Here is another trailer that looks behind the scenes of the upcoming movie about St. Josemaría Escrivá, There Be Dragons:
Archive for November, 2010
Pope Benedict has just issued a major document on Sacred Scripture titled Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord) – the full text can be downloaded here. This document is the result of the 2008 Synod of Bishops dedicated to the Word of God.
This is huge news. Over the past century or so, there have been three major documents released by Popes on Scripture; they include:
So you can see that these type of documents don’t come around every day – and there hasn’t been one in almost 70 years. For a Scripture geek like me, this is like an early Christmas.
These three documents, along with the Vatican II constitution Dei Verbum, are essential for understanding how Catholics interpret Scripture. Before reading Verbum Domini, I would recommend a paper I wrote back in the 90′s titled Catholic Scripture Interpretation: Resting on Fundamentals, Resisting Fundamentalism, which looks at some of these past documents to understand how the Church approaches Scripture. I’m sure that Verbum Domini will build upon these documents, so an understanding of them will be helpful for understanding the new document.
Thanks Pope Benedict XVI!
Now we reach the end of this series on the Last Things and the topic turns to the intended end of every human being: Heaven. Each human person is made to be in communion with God, and Heaven is this communion. Everything that prevents that communion in this world – our sins, the sins of others, our fallen world – is wiped away and we have direct and total access to our loving Creator.
One thing I do NOT want to do in this post is to try to describe Heaven. Any type of description I could muster would fall so far short of the reality that it would be laughable. In most instances in which a mystic has a vision of Heaven, they are very reserved about describing it, for they know that no human words can even begin to describe the bliss of Heaven. Even less can a non-mystic like me attempt to put in words the unimaginable joy that is Heaven.
But one thing we can say about Heaven is that it is the fulfillment of all of man’s desires and hopes. Man was created for God and only God can satisfy his heart. As St. Augustine wrote, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” – and Heaven is the only place in which our hearts can truly and completely rest in God. A very lame analogy would be the frustration found in a person who loves a certain activity but cannot enjoy it – say the artist who is not able to paint or the author who is unable to write. If they are able to engage in their preferred activity, then they experience fulfillment and contentment. Heaven is the fulfillment of every man’s deepest desires and wishes – and not just partial fulfillment like an earthly activity might be, but a total and complete fulfillment.
Another aspect of Heaven that must always be remembered is that if Hell is complete alone-ness, then Heaven is complete communion – with God and with others. God made us in His Trinitarian image, and we are not complete unless we are in communion with others. Our salvation is not something done on an individual basis; we are saved as a Body, and Heaven is the Body of Christ in its fullness. In our fallen world it is hard to imagine interactions with others that do not include bickering, fighting and conflict. But in Heaven we will be completely united to our fellow men in total peace. We will offer the unending worship of God as one Body and our joy will be complete.
As we live our daily lives in this fallen world, let us always keep our eyes on our final destination and prepare ourselves – and others – for the place that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
Today at CatholicExchange.com you will find an abridged version of the chapter “Lord of the Sabbath” from my book Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew. You can click the image of my book on their home page, or click this link directly.
And if you would rather just read the whole chapter and every other chapter in the book, buy it now!
As I mentioned last week, I was on the Catholic Answers Live radio show last Friday discussing my book Who is Jesus Christ? and it was a blast! Patrick Coffin and Darin DeLozier are extremely welcoming hosts and I pray that we were able to help people draw closer to our Lord during the hour I was on.
Today’s topic is technically not a “Last Thing”, for purgatory is never the last stop in anyone’s life. It is simply a way-station on the road to Heaven. Eventually purgatory will be emptied out and will cease to exist. But it fits in a series about life after death, as many of us will inhabit purgatory for at least a little while after our deaths.
Purgatory, of course, is a particularly Catholic doctrine: Protestants reject its existence and Eastern Christians conceive of a “middle state” quite unlike the typical Western depictions of purgatory. What do Catholics believe regarding this purging state of the after-life? Like our discussion of Hell, it is first important to state what the Church has defined in regards to purgatory. There are only two definitions:
- The souls of the just which, in the moment of death, are burdened with venial sins or temporal punishment due to sins, enter purgatory.
- The living Faithful can come to the assistance of the souls in purgatory by their intercessions.
What is interesting is what is NOT defined: there is no description of what happens in purgatory, how long someone stays in purgatory, or how exactly our prayers help those in purgatory. All we know for sure is that purgatory exists and our prayers help those in that state. Over the centuries, however, many mystics and saints have written powerfully about purgatory, and while their writings are not dogma, they can be helpful for our understanding of what purgatory might be like.
The main purpose of purgatory is purging. Every sin that a person commits leaves a stain on them. A mortal sin leaves a deadly stain, one that separates the soul from God. But even a venial sin is a terrible thing and wholly opposed to an all-holy God. No one who is burdened by even a venial sin and its stain can stand in the presence of the All-Holy One. Some Christians argue that what God does is simply ignore our sins or “cover” them with the righteousness of Christ and this action allows us to be in the presence of God. But this cannot be the case, because it would be a lie – God would be declaring someone pure who is, in fact, not pure. God does not simply cloak our sins for all eternity, He purges them from us, thus making us truly holy. One analogy is that purgatory is like a shower which cleanses us and prepares us for our entrance into heaven.
But the image of a shower is a bit weak, as most visions and images of purgatory in the Catholic tradition include the concept of pain – purgatory is seen as a place of suffering. Why is that? I think our own experience here on earth should answer that question: when are we ever made better or purged of imperfections and it is NOT painful? Think of the Olympic athlete who must prepare his body for competition: the process can be extremely painful. Think of the process of becoming holy in this life: do we not have to be disciplined in our prayer life and offer up our sufferings for our own salvation and the salvation of others? Even Christ had to go through his passion for our salvation. Simply put, the process of purging is almost always a painful one and purgatory is no different. But one thing to remember is that purgatory will also be a completely joyful state, as the souls in purgatory know with certainty that they will one day be with the blessed in heaven. There is no chance of rejecting God or even committing a sin in purgatory, and this alone brings deep joy to the heart.
This month of November, please remember to pray for the souls in purgatory – especially those souls who have no one else to pray for them.
The next post in this series will be the last one, as we look at the goal of all human existence: communion with God for eternity in Heaven.
In our series on the Last Things, we now turn to the most distasteful of doctrines in our age: Hell. There is no belief more scandalous to modern ears than the eternal fire of Hell; nothing appears more contradictory today than the idea of an all-loving God who sends people to an everlasting punishment. It just seems so arbitrary and extreme: why punish someone eternally for something they did over a brief period of time? How can that be loving? Many modern Christians – including many Catholics – have tried to minimize and even forget the existence of Hell, hoping that the doctrine itself will eventually be consigned to its own eternal place of rejection.
Yet anyone even slightly familiar with the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures know that it is intellectually dishonest for the Christian to ignore Hell. Hell, and its denizens, are throughout the Bible: from the presence of Satan in the Garden of Eden to the final defeat of Hell’s armies in Revelation, Hell has a starring role in the story of Salvation History. Jesus himself was constantly at war with Satan and his demons, and often warned his followers that Hell awaits those who reject God. The Gospel writers present the overthrow of Satan and Hell as a main part of Christ’s mission.
So how should the modern Christian view Hell? First, it is important to recognize the guidelines the Church has insisted upon throughout the centuries:
1) There is a Hell.
2) It is where those who reject God spent eternity.
3) Satan and the other fallen angels inhabit Hell.
In other words, we cannot reject the existence of Hell, we cannot say that it is only temporary, and we cannot say that it is empty (the doctrine of apokatastasis). Each of these beliefs can be tempting for the modern Christian, but they must be rejected as contrary to the Deposit of Faith.
But it is also important to remember that our conceptions of the after-life – be it Hell, Purgatory or Heaven – are all colored by our cultures and times. We have not been given a definitive look at any of these states of the after-life, only glimpses which reflect as much the perception of the one who receives it as they do the reality they represent. Nothing in this life can prepare us to understand the after-life, so all descriptions of a place like Hell must be taken as imperfect, limited attempts to explain in human language the indescribable. So visions of Hell from saints and mystics from the Middle Ages are not doctrines that must be accepted at face value, but instead should be seen as imperfect attempts to explain the unexplainable (and likewise, all modern attempts should be read in the same light).
One reality of Hell that has been recognized more and more over the centuries is that its inhabitants choose to be there. St. Catherine of Genoa was one of the first saints to teach this. From her mystical experiences, she realized that Hell’s doors are locked from the inside; in other words, those who are in Hell are not forced against their will to be there – they prefer it to Heaven. This realization of the nature of Hell was also brilliantly depicted in C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Great Divorce (a book I highly recommend). But how can that be? Why would anyone choose Hell over Heaven? Ultimately, it is because a person becomes so self-focused that they would prefer their own company over the company of God – and Hell is nothing if not a self-centered realm.
Satre once famously wrote that “Hell is other people.” The opposite is true: Hell is complete and utter aloneness. We are made for communion with others and most of all for communion with God, and Hell denies any communion with anyone, including with God. And this is what the resident of Hell wants – to be completely focused on self to the exclusion of all others. Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov cried out: “Hell is the suffering of being no longer able to love”, and this is an accurate description of Hell: we were made to love and for Love, and Hell rejects all forms of love for the pitiful facade of self-love, which is no love at all.
One final note about Hell: the Church has never declared that an individual person is in Hell. As members of the Church Militant we are obliged to pray for all the dead, no matter what their lives may have been like. This obligation knows no exceptions, for to exempt someone from our prayers is to limit love. We should hope for the salvation of every man and must leave final judgement to the only true Judge, Jesus Christ. When we contemplate the reality of Hell, the only person we should picture there is ourselves.
Immediately after death each one of us will be asked to give an accounting of our lives. There are two fundamental directions our lives can take: towards God or towards self. God, who is complete justice and mercy, will decide which direction our lives took and will grant us the fulfillment of that direction. This is Judgement.
The event of our judgement is a difficult concept for modern man to accept, for we are incessantly told that we must judge no one and no action. Yet it will be a judgement which determines our place of residence for all eternity. Every action in this life has tremendous meaning, and all our actions – ALL of them – are considered when it comes to our judgement. The magazine we stole as a teenager, the elderly man we helped find his home when we were in college, the friend we ignored in a time of crisis – all these actions and every other one will be used in determining our final home. At Judgement, light will be shone on every thing we did – and everything we could have done but did not.
When we face judgement, we no longer have any opportunity to change our lives for the better. The final chapter has been written and the book is now closed on our life. It is important to note that God’s judgement is not a superficial look at our lives, simply balancing our good and evil deeds and seeing which one comes out on top. Instead God takes a full look at the life of each person who faces judgement: every mitigating factor, every influence, every decision made in knowledge or in ignorance. All these things will be considered. And there is no appeal possible, and there is no appeal needed, for each person who is judged knows that the judgement is true.
One of the great mysteries of God is how He perfectly integrates justice and mercy. In our finite world these two realities often seem to be opposites and at loggerheads. Yet in God they are one reality: His justice is His mercy and His mercy is His justice. There is no tension or conflict between them. And at our judgement God’s justice and mercy will together determine the final outcome of our lives.
Yet every life is imperfect and selfish in some way and thus every person “deserves” to be found guilty of rejecting God. So how can anyone be saved? God judges each person through a special “prism”: the Passion of His Son, Jesus Christ. In a way, one could say that God wears blood-colored glasses at judgement, and the blood is the redemptive blood of Jesus. Under our own power, we could have no hope for salvation, but in light of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we know that God can transform us and make us holy, as Christ is holy. It is only by the power of Christ that we can have any hope to hear the judgement, “well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.”
Now we turn to the topic which modern man tries so hard to turn from: death. In previous generations, death was an omnipresent reality, as people typically died much younger than they do today and they died more horrifically: from war, from the plague, from common diseases, from childbirth. In our times, we like to think that we have conquered death because many of the ways we used to die are no longer common.
But even today every single human person must face the specter of his own death eventually, yet most of us spend very little time contemplating that event. Even though down deep we know that we will one day pass from this earth, we do everything we can to avoid the subject. Why is this? Because man is afraid of nothing as much as death. Death represents The End: the end of our lives, the end of the relationships we have built over a lifetime, the end of all we have worked and striven for on this earth: all gone in an instant. We are afraid that every single thing we have ever done vanishes into meaningless nothingness.
Yet in the face of this nothingness we hold out hope: hope that perhaps there is something beyond this world. Perhaps all we have done in this life will still have meaning after that life ends. Although every animal on earth dies, only man recognizes that there may be something beyond death. We reach into the great beyond and hope that after this life there is another life, one in which justice and peace reign and death is no more.
But why is there death in the first place? Why does life on this earth have to come to an end? Christianity gives a simple answer: sin. Without sin, there would be no death. St. Paul says, “Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Because of our sins death reigns in this world; if there were no sin, there would be no death. Thus, we were not originally created to die – we were created to live eternally; we understand instinctively that death is not part of our nature and we rebel against it.
But as much as we would like to avoid the subject of death and as much as we rebel against it, we must always keep in mind that all of us will one day die. St. Jerome would keep a skull on his work desk to remind him of this grim reality. We too must always be mindful that one day our moment will come and we must ask ourselves: are we ready to face death? Life here on earth is, in many ways, a preparation for death.
In the next post of this series we will take a look at what comes immediately after death: judgement.
A new Catholic radio station has started up, and its a big one: 50,000 watt WQOM-AM 1060 in Boston began broadcasting yesterday. Welcome to the world of Catholic radio, Boston!
Speaking of Catholic radio, I’m going to be on Catholic Answers Live this Friday (11/5) from 6-7pm EST. I’ll be discussing the topic “Who is Jesus Christ?” and taking calls from listeners.
Also, a reminder: I am on the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick every Thursday morning at 7:05am EST.
Second in a seven-part series
(Previous posts in this series: Part I)
The defining characteristic of our life after death is that it is wholly unlike our life before death. On earth we are always and constantly bound by time; after death we are no longer under this constraint and instead we are swimming in eternity. But what is eternity? What exactly does that mean?
One thing eternity is not is a “long time”. Eternity is nothing like a million years or a billion years or any other length of time. In fact, the last thing to compare eternity with is a lengthy duration of time, as it is more like an ongoing “now”. This is something impossible to grasp fully by those of us who are living in time, but we can try to understand it somewhat by analogy.
Think about two different types of hours spent: the first at an extremely boring lecture of no interest to you, and another in the company of a lover discussing your hopes and dreams about life. During these hours, we perceive the first event as never-ending; the seconds seem to pause and the hour feels like a lifetime. But during the hour spent with the lover, the time flies by and the hour passes without notice. It is a sixty-minute “now”.
But now think about your perception of these two hours a year in the future. For the first hour, nothing can be remembered and the hour has compressed into nothingness. The second hour, on the other hand, has expanded in your mind and every detail can be recalled without hesitation. In hindsight, the first is merely a blimp on your radar while the second fills the memory.
Eternity can be seen as the second hour experienced as the first hour was originally experienced: an memory-filling “now” which never ends.
Sheldon Vanauken in A Severe Mercy had a reflection on what eternity would be like. In it, he italicized all the words which suggest time to show how inadequate our language is to express this great mystery. He wrote,
It is a heavenly afternoon. Davy [his wife who had recently passed away] and I have just had a timeless luncheon (I am assuming that God will not waste so joyous an invention as taste). I then say to her that I shall wander down to sit beneath the beech tree and contemplate the valley for awhile, but I shall be back soon. I do so. I contemplate the valley for some hours or some years – the words are meaningless here where foreverness is in the air. At all events, I contemplate it just as long as I feel like doing. Then I get up and start back, but I meet someone, C.S. Lewis, perhaps, and we sit on a bench and maybe have a pint of bitter and talk for an hour or several hours – until we have said all we have to say for now. And then I go gladly back to Davy. She, meanwhile, has played the celestial organ, an organ on which perhaps every note of a song can be heard at the same time: that is, the song not played in time with half of it gone and half yet to be heard. She has played the organ for a few minutes and is just turning to greet me when I come in. Whether I was away for an hour or a hundred years, whether she has played for ten minutes or thirty, neither of us has waited or could wait for the other. For there simply is no time, no hours, no minutes, no sense of time passing. The ticking has stopped. It is eternity.
Vanauken himself admits that eternity will not be like that, but it is a valiant attempt to put in temporal language the things of an atemporal world.
Although we were created in time, we were created for eternity. All of us have a sense of the “injustice” of time: we feel as if we do not have enough of it, that it passes too quickly (or too slowly), and that it is a burden that always is present to us. After we die, this burden will cease and we will live where there is no constraint of time and every moment will be an eternal “now” which never ends.
In my next post in this series, I will reflect on the bridge that leads one from time to eternity: death.
Let us never forget that there are still martyrs in our day:
Gunmen linked with al-Qaeda stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad during Mass on October 31.
“They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms,” said an 18-year-old who survived the attack. “They came into the prayer hall and immediately killed the priest.”
After the gunmen took the worshippers hostage, US troops and Iraqi police stormed the parish in a rescue attempt. One gunman detonated a suicide belt, and a shootout ensued, leaving 39 hostages and seven members of security forces dead.
The Islamic State of Iraq– the Iraqi al-Qaeda affiliate– said it was responsible for attacking what it called “the dirty place of the infidel which Iraqi Christians have long used as a base to fight Islam.”
All you angels and saints, pray for us!
One of the few films I’m looking forward to:
Jennifer Fitz over at Riparians at the Gate has written a very nice “pre-review” of my book Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew:
My new Catholic Company review book arrived yesterday, and I’m tearing through it. Super good. It’s Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew by Eric Sammons.
–> Whose blog, The Divine Life, is the one I click on in my feed reader second, right after Dr. Boli. So I guess I should have known that I would like the book, but somehow with the title and Eric’s smartness and all that, I thought it would be too difficult for me, or sort of dry, or something like that. I thought this because I am pretty stupid that way.
Not boring at all. Not one bit. Eminently readable, no big words so far (I’m on p. 74), and the chapters are short, too. Just plain enjoyable. But jam-packed solid good. You know I have no patience for touchy-feely watery blathery stuff.
The Virtue of Hope
First in a seven-part series
Today is the first day of November, which means today is All Saints Day, tomorrow is All Souls Day, and this month we are called upon by the Church to reflect on the “Last Things”, i.e. those things surrounding our death and what will happen to us after that momentous event. In this series I’d like to reflect on these topics with the purpose of helping all of us in some small way to prepare for the day when we face our Lord and have to face an accounting of our life. The topics I will address will include the traditional “Four Last Things” – death, judgement, hell and heaven, along with eternity and purgatory.*
Before diving directly into topics such as eternity, death and judgement, I’d like to take a moment to turn our attention to the virtue of hope. Unfortunately, hope is often the “forgotten” theological virtue, as charity is the greatest of the three and faith is the entrance into the Christian life. But hope is vitally important, and it is the virtue which must undergird all our thoughts about the afterlife.
Hope is the virtue which points us toward the future and our final end. It is that virtue in which we steadfastly turn toward man’s true fulfillment, which is God. This pointing ourselves toward our ultimate end, God, is what makes hope a theological virtue. It is not merely a human virtue and in fact, if it were merely human in nature, it would be no virtue at all. If we only hoped for created goods, this would be no more than optimism and perhaps even greed. But true hope desires the true fulfillment of every man: God.
The irony of the human condition is that we hope for what we have no power to attain. We were made for God yet we have no ability to reach Him under our own power. As St. Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” – yet how do we rest in God? It is only by the grace of God that this is possible; no amount of human striving will ever achieve this goal and no amount of effort will win it. What we most hope for is a gift which is completely undeserved on our part. Yet we can hope with complete confidence that God will give us this gift, as His love and mercy know no bounds. Our hope is not baseless optimism, but solid realism, for we know that God wants our salvation even more than we do.
As we turn our thoughts towards the end of our earthly lives, let us always pray for the increase of the virtue of hope so that we can look upon our own deaths as something we can look forward to, not something to dread.
In the next post of this series, I will look at that most mysterious subject of eternity.
* I am very dependent on the reflections of Dr. Regis Martin of the Franciscan University of Steubenville for this series. I highly recommend his book on this subject, The Last Things (Ignatius Press).