Thursday, November 26, 2015

We need doubting Thomases

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" Caravaggio
 "The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: [then] came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace [be] unto you.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust [it] into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed."  
John 20:24-29 KJV
"To find the Giver in the gift" is a phrase from "O Beauty Ever Ancient", a hymn taken from a poem by St. Augustine of Hippo.   As I heard this during  the offertory  at Mass at our church the other day, it struck me that God did not make it easy to do that,  and that there might well be a reason He did so.

Consider the last sentence of the opening quotation:
"Blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed." 
So, does God think more highly of those who believe without evidence of His existence?    Perhaps not--let's see if a case can be made for doubting Thomases.


The Canadian philosopher, John Leslie, has (possibly tongue-in-cheek) put forward the following proposition:

"Suppose that the words MADE BY GOD were found all over the world's granite...Two explanations suggest themselves.  Perhaps God put the words there or perhaps very powerful visitors from Alpha Centauri are playing a practical joke.   Both explanations might account for the facts very well, yet along comes a philosopher with the hypothesis that the 'only really possible' natural laws are ones which make granite carry those words."  John Leslie, Universes, p.16.
This example is not to denigrate philosophers per se, but to illustrate the prejudice held by academics and others against supernatural or other worlds explanations.  

Why did God make a universe with ambiguous indicators that he did create it, rather than one with signs "MADE BY GOD"?   One reason is to make sure free will is operative.    In order that we employ our reason, and accede to the grace given us by free will, it is necessary that the case for God's existence not be airtight, even to dolts and sour-minded ones.   As it says is the Book of Wisdom:

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;...
But yet, for these the blame is less;
For they indeed have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him....
For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.
But again, not even these are pardonable.
For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?
Wisdom13: 1-9


We are given the power of reason, so that we can understand the universe around us, how wonderfully and artfully it has been designed, yes designed!   We are given free will so that we can understand that the gifts are not to be worshipped, but the Giver.    Or, as St. Augustine put it so well:

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace -
St. Augustine, Confessions. 
We are given the choice of responding to grace given by God;  that is the essence of free will.   If it were easy, what would be our moral good in the choice?   As Jesus said, "even sinners love those who love them".   So let us rejoice in the hard choices and triumph over ambiguities.

One other important point, added later (1 Dec. 2015):  the skeptic, the doubting Thomas makes we who do believe think about the foundations for our belief, and so they help us to justify that belief.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's hard to love your enemies

From the Miami Herald, 13 Nov. '15
Paris Cafe Shooting victims
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" Matt 5:44 (KJV)
 "Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. [emphasis added] Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
'If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.'*
Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. [emphasis added] For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility."  Catholic Cathechism, 2264-2266   
Anger is a desire for revenge. 'To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit, but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution 'to correct vices and maintain justice.'  If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. [emphasis added] The Lord says, 'Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.' Catholic Catechism, 2302.
The quotes above say almost everything I need or want to say in this post, but forbear, and let me enlarge on those.     The first quote gives the moral injunction that we as Christians are supposed to follow, and which the early Christians did indeed follow:   the first martyr, St. Stephen, praying that the Lord would forgive those who stoned him to death.    The second quote states that we have a right, in fact a duty, to protect ourselves from those who would harm us, and it is also the duty of the state to aid in this defense.   The third quote states that defense must be done without anger, but with a motivation to preserve peace and institute morality.


I have been praying for terrorists for several years now.   My prayer is that they repent and be converted, which is the best outcome for them that I can imagine.  I recall an audio tape by Fr. Bernard Groeschel in which he also commented on the need to pray for one's enemies.    He mentioned in particular, Madonna, the new age symbol of sexual libertinism.   His prayer for Madonna was that she repent and go to a cloistered nunnery.   I won't go that far with the terrorists, but the goal is clear.    Flippancy aside, I think it is important that we wish well, not ill for those who wish to harm us, and the best that we can wish for them is that they repent and become Christian. 


Looking at internet comments about this latest atrocity, I see all sorts of suggestions for self-defense, ranging from deporting all Muslims, bombing ISIS territories, to pouring liquefied bacon fat over all Muslim cities.   Then there are those who would ask ISIS and Iran what's the quickest way we can convert to Islam, to avoid danger.    Clearly measures have to be taken to prevent terrorists from accessing targets of opportunity.    These measures require not that the targets of opportunity be shielded, but that terrorists not be in regions--countries--where the targets are located. 

As far as Europe is concerned, this objective--clearing terrorists from their countries--may not be achievable.   Terrorists are not only those infiltrating as refugees, but the second and third generation of Muslim immigrants, who have not assimilated notions of Western civilization and have only contempt for the country that offered their parents shelter.    As Mark Steyn puts it:
  "What it is is an attack on the west, on the civilization that built the modern world - an attack on one portion of "humanity" by those who claim to speak for another portion of "humanity". And these are not "universal values" but values that spring from a relatively narrow segment of humanity. ..And then Europe decided to invite millions of Muslims to settle in their countries. Most of those people don't want to participate actively in bringing about the death of diners and concertgoers and soccer fans, but at a certain level most of them either wish or are indifferent to the death of the societies in which they live - modern, pluralist, western societies." [emphasis added]  Mark Steyn, The Barbarians are Inside and there are No Gates, Steyn Online.
Mark Steyn's comments make much sense to me.   How can they be used as a guide for action?   One course of action that seems self-evident is to not admit refugees, even if they are supposedly screened.   And how can one vet a 30 year old Syrian, when we have no access to data from Syria?   Should we feel guilty by rejecting humanitarian considerations invoked in admitting refugees?  Or should we recognize that 1) Arab countries have a greater responsibility than we (and greater resources) to help these refugees; 2) we can help financially in resettling refugees at locations outside the West.

What about a threat from native-born Muslims?   A bartender begs us not to blame ordinary Muslims like "Abdul the cab driver" for the Paris attacks in a current Facebook post.    Or should we believe the Prime Minister of Turkey:
"These descriptions (of moderate Muslims) are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, The Telegraph.
If we do believe Erdogan, what action should we take?  Are we willing to suspend civil liberties, put surveillance on mosques, monitor phone and internet traffic of citizens who happen to be Muslim?   I don't, now, have answers to those questions.   If what happened in Paris happens to New York, I will.


One thing is very important, I think.   Whatever actions are taken to preserve our way of life and, indeed, our lives, we must take them keeping in mind the last of the quotations listed above.   We must not let anger be a determinant in what we do.

And now, please join me in saying a Rosary for the victims of the Paris Attack, and for the conversion of those attackers who have survived.

*St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,64,7, corp. art.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

More St. Augustine:
"To find the Giver in the Gifts".

St. Augustine and the Fire of Wisdom
Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee.
For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. 
Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. 
Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. 
These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.  St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 27.
 The offertory hymn at Mass today was "O Beauty Ever Ancient".   The music is by Roc O' Connor, SJ and the lyrics are not quite the same as that given in the original.   They struck me deeply, and I don't think I can add anything to what's said by St. Augustine and in the hymn.   The version in the YouTube clip above is by the St. Louis Jesuits... It's beautiful.