The reading of today (Old Rite) was the extremely well-known passage with the Centurion humbly asking Jesus to cure his gravely ill servant.
We can read this in many ways, and these famous words have taken an extremely important place in the (particularly traditional; the New Mess has tampered with this as with almost everything else) Mass to signify the respect and awe, the sense of full inadequacy and conscience of our sinfulness with which we approach the Eucharist. I don’t need to tell you how specially important this message is in the troubled times we are living.
However, I would like to direct your attention on another aspect of this beautiful episode.
The Centurion is – as Centurions always were – very smart, though this one was also clearly touched by a special grace. When he sees The Real Deal, this smart guy recognises Him. There are no hesitations, no doubts, no traces of any wavering whatsoever. His faith is so big, that he does not even require from Our Lord the act – which would have been criticised by his enemies, and was not seen as essential anyway – to enter the roof of a heathen. Faith does not need physical proximity.
The Centurion is smart and, through God’s grace, he “gets it all”. His unwavering faith is the more notable to us, because it comes from a man belonging to a professional category to whom a first-class brain was universally recognised.
I love these faith stories in the Gospel. The men and women who were their protagonists did not allow any of the slanders around Jesus to distract them. They knew.
Whenever I read of them, I think of the many who, today, could take an example from them. Those who shiver and shudder, fluctuate and wobble, double and distrust, simply because we have a horrible Pope.
I get a shiver down my spine whenever I read someone saying that Francis makes him doubt his faith. This is Satan on full-scale attack, right within them.
If the Church is a fraud, Jesus is a fraud. Jesus is not a fraud, so neither is the Church.
You can’t question the Church as the Bride without questioning Jesus as the Bridegroom. The visible, earthly Church can disconcert you with the level of corruption, stupidity or even heresy men inside her have always been able to exhibit. But in all this – both in the historical Church and in the present one – we know that under the more or less numerous, and more or less thick strata of mud which have all too often been found a strong, indestructible layer of Divine Granite has always been, and will always be there.
Like the Centurion, we recognise the Bridegroom. And when we recognise the Bridegroom, we recognise the Bride, because the one cannot be accepted without accepting the other.
I understand that Francis’ satanical work is enough to make people wonder what the heck is happening. But doubt is not the answer.
God’s will is what is happening. Providence is what is happening. Our salvation, day by day, is what is – hopefully – happening.
Don’t shiver, don’t waiver, don’t doubt.
Be a modern Centurion.
And so your truly was at Mass in a London “NuChurch”-church (pure logistics) which shall remain unnamed.
The homily was, surprisingly, not bad at all in principle, and all centred on our hope to be, one day, in the presence of God.
All fine then, you will Say?
There was an elephant in the church, most notable for his absence: hell.
Hell was not mentioned once; not directly, not indirectly, not as a rather remote possibility; not even, in fact, as something we are – in NuChurch parlance – pretty sure to avoid unless we are Pol Pot’s evil twin.
Hell was, simply, nowhere.
This made, after a while, the entire exercise rather strange, as it was not explained what happens if one’s hopes do not become reality. Leaving for a moment the elephant metaphor aside, I had in front of my eyes the image of a huge and exquisite buffet to which I am invited, without anyone telling me what happens if I do not want to get to the place, refuse the invitation, or get kicked out because of my obnoxious behaviour; and without anyone telling me that all three are, in fact, very realistic possibilities.
I am afraid this is a perhaps succulent, but not really realistic description of the buffet the celebrant had in mind; a buffet, by the way, whose invitation is in actual reality the result of constant application – or at least ardent desire in extremis to be invited – instead of something falling on us because we are always the soul of the party and pride ourselves of our “tolerance”, and everyone thinks we are so swell…
I waited and waited for the elephant to make his voluminous, embarrassing, but memorable appearance, giving sense to the entire exercise; but the church remained conveniently elephant-free.
We were, therefore, left with something similar to an unresolved equation, with a vital element of the entire proposition simply unexplained; nay, actually not even mentioned.
I do not know how you would have reacted, but I felt as if the homily had not given me or others any great help at all: if I will be invited – as it is clearly implied – to the buffet with a probability approaching certainty, where is my incentive to actually merit the invitation? If I am not told that instead of salmon and caviar the buffet might give me the choice between several types of human and animal excrements for all eternity, has the buffet thing been described to me with a sufficient degree of honesty?
A pity, because the salmon & caviar part was actually rather well made; but without the elephant, I don’t think it was worth much in the end.
One of the greatest graces in my life – possibly, if I think of the possible reward, the greatest – is a robust faith.
Faith to me was never something I had to reach to, or to fight for. I remember perfectly well a time in which I could not read or write, and perfectly well knew that there is God; and I remember this feeling was so natural I would not have doubted it more than I could have doubted the existence of the sun.
It went on when I was a little child, but at this point the “Person I knew Was There” (not in the sense that I saw him, or perceived him physically; but in the sense I knew he was there in the same way as you know your mother exists even if she is not in the room, and you know her love is with you even if she is not physically there) had a name: God. I actually still remember very well the moment and the place I was told the name, and remember thinking with childish surprise “ah, so that is his name: God”.
In the first school years, when as every other child I became more open toward external sensations and contacts, this knowledge remained very strong. It was, just, there.
This clear knowledge – a diffused knowledge, but which did not admit doubt; the same as when you know you’re healthy even if you don’t think continuously “I am healthy”; it is just there – decreased in my teenage years, and when I was sixteen-seventeen had become rather tenuous. I can’t say there has been a day in my life I didn’t believe in God, but certainly there were days in my life I knew I didn’t believe so strongly as I used to do. I remember comparing it with a flame, once very big and warm but now smaller and smaller, and you can see it’s still there, but start to wonder whether the time will ever come when you can’t see it anymore.
When (as I know now, and did not know then) the hormonal tempests of the inordinate growth started to subside, I started to notice the flame was, gradually, getting bigger and bigger; when I was twenty-one I’d have rather doubted the existence of my own right hand than God’s. By the grace of God, and an healthy prayer life even before I started to practice again – this is another thing I always did without any constriction and fully spontaneously – things have remained so since, and I pray they may remain so to the day I die.
Strangely, since a child I have been considered rather intelligent, but I never ever had a non-believer wondering how I could, being rather smart, believe in God. I must have been a problem to them, because if you think I believe in fairies then you’re saying I’m stupid, and if you go around saying I’m stupid I am probably not the one who is going to look it. The atheists condemn belief as a tale in abstract, but have more difficulties in condemning otherwise rather intelligent people as children, as all those believing in tales must be.
Still, I am one of those cases – a minority I think, but by no means rare – of faith which never had to be conquered, and never was seriously put in doubt. I never had a vocation, either, and I assume that those who have must feel it in them in the same unquestionable way as one feels he is in love, or that there is God.
Some people never got this thing of the certainty, and thought – for some reason known only to them – that the one who doubts be, in some secret way, in a better position than the man who knows; or more intelligent, or more intellectual, or more profound. Bollocks.
Think about being in love. There’s no doubt those who have never been in love must be unable to even start to conceive what it is, to be really in love. They might argue for hours about the self-delusion of those people thinking that they are in love, and bla bla, and bla bla. Meanwhile, those in love do not doubt in the least of the existence of this most powerful force, and have only a sad and sympathetic smile for those who don’t believe in love’s existence. How much do they miss. They miss, very simply, a different plane of existence, and say it’s not there because they’ve never been there, and can’t arrive there.
Alas, in my case faith never had such a violent grip on me as love. In some people, though, it has, and among those the St Francis and St. Clare are born. They simply believed with the passion of the lover.
This different plane of reality – something which doesn’t need science to be demonstrated more than love would – fully escapes the atheists. They are like ants solemnly declaring there is no Milky Way, because they haven’t found it in their ant-books.
Now, of course this kind of faith – inborn, so to speak, and more mystical than rational – is not a grace given to everyone, but merely one of those graces God distributes around in a seemingly random way: some are born witty, some intelligent, some tall, some strong, some rich, some healthy; some, with an inborn faith.
This kind of faith is not given to everyone. Still, to pretty much everyone reason is given, and grace to inspire this reason to the right steps, and the ability to pray that one may be given faith, and the humility to move slowly but surely in the right direction until one arrives. Knock, and all that. Here you see another clear mark of the atheist: he refuses the honest search, let alone the earnest one. He behaves like the one who does not believe in love, mocks all those who have experienced it, and positively refuses to be, so to speak, open to the possibility of falling in love. Alas, he will more easily be cured from the second error than from the first, then God requires from most people that they put some solid effort, or at least start some serious questioning, or at least show some humility.
From some, he seems not to require this effort. He makes someone rich, someone beautiful, someone witty, someone healthy, someone intelligent. To some others, he gives unquestioning faith. Then he sends them around to quarrel, and write blogs. They well should, because like those in love they do not doubt, they simply know.
Surprisingly, there is no trace on the Catholic blogosphere of the event that has surprised and – as it is always said, though in this case with less reason – shocked Britain on Saturday afternoon: the death of Amy Winehouse.
This is surprising because it is in my eyes not entirely consequential to condemn the perfectly a-religious (in the best of cases), booze-and-drugs lifestyle more or less directly propagated by too much of the modern pop culture, and not stop to reflect – and to admonish – when this culture actually leads to such a death.
Besides being an undoubted talent, a beautiful singing voice and a remarkably free-thinking artist in many respects, Amy Winehouse was in my eyes remarkable in another respect: a rather total lack of orientation in life. She was not one of those focused people who steel their determination in long years of obscurity until success comes to them; success had happened to her, so to speak, very early in life, and in such a casual way that she even maintained not to have a record of her first album at home. This was not a story of dogged determination, for sure.
Her famous “I don’t give a f**k” to Bono seemed rather her life motto, a motto to which she has remained faithful until it has become her undoing; a motto the more remarkable in these times where the talents of the music industry are rather strictly kept under observation, I assume for a sense of humanity besides the obvious “asset protection” reasoning.
They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, “No, no, no”
are the opening verses of a – actually, rather beautiful – song of her. In the same song, we hear
I don’t ever wanna drink again
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
In thinking of the tragedy of the late Amy Winehouse, what I think the experts and the rehab clinics and the music industry managers and even the fans couldn’t give her, a sensible prayer life would have given. I do not want to say that if you pray your addiction will automatically disappear, or that you will transform yourself overnight in the embodiment of fighting spirit; but it is fair to say that even a small prayer goes a long way to avoid the worst excesses, and that when one collaborates with grace then more energy is given to tackle one’s problem, and so on.
Amy Winehouse was born in a Jewish family, but it doesn’t seem that faith ever played a role in her life. I wonder whether she ever stopped for a moment to think of the Blessed Virgin, or if she knew Her at all, or if she had any religious life at all. You see, how one can send people to rehabilitation clinics without talking to them about God is beyond me. It’s like trying to produce water without the oxygen.
Talking about Catholic oxygen, one of the most beautiful aspects of Catholicism is to be able to see the Blessed Virgin as our Heavenly Mother. Even if I were hated by my parents, or had a very troubled relationship with them, the love and respect for my Mother in Heaven would certainly encourage me to stop harming myself. This thought has been in the past the guide and consolation for innumerable orphans, or people with difficult parents. I dare to think that what has failed here was not the attention of her agents, or of her production company, but her prayer life. The first prayer leads to the second, and then comes the third. At some point, you have enough self-esteem and self-love to not appear on stage drunk like a lord, because you know that you are loved.
We know that the Blessed Virgin suffered for her every day. We know that she would have been able to intercede for her more effectively, if properly asked for. We know that it is impossible to feel loved and valuable and willingly go forth toward self-destruction; that no matter how hard the trial – and her trial, if undoubtedly self-inflicted, must have been very hard at the end – we can’t blindly abandon ourself to self-harm when we feel embraced by Her tender love. Now, Winehouse being Jewish the recourse to Mary would have been (perhaps) not in the cards; but this shows once again the beauty, wisdom, love and Truth of our wonderful Catholic religion.
Therapists, consultants, more or less loving parents, the usual entourage of officially disinterested friends: was there among them someone who just suggested to Amy Winehouse that she prays, and then prays again, and then prays some more? I haven’t found any mention anywhere. It doesn’t seem to have been part of the picture. But fame, money, an army of consultants cannot do much against one’s own ghosts, unless supernatural help is asked and received. And what are we without prayer, other than little vessels lost in the storm of life…
Therefore, when the official reason for her death is made public, we are not very likely to read what was rather probably an important part of it: lack of proper spiritual life, lack of knowledge of being an infinitely beloved soul, and lack of knowledge of the Blessed Virgin as her Heavenly Mother.
I hope that she has avoided the worst, though frankly who can say… I have prayed for her not because I think that she was more deserving than all those unknown souls who died on saturday afternoon, but because of the sadness of such a waste of life and talent, and the suffering she must have caused to her poor guardian angel, and to Mary in Heaven.
Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
On Crisis Magazine there is an interesting contribution from a US sociologist and – interestingly – Democratic politician, David R. Carlin. I’d like to start from his article, and develop a bit.
Mr Carlin has spent 25 years of his life arguing against so-called homosexual “marriages”; but, in the typical lack of clarity – or of courage – of the politician, he has carefully avoided to solidly base his arguments on their natural basis: the religious one.
This strategy is never going to work, and now Mr Carlin himself admits that he has seen the light. In fact, you can’t argue against homosexuality without even indirectly calling religious values at your defence. Every “non-religious” argument (he mention a long list of them, like the one that marriage was instituted for the begetting of children or that if everyone can “marry”, marriage loses significance) becomes totally devoid of logic is the religious basis of the reasoning is disregarded.
If marriage is not a religious institution, there’s no reason on earth why marriage should not be modified to comprise, say, the raising of cats and dogs, or the marriage between men and goats. If marriage is not based on religion, it has no importance whatsoever what “significance” marriage has, as every significance with which the voters are OK should be good enough. That a child needs a father and a mother will be questioned by those who think that a man can be a woman, and it will also have to be explained how it is that widows aren’t forced to remarry; and so on. In short, there’s no argument against homo marriage that can avoid the only argument against homosexual behaviour: namely, that it’s a perverted behaviour condemned by God.
Mr Carlin honestly admits that the fear of being called “homophobic” was a motive in his avoiding to play the only real card – remember, this is a politician! -. But this is also a non-argument, as the homo mafia will call “homophobic” everyone who doesn’t completely agree with them anyway. Already the idea that one should go into an argument afraid of how his opponent might call him shows all the ineffectiveness of such approach.
Just as ineffective and, in the ultimate analysis, naive is the argument that one doesn’t want to upset relatives or friends who are perverted. One can’t pick relatives, but one can pick friends. I ain’t one of those with the “some of my best friends are homosexual” argument because if one is an unrepentant homosexual, he has as much of a chance of becoming my friend than he had if he were openly pedophile, or given to bestiality. As to the relatives, it is clear that the “sensitive” Mr Carter is putting his own comfort before the soul of people he loves; which might be convenient (before one dies, that is), but is certainly not charitable.
It is time, then, for every opponent of homosexual behaviour to get at the root of the problem: that homosexuality is a perversion, and homosexual behaviour cries to heaven for vengeance. And why it is so? Because God says so. And why do you say that God says so? Because Scripture and Tradition both say so. Because it has always been the teaching of the Only Church. Because for all these years not only Catholics, but even Protestants had enough sense to get it.
The idea that a pervert should be persuaded that he is wrong by the sheer force of logical arguments fails in front of the simple fact that perversion doesn’t listen to logic. The idea that you can point out to a pervert that his behaviour is a perverted one without offending him is just as naive.
We as a society must simply get rid of this cretinous idea that everyone has the right of never listening to anything by which he may be offended.
Until we do this and start to assert the Christian basis of our values, our arguments will be – as Mr Carlin has discovered – ultimately ineffective.
The Press office of the vatican has released a multilingual communiqué about the planned meeting in Assisi, in the meantime known as “Assisi III”. If you scroll here you’ll see the English text.
As expected, Pope Benedict will do things in a radically different manner than his soon-to-be-beatified predecessor. Among the positive aspects I would mention:
1) The express intention of avoiding the mess of the other times (particularly 1986). The statement says (emphasis mine):
Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism.
No Buddhas on altars, and no mistake.
2) The express mention that there will be no common prayer. People of different faith will just – to say it poetically – shut up and everyone of them will pray individually as he can. The fact that everyone prays according to his own religion doesn’t make the act “ecumenical” (in the wrong sense) in the least. This is, it seems to me, not different from what happens in a stadium before the shooting of a penalty. I will eagerly await what conservative Catholic sites write about this, but I personally don’t see any need to be alarmed by the exercise in itself.
3) The event is very much low-key: a selected group of people starting a train journey from Rome to Assisi. Also, no multi-day kermesse but a rather sober programme beginning and ending on the same day. This is no mega-gathering, rather a day out.
As largely expected, scenes like these ones are not going to be repeated; rather, Pope Benedict chooses to emphasise beforehand that he is going to make it differently. Still, I think that this is not a good thing as he is, in a way, trying to repair Assisi like Gorbaciov tried to repair communism, but the first is every bit beyond repair as the second.
Some aspects of the gathering are, in my eyes, still questionable; not “JP II-questionable”, though; rather, questionable from a purely Catholic point of view:
1) I’d have thought that the Pope’s role is to convert those who are not Catholic, not to dialogue with them. I know that dialogue is so much “en vogue” nowadays, but everytime I read about “dialogue” I have the strange impression that here the message is broadcast that Catholicism and heresy – or Catholicism and Atheism – are positions which meet on a foot of equal dignity.
They don’t. Truth meets Lie, and Faith meets Unbelief. It may be that this will be the bearer of good fruits; still, the supremacy of the Truth should be stressed by none more than by the Pope himself. This here doesn’t help.
2) Assisi I is called “historic meeting”. Historic in shame, blasphemy and heresy, yes. But to extol such a goddamn mess as an example of virtue seems to me – even allowing for the explicit clarification that this time, things are going to be made in a radically different way – way out of the mark. Again, Pope Benedict tries to repair a toy already irreparably damaged in the eyes of orthodox Catholics and no amount of totschweigen und schoenreden of the unspeakable shame of 1986 will change an iota in this.
3) this time, atheists are also invited. They are invited on the ground that they “regard themselves as seekers of truth” and feel that they “share responsibility” for this planet. This sounds rather strange to me. I’d have thought that the gathering would have a religious aspect in that it shows people of different faiths but united by their belief in the supernatural. If you extend this to atheists, well why not to homo and lesbian organisations, or neonazis, or wiccans, or the like? They all “see themselves” as “seekers of truth”, let alone think that they “share responsibility”….
Next thing you know, Satanists will asked to be invited. Hey, let’s dialogue!
4) (Achtung! Pure Mundabor-esque point!) I don’t know about you, but I still have a slight impression of easy populism whenever I hear about a “peace” event. Peace is easily said and more universally liked than football, or chocolate. It doesn’t make any news that a religious leader promotes peace. Rather, it seems to me that peace is getting too big a place at the Christian table. In my eyes, it would be high time – for a change – to start re-instructing the faithful about the doctrine of war instead of feeding them the easy fare of cunning politicians and senseless dreamers. We can’t close our eyes in front of simple realities of the human condition just because it is more convenient or popular to do so. The Truth must, I think, be said whole, not only the convenient bits. Marches for “peace” are not very scarce; nor is the message controversial; nor is there any need to stress it.
All in all, one can – I think – safely say that the worst fears have been dissipated. But one can also – I’d say, with equal security – say that this initiative still reeks a bit of that easy populism that played such a massive role during the pontificate of the late JP II.
I still wished this had never been started.
From the inexhaustible, truly precious reservoir of traditional Catholic wisdom of Lux Occulta, a CTS booklet that is a bit different from the others I have mentioned.
The CTS Booklet Abiding Sorrow For Sin is an abridged version from an original work of Father Frederick William Faber, a notable Catholic convert of the XIX century famous among other things for being the founder of London’s Oratory and the author of Faith of Our Fathers.
Faber’s writing style is the one of his age and this booklet, though certainly accessible to everyone, is less easily readable – particularly for very young readers – than more modern CTS productions. Still, the author conveys his points with grace and persuasiveness and one understands how he could achieve spectacular conversions to Catholicism in his London years.
The main theme of the booklet is that true and lasting spiritual progress doesn’t have at its root a constant habit of prayer, or of penance, or of tranquil and ordered life deprived of stress. Whilst prayer and penance are certainly good, father Faber tries to understand how it was that he could observe people not lacking in either and still not able to, so to speak, jumpstart their spiritual life. Similarly, he observed that people whose life was blessed with absence of hectic did not show, as a rule, a tendency to be more advanced spiritually.
The key to spiritual advancement lies, according to father Faber, in abiding sorrow for sin. This abiding sorrow for sin doesn’t mean being permanently saddened at our and the human race’s sinfulness, but lies rather in the constant remembrance of our inherent weakness and sinfulness. Once acquired and exercised in the right way, this will become a habit of frequently reminding ourselves that we need forgiveness but at the same time constantly receive it, and the quiet knowledge of Jesus’ forgiveness being greater than our proclivity to sin will give us a constant sense of serenity and at the same time help us in our spiritual progress by gradually allow a “hate for sin” to grow in us. The message is simple and profound and whilst it will certainly already play an important part in the life of the one or other reader, there’ s no need to fear than anyone may read this booklet without drawing inspiration.
This booklet will require, perhaps, 15 minutes of attentive reading and the way his author presents his argument is not what we would expect today (he basically needs one-third of the work to make his main point, not very common in today’s instant information age); but taken with the right spirit and a bit of patience, this booklet will not fail to impress every reader above the age of thirteen or fourteen.
I am rather sure that it has happened to you too at some point: some friend or colleague or acquaintance of yours not only believes in reincarnation (perfectly possible, if he’s not a Christian), but sometimes even considers this compatible with Christianity; perhaps he even calls himself a Christian with utter conviction and in perfect good faith and will still say that he believes in reincarnation.
In such errors we must see another result of the disgraceful catechesis of these last decades; when such things happen I would invite you to be gracefully firm with the person in question and simply point out to the incompatibility of reincarnation with Christianity, and explain why. Sadly, though, we live in such times that new age infiltrations (or Buddhistic ones, or such like) are allowed to dilute the message of Christianity because no effort whatsoever is made by the Clergy to maintain the integrity of the Teaching. When the Archbishop of Westminster bows in front of an Hindu altar himself, how can you blame the generic (often lapsed; not always!) Christian for being confused themselves and for trying to reconcile apparent contradictions in a way that seems rational to them? When gatherings in Assisi-style take place and Buddhas are placed on Catholic altars, how can you blame laypeople for thinking they can “improve” on the received religious wisdom? This is when we, the orthodox and informed, come to the rescue.
First of all, let us agree some terms (which are used in various ways, and engender confusion) about what is meant with reincarnation. I have, up to now, met two families of thought that I will call: 1) metempsychosis and 2) reincarnation proper.
Metempsicosis is the idea that there is no individual soul, only a life energy. This life energy continuously reforms itself into new forms of actual life; but there is no continuity, no A dying and becoming B, then C and then D. You must imagine life force as a huge water reservoir, from which some water is taken when a human (or a dog, or an insect, or a tree) is born. When this form of life dies, the relevant life force comes back into the reservoir, mixing itself with the rest of the water; from this reservoir, some water will be taken away to create new trees, new insects, new humans etc. As there is no continuity of water (it is not the same molecules being used to create a new man after the death of the first, as the water mixes in the reservoir) there is no re-incarnation in the proper sense. No one is re-born, but rather a huge living force continuously takes new forms. This would explain why no one remembers former lives (there aren’t any, individually speaking) and why the same life energy of a man, once he is dead, comes into the great circle of life as, say, an insect. It is not that the man was re-born as an insect. Rather, the “water” of his life has been put into the big reservoir again, out of which further plants and insects and human beings are going to be born.
There can be no place for a biblical God in all this. There is a huge life force, whose occupation is to live through all living things and continuously mixing this living energies into new forms. This has been explained to me in extremely clear terms from a buddhist acquaintance who also was, as you can imagine, as atheist as Stalin. “Ice-cold!”, I said to him. “Wonderful!”, he answered. No merciful God, no hope of salvation in whatever form, no expectation of living as an individual. Instead, the participation in a huge machine continuously re-making itself, life as the vision of a huge living energy that lives in me, and will take other forms when I die; forms that are still expression of the same life, but not I in any recognisable form anymore.
Reincarnation proper is the idea that one starts life as a lowly life, say, an insect or an arachnids or even lower. Slowly, he evolves into higher forms of intelligence (say: cat, dog, horse) until he will finally be reincarnated as a human. The individual is always the same, taking new bodies. The higher he goes in the scala of intelligence, the more is he able to sin. When he becomes a human, he’ll start at the lower end of the scala (as a pariah, say) and then, in principle, gradually evolve. Unless he is a great sinner, in which case he’ll be punished with re-birth in a lower forms of human being: of a lower rank than his later reincarnation, or plagued by various troubles (say: sick; ugly; stupid; poor). The desire of God to see him evolve and come to Him fights with the creature’s inherent sinful tendencies a fight which goes on for possibly an immense number of incarnations, marked by “promotions” and “demotions”, until liberation is achieved and the soul is allowed to enter Heaven. In this conception, once one is born as a human he’ll always be born as a human (because when he is able to sin seriously, he must be able to pay serious consequences of his sin), but every life will bear the mark of the sins (or virtues) of preceding lives. Some will be born oh high caste, beautiful, witty and rich; other of low caste, ugly, dumb and poor, etc.
This conception is much more similar to the Christian one than metempsychosis and one understands why poor formed Christians (led to believe that Jesus just didn’t want to go into the matter, but this will be the subject of another entry) may find it credible. In this conception, a compassionate God works on our salvation but punishes us for our sins; his infinite justice lets us pay everything, but his infinite love leads, in the end, everyone to his heavenly destination. In this conception, not only purgatory but also hell take place here on Earth and even the most atrocious life conditions and individual destinies are but the reflection of God’s justice, working in him at the same time as God’s mercy assures to him, as to everyone else, eventual salvation. At the same time, the apparent inequalities are resolved in a cosmic justice, where everyone has at any one time what (good or bad) he has himself worked for.
This hindu and new age belief is much nearer to Western thinking than metempsychosis and it has, one must admit, the appeal of trying to explain some aspects of the human condition allegedly not explained by Christianity: eg, why some people are born with apparently cruel disadvantages compared to others; why life is a bunch of inequalities; how one can reconcile infinite mercy and infinite justice, etc. If you hear someone saying “if there is a God, why the earthquake in Haiti?” (rather fashionable among Christians, nowadays), it is rather probable that at some point he’ll subscribe to some new age tenet.
Of this two theories (I do not doubt that there are a lot of variations, I’d say these two represent the situation rather well, though) the first bears no resemblance whatever to Christianity and can be discarded as not dangerous. The second, though, is the most dangerous to Christian orthodoxy, as the superficial Christian may easily be led into finding here “answers” to apparent contradictions of life and thinking this, in the new Assisi-world, perfectly OK.
On the upper list of links of this page, under “Catholic vademecum”, you will find a more detailed explanation of Faith in the traditional understanding of the Church.
In times of discussion about “aggressive secularisation”, it is perhaps fitting to repeat a concept or two in reduced form.
The Faith required of every Christian is not a feeling. No atheist can excuse himself by saying that he is very sorry, but he just doesn’t feel the existence of any God; nor can he say that if an omnipotent God existed he could cause him to believe and that would be that, but alas…..
Faith is something we are expected to work towards. To do this, two things are necessary: will and intellect. Without the will to believe we’ll go along believing what we find comfortable to believe; without the intellect we will not be able to grasp the Truth.
God can be “known with certainty by the natural light of human reason” (Vatican I). By reason we discover 1) the historical truth of the existence of Jesus; 2) that this Jesus is, by a great number of prophecies realised in Him, beyond doubt the Messiah the Jews were waiting for; 3) that therefore his claim to be God must perforce be as authentic as His authentically being the Messiah.
The fundamental concept here is twofold:
1) God can be known with certainty, if one cares to do his homework;
2) no one is excused from doing this homework.
“Not believing” is neither here nor there. It is not about “believing” as in “feeling that there is a God”, it is about working on the historical and theological sources, reading the prophesies about the Messiah and register as a matter of pure facts the astonishing number of correspondences between what the Messiah was supposed to be, and what Jesus came to be. Faith is about realising 1) that the Christian Messiah was, uniquely, announced; 2) that when he came he showed that he was the One who had been announced, and that he was God.
Jesus is the only one who proved His identity, who proved that he was the one whom the world was waiting for. No amount of uninformed “but I do not believe in God, so I do not care” can ever go beyond this simple fact.
Faith (in this meaning) is not about angels visiting one and giving him assured proof of the existence of God, nor is it about explosive inner voices shouting until reason gets the message.
Faith is an assent to a truth believed because known from a source one has examined intellectually and has considered beyond doubt. If someone tells me that the Earth rotates around the sun, or that water is made out of hydrogen and oxygen, I believe this pretty much in the same way: I believe the authority on which the assertion rests, because this authority stands the exam of my intellect.
Faith is about doing one’s own homework. As it has to do with eternal salvation, there’s no work more important than this.
Apart from his insistence in not wanting to wear a tie in his “vortex” series, I must say this man does continue to make a wonderful job or saying what is uncomfortable in a way that can be – if good will is there – digested and accepted.
This time I would like to draw your attention on the video above, which forgetting for a moment the rather strong words used does point out to a common trait of both believers (not only Christians, I would say) and atheists: they do not fully draw the consequences of what they believe, and they do it because they do not really believe so strongly that there is (or that there isn’t) a God.
If they did, most Christians would make of salvation their absolute priority and would pursue this scope with grim determination, and most atheists would simply forget every trace of the Christian values of the society they live in and would fully abandon themselves to the absolute dominance of one’s own interests and desires a world without religious values must necessarily engender. In the end, neither of the two groups has thought his belief and its consequences to the end.
It is true that human weakness plays a big role in a faithful’s shortcomings, but I think that Voris here is deliberately avoiding the issue to concentrate on what seems to me his central message, the “quiet politeness” which does not translate an individual’s faith in a world changing (and self-changing) force. He notices that Catholics are the salt of the Earth, but a salt which, too often, loses his flavour. And in fact one billion Catholics could be a tremendous force for (I slowly hate the word) “change”, but they do not have the weight they should have because……. they do not have the faith they should have.
In the end, though, it is we Catholics who have the biggest responsibility, because we have received the biggest gift.