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Monday, August 27, 2012

What do you advertise?

Reflection on the Readings for Monday August 27, 2012: 1Thess. 1:1-5,11-12 Mt. 23:13-22 I was traveling this past weekend and at one point stopped by a small restaurant for breakfast. There were a few families with young children present and at one point four elderly women came in. Since it was a small restaurant, I was able to overhear parts of their conversations and discovered that they had just gone to Mass. Sadly, that was the last positive thing I can report about their time at that restaurant. They were rude, cranky and seemingly angry. They were condescending and demeaning to the wait staff as soon as they walked in the door. They also weren't to thrilled with the fact that there were small children around them. The tragedy in this scene is that they were advertising us, Catholics, to others. Not the kind of advertising that we want or that actually describes us. Now I am not naive enough to think that if they were the most outgoing, friendly group ever that people would be so impressed that they would flock to the Catholic Church. But you better believe that others in that restaurant linked them to Catholicism and came up with a negative impression of them and us. In fairness, there have been times that I haven't been a good advertisement for Christ. That is why the Scriptures at times really challenge us, even the best Catholic out there. We can always do better. It is not just a coincidence that Paul notes that as the Thessalonians faith grew, so didn't their love for others. Not only that, but they were able to persevere in faith and love even in times of persecution and other afflictions Our baptism makes us advertisements for Christ. To be a positive advertisement, our faith needs to be authentic. Our worship of God can't be something that we attend once a week, but rather something we live. We need to open our hearts and minds to God and allow his light to shine into the dark corners of our lives so that nothing blocks his light from shining through us to others.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Journey of Faith and Wisdom

About a year ago I came across a flyer from a campus ministry program at another university (I don’t recall what school it was). It began with a statement that read, “You came to an institution of higher learning to grow intellectually. Why are you ok with an eighth grade knowledge of your faith?” The statement addresses an important aspect of your college experience. Here you will be challenged in many ways. You will learn more things about life, the world and new approaches to thinking. You will learn to think critically. It can be an exciting time, but at the same time a frightening time as you begin to “reassess” what you have always held to be true. Sadly, for some reason many people do not apply the same effort and critical thinking to faith. When this occurs we can come up with such erroneous ideas as “science as disproven religion”, “religion is silly, archaic, controlling, out of touch, etc…” or “human reason will provide you with all you need to know”. A recent survey of millennials (those between the ages of 17 and 30) and religion show that most millennials find Christians to be hypocritical, judgmental and antigay (Ironically, 76% feel Christianity has good values, and 63% feel Christianity “shows love for other people”). (A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics among College Age Millennials. Public Research Institute, 2012. P. 31) certainly, we can find examples of Christians and others not living as the Gospel has called us to and with the internet, their numbers may seem to be much larger than they are. The tragedy is when in our “enlightened” state, we turn from faith. When this happens, we assume what the Church teaches without actually knowing what the teaching is. When we apply our intellectual approach to our assumptions, it is no wonder that we reach a conclusion about Christianity that is different than what Christianity is actually about. This is tragic because the intellect has told us since the ancient Greeks that the human person is a unity of body, mind and spirit. Our drive as human beings is to feed our desire for joy, love and fulfillment. This occurs when we take time to learn more about ourselves, our gifts and talents, who we are and what our purpose for being here is. This includes study of such things as philosophy, science and religion, taking time for beauty and goodness and time for spiritual nourishment and growth. If you remove religion from the mix, you enter the journey incomplete. You may experience moments of spiritual awakening (after all, truth, goodness and beauty have their source in God), but these will still be incomplete over time. We owe it to ourselves, to others and to God to include faith in our development as healthy human beings. An important foundation for understanding Catholic theology (after the Scriptures) is philosophy, the”love of wisdom”. In the Old Testament, Solomon is praised not for seeking power or wealth, but for seeking an “understanding heart”. (1Kings 3:9) Wisdom fuels us in our journey for completeness. Justice, peace and happiness are only possible when we understand who we are and live accordingly. This does not mean that growing in faith is a walk in the park. We will struggle at times to understand God and His teaching. This journey is at times challenging and time consuming, as is any type of meaningful growth we experience (Exhibit A: the teenage years!). Faith and religion do not take away the problems and stresses you will face in life, but it will provide you with the stability to persevere through those trials, a perseverance that leads to something better. Growing in faith, like growing in knowledge in science, philosophy, etc., involves asking questions, sometimes tough questions. But in order for us to grow, it also involves listening for the answer and engaging in discussion about that answer. It involves being open to the possibility that I may be wrong. It involves the realization that I am not alone in this life long process. The family of faith, the Church is there to support me, to help me in my journey of understanding, at times to challenge me and at all times to love me and keep me connected to God’s love.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Reason we need Reason

On July 31, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuits. In the Office of Readings for the day (from the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours), the second reading was a selection from “The Life of Saint Ignatius from his own words by Luis Gonzalez”. The selection speaks of Ignatius' recovery from wounds sustained in battle. The last paragraph in the Office states: When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet, when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. When Ignatius used reason with his religious experience, it opened his eyes to a whole new world. Religion wasn’t about superstitions, it wasn’t something to keep the elderly occupied. He realized that it was indeed relevant in his life, needed if he hoped to live the happiness he sought. He discovered that religion required use of one’s reason. Perhaps the biggest problem facing Catholicism (and other religions, as well as other aspects of life) is that reason isn’t utilized in many discussions about life, daily living and faith. Catholicism isn’t “well, I’m Catholic and this is what I think”. It is more like “Catholic reasoning leads me to believe”. Foundational to understanding Catholic theology and intellectual history is Greek philosophy. The Greeks were concerned with absolute truth, with the foundations of our existence and our world and how we lived. Isn’t it interesting that Greek philosophy is also important to science. Think of the purpose of physics: what is everything made of? The idea that theology and science are opposed is untrue. Each actually encourages the other. I’m not a scientist. I studied history in college and then theology in the seminary. However, I find myself energized and seeking to learn more about things like String Theory, Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Relativity. Now, my learning will be quite elementary, I do not have the aptitude for mathematics and formulas that would allow a complex understanding to form. However, when I am reading about these things or watching a documentary, I find myself thinking in the background how this science relates to and deepens my understanding of such things as the Trinity, God creating in eternity, etc. I can understand why it shouldn't be surprising that the Big Bang Theory was discovered by a Catholic priest. The science is helping me to better understand the theology and the theology is helping me to better understand the science. All of this puts me in a state of awe. From a faith perspective, this awe is in God’s creation and in God Himself. This reminds me that to grow in faith, I need to take time not only for prayer, scripture reading,studying about God and the Gospel, but I need to take time to learn about beauty (I didn’t even get into how art and music can also play a role), goodness and truth as it is found in other disciplines. All of these lead me to the source, God. When you think about it, it is no wonder that the Christianity created the university system.