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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Q: Why would a loving God say he gives you free choice to love him, and then if you did not, send you to a place of eternal torment? I have heard of others who believe that hell is not a place of eternal torment, but rather a spiritual death, a doing away with, or as the second death and perishing forever. That seems more realistic. But, I would like for you to explain to me the logic of the doctrine of eternal torment of hell.
A: Even were I as brilliant a theologian as a St. Thomas Aquinas or a St. Augustine, which I decidedly am not – neither brilliant, nor a theologian - I have a sneaking suspicion that you would not find my answer satisfactory. I say that because it seems to me you are basing your question not on logic, but rather on feelings. Feelings that are perfectly natural, and feelings that I can actually relate to (although my kids would tell you that Dad has no feelings), but feelings, nonetheless.
No one likes the thought of someone suffering, even if just for a little while. The suffering of others, especially of those we love, can be gut wrenching to us. The idea of someone suffering for all of eternity, then, is something that just doesn’t sit well with most of us. It just doesn’t “feel” right. But, we need to recognize that it is just that…a feeling. And when it comes to matters of faith, feelings, no matter how sincere they are, can lead us down the wrong path. Our Catholic Faith is a faith that is built on reason, or logic, and not on emotion, or feelings. Now, we need a faith with emotion, but our faith cannot be built on emotion.
Okay, on to the “logic” of eternal torment in Hell. The logic is really quite simple: God gives you a choice to love Him or to reject Him. If you reject Him, then you have chosen not to be with Him in Heaven. Remember, you have rejected Him, He has not rejected you. You have lived your life with the attitude, “God, my will be done, not Thine,” so God simply allows your will to be done for all of eternity. You wanted to live for yourself in this lifetime, God lets you live for yourself in the next. Hell is simply the farthest place you can be away from the God you have rejected.
And the fact is, if you have rejected God in this lifetime, then after you die, the last place you want to be is face to face with God. Have you ever, for example, lied about someone and they found out about it and you knew that they knew you had lied about them? Who is the last person on earth you want to be around under those circumstances? The person you lied about. You don’t want to be around them. You might spend a lot of time at home because you don’t want to go out and take the chance of them even seeing you. And if you were to see them, it would be a very painful thing for you to endure.
What did Adam and Eve do when they sinned against God? They hid from Him. They did not want to even be seen by Him. They did not want to be in His presence. And when God did see them, what happened? It was an experience that caused them a great deal of pain – pain that they had to endure for the rest of their lives. So, if a soul has rejected God in this lifetime, contrary to what one might think, it would not be a very pleasant thing for that soul to be in Heaven in the presence of God.
Think again about the pain one would experience if they had to be in the presence of someone they had lied about. Now, take that pain, and when it comes to being in the presence of the Living God that one has utterly rejected, multiply that pain by a million to the millionth power, and you’re still not coming close to the pain the soul would feel. That soul has rejected Love itself. That soul has rejected Eternal Goodness. That soul has rejected the very thing that it was created for – to love God. Were the damned to behold the face of God, it would be so painful for them that they would long to be back in Hell.
So, the logic of eternal torment in Hell, is that the soul has freely rejected that for which it was made. As St. Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The soul cannot find rest in God because it has rejected God. That is the essence of the punishment of Hell. It is called the “poena damni,” or pain of loss. The soul cannot be what it was destined to be. The soul has lost itself in itself. And since what the soul has rejected is Eternal Good…Eternal Love…then the soul’s suffering is eternal…without end. That is logical. It may not make us feel good, but it is logical.
But, does it really have to be eternal suffering?
To be continued…
Posted by Rob Moreland at Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Q: Is doctrine really all that important? I don’t like doctrinal discussions - I let others worry with that. I'm not too much on studying facts as much as studying life application. Denominations, with all of their differing doctrines, appear to be man-made to me and it gets hairy when people start to pick apart the Bible and say to live exactly by this or that. We have Old Testament and New. But, now, more importantly, we have the Holy Spirit which guides our hearts into all the truth there is. I liken all the different denominations to the situation of the Israelites in the desert. The 12 tribes lived in different "camps," but they crossed the Jordan as one. The differing doctrines don’t really matter that much.
A: The problem I have with what you’re saying is that Scripture states we are to, “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” (Matt 22:37-38; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). You seem to be saying that you love Him with your heart and soul, but not necessarily with your mind. Or, at the least, you seem to be saying that the “mind” part of the equation is not nearly as important to you as is the “heart” and “soul” part of the equation. What if I said: “I’m not too big on studying how all this stuff actually applies to my life, my strength is in studying doctrine and simply knowing the truth.” Would that take you aback if I’m more concerned with the actual doctrines than with applying the doctrines? If I’m more concerned with the mind part of the command to love God, and not so much with the heart and soul part? Can I simply say, “Well, I’ll let other folks worry about the heart and soul part of loving God?”
The problem, from my point of view, is you seem to be saying that doctrinal questions are merely a secondary matter, if that, as far as you’re concerned. But, my question is: What if you’re receiving bad doctrine from others, and this bad doctrine is part of what you are trying to put into practice? Or, this bad doctrine is keeping you from putting things into practice that you should be putting into practice? Does that matter or not? Should we shuffle doctrinal questions and doctrinal discussion off into the corner and make them a secondary concern?
The real question here is: Does truth matter? Does proper interpretation of the Bible matter? If you misinterpret the Bible, and end up believing a false doctrine, could it cause separation from others and, more importantly, separation from God? Peter tells us that there are folks out there interpreting Scripture in such a way that it is leading to their destruction (2 Pet 3:16). Paul tells us that one can leave the faith by believing false doctrines (1 Tim 4:1). Pretty scary stuff.
Denominations are indeed man-made and your comment about individuals picking apart the Bible is right on target. But, you have a contradiction in your words that I don’t think you realize is there. First you state that it “gets hairy” when people start to “pick apart the Bible,” but then you say we have the Holy Spirit to guide us into all the truth. Don’t the folks who “pick apart the Bible” claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit just as you claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit? If all these people who “pick apart the Bible” are being guided by the Holy Spirit just as you are, then either the Holy Spirit isn’t too concerned about truth or, people may not be being guided by the Holy Spirit like they think they are – maybe even including you.
Regarding the different camps of the Israelites, I have heard that analogy used before to justify different denominations, but what folks seem to forget when they say such things, is that the various tribes of the Israelites did not have doctrinal differences and, just as importantly, they all answered to one leader - Moses. Something to think about.
Thinking about doctrine…discussing doctrine…even arguing doctrine are things that Christians should readily engage in with one another. Why? Because doctrinal differences result in division. If we don’t discuss our differences, and try to at least better understand why the differences exist, how can we ever overcome these divisions?
Doctrinal differences necessarily mean that someone is following Christ, and someone is following a lie. The one who is wrong - whether it’s you or it’s me - is believing a lie, and we know who the father of all lies is, don’t we? In other words, when one believes in a false doctrine, he is believing Satan instead of Christ. Could that affect one’s salvation? Could that affect one’s relationship to his fellow man? I believe it can, and the Bible supports me on that. Doctrine is important, because truth is important, because Jesus Christ is the Truth.
So, don’t simply dismiss doctrinal disputes as not being your cup of tea, and so you’re not going to be bothered with them. Consider the arguments, research the claims, and be open to where the truth leads. That is all I ever ask of anyone.
“The Church’s mission is not an addition to that of Christ and the Holy Spirit, but is its sacrament: in her whole being and in all her members, the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity.” -CCC #738
The whole notion that I can love spirituality but not religion really makes no sense to us as Catholics. Jesus left his Spirit with the group of followers. When he did they became the Church, the Body of Christ. This Body of Christ is vivified by the Holy Spirit and speaks with divine authority because of that. This Spirit not only vivifies the Church as a whole, he also is poured into my heart. It is the Spirit who teaches us how to pray (Romans 8:26) and teaches us what to say to witness to the Gospel (Matthew 10:20). It is the Holy Spirit who brings the many varied gifts to the hearts of us believers. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?...Do all speak in tongues?” (1 Corinthians 12:28-31)
The Holy Spirit does not bring the same gift to each person, but the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all. That gift will manifest itself in each person differently FOR THE GOOD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH. The gifts given are not given for us individually, but are given to build up the Body of Christ. Some of us teach, some of us are administrators, some of us heal, and some of us speak in tongues. When one of these gifts is manifested it is meant to build up the Church.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
“The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection.” -CCC # 737
On the Feast of Pentecost (which was/is a Jewish feast seven weeks after the Passover) Christ fulfilled the promise he made to send us the Advocate. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of Christ’s Passover. Jesus came to forgive our sins and to fully reveal the Blessed Trinity. In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the revelation of the Trinity is seen in its completed form. The Holy Spirit, which comes upon the Apostles and brings the Church to life is the “first fruits “ of our promised inheritance. The power of the Holy Spirit is what enables the Church, through the ministry of the priest, to exercise the power of forgiveness of sins (Jesus breathing on them in John 20 can be seen as an imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit since breath was synonymous with spirit for the Jews).
The Spirit and Jesus have the same mission; namely to bring all of us to the Father. They each have a distinct role to play in that mission.
The Spirit and Jesus have the same mission; namely to bring all of us to the Father. They each have a distinct role to play in that mission.
Each member of the Trinity seeks to give themselves away in love. They each seek to give and not to take. They each are solicitous to lead us to the others. We experience some of this when we meet a new friend and wish to share them with others. We so often want to introduce one of our friends to another friend of ours. This desire is like the desire of each member of the Trinity to bring each of us to their beloved.
“When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him.” -CCC #689
“It was the Holy Spirit who called Jesus to life in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Mt 1:18), endorsed him as God’s beloved son (Lk 4:16-19), guided him (Mk 1:12) and enlivened him to the end (Jn 19:30). On the Cross, Jesus breathed out his Spirit. After his Resurrection, he bestowed the Holy Spirit on his disciples (Jn 20:22). At that the Spirit of Jesus went over to his Church: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’ (Jn 20:21).” -YouCat #114
The mission of the Son is in fact a joint mission with the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals the Spirit, but only slowly throughout his ministry. Only after he is glorified through his Death and Resurrection does he fully reveal the gift that is the Holy Spirit. The Son and the Spirit are in fact distinct persons, but they do share the mission of revealing the Father to the world.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us how to pray (see Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit is also promised to us in times of persecution or other times when we are called to witness as disciples of Jesus Christ (Lk 12:12). We should be very sure that we are living in the Holy Spirit if we have been baptized. Tomorrow, we will look at the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it is important to note that not everybody manifests the gifts of the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Since the earliest days of the church, the disciples of Jesus have evangelized. In every era, the methods for sharing God’s love have adapted to the cultures and styles of the day. I’m sure the saints of the Middle Ages never dreamed of blogs, twitter or youtube, all great evangelization tools in our modern era.
Still, there is one method that has held up over all these centuries: stories, in particular, personal stories about how God has impacted one’s life.
Think about St. Paul and his story of persecuting the early believers and then meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. That story is told three times in Acts (9:1-9; 22:3-16; 26:2-18) and then again in Galatians 1:11-24. You get the impression that Paul began every talk with his personal testimony.
We know the stories of St. Peter and his denial of Jesus, St. Thomas’ doubting ways, St. Francis’ stripping himself naked in the Assisi town square. All great testimonies.
So what is your story and are you ready to share it if God opens the door for you to evangelize? In 1 Peter 3:15, it says: "Always be ready to offer an explanation for the hope that is within you."
Your story doesn’t have to say it all. You are simply explaining the hope that is within you, as St. Peter said.
Here’s my story.
I grew up Catholic. Never worked at it. I thought Mass was boring and irrelevant. When I was confirmed in 8th grade, I thought I graduated from Church and ceased practicing my faith in any tangible way.
Filling out my college applications years later, I had nothing for the section entitled "Town and Civic Activities (i.e. Church etc.)." Since I desperately needed a big scholarship in order to attend school, I decided to take a little creative license in order to make up for this glaring deficiency in my application. Yes, I lied.
My father was an usher at our parish so I put down I was too since he was related to me. I was an altar server for a week when I was 6, so I figured that should count for something. Then, even though I didn’t even attend Mass, I wrote that I was the youth group leader because my sister, who was also related to me, was in the youth group.
Days after sending those fraudulent applications, a coworker of mine at the local supermarket invited me to a youth group retreat. I immediately accepted with the intention of learning what I needed to know to BS my way through a college interview.
On that retreat, I encountered over 100 young people who were unlike anyone I had ever met. They acted differently, talked differently and most of all, openly shared their love for Christ. At first, I was freaked out. Who were these religious fanatics, I thought. But in time, I could see the authenticity of their faith.
Midway through the retreat, a teenage girl read the Footprints in the Sand story as a part of her talk. I expected the conclusion to say something like this: "Come on buddy, you know how all this works. You probably don’t pray, just like I don’t. You probably don’t go to Mass, just like me. You probably do a lot of things you know you shouldn’t, just like I do. Face it, you are not going to see two set of footprints in your life until you clean up your act." I was confident I was right. After all, I had learned in 1st grade CCD that God loved good people.
So you can imagine my surprise when the girl read the final line and it said: "My precious, precious child. I love you and I would never leave you. During those times of trials and sufferings when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
The Lord was speaking to me. For years I had ignored Him and treated Him as if He were irrelevant. Now He was telling me that He had been carrying me all this time.
I stared at the cross behind the speaker and spoke this prayer: "Jesus, if that is true what that girl just read on that card, make it true for me. Make it true in my life."
In that moment, surrounded by 100 teenagers, I experienced the most profound sense of the Lord’s presence. It was as if Christ was hugging me and saying: "it is all true. I have never stopped loving you all these years." I was so overwhelmed. I began to cry, but not because I felt bad but rather because the experience was so incredibly wonderful.
Twenty six years have passed since that first retreat weekend and my ride with the Lord only gets better and better. Sure there is still suffering and sacrifice. But I know in whom I have placed my hope and I know I can trust Him with my life.
Posted by Rob Moreland at Tuesday, May 15, 2012