"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Today’s Gospel is one of those unforgettable parables—that of the rich man and Lazerus—that convicts.  It convicted me from the first time I read it, and it continues to every time I read it.  Is it because I identify with the rich man?  What exactly is his sin?  Sure luxury and gluttony, but neither are listed in the Ten Commandments.  However, luxury and gluttony lead to the obliviousness and callousness of the rich man to the pitiful poor man.  But there is so much more to the parable than showing the just deserts of heaven.  The Kingdom of God is the paradoxical inversion of the earthly world.  There is also the lesson Father Abraham, a stand in for God, delivers: no sign from heaven will ever be good enough for those without faith.

 

Jesus said to the Pharisees:

"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen

and dined sumptuously each day.

And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps

that fell from the rich man's table.

Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.

When the poor man died,

he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried,

and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,

he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off

and Lazarus at his side.

And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me.

Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,

for I am suffering torment in these flames.'

Abraham replied,

'My child, remember that you received

what was good during your lifetime

while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;

but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.

Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established

to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go

from our side to yours or from your side to ours.'

He said, 'Then I beg you, father,

send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers,

so that he may warn them,

lest they too come to this place of torment.'

But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets.

Let them listen to them.'

He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham,

but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,

neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"

Lk 16:19-31

 

As well as I thought I knew this parable, this Franciscan friar—Fr. Joseph Mary from the Capuchin Friars on a vlog called A Simple Word—points out even more than I realized.

 

The parable is addressed to the Pharisees!  How could I miss that?  And perhaps even more importantly, the rich man has no name while Lazarus does.  How rich is that!

Friday, September 23, 2022

Notable Quote: The Most Important by Meister Eckhart

“The most important hour is always the present one; always the most important person is who is facing you; always the most important deed is love."

-Meister Eckhart

MeisterEckhart was not a saint but a wonderful German mystic and theologian. He was accused of heresy during his lifetime and just when he was on his way to Avignon—it was during the Papal relocation from Rome to Avignon—to defend his writings and preaching, he died. So the accusations stuck for some seven centuries until Pope John Paul II cleared his name. I only know a little of Meister Eckhart’s writings, but the little I know seem quite profound. He was a Dominican friar by the way, which is why I know a little about him. He was at the forefront of what became the German mystics of the fourteenth century, who called themselves the Friends of God.  



Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Sunday Meditation: The Unjust Stewart

I know, it’s not Sunday.  It’s Wednesday.  Were you as confused about this past Sunday’s Gospel reading as I was?  Normally if I miss posting a “Sunday Meditation” I usually let it go for the week.  But I had to come back to the Parable of the Unjust Stewart.  I guess I have never understood this parable before because I didn’t understand it now.  Not just not understand it, but completely baffled by it.  So I had to turn to Brant Pitre for an explanation, and you will see he does not disappoint.  It was so enlightening I thought everyone should understand it, and so I posted this “Wednesday” meditation! 

 


First the Gospel reading, but only the parable first.

 

Jesus said to his disciples,

"A rich man had a steward

who was reported to him for squandering his property.

He summoned him and said,

'What is this I hear about you?

Prepare a full account of your stewardship,

because you can no longer be my steward.'

The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do,

now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?

I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.

I know what I shall do so that,

when I am removed from the stewardship,

they may welcome me into their homes.'

He called in his master's debtors one by one.

To the first he said,

'How much do you owe my master?'

He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.'

He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note.

Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.'

Then to another the steward said, 'And you, how much do you owe?'

He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.'

The steward said to him, 'Here is your promissory note;

write one for eighty.'

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

"For the children of this world

are more prudent in dealing with their own generation

than are the children of light.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,

so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Lk 16:1-9

 

So the steward is fired for being a lousy steward, then cheating his master to ingratiate himself with others, and yet the master commends him?  To add to the confusion, Jesus then goes into a series of wise sayings without any transition from the parable.  Here is how this passage ends.

 

“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters

is also trustworthy in great ones;

and the person who is dishonest in very small matters

is also dishonest in great ones.

If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,

who will trust you with true wealth?

If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,

who will give you what is yours?

No servant can serve two masters.

He will either hate one and love the other,

or be devoted to one and despise the other.

You cannot serve both God and mammon."

        Lk 16:10-13

These sayings, on the issues of trustworthiness and money, seem to be directed at the steward.  But the steward is neither trustworthy nor ascetic with money.  He seems to be a disciple of mammon. So why is the steward commended?  At this point, I needed help, and who best than Dr. Pitre.

 


Get that?  You are to pay off spiritual debts—sins—with the Lord’s money, so that those you whose debts you pay off will welcome you into eternal happiness. 

Interesting.  In a way it sounds a lot like works righteousness, only Jesus is not so much referring to works that you are storing up but to some sort of spiritual currency.  The bitcoin of heaven!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by Cardinal John Henry Newman, Post 2

This is the second post in a series of St. John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua.  You can find Post #1 here. 


 

Chapter 1. History of My Religious Opinions to the Year 1833

Summary

Newman divides his chapters by religious opinions to a certain age.  In 1833 Newman would have been 32 years old, and he takes us through his adultescence, his university years, his ordination of Anglican clergyman, his assignment as parish vicar, and finally in 1833 a fateful trip on the Mediterranean where he spent time in the city of Rome.  Newman mentions a number of people who were either influential to his development or important in his career.  I won’t list them all but these I think were the most important: Thomas Scott, a historian, Joseph Milner, a Church historian, Dr. Whatley, professor at Oxford and future Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Hawkins, vicar at St. Mary’s and a curate at Oxford, John Keble, a fellow professor (I think) at Oxford and perhaps his best friend at the time, Hurrell Foude, a student at Oxford and someone who had a great admiration for the Church of Rome.  In 1832 Newman took a trip to the Mediterranean with Froude where he encountered a number of Catholic devotions and practices.

###

There were lots of good sections in this first chapter, and I won’t be able to highlight them all.  Let me try to get the most important.

I found his initial religious conversion to be very important.

 

When I was fifteen, (in the autumn of 1816,) a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influences of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through God's mercy, have never been effaced or obscured. Above and beyond the conversations and sermons of the excellent man, long dead, the Rev. Walter Mayers, of Pembroke College, Oxford, who was the human means of this beginning of divine faith in me, was the effect of the books which he put into my hands, all of the school of Calvin. One of the first books I read was a work of Romaine's; I neither recollect the title nor the contents, except one doctrine, which of course I do not include among those which I believe to have come from a divine source, viz. the doctrine of final perseverance. I received it at once, and believed that the inward conversion of which I was conscious, (and of which I still am more certain than that I have hands and feet,) would last into the next life, and that I was elected to eternal glory. I have no consciousness that this belief had any tendency whatever to lead me to be careless about pleasing God. I retained it till the age of twenty-one, when it gradually faded away; but I believe that it had some influence on my opinions, in the direction of those childish imaginations which I have already mentioned, viz. in isolating me from the objects which surrounded me, in confirming me in my mistrust of the reality of material phenomena, and making me rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator;—for while I considered myself predestined to salvation, my mind did not dwell upon others, as fancying them simply passed over, not predestined to eternal death. I only thought of the mercy to myself.

In this one paragraph he takes us from fifteen years old to twenty-one, which are rather critical years in the formation of a person.  It is interesting he had his religious experience at the age of fifteen, which I cannot relate to.  At fifteen I had no inclination for religion.  My “religious experience” would happen in my forties.  Was it a different time, or was Newman differently inclined?  Well, he was definitely differently inclined than me, but there are today lots of adolescents and young men who are inclined to the religious life.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have priests.  But it was a different age as well.  The 19th century saw a resurgence of faith after the decline and persecution of the Enlightenment.  In many ways it paralleled the Romantic era.  Just think of William Wordsworth and how religious he became as he grew older.  I’m thinking that faith was in the air, and a bright, intellectually inclined young man would absorb it. 

What is most interesting in that quoted paragraph is that Newman’s conversion was of a Calvinist for of Protestantism.  This was not the form of Protestantism of his parents.  Newman doesn’t exactly tell us what form of Christianity were his parents, but the Vélez biography I quoted in the Introduction states that Newman had been brought up in a “conventional Anglican family that attended Sunday services in church and held morning and evening prayers at home” (p. 11).  Now I would imagine that in 1816 or prior “conventional Anglicanism” was not High Church Anglo Catholic, but I would be pretty sure it wasn’t Low Church Evangelical.  It probably had many of the attributes of Catholicism since Newman mentions his dependence on angels and crossing himself.  The sending off of children to boarding schools—which English families of means seemed to do—can create a divergence in cultural foundations between the generations.  Here we see that Newman until the age of twenty-one had adhered to an Evangelical Calvinism, of which pre-destination and God’s control of everything is paramount. 

I remember when Newman was canonized and I brought it up on a discussion board that he had been a convert to Catholicism.  A number of Evangelical Protestants didn’t think much of it given that many are now used to Anglicans converting to Catholicism.  So I looked it up back then to find he had started out as an Evangelical.  I pointed it out and was an interesting observation for them. 

###

Kerstin Commented:

I found it fascinating that from an early age on he was interested in matters of faith and the church. Few teenagers read church histories voluntarily. 

Also, he had a very keen sense of the material and immaterial. And then the realization at the age of 15 that he would live a single/celibate life. This is astounding. He was set apart from the beginning.

Christine in Bo/Mass Commented:

I hate to admit it b/c I know there is gold in this book, however it is really difficult to get into. It reads like a journal, a more of a personal record than something written for someone to internalize. Additionally all his influencers are exclusively male. Can that be? I will have to double back to check if he mentions Our Mother.

 

Finding "home" at the Newman Society in college I read on mining for the gold I am sure is there somewhere.

My Reply to Christine:

Oh Christine, he was big on the Blessed Mother but it may be when he was a Catholic convert or close to it. He's got sermons on the Marian dogmas.

 

Now as to women in his life, he was a bachelor, a priest, and a cardinal and I think the sexes didn't mix as much in Victorian times. I don't think he would have had as much interaction with women as we might think coming from today's world. He does mention his mother in that first chapter.

###

Newman throughout  Chapter 1 lays down markers of Catholic doctrine that may not have been influential in this early period but would I think come to bear upon his conversion in the future.  We see him talk about the difference in justification between Calvinism and Catholicism.  We also see how Dr. Hawkins introduced him to the importance of tradition in carrying the faith. 

 

There is one other principle, which I gained from Dr. Hawkins, more directly bearing upon Catholicism, than any that I have mentioned; and that is the doctrine of Tradition. When I was an Undergraduate, I heard him preach in the University Pulpit his celebrated sermon on the subject, and recollect how long it appeared to me, though he was at that time a very striking preacher; but, when I read it and studied it as his gift, it made a most serious impression upon me. He does not go one step, I think, beyond the high Anglican doctrine, nay he does not reach it; but he does his work thoroughly, and his view was in him original, and his subject was a novel one at the time. He lays down a proposition, self-evident as soon as stated, to those who have at all examined the structure of Scripture, viz. that the sacred text was never intended to teach doctrine, but only to prove it, and that, if we would learn doctrine, we must have recourse to the formularies of the Church; for instance to the Catechism, and to the Creeds. He considers, that, after learning from them the doctrines of Christianity, the inquirer must verify them by Scripture.

What is interesting in what he says here is that one cannot develop doctrine from scripture alone but that doctrine came from the tradition of the apostles and was proven in scripture.  And this makes a lot of sense.  The Gospels are not a manual.  They tell a story of events and sayings, but they do not put forth complete doctrine.  You can “prove” lots of things by looking at a text, including contradictory things.  The doctrine comes first, put out by the apostles and early church fathers, and then you go back to the story and show how to interpret the events in light of the doctrine.  The tradition, in effect, shapes our understanding of the scriptures.  I hope that makes sense.  Pope Benedict XVI I believe has made the same observation.

###

One more highlight of Chapter 1.  Toward 1827 Newman read a Christian Year by John Keble which apparently had great influence on his thought.  He states that there were “two main intellectual truths which it brought home.”

 

The first of these was what may be called, in a large sense of the word, the Sacramental system; that is, the doctrine that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen,—a doctrine, which embraces in its fulness, not only what Anglicans, as well as Catholics, believe about Sacraments properly so called; but also the article of "the Communion of Saints;" and likewise the Mysteries of the faith. The connexion of this philosophy of religion with what is sometimes called "Berkeleyism" has been mentioned above; I knew little of Berkeley at this time except by name; nor have I ever studied him.

As you can see, Newman is clearly moving toward High Anglicanism here.  The notion of sacraments as being material types of things unseen is exactly the Catholic understanding of the sacraments.  As to the second principle, as I understand it, it rejects the notion that we come to belief not through a judgment of the “probability” of facts, which can lead to skepticism, but through faith and love.

 

I considered that Mr. Keble met this difficulty by ascribing the firmness of assent which we give to religious doctrine, not to the probabilities which introduced it, but to the living power of faith and love which accepted it. In matters of religion, he seemed to say, it is not merely probability which makes us intellectually certain, but probability as it is put to account by faith and love. It is faith and love which give to probability a force which it has not in itself. Faith and love are directed towards an Object; in the vision of that Object they live; it is that Object, received in faith and love, which renders it reasonable to take probability as sufficient for internal conviction. Thus the argument from Probability, in the matter of religion, became an argument from Personality, which in fact is one form of the argument from Authority.

Hopefully I captured that correctly.  I’m not sure if this is a more Catholic notion but there is a strain of Protestantism that is much more utilitarian and of the physical world.  The very notion of the Eucharist being the true body of Christ defies the immediate common sense and relies on personal faith in something beyond the senses.  I think this is what Newman is alluding to here.

If I am correct on the understanding of the second principle, then both principles point to a continuity between the physical world and the spiritual, which is I believe one of the main differences between Catholics and Protestants.  Protestants I think have a much sharper division—even a barrier—between the physical and spiritual that sometimes it seems they tend toward the gnostic.

###

I posted this quote as a “Notable Quote,”  but it should be included in the book blog posts as well. 

This quote comes from the very first chapter, which details his beliefs and works up to the age of thirty-two.  The context of the quote is while speaking of a particular mentor of his at Oxford, a Dr. Hawkins.  Most certainly an Anglican, Dr. Hawkins had a very High Church theology.  He impressed this understanding upon the young Newman.

 

 “The sacred text was never intended to teach doctrine, but only to prove it, and that, if we would learn doctrine, we must have recourse to the formularies of the Church.”

 

Now you can see how this understanding of scripture would be an undermining of Protestant rudiments.  Certainly with this understanding, the Bible could not stand alone, and obviously you would need a “Church” to instruct you on the doctrine. 

Newman places himself under Dr. Hawkins between the years 1822 to 1825, which would span his twenty-first to twenty-fourth years.  He would convert to Roman Catholicism in 1845 at the age of forty-four, some twenty years later.



Friday, September 16, 2022

Faith Filled Friday: Does God Change His Mind?

This is a question I have had for the longest time.  Do our prayers change God’s mind over His intended actions?  If God does change His mind based on our importuning, then how do His plans all fit together?  It would seem there would be a lot of random events that get altered because we were persuasive and others weren’t.  We came across this on this first reading of this past Sunday’s lectionary.

The LORD said to Moses,

"Go down at once to your people,

whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,

for they have become depraved.

They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,

making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,

sacrificing to it and crying out,

'This is your God, O Israel,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'

"I see how stiff-necked this people is, " continued the LORD to Moses.

Let me alone, then,

that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.

Then I will make of you a great nation."

 

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,

"Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,

whom you brought out of the land of Egypt

with such great power and with so strong a hand?

Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,

and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,

'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;

and all this land that I promised,

I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.'"

So the LORD relented in the punishment

he had threatened to inflict on his people.

            -Ex:32:7-11, 13-14




So did Moses convince God to alter His plans?  If so, how could God be omniscient?  Wouldn’t He have known Moses was going to come along to present a convincing argument?

I came across this very similar situation in Genesis chapter 18.  Now we know that God ultimately destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, but initially in chapter 18, He is “talked out of it” by Abraham.


20 So the LORD said: The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave,

21 that I must go down to see whether or not their actions are as bad as the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out.

22 As the men turned and walked on toward Sodom, Abraham remained standing before the LORD.

23 Then Abraham drew near and said: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?

24 Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it?

25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike! Far be it from you! Should not the judge of all the world do what is just?”

26 The LORD replied: If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.

27 Abraham spoke up again: “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am only dust and ashes!

28 What if there are five less than fifty righteous people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?” I will not destroy it, he answered, if I find forty-five there.

29 But Abraham persisted, saying, “What if only forty are found there?” He replied: I will refrain from doing it for the sake of the forty.

30 Then he said, “Do not let my Lord be angry if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?” He replied: I will refrain from doing it if I can find thirty there.

31 Abraham went on, “Since I have thus presumed to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?” I will not destroy it, he answered, for the sake of the twenty.

32 But he persisted: “Please, do not let my Lord be angry if I speak up this last time. What if ten are found there?” For the sake of the ten, he replied, I will not destroy it.i

33 The LORD departed as soon as he had finished speaking with Abraham, and Abraham returned home.

            -Gen 18:20-33

How does one explain this changing of God’s mind?  I have always explained it in my mind that God’s mind wasn’t changed but that He was letting His interlocutor present His case so that God could do what He truly intended all along.  God knew the interlocutor was going to appeal, and for some reason He wanted him to do so.  Why?  Because God wanted the interlocutor to pray, and prayer is pleasing to God and beneficial for the soul of the one praying.  That’s how I explained it to myself.

Fr. Samuel Keyes takes this very subject up in a homily he published in Catholic Answers magazine, “Did Moses Change God’s Mind?”  Now Fr. Keyes’s homily addresses and integrates the second reading (1 Tm 1:12-17) and the Gospel reading (Lk 15:1-32) of the 24th Sunday of Year C.  I gave an explanation of the Gospel reading on the most recent “Sunday Meditation.”  I’m going to hold the focus of this post strictly to what Fr. Keyes says about the first reading on God changing His mind.  You can read the excellent homily on your own. 

Now it seems that my understanding of this theological issue is not wrong, but not complete.  First, Fr. Keyes points out that we have to understand God in a Judeo-Christian sense, and not a Greek pagan sense.

 

If we have a primitive understanding of deity and think of God like the ancient Greeks thought of Zeus or the Canaanites thought about their Baals, there’s no problem, because gods are gods due to their immortality or their power, not due to their intrinsic metaphysical distinction from creation. Yet the Jewish scriptures give us a rather different picture of divinity. And so, the statement in Exodus 32 has to be paired with a statement like that of Numbers 23:19, where “God is not a man that he should repent.” On the surface, both verses cannot be true. Either we must interpret the one in the light of the other, or we must declare one to be incorrect—something that as loyal disciples we cannot do.

What makes the Judeo-Christian God different from the Greco pagan gods is that the Greco gods are superhuman versions of man and not transcendent.  They are of this world.  The Jewish God is not anthropomorphic and therefore does not have emotions or compunctions and therefore the need to repent.  Fr. Keyes continues:

 

The second statement, on God’s non-repentance, reflects a growing understanding of God’s nature that we see unfolding not just in ancient Israel but among pagan philosophers like Socrates and Plato. For divinity to mean anything, the divine nature must be something transcendent. Otherwise, he is simply the biggest piece of creation. But Genesis shows God not just as the first thing but as the source of everything that exists, which means that his own existence is categorically different from the existence of all created things. More and more, as time goes on, the prophetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament reflect this understanding.

So God is both transcendent and not anthropomorphic.  So far Fr. Keyes has put theological language around the same thought I had.  Then he gets to the part I had not realized.

 

God’s self-revelation, in other words, happens in stages. As Moses learns in Exodus, a full view of his glory would destroy us. We can only see him from the back, from a distance, in passing. But, as Paul speaks about it in the New Testament, the law was a kind of tutor, training humanity towards a greater capacity not just for virtue but for vision. It is only in Christ, and in the New Testament revelation of the Trinity, that we see revelation in its fullness.

God’s full revelation happens in stages!  Man in the early parts of the Old Testament has not come to theological maturity to understand the fullness of His being, and so God speaks in a manner in which we can understand.  He appears to change His mind to reach down to our level of understanding.  Fr. Keyes then sums up.

 

What does all this mean for God’s “repentance” in Exodus 32? Presumably Moses and the people of Israel do not yet have this full metaphysical understanding of the divine nature. So, the tradition suggests, God allows himself to be known in an adapted anthropomorphic way. God doesn’t change. But God’s will does take into account human will and response.

 

This gets at the heart of the mystery of prayer. God doesn’t change. But part of God’s unchanging will is that his creatures participate and cooperate in his work. He does not change, but we do. And surely part of how we change is just in this learning more and more about the God who reveals himself to us.

So God doesn’t change, but He wants you to keep praying because prayer and relationship with Him is grace.  Just like a father assembling a bicycle with his son wants the son to feel he helped or a mother baking a cake with a daughter wants the daughter to feel she helped, so God wants us to cooperate with Him.  Neither Moses nor Abraham changed God’s mind. This also explains why the nature of God in the Old Testament appears different than that of the New Testament.  

So should you pray to change God’s mind?  Yes, not only does He factor those prayers ahead of time, but He will love the relationship you build with Him.


Praise God.