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.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blog # 300 Further thoughts on the Eucharist

Blog # 300 Further thoughts on the Eucharist
          In His unique historical experience of unconditional trust and total love for the Father, Jesus freely laid down His human life on the Cross in obedience to the Father's plan for Him. Limited in time and space by the reality of its genuine physical nature, His death occurred in a specific place at a specific time.  In the reality of its nature as death, it occurred once and for all. His blood shed, His body given, would live again in the glory of  His Resurrection , but never die again in the physical limits of  Calvary  almost two thousand years ago.. 
            What then of the event of the Last Supper the evening before the event of Calvary?  And what of what happens when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered day after day on our altars in Catholic churches throughout the world?  "This my body, given". "This is my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenent, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins." These words could literally be applied to the body and blood of  Jesus as He hung on the Cross and died in the  experience that fulfilled the promise made to Adam and  brought salvation to the whole world. But what of their meaning and power when applied to the bread and wine of the Last Supper and of the Mass? 

           Is our Catholic faith and theology correct in proclaiming these words can and should also be applied literally  to what  happened at the Last Supper and to the daily offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass?  The majority of our fellow non-Catholic Christians throughout the world have come to answer that question "No, the Catholic Church is wrong in this regard. The words in question produce a symbolic reminder of what actually happened once and for all two thousand years ago." 

           I am thoroughly convinced of the truth of our Eucharistic faith. Yet  I recognize a problem someone might have in reconciling it with what we see and touch in our sense knowledge of the the Mass.  It helps to realize that by its nature faith is not to be proven but to be believed. There will always be an elemant of mystery whenever we deal with truths that are beyond our competence to understand fully, from the notion of creation itself  down through the divinity of Jesus, the authenticity of the Bible, to what happened at the Last Supper and what happens each time the Mass is validly offered.             

             In admiration and appreciation of the teaching method of Jesus in His use of parables to clarify and proclaim His message, I tried to come up with something that would help me understand the truths we believe and proclaim with regard to the relationship of Calvary, the Last Supper and the Mass. I will share it with you here.

                Before Mass started a couple of weeks ago, with just a few people there early, I handed out five dollars.  Then in the homily of the Mass I  told the people what I had done and asked them to imagine, that is, to create an image in their minds of what I did.  Several 'saw'  me give a five dollar bill to a single person.  Others who voluntered to reveal what they had imagined 'saw' me give five single dollar bills to five different individuals.  What I actually did was give a one dollar bill to a  single person and in four cellophane sandwich bags I gave out  four additional dollars in four different modes.  One had a roll of fifty pennies and ten dimes. Another had four quarters. Another had twenty nickles and a fouth had one quarter five pennies two dimes and ten nickles.  Each had something in common with them all.   All of them were money!

              Applying this to the problem someone might have in reconciling the Biblical narratives of the Crucifixion and the Last Supper with with one another and with the Church's tradition and faith regarding the identity of what goes on in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass,  we are dealing with a reality and truth that is beyond our human competence to understand completely. We seek to understand what we believe rather than to prove it. This was similar to the experience of the people at Mass a couple of weeks ago who did not and could not in the limited experience available to them know for sure what and why I had done what I did unless they believed me or an other reliable witness who testified to it. And this was true for them in a question of what was not in itself beyond their capacity to comprehend, the simple  all-human gift of five dollars. How absolutely certain it would be in regard to the questiion of the mystery of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist !

          We can see a parallel to this in the case of  the witness of St Paul in his first letter to the  Corinthians in his significant and familiar testimony to the Eucharistic action and words of Jesus at the Last Supper  ( 1 Cor 11:23 - 27).  "I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, namely, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which  He was betrayed took bread, and after He had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you,  Do this in remembrance of me".  In the same way, after the supper , He took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."

          It is very significant that Paul did not say remember me by doing this but do this to remember me.  The action is prior to the memory of it in time power importance and meaning.

           In the parable of the money, applied to various coins and paper, we see all of it as money existing in different modes. Applied to   Calvary the Last Supper and the Mass , we see all three events as real in themselves and all three identified and impowered by the same  redeeming infinite love of Calvary expressed in three different modes. We gain some understanding of this in the light of our faith in the identity of Jesus and the Eternal Word as one single person with the astonishing effect of granting the suffering and death of Jesus supernatural unlimited divine power with regard to the bread and wine similar as to what was given in the other miracles of Jesus such as raising the dead and curing the deaf and the blind by the simple act of declaring it when this would be the Father's will.  

           One more application of the parable.  There is such a thing as counterfeit money.  Genuine authentic money is backed up by the authority of the government that has the right and power to authenticate or guarantee its value.  The authenticity of  our faith in the meaning and value of Calvary the Last Supper and the Mass and their  common identification in the total love of  Jesus in obedience to the Father is primarily found in the Bible and the official teaching of the Church, but it is supported as well in history and tradition, in the lives of holy people who have lived by it  and loved God in its light, in the parts and effects of it we can experience ourselves that give  us joy,peace, comfort in our sorrows,  support in temptation and in our weaknesses,  in our personal praise and thanks to Jesus that inspires us ever more prefectly to love and appreciate His goodness and power, and in all the other natural and supernatural gifts we receive each day that tell us we are loved by God uniquely one by one and as a community of belivers in the same love the Father has for Jesus.  ( Jn 17: 23,26).



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blog # 299 From Jerusalem to Augusta and back

Blog # 299 From Jerusalem to Augusta and back...

         Blog # 298 focused upon the event of the original Good Friday experience of Jesus in Jerusalem.  It was identified as an act of perfect obedient love and, as directed to the Father, labeled Worship.

         In the light of our belief in the mystery of the Incarnation, in Jesus and the Word of God we have the same person.  And in further light coming from the Incarnation, we have, in the normal experiences of Jesus as one of us, truly human experiences such as hunger fatigue lonelines generosity death temptation and the other normal limitations other than sin we all know in our day by day human lives.  On the other hand when the Father's plan for Jesus called for thoughts actions or words beyond the scope and capacity of His biological human nature, Jesus, in obedience to the Father, was personally capable of experiencing these realities as divine as well as human or in other words as experiences of God on earth in Him and therefore infinite, beyond and independent of the limitations Jesus knew and we know as mere human creatures.

         In that paragraph, reminding us of the clearly revealed identy in a single person of the Eternal Word and Jesus, and the consequences of this identity, seen in the perfectly human (limited)  and divine (unlimited) experiences in the life of Jesus, it seems to me we have a fundamental and most important theological truth that does not normally seem to be part of the conscious awareness of folks in a typical congregation assembled before the altar at a time the Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered.  In the light of such a lack of awareness it seems to me we could hardly understand, let alone be aware of what was going on at the Last Supper the evening before Jesus died, and, in the light of this, at the Eucharistic table around which we might be asembled as Mass is being offered.

          First we must be aware of and appreciate what was going on at Calvary.  The physical suffering and death of Jesus on Calvary, necessarily limited by its nature, occurred in its historical mode once and for all, never to be repeated in that mode.  On the calendar, the twenty four hours of the day Jesus died on Calvary will never come again.  So it is with the blood He shed and with all of the pain and suffering that goes with being crucified.  It began that morning, continued for a time until His heart stopped beating and He died.  He had given all He possessed.  He had no more to give.  Such is the way it is with death.  It was this way for Jesus in the plan the Father had for Him.  He had said "Yes" to it in the garden of Gethsemane the evening before.  It would never happen again this way.

           What next?  In the Biblical narrative of it, the mystery of creation sin and salvation started with our Creator's promise to send a redeemer bearing the gift of forgiveness of sin.  It continud on in Moses, Abraham, and a long line of Prophets who handed on the story of the promise and kept the hope for it alive in God's Chosen People.  Then came Jesus, identified in the minds of people living around  him in the town of Nazareth as the son of Joseph, a local carpenter.  While still a young man Jesus made the claim for himself to be the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam.  For a period of about three years He engaged in a ministry of preaching, shedding light on the meaning of the promise and upon His own divine identity as God's Beloved Son.

          Finally on the evening before He died, while officially celebrating the Feast of Passover commemorating the release of God's Chosen People from the slavery of Egypt, Jesus did the most important and astonishing thing He ever did.  It was His greatest miracle.  It was the act that fulfilled the promise of Genesis and won salvation for all people who would hear of it and believe in it.  He took bread and said it was His body given.  He took wine and said it was His blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenantpoured out for the forgiveness of sins.

       The same words Jesus proclaimed over the bread and over the wine at the Last Supper could truly have been said of the body and blood of Jesus on Calvary as He hung and died on the Cross the day before.  The same words applied to both instances express an identical truth about the bread and the wine and His body and blood but in different  modes. The key to understanding this lies in the words given and poured out.  Given and poured out on Calvary in one historical mode.  Given and poured out at the Last Supper in another mode unique to that occasion. 

        Three men died on Calvary that first Good Friday.  One of them died a broken and despairing man. A second of the men we know as Saint Dismas, the Good Thief. The third man, Jesus, was God, the Eternal Word, come among us as Jesus precisely for this moment, to die, to show us what it means to love most perfectly in the unconditional trust and total self-giving of Jesus in His death on the Cross.  This was the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam on behalf of all people. Jesus' death was His greatest love and His greatest glory (Jn 17: 5,6), an act of worship that won for Him the victory over sin and death in the experience of His predicted Resurrection three days later and the title of  Redeemer of All Mankind.

           The Title of this blog is 'From Jerusalem to Augusta and back... Those three dots indicate there is more.  We have been in Jerusalem for the death of Jesus and the Last Supper.  We have to come back to  Augusta before we finish.  We  have identified the Last Supper with Calvary.  It remains to identify the Sacrifice of the Mass that we experience here in Augusta at St. Mary on the Hill with the other two.

         The infinite love of Jesus the Word of God was experienced and proclaimed as a unique experience, once and for all,  in the naturally limited physical nature of the suffering of Jesus on the Cross (as one of  us He had only so much to give and gave it all), and naturally limited as well by time and place in its historical mode ( in a certain hour on the hill of Calary).  The experience of the Last Supper was also a once in a lifetime unique experience, never to be repeated in its historical mode. What made it so was the unique physical presence of Jesus at the table . The words spoken by Jesus over the bread and the wine at the Last Supper were spoken in the sound of  His personal voice in the sight of His physical presence. The combination of these precise details would never occur again. 

        As the Last Supper was the experience of Calvary in a different mode so the experience of the Mass is the experience of the Last Supper in still a different mode. We refer to it as a Sacramental mode.  In every experience in the Sacramental mode we  have three elements, a reality that is signified in some tangible way, and a response by the person receiving the Sacrament.  In reference to the Sacrifice of the Mass Calvary is the basic reality signified in the here and now by  the love and Sacramental presence of Jesus in the bread given and in the wine poured out and received by a believer in the Sacrament of  Holy Communion.

        This has been a long blog with a rich content that merits reflection upon it.  I hope to share a few further insights that will be helpful in another blog 'tomorrow'....