Theology

Seeking deeper understanding of God and how God relates with everything

Self-destruction on the other hand…

‘Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction on the other hand…’

I’ve written before about my love for this Fight Club quote. Now, it’s coming to my mind again as we begin lent.

There’s a common tendency to view lent as another chance at New Year’s resolutions, and with it self-improvement. An opportunity to diet and/or save. To become a better version of yourself.

But originally and traditionally and essentially, it is about self-destruction over improvement. That is, it is about uniting ourselves to Jesus upon the cross. It is about putting yourself to death.

Why do we do this? Why have many saints down the ages gone to extreme lengths for lent? Because our selves are prisons to break out of, into the freedom of divine love. Because true life is not a matter of preservation, but of giving ourselves away, even to death. Because God Himself lives in this way, dying and giving Himself away.

If we are nourished and taught and loved by such a God, we will come to imitate Him. God expresses Himself to us in love, and therefore His image is impressed into us. We love, because He first loved us.

So I just want to encourage you to destroy yourself this lent, because God loves you.

It is true that we can only destroy ourselves and take up this freedom because we have received His love. It is not possible in ourselves, but only in Jesus Christ, by the power of His death. And yet also, the more we willingly submit to the consuming fire of the divine love, the more freely His love will enter us and transform us into Itself.

God bless you!

Advertisements

What’s the point of monks & nuns?

I was thinking recently about the contemplative life – the life of those who give themselves up entirely to prayer, night and day – and had those common, critical thoughts about it: Isn’t it cowardly, abandoning the world? Why don’t they do something good and useful for the world instead? Isn’t it selfish, to leave the world in its misery, and go to seek your own heavenly bliss?

It troubled me, because I know the Church teaches not only its goodness, but (at least traditionally) its superiority to the active life. Jesus Himself said, Mary chose the better part, and it will not be taken from her.

And then (thank God), I realised that I was judging the contemplative life not even by the standards of the active life, but by the standards of the world. The contemplative life is on a different plane, and can’t be comprehended by the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot grasp it.

The contemplative life weds Heaven to earth, marries God to creation. That is why it is linked to celibacy (that, and practical concerns). In the Contemplative, creation is surrendered and offered to the Father, through and with and in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Contemplative’s prayer, she is divinized, and all of creation with her. In her prayer, we are being brought to fulfillment in Christ.

The contemplative life appears cowardly, because we miss the true battleground of life. To a communist, the wars of the capitalists are stupid, not brave, because the true war, the war that will resolve all others, is the class war; to the Catholic, both are foolish, and every other human war too, because the true war, the one that will resolve all others, is the spiritual war.

It appears useless, because it is the very meaning of life. And how could the ultimate meaning be recognised by those who set their minds upon the use of things, rather than their final ends?

It appears as selfish, because in our selfish worldview, we wrongly assume that happiness and the desire for happiness are selfish. We assume that happiness comes from the self, when in truth, it is from the death of the self, and the Life of God. Contemplatives are happy insofar as they die to themselves, and no further. We have died, and the life we now live is hidden with Christ in God.

So what shall we make of the active life? The active life must be brought to entirely serve the life of the Spirit. Our work is not its own end, however good it may be, but is there for us to encounter and adore God in it.

The contemplative life is superior to the active as the end is superior to the means. Yet, if the active is a servant to the contemplative, it may thereby not only participate in the contemplative, but even fulfil and supercede it by humility. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

God bless you!

Does prayer change things?

pray-for-us-banner

I find the idea of prayer often tests my faith. It brings out my inner cynic. When I see #PrayFor____ on twitter, or 1 like = 1 prayer on Facebook, I find myself cynical. Almost instantly, I think the whole thing is a pointless ego boost for the poster, and that we should care enough to actually do something. I even stumble when I hear about sincere religious, devoting their entire lives to prayer in isolation from the world.

It’s easy to believe the boring explanation that prayer works simply by changing us. At its most basic, that’s obvious psychology. And it’s not too tough to believe that prayer “allows” God to change us, or that we “open ourselves” to God. Or to believe that we send out spiritual energies or whatever you like, which become reality. But to really believe that simply asking can actually make a difference to the world, that God actually listens and reacts in the world, is a challenge.

Yet this is at the very heart of our faith. Our age has a tendency and desire for divine principles over divine persons. Why? Because principles can be harnessed and made useful, whereas people are free, and therefore (we fear) free to oppress. We want something to tap into, not someone to live in us. This idea can even seem more “spiritual” to our modern minds.

But our God is personal. This doesn’t mean that He is some guy in the clouds, with a will and attitude as temperamental as our ours, nor even that He’s the best guy in the universe, and so the least temperamental. He doesn’t possess an arbitrary will like we do.

It means God is free, and God is freedom. He is not bound by any rules (*gruff voice* not even his own). But God’s freedom is not merely our freedom from, by which less external force constrains the fulfilment our wills; God’s freedom is the entirely positive freedom, to truly exist, to truly and completely go out from Himself, as Himself. And even further, He Himself is this going out from Himself. Nothing conditions God’s existence or actions, not even an arbitrary “divine nature” we might (wrongly) suppose God in some sense was given. God’s personhood, God’s freedom, God’s love, is His nature.

Now if we truly believe that God is personal and God is free, we must believe that He can act on behalf of those He loves. We have to truly believe that God acts.

It is true that in prayer we do not, and cannot, change God. God cannot be bought or bartered with. Nor can we change God’s plans or actions. God is not within time, and so neither God nor God’s choices can change. And yet, from His throne, in the Divine Eternity that He Himself is, He subjects Himself to the temporal wills of His beloved creatures. From Eternity, He accepts requests from time, which He answers from Eternity and within time.

When God answers a prayer, He was always going to answer that prayer because it was always going to be prayed. The answer to the prayer was determined from the foundation of the world, because the prayer was heard at the foundation of the world.

prayer5

God bless you

I’m writing a book!

For a while now, I’ve been slowly working on a book of Philosophy/Theology. It began as just one or two philosophical thoughts, but as I wrote them down, I found myself stumbling into other thoughts, including some very theological ones. I don’t really know where it is heading, because every time I revisit it, it seems to lead me in some new direction.

I don’t want to give any details away just yet, firstly because the paint’s still wet, and secondly because I think these thoughts need their proper space. So please forgive me for being vague. I believe these ideas are powerful, and I need to handle them carefully.

I will say that I’m very excited by them. They’ve changed my understanding of basically everything. They’re not particularly similar to anything I’ve written on this blog so far, probably because they can’t easily be slipped in, one at a time. Also, they’re just not ready.

Please say a prayer for me and my book. That I’ll write in humility and truth. That I’ll actually write it, and not get scared and bury it in the ground like the wicked and lazy slave in the parable of the talents. That whatever is true in it thrive, and whatever is false in it wither.

Thanks, and God bless you!

Sacraments

The sacraments contain the reality that they signify.

They are like onomatopoeic words. Buzzzz. Fizzzz. Sizzle.

Click. Crackle. Snap.

Whallop! Crash! Kaplow!

They don’t just talk about something, they recreate the moment, re-present the truth contained. They draw us into the story, place it in our ears, before our eyes, and on our tongues. A sudden BANG! can make the listeners leap, just as if they were there.

But the sacraments are so much more than onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia makes a reality only almost present, but sacrament makes a greater reality truly present. The sacraments are God’s words, and as St Teresa of Avila said, “His words are deeds.”

The sacraments make God intimate with us. We don’t just speak about the gospel, or the kingdom, or Jesus, we touch them, consume them, are immersed in them. It’s not history, it’s our story. We are invited to live Jesus life and death and Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.

And this touch of God, speaking His word over us, feeding us, makes us different. We are initiated into God’s love/life, and can now live by His logic and in His power. And if we don’t, we are truly rejecting His life in us.

God bless you! Have a blessed advent!

We’re forgiven before we ask

‘Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.’ [Luke 15:11-24]

prodigalson

Did you notice, that the father actually ignores his son completely? He doesn’t hear a word he’s saying. He doesn’t even let him finish, but starts talking to his slaves.

 

The father forgives his son, when the son hasn’t even dared to ask forgiveness. And it couldn’t be any other way. We couldn’t ask forgiveness, if we were not already forgiven. We have no right to ask forgiveness, nothing to appeal to. Except that the Father loves us, and rushes out to embrace and forgive us. His grace always comes first.

 

An excellent prayer of repentance: Say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And then feel the Father put his arms around you and kiss you, tears of joy running down His face.

 

God bless you

Leo XIII: How must one’s possessions be used?

monopoly-man

‘Private ownership, as we have seen, is the natural right of man, and to exercise that right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful, but absolutely necessary. “It is lawful,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “for a man to hold private property; and it is also necessary for the carrying on of human existence.”” But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used? – the Church replies without hesitation in the words of the same holy Doctor: “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.”`
-Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum No.22