Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Tongue is a Fire: The Importance of Striving for Purity of Speech


The Importance of Speech in Our Christian Faith

As Christians, speech and words are particularly meaningful to us for a variety of reasons. First of all (literally), we believe that God spoke all of Creation into being out of nothing: "For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth" (Psa 33:9). We believe that Jesus Christ is the Logos, that is, the Word of God: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). We believe that Christ became incarnate at the moment when the Blessed Virgin Mary said, "Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Due to the sacramental nature of the Catholic Faith, words are particularly meaningful to those of us who are Catholic Christians. Like other Christians, we believe that the words spoken at baptism are essential to the validity of the sacrament: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." We believe that God works through human priests to forgive us of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), using the words, "I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." During the Mass, we believe that ordinary bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ when the priest utters the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper (Mt 26:26-28, Mk 14:22,24, Lk 22:19-20).

The Power of Speech
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! (Js 3:5).
As human beings, we cannot speak things into existence out of nothing the way God can (which is probably a good thing). However, as creatures made in God's image and likeness, our speech does have creative power Like our actions, the words we speak are not only a reflection of our thoughts and inward disposition; they also have the power to change us, influence others, and praise and glorify God. Unfortunately, our speech doesn't always serve God, others, or ourselves in a positive way, but is at times destructive. Today, there is an epidemic of obscene language, profanity, gossip, hate speech, and abuse of the name of God. Sadly, these destructive acts of speech are often justified and even praised in the name of humor (one of our favorite idols). Personally, I used to be guilty of all these sins (especially profanity), and I still struggle with some of them on a regular basis. Having also noticed the prevalence of these problems among many other people as well, especially young people, I was moved to share my thoughts on this topic. Don't worry, I haven't forgot about Advent or Christmas––this topic has just been pressing my mind lately, and in fact, purifying our language is one way to make a beautiful gift of ourselves for Christ when He comes into our lives in a new way this Christmas.


Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? 
And who shall stand in his holy place? 
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, 
who does not lift up his soul to what is false, 
and does not swear deceitfully. 
He will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of his salvation (Psa 24:3-5)

Don't Defile Yourself
"What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander" (Mt 15:18-19).
It is tempting to believe that the way we speak does not affect how we view other people or change our attitude towards life. However, nothing in our experience supports this notion. The reality is that our speech is closely connected to our beliefs, moods, and attitudes. This connection is reciprocal, that is, the person we are now is revealed in part by the way we speak, and the way we speak has a powerful effect on the person we becomeIt is easy enough to admit this in theory, but in practice it is of course much more difficult. How often do we say things in arguments, in moments of frustration or anger, or in jest that tear others down and defile us? How often do we justify vulgarity, perversion, gossip, and verbally abusing others for the sake of laughter? I frequently hear statements such as, "That's sooo bad! But it's really funny!" and "I'm going straight to hell for saying that!" (usually followed by more laughter, as if going to hell is a joking matter). Jesus Himself said that we will be judged on our speech:
I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Mt 12:36-37).
I don't know about you, but I find those words hard to read! Many people believe the modern lie that the morality of actions, including speech, is entirely dependent on the circumstances. This idea flows out of the pervasive moral relativism of our time, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI diagnosed as the most serious threat to our world. Regarding speech, this relativism is manifest in the belief that language itself is morally neutral, and that all ideas we have about certain types of speech being morally wrong are based entirely on whatever the prevailing social norms happen to be. I often people say things such as, "Don't say that around the kids!" This is blatant hypocrisy, for if we don't expect or demand pure and respectful speech from adults, then why are we so worried that children might imitate them? After all, aren't our children supposed to be imitating us? The use of profanity amongst young people is little more than a rite of passage into adulthood. The majority of parents actually expect teenagers to start using profanity and impure language, and simply give up trying to prevent such speech once their children have reached the "appropriate" age (whatever that means). The idea that there is an appropriate age for profane or impure speech makes any attempt to condemn such speech on moral grounds unconvincing. For if an age-based standard is justified, then adults should be more accountable for their speech, being more experienced and aware of their influence. Instead of embracing the current eroded standard of speech, we should set a higher standard for ourselves and model that standard to others. As Saint Paul wrote, "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rmn 12:2). I'm not simply suggesting that it would be nice if we could "clean things up a little" when it comes to our speech. I'm pointing out that purity of speech is a necessary virtue for Christians and a practical step to overcoming the negativity, perversity, and growing lack of respect for human dignity that plagues our culture and world today.

Impart Grace to Others
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29).
As people of faith, we cannot be content with baseness and impurity of speech simply because it prevails in the world around us. Instead, we should recognize that setting ourselves apart from the rest of the world, both in belief and in practice, is essential to bearing witness to the "Joy of the Gospel," as Pope Francis has invited each of us to do. One of the first things people notice when they meet you, after your appearance and body language, is your speech. If they don't hear you swearing, cutting down others, or using impure language, they will think to themselves, "There's something different about this person." This difference, this set-apart-ness (when you study philosophy, you quickly discover that "-ness" can be added to any word), is attractive to people and even contagious. It shows others that you take yourself seriously, and that you not only recognize the great influence you have on other people, but that you care enough to speak in a manner that reflects this. As Christians, we should be striving to build others up by our words and actions. The more we allow profane, slanderous, and blasphemous language to become part of our speech, the less effective we will be in this endeavor. If the words we use and the conversations we have contradict the values of our Christian faith, we severely undermine our credibility as disciples of Jesus Christ. People can easily detect a lack of authenticity.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? . . . No more can salt water yield fresh (Js 3:10-12).
In All Things May God Be Glorified

Sadly, the name of God is constantly used in vain, in disrespect, and in outright blasphemy today. Worse yet, many of the people who frequently use God's name in vain also profess to be Christians. I've noticed that many Christians have a false understanding of what it means to use God's name "in vain." They often justify their misuse of God's name by saying, "Well, I didn't mean it," or "I was only joking." Such excuses are erroneous, because to do or say something "in vain" literally means "to no avail" or "without purpose." In other words, saying something in vain means that you didn't mean it. Any time you use God's name in a way that isn't deliberate, purposeful, or prayerful, you're using it in vain. The name of God should never be used as a means to the end of humor, and especially not in an expression of anger or frustration (e.g., saying "G.D."). Despite how common and seemingly harmless the expression "Oh my God"may be, this is also an abuse of God's name (outside of prayer). I even hear many Christians using the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, in a flippant or outright disrespectful way. In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul writes that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Php 2:10). Following this declaration, the practice among Catholics of bowing one's head at the name of Jesus, especially during the Mass, used to be a common devotion. Many people still do this, and when I first learned about it (a couple of years ago), I found it beautiful and appropriate and began doing it myself. This small devotion is a practical way to glorify God more in our speech, because it makes our use of His name more intentional and reverent. There is another simple and effective devotion that not only increases our respect for God in speech, but makes reparation for sins of blasphemy and profane language: The Divine Praises. The Divine Praises were originally composed by a Jesuit priest in the late 18th century. They are:

Blessed be God.
Blessed be His Holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
Blessed be the Name of Jesus.
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be His Most Precious Blood.
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most Holy.
Blessed be her Holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her Glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints. Amen.

Think (and Speak!) About These Things

Our speech is NOT a morally neutral exercise of our tongue, but rather a reflection of who we are, an influence on who we become, a means of witnessing our faith to others, and above all, one of the primary ways in which we can glorify God as His beloved children. Recognizing this, we should strive and pray for purity in our speech and encourage this purity from everyone in our sphere of influence. Instead of allowing ourselves to be conformed to the childish, foolish, and impure ways of speaking that the world offers us as the "norm," we should take Jesus as our norm and allow His transforming grace into this most practical area of our lives. By doing this, we be more able to bear witness to our own dignity and the dignity of all people, impart grace to everyone we encounter, and glorify God in all that we do.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Php 4:8). 
Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer


Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Php 2:10). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.





Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Allegory of the Marathon



Many of you may be familiar with the Allegory of the Cave created by the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. For those who aren't, Plato's allegory likens the work of a philosopher to that of a man who frees prisoners from a Cave, in which they have been imprisoned their entire lives. The prisoners' view of reality is completely distorted by their captors, who force them to look only at a wall, on which they cast shadows using various costumes and props. Once released from the Cave, the prisoners finally experience reality as it really is, by seeing actual objects in the light of the sun, instead of mere shadows by the dim light of a fire. To Plato, the work of a philosopher was one of liberation, which is why his Cave allegory is so fitting and so famous.

I would now like to offer a different allegory: the Allegory of the Marathon. During and after the experience of my first marathon in Springfield, Illinois last weekend, I realized that there are some striking parallels between running a marathon and the Christian spiritual life. Some of these parallels are more obvious, and others more subtle. I do not claim to have any original theological insights or concepts to offer. Rather, I simply thought my recent experience could perhaps shed some light on certain aspects of Christianity, instead of only burning a few thousand calories and leaving my legs really, really, sore. . . . really.

A marathon is a 26.2 mile foot race. Most marathon training plans have you begin 18 weeks prior to the race (assuming that you already able to run at least 4 miles without walking). For most runners, the race itself takes them over 4 hours––it took me 4 hours, 24 minutes, and 57 seconds, which is a relatively modest pace of just over 10 minutes per mile, and just shy of my goal of 10 minutes/mile flat. Obviously, running a marathon seems either too difficult or not worthwhile to most people, evidenced by the fact that only about 0.5% of the U.S. population has ever completed one. Apart from simply being difficult, there are several other deeper parallels between marathon running and Christianity that I will now attempt to relate.

The Need for Inspiration
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1).
When the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes "cloud of witnesses," he's referring to those who have gone before us and excelled in the faith, those who lived lives of heroic charity, as well as those who gave the ultimate witness to the faith in martyrdom. This is the communion of saints, who not only inspire and motivate us by the example of their holy lives, but who also constantly intercede for us in the presence of God by their prayers. In an similar way, there are almost always people who inspire and motivate us to run a marathon. When we see other people like ourselves accomplishing something difficult or reaching some goal, it is easier for us to visualize ourselves achieving those same things. Personally, while I've been a fan of distance running for several years, I definitely wouldn't have considered running the marathon in Springfield this year if it weren't for the example and encouragement of my bishop, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. Last weekend's marathon was his 21st marathon in 21 years. His dedication to and love for running, especially for it's contribution to his spiritual life, is very inspiring to me.


Bishop Paprocki at the finish line, still able to produce a huge smile.
Counting the Cost
"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.'" (Lk 14:28-30).
Jesus tells us that if we want to be his disciples, we must first "count the cost" and understand just how much following him is going to require of us (SPOILER ALERT: It's literally everything). While a marathon does not ask "everything" of us the way Jesus does, it does require a great deal of commitment, discipline, and fortitude. Both becoming a faithful disciple of Christ and a marathon finisher involve taking the task seriously––you cannot become either of them by accident or by half-heartedly drifting into them. It takes a conscious and deliberate choice, followed by a continued commitment. There will be days when you don't feel like going to Mass, or praying, or reading your Bible. Likewise, there are training days when you don't feel like skipping a fun social activity to run 10 miles. However, in both cases you have to remember your commitment, and that you're not "in it" simply for a feeling, but for something far deeper and more enduring, even if you can't fully understand that something yet. Remaining faithful to your training, whether in the faith or in running, is the key to bearing fruit when the time comes to actually "run the race."

Training for Body and Soul
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:25-27).
Many people, when they see someone displaying some impressive skill or achieving a praiseworthy goal, will say something along the lines of, "Well, I could do that too if I practiced/trained x hours a day." The problem with this attitude is that practicing or training is an essential part of doing anything well––not some handicap needed by a less-talented minority. We don't praise the skill of an accomplished violinist because we're under the false impression that he or she never had to practice the instrument. Rather, we marvel even more at the person's skill because of all the practice we imagine it must have taken to acquire. To offer a faith-related example: We don't admire Mother Teresa because being holy and living a heroic life of service to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta was easy for her––we do so because that was extraordinarily difficult for her at times! The training needed for both a healthy body and a healthy soul isn't some unique and separate set of exercises. It simply involves starting to do the thing you want to do well, and starting to act like the person you want to be. You can start training for a marathon by running one mile, and you can start becoming a saint by doing one seemingly insignificant act of kindness. After all, "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much" (Lk 16:10).

The Purification of Motivation
[F]or a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:6-7).
The reasons for which we first embark on our journey of faith are usually not the reasons which sustain us later in life. Many Christians, especially when they are younger, maintain their faith primarily because they were raised that way, because they haven't encountered reasons to consider alternatives, because they enjoy the social experience of their faith community, or for other reasons. There isn't anything intrinsically wrong with holding on to your faith for such reasons; in the absence of any serious trials or difficulties, it is easy for us to feel comfortable with the current state of our prayer life, our level of personal holiness and virtue, and the overall quality of our relationship with God. This comfort, however, can be dangerous because it can prevent us from having the sense of seriousness and urgency that we need in order to really grow in our faith. If God did not allow trials and suffering to enter our life, we would almost inevitably remain in this comfort zone, and never reach the greatness that He calls each of us to. Fortunately, while God loves us the way we are, He loves us too much to leave us that way, and so He does permit trials and suffering to enter our lives. When we begin to not only reluctantly accept these trials, but willingly enter into them and even in a sense choose them, we learn to align our will with the will of God, and become capable of enduring more and therefore loving more. In the process of achieving this endurance by perseverance, we begin to see our motivations transform. Until we reach the point when we truly love God above everything and everyone else, we will continue to need this process of purification. I personally experienced a profound insight into the need for this purification during the marathon, especially while running miles 22 through 25, which were by far the most difficult for me. The dead cliché "put one foot in front of the other" took on new life and for a time was almost my mantra.

Suffering + God = Hope

The triumph of the will over the senses, of the soul of the body, was so immediate and clear to me near the end of the race that it almost seemed as though I was outside of or over my body, commanding it the way a jockey commands a horse. At that point, my body and mind were both so exhausted that I had completely forgotten my original reasons for signing up for the marathon. I discovered that wanting a "personal challenge" or a "reason to get in better shape" offer no motivation or consolation whatsoever when you've been running for four hours. Had I not managed to replace these slogans with something far deeper and more enduring, then I would have found myself walking (or more realistically, limping) those last few miles. For me, the only thought which survived the hammer and anvil of the marathon was the conviction that the testing of my will in during the race was in some way connected to my spiritual commitment to God. Of course, not finishing the race would not have been be an actual spiritual failure or sin on my part. However, in my mind, I became convinced that by enduring the physical trial of the marathon I could prove to myself that, with God's help, I could endure great spiritual trials in the future as well. Therefore, when I did finally finish the race, I was infused with a heavy dose of hope in the future, and in my reflection was reminded of Saint Paul's words:
[W]e rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:2-5).
While every Christian obviously cannot complete a marathon for a variety of valid reasons, everyone can do something that seems far beyond their capacity, and that tests their will to the breaking point. I am convinced that this has tremendous spiritual benefit, and so I highly recommend that every Christian take on some challenge that achieves this purpose. You will become a more virtuous person and more aware of your dependence on God as a result. Thank you for reading, and may God bless you and inspire you to grow in every way possible! In the words of Pope Francis during his homily at the Mass in Washington, D.C., "¡Siempre adelante!" (Always forward!).


I have yet to master the art of not blinking for pictures!
Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer


Sources:

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Gospel According to Me: Why the "Bible Alone" is Not Enough

"If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't
like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself." - Saint Augustine
One of the most destructive beliefs among modern Christians, which has its origin primarily in the Protestant Reformation, is the doctrine known as "sola scriptura" (literally, "scripture alone"). Sola scriptura is the belief that the documents of the Bible are all that is necessary for a complete and proper understanding of the Christian faith, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. The Catholic understanding of Divine Revelation is that such an understanding also requires Sacred Tradition––all of the teachings lived and taught by the Church throughout history, which are not explicitly found in the texts of scripture––as well as the Magisterium, which is the teaching office of the Church. Today, most Christians (and probably most Catholics included) tend to downplay or even outright reject any teaching authority or source of Christian doctrine that is external to the Bible itself. Many such people refer to themselves as "Bible Christians," and take pride in their claim not to follow any so-called "traditions of men." There are serious problems with this growing breed of Christianity: 1) it's not Biblical, 2) it's not historical, and 3) it's not logical.

"Where is That in the Bible?"

The most common objection I encounter to any given teaching of the Catholic Church is that it isn't found in the Bible. "Where is the Pope in the Bible?" "Where in the Bible does it say that I have to confess my sins to a priest?" "Where in the Bible does it say that Mary was conceived without sin?" "Where do you find purgatory in the Bible?" And the list goes on and on. The truth is, most of these teachings do in fact have a strong Biblical foundation, even if they are not explicit (the word "Trinity" isn't found in the Bible either). However, before offering any evidence from scripture to counter the claims against any particular teaching, the best question for the Catholic to ask is, "Why do I have to prove every Catholic doctrine or teaching from the Bible?" In demanding that every teaching be explicitly stated in the Bible, the non-Catholic person is assuming the truth of sola scriptura. This assumption is not only unwarranted, but ironically is itself unbiblical. Sola scriptura is self-referentially incoherent, that is, it disproves itself. Where in the Bible does it say that all the truths of the Christian faith are found in the Bible? It doesn't. On the contrary, there are many references in the Bible to the need for authority and tradition. For example, John concludes his gospel account by writing:
But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (Jn 21:25). 
Saint Paul too alludes to the importance of the unwritten, orally transmitted teachings of the Church numerous times in different epistles:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you (1 Cor 11:2). 
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thes 2:15). 
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us (2 Thes 3:6).
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:1-2).
The most common Bible verses cited in favor of sola scriptura are John 20:31 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. John 20:31 reads, "[T]hese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." This verse at most claims that John's gospel account contains sufficient information for a person to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. It in no way claims that the rest of the Bible (which hadn't even been compiled yet) is all that one needs for salvation, or even for doing Christian theology for that matter. The verses from 2 Timothy read:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
All Saint Paul is saying here is that Sacred Scripture is useful for many things. Saying that Scripture can make Christians "complete" and "equipped for every good work" doesn't mean that it is completely sufficient for understanding and living the Christian faith. To understand this, imagine a soldier equipped with the most state-of-the-art weaponry, armor, and other high-tech tactical gear, while at the same time having no training, guidance, or leadership for the use and employment of that weaponry and gear. Needless to say, he or she would in no sense be "sufficient" as a soldier. Making this important distinction requires that one understand the difference between formal sufficiency and material sufficiency. Like all the combined equipment of the soldier, the Word of God in Sacred Scripture is materially sufficient. In other words, if you have the complete Bible then you have all the raw data you need. However, there is an enormous gap between having all the necessary data and having the correct interpretation of that data.

Another fact that undermines a sola scriptura interpretation of Saint Paul's words was well stated by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (a convert from Anglicanism), who wrote:
Now, a good part of the New Testament was not written in his [Timothy's] boyhood: Some of the Catholic [universal] epistles were not written even when Paul wrote this, and none of the books of the New Testament were then placed on the canon of the Scripture books. He refers, then, to the scriptures of the Old Testament, and, if the argument from this passage proved anything, it would prove too much, viz., that the scriptures of the New Testament were not necessary for a rule of faith.
Inspired Table of Contents?

Speaking of the canon of Scripture (the list designating which books belong in the Bible), where is that found in the Bible? Where in the Bible does it say which books should be in the Bible? It doesn't. The canon of Scripture is in fact part of the Tradition of the Catholic Church, and any person who believes and trusts in the Bible also trusts, consciously or unconsciously, in the authority of the Catholic Church to compile and maintain the Bible with all of its contents down through the centuries to the present day. There were literally hundreds of different documents in circulation during the early centuries of Christianity, and yet the New Testament only contains 27 of them. Many of the documents not included in the canon are regarded to this day as historically, theologically, and spiritually valuable. The question is: Why didn't they make the cut? The short answer is, because the bishops and pope of the Catholic Church collectively decided that, regardless of whatever value those books and letters did or still do have, they were not inspired by God. Have you ever wondered why there are just the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)? There also exists the gospels of Peter, Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, etc.. The reason is, apart from having sketchy historical origins, these claimed gospels contained teachings and events which contradict what is known as the "deposit of faith,"  the collected oral, written, and practiced teachings handed down from the apostles to the bishops of the time. This is the same reasoning that excludes later alleged revelations and inspired texts, such as the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon. These contradict what was already revealed by Jesus Christ to the apostles and handed down to the Church in every age. Without the existence of the Catholic Church from the time of the apostles, and her constant protection and teaching of the Bible, any claims about the Bible's authenticity, accuracy, and Divine inspiration are unfounded. That is why Saint Augustine wrote the following:
Should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, "I do not believe?" For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church ("Against the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental").
Christ told the apostles, "Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20, emphasis added). Not "for a few hundred years," or "once the Bible is written," or "when true Christianity returns 1500 years from now," but "always, to the close of the age."

The Implications of Sola Scriptura

The doctrine of sola scriptura is logically inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus Christ, who himself prayed:
"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (Jn 17:20-21).
Believing in the "Bible alone," or in a purely subjective version of Christianity that is about "Jesus and me," is not only harmful to one's own spiritual health, but also greatly undermines the credibility of the message of Christianity to the rest of the world. When non-Christians see the tens of thousands of different interpretations of Christianity in the world today, how can we blame them for doubting the possibility of ever finding the true church, or for thinking that it's all merely man-made? Instead of seeing a strong, clear, and united witness of the Good News, they see what looks like a complicated spider web of conflicting and contradicting traditions, doctrines, and practices. This makes Christianity look like a private, do-it-yourself project instead of the Body of Christ, the "light of the world," the "city set on a hill" that cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14). A typically modern view of the Body of Christ, that is, of the Church, is that it is an invisible, purely spiritual reality with no concrete human institution, structure, hierarchy, or organization. What this view ultimately translates to is an illusion of unity among Christians, with the reality being widespread division, rampant relativism, and a complete distortion of the true Christian faith. Again, this is a tragedy not only for the many Christians who are led away from the truth themselves, but also for the unbelievers who are deprived of the opportunity to experience that truth in a way that is complete, consistent, and compelling. It is a beautiful gift to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is inspired by Him and therefore infallible (without error) as a source of truth. However, an infallible textbook without an infallible teacher is open to every conceivable misinterpretation. If you've ever had Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons come to your door, then you've experienced this firsthand. Saint Peter himself warned the early Christians about private interpretation, in this case regarding the letters of Paul:
[O]ur beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability (2 Pet 3:15-17).
The Humility to Be Led

The relativism that plagues our culture is becoming more and more of a problem within Christianity itself. When a person becomes convinced that finding the truth is impossible, they are naturally led to despair––to despair about God and, consequently, to abandon any hope that one's life has any objective meaning. The idea that we can assign our own meaning to our lives, that we can be "free" from the "oppression" of dogmas, creeds, and all other authority, is initially exciting and seemingly liberating. However, there is an overflowing library of human experience that disproves this philosophy, and reveals it to be empty, unfulfilling, and unworthy of our human nature, which longs for so much more. Jesus Christ never wrote anything, nor is there any evidence that he commanded his disciples to write anything. He did, however, tell them to, "...make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20). In their wisdom and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and other Christians did eventually decide to write down the message of the gospel. The Bible thus belongs to the Church and in the Church, not for her to wield as an instrument of power or manipulation, but for her to serve and safeguard as God's living and active Word spoken to His children. The role of all Christians is to be steeped in Scripture, to read it, study it, pray it, and live it. However, we do all of this in a way that does not contradict, but rather conforms to, the constant teaching of the Church handed down and developed since the time of the apostles. To do this requires the humility to be led, to relinquish total control over your life, having hands that are open to receive the gifts God wants to give us through His Church. 

Who is Your Final Authority?

When it comes to understanding Sacred Scripture, everyone has some final authority for interpretation. The question is: Who is that authority for you? Is it yourself? Are you following the true gospel or "The Gospel According to Me?" Many people claim that the Holy Spirit guides their reading and interpreting of the Bible. It's true that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of all baptized Christians, and Christians of every tradition and creed prove that everyday by the way they live their lives and seek to follow Christ. However, Christ promised that after his Ascension, he would send us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit does not guide Christians into the "truth" of over 30,000 denominations––that would be a contradiction––for he is the spirit of unity, and "God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Cor 14:33). If you're a Christian and you find yourself subscribing to doctrines or practices that were not taught or lived by any Christians (except perhaps a few condemned heretics) for the first 1500 or more years of Christianity, then it's time to reconsider why you believe those things. I'll close now with the words of Saint Paul:
I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. . . . Is Christ divided? (1 Cor 1:10,13)
Christ is of course not divided, and just as he promised, he has not left us orphans (Jn 14:18), but instead placed us gently in the arms of Mother Church, against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail (Mt 16:18). Let us all continue to pray for the unity of all Christians, in response to Christ's prayer that we "may all be one."  Thank you for reading––God bless!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer


Sources:

The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Augustine of Hippo. “Against the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental.” St. Augustin: The Writings Against the Manichaeans and Against the Donatists. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. Richard Stothert. Vol. 4. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.

John Henry Newman. “Inspiration in its Relation to Revelation." 1884. Web.












Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Redefining Marriage: Why Rainbows and Hashtags Don't Change Reality


Rainbows and Hashtags

Since June 26th, many Americans have been joyfully celebrating, while others have been troubled, saddened, and even angry. Social media has exploded with comments from both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, and many profile pictures are now sporting rainbow backgrounds. On the front lines of Twitter, the hashtag #lovewins is trending. I am speaking, of course, about the recent Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case which ruled that all state bans against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. I refer to the Supreme Court's decision as the “redefinition of marriage” and not “marriage equality” because I do not believe the court’s ruling achieved, nor that any court ruling can ever achieve, actual equality between the marriages of same-sex couples and that of opposite-sex couples. This post is an attempt to explain why that is the case. Also, while the recent Supreme Court decision is certainly significant, I realize that it is only a visible mile marker on a road that we as a country have been traveling on for a while now (36 states already recognized same-sex marriage prior to the Supreme Court's ruling). In fact, marriage in this country has been under the process of redefinition for the better part of a century now. The most recent decision is not a cause, but an effect, not the underlying illness, but a symptom, of a confused and mistaken understanding of human sexuality and civilization. The Supreme Court’s decision is not some shocking new development, but the logical conclusion of the redefinition of marriage that has already been taking place. However, if we look to the more recent past, it’s difficult to understand how we got here from where we were. Just twenty years ago, both major political parties in the United States were (at least formally) opposed to same-sex marriage. Also, according to Gallup polls, from March 1996 to May 2015, the percentage of Americans opposed to same-sex marriage went from 68% to 37% (Gallup). Today, if you disagree with same-sex marriage, you are usually labeled intolerant, hateful, discriminative, and/or bigoted, and the way things are going in this country, you will soon be silenced as if you were a member of some racist group like the KKK. How did this happen? How did five un-elected judges redefine marriage in a democratic society that until recently embraced the millennia-old definition? Well, just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Rome didn’t fall in a day either.

The (Really) Old Definition of Marriage

In order to understand how marriage is being redefined, it is necessary to first understand what the original definition was. A working definition of the traditional view of marriage could be:  “The civil and legal institution consisting of one man and one woman, for the purpose of ensuring their fidelity and accountability to one another and any children they might create.” You probably noticed that this definition does not include the word “love.” Isn’t that a mistake? No, because even though love is understood by most modern cultures as a necessary prerequisite for marriage, and even though it may be the best psychological and spiritual cement to hold a marriage together, it is not quantitative or measurable in any legal sense and therefore should not hold any interest of the state. If the state is interested in recognizing marriages because of love, then it should be interested in recognizing friendships because of loyalty, shared interests, etc.. Last time I checked, the state isn’t issuing friendship licenses (but I’m sure there’s a movement for that too). It’s important to understand that the historical exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage was due to the definition of marriage, and its understood purpose in a society, not intolerance, hatred, bigotry, or any other discriminative beliefs, even if these have unfortunately existed to varying degrees in many cultures throughout history. That is why cultures that were at once completely accepting of homosexual behavior and relationships, such as ancient Greece and Rome, were at the same time opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage. Dismissing all arguments against same-sex marriage as religion or fear-based discrimination is not only intellectual laziness or cowardice, but historically false.

How Did We Get Here?

Understanding the traditional definition of marriage, let us now examine the factors that led to the Supreme Court decision late last month. The traditional definition of marriage includes and assumes the marital act––sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse has a two-fold purpose by nature: the unitive (it brings the couple closer together), and the pro-creative (it creates new life).* Before sex could be separated from marriage, pro-creation had to be separated from sex, which leads to the first major factor in the redefinition of marriage, contraception (birth control). The second major factor was the elimination of the permanence of marriage, which we will discuss shortly.

* This is not merely an opinion or religious belief––secular biology and psychology textbooks will provide you with the same conclusion.

Out-of-Control Birth Control

Contraception was the first major chink in the armor of traditional marriage. How is this so? The popular view on contraception began to shift dramatically when the Church of England decided that contraception was morally permissible within the context of marriage at the Lambeth Conference in 1930, and nearly all other denominations followed suit. Prior to that decision in 1930, every major Christian denomination was opposed to contraception. Today, the Catholic Church (along with most of the Orthodox Churches) is more or less the only remaining opposition to contraception. However, while the teaching of Catholic Church against contraception is quite clear, most Catholics in modern countries do not subscribe to this doctrine, and most surveys indicate that Catholic married couples use contraception just as much as anyone else. So, what does contraception have to do with marriage? A great deal, actually. The traditional understanding of marriage is that it serves as the foundation for a family, and that healthy marriages are open to children. In other words, marriage includes the marital act (sexual intercourse), and under normal circumstances, that act eventually produces children. Contraception blocks the natural pro-creative mechanisms by various means and effectively eliminates the pro-creative element of sexual intercourse. The removal of the pro-creative element has completely transformed the way that people view sexual intercourse and relationships. Before contraception was widely accepted and available, there was a huge implication of commitment when a person decided to have sexual relations with another person. That level of commitment is both welcomed and well-grounded within the context of a healthy marriage. Outside of marriage, however, pregnancy is usually an unwelcome and even frightening reality, especially for the woman if she is not financially independent. Contraception changed all of this, and by separating pro-creation from sexual intercourse, produced in people an entirely new attitude towards the commitment involved in relationships and marriages. This new attitude, along with other cultural and social influences at the time, produced the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960s. It is safe to say that contraception opened the door for marriage to no longer necessitate, or at least imply, the creation and raising of children. Abortion, which is nothing more than back-up birth control, severed whatever pro-creative threads remained in the marriage equation, and children became a commodity or lifestyle “choice” for married couples, instead of a gift and blessing that naturally proceeded from their union.

Until Death or "Irreconcilable Differences" Do Us Part

The traditional definition of marriage also includes the element of permanence or endurance (you know, the whole, “till death do us part" bit). This element also died, at least in the legal sense, with the advent of "no-fault" divorce. In 1969, California was the first state to adopt a no-fault divorce law, which allowed a couple to be granted a divorce without requiring either party to provide evidence of a breech in the marriage contract (e.g., an affair, abuse, etc.). The divorce rate then began to rise rapidly. In the 1950s, the percentage of marriages that ended in divorce was less than 10%, and by the early 1980s, that rate peaked at just over 50%. The divorce rate has since been slowly declining, but it remains relatively high, and that is probably at least in part due to the decreased marriage rate (most of people getting married now are the ones who are more serious about it). Removing permanence from the definition of marriage contributed to a less-serious view of the institution, and coupled with the removal of the pro-creative element, reduced the perceived commitment involved in marriage to an all-time low.

The New (But Not Improved) Definition of Marriage

We've considered what has been eliminated from the traditional definition of marriage. The new definition of marriage does not necessitate an openness to life, or even sexual activity for that matter, and does not necessitate a life-long commitment. The question naturally rises: What’s left? What is the new definition of marriage in this country? Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, majority leader in the Supreme Court decision, stated the following:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered (Obergefell v. Hodges).
What is the new definition of marriage based on then? Love. Chris, what’s wrong with that? Don’t you want people who love each other to have the same rights as everyone else? Shouldn't “love win," as the hashtag says? Let's be clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the definition of marriage being based on love. However, is that all there is to marriage? If so, then marriage seems strikingly similar to every other healthy human relationship. Heck, Jesus even told us to love our enemies (Mt 5:44). If love is the sole prerequisite for marriage, then what does the new definition of marriage logically include? First of all, it certainly includes polygamous marriages (marriages involving three or more people). If you question whether or not there’s a demand for polygamous marriage, consider hit shows like TLC's "Sister Wives" and HBO's "Big Love," along with recent statements from polygamist activists in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the four dissenting judges, commented on this exact implication:
"It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” ... why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry?"
Second, the new definition logically includes incestuous marriages (marriages between siblings, parent-child marriages, etc.). You might be surprised to hear that incestuous marriages are already technically legal in New Jersey. Also, a recent New York magazine article tells the story of an 18 year old girl who wants to move to New Jersey to marry her long-estranged biological father. If a person is logically consistent in his or her application of #lovewins, then this shouldn’t be alarming or disturbing at all. I can already here the question: "Who are you to tell two people they don't love each other?" Once you base a civil institution entirely on a subjective feeling, you've abandoned any logical basis from which to exclude anyone from that institution. Defining something always involves saying that the thing is this, and not that––some things are always excluded. Now, with the new definition, what is marriage not?

Reality is Harder to Redefine Than Words

Supporters of the redefinition of marriage would like to believe that decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges constitute an expansion in the institution of marriage. This is only true if marriage is merely a personal freedom like the freedom of speech, to be fought for and universally granted, rather than a civil institution that arises naturally from human nature, both biologically and socially. The battle cry, “Marriage equality!” reveals that the new definition is of the former. However, a little clear thinking reveals why there will never be an actual “equality” between homosexual so-called “marriages” and heterosexual marriages––they are fundamentally different. Heterosexual marriages satisfy the natural complementarity between the male and female sexes, and are ordered toward the creation of new life, while homosexual “marriages” are not complementary and are not ordered towards new life. Heterosexual marriage is a self-sufficient institution––homosexual “marriage” is not, because behind every homosexual couple there are two heterosexual couples. In other words, homosexual “marriage” needs heterosexuality, but heterosexual marriage does not need homosexuality. 

Why Does the Government Care About Marriage?

Redefining marriage to include relationships such as two people of the same gender is simply a watering down of the definition of the word “marriage.” It’s the equivalent of saying that a dog and a cat are the same animal by reducing the definition of each to, “A four-legged mammal commonly owned as a pet by human beings.” In an analogous way, it can only be accurate to call the relationship between same-sex couples a marriage if by the word “marriage” one simply means, “a state-issued certificate of approval on the romantic relationship between two persons.” If, on the other hand, by “marriage” one is referring to something that is in any way similar to the millennia-old definition, then calling same-sex unions “marriages” is meaningless. After all, if marriage is nothing more than a “certificate of love,” then why is the state interested in marriage in the first place? The only reasons for the state to be interested in marriage are 1) To keep both parties in a couple accountable to each other, which prevents abuse and neglect (one person can’t just walk out on the other), and 2) To keep couples accountable to any children they may produce or adopt. Every child has two biological parents: a mother and a father. Marriage is the social and legal cement that binds together mother, father, and children. There’s no other legitimate reason for the state to be involved in the marriage business (the key word there is: legitimate).

But Wait, Weren't They "Born That Way?"

Supporters of same-sex marriage often assert that people who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) were "born that way." Before even attempting to explain exactly how a person comes to have SSA, it's worth asking: Even if people were born with these attractions, would that be a sufficient reason for the state to recognize the union of two men or two women as a marriage? No, because of the reasons mentioned above. It's not in the state's interest to determine whose romantic relationships are valid and whose are not––it's only in the state's interest to guarantee people their Constitutional rights, protect them from abuse, and hold them accountable to the people whom they are legally responsible for (i.e., spouses and children). With that being said, there is literally NO scientific evidence to support the idea that people with SSA are "born that way." Eight extensive studies have recently been conducted on SSA using thousands of identical twins. Identical twins share the exact same DNA, as well as the same pre-natal environments. In other words, when it comes to anything that is genetically determined (e.g., hair color, height, bone structure, etc.) identical twins share a one-to-one concordance (correlation). So, is there a one-to-one concordance for identical twins when it comes to having SSA? No. In fact, in all the studies of identical twins, the concordance found for SSA was around 11-14%. That means that when one twin identified as homosexual, there was an 11-14% chance that the other twin did. Scientifically speaking, this is a complete disproof of the "born that way" theory. New Zealand geneticist Dr. Neal Whitehead, author of My Genes Made Me Do It! A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation, concluded the following about the genetic basis for homosexuality:
One thing seems clear: any genetic contribution to SSA is much less than in most traits for which genetic influence has been measured. SSA seems 90% a result of random factors. SSA is in fact a good example of not being “born that way”! . . . . Saying a trait is, e.g., 10% “genetic” is nothing extraordinary. There is at least a 10% genetic effect in anything humans are and do, simply because without bodies we can’t act in the environment at all. “Genetic” effects are experienced by everyone because we all have bodies. So homosexuality is like any other human trait. Any genetic effects are mostly quite indirect, and for SSA they are weak. Also, they become relatively less important in the face of contrary environmental input (Whitehead 175).
How Should Christians Respond?

As the implications of the legal redefinition of marriage play themselves out, it will become more necessary for the Church to speak the truth about human sexuality and marriage with a united and clear voice. Not to sound pessimistic, but you can expect to see more problems with theological dissent amongst lay faithful and clergy alike regarding this issue and related issues. Also, there will be an increase in legal battles against the Catholic Church and organizations affiliated with the Church. People will sue over disagreements about the content of Catholic primary and secondary school curricula regarding human sexuality and the institution of marriage. The good news is, in the Catholic Church, we do pretty well under persecution. In fact, every period of major growth in the Church, quantitative and qualitative, was the direct result of endured persecution. That's the problem with "those pesky Christians"––the easiest way for us to know if were doing the will of God is whether or not we're being persecuted. To the lay faithful who are troubled and concerned, Christ speaks the following words: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-20). And to our shepherds, to all the bishops, priests, and deacons in whom we trust to guide us, Saint Paul wrote the following:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).
As Christians, it's not just preferable that we know how to explain the truth to people––it's our duty (see Mt. 28:18-20). Even in the midst of widespread cultural and legal confusion, we have the certainty of belonging to the Church, which is the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). The Church has survived the rise and fall of many empires, and the moral decline of the United States of America will not be an exception to that. 
For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 10:3-5).
What Would Jesus Do?

Many supporters of same-sex marriage will go so far as to say that Jesus would be in favor of it. It's true that Jesus never condemned anyone. It's true that Jesus accepted people who everyone else hated and cast out. It's true that Jesus wasn't afraid to challenge peoples' understanding of human nature and upset the cultural norms of his time. However, Jesus never pretended that sin was not sin, or that what we do with our bodies doesn't really matter so long as we love each other. To the woman caught in adultery, he said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (Jn 8:11, emphasis added). Jesus was a committed Jew who said: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17). To say that, because we have no record of Jesus explicitly condemning homosexual behavior or same-sex marriage, that those things are therefore morally permissible or even praiseworthy, is an extremely narrow and confused view of Divine Revelation at best, and a dishonest hijacking of Sacred Scripture for one's personal agenda at worst. It's ridiculous to think that something as foundational as marriage was equivalent in the Mosaic Law to something like a hand-washing ritual. You can depart from the truth if you choose, but you can't bring the Truth Incarnate down with you. He's bigger than your agenda, and more trendy than your hashtags. #truthwins

God bless you and thanks for reading!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer


Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Gallup. "Marriage." URL: http://www.gallup.com/poll/117328/marriage.aspx. Retrieved on 07-07-2015. Web.

Supreme Court of the United States. Oberfell v. Hodges. URL:  http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf. Retrieved on 07-07-2015. Web.

Whitehead, Neal E.. My Genes Made Me Do It! A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation. 3rd Ed. Huntington House Pub, 1999.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Apathy: Spiritual Cancer

"Hell is not populated mainly by passionate rebels but by nice, bland, indifferent, respectable people who simply never gave a damn." – Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans
A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the concept of doubt, about what it is and the role it plays in the Christian life. In the 2008 film "Doubt," Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a priest named Father Flynn who gives a powerful homily about doubt. He goes so far as to claim that doubt can be as powerful of a motivator in life as certainty. That probably sounds far-fetched and even flaky. However, when considered more deeply, we observe that in ourselves and in others, the times in which we were driven most strongly into a deeper relationship with God were often those in which we had the least certainty. This is evident in human relationships as well. The people whom we find most agreeable and never argue with are usually the ones we are not as close to. Conversely, our closest friends tend to be the ones with whom we have experienced tension and even rough times with. The path to intimacy with and knowledge of any human being is marked by obstacles, and includes difficult terrain. However, whenever we make ourselves vulnerable, whenever we take a chance on another person, we are rarely disappointed. The first step on the path is believing that its end is worth reaching, that the destination is desirable. If you don't believe that true friendship is worth obtaining or even possible to obtain, then you won't be willing to put in the time and effort, and to endure the awkward and uncomfortable situations which are inevitable on the journey. There is a direct parallel to this in our relationship with God. Just as we can be indifferent or apathetic towards other people, we can feel the same way towards God and our faith. This is apathy, which is to the soul what cancer is to the body.

Love's Worst Enemy

"Indifference is more truly the opposite of love than hate is, for we can both love and hate the same person at the same time, but we cannot both love and be indifferent to the same person at the same time." - Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners

To love is to care, but to hate also requires that you care - not necessarily caring about what you're hating, but caring about something else and experiencing the conflict between the two objects. For example, I can't hate sin or vice unless I love virtue; I can't hate illness unless I love health. If I don't first care about something, then it's impossible to either love or hate it. If something or someone simply doesn't matter to me, then it's not worth the energy of my love or my hatred - it's irrelevant. What does this have to do with my relationship with God? To put it plainly, a relationship with anyone, including God, begins with taking interest in that person. Apathy is the absence of that interest. In our culture today, there is a literal epidemic of apathy, especially regarding religious questions. The number of people who actually hate religion or God is extremely small. When faced with eternal questions about God or the meaning of life, the overwhelming majority of non-religious people do not respond with, "I reject that!" or, "No way!" but simply, "I'm not interested." In other words, "...Meh." How is this possible? How can a person be so existentially unconscious? It seems like a spiritual disease, which is why I refer to apathy as "spiritual cancer." It is like cancer in the way it begins as a small, relatively unnoticeable defect in one area of a person's life and then slowly spreads to all the other areas, and by the time the symptoms of it are noticed, it already has a deadly grip on the person. In other ways, apathy is more like a virus, because unlike cancer, it is infectious: it spreads from person to person rapidly. The Catholic philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal wrote about how bizarre of a phenomenon apathy is in human beings:
"Nothing is so important to man as his own state, nothing is so formidable to him as eternity; and thus it is not natural that there should be men indifferent to the loss of their existence, and to the perils of everlasting suffering. They are quite different with regard to all other things. They are afraid of mere trifles; they foresee them; they feel them. And this same man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office, or for some imaginary insult to his honour, is the very one who knows without anxiety and without emotion that he will lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to trifles and this strange insensibility to the greatest objects. It is an incomprehensible enchantment, and a supernatural slumber, which indicates as its cause an all-powerful force" (Pensées, #194).
Putting First Things First

We can all relate to being too sensible to "trifles." For example, isn't it strange that the same people who claim to be absolutely convicted in their belief in Christianity talk about the outcome of professional sports' games as if they actually mattered in any real and lasting sense? Every week, we declare, "I believe in the Resurrection of the body, and in life everlasting." Umm...What?! That's a radical and exciting concept! How can we really believe that and at the same time be distressed by the canceling of a TV show or attentive to the personal lives of celebrities? Pascal was right to call this condition an "incomprehensible enchantment," since it makes no logical sense whatsoever. As Kreeft wrote, "It's just as crazy not to be crazy about God as it is to be crazy about anything else" (Jesus Shock). This doesn't mean that there's nothing in this world worth taking interest in, or investing our time and effort into. Rather, it is simply the principle of "first things," of having our priorities straight. The first priority, based on the eternal nature of the question, has to be deciding whether or not we believe in God, and within that belief, how that affects our lives. In modern minds, there is a growing disconnect between the truth of an idea and the practical usefulness of it. C.S. Lewis cut to the heart of this thought pattern:
Man is becoming as narrowly "practical" as the irrational animals. In lecturing to popular audiences I have repeatedly found it almost impossible to make them understand that I recommended Christianity because I thought it's affirmations to be objectively true. They are simply not interested in the question of truth or falsehood. They only want to know if it will be comforting, or "inspiring," or socially useful. Closely connected with this unhuman Practicality is indifference to, in contempt of, dogma. The popular point of view is unconsciously syncretistic; it is widely believed that "all religions really mean the same thing" ("Modern Man and His Categories of Thought").
Do You Want the Bad News or the Good News?

If the guiding question in your investigation of God and religion is not "Is this true?" but "What can this do for me?" then what is being offered to you probably won't appear desirable. It is this self-centered approach that makes the work of evangelization and apologetics so difficult today. Convincing someone of the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus Christ is not an easy task, but harder still is the task of convincing them that such ideas matter in the first place. I've had more productive dialogue with atheists than with people who simply aren't interested in religious questions. It's easier to provide reasonable arguments than it is to instill passion. The reason why the Good News of Christianity doesn't sound good to many people is that they are unaware of the Bad News. Without recognizing and admitting our fallen nature, our brokenness, and our sin, we cannot recognize our need for a Savior. A savior saves you from something, as the words of that song say: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." Not a "good person," or even a "decent person," but a "wretch." Christ said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:31-32). Once we see our sickness and wretchedness for what it is, we're immediately in the market for a physician, a savior.

Ignorance ≠ Bliss

Unfortunately, many people might be indifferent to God and religion because of some sort of "ignorance is bliss" mentality. This is dangerously presumptuous. An all-knowing God is perfectly capable of judging not only minds but hearts; not only beliefs but motivations and intentions: “I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer 17:10). Christ himself said, "For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Mt 7:8). This means that not asking, not seeking, and not knocking are not excusable. We often think that damnation consists only in hatred, cruelty, vengefulness, greed, and other more obvious vices. However, Christ seems to suggest that the primary determining factor in our salvation is not so much the level of moral perfection or virtue that we attain (we always could have done better), but whether or not we passionately seek God during our life. Pascal summarized this succinctly in his Pensées:
There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second rational and unhappy; and the third foolish and unhappy (Pensées, #257).
Don't Be Content With (A)pathetic Life!

Notice that there is no fourth group consisting of people who find God without seeking him, because that is impossible. Apathy is toxic to faith, and to any rational human endeavor for that matter. It reduces the glory of human nature, which is naturally truth-seeking, to a pathetic, animalistic, pleasure addicted existence. The chemotherapy or radiation for the cancer of apathy is nothing less than a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. This encounter can happen in a variety of ways, but it is most powerful and most tangible in the Sacraments of the Church, and especially in the Eucharist. Consuming the Eucharist is like chemotherapy; adoring the Eucharist is like radiation. That being said, don't have a "wait and see" attitude about your spiritual life and relationship with God––get to the Doctor! May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life, Amen.

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer


Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Kreeft, Peter. Christianity for Modern Pagans. Ignatius Press, 1993.
                  " . Prayer for Beginners. Ignatius Press, 2000.
                  " . Jesus Shock. St. Augustines Press, 2008.

Lewis, Clive Staples. Present Concerns: Essays. "Modern Man and His Categories of Thought." 1946, p. 65.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. E.P. Duton & Co., Inc., 1958.