Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blog # 311 Our union with Jesus

Blog # 311 Our union with Jesus

There have been several long gaps between blogs in my presentation of the claim I refer to as the CHRISTIAN RESPONSE to 'evil' in creation. I personally hold to the truth of the claim and present it in the name of authentic Catholic theology.The claim refers and can be applied to anything that exists,from sin to suffering, all the way to death itself.

Death, understood properly, as it is identified and presented in the Bible and in our Catholic theolgy is a blessing rather than, as it often seems to be seen, as a fearsome experience and a curse.In my claim, Christian death is identified as good,the greatest blessingfor which we could have hope, because it calls for our greatest love.

Because of the long gap in the blogs I have been presenting on the subject of 'evil' in creation I will give here a review that will lead into Blog #311.

Of primary and fundamenral importance in our discussion is our faith in a single Creator of all that exists. This means we claim for God a responsibility for ALL that exists and NOTHING THAT EXISTS is totaly evil. In the very first book of the Bible God looked at what He had created and saw that it was very good. Anything that exists, ORIGINATING IN GOD'S ETERNAL CREATIVE LOVE,MUST HAVE SOMETHING OF GOODNESS IN IT, IF NOTHING MORE THAN THE FACT IT EXISTS.

This 'anything' would include varying degrees of arthritic pain in our body, the loss of money through a slump in the New York Stock Exchange, the sickness, suffering,death of a loved friend or relative, and all the other 'evils' we could identify all the way up to death which considered in itself independently of any reference to faith,is the most serious evil we can experience or imagine because in contrast to all other 'evil' which on a personal level is partial, death is a TOTAL loss or destruction of all that is identifid as ours.

Applying this on a practical level to Jesus and ourseves we begin by identifying the act of obedience of Jesus to the Father's plan for Him that he die on Calvary. Jesus and his disciples went directly to Gethsemane from the last Supper. We find him in great anguish and praying to the Father: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it." And a second time: "My Father, if this cannot pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done!"(MAT 26: 39,42). And in Mark 14:36: He kept saying,"Abba, (O Father), you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I."

The freely willed act of dying on Calvary on the part of Jesus the Incarnate Word of God, was a human-divine act of unconditional trust and total love. Addressed to the Father, it was an act of worship. The Father's response to this gift was the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. A new and eternal covenant between Jesus and the Father was initiated on Calvary on the day in history two thousand years ago when Jesus laid down his life in obedience to the Father's plan for him.

We begin to see more clearly the content of that covenant as well as the meaning and power of the prayer of Jesus at the last supper in John's Gospel (17:20-29):I pray for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you,Father, are in me, and I am in you...I have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one, as we are one - I living in them, you living in me - that their unity may be complete. So shall the world know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me. Father, all those you gave me I would have in my company where I am, to see this glory of mine which is your gift to me, because of the love you bore me before the world began...To them I have revealed your name, and will continue to reveal it so that your love may live in them, and I may live in them."

All who believe in Jesus are united with Him but not all who are united to Him are united in the same way and to the same degree. As for example, I may be united to a family living next door to me merely by the fact we live next door to one another we are neighbors. For the time being I may not know their names or how many live in the family but I wave to them and they wave to me whenever we see one another as we go out to pick up the newspaper or drive away on our way to work in the mornings. I may be their cousin, their landlord, a partner with them in a local industry. One or the other of us may eventually have done something injurious to the other and damaged our relationship. We no longer wave a greeting when we leave for work or mow our lawns at the same time.

It is similar with our relationship with Jesus and through Jesus with the Father. In our
Catholic tradition, handed down from the beginning, we understand the words of the prayer of Jesus given in St. John's Gospel as literally true. We believe that as the Father lives in Jesus, Jesus lives in us. Our Christian experience of unity with Jesus is not to be lived out merely in memory of Jesus or in imitation of Jesus along with His help and inspiration, but actuallyin the real three dimensions of our daily life. To help me understrand and appreciate this I like to recall an analogy that tells of a little boy coming home from pre-school one day and very excitedly running to his mother in the kitchen with the news he knows that 2 + 2 is 4. She asks him how did he find that out. "The teacher told me!"
The teacher shared something of him or her self and in a real sense 'lives' in him. The boy makes the truth his own and can make use of it for the rest of his life, but in a limited sense it still 'belongs' to the teacher.

Ths blog is long so I'll leave for 'tomorrow' further consideraions relating to our unity with Jesus by faith. In this unity is the answer to all of our questions about 'evil' in creation, and the content of our Christian Response to 'evil'.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blog # 310 Resurrection in union with Jesus

Blog # 310 Resurrection in union with Jesus

The subject matter we have been treating in recent blogs is very important in helping us understand and carry out the task we have been called by Pope Benedict XVI to achieve in this Year of Faith. We are being called to a personal uniquely individual and community-wide Catholic revitalization of 1. our faith in God and our love for God through Jesus, and 2. in our love for one another in that faith.

When a lawyer, thinking most likely in terms of the ten given through Moses in Exodus 20: 1 - 17 asked Jesus "Which commandment of the law is the greatest?" Jesus replied: "'You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with you whole soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well".(Mat 22: 36 - 40).

That reply of Jesus to the lawyer easily reminds us of that other occasion when celebrating the Passover with the Apostles Jesus said there is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for a friend."

From Cain and Abel,the sons of Adam and Eve,(Gen 4: 1-4),all the way down through history to Calvary,people recognized the power of sacrifice as expressing total love for their God. This was true even of those who professed faith in many gods before God's revelation to Abraham there is but one God, the single Creator of all that exists.

We have evidence in the Bible of God condemning sacrifices being offered insincerely without the accompanying total love that sincere sacrifice expesses. The notion of sacrifice as worship was never condemned. It was rather the insincerity of those who abused it that was condemned.

The act of sacrifice is defined as an offering to God alone, by an official repesentative of the people, of some material thing, with the change or destruction of what is offered in order to recognize God's supreme dominion and our complete dependence upon God. That definition applies to the freely chosen death of Jesus on Calvary, the experince of Jesus with the Apostles at the Last Supper, and the experience of Jesus and those believing baptized Christians who with Him offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass day by day.

The unconditional trust and total love Jesus offered the Father in His act of perfect worship on the Cross is the same unconditional trust and total love He offered at the Last Supper and offers in the worship of the Mass.
In all three instances it was the gift of worship. The Father's response to Jesus was the gift of RESURRECTION.

Yesterday, August 20, we celebrated the feast of St.Bernard , Abbot, who lived back in the twelfth Century. I told the people offering Mass that morning with me I thought the short passage read as the Gospel for Mass that day was among the topmost in importance in the entire Bible. This was because I saw in it the power that causes OUR resurrection from the dead in union with that of Jesus. It was from the Gospel of St. John 17: 20 - 26. In union with Jesus in His gift of Worship we remain in union with Him in His resurection.

As part of the long discourse Jesus makes on the occasion of the Last Supper John has Jesus pray this way.(17:1). Father, the hour has come! Give glory to your Son that your Son may give glory to you, inasmuch as you have given him authority over all mankind that he may bestow etrnal life on those you have given him...I pray for all those who will believe in me through their word that they be one, as you, Father are in me and I am in you;...that they may be one, as we are one, I living in them, you living in me-that their unity may be complete. So shall the world know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me.

In our Catholic theology we believe that unity for which Jesus prayed is given, through faith, in the Sacrament of Baptism. That gift, the gift of Sanctifying Grace, is designed and desired by God to be kept and developed all the way up to the instant of our death when it is transformed into the experience of eternal life.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Blog # 309 Life in Jesus

Blog #309 Life in Jesus

There are many types of evil we can think of that we can experience in the course of our lifetime, whether that evil be the temporary pain of a sprained shoulder, arthritis, pneumonia, cancer, the 'loss' of a loved one in death, blindness, loneliness, depression, mass murders, active volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, war injuries, an auto accident while driving home from work, or, ultimately for us all, death.

There are many types of responses people make to the evil we experience including fear, shame, anger, medicine, surgery and drugs of one sort or another, seeking counsel, prayer, pain relievers a humble acceptance of the will of God on the part of some, and loss of faith in God on the part of others.

I am proposing a SINGLE RESPONSE to all that is evil and have labeled that response the CHRISTIAN RESPONSE.

The Eternal Word of God, incarnate, and called Jesus, was sent among us precisely to be a uniquely authentic witness to God's presence on earth in Him, and in his entire life, death, and resurrection, to give testimony with regard to the identity and purpose of all creation including what is commonly referred to as evil. The Word of God, as Jesus, was sent not merely to speak of the meaning and value of suffering and death, but to live it out in his entire life's experience and especially in his suffering and death on Calvary.

A key question is whether there was something going on on that afternoon when Jesus died on the Cross that could not be seen by our eyes but was just as real as the blood being shed and the death that was occurring. What could not be seen was the truth to which that blood poured out bore witness.

Jesus had said quite clearly about love there was none greater than for a person to lay down his or her life for a friend.(Jn 15: 13). When Jesus gave no answer to Pilate's question where did Jesus come from, Pilate was angered and said: " Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?" Jesus answered: "You would have no power over me whatever unless it were given you from above." Jesus was going to die because it was the Father's will, not that of Pilate!

Then as part of the long discourse on the occasion of the Last Supper John has Jesus give this testimony about His death: "the Prince of this world is at hand. He has no hold on me, but the world must know that I love the Father and do as the Father has commanded me. Come, then, Let us be on our way." And He led the Apostles to Gethsemane where the conclusion of His prayer was "Thy will be done". The whole episode of the death of Jesus was programmed by the Father and carried out in the perfect obedient love of Jesus. It was to be a free act composed of unconditional trust and total love. Only God deserved such trust and such love. Calvary can be identified as an act of WORSHIP on the part of Jesus!

On Calvary that gift of worship belonged to Jesus alone. It was His gift to the Father. At the Last Supper that SAME LOVE was shared with the Apostles in a different mode. This was something like the monetary value of a single dollar bill and four quarters as the same but in a different mode. That same love of Calvary and the Last Supper, after the Resurrection has been shared with all who are made one with Jesus by faith and Baptism down through the ages throughout the world in the WORSHIP identified in the mode of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

To understand and justify that statement we must keep in mind our Catholic theology concerning the gift of Baptism and Sanctifying Grace. Through faith and Baptism we are recreated as it were in union with the Resurrected Jesus as branches on a vine and members of a living body, the Church. We are called and equipped to share the love of Jesus in such a way that as Jesus said to Philip:” Philip, if you see me you see the Father. The Father and I are one." "If you see me, Fred, Jack, Mary, Florence, Pedro, Francois, all who are united in Jesus through faith and Baptism in the gift of Sanctifying Grace, you see Jesus, walking, talking, praying, worshiping, through, with, and IN JESUS!

Because the ground we are covering in recent blogs may be 'new ground' for many faithful Catholics who were instructed and trained to 'go' to Mass rather than to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday, I'll end this blog here and hopefully continue with a few more helpful Catholic theological insights tomorrow. The Lord be with you, and by faith within you!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blog # 308 Practical Applications

Blog # 308 Practical Applications

             This is the sixth in the series of blogs I have been writing in response to a desire I have to share what I consider a solution to the 'problem' of evil by denying that it is a problem! I thought it would take three blogs to do that but here we are in the sixth of the series! Terrible evils certainly do exist on all levels of our human experience, the physical, psychological, spiritual, personal, national, and 'creature wide',  a term I have coined that we might use in reference to the mere fact all of us, every one of the seven billion of us here on earth today will eventually die and be gone.

             What resource do we have available to us in formulating our response to that and to all the other pain suffering and evil that comes upon us in the course of our lifetime here on earth? My response to all that normally is identifid as evil is to deny that anything that exists is absolutely evil and a claim that anything that actually exists can and should be transformed into love. The next question is how to arrive at such a claim. The first step for me was to accept the claim of Genesis 1:31 "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." Next I accepted the Biblical revelation of a single Creator of all that exists with no exceptions. "In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth...( the whole of Genesis, Chapter One). A logical consequence of this is my claim that God owns everything that exists; it all belongs to God. God sees all that exists as worthy of  His love, worthy to share in some way His love at least minimally merely by existing.

             A clarification of the meaning of  EXIST taken as a transitive verb is most important at this point in our discussion. Normally in the dictionary and in English grammar, the verb exist is an intransitive verb, that is a verb that does and cannot take an object, such as to sleep,and to exist. In the unique case, however, of God's action in willing creation to exist, it is used in this unique application as a transitive verb meaning to will something from non-existence into existence. As such it cannot be conceived in any tense but the present, and whenever exist is used as meaning to exist something it has to refer to the present tense. In other words God as Creator in this coined sense of the word is always and everywhere ,currently, by God's wisdom power goodness and presence, 'existing' whatever exists. God existed the death of Jesus.  God will exist the death of each and all of us.                      

              To understand completely what I have just written would be to understand completely the identity of God as Creator, and creation as existing from nothing, which is beyond our limited human capacity. 'Nothing' is not a concept we can imagine, and this is what limits our ability to understand God's identity as the single Creator of all that exists from nothing. For us,'nothing' means not this, not that, not rubber, not stone, in an unlimited array of possibilities until we arrive at nothing which is beyond us.  We can understand in a limited way what it means for us to have said what we have said above and be convinced God owns everything that exists and it all belongs to God.          

             We can wonder about pain suffering and death, all of which exist, and ask questions of God as to the meaning and purpose of it all and what our response should be. We cannot logically ask a stone such questions because a stone cannot experience pain suffering or death. Is it not the same with God?

             Yes and no. God came to our assistance in the unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God born of Mary in history, and called Jesus. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus we have an authentic witness and testimony about the meaning and purpose of all that exists, including pain suffering and death.

                The Bible does not tell us much about Jesus ever suffering the ordinary colds sore muscles fatigue and injuries a carpenter might ordinarily be expected to experience in his work other than Jesus being given as like us in all but sin.  When it comes to the death of Jesus, however,  many significant details are given. First of all it is made clear His death was not something that was out of  His control.  Several times attempts to kill Him by stoning or casting Him over a cliff ended with Jesus walking away from an angry crowd unharmed. As for us  and our death, the death of Jesus would be the climax, the most important experience of His whole life on earth.

                Two very familiar brief Scripture texts throw light upon the meanng and purpose both of the crucifixion of Jesus and our death, united with Jesus in the gift of Baptism and Sanctifying Grace, no matter what the circumstances surrounding our death may be.  First, when speaking of love Jesus tells us there is no greater love than this than to lay down one's life for a friend.  Then toward the conclusion of the Last Supper the night before He died, before leading the Apostles to the garden of Gethsemane and the beginning of His  Passion and death Jesus said of the identity of His death: "That the world may know that I love the Father, let us be on our way." Though it will seem to be shame and failure for those who do not know, His death tomorrow will be His greatest love, His eternal glory.

                 Then in His prayer in the garden Jesus expresses His preference that He would rather die in some other way than by the sinful actions of those who would condemn Him, torture Him, and rejoice at what they thought was the end of Him if that could be the Father's will for Him.  He ended His prayer with a summary of His entire life on earth "Thy will be done!"  This clarifies for us the important distinction between seeing Calvary as an act of loving obedience and what it was and our deaths should be, in Him, as an act of obedient love,  our greatest love, our total love, a love that only God deserves.

                  There is more to come so hopefully we can have another blog tomorrow.  The Lord be with you!


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blog # 307 More on 'Evil' and love

Blog # 307  More on ‘evil’ and love

           In times long past some philosophers and theologians ‘solved’ the ‘problem of evil’ very simply by proclaiming the existence of two gods, one the god of evil and the other the god of goodness and blessing. In contrast, our Catholic theology does not deny or fail to keep ourselves aware of a real challenge in coming up with a meaningful response to the reality of evil in the world around us and within us.       

            In our firm belief in God as the single creator of all that exists, we logically seek the answers to our questions about good as well as evil in God.  In the Latin theology text books we used in theology courses preparing us for our priesthood ordination many years ago, I remember it being given as the ‘bottom line’ in what we could say with confidence in speaking of God: God is “totaliter aliter”.  God is “totally other”, incomparable, beyond comparison with any created being. It was a proclamation of our faith in the unique supremacy of God the Creator that required us to realize every thought word or action when used in reference to God would have to be understood as analogous.  This would be something like we do in our answer to the question “Who is this?” in reference to the picture of George Washington on a dollar bill.      
         God is not to be seen as bigger and better, more powerful and loving than we, but, in God’s absolute uniqueness as altogether different, in Himself 'untouchable by the limited equipment we have to work with as created human beings.

        That does not mean we cannot truly know God, think of God, and speak of God analogously. It does mean no matter how much we progress in our knowledge of God, there will still remain more truth about God beyond the place to which we have come, or in other words we will encounter the mystery of God. 

        In that mystery God gave us His Son, the Word of God, incarnate, equal to us in our humanity but one with the Father and the Spirit in His divinity, capable of speaking and acting at times in a perfectly human way, experiencing our human experiences and human limitations, yet  when this was the Father’s will speaking and acting as Emmanuel, God Among Us.  It is fitting that we seek answers to all of our questions about creation and our Creator in Jesus. 
       As a result of this, a key element in our discussion of evil, primarily as pain suffering and death, is the identity we give to Jesus.  The Eternal Word of God, incarnate, born of Mary, equal to us in all but sin, and given the name Jesus, is a single ‘person’. 

        God, Father Word and Spirit, cannot suffer, cannot die.  IN Jesus, the incarnate Word, God did suffer and God did die.  That fact will play a large role in helping us formulate answers to questions we have with regard to pain suffering and death.  Why did Jesus die?  Was God punishing Jesus in sending Him to the tragedy of Calvary?  St. Paul clearly testifies that we through faith and Baptism are identified with the death of Jesus on the Cross. (Rom 6 -13).  What does that mean for us, ten, twenty- five, eighty-five years after our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism?
        In the continuation of that same text from Romans, Paul gives an answer to that question: “Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we might live a new life…If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him…His death was death to sin, once for all; his life is life for God…Offer yourselves to God as men who have come back from the dead to life.”  The foundation of our gift of Sanctifying Grace as a share in the life of God through Jesus is given here by Paul in the death of Jesus in our name.
        From a reference in Paul’s letter to the Philippians ( 3: 9,10), we get a better idea as to what he means when referring to the sufferings of Christ, normally applied by us to the Crucifixion and identified both by Paul and us as an act of total love for the Father:  “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead”.         
         In expressing his desire to share in the sufferings of Christ by being formed into the pattern of his death, Paul was not asking to be crucified but to share in the love of Jesus even to the point of the total love of crucifixion if that were to be for him as it was for Jesus the will of the Father.  We in our turn, through faith and Baptism are called and entitled, united with Jesus, to share the same total love of Jesus for the Father so that at the instant of our physical death in history, whether it be sudden or after a long illness, it will be what it is designed by God to be, a share in Jesus’ love leading into His resurrection , with the same faith we shared in His life and love all along. 
       We realize that at the instant of our physical death in history we may not be conscious and therefore capable of freely choosing at that time to make of our death an act of unconditional trust and total love in obedience to the Father’s will. But as I have pointed out in Blog # 306 we will have already done that theoretically every time we freely reaffirm our Baptismal commitment, every time we make ourselves aware of what we are about to do and then offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and when we really pray rather then merely recite the prayer traditionally given as The Act of Love.
      In the Crucifixion and death of Jesus we have an evil infinitely beyond the greatest evil we could imagine, the rejection and killing of God’s beloved Son by the people He was sent to teach and for whom He was their only hope for attaining forgiveness of their sins and eternal peace and joy .  That actually happened, one time only in the entire history of creation, two thousand years ago in Jerusalem on Calvary.  In God’s infinite wisdom goodness power and mercy that evil was transformed by Jesus into the greatest love that ever touched the earth. 

       That is the love we reach for whenever we seek the true meaning of our individual lives and of all creation. In that love is the answer to all of our questions about God and creation. That is the love we share in Baptism, in the Mass, and in the gift of  Sanctifying Grace. That is the love we are invited to cherish and were told by Jesus to proclaim to all the world! (Mat 28: 18 - 20)                          

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blog #306 The answer is love

Blog # 306  The answer is love

            Anyone, even an unbeliever, can know and share historical human elements in the life of Jesus two thousand years ago from reading the account of it in the Bible and from the research of scholars about the historical conditions of Palestine when Jesus lived and died. Only a believer can hear God speaking and see God walking in the words and actions of Jesus.(Jn 14: 9,10). Only for a believer is the Resurrected Jesus alive and present as God in our world today.

             In the mystery of our faith experience we acknowledge God as the Creator of all that exists. This means we acknowledge God's presence whenever and wherever we experience creation, through faith, in prayer, or through sight hearing taste touch or smell, from mountains to mole hills, in water and wind. Following upon this, the answer to our questions about  good news and 'bad', pain and pleasure, life and death is found in God.  And since the God in Whom we as Christians believe is  love (1Jn 4: 8) , the answer to our questions is found in love.  Both  faith and love for God are gifts received in freedom. We have to receive them and put them to work  in the task of asking and answering our questions.  Let's continue on our way in that process now, in composing on my part and responding on your  part to Blog #  306.    

            On one occasion a lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest of all the commandments. His answer was love, love God above all and then secondly love your neighbor as yourself. And what is the meaning of love? "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son." (Jn 3:16). We are all familiar with the broad use of the word give. The poor widow, in her two small coins, gave more than all the others because of the greatness of her love. We use the word  love in reference to a hug, a kiss, a handshake, a birthday party, a cheer for the home team. We speak of  love between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, children and parents, friend and friend, neighbor and neighbor, soldier and his country, believer and God. To love means to give. The more we love the more we give. "There is no greater love than this than to lay down one's life for one's friends." (Jn 15: 13).

          In that quotation "to lay down one's life" means to die. I cannot figure out or imagine any other way we could give all that we have than to die. We give a certain amount of our time, our patience, our money. That is genuine love, but it is not the greatest.  Death is the only way we can literally fulfill to greatest commandment of loving God above all else, encompassing as it does all that we have, given.  Until the very last two seconds of our lives we have those two seconds to give. In the instant of our death our total love is realized. We may not be conscious of this at that insant but we can identify and claim it as our own, conciously and willfully, long years before the last instant of our lives is ours in history.

            We do exactly that theoretically whenever we renew our Baptismal covenant, whenever we make ourselves aware of the meaning of what we are about to do and then offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, whenever we really pray rather than just recite the traditional 'Act of Love' many of us learned by heart in preparation for our First Holy Communion in a Catholic grade school many years ago , and finally, if we will it to be so, even years ahead of the actual time it occurs at some future definite singular instant in the future.  "O my God, I love Thee with my whole heart and soul beccause Thou art all good and worthy of all my love..."
                  A reminder and proclamation of the relationship between Baptism and death is often explicitly given in a Scriptural quotation from St. Paul at the time of a celebration of a Mass of  the Resurrection on the occasion of a Catholic funeral liturgy.  "Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we might live a new life.  If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection.  This we know, our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed and we might be slaves to sin no longer....If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him....His death was death to sin, once for all; his life is life for God.  In the same way you should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus....Offer yourselves to God as men who have come back from  the dead to life, and your bodies to God as weapons for justice." (Rom 6: 3 - 13).

               In order for us correctly to identify acts of suffering and death to which a Christian believer is uniquely called and entitled, uniquely one by one, in the new life received in  Baptism, we identify them as a gifts. In suffering and death God is not asking us merely to 'put up with them', or to see them merely as acts of penance for our sins, but in the essentially different way of experiencing them in union with Jesus as members of His Body, transformed into love! By way of analogy this might be seen as something like what love does in tranforming a golden ring into a wedding ring by the love of husband and wife. 

                Mother Theresa of Calcutta helped me be aware of and appreciate more fully the identity of suffering and death as gifts.  She said that everything that exists is a gift from our Creator.   It is easy to identify and receive as gifts from God the 'good' things that make up our lives, health, friendships, wife, children, family,good neighbors, sunshine, water, music, art, poetry,colors, shapes, and sounds. It is a challenge for us to recognize suffering and death as gifts.

              Gifts are identified as an expression of love Suffering and death seem to be the work of an enemy rather than a friend. Yet our Catholic response to sufferings and death invites us to understand and experience them precisely as gifts from God, understood and experienced as opportunities and invitations to love and be loved, loving God and being loved by God.
                The second greatest commandment as given by Jesus, commanding us to love our neighbor as ourselves presumes we are to love ourselves, and the fifth of the Ten  commands us to avoid injuring or destroying our lives. To do so would be a sin. Yet God  in our  Catholic faith identifies all suffering and death itself as a gift! How can this be since God cannot sin? 

               Recall what we said in Blog # 304 of the necessity of keeping consantly in mind in our effort to understand our Catholic response to  the 'evil' of suffering and death that the word God at this point in our discussion refers to Jesus, the Eternal Word and the son of Mary identified as a single person. We recall  here also the reference from Paul identifying his desire to live in conformity to the pattern of the sufferings of Jesus. He was not asking to be crucified but to share in the love of Jesus even to the point of  the total love of crucifixion if that were to be for him as it was for Jesus  the will of the Father.  Then before leaving the Upper Room on the occasion of the Last Supper Jesus said: " that the world might know that love the Father, let us be on our way." and He led the Apostles to Gethsemani. He did not call attention to His suffering but to His love.

                St Paul shares a very important and helpful insight into the identity of Jesus' suffering and death in his lettter to the Philippians: "I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurection from the dead." (Phil 3: 9,10). Again Paul is not expressing a desire to be crucified but rather to share through faith and Baptism the obedient love with which Jesus died, even though it might lead to crucifixion. In other words he was expressing a desire to see and experience in whatever suffering and death God had in store for him a share in the unconditional trust and total love of Jesus for the Father.  He could not have asked for a better way to die. Nor could we.

              What I have been trying to share with regard to death applies to all  pain and suffering this side of death,in large and small portions, arthritis, a sore finger, loss of a job, whatever.  How sad it is that apparently many if not the majority of people even among Christian believers are not habitually  aware of the Catholic insights we have been sharing, with the result much suffering and untold experiences of death are in a sense wasted when they are identified and measured by pain and suffering rather than by love.
             I thought Blog 306 would be the final one in the series on evil, but there is more so hang on for # 307.  Thank you. 


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Blog # 305 Is God the Answer?

Blog # 305  Is God the  Answer?

               My claim and proclamation in Blog # 303 is that God is the answer to all of our questions, questions about goodness as well as questions about evil. Now I face the challenge of defending that claim with regard to the question of evil. The response we make to the claims we make is also important ,but it is an item based upon the identity of the claims we make, and  so must wait for a clear understanding and appreciation of the meaning of our claim before we put it into action in our response.
              An essential element in the introduction to  Blog # 305 is a reminder of the fact that all we think or even imagine with regard to God in every case is analogical.  In other words no one but God knows understands and experiences God in univocal terms, having a single meaning in every application, such as is the case when we speak of a bear as a wild animal.  Analogically, we can apply the same word, bear, to a man who acts like a bear or is strong or fierce as a bear.  Our greatest thoughts, most clear and sublime, are limited and  not qualified to 'capture' or completely understand God other than by way of analogy, leaving essential room for truth that is beyond us yet true in God.

                 To ask God  "Would you please help me find my lost watch, O Lord?" as if God did not know where the watch was and would go looking for it with me, would be evidence I did not know what I was asking or Who God is.  "Would you please help me look for my watch, O Lord?" would be a more correct way to address my need to God .

                 In my desire to give authenticity to my conviction there is no sin so great (evil) that it can conquer the power of God's love (goodness), I found it helpful to begin with individual instances of what might be considered legitimate or at least apparent challenges to my conviction. This rather than first addressing the various multiple and therefore mutiplied challenges present in the suffering and death of thousands and thousands of people all at once in the aftermath of tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mass murders. I'll address that question in itself later on.

                  The familiar text from St. Paul's letter to the Romans (Rom 8: 35-39) is clear and powerful in supporting the conviction I am  trying to proclaim that God is somehow the answer to our questions about evil, and that precisely in Jesus we find this truth realized. It is so clear and powerful that I will copy it here so you have it handy.  "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?  As Scripture says: "For your sake we are being slain all the day long; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered". Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us .  For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height not depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

              There are three important insights in this text I take as the substance of my faith conviction regarding the question of evil.  They are set forth in the final words of the text.  1. Our answer is not primarily about the various samples of evil that have or will come our way. Rather God is the key element or primary focus in our answer to evil of any sort or degree including death.  2. Since we believe God is love (1Jn 4:8), the answer to the question of evil will be found in God's love. 3. The divine love that constitutes our answer comes to us in Jesus.

                In using the term 'my conviction' and 'my claim' I am not  trying to establish  the authenticity of a  disconnected personal or individual claim but one which I am convinced is the faith of the Catholic Church and the Bible.  It is not that I might have liked to have had things with regard to evil as I am convinced about them,  and then initiated the claim on my own rather than  that I received it in the faith handed down to me in conformity to the  Bible and the tradition of the Church. It was not mine to 'invent'.  It is mine to believe, to proclaim, and to share.

                In the few simple words at the conclusion of the quotation from Romans that I gave above, we have an ESSENTIAL FACTOR in understanding the claim that God is the answer to every question we might have with regard to evil in creation.  It is the realization that when we use the word God here, we are referring primarily to Jesus Who is God and at the same time one of usTo BE the answer to every question we might have about God, and creation, good or 'evil', is essential to the mission given Jesus by the Father, lived out in perfect and constant obedience to the Father's plan or will.  In other words, to be the answer to every question we might have about God was among the essential 'reasons' the Word of God was incarnate of Mary and called Jesus, which means Savior

             God,  Father Word and Holy Spirit,  in God's absolute perfection, cannot suffer or die. Jesus, the Eternal Word,  in His humanity could and did suffer and die.  In the Incarnation of the Word the person of Jesus and the person of the Word are the same person.  Flowing from this, His suffering and death and His entire experience on earth  were  identified as divine as well as human.  His body born of Mary was a human creation animated by the person of the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit.  At any one point in His experience on earth Jesus could have been called through obedience to the will of the Father to perform a miraculous action such as to cure a blind man or raise Lazarus from the dead . Through faith and Baptism, like branches on a vine and members of a body, we share that divine life of Jesus,  in our own unique limited  human way.

                 In our union with Jesus through faith and Baptism, God in Jesus can speak and teach us in human terms from a human experience like our own, of important factors in answer to questions we have relating to suffering and death such as what does obedience mean? and what does it mean in God's wisdom and design in human terms to love someone?  and what does it mean in God's wisdom and design in human terms to trust someone?  In Jesus we do not be receive the answer to these questions by way of analogy, but in clear univocal terms based in the historical human experiences, example, and wisdom of Jesus.
                 Jesus was keenly aware of and proclaimed His identity as the the unique Savior of  the entire world.  Here are a few typical texts along that line. " I am the sheepate.  If anyone enters through me he will have eternal life."  ( Jn 10: 7,9). " I am The Way, and The Truth, and The Life" (J: 14: 6). I am the  Resurrection and the life." (Jn 11:25). "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that all who believe in him may have eternal life." (Jn 3: 14). '...apart from me you can do nothing." (Jn15: 5).  In these and similar texts Jesus proclaimed a fundamental,  and in my conviction the most important theological truth about Him in His identity as the sole Savior of all people, whether they realize it or not.  His answer to our questions were given for all and can be received and applied by all

                  When Peter was asked by Caiaphas by what power and in whose name Peter was preaching and healing , Peter told  him it was in the name of Jesus.  "There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved."(Acts 4: 1-12). Apart from Jesus no one has a right to address God as our  Father and claim all that flows from this fact in the prayer Jesus gave us when He was asked how we should pray. All of this is key to understanding our insight and faith in seeing Jesus as the divine answer to all our questions about suffering and death.

                A clue to the meaning and importance of this insignt can be found in the universal practice of the Church in our official prayers of the Mass and in the administration of the other Sacraments of identifying and concluding our prayers in the name of Jesus.  "...through Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen"

                Having identified Jesus as the sole Redeemer of the entire world and believing in our union with Jesus through faith and Baptism as branches on a vine and members of a body, we ask what are the mechanics, as it were, for us to apply what we believe about Jesus being the answer to our questions about evil.

                Evil persists even for a holy person.  We have about fifty funerals each year here in St. Mary on the Hill parish in Augusta. Unemployment, arthritis, pneumonia, broken hips, sprained ankles, cancer of many sorts, kidney lung and prostate diseases are all among the prayers people bring to church.  ...the Father's "sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust." (Mat 5: 45).  What is the practical difference between the response of a saint or a sinner when it comes to sickness, suffering,  and death?  I am convinced there is a beautiful specific Catholic theological response. It is the answer to questions about the meaning, importance, purpose, and value of suffering and death. Without it, the 'problem of evil' would be real and would continue on in history as a problem rather than as a question for sincere enquirers. .   
              A difficulty is I am  not sure the majority of Catholics have been adequately informed of it or day by day are aware of it. Few seem to think or experience it as a major factor in their relationship with God. This is especially sad  when a call or opportunity is given them from God to put it into practice as for example whenever we offer Mass, at hard times, and at times of sickness suffering and death.  Sad, as well, they stand in danger of becoming dead rather than actually dying, with death identified as something that happens to them rather than as something they do  and the greatest  experience possible, ever.

               Obviously there has to be at least one more blog on the question of evil.  Hang on!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Blog # 304 Father's Day

Blog  # 304  Father's Day

           The Catholic custom of  referring to a priest as "Father" is and has been a serious obstacle in the minds of many of our fellow believing Christians.  It is worthwhile noting that the Bible verse in question, 
(Mat. 23: 9), is immediately followed by another verse that reads: "Avoid being called teachers.  Only one is your teacher, the Messiah". (Mat 23: 10).  There is a history to the problem of course.

          In the early ages of the Church, before and during the time when the New Tesetament was being composed there was no problem.  Nor was there a problem as the Church moved through the centuries until on the American scene fundamentalistic preachers developed it into a major issue.   It is not a ommon problem among Scriptural scholars, nor is it a problem in other parts of the world where the American influence has not prevailed. 

         Certainly the Catholic Church knows the words of the Gospel with regard to Jesus' statement.  We know, however, as well, the meaning of the  statement.   Taken out of context, we would no more have taken up the custom of calling a priest Father, let alone tolerate it for centuries, than we would have taken up or tolerated a custom of stealing, telling lies, or murder.

           The Bible itself, the inspired word of God, makes use of the term father both in  regard to God and to natural human fathers on earth.  In the Hebrew Scriptures ( the Old Testament), the word father is used 706 times, but only 10 of these refer to Yahweh (God).  In the Christian Scriptures, ( the New Testament), the word father is used 359 times, of which 229 are in reference to God.  On the surface it would seem the Bible itself contradicts the command of Jesus, which we know is impossible. 

           For St. Paul, who explicitly referes to himself in the Bible as a father of believers, the use of the term was a blessing  rather than an obstacle or a wedge between himself and God.  This is true because for him it was a definite reminder and proclamation of the fact Christian believers through faith and Baptism experience a second birth,  becoming children of God, heirs with Christ of the Father's eternal love.  Our use of the term for the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Baptism (a priest) is the same.  It seems a lack of knowledge, both of the meaning of Scripture in  this instance and of the meaning of our Catholic tradition and the reasons we retain the tradition are at the root of any problem a sincere Bible-reading person would have with it.

            Here are a few samples of references in the Bible using the word father for someone other than God:  1Cor 4: 14 - 17. I am writing to you in this way not to shame you but to admonish you as my beloved children.  Granted you have ten thousand guardians in Christ. you have only one father.  It was I who begot you in Christ Jesus through my preaching of the Gospel. I beg you,then, be imitators of me. This is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful son in the Lord.  Rom 4:16,f. "Abraham is father of us all, which is why Scripture says, "I have made you father of many nations...   Rom 9 10.  "for when Rebekah had conceived twin children by one man, our father Isaac... Acts 7:2;  James 2: 21;  Acts 2: 29;  and 4: 25.

        Aware the gift of new life into which we are born by faith and Baptism is a share in the life of the Resurrected Jesus, it is always helpful to reflect upon how that life is identified and proclaimed in the Scriptures. The Resurrected Jesus is the same person as the  historical Jesus who walked among us, ate our bread, needed and enjoyed the sleep we need and enjoy but is now revealed in His glorified state.  Jesus was constantly aware of the Father's presence to him.  Though divine and from all eternity united with the Father in divine love, like us, Jesus while on earth was called to discover and respond to God humanly in the physical world, in people, and in the human experience of prayer.   It was to this response to which Jesus was referring when on the night before He died in obedience to the Father's plan for Him on the Cross He said His obedience was evidence to all that He loved the Father.  His invitation to all was to join Him in that love.         

               Not all would understand.  Not all would be willing.  In the course of Jesus' life as given in the Gospels we find Him so perfectly obedient to the Father's will that all who heard Him speak and saw Him act should have known His love for the Father was the supreme value in His life. This could only be total love.  Nothing and no-one could take the Father's place as Creator of all that exists.  No-one should be thanked as the Father should be thanked, no-one worshiped in His stead. No-one could asssume his authority or His Name."Do not call anyone on earth your Father. Only one is your Father, the one in Heaven." 

          Sadly, it seems that our Catholic practice of referring to a priest as Father remains a problem of such major proportions as to preclude on the part of some any serious possibility of investigating and discovering the richness of our faith, history, and tradition.  All that we would ask of anyone who would want to enter into discussion with us with regard to a justfiication or condemnation of the practice on our part is an open mind, a willingness to accept our word as sincere, and a prayer for the light of truth for us both. 

          First of all it should be said most clearly we as Catholics profess faith in One God, Father,Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other God. Statues are not God. Mary the Mother of Jesus is not God. Angels and Saints are not God.  The Pope, priests, nuns. and ritual are not God. Not being God, they neither deserve nor are offered the praise thanks adoration love and worship we offer to God alone.  We do not believe in any competitor for God's glory. We don't even come close to being tempted away from our conviction  here.  The official texts of the Mass illustrate and give clear evidence of our awareness of the Father's place in our life our love, and our devotion to Him.l

           Here are a few samples from that text. "Father, it is our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give You thanks."  "I believe one God, the Father almighty."  " You are indeed holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness ".  "Our  Father...Hallowed be Thy Name...Thy will be done."  And the final proclamation at the most solemn part of the Mass is: "Through Him (Jesus), and with Him, and in Him, to You, O God, Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, is all honor and glory , for ever and ever.  Amen!"

             Back in 1990 I was living down in Manassas. Georgia. I was scheduled to offer early Mass in Statesboro, twenty-five miles away. I was out before dawn feeding the chickens in the pen in the back yard.  They were just chickens, but they were mine, and they gave me special joy.  I was happy to be very careful not to make any noise or fuss when I was placing their feed, careful not to wake them up. In some notes I wrote later that morning I saw this incident as a reminder of how God relates to us.   How happy I was to care for the chickens.  How 'happy'  God is to care for us, and how much more perfectly and powerfully He does.  "Look at the birds of the air...Your Father feeds them."  How much more love, wisdom, and care our Father shows for us!  God delights in us when we are good. (Prov 2: 31) "...and I found delight in the sons of men."   Happy we should be!  That is God's plan, all the way to the end.  Those who discover it and follow it need not be afraid.  Do you ever think we might come to a day here in the United States when we will celebrate Our Father's Day with a joy like we have on Christmas?              

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Blog # 303 The Question of Evil

Blog # 303 The Question of Evil

           For several weeks now I have been hoping to get this blog composed and published. I had many insights that came and went  that seemed helpful to me in my response to the reality of evil in the world, but when I sat down at the computer they would seem less attractive and go away. Another day would pass, and then a week of days without Blog # 303. Reflecting about this for the past couple of days I think I have come  up with a root cause, background, or primary reason for my difficulty.  I had been asking many questions about the nature and existence of evil, and as the process of addressing them continued, more and more questions would come.  A single answer to all of them would always come into focus in my mind.  Here is that answer : GOD !

           I was becoming more and more secure in my choice of that answer and convinced of its validiy as the only response I would ever need or could imagine that would ever be available to me or to anyone who would be sincerely seeking the answer to a question about the existence of evil of any kind in our experience of creation.

           The only problem I had, and I think this was a primary root of my difficulty in getting started on this blog, was the simple logical fact that for anyone else other than myself to buy into that single answer, we would have to start with the same basic meaning or identity we give to the word  God . This is not to say that people other than myself who did not have the same meaning and identity I give to  'my' God would not be capable of having a differenet answer to the question of evil that would seem valid and adequate for them  even if it were to be their response would be to say there is no just and all-loving God.
              The single God in whom I believe and proclaim as the answer to all questions regarding evil in creation is the sole Creator of all that exists,  revealed by Jesus in the Blessed Trinity as Father, Word, and Sprit . In making a statement like that, I keep myself  fully aware that in consequence of our natural limiations and God's infinity, all we say and think in reference to God is always by way of analogy, this being something like saying the picture of a man on a dollar bill is George Washington.  It is true and not true at the same time in a different way in each case. 

              I believe and make my own all the Catholic Church solemnly teaches with regard to the the identity of God as infinitely good, all-knowing,all-powerful, all-loving, ever-present, with the  Eternal Word incarnate as one of us in Jesus.

          If we were looking for someone to blame for the existence of evil in creation, that would be easier to do in the case of willful sin and the evil of pain suffering and death  that exist as the result and in consequence of sin. The sinner is to be blamed. But even here with God identified as the sole creator of all that exists, God shares a responsibility not only for the existence of sin but for the  results and consequences of sin as well.  I refrain from blaming God here in the light of God's warning us of the need to avoid temptation leading to sin and also of  God's promise of the grace we need to overcome it.  Nevertheless, the God whom I know and love does not back away from some responsibility for everything that exists, good or evil from our limited point of view.

          A far more difficult universal aspect of the question of evil comes with the case of infants, young children and other innocent people who are victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes,tornadoes, erupting volcanoes, mass murders,  train wrecks, and all of us who have lived, or ever will live, suffer, and die.   Death is not only one among the many human physical emotional and spiritual evils we can and do experience but  is easily seen as the greatest of all and the one we all have to face.  It seems, then, our primary interest and need in addressng the question of evil is to realize we are not seeking an answer to a question that affects some of us but all of us, and therefore is applicable to all evil and to all people. From this we can see how we are addressing the question whether or not it is adequate and sufficient to have God as the single answer to all the questions that come to us in the process of forming our response to evil. We begin with evil seen and experienced as evil ,and move through other questions to the point where there is no longer a prolem of evil ,  to die and to suffer are not altogether bad, and there is no need or room for further questions once we understand and experience total love.

                  Here are a few samples of the questions I have used in coming to the conclusion God is the answer to all and any questions we might have as individuals and as a community of world-wide human creatures.  What is the nature of evil?  Why is one thing or experience evil and another thing or experience
 good?  Is there any identifiable thing or experience that is absolutely or totally evil?  Can we identify a purpose or usefulness of any kind for evil?  Could someone who does not believe in a personal God discover a purpose or usefulness for evil?  Can we discover relationships between repairing evil and forgiving offenses we experience?

               I'll leave for another blog some significant references from the Bible that helped me see the truth that claims God is the ultimate answer to questions we might have with regard to the meaning and purpose of suffering, and particularly of death. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blog # 302 We are all related

Blog # 302  We are all related

            Did  you ever consider what the difference would be for you if you believed in more than one God?  We sort of take for granted the notion of God as Single, Unique, Creator of all, Ever-Present. All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Good, etc.  There was a time in human experience, when the notion of a single God would have been like thinking the world was round at the time of Galileo.

           One significant insight that comes to me when I consider what might be the difference if there were several gods rather than one is this: with the notion of a single Creator of all that is, everything that exists is connected.

           There are no exceptions here. Frost and warmth, light and darkness, youth and old age, flowers and insects, mountains and rivers, life and death, men and women, you and I are all connected if you accept as fact there is but one God, one Creator of all.

            Rather than the word 'connected' we could have used the word ' related'.  Then the notion I am reflecting  upon comes out like this:  Everything and everyone that exists is related to everyone else and everything else that exists in the one Creator of all.  In fact, this relationship is so profound and all pervasive that all other relationships are subsequent to it and based upon it.  The relationship we have to one another as brothers and sisters in a family is not as deep as the relationship we have to all creation in God our common Creator.
             Such a thought might be a shock to some people. Yet when you think it out, our parents give us much of  what and who we are. God gives us all that we are. This little consideration gives a bit of insight into the meaning and significance of God's command , given us in the divine Jesus, (Immanuel - God Among Us) "Love one another as I have loved you."   To have commanded us to love one another as brothers and sisters would have been less strong.

            These thoughts are helpful in discovering and appreciating more perfecctly the meaning and power of our human history and in our study in the field of science as well as our study of the Bible.  Days and years are related. Historical epochs are related. Ezra is related to Moses. Moses is related to Abaham.  Abraham is related to Adam and Eve. David is related to Luke.  All of creation is related to Jesus the Word of God, the Messiah,  the Galilean  carpenter and rabbi.  We discover something of the full identity of Jesus in discovering the identity of Moses, Abraham, of Adam and Eve and of ourselves.
              This connectedness in history could very well be recognized even by a person who does not believe in God.  But for someone who does believe in God the connections in creation did not merely happen, as it were, by chance, but were built into creation according to a plan we call God's love.  The birth of Moses did not surprise God. God loved Moses into being. So for Abraham and Adam and Eve and for you and for me.

              In Jesus something altogether special and unique occurs.  In Jesus God relates to all creation not from some unimaginable place, with some unimaginable degree of Power Wisdom Goodness and Love, but in Bethleham, at a given moment, in a given year of time, like us in all but sin.

             Jesus is related to Moses and to Abaham and to Adam and Eve and to you and me through His birth from Mary.  Yet Jesus is also related to the Father and the Holy Spirit in a unique way that could never be ours unless it were through Him.  But that we know is God's plan.  This is the good news of  salvation.  We are to be like brancehes on a vine in the image given by Jesus and as members of His  Body the Church as given by Sts. Paul and John. "See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God. Yet that is what we are!"   We are brothers and sisters in Adam.  We are children of God in Jesus.

            Jesus was sent not merely to teach about God, as others had been sent before Him to prepare the way for Him, but to be God among us, God Incarnate, in  human flesh, walking  talking sleeping eating, yet divine.  He was not merely to be a good example to us,but  the power to make us good.   At the beginning of His public ministry , in the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus selects a passage from the  prophet Isaiah:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

          Though sent and anoinetd by the same Spirit to bring the same message of God's wisdom and goodness, there was an essential difference between the prophets who had come and gone before Jesus and Himself. Other prophets had announced and proclaimed the message and promises of God.  Jesus claims He IS the message and the fulfillment of the promises. Limited in His humanity but infinite in His love, Jesus is the perfect expression on earth of the Father's will.  He was sent by the Father for this.

        But it was not for His sake that Jesus was sent. It was for the sake of others.  "Come, follow me",  Andew Peter James John Frank Mary Tony Annie Mae.  Down through the ages until the end of time the invitation continues to be given.  "Come, join me in fulfilling God's plan for you, bringing justice,peace, light, freedom, love."

        There is but one Creator of all that is. All creation , past, present, and whatever is to come shares in the invitation Jesus was sent to bring. "...a people living in darkness has seen a great light."  Look, listen, learn, follow.  Thank You, Jesus!   


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blog # 301 Evil

Blog # 301  Evil

              Philosophers, theologians, Social Welfare professionals, victims of criminal violence, pacifists, widows and widowers, men and women of deep faith in God and those without faith in God have worked and wondered in search of what has been referred to as 'The Problem of Evil'. I am among those who wondered.

            I think I came closest  than ever to a solution to the problem of evil on the day I denied there was a problem of evil. It is not that I have me eyes closed to evil in the world. The recent tragedy of innocent school children killed in Newtown,Connecticut, and then just a few weeks later the slaughter of people at the finish line of the Boston Marathon prompted me to write this blog. I had the honor, privilege, burden, challenge, or whatever you want to call it, of personally spending a good part of a day visiting the death camp at Auschwitz, Poland years ago. Many days there are stories in the local newspaper of shootings stabbings violence and hatred even among members of one's own family. I do not deny evil in the world. I do not think that evil is good and not evil. I just want to say I see it differently than most people seem to do. I do not defend evil or think it is good.  Evil is bad.  It is evil. Calling or naming it a problem is what I call into question.

            Ordinarily when we think of anything as a problem we incline to think of it in relation to a solution.  Once we arrive at a solution the problem is solved and the case is closed.  In the case of the 'problem' of evil we should not be surprised there have been several well thought out and sincere solutions proposed.  Some have been satisfied to solve the 'problem' in identifying someone to blame for it.  It is the result of sin in the world. Eliminate sin and we would eliminate evil.  Partly true.

              If we were to consider pain and suffering as evil, as many do, then blaming it on sin, we do not have the solution to the problem of good and innocent people suffering and in pain.  If we were  to say evil is beyond God's control, we would have a solution that would be in contradiction to our identification of God as unlimited, totally good, all-powerful, and all loving. In seeing this as true, some would feel no need to go further in their search for a solution to the 'problem' than to deny the reality of a personal unique unlimited good powerful and loving God. For them, in the stage to which we have come in our natural evolution as human beings, evil remains an inevitable given. The solution is to recognize this and to avoid it as well as you can.

                In these and other solutions sincerely offered to solve the 'problem' of evil I see a fundamental danger and an obstacle of arriving at the truth we are seeking. It is the danger of identifying the task in which we are engaged as seeking a solution to a problem. Ironically, the danger comes from having a solution.  We work to solve a problem until we arrive at a solution that we confidently feel is the truth.  The situation is complicated by the fact that others working toward a solution to the same problem confidently and sincerely arrive at a different solution.  If our solutions are different, someone is correct or closer to being correct than another. That is another problem.  But if I am sufficiently confident in my solution and someone else's solution does not evidently harm me, it tends not to be my concern. I remain apart from them.

        I would like to try to illustrate how this works out when we apply it to what I consider one of the greatest evils of all. The problem is the division of the  Church. I have to point out and admit that as far as I can tell I am in a definitely very very small minority of people among those I know personally and through the media, government leaders, church members, people all around me who otherwise are very much like me in our everyday experience of life who see this as a problem to be solved.   It is not that others confront me and try to change my convictions. I think they are just not aware of  what I am concerned about as a concern of theirs. They just don't think of it. If I did not experience it as real I don't think I could imagine how we could claim to live by the Gospel message of salvation and not be seriously concerned about our division. 
             We can shed significant light on the 'problem' by focusing it in the form of a question: What does it mean to be 'saved'?  Identifying this as a problem we seek a solution as our response.  Each Sunday here in the United States millions of good people gather in large and small  Christian gatherings  to worship a single God in the name of a single Savior, but divided in the solutions they give to the problem of our division in direct contradiction to the prayer of Jesus that all who would come to believe in Him would be united in the love and obedience He lived in His relationship with His Father Whom He had identified as the  sole Creator of us all. (Jn 17: 11, 20 - 23, 26).

             In considering evil as a problem and seeking to solve it with a solution, we have in the ocurrence of different solutions the situation of something being correct or incorrect and  and therefore division among the searchers of truth which in itself is one.  In response to this I have continued to refrain from using the title Problem of  Evil and subsituting the title Question of Evil. 

               Solutions for me imply conclusions, the end of a process.  Questions lead to answers but also for me leave room for other questions from other people who have different answers than ours to what we thought  were the same questions until we asked questions of one another and discovered our questions were not the same.  Then through further questions we can grow in our knowledge of  the truth that unites.
The process is ongoing rather than conclusive. Sincere questions are invitations to unity rather than intrusions and sources of division.         

           There are a few more things to consider with regard to the question of evil so we will include them in a different blog.