Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The answer to the new atheism

During my son’s swimming lessons at our local YMCA today, I decided to sit out in the lobby to study my flashcards for canon law and enjoy a cup of coffee. My peace was interrupted by a lively bunch of elderly gentlemen engaged in a conversation about all the wars brought on by religious differences. The new atheism poison had reached its tentacles into the souls of these sweet old men and was doing its best to try to squeeze out any remnants of faith before they die. Sad.

About a year and a half ago, I had witnessed this spiritual and intellectual attack on the other range of the age spectrum. My atheist English professor was hell-bent on snuffing out the seeds of what he would define as “childish superstitions” under the ruse of “being open to new ideas.” His constant barrage of emails cited the new stars of atheism, mostly Dawkins and Hitchens. This was an upper-level class of highly-motivated English majors, so we were divided into three major categories...none of which were ambivalent to the agenda he was pushing. The first group was a lost cause, completely soaking up every argument he touted against the “evils of closed-minded Christian dominance”. The second group found his obsession with religion annoying in a class in which English was supposed to be the dominant focus. The third, much smaller, group of only three of us was vocal in our opposition and provided counter-questions to his faulty assumptions.

This new atheism is basically a rehashing of all arguments against faith which have at their foundation a presupposition of the supremacy of empirical science. It is an arrogant assumption, to say the least, that holds the modern scientific method as the standard by which we determine all things to be true. It does not presuppose an openness to the question about God’s existence. Rather, it presupposes a doubt about God’s existence. “I’m not going to believe in God unless his existence can be proven scientifically.”

That’s really ridiculous. How can we, mortal beings, subject an infinite, immortal, spiritual substance to the tests of science which only can measure tangible realities? If only we could see God, experience Him in some sort of a profoundly human way. If only God were to enter time and take on a human nature so that we could somehow record His existence in some sort of a book, and then we could go back and scientifically recover artifacts from the time of his life here on earth, and miracles that defy science could continue to be collected by some sort of an institution that is dedicated to the proclamation of His existence and mission...If only...

We have the answer to this “new atheism” right now. It is Christ and His Church. This is Benedict XVI’s reason for his recent dialogue with the gentiles. His intention in opening dialogue between religious and non-religious is to establish a common ground upon which the good of man can be realized. This is the first step in planting seeds for conversion. Pray for our Holy Father. In the strength of Christ, he is bravely countering the loud, angry voices of atheism with the still, small voice of God’s joyful love.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring snow

I am a Kansas girl, through and through. So when it comes time for spring, I have certain expectations...thunderstorms, wind, warmer weather. Spring snow is something I have not yet adjusted to. That’s why a morning like this will send me into the doldrums.

This morning, I opened up the front door and was greeted by a yard full of the fluffy white stuff. It was all over the yard, on the driveway, and draped over the car, with a layer of ice underneath. Fantastic. We were on our way to swimming lessons, and I had to scrape the car.

“Ugh. Not more snow!” My audible complaint was overheard by my three-year-old son.

“I like snow, Mommy.” His words ignited a shift in my perspective in the way cute little child-like observations about life often do.

“Look, Mom. I see my footsteps.” Yet another heart-melting reminder about the beauty of things overlooked.

In that moment I recalled the story about St. Francis Borgia, whose travels in the middle of a snowstorm took him to the doorstep of a Jesuit house. His arrival in the middle of the night was unexpected, and no one heard him knocking on the door. The snow continued through the night, and he was not discovered until the next morning. All of the men who lived in the house were embarrassed and felt sorry that he had suffered exposure in the cold.

The rest of the story, in the words of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, is as follows...

“The saint however, said he had enjoyed the great consolation during those long hours of the night by imagining that he saw our Lord up in the sky dropping the snowflakes down upon him.”

My recollection of the story brought me back to the observation of my son who had prompted it. He didn’t think about the annoyance that a spring snow might bring. He was basking in the wonder of his footprints in the snow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Upcoming event at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, WI

Announcement from The Institute for Pastoral Theology...

LENTEN DAY OF REFLECTION - March 26, 2011 (9 am - 4:30 pm)
The Institute for Pastoral Theology and the national Marian Catechist Apostolate are jointly hosting a daylong retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on March 26, 2011 in LaCrosse, WI. In addition to Mass, confession, and adoration, three reflections on the theme of redemptive suffering will be presented by Professors Douglas Bushman and Ben Nguyen. There will also be an information session on the IPT.

This will be a great opportunity for a spiritually and theologically nourishing Lenten mini-retreat. The event is free and open to the public, so please plan to attend and spread the word to those who may be interested in a Lenten retreat or who are interested in learning more about the IPT. Lunch ($10) is available for purchase by calling Terry Knothe in the Marian Catechist office at 608-782-0011. Click here for more information.


9:00 am                Arrival / Registration

9:30 am                Talk #1 The Suffering of the Father of the Prodigal Son

10:15 am              Talk #2 In Christ We Respond to Sin as God Himself Responds

11:00 am              Lunch ($10.00 - Please pre-purchase by calling 608-782-0011)
                            Confessions available 11:00 am - 12:15 pm

1:30 pm                Talk #3 Offering It Up: The Doctrine of Indulgences Revisited

2:30 pm                Institute for Pastoral Theology Information Session

3:00 pm                Free Time

3:30 - 4:30 pm      Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament / Departure

IPT ALUMNI AND FRIENDS GATHERING – March 26, 2011 (evening)There will also be an evening event for IPT students, alumni, friends and all those who would like to remain informed about what the IPT is doing. This event is also scheduled for March 26 and will be held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe so that those who have come for the Lenten Day of Recollection can stay for the evening event as well. The social will start at 5:30 pm at Culina Mariana (the Shrine’s restaurant) followed by a buffet dinner. This will be a great opportunity to keep in contact, renew friendships, and learn about all the exciting developments with the IPT. There is no cost for the event, but be sure to contact the IPT office at 866-866-1100 or to reserve your seat. We hope to see you at one or both of these events!

You can bet I'll be there...Shrine, IPT, the opportunity for quiet reflection, and time with my hubby!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weep with those who are weeping

Since it’s Lent, I am taking the time to meditate upon the gift of sorrow. During the past ten years, I have witnessed a number of tragedies, beginning with the death of my aunt in July of 2001. She died almost instantly in a car accident while on vacation with her family in Colorado. She had been active in the Church towards the end of her life, often touring the country to talk about stewardship. Her death completely stunned us. It made all of us wonder why something like this would happen to someone whose faith had compelled her to live in service to God.

A few months later, the tragedy of 9/11 struck at the hearts of everyone in the nation. The lives of so many husbands and fathers were stolen by an act that completely disregarded the value of human life. These men had families, and their families needed them. It was something to make us wonder.

Since then, in our small community of friends and acquaintances, we have seen so many suffer the death of a spouse or the loss of a child, and we always wonder.

Tonight as I think about all of the devastation in Japan, again, I find myself wondering. What is it about suffering that God wants us to learn? I know that when someone suffers, it compels us to compassion and true empathy. We find ourselves asking what it would feel like to walk that path that might have seemed so distant before. Witnessing someone else’s suffering is transformative. It calls us to consider our purpose in life, to caste away the endless debris of worldly concerns that constantly invade our minds. And if we allow it, the observation of suffering will penetrate our hearts to make us into actual participants in the suffering of others.

It is this experience of suffering that gives me joy, not happiness, but true joy. It is the bittersweet mixture of sadness and hope. We mourn for the evil of death and the world that would take from us the happiness of living with those we love, but we also experience the love of Christ that surrounds us with the comfort of people who are always mindful of the hope of everlasting peace and heavenly bliss.

Tonight as I pray for those who are suffering in Japan, my hope is that they will recognize how in their moment of vulnerability, God’s arms are reaching out to embrace and hold them in communion with His people, we who suffer with them in Christ.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Charity on the internet

Something I have noticed on the internet recently is an awakening, a new zeal in Catholics being informed about their faith and having a desire to share this with others. It is wonderful to see people excited about truth...wonderful, beautiful, life-giving truth.

But I think that from time to time many of us are so used to operating in this culture of hard-hitting, investigative journalism that we might be tempted to drift into writing or speaking in a sarcastic tone. I’ve noticed that many Catholics will chide their opponents in a similar way that is seen in political news programs. While I understand that there is a desire to present the Church as something that is relevant to our culture, I think that this misguided attempt often borrows the flaws of the secular culture in the process.

The Church is relevant on its own merit. It does not need to be dressed up or promoted in such a flashy manner. “Noble simplicity,” a term that is often defined incorrectly to argue for stripping liturgies and churches of beautiful traditions and art, would be much better utilized to describe the manner in which we are called to share our faith. We are called to be holy in the noble simplicity of everyday life. “It is obvious then to all that all of Christ’s faithful, no matter what their rank or station, have a vocation to the fullness of the christian life and the perfection of charity and that this sanctity results in the promotion of a more humane way of life even in society on earth,” (Lumen gentium, 40). The simplicity of holiness makes the Church relevant. To the extent that we are participants in the holiness of the Church, we share in this communion of mission.

Believe me, I am often, and I mean OFTEN tempted to say something snarky to those whose views contradict reality, but sometimes I look at words I had just written on my computer screen and it occurs to me that my intentions were not born out of love, but out of a desire to have people chuckle at my clever comebacks (which, upon a second reading, are not even that brilliant!) If you have followed my blog and have no idea what I’m talking about, praised be God! He is doing a great job of editing. If, however, you have been able to recognize my struggle in presenting the faith joyfully, without ever being condescending towards those whose positions I am incensed by, it is because I am getting in my Editor’s way.

Please keep all of us who are attempting to spread the faith on the internet in your prayers. We are attempting to bring the light of Christ into a venue that is ridden with hostility and self-gratification. Pray that we stay close to Christ in this mission so that we don’t fall into the same errors we are attempting to correct.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Praised be God! Another Lent!

There is a certain joy in recollection, in fasting, in abstaining from the pleasures we are comforted by. In the quiet of prayer, we are able to focus upon Christ and His wonderful love for us. It is a deep, abiding, penetrating love, a love that delights in our attention and relentlessly pursues us in our distraction. His love is overwhelming and a little puzzling at times. How could someone so perfect, so holy, so wonderful, be completely in love with me? Yet He is...with all of us.

It reminds me about a recent conversation with a coworker of mine. She had just finished reading the Old Testament, and I had just finished my second semester of Old Testament studies. We got into a discussion about God and His unbelievable patience. She and I both have a number of children, so we were inclined to identify with God on a parental level. It became very clear to both of us that God’s number of “second chances” were astonishing. She commented that God’s habit of giving them chance after chance to come back to Him almost exasperated her. She said that as a mother, her attitude with her children after this much defiance would be, “okay, buddy, you are outta here!”

Many people believe that the Old Testament is “God in a bad mood,” but I have to challenge anyone who holds this opinion to actually READ the scriptures. God walks with Adam before the fall, and he continues to communicate with them and insert Himself into their daily lives throughout the Old Testament. And then, He does the unthinkable...sending His Son incarnate to instruct us, die for us and rise to give us hope in God's plan for our everlasting union with Him. As my Ecclesiology professor, Douglas Bushman, would say, “do you get the feeling that God is more than a little OBSESSED with us?!”

When this realization of such profound love finally captures our minds and hearts through grace, we experience an urge to reciprocate this love with complete devotion, and desire to participate in our Beloved’s activities. We are suddenly confronted with the reality that this participation might involve a little more than we bargained for. We will suffer, and the deeper our love grows, the more we will suffer because Christ's sufferings were, well, incomprehensible. In Lent, we recollect that we unite our sacrifices and daily sufferings to Christ who gave His life for us, and in so doing, we are given the unbelievable gift of participating in His redemptive suffering. I just can’t get over that! It’s truly amazing!

May our sufferings become precious gifts to our Lord this Lent!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Answering God's call to holiness and mission

There are wonderful examples of God's work all around us, and in this vein, I would like to share a little tidbit about Erika, a friend of our family. We have watched her grow from a lovely teenage girl into a wonderful woman with a missionary’s heart. It has been her ambition for quite a few years to follow God’s call to do missionary work in poorer countries, to serve as Blessed Mother Teresa would say, “the poorest of the poor.”

Because of the gift her blog, Summons of a Wayfarer, I have gotten to follow her on the journey from her feeling God’s tug at her heart, through her narrowing down the missionary organizations, all the way up to her current status. She is preparing to go to Thailand as a member of the organization, Heart’s Home.

I am so grateful to Erika for sharing her journey with us. She has introduced us to this beautiful Catholic organization I never knew existed. The basic mode of operation of this organization is its residency in a neighborhood. The missionaries live very simply among the people they serve and will not turn down requests for help from anyone. The witness of their holy lives is their evangelical tool.

It’s exciting to see a young person so profoundly living out Lumen gentium, Vatican II’s document on the Church. This lay apostolate is putting into practice what the authentic spirit of Vatican II is urging. “On all the laity, then, falls the glorious burden of toiling to bring the divine offer of salvation ever more and more into the reach of all men of all times and all over the world. They must have every path opened to a whole-hearted personal participation, as their strength and the needs of the time allow, in the saving work of the Church," (LG, 33).

Please remember Erika in your prayers as she lives out her 18-month commitment in Thailand. She is leaving behind family, friends, the comfort of familiarity and air-conditioning (in Bankok, the hottest city in the world) to answer God' call to serve. In addition to prayers, Erika still needs sponsors. Our family is sponsoring her both through prayer and a monthly offering. Please consider her mission in your Lenten sacrifice.