God, all powerful, beyond all time and matter, Lord of all Creation, the one who made the stars and universes beyond count, became a child. Not the child of a king, but the child of a poor couple; a single income family where the breadwinner worked at a sort of menial job in a forgettable blink-and-you’d-miss-it little town situated in a tumultuous backwater province. His first cradle was a feeding trough.
A little while ago, I looked at the argument that God is real. I ended by noting that those arguments can only take us so far in understanding God. However, there’s a plethora of sources that claim to tell us more about God. We call these sources religions. Throughout history, there have been two basic approaches to religion: all of them are true or one of them alone is true.
Among the first things my wife and I were exposed to after becoming Catholics is the great liturgical discussion in Catholic circles over two forms of the Mass in the Roman Rite. (Mass is Catholic for “church service” and Roman Rite indicates that it is the largest of the 23 churches in communion with the Pope which is being spoken about.) This friendly discussion can be a hot button issue for some people, and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s a basic topic, but an important one: how do you know that God exits? Many people are unable to articulate a convincing answer to this. This doesn’t make such a person’s faith wrong; personal experiences of God can be hard to articulate and are normally not verifiable, requiring one to trust the words and experiences of another human being. These experiences are still valid proof for an individual, but don’t make good arguments. How can we construct a good argument for the existence of God for someone who has not had these experiences?
This year, I have discovered great new spiritual disciplines for my daily walk with Jesus. One of the greatest of these is the Liturgy of the Hours. This is a beautiful set of prayers (seven a day, plus the Office of Readings) based heavily in Scripture. Most of it comes straight from Scripture and a repetition of the Glory Be prayer. A print copy is prohibitively expensive, but we use a digital Kindle copy from Universalis. Now, I’m not pretending I do all seven of them (though I am sure that would be an immensely profitable practice!) Currently, my wife and I daily do three of these eight readings:
Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. A ‘Solemnity’ is a feast day, and not somber as one would be tempted to think. I must confess that I’d never really spent a lot of time thinking about John the Baptist before today. He was kinda like a footnote to the life of Jesus, a minor figure who introduces Jesus and then walks off stage. So it was sort of surprising to me to discover that John the Baptist is the only saint (other than Mary and Joseph) to have two feasts dedicated to himself.
I am very thankful for this year. This year has given me an opportunity to experience the receiving end of something similar to ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ from other Christians – although in my case it was ‘Love the believer, hate the creed.’ I think I now have the authority to say that these things are often not executed well. It’s a tricky balancing act. It’s so much easier just to pick one half of the statement to overemphasize or exclude. I don’t think this is an appropriate forum for me to share specifics about my situation, but here are some “enemies” to disagreeing with what someone stands for while demonstrating love for them:
The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest is the report of a Jesuit priest active in England during the sixteenth century, mostly during the time of the Elizabethian persecution, and ending about the time of the Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament. Despite the heavy looking sepia-toned cover with a picture of a priest being tortured, it was light easy reading that was not graphic or overly technical. Fr. John Gerard (the original author) and Fr. James Schall (the translator) are pleasant and easy to read.
In part, I wanted to read this book because this time period is one that English-speakers learn about from a Protestant perspective. English culture and English history is largely Protestant, with Catholics (until modern times) remaining a despised and (in England at least) legally circumscribed minority. In school students learn about “Bloody Mary” (who persecuted Protestants) and “Good Queen Bess” (who persecuted Catholics.) On November 5th, people traditionally burned the Pope in effigy to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Active Protestants often receive an additional layer of religious instruction about this time, but it is (naturally enough) limited to martyrs who died for their Protestant faith, and does not include Catholics who died for their Catholic faith. (This is an observation, not a criticism.) Modern secularism is no kinder to Catholics, so we don’t often hear the Catholic side of things.
The Great Divorce is a book by C.S. Lewis. In it, an anonymous narrator takes a trip to Hell. Once there, he boards a bus for Heaven. Here, people in heaven try to convince the insubstantial inhabitants of Hell that they ought to stay in Heaven. The narrator explores the lowest level of Heaven while observing these interactions, guided by George MacDonald, a figure Lewis was influenced by.
Hell is portrayed as an immense town, stretching on forever, eternally caught in a grey light that could promise sunrise or nightfall. Everything seems perfectly natural and normal, though the people are slightly more quarrelsome than normal and are able to think homes into existence. This immense town is a state of mind, and its inhabitants ghostly incorporeal figures.
A bus full of figures from this Hell visit Heaven.
I wonder if we pay enough attention to the stories we read or retell. Do we ask ourselves what we learned from Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Spiderman or Batman? Often we think we’re just enjoying a piece of fiction, and it goes no further than that. Yet jokingly or otherwise, who hasn’t quoted Spiderman ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’? Who hasn’t been touched by the bitter sweet ending of The Lord of the Rings? One of Jesus’ teaching stories, The Good Samaritan, is so familiar it has become a colloquial title for any stranger who helps someone in need. Stories are a way of teaching fundamental truths, sharing with people how the world works… or how it ought to work. These stories shape and form us in a powerful way.