation.
Let the divine word open your heart and probe your thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams. Let the word of God gradually change you and form you more and more into the image of Christ.
So the practice of lectio divina teaches us to be personally involved in this communication. Every word we read in Scripture, everything we see in our imagination as the stories unfold, involves us. It makes us participants, not just observers.
As you learn lectio divina, you will find yourself reading reflectively, lingering over every page, letting the words reach deeply into your heart. And you do this by listening “with the ear of the heart” (The Rule of St. Benedict).

Monday, 4 August 2014

Mystical Experience In Prayer

From the catechetical instructions by Saint John Mary Vianney, priest.

The glorious duty of man: to pray and to love

My little children, reflect on these words: the Christian’s treasure is not on earth but in heaven. Our thoughts, then, ought to be directed to where our treasure is. This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies.

Prayer is nothing else but union with God. When one has a heart that is pure and united with God, he is given a kind of serenity and sweetness that makes him ecstatic, a light that surrounds him with marvelous brightness. In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart. This union of God with a tiny creature is a lovely thing. It is a happiness beyond understanding.

We had become unworthy to pray, but God in his goodness allowed us to speak with him. Our prayer is incense that gives him the greatest pleasure.

My little children, your hearts are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.

Prayer also makes time pass very quickly and with such great delight that one does not notice its length. Listen: Once when I was a purveyor in Bresse and most of my companions were ill, I had to make a long journey. I prayed to the good God, and, believe me, the time did not seem long.

Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. There is no division in their hearts. O, how I love these noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette used to see our Lord and talk to him just as we talk to one another.

How unlike them we are! How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to God like this: “I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.” I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Problem of Evil

Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from
the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril,
or the sword?
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that ...

Recently in the local news paper, there appeared this editorial cartoon.

Hamilton Spectator, July 28

No doubt, recent reports of airplane crashes around the world was its inspiration. So what are the odds that the airplane you are about to board will be involved in a crash? Actually they remain quite low. You are much safer flying than driving in a car. The odds suggested are 1 in 11 million for planes, 1 in 5000 for cars.

However, the fact remains that it does not take very much to shake our confidence in things, one bad report can easily be enough to get us doubting. Once we have had a bad experience, building trust again can be a difficult process.

In the spiritual world we call this the problem of evil. When bad things happen to good people our trust in God is challenged. If God loves you why are you suffering? Struggling with this question is a preoccupation throughout the scriptures. In the Old Testament, it was concluded that it must be the fault of the one suffering, because they sinned. Hence the question put to Jesus concerning the man who was born blind. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jo 9:2

Of all the weapons Satan has to use against us, this is his most powerful. It is like a virus, entering first through our mind's process of reasoning, infecting our thoughts with doubt, breaking down our defenses of faith until it gains entrance into our hearts, corrupting and killing the hope that gives us life.

What saves us from this decease of doubt is the Voice of the Spirit, present in our hearts, countering these infectious lies with the truth of God's love. That is why the practice of prayer is essential to our spiritual life. By our constant listening to the Spirit speaking to us in prayer, we are able to have access to God's truth, revealing to us the reason for our trust, God's love for us. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Rom 8:26

Once we learn to discern the Spirit's Voice, revealing God's unconditional love for us, the infection of lies is healed. In chapter 8 of Romans, St. Paul shows us that this is an imperfect world we live in, by design - the "flesh" as Paul calls it. But it is only the first half of the story. It is in the second half of the story that the remedy for all things is fully revealed. Paul saw this in his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. On another occasion, speaking of himself, Paul describes a spiritual experience he had. “I must go on boasting, however useless it may be, and speak of visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago, whether he was in or outside his body I cannot say, only God can say—a man who was snatched up to the third heaven. I know that this man—whether in or outside his body I do not know, God knows—was snatched up to Paradise to hear words which cannot be uttered, words which no man may speak.”  2 Cor 12:1-4

Reason alone, with only the scientific method with which to work, is unable to answer the Problem of Evil. The reason for hate is easy to comprehend, the reason for love is a mystery, hidden in God, waiting to be discovered by one who listens to His Voice.

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