Friday, April 20, 2018

What is the Gospel message?

One day while I was in Kenya, I was walking down a beach in Malindi, on the Indian Ocean.  I got talking to guy called Captain Omar.  He was a Captain, because he owned his own rowboat.  He was Omar, because he was Muslim.  I didn't figure that our right away, and if I had maybe I would have been a little more cautious since the coast of Kenya is known for violence by Muslims towards Christians.

Captain Omar asked me why I was in Kenya-  was I tourist?

"No, I'm actually a missionary"

"What's that?"

"Someone who tells people about Jesus."

"I'm a person, tell me."

I suddenly found myself at a loss.  I'm great at apologetics, or defending isolated moral teachings, or explaining about miracles, or whatever.  But how do I explain to someone who knows next to nothing about Jesus why Jesus mattered?

By this time I knew he was Muslim, so I said something to the effect of  "Well, you believe in God-  and so do I.  But I believe that God became a man... well first He became a baby, and was born in a manger.  Then he grew up and became a man... not all of God, you see, just God the Son, who is fully God but there's still God that is not son... and they killed him, but he came back to life. Then he went to Heaven. But we still eat his body every week at Church."

You ever realize how stupid Christianity sounds to unbelievers?  No wonder the strongest argument against us is not really an argument so much as to make us feel intellectually embarrassed that we actually hold to these doctrines.

But it shows the problem-  even I, as a trained missionary and youth minister, could not quickly explain to a stranger what Christianity was really about.

This quick introductory teaching about Christianity is called Kerygma, which is just a Greek word for preaching.  It is worth isolating the basic pieces of it, so usually you'll see something like this;

1. God is Love and created us out of Love.
2. We sinned and broke our relationship with God.
3. Jesus came and died for us so that we can be with God again.
4. Christians are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, in order that we might be made Holy, like God.

Now if you know these 4 basic points, you've got the gist of the Gospel message, and can now 'evangelize', meaning bring people to a basic knowledge of the truth.

The point I'm most interested in is number 4.  It seems like a lot of Christians are of the impression that Jesus came, died, and rose, and that's all we need to know about Him.  There's a guy called N.T. Wright, who's an Anglican Bishop and New Testament Scholar.  His theory is that when we established the Creeds, like the Nicene Creed (c325 to combat Arianism) we summarized the disputed teachings of the faith.  But then we used that as a teaching tool, so we go straight from "Born of the Virgin Mary" to "suffered under Pontius Pilate,  was crucified, died and was buried."  Wright says he suspects that the Gospel writers would be like "Hey, I spent a lot of time writing about the stuff that happened in between those 2 events!"

If you look at Jesus' life in between those two things, this is where he did the thing that he said he was "anointed" to do. Jesus himself summarizes it by quoting Isaiah: 

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

This stuff is important!  The word "Gospel" means "Good news".  So what is the good news? Seems like most Christians think the good news is only that "You don't have to go to Hell."  Which is true, but try telling someone that as good news!

"Good news!  You don't have to go to Hell"

They might reply "Great!  I wasn't planning to!"

Even in Jesus time, the people the apostles were preaching to, didn't really think they were going to Hell. The Jews didn't focus much on the afterlife at all- the Sadducees didn't even think there would be one!  The Greeks believed in Hades, which is pretty attractive, but a far cry from how we picture Hell.

And Jesus had them preaching the good news before he even died and rose!  So what was the good news?

Jesus came and was annointed to establish His Kingdom on Earth!  So it's not just that you don't have to go to Hell...  when the Bible says we are "saved" from our sins the Greek word "Sozo" could be translated "Saved" or Healed or Freed.  So it's not just about Hell!

The good news is that we can be healed and freed of our sins too!  That means, that by God's grace, we can overcome addictions, and character flaws that hurt our marriages and relationships. We can be transformed into people who are "Rooted and grounded in love" (Ephesians 3:17), and who have the fruits of the spirit like joy, peace, kindness, patience (cf Gal 5:22) as natural attributes of someone who is plugged into God!

And it's not just me that can be personally transformed!  The promise of a kingdom is the promise of a community of others who are transformed and we hold each other up and we begin to transform society. In time by living lives of  transformation in Christ, we could see societies where war is eliminated, economic disparity is impacted by societal generosity, human dignity is upheld against lust and other destructive ideologies.

The Gospel message is all of these things, and it is great news!  By becoming disciples of Christ we can;

1.Experience personal transformation
2. Establish the kingdom of God on Earth.
3. Overcome death and Hell.

With good news like that, of course we should be prepared to tell others!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Why did Jesus have to die for us?

So everyone knows that Jesus died for our sins, but the question is-  why? Like, couldn't God have just saved us from our sins by some other means?

This is a question that theologians have debated for centuries. They usually try to explain it by way of analogy, but often they'll add the caveat that those explanations are insufficient.

For example there's the courtroom analogy, as is seen in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Edmund is a traitor, and the ancient laws say that traitors must die. The White Witch has a claim on Edmund, but Aslan offers himself in Edmunds' place.  So the Witch sacrifices Aslan, even on an altar, but because Aslan is blameless,  the act breaks the ancient magic, Aslan comes back to life, and defeats the Witch.   So it is with Jesus.  Related image

God declared that the punishment for sin was death-  not just physical death, but spiritual death away from God.  Jesus took the punishment we deserved on himself so that God does not have to be contradicted and the ancient law could be appeased. In so doing he broke the ancient way, so that now we are freed from the logic of sin and death.

This analogy is helpful, and true as far as it goes, but is insufficient. Because why should God be bound to a law that He created-  was there some legally binding agreement with the devil?  It's a very good analogy, but leaves more questions.

Another helpful way to understand this is to understand the Jewish logic of sacrifice. In the Old Testament (which means old covenant or old deal) Jews would have to sacrifice an animal on an altar to please God and appease His justice. You could sacrifice an animal in place of someone else-  Think Abraham and Isaac or Moses sacrificing the lambs at passover.

It takes a lot longer to explain this piece to people when they ask since you have to explain the whole Old Testament logic of sacrifice, but this helps us understand Jesus' sacrifice a lot better!  After all, Jesus came to 'fulfill the law and the prophets' (Matt 5:17)- so everything that happened in the Old Testament happens again in a new significant way in the New Testament. Jesus death on the Cross fulfills Abraham and Isaac (A father sacrifices a son on mount Moriah) and even more obviously it fulfills Passover, as they celebrate the Last Supper on the feast of Passover.  This is why John the Baptist calls Jesus the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).  Just as at the Passover the Hebrews had to sacrifice a lamb and eat it in order for the angel of death to Passover them, so Jesus had to be sacrificed and we can participate in that Sacrifice by receiving the Eucharist, the unleavened bread which at Passover Jesus broke and said "This is my body, do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19)

All of this is obviously key to understanding why Jesus' death is redemptive, but it still begs the question- why did God have to do it that way?

I think the trick is that that question is wrong. I don't think he had to do it that way.  I think he chose to.

I think we make a mistake when we frame our relationship with God and his redemptive sacrifice in legal language, as though God is bound by some law that is over even Him.

I think if we really want to understand it, we have to understand it through the language of love and relationship. So when you think of it in these terms, why would a God who is totally motivated by Love choose to redeem the world through his own sacrifice?

From this perspective it's actually easy to speculate about the answers.  Love has it's own logic- why have children? Why get married? Why give to the poor?  We are not legally bound to do these things, but we make huge sacrifices in order to do them out of love.

I think this is why the language in scripture is so much more often about a wedding than about a courtroom. Just as a groom gives himself to his wife out of love, so Jesus gave himself to us. His gift of self become totally complete when he died, which is why he says "It is finished" or even "It is consummated." (John 19:30) We receive his gift of self when we receive the Eucharist- and in so doing we give ourselves back to him.

God the lover shows his love for us by dying for us- "greater love has no man..." (John 15:13), and "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).

Perhaps God, the author of history, was not trying to fulfill some legal obligation.  Perhaps he wrote salvation history in such a way that the lover gives himself for his bride and dies and comes back. Not because he had to do it- he chose to do it to show us what his love for us is like.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Should Catholics help non Christian refugees come to our country?

Should Catholics help non Christian refugees come to our country?

This article is largely in response to one written by Dr Taylor Marshall, Islamic Refugee Crisis: Good Samaritan or Maccabean Response or Both?  I linked this article to that one because, frankly, Dr. Marshall is way better informed than I am on the subject, and he is a Catholic teacher, writer, and podcaster for whom I have immense respect.  Because of that respect, it bothers me to say that I think he is wrong on this point, and so are many others who take his position. In short, Dr. Marshall argues that we are not obligated to bring in refugees, and I believe very strongly that we should.

First off, people might get hung up on term 'obligated'.  Marshall argues that we are not obligated or required by Christ to bring non Christian refugees into our country.  Ok, but technically I'm not obligated to have a daily prayer life or go to confession more than twice a year or receive the Eucharist... and I'm not obligated by my marriage vows to spend quality time with my kids-  but if I want to seek holiness or be anything more than just moderately good, I will do more than the minimum which I am obligated to do.

Let us for the moment assume that Marshall is not just saying that we are not obligated, but that we ought not take in Muslim refugees, since, if you read the whole article, that's clearly what he is saying.

Dr.  Marshall argues that Thomas Aquinas would say no to taking in Muslim refugees, and I am going to assume that he knows-  since he wrote a book on Thomas Aquinas' theology. However, if that is the case, I will disagree with Thomas Aquinas too, just as I disagree with him about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (which he denied) and his position that heretics are worthy of the death penalty.  I have to assume again that Dr. Marshall agrees with me on that, although it looks almost from his article as if he is suggesting that heretics, like Muslims, should be subject to the death penalty.  I'm guessing that's not what Dr. Marshall meant to say.

Aquinas aside, I think Dr. Marshall actually made some extremely weak arguments.  For example, he said

If you live in a democracy, a 51% political Islamic majority will allow “we the people” to promulgate Sharia law. They are following their conscience and religious beliefs in this matter. They will do this just as they have done in any other community where they captured the majority (Mecca, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, etc.)
Obviously real life democracies are a little more complicated than that, but let's not dispute that point.   The population of the United States is 319 Million. The percentage of those who are Muslim is 1%.  In other words, in order for the 51% of America to be Muslim (as a consequence of the refugee crisis) they'd have to take in 319 million Muslim refugees! Right now Obama wants to take in 10,000, and politicians on the right want to bring in even less. There's only 60 million refugees of any kind in the world. Can we therefore dismiss the idea that Sharia law is a threat?

(Someone pointed out that you only need 10% to make a big difference-  ok, only 32 million- or that distribution in jurisdictions is an issue- so it's not a slam dunk, but still, fear of Sharia is a pretty weak argument in my books!)

Marshall then makes the analogy of the Family Home, suggesting that bringing refugees into our country and helping them to get onto their feet is comparable to bringing a homeless man into my home and letting him sleep with my wife while I'm away. You can decide for yourself whether that is a good analogy. (Make sure you read the way he wrote it, and not just my simplification.  You can guess my opinion.)

Then he uses my least favorite argument of all from the anti refugee people;

There is also the further problem that 5%-20% of global Muslims are considered to be “radicalized,” which means that they are consciously willing to use terrorist tactics to advance their Muslim worldview against the West. If you knew that 10% of your child’s Halloween candy was poisoned, would you allow your child to consume any of it?
Mike Huckabee made the same point, using poisonous nuts in his analogy. This argument is actually stupid, and I'm disappointed in Dr Marshall and others who don't see why. No, I wouldn't let my kid eat their Halloween candy...  but there is an incredible difference between the value of human life and a candy.  Would I let my kid risk their life to save someone else's?  Yes. I would even teach them to do so.

Here's my analogy.  Suppose a ship carrying hundreds of passengers was attacked by a terrorist on the ship. Now it is sinking, and the passengers are floundering in the water. You are in a boat nearby, and can reasonably take in 25 passengers- not nearly all of them. The trouble is that you know that a few of the drowning people may be terrorists, and they may attack your boat. Would you take the risk to save 25?

A friend said no, not if my kids were on board the boat.  Others said they would prioritize, women and children first. Clearly many would say "Christians first".  For me?  I'd pull them into my boat, and if my children were there I'd teach them to do likewise.

My analogy is flawed too, but you gotta admit, it's better than the poisonous nuts' analogy.

The other problem with this argument is that it somehow assumes that the refugees will be representative of the global average-  never mind that they are being screened once by the UN and again by Canada or the USA or whoever is taking them in. Clearly this will reduce the percentage of refugees actually coming in who are radicalized.

But let's extend this logic to other stats.  Could your kid eat their candy if only 3% of it were poisoned? 'Cause 3% of Americans are presently under some form of correctional control for criminal activity.  Guess we'd better not let any Americans into Canada, since 3% of them are criminals. (It get's a lot worse once you start breaking it down by race or gender).  Anyway, pursuing that logic can get ugly quick.

I'm disappointed that someone as rational as Marshall would employ such a deeply flawed analogy.

The last argument I want to address is the "Samaritan uses the hotel" argument, that the Samaritan was commended for his humanitarian aid, and implicitly therefore that's the most that any Christian should expect to do.

Look, Mother Teresa did way more than the Good Samaritan.  Regardless of their faith, she helped Muslims and Hindus out of love.  Christ did way more.   Are we called to Sainthood in imitation of Christ, or are we called to moderate humanitarianism?

Scripture is full of passages like "I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Matt 25:35) and about welcoming the foreigner (Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:19, etc).  

Pope Francis encouraged the Church's of Europe to bring in one refugee family each. It saddens me that so many Catholic/Christian voices are arguing against the Pope's desire to help the refugees.  I'm certain there are more well reasoned arguments out there that what has been presented here.  But since the goal of every Christians life should be to 'love your neighbor as yourself', you will need to convince me that helping refugees to rebuild their life in Syria is more loving and feasible than helping them to get on with life here. 

If it were me, trying to save my family, I'd want the quick solution.  I'd want to be in Canada, surrounded by a welcoming community, with the opportunity of independence and freedom. I would not want to stay in a refugee camp waiting for everyone in Syria to decide they love each other after all.   Jesus' command was 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

So my question to Marshall and all the other objectors is this-  what would you have them do unto you? 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What do I think about gay marriage?

It is with some trepidation that I write this article, because frankly I'm afraid of offending people, afraid of being bullied, afraid of alienating friends, afraid of being inacurrate... but despite these fears I am going to step into the fray!

Last week the US Supreme court declared it unconstitutional to ban same sex marriage at a state level.  Since then, a large number of my friends have changed their facebook profile to have a rainbow wash to celebrate their support for this legislation.  Others of my friends have posted messages reflecting the Catholic Churches teachings on same sex relationships.  And I've participated in a few online discussions.  The difficulty is that I find that I fall in between the two poles of the debate.  I suspect that there are a number of people out there like me who are struggling to articulate their thoughts, but are afraid of appearing bigotted on one hand or heretical on the other. I guess I am throwing caution to the wind by writing this-  but I won't advertise the post on facebook.  Too many trolls out there.

I think I am reluctantly in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.  This will surprise a number of people, since I always deliberately agree with the Catholic Church on everything, and it appears that the majority of Bishops oppose same sex marriage. However, I'm the kind of person who changes his mind when the facts change-  so I may change my mind on this, and I invite people to try to help me change it!

The thing is, I do think gay sex is sinful.  I believe that sex is created by God to be both unitive and procreative- an act of love that's by it's nature open to having babies.  I believe sacramental marriage must be free, total, faithful and fruitful.  In other words, I'm opposed to pornography, adultery, polygamy, forced marriages, divorce and contraception... among other things.  But I do not think that each of those things should necessarily be illegal!  (Forced marriages clearly should be, but for different reasons other than it invalidates the marriage.  I'd also like to see tighter restrictions on porn, but that's a rabbit trail.)

So I oppose gay sex for the same reason as I oppose those other things.  My opposition is rooted in my faith, and is the same reason that I hold human life as inherently valuable.  Clearly I do not think the Catholic Church should be forced to perform same sex marriages-  and actually I think that is theologically impossible.

But obviously our culture has a different definition than I do of marriage-  still noble, still a celebration of love-  but very diluted from the sacramental definition.  I think that an argument can be made to preserve the meaning of the word by it's Catholic definition, but frankly I think that battle is long since lost.  If gays want to celebrate their love in the more diluted sense in which most people consider marriage, then so be it. As suggested above, I think polygamy is the logical next step, especially considering that there are cultures all over that accept it, and it's consenting adults. So the definition will be diluted yet further.  Maybe we should allow consenting incestuous adults too... though I admit I feel squeamish about that, but maybe my squeamishness is only rooted in my deep seated psychological bigotry.  (No doubt someone is going to be offended by my equating gay sex with incest, but if consenting adults who declare love for each other is the only standard, I'm not sure what arguments can be made against it.)   I don't seriously think pedophiles or animals are on the list, and I hope robots aren't... but you know the slippery slope argument does seem to have some validity.  I suspect that in the end the definition of marriage will be so diluted that governments will ask themselves why they are in the business of celebrating marriages at all.  After all, we want to get government out of our bedrooms.... strange that we keep inviting them in!

So what should Catholics do?  I think it's time to recognize that what everyone else means by marriage is not what we mean.  Maybe we should call ours Matrimony, and just abandon the term altogether. Marriage is what is sanctioned by the state, Matrimony is what is sanctioned by the Church.

I do think however that we are in uncharted waters.  I have never before witnessed so much animosity to the Church, or to Christians.  I've never before been so scared to speak up publicly for what the Church teaches.  Any opinion which runs counter to the zeit geist is labelled homophobia, so pretty much hate speech.  How long will our culture tolerate things like Catholic Schools?  Catholic social justice groups? Christian universities? Are my concerns naive?  I think a very little research will show that they are not.

Anyway, I say, let the gays get married, just as we let people use contraception and get divorces and get married outside the Church.  Maybe if gays are treated equally within our secular, nothing is sacred culture, we will see a toning down of the venomous attacks against anyone who holds a different view.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Vatican condemns April Fools Pranks.

A spokesperson for the Vatican has spoken out against practices common in Europe and North America such as the celebrations of Halloween, April Fools Day, and the 'pagan' elements of Mardi Gras.

This is particularly concerning this year as April Fools Day falls during Holy Week. 

Cardinal Duhamel of the Congregation for the Deffense of Condemnation, said  about pranks "Not only are such practices contrary to human dignity and rooted in anti Christian history, but they are directly contrary to scripture."  The scripture he refers to is Proverbs 26:18-19 which reads 

"Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor

and says, “I was only joking!”

"Even Jesus Himself taught that anyone who says you fool is in danger of Hell Fire" (Matt 5:22) says Duhamel.

"That's bad!" says Jeannette Manser of the Western Canadian Association of Catholic Youth Ministers.

These issues may be addressed at the upcoming synod on Groundhogs Day and other Occult practices.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Catholic Youth Ministry Coordinator from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, said "The danger here is that these conversations only reinforce stereotypes already held against Catholics as being humourless and incapable of irony.  Suppose someone only reads the first few paragraphs of this article, and ignores its publication date?"

Monday, March 16, 2015

3 motives which drive the Saints

Q:  Hey Peter, I was wondering if you could make a book recommendation.  I was wondering if you knew a book about Saints or other people (any religion, non-religious, etc.) and their lives, beliefs and motivations.  I think they must be some of the most interesting people I have heard of.

A: I love the saints, and I am fascinated by them as well.  I suspect that my interest in them is similar to the interest that an aspiring athlete has to a great professional athlete who has excelled in their sport.  I take seriously the statement that “We are all called to be saints”, and hope to be one myself (though this has been my hope for 18 years now, and I certainly have not come close to that goal so far. I just have to trust in God’s mercy and grace and continue to hope!)

That said, most of the books I know about saints are biographies that share their inspiring stories, or maybe some theological treatises which outline their beliefs…  but I don’t know of very many books that delve into their inner workings and motivations!  The one book that comes to mind is “The fulfillment of all desire” by Ralph Martin, which is a book that I would highly recommend to any Catholic who wants to enter into the depths of prayer, but it is hardly a beginners book for someone who is not Catholic!

If people reading this blog have any recommendations, I would be happy to pass them on to the questioner!

Maybe someone should write a book.  Whenever I think that, I think “Maybe I should write a book”, but then that book idea has to fall into the cue of ideas behind the books I want to write on simplicity and on the rosary and stations and the novels I want to write.

But were I to write a book, I would likely tackle it something like this;

Outline the major motives and themes of the Saints, then throw some fascinating stories into the book that illustrate these points.  I think the major motives for the saints are union with God, love and humility.  Maybe also self improvement, but I actually think that is just a cynical observation of what saints are doing, and probably not the motive of real saints. Actually the book may need a whole section debunking the false motives that cynical people ascribe to the saints!

There seems to be a set of assumptions regarding motivations, which maybe go back to Freud’s idea that every action is motivated either by a desire for sex or for power.  The assumption that a lot of people have is that there must be a selfish motive for everything we do.  So why do people have children?  For a sense of fulfillment or joy or whatever- for some selfish reason.  The idea that there is any altruistic motive for doing anything is for many people a foreign concept. 

This question came to me on Facebook just as I was sitting down to watch “The Drop Box”, a movie about a pastor in South Korea who put a box in the wall of his church where girls and women who felt they had to abandon their babies could abandon them anonymously but the baby would still be cared for.   The pastor has taken in hundreds of babies, and passed them on to various organizations, but he and his wife are now raising 15 children themselves, many with serious handicaps.

Why would he do that?  Again cynical people seem to think the only answer has to be a selfish one- that he must be seeking attention or glory or be trying to ease his hurting conscience or something.   But I suspect that he’s doing it for love.

I have on occasion done things purely out of love. At those moments, I have sensed what it must be like to be a saint.  There is a sense of fulfillment and purpose and freedom in doing these things. However, no one would do it for that sense- at least not to the degree that the saints do it!

One day a man watching Mother Teresa as she cared for the sick and the poor said “You couldn’t pay me enough to do what you do.”  Mother Teresa looked at him and said “Me neither.”

What motivates Mother Teresa or Pastor Lee of Korea or Fr Damien who lived with the lepers in Hawaii?

None of the selfish explanations suffice for these people.  So there must be something else.

The Christian idea is that we were made originally to love.  (People even try to pin selfish motives on God, and ask “Why did God make us?” as if there must have been some sort of selfish motive. But he made us simply to love us!).  We were designed for love with each other and with our creator.  But we chose selfishness, sin, and chaos. And so now most of our desires are tainted by those things.  But Jesus’ death on the cross, the ultimate selfless act, was so that we could be restored to our original condition.   God does not just declare us holy, but rather he makes us holy, sanctifies us, which is a process which takes time and effort and cooperation with God’s grace.

Maximilian Kolbe said that sainthood is when your will is in perfect alignment with God’s will. You want precisely the thing that God wants.  You are motivated entirely by love, and not by selfishness. And the third point is of course that you do not want attention or glory, because you want humility, which underpins everything you do.  That’s why I say that even self improvement cannot be the real motive, since this turns into a form of narcissism.

I also think this illustrates an error that we make in Christianity when we evangelize-  we try to promote our religion by the joy and satisfaction and meaning we find in it, or by a longing for Heaven, or some people will even employ a fear of Hell. But we promote a philosophy that is fundamentally selfless by appealing to selfishness!  Jesus on the other hand invited people to take up his cross, to suffer, to serve, to give, to love, to die.  I suspect that even if someone does not agree with the Christian propositions, we all feel a certain resonance in the call to holiness.  This is precisely why Christianity is ‘good news’ and offers hope. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Why the biggest questions people ask to challenge Catholics don't make sense unless you already believe that Catholicism is true.

Wisdom-  Let us be attentive!

That's what they chant in Ukrainian Catholic Churches before a reading.  I'm always tempted to chant that at the beginning of one of my talks, but I've never done it yet.  Probably I will some day.

I think that when people think of wisdom, they think of someone like Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda saying "Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is mystery, today is a gift- that is why it is called the present."  They want a succinct poetic and slightly mystical sounding sentence- a proverb I suppose- about some profound subject. But I always suspect that true wisdom is applied knowledge through the lense of experience with a natural ability to recognize truth.  Here's the problem with that.  I suspect that if someone is truly wise, than the wise things they say will not be understood by people who are not wise unless they have a minimum of the same knowledge.  So when a fool (ie: someone lacking wisdom) asks a hard question about Catholicism and the answer is a wise answer, the fool fails to understand the answer and they assume that their failure to understand the answer implies that the answer is either incorrect or incomprehensible, when actually the logical thing to assume is that your own ability to grasp the truth is limited, and that's why you don't get it.

For example-  I don't get quantum mechanics.  Or the theory of relativity.  Or string theory. I've tried to understand these things, but truth be told my understanding of basic physics is so limited that I can't really begin to grasp these applied physics.  And there are elements in these theories that defy logic in my mind-  but I am prepared to admit that the limitation is in my mind, rather than in the logic.  So rather than assume that these theories are false because I don't get them, I assume that my understanding is limited.

But I think that people should approach theology with at least the same level of humility.  Like the student in my office today who stated that Jesus work could have been just magic or the work of aliens, based on a really superficial understanding of the gospel story.  Or the Jehovah's witness who dismissed the trinity because if he went door to door he would get any number of contradictory explanations of the trinity and it is hard to grasp. Or people who reject the faith because they can't figure out how God could allow suffering or evil to exist, or why stories in the Old Testament make God look like an evil being, or why Catholics don't allow condoms in Africa or bless homosexual marriages.  People will dismiss Catholicism on any one of these grounds, and will ask a question as a challenge, and take the fact that Catholics are named able to answer the question in a succinct one liner that they will understand and be persuaded by as evidence that the Catholic Church does not have a good answer.

But-  the Church does have good answers to each of these objections.  I happen to know the answer to each of them- or at least I know a part of them. Each questions has an answer that you cannot plumb the depths of... but again, this is precisely what wisdom is.

St Augustine said "Theology is faith seeking understanding".  What this means is that before you can understand the Churches teachings on something deep and theological, you first have to have faith.  Many people would rather have it the other way.  They would rather already know have the answer to the questions before they will even acknowledge that there is such a thing as a God, or that Jesus was God, or so on. And the fact that they have not heard a satisfying answer to their pet objection will to them suggest that the whole framework is false. But the truth is that the answer depends on a sufficient understanding of the framework.

This realization came to me clearly when I gave a talk the other day about redemptive suffering.  "Why does God allow bad things to happen?"  is one of those questions that I think takes wisdom to answer-  a foundation of Catholic teaching accompanied by the experience both of grace and of suffering, and the ability to recognize truth.  I suspect that the answer to that question is so profound that no one can properly summarize it, but you have to be immersed in it.

But I do think, despite my own lack of wisdom, that I have some insights based on Church teachings and a solid grasp of scripture.  My intention is to write a series of blog entries which explore these deep questions based on that foundation, and outlines the foundation in a way that anyone can understand.  This may take time.

Meanwhile, let me conclude by saying that when you ask a question and the answer to the question is unsatisfying, do no assume that the framework of Catholicism must therefore be faulty. Rather consider the evidence for Catholicism, and use it as the foundation to begin exploring the truly deep questions.