Sunday, August 16, 2009

This week, I am starting a Masters in Pastoral Theology program at Ave Maria University. I will be spending every fourth weekend in class from now until May. It will take three years to complete. Why am I doing this? Heaven knows. I feel called to do this. I feel this is the best and highest thing I can do to serve my Lord at this time in my life.

There are many reasons I am doubting my sanity for doing this. I feel somewhat overwhelmed at how much work is involved. Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? I've been out of college since 1975. I have never taken formal theology classes at the university level before. I've never studied while working full time before. I can't think of a really good use for what I will study. It's expensive. Yet I have been resisting the call to do this for five years. I keep hearing the call, so how can I say no? My excuses are weak compared to my desire to follow God's will in my life. He keeps telling me to trust him. He will help me. He will explain later. Who am I to argue with that?

I pray that the Holy Spirit will fill me with wisdom as he did Mary, so that the Word of God will grow within me. May I have the courage to say, "Nothing is impossible with God. Do whatever he tells you. Not my will, but yours be done."
My letter to Speaker Pelosi:
I am firmly opposed to the nationalization of the health insurance industry. I thought nationalization of industries was something that only happen in third world socialistic and communistic countries. I have always thought I lived in a capitalistic economy until the current administration came to power. Who gives Congress the right to wipe out the health insurance industry and replace it with enforced coercive take over of both the auto industry and now the insurance industry. You do not represent the people of this country if you do not listen and respond to the wishes of the people. Do not cram this terrible legislation down our throats.
Another reason I am opposed to this health care legislation is that it would force taxpayer to pay for abortions and force health care professionals to participate in abortions regardless of their consciences.

May I remind you of the Declaration on Religious Freedom Second Vatican Council, which says in paragraph 2, "This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.(2) This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right."

If you claim to be a Catholic, then I ask you to respect the religious freedom of American citizens and not turn this nation into a repressive dictatorship. Stop this health insurance industry legislation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As White House Readies Abortion Plan, Packaging Emerges as Major Issue
Abortion Article in

June 29, 2009
By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

As the White House readies its plan for finding "common ground" on reproductive health issues and reducing the need for abortion, a major debate has emerged over how to package the plan's two major components: preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion.

One of the comments to this article was from Hopeful of FL
"I am at a loss. Please explain to me the "right to life" movements displeasure with contraception and education.

Also, pro choice doesn't mean pro abortion. No body wants abortions. The pro choice side just wants to stop them in with all the tool in the tool box. The pro life side wants to stop them through prayer and abstinence, which if we were honest, both sides know doesn't work."

My comments:

To Hopeful of FL: The explaination of why artificial contraception is sinful is a big topic. If you want to know, read the book, Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West. In addition to the reasons given in the book, artificial contraception also fails to prevent the emotional damage of fornication and adultery, fails to prevent the spread of STDs, and destabilizes marriages. The pro-choicers say it is OK to murder an unborn baby. A bill to reduce the number of abortions? How long will that take and how many babies will die in the meantime?

I am part of a group who are working on starting a homeless shelter for pregnant women in Illinois, near St. Louis. We are having a hard time getting zoning approval from neighbors who are yelling, "Not in my back yard." And getting any government funding for building it is non-existant. I would welcome the Pregnant Women Support Act. Give women a real choice -- the choice to bring their baby into this world.

The article is at

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Problem of Evil

I have never thought about how the doctrines of original sin and free will are related and what the implications of these doctrines are.

As Catholics, we believe that pain, suffering and death entered the world (Genesis 3) because of the sin of Adam and Eve. We inherited a weakened body that is vulnerable, where before the fall of Adam, God created us "very good" as Genesis 1 tells us. St. Ambrose said that God allows us to die to limit the amount of suffering we have to endure in this world. Death, then, is a loving method of reuniting ourselves to God eternally. Therefore, pain, suffering and death are part of the human condition.

The Old Testament paints God as wrathful; and always smiting people for their disobedience. How can God be both loving, merciful, kind and yet be punishing? That is a contradiction. Without the doctrines of original sin and free will, we would have to believe that suffering is inflicted by a vindictive God as punishment for sin. In Catholic theology, punishment for sin is the loss of grace that helps us to grow in virtue, and if serious and unrepented, will result in the loss of salvation. In this way, mortal sin is a far greater punishment than temporary physical sickness. On the other hand, God is patient and usually gives us a lot of time to repent. Hopefully, the loss of God's friendship leads to conversion.

Because I love my children, I discipline them with natural consequences, such as grounding them from being with friends and watching TV. My children see me as a cruel and vindictive. That would be true if I abused them physically, but I am merely taking away a privilege. They don't understand that I am trying to teach them to do the right thing out of love for them. They don't see the big picture. I hope they will see it when they become parents.

It is their free will that has resulted in the consequences. By choosing to disobey, they are choosing the punishment. It is the same way when we sin. We choose to disobey God, so we deserve to lose God's grace. Sinners may think God is mean and vengeful, but that is a failure to take responsibility for their choices.

Sin does often have physical side effects. Sexual sins may result in sexually transmitted diseases. A drinking binge causes brain cells to die and, if it becomes a habit, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. These sins may also have an emotional consequence of a wrecked relationship. However, these illnesses and pain are not inflicted by God for punishing the sin. They are a result of free will.

In Catholic theology, Original sin deprived us of grace and weakened us, but did not make us totally depraved. We have the freedom to do evil or the freedom to chose good. The benefit of obedience to God is that we grow in holiness and friendship with Him. We enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. We are members of God's family and so we receive an inheritance of eternal life which is a free gift. Sirach 15:11-20 supports the doctrine of free will. "Say not: "It was God's doing that I fell away"; for what he hates he does not do. Say not: "It was he who set me astray"; for he has no need of wicked man. Abominable wickedness the Lord hates, he does not let it befall those who fear him. When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice. If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will. There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing. The eyes of God see all he has made; he understands man's every deed. No man does he command to sin, to none does he give strength for lies."

If instead we believed that we are incapable of doing anything but sin, it would be indeed a cruel God for punishing us when we can't do anything good. That would be like a father that beats his developmentally disabled son for disobeying him in not doing his trigonometry homework. That is not my idea of a good, loving father. I could not praise a God that treated us that way.

Does God punish us for sin by inflicting sickness? In Job 1:12, God told Satan "do not lay a hand upon his person." Satan disobeys God. Job 2:7 says, "So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head."

The last chapter of the book of Job also gives us a clue about suffering. Job 42:7-8 says, "And it came to pass after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and with your two friends; for you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job. Now, therefore, take seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up a holocaust for yourselves; and let my servant Job pray for you; for his prayer I will accept, not to punish you severely. For you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job." If you remember, Eliphaz and two other of Job's friends had told Job that he must have sinned or God would not have caused the loss of his family and property. So the Lord tells Job's friends that they were not telling the truth; that is, suffering in this world is not necessarily a punishment for sin. The just man will also suffer. The Lord does not owe us an explanation. In humility, we trust that sometimes God allows us to suffer when something really good can come from it. In the end of Job, God restores everything to Job. Job has set a good example to others of faithfulness and has learned humility. Job 42:10 "the Lord restored the prosperity of Job, after he had prayed for his friends; the Lord even gave to Job twice as much as he had before." God knew a good result would come from this test. Even if Job had not been blessed by return of his fortune, in Job 19:25-26 it says Job had faith that all would be made just in the next life. "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God," He would not suffer forever.

Another aspect of suffering is that it can become a way of teaching us what we can't learn otherwise. Instead of asking, "Why me?" and wallowing in self-pity, perhaps we need to ask "Why not me?" Though we can't totally avoid suffering, when it comes to us, we can try to get something good out of it. Perhaps we can learn to be more grateful for what is still good in our lives. Perhaps we can be more empathic to those who are suffering in the same way as we are. Perhaps we can grow in the virtue of patience. Perhaps, like the Prodigal Son, it leads to repentance. If there can be good effects from suffering, we should ask "Who among us is so good that we can't gain something from a little pain?" Some saints practiced fasting for this reason. God is so good to us, but we tend to forget that he treats us better than we deserve. We frequently react with self-pity.

Self-pity in the face of suffering increases our pain. In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that we are not alone in our suffering. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you." The Catechism, no. 164, says, "Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice, and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it" . God provided a remedy for self-pity. Col 1:24 says, "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." While some believe that nothing is lacking in Christ's suffering, this verse says otherwise. We can offer our sufferings in union with the sufferings of Christ for the redemption of others. We can bear our sufferings patiently while offering them to God for the benefit of others. Catholics have a term for this called redemptive suffering. The suffering of Christ gives meaning to our suffering.

Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Salvifici Doloris, "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering" agrees with this. This encyclical also says that while we have revelation about why mankind suffers, the reason a particular individual suffers is a mystery. In the same way, each individual will react differently. The challenge of suffering is to react in a faithful, hopeful, and loving way. That requires grace, so let us ask for the Lord's help daily to carry our cross.

Does God Cause Evil?

It is important to begin by defining what we mean by evil if we are going to understand it.

Whether something is evil depends on the nature of the one who experiences it. If a human was born without eyes, we might think that is evil because it is the nature of humans to have eyes. If a stone does not have eyes, we do not think that is evil because sight is not the nature of a stone.

When God created Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:27,31 says, "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them... God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." The nature of humans changed after Adam and Eve sinned. As Genesis 2:17-19 says, "To the man [Adam] he [God] said: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, "Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return." After the fall, humans inherited a weakened, vulnerable body.

If sickness, pain and death became part of our human nature because of the fall, then it is not evil if we lose our health. It is to be expected. If we never had sickness, pain and death, it would be abnormal. It would be as strange as a chair having eyes. Sickness is an absence of health, not the act of a vindictive God.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, evil is also not a thing, but instead it is an absence of good. Since it is not a thing, it cannot be created. An analogy to this is a shadow. No one can create a shadow, because it is an absence of light. One can cast a shadow by blocking a light, but it is not a thing.

Things cannot, of themselves, be evil. God can make a tree that has the ability to oxidize and thus burn. But God does not light the fire. The fire can be either a good thing or a harmful thing, depending on how it is used. Fire can heat us on a cold day or cook our food. It can also burn down a building and kill people. So it is not the fire itself that is evil. What can be evil is the reason, or the will, of the person who starts the fire. The US Court system recognizes this intention as a factor in whether something is a crime or an accident. A person that is insane, severely mentally retarded, or acting in self-defense is treated differently than one who commits a premeditated act. A person who burns a building may be doing a good thing if it is a storage facility for the enemy’s weapons, because that would protect others.

The story of Adam and Eve shows that God created humans with free will. We can choose to do good or we can sin. We can obey or disobey God. For a sin to be mortal, it must be grave matter, we must be capable of knowing and know it is a grave matter, and of our free will decide to do it anyway. It is the nature of humans to go either way.

Can God do evil?

We can observe from experience that some things are better than others. There is a continuum that ranges from an absence of good, to better, to best, the ultimate goodness. As humans, we neither have an absence of good or ultimate goodness, since we are capable of sin.

If we define the nature of God as having the ultimate goodness, then it is not possible for God to will evil. Why? Doing evil would cause an absence of goodness. To use an analogy, if I put ice in a pot of boiling water, it would not be boiling water until it again reached the temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. With the absence of heat, it would lose its boiling nature. It would not be at the ultimately highest temperature that water can be. In the same way, if you mix a will to do evil with the ultimate goodness of God, God would lose his ultimate goodness and, therefore, would not be God. The nature of this being would be the same as humans.

Is evil, then, caused by God lacking the power to stop it? There are some things God can't do. He can't make a square circle. We have to trust that God made us according to his loving plan. He gave us free will, because we would be like puppets if we did not have it. He can't make us have both free will and not able to choose to do evil. Also, he could not let the sin of Adam and Eve go unpunished, because God is totally just. Despite our sinful choices, God makes it possible to turn evil to good. We do this by uniting our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ for the redemption of the world.

It is not evil for God to remove his grace from us when we sin. He warned us what would happen if we die in unrepented mortal sin. He is merely giving us what he promised he would. God wills the salvation of all. He gives us all the grace we need to be holy. By our Baptism, we are given an inheritance of eternal life. We don't have to earn it, because it is a free gift. Yet we can choose to lose it through serious sin. Ultimately, the responsibility for obeying God is ours.

To summarize, evil:

  • depends on nature,
  • it is not a thing,
  • it cannot be created,
  • is caused by our free will to sin
  • is not the will of God, so therefore, God cannot cause evil.
  • God does not cause sickness, pain or death.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Obama Signs Order Lifting Restrictions on Stem Cell Research Funding
Supporters say it will open up a broad front of research to find better treatments for ailments from diabetes to Parkinson's disease; opponents saying destroying embryos for research is morally wrong.

What this article fails to say is that embryonic stem cell research has found zero cures so far, so it is wasting taxpayer lives and wasting taxpayer dollars. If it were so promising, there would be a ton of private funding. Also, it neglects to say that adult stem cells can now be made as flexible (Pluripotent) as embryonic stem cells. See for a list of the 73 cures using adult stem cells.
This leads me to suspect that its real purpose of embryonic stem cell research is to keep abortion legal. The logic behind it is that if embryos are no more valuable than any other cell, then how can abortion be morally wrong? embryonic stem cell research treats these cells as property in the same way that slaves were thought of as property. How can an African-American president allow anyone to be treated like a slave?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Comments on the Inaugeration of Obama

In St. Augustine's City of God, Chapter 1, Augustine refers to the sacking of the city of Rome by the West-Gothic King Alaric in 410 AD. He was the most humane of the barbaric invaders and conquerors of Rome, and had embraced Arian Christianity. Augustine asks a question, "Are not those very Romans, who were spared by the barbarians through their respect for Christ, become enemies to the name of Christ? " He asks this because the invaders spared those who went inside churches. The Catholic churches were a sanctuary from harm.

"Thus escaped multitudes who now reproach the Christian religion, and impute to Christ the ills that have befallen their city; but the preservation of their own life—a boon which they owe to the respect entertained for Christ by the barbarians—they attribute not to our Christ, but to their own good luck. They ought rather, had they any right perceptions, to attribute the severities and hardships inflicted by their enemies, to that divine providence which is wont to reform the depraved manners of men by chastisement, and which exercises with similar afflictions the righteous and praiseworthy,—either translating them, when they have passed through the trial, to a better world, or detaining them still on earth for ulterior purposes. And they ought to attribute it to the spirit of these Christian times, that, contrary to the custom of war, these bloodthirsty barbarians spared them, and spared them for Christ’s sake, whether this mercy was actually shown in promiscuous places, or in those places specially dedicated to Christ’s name, and of which the very largest were selected as sanctuaries, that full scope might thus be given to the expansive compassion which desired that a large multitude might find shelter there."
I see a parallel here with the American economy and issues most dear to the religious right. The way the mainstream media is catastrophizing, you would think the Goths were at our door. Perhaps they are right. Conservatives are joining this chorus of doom and gloom. Are we really on the verge of becoming a socialist nation? If this doesn't happen in the Obama administration, I think we are getting close to the brink. As in any crisis, the fingers are pointing in many directions is typical blame game stuff.

It seems to me, the religious right is blaming the pagan secular humanists, while the irreligious left is blaming the Christians. History is repeating itself. I think we can learn some things from Augustine's defense of Christianity.

"Therefore ought they to give God thanks, and with sincere confession flee for refuge to His name, that so they may escape the punishment of eternal fire—they who with lying lips took upon them this name, that they might escape the punishment of present destruction. For of those whom you see insolently and shamelessly insulting the servants of Christ, there are numbers who would not have escaped that destruction and slaughter had they not pretended that they themselves were Christ’s servants. Yet now, in ungrateful pride and most impious madness, and at the risk of being punished in everlasting darkness, they perversely oppose that name under which they fraudulently protected themselves for the sake of enjoying the light of this brief life."

Leftists are saying that conservatives should gladly subscribe to redistribution of wealth. They say that capitalists are too greedy, and that is the reason for the collapse of the financial institutions. In their book, Christians are homophobic and are holding women back if the pro-lifers restrict abortion. Leftists say defending our country from terrorists through the Patriot Act is dangerous to our freedoms. Totalitarianism is just around the corner. All would be well if not for the Christians telling them what to do.

The financial conservatives accuse the liberals of stealing their paychecks with higher taxes that are being redistributed to welfare recipients. The religious right points the finger at the secular humanists for the decline in morality, high divorce rate, unwed pregnancy, higher STDs, and high rate of abortion. The Right blames this on the ban on public school prayer, the removal of religion from the public square due to the protests of atheists. Armegedon is just around the corner. God will punish our pagan country, so we better shape up.

Who is right? That is something we cannot know for sure now. History will tell us someday. What does seem clear is that catastrophizing is keeping us from the unity we need to deal with the mess our country is in. Pagans blaming Christians, and Christians blaming Pagans will accomplish nothing.

When one points the finger at others, remember three fingers are pointing back toward the accuser.

Instead of despair about the Inaugeration of Obama, Christians need to get to work to make the country a better place, a City of God, in spite of the leftists pagans ignoring how they benefit from the Christian's moral imperative to love one's neighbor. It should be obvious, after numerous bankruptcies, foreclosures, bail outs, the failure of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the fall of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that capitalism is dependent on morality, yet it is not obvious to enough of us. Pagans want morality in business, but free reign in sexual behavior. This inconsistency is laughable, but ignored. We need to point it out whether the mainstream media does or not. Conversion doesn't happen overnight. They need to be warned that those who "perversely oppose that name" [Christ] and are "enjoying the light of this brief life" will be dealt with in the hereafter. Reaching out to them is being merciful, but be prepared to turn the other cheek.

The Roman pagans trusted their gods to protect them, but ran to church when their gods failed to do that. Despite my great fear of what the Obama administration will do, I will not put my trust in the United States government. I hope you will join me in getting down on the knees to pray for our country. I know who my Messiah is. I know where my true home is.