Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blessed Teresa

As might be inferred from the title of this blog I have a strong attachment to the writings and work of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. As do most who have been familiar with her writings I am familiar with her particular "dark night of the soul" experience, though like most I did not fully appreciate how very cut off she felt from the experience of Our Lord.
How deep her spiritual torture was is only now been revealed in the new book based on letters to her spiritual councilor Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.
Anyone familiar with Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) Dark Night of the Soul, will appreciate that this was not an experience unique to Blessed Teresa, but it must be said that hers was one of the longest known instances of this phenomenon, extending for some fifty years in all, broken by a single three week long period apparently the result of direct intercession by a deceased Pope.
I can't but personally feel that such a cross to be born by one who was so honored by the world was the equivalent of the ancient Roman practice. When a conqueror in Ancient Rome returned to the city victorious he would be given a parade, crowned with wreaths, and where all the populous would cheer him as he rode through the streets in his chariot. Behind him stood a slave, who whispered in his ear, "you are only a man."
So publicly devoted to Christ and the Eucharist, Blessed Teresa was called upon by God to perform her ministry under not only the most strenuous physical conditions but also the most demanding spiritual conditions. In her own words I expect she will "...continually be absent from Heaven — to [light] the light of those in darkness on earth,"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Time, space and everything

"People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

--Albert Einstein
Glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.
--Gloria Patri(Trinitarian Doxology)

If one works in the world today it is almost inevitable that eventually one will meet an atheist. I say eventually because though many seem to live as if they believe God does not exists when the rubber meets the road they acknowledge some type of belief in a higher power, though they may not call it God. Finding someone who really believes there is no higher order creator of the universe is harder than secular media, which does seem to attract a larger than statistically significant number of these people, would have us believe.
The number of regular church goers is also not reflective of how many atheists there are. Many people who do not attend church regularly believe there is a God. Some doubt organized religion. Some have problem with God, but believe that he does exist. Some few believe that a creator exists, but believe his existence is irrelevant to them. None of these people are atheists.
Secularism is the bastion of those atheists who do exist. Most seem to think that science will vindicate their belief, or rather their lack of belief. On the few occasions when I have had the opportunity to discuss God with one of them their approach seems invariably to be..."You're a scientist, how can you believe in a god?"
To which I answer, "How can I not?"
To me, who has, perhaps, a view of the universe that is somewhat broader than the man in the street it is quite clear that there must be an underlying force, a designer, who created existence. If I walk through the forest and find a watch I don't have to see him to know there was watchmaker. If I analyze the equations of relativity or thermodynamics I don't need to see Him to know that there is something which stitches together these mathematics which the human mind can comprehend and these forces of the universe: space/time or entropy, which we humans on a gut level cannot.
Can any human truly comprehend the distance to the nearest galaxy or the core temperature of the sun? Can we truly appreciate the incredibly narrow parameters of physical laws which allow matter to exist at all? Yet through God's language of mathematics we can leverage the power of aerodynamics to fly or the power of the atom itself for power.
What are humans that you are mindful of them,
mere mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them little less than a god,
crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them rule over the works of your hands,
put all things at their feet
--Psalm 8
Long before Einstein, Newton and even St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, through Platonic logic, perhaps informed by the Holy Spirit, wrote on the nature of time. In the fourth century, long before clocks or calculus, St. Augustine in his Confessions, puts forth the principle that God, having created time as well as all that fills the universe is beyond time. God did not create the universe, he is creating the universe. He is an active force, by which the carefully orchestrated laws of the universe, natural law, holds the universe together.
Before the universe existed He was. He is present always as long as the universe exists. When the universe no longer exists, when all we now know has passed away, still He will be. To Him it is all the same. He exists beyond time and beyond space, while the universe only exists in Him and through Him.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Living in a Catholic world

Yesterday (August 8th) was the feast of St. Dominic. Intentional Disciples has a post from a presentation made by Fr. Michael Sweeney awhile ago, but it is just as valid today as it was eleven years ago. If you want to read the original it is here.
It speaks to the great depth of our Catholic faith and the great depth of history, tradition (small "t") and culture that we have. We must remember that such a broad culture extends not only backward into the past, but also throughout each and every historical era. So from the very beginning there were those with charismatic leanings, those who were more comfortable in contemplative payer and those who ministered at table. As Paul says in Romans 12:
For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
So it is still today.The Church needs both defenders of the faith who seek to ensure that her sacraments and liturgy are celebrated according to the forms set down, with reverence and piety. And she needs spirit filled charismatics who, in the words of John Paul II,
...can play a significant role in promoting the much-needed defense of Christian life in societies where secularism and materialism have weakened many people's ability to respond to the Spirit and to discern God's loving call.
We must also resist the urge to believe that any one Catholic individual is incapable of accepting and living in the full breath of our Catholic faith. Attending, and relishing, XLT does not prevent one from also putting aside time for silent adoration. Appreciating the reverent mystery of the Mass celebrated in Latin according to the extraordinary rite, complete with chant, does not prohibit one from also appreciating the ordinary rite celebrated with modern instruments and music. If it does then perhaps the accidents are thought to be more important than the reality of the sacrament.
The way to really tie into your Catholic roots is to spend more time in the midst of your Catholic culture. That means considering that one hour spent at Mass on Sunday is not sufficient. It means spending at least as much time actively being Catholic as spent being a member of secular society. What do I mean by that?
If you spend two hours watching an appropriate secular blockbuster or television event it would make sense to spend at least that much time reading the writings of a Catholic saint or theologian. If you can spend an hour playing Ultimate Frisbee, how about an hour handing out food at the soup kitchen or shelter. Two hours surfing on Facebook. A like time surfing the blogs at St. Blog or reading whats on the Vatican's site or the website of your own diocese. When you go out with friends sometimes do activities that aren't just morally neutral, but that are actively Christian.
Spend less time in the secular world and more time in the Catholic world.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The King of Kings

The concept of God as King is one that extends back to the time before Israel had a king. As it says in Samuel 8:
In his old age Samuel appointed his sons judges over Israel. ... His sons did not follow his example but sought illicit gain and accepted bribes, perverting justice. Therefore all the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”

Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the LORD, however, who said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king. As they have treated me constantly from the day I brought them up from Egypt to this day, deserting me and worshiping strange gods, so do they treat you too. Now grant their request; but at the same time, warn them solemnly and inform them of the rights of the king who will rule them.”
So as can be seen by asking for a human king the Israelites were rejecting God as their king. But before he gives them a king God has Samuel describe to the people the rights of the king.
This, the rights of monarchy, is a concept that we in the modern west do not understand well. It has been said, about America anyway, that here every man is a king, every woman a queen. Who hasn't heard the old saying, "A man's home is his castle?" The perceived notion is that a man is king in his own home.
And we act in the way of nobility of the past. We stand for our rights, we stand for the rights of others. Our motto might be said to be, "I respect all men and bow to none."
In ancient times it was thought that people were not all equal. The king was, as in scripture, thought to be appointed by God. People had a duty to give the king his due. And the king had a divine right to this authority, because this authority did not come from the consensus the governed, but by the authority of God.
When men marched into battle they did not, generally debate the right or wrong of the act, they answered the call of the king. That was why great dynastic wars, such as the War of the Roses, were such long bloody things, because generally once a person pledged their service to their monarch they were committed for life.
We in the modern world find the concept of such unthinking, mindless devotion alien. But in many ways that is what God asks of us. Its not that we can't discern the truth of many Church teachings from inquiry, St. Thomas Aquinas did that, but of the Great Mysteries, we must give ourselves over to God and trust with our whole heart. We must not be our own little king or queen but pledge ourselves to the Great King of all.