Saturday, July 6, 2013

What is Faith and How Can I Get It?

What is faith and how can I get it?

“I won’t believe it until I see it.”  Doubting Thomas said something like this in John 20:25:  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  We demand proof.  But the proof of seeing, or rather experiencing something by use of our senses, is not faith.  It is sense knowledge.  There are other kinds of knowledge as well.  The knowledge we have through using reason, as in mathematics or logic, is a true knowledge.  Two plus two does equal four, in any language, at any time in history as long we know what the meaning of the words are.

But what does this have to do with faith?  Faith is also a true knowledge, but not one that we discover by our senses or decide for ourselves by reason.  It is a gift given to us.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his book, Introduction to Christianity: Belief “is a human way of taking up a stand in the totality of reality.”  It is a way of giving meaning to life that “is not a blind surrender to the irrational.”  It is about accepting the gift and committing ourselves to something greater than ourselves.  Faith cannot be coerced; it cannot be demanded, but rather offered and fostered.  Ultimately, every individual is given the opportunity to receive the gift because God wants all of us to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).  The Catechism teaches: “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” (par 26).  We need to listen to the words of Jesus to Thomas:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn. 20:29).  We are those who are so blessed.  Read more about faith and the content of faith in the Catechism.

Know your faith.  Live your faith.  Teach your faith.

Is There a God?

Is there a God?

This question throws many parents into apoplexy.  Our first response is, “Of course there is a God!  We have taught you about him.  We have gone to Church worshiping him.  We believe in him.”  However, for a teen, it can be a question of utmost importance.  Yes, teens have been taught about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit.  We take them to Mass.  We send them to Catholic school.  But, nonetheless, it concerns them because they can imagine that there is no God.  They may have doubts due to one reason or another.  They may equate God with the Catholic Church and see that they don’t like something with the Church, and thus equate that with not liking the God that is taught by the Church.

Why does this question pose a problem for parents with teens?  Adolescence can be a time of restlessness and rebellion, against authority, against parents, and possibly against what may be for them the ultimate authority, God.  There are a number of ways to respond to this question.  What is key is what is bothering the person raising the question.  If it is about the problem of evil, a resolution is found in Christ suffering through evil with us.  If it is a problem of authority, a resolution may be found by acknowledging that God gives us complete freedom, but there is always a consequence to our actions.  If it is a problem about the Church and it proclaiming something that is disagreeable, a resolution may be found in pointing out that the Church follows God in loving everyone, but that love involves truth and truth is not relative.  If it is a problem about proof of God’s existence, a resolution may be found by looking at how other things that are not provable are still real, like love.  If it is a problem of science vs. God, a resolution may be found by pointing out that science does not know all the answers about life and the universe, nor will it ever, because science can only deal with what is material, not spiritual.

Is there a God?  There are only two possible answers, yes or no.  The answer yes is based on faith.  The answer no is based on everything else.  Do we have faith?  If we are open to truth, beauty, goodness, the voice of our conscience, and our longings for what is beyond us and for happiness, we will see that those very desires are implanted in us by God and lead us to God.  As St. Augustine said:  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God.”  Read more about the existence of God in the Catechism, par. 26-43.

Know your faith.  Live your faith.  Teach your faith.

Why Doesn't the Church Allow Women to Become Priests?

Why doesn’t the Church allow women to become priests?

This seems to be a vexing question today in our society because of the belief in equal rights for everybody about just about everything.  For many today to deny a woman the “right” to become a priest implies that the Catholic Church is discriminatory and unjust.  But all this misses the point.  Men and women do have equal personal dignity, but that does not mean they have the same mission in God’s plan of salvation.

What does it mean to be an ordained priest?  It means that there is a calling from God, a vocation, which has been responded to by the individual, confirmed by the bishop, and received as a gift from God.  There is no “right” to priesthood by anyone!  The priest is an extension of the bishop in service to the people.  Bishops are successors to the Apostles who were men specifically chosen by Jesus.  He did not choose them because of their holiness; the Blessed Virgin Mary was far worthier on that account.  Nor did he choose men because he was afraid of society; Jesus spoke with women, taught women, ministered to women, healed women, and befriended women in a patriarchal culture.  He even sent Mary Magdalene to tell the Apostles of his Resurrection!

The Church follows in Jesus’ footsteps.  Priests function in the person of Christ.  Priesthood has a sacramental nature and thus it signifies what it represents.  Men have a natural, iconic resemblance to Jesus.  Jesus is the Bridegroom of the Church and a priest as a man can most truly reflect that.  This has been the constant Tradition of the Church and it will remain, as confirmed by Pope John Paul II, as infallible doctrine.  Read more about the priesthood in the Catechism, paragraphs 1536-1600.

Know your faith.  Live your faith.  Teach your faith.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The consequences of evil are far-reaching.  We can point to them all around us:  murder, adultery, abuse, terrorism.  Our lives seem to be out of control.  Because we are free and because we are affected by original sin we harm others and others harm us.  But God does not take away our free will.  To do so would go against how God created us so that we could love him freely.

But what about events that are not caused by moral evil? Disasters and many illnesses are not caused by sin and yet they cause great destruction and death.  Physical disasters occur according to the physical laws of nature, like gravity or transference of thermal energy.  Gravity causes things to fall, which can include rocks.  The transference of thermal energy on a large scale generates hurricanes.  We call them evil when they impact us and our property.  Illnesses have innumerable causes, some of which we don’t know.  We do not live in a world in which physical harm cannot occur.  

However, God allows all of these.  St.  Augustine wrote:  “For almighty God …, because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself” (Catechism, par.  311).  We call this divine providence.  It also means that we need to have faith that God is guiding creation toward perfection.  Physical evil occurs because creation has not reached perfection (Catechism, par.  310).  Read more in the Catechism, paragraphs 302-314.

Know your faith.  Live your faith.  Teach your faith.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Why is There Evil in the World?

Why is there evil in the world?

This question goes to the heart of many teens’ concerns about God.  If God is all-good, then why is there evil?

First of all, there are two kinds of evil:  moral evil, which is sin, and physical evil, which encompasses accidents, disasters from nature, illnesses, and the like.  Moral evil comes from original sin, our own free actions, the devil or Satan, and something called mysterium iniquitatis, or “mystery of evil”.

Original sin brought about a change in all human beings (except the Blessed Virgin Mary), in that “all have sinned” as St.  Paul says in Romans.  We suffer the consequences of being more inclined to do evil, which is called concupiscence.  Our free will is weakened in its powers.  We tend to choose what gives us a short-term selfish benefit.  Yes, the devil does exist and envies us.  Satan does what he can to turn us from God.  John Paul the Great wrote in his book Memory and Identity:  The way in which evil grows from the pure soil of good is a mystery.” Read more in the Catechism, paragraphs 385-412.

Know your faith.  Live your faith.  Teach your faith.