Theology

Seeking deeper understanding of God and how God relates with everything

Intimate secrets with God

As with so many things, I learnt this the hard way. Some things, even (and especially) beautiful things, are meant to be kept secret. Some blessings can’t be shared without being corrupted, and sometimes exclusion is necessary for a deeper inclusion.

The obvious natural example of this is sexuality. I hardly need to explain that the less exclusive it is, the more it becomes “cheap” and the more it is objectified. What you have received is given to you alone, for you alone, and no one else matters in it. Within such intimate gift, a whole microcosm is built, in which there is no one but lover and beloved, and therefore love can become all.

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But I didn’t intend to write about sexuality. As per usual, this is even more true on the supernatural level. Sometimes God gives us certain insights, experiences, blessings, or gifts, and it’s not about anyone else– it’s just Lover and beloved, together in their own microcosm. To try to share these things, is to try to make them about others, and it only does violence to the gift given. Others won’t properly understand and appreciate them, because they’re not meant for them. Instead, we ought to harbour these secret gifts, treasure them, and savour them ourselves, regularly reentering our hidden world and praying to our Father “who is in secret” [Mt 6:6].

If you feel concerned about the seeming exclusivity, and perhaps selfishness, of this, don’t. Just as sexuality naturally overflows into new life and deeper love for all, so this hidden intimacy with God supernaturally overflows into spiritual children and deeper love for all. These loves, like every authentic love, reach out to all, but only by moving through us, transforming us into love.

 

God bless you!

 

P.S. I honestly had no intention of writing about sex, but then I never know what I’m going to find when I write. You can probably guess I’m reading Theology of the Body for Beginners at the moment, and am honestly blown away. I can’t recommend it enough.

God bless you again!

The Sins of Our Fathers

I believe that we are responsible for crimes and sins committed by those who went before us, and also for those done on our behalf by those in authority.

I know this is contrary to our modern ideas of justice, rooted in an individualistic worldview. But that worldview is incomplete.

I am not merely myself, I am also a member of various societies: my family, my school or workplace, my town, my country, and the Church. And each of these societies has a life of its own, living and acting as one, and so, is capable of both obeying and disobeying God. And as far as I remain a member of these societies, I participate in both its merit and guilt.

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This doesn’t mean that I take on all of the guilt of every individual in society. But I do bear the guilt of society acting as a whole, and every association I belong to, even if I wasn’t even alive when its crimes were committed.

What am I to do? How can I be saved from these sins? How can we be saved from them? I must simply repent. Then in me, my society will be repenting, and being brought to repentance member by member. We must repent, do penance, and pray for the salvation of our families, communities, nations and Church, just as we must for ourselves.

I especially think of our national sins, of wars, colonialism, slavery, exploitation, abortion, etc., and of the sins committed by leaders in the Church, especially in the sex abuse scandal. And I believe that actually, this will be crucial to re-evangelising our society.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

 

P.S. I think it would be especially good in this regard, if on the anniversary of national crimes and sins, we took it as a day of fasting and penance, especially those crimes we are persevering in. For example, the 27th of October and 27th of April for the UK’s abortion act (royal assent and commencement, respectively), and the 20th of March for Iraq war. It would be great if the national bishops conferences could promote this too.

P.P.S. I watched a documentary a while ago about the descendants of prominent Nazis, titled ‘Hitler’s Children’, I think. It showed how they were haunted, even decades later, by the guilt of their parents’ and grandparents’ crimes, with many doing penance by working to prevent such atrocities ever being repeated, and one woman moving to the desert and having herself sterilised. It seems to me, that communal and hereditary guilt is a simple psychological fact, that it would be foolish to deny or dismiss.

 

God bless you!

Victorious

The Resurrection should be understood as a challenge to the world. Death has been overcome, and now, the children of God have nothing left to fear. 

There’s a lot to leave us feeling hopeless in the world today. There’s war, poverty, loneliness, abortion, hatred, murder, human trafficking, racism, addiction, euthanasia, exploitation,  ignorance, terrorism, sexual abuse, genocides, corruption, divorce, torture, and the list just goes on and on. We live, undeniably, in a culture of death and indifference. 

And of course, a culture of death requires and creates for itself a culture of indifference. When we’re surrounded by so much death, the easiest way to deal with it is simply to die inside, closing our eyes and hearts. We package away the suffering in little boxes, which we’ll return to occasionally, to cry a little, give some money, and so relieve what’s left of our consciences a little bit. If we let our hearts open to all the misery and death around us, we’d be unable to let it go on. We would be compelled to stand against the forces of death that surround us.

But what use is it? Who can fight against the empire of death and win? Especially when death reigns even in our own hearts?

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! 

You cannot kill a Christian! We cannot die! God is on our side! God has justified the crucified! Nothing can ever overcome the children of God. Nothing can stop the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, we must live in a new manner. The dying things of the world no longer matter. Nothing matters, except the true life we have been given, the life of absolute love, the life of the children of God, the life of heaven. 

Jesus is vindicated, and His way is proven right. And so we can accept Him, His love, His truth, in all His weakness. His death is only half the story. 

And so we can and must walk in His ways, taking up our crosses, the pains and injustices around us, and entering them, transforming them, with a fearless love. Nothing, not even death, can stop the children of God, and that is what we are. 

This is the freedom we must live out in the face of all the death surrounding us on every side. We must live in the victory already won. 
God bless you! Christ is risen! 

Mercy requires courage

Mercy requires courage. Without courage, we can have pity, but not mercy. It takes the courage to open yourself to another’s wounds, and to be vulnerable yourself.

Without vulnerability, we may be a benefactor, but we can’t be a Christian. We must share our brothers and sisters’ wounds, all of their hurts and failings and sins, understanding them and uniting them with our own, and so with Jesus’. 

Jesus suffered, to give Himself to us. He is utterly vulnerable, so that we can approach Him with all of our weakness and wounds. His wounds speak to ours, and replace fear with love.

We killed Jesus because of His mercy. His heart was open to all, and so He suffered with all the suffering, and was oppressed with all the oppressed. He never took sides, not even–so it seemed–God’s.

Jesus knows you, with all of your pain, and He loves you. He feels your pain more than you yourself, especially the pain of sin,  and He loves you in it. We have no reason to hide from Him.

Jesus detests sin because it hurts Him when it hurts us, and above all because it separates us, His beloved, from Him. He can’t stand being apart from us. It drives Him crazy. 

That’s why He can’t stand us judging each other. He can’t take us pushing people away from Him. Especially when we claim to do so in God’s name. 

We must surrender to His merciful love. We must let Him love us in and through our wounds, our sins. Then these are transformed. Our wounds and sins become a holy place, the place where we find God. And then, with our vulnerability, our wounds, and the love of God in them, we can bring His merciful love to others. 

Mercy requires the courage to take up the cross. It will be painful. It may get you killed. You will be exposed and vulnerable and mocked and attacked, even by the very people you suffer with and for.

But mercy is true life. Mercy transforms the world. Jesus’ mercy conquers the grave, turning death to life.
God bless you! 

The Eucharist: “The Living Centre of the Universe”

‘It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”. Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.’
Pope Francis, Laudato Si n. 236

The Eucharist, cannibals, zombies and fresh food

At adoration this evening, I had some strange reflections on the Eucharist…

Every now and then, Catholics get told that eating Jesus’ Body and drinking His Blood makes us cannibals. But this is to seriously misunderstand. When cannibals eat human flesh and drink human blood, they’re consuming a dead person… It’s something violent. But the Holy Eucharist isn’t Jesus’ dead body; it’s His resurrected Body. Jesus in the Eucharist is far more alive than you and me.

In comparison with Jesus (especially after His resurrection), we’re hardly even half-alive. And so it is the less-alive, consuming the more-alive… like zombies. Except with zombies again, those they eat are killed/made into zombies in the process. Again, it is violent. But with Jesus, eating Him brings us to life, and makes us into Him. In zombies’ eating, death conquers life, but in the Eucharist, the eating of Christ’s resurrected Body, life conquers death.

When we eat normal food, the more fresh it is, the better it is for us. This is because everything we eat is dead, but the more fresh it is, the more its life remains with it, and the more we can take from its life. The act of eating something requires it to die, in order that it might be given away. So with the Eucharist, we are given Jesus’ Body, because He gave His life on the cross, and yet His Body is most truly alive, because He is the Resurrection and the Life, and His death is true life. So Jesus’ Body is the very best food, because despite being food, and therefore having to die, It is most truly alive, and therefore the very freshest and best food you’ll ever eat.

What do you think? Maybe I should just focus better during adoration…

God bless you!

The Sabbath

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you… Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
(Deuteronomy 5:12, 15)

One thing we need to get straight: God’s rest is not about “recharging”, “recalibrating” or “resetting” yourself like some machine. In fact, that’s the opposite of true rest. God commands us to rest for today’s sake, and today’s alone.

What does it mean for us to rest? It means to finally take the time to just be you, putting aside everything that is forced upon you by the necessities of life, and actually enjoying life for exactly what it is at this moment. When we rest, we’re not existing for some external or future purpose. We are for our own sakes.

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Liberation

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were given no rest. Even their eating, drinking and sleeping, were to make them work better for Pharaoh. Everything they did, everything they were, was a mere tool for some supposed greater good.

But when the Lord liberated Israel, He commanded them to be free. No matter what may happen, whatever worries or troubles came their way, they could never lose sight of the freedom the Lord gave them, to simply be. This rest, this freedom, is the point and purpose of the Exodus, of all of salvation history, of all life, and in fact, of all things.

True rest is so absolutely crucial, that viewed from any other perspective, it is completely pointless. That is, rest is so divine, that like God Himself, it has no cause but itself.

Creation

In God’s creating of the Heavens and the Earth, God repeatedly takes time at the end of the day to “see that it was good”. Then on the Sabbath, God rests. On the Sabbath, when all is said and done, God simply enjoys His creation.

He did not work hard for six days in order to improve His work on the seventh, and then the eighth and so on. When His “work week” was over, He didn’t want to take the fruits of His labour and reinvest it immediately for an even better creation come day eight. He made the whole of creation for its own sake:all of creation, is created to rest, with Him and in Him. 

At the burning bush, God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH, “I AM THAT I AM”/”I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE”. God thus reveals Himself to us as the One that is entirely unconditional, undefinable, and uncontrollable; the One Who simply IS; the One Who gives being to all that is. So it should not surprise us, that the One who tradition calls “Being Itself” desires above all, that all things should simply be what they are. He is not something separate, but your very being, and for you to be, is for you to do His will, to make Him present. 

If you’re wondering how anything could conceivably be anything but what it is, the answer is what we call “sin”. Sin is the denial of being/truth/life/God Himself. That is, the truth of what something is, is denied, and something else is imposed upon it from outside. Sin is to make the world, and so ourselves, empty, unreal, lifeless and Godless. Everything is reduced to the will and its power to dominate the lifeless universe it inhabits. Life is a great war fought without reason. Essentially, sin is oppression. 

So we see, that true rest is the opposite not of work, but of sin. Rest restores us to us, and in doing so, restores us to God, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. 

Rest means dancing

To rest is to throw away every plan, every aim, and every objective, and fully live as you are. If you find within yourself singing, you must sing! If you find within yourself dancing, you must dance! However you find the life & love that are you within yourself, you must obey! Even if it will exhaust you.

This obedience is much more difficult to cultivate than you might have thought. Our modern world has us all caught up with programs and fulfilling our desires, and has no time for the utter pointlessness that is rest. At this point, chasing after desire has become a second nature to most people, and to stop can cause real stress. We can get so immersed, that we become genuinely afraid of having any truly free time, in case we miss out on something, or realise just how unfulfilled we still are, even after all our striving.

Because it’s so difficult to cultivate true rest, and especially to cultivate it across a whole society (since societies, like people, are made to rest and be free), we desperately need the Sabbath. It’s not enough to rest as a side note, or whenever we get a spare moment.

Rest needs to be recognised as the priority that it is. We need the day, which exists entirely to itself, without even the necessities of life intruding. They can wait, because today, God commands me to dance.

And yet, I cannot spend all my time dancing and never work–but then again, true rest is the opposite of sin, and so should be sought always. It is true that not every day should be treated as the Sabbath, but the Sabbath should infiltrate the whole week, training us to live our entire lives at rest. All our work, all our strivings, all our aims, should be undertaken from the love & life that is within us, and done and enjoyed for their own sakes. We must accept all as a gift from God, and do all as a gift to Him and to all.

“Work without love is slavery.”
-St. Teresa of Calcutta


Jesus

‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
(Matthew 11:28-30)

What rest does Jesus give? His rest is Himself, His love, His cross, His Resurrection. In Him, we find the truth of ourselves, obscured in us by sin, and we are restored to ourselves, to the world, and to God. We are united to God, through the cross and Resurrection, and rest perfectly with God Himself. 

God bless you!

Thinking about hell…

Lately I’ve been reading ‘The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life’ by Fr. Charles Arminjon, and have now begun the section on hell. And it’s got me thinking…

What is time even like in an eternal hell?

Fr. Arminjon makes the point that if hell is not eternal, but only a temporary punishment before joining the saints in heaven for eternity, then it’s of no real consequence or threat. A temporary hell makes no dent in the sinner’s eternal bliss, even if it were a billion years long, and those in hell could comfort themselves that their sin was worth it to get what they wanted, when they wanted. Ultimately, rebellion against God and obedience to God would achieve the same eternal end.

This got me thinking, what does the passing of time feel like in the context of eternity? When there’s a change coming up, we feel time as how close we are to that change. With no end to hell, what concept of time could there be? What difference does it make, and so what does it mean, to have been there for ten, twenty, a hundred, or a million years? Time seems to collapse into meaninglessness. I imagine something similar can sometimes happen to those given a life sentence, although even then, there is the end brought by death…

Or is there change, and therefore time, in hell? Perhaps there is change within the person, but not in the environment… Perhaps the type or intensity of punishment changes…

I imagine those in hell would find eternity itself another torture, as impatience tries to grasp at something, and achieve some kind of progress. ‘Gnashing of teeth’ seems to express this impatience very well to me.

Heaven’s eternity must be different… No impatience for one thing, firstly because we’ll be perfect, and secondly, we’ll have everything we ever desired in full. I wonder if there is change in Heaven? If not, it is not because we have only one moment for the rest of forever, but because the fullness of time will be ever present to us, as it is to God. I believe we’ll be co-creative with God in Heaven, and so there must be some kind of change, though perhaps, like God, our creativity will occur in changing time, while we ourselves are not constrained by time…

 

If it weren’t for hell, would I have given up?

I think pretty much everyone is tempted to despair at some point. Hell makes sin an absolute decision. If I hadn’t been warned about eternal punishment in hell, would I have accepted both sin and punishment as inevitable parts of my inevitable journey to Heaven? I think I might have… I’m naturally pretty lazy and pretty short-sighted in my decisions (I’m working on this).

These days, I know I don’t enjoy sin even when I’m sinning, and hate being separated from God for any amount of time. But would I have learnt to love God and hate sin for themselves, if I hadn’t known of the eternal consequences?

I suppose if I could have seen God clearly enough, and so seen sin clearly enough too, I would have… I think the issue is, I wouldn’t see either of these realities, because I’d be too caught up with the finite realities of pleasure and pain in each action. I need to look to the infinite reality in each of my actions, and pointing forward to the time when that’s all that’s left of them seems to be a pretty good method of doing this.

 

If anyone is lost, does God not lose? How will God then be ‘all in all’?

The Father Almighty desires all to be saved (2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4), and that at the end of time, He shall be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28), with all things subject to Him. So if anyone at all goes to hell, has God failed? Has God not got His desire? Is it enough for God that some things to be subject to His justice, but not His mercy?

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[Thanks to The Catholic Gentleman for the picture]

My question isn’t whether eternal damnation is just, but whether it is good and glorious enough to be befitting of God and His creation at the fulness of time?

There is a common theological explanation of hell today, that says that those in hell choose to be there, in their rejection of God, and that this privation is the pain of hell. C.S. Lewis, for example, said that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. This works nicely to shift the blame away from God, but it means some eternally refuse to bend the knee and submit to God at all. I think it would be better, and kinder too, if those in hell loved and desired God, even though they could not have Him.

This question really has me stumped…

 

If you have any answers, thoughts, comments or questions, please comment or, better yet, write a post about it. I think we don’t talk enough about hell. I don’t mean that we should start threatening people with fire and worms, but it is too important to ignore, and we are far too ignorant. What’s more, I think we seem on the one hand, incoherent, believing in both mercy and hell, and on the other hand, like we don’t really believe at all, because we seem to quietly ignore the scary or inconvenient parts.

Thanks for reading, and God bless you!

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