Religion

Pray When You Don’t Feel Like It

This is my best advice for all people, in all walks of life, of all ages, all backgrounds, heck, even of all religions and none. Whatever your lifestyle, whatever your past, whatever your vices and virtues, whatever your failures and successes. However much you pray, however “good” you are at it. Pray when you don’t feel like it.

Why? Because we always need God, and He always makes it better. Always.

We always need our Creator, our Father, our Saviour.

Bl. Mother Teresa quote

If you don’t feel you can pray right, pray wrong. Even if you can’t help swearing, swear in prayer. God loves it.

Even the smallest prayer in the worst sinner, opens us to God’s infinite creative love and mercy. Throughout each day, we grow stale (the “righteous” especially), and we need to be reinvigorated. We close ourselves off, from God, from others, from creation, and from ourselves. In this dying world to which we are subject, we must repeatedly open ourselves to the source of all life.

Whatever the situation, the briefest contact with God will bring life there.

As the winter deepens, we know that opening the door for just a moment lets so much cold in, and leaving one small window open freezes the whole house! That is how brief prayer and small prayer let God in.

Sometimes prayer will be genuinely painful. But however bad it may feel, this is the pain of life, and it is good. It burns and it crushes and it grinds, but it liberates, and fills us with light.

Sometimes, I don’t know the words; I pray remembered prayers (the Our Father and the Jesus prayer usually). God answers. Sometimes, all my words, all my thoughts, and all I am, seem empty and vain; I tell God I feel empty and vain, accepting that I feel empty and vain even as I confess this. God comes to the rescue. Sometimes, I can’t bring myself to say a word before God; I kneel in front of my crucifix, make the sign of the cross, and remain there, in front of the Lord, knowing I am seen. God is there. Sometimes, I’m too afraid to go to God at all; I go to a saint to help me (usually St. Therese). The saints bring me to God. And sometimes, I don’t take my own advice and don’t pray.

At those times God either keeps on disturbing me, or waits for me.

Evidently, I’m no prayer master. But I know for certain, that every time we pray, we open our lives to God’s work, and He always enters, and He always helps.

 

God bless you

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The Quran and Jesus

[This is the very first thing I’ve noted, in my recently begun (casual) study of Islam. I’ve started it because Islam is extremely important in the world today, and dialogue with Islam seems ever more important, especially in times of conflict in the Muslim world. Please, correct me to the best of your ability where I’ve misunderstood. Thank you]

I was recently given a free English translation of the Quran, and a few leaflets about Islam. Here is the first thing I have learned (and it seems to me, it may be the most important thing for a Christian to learn about Islam):

The Muslim’s Quran is more analogous to the Christian’s Jesus than to the Christian’s scriptures. In the introduction to the Quran I was given (something feels wrong about saying “my Quran”…), it says,

‘Moreover, it is the actual words of Allah — not created, but revealed by Him through the angel Gabriel to a human messenger, Muhammed…

What does one discover when he understands the meanings of the Qur’an? The answers to this question can be classified in four main categories:

1. That he can know his Creator as He has described Himself

2. …

4. How he should relate to all things — to Allah by worship and obedience, to his fellow man by…

This divine message was revealed to confirm and renew the relationship between man and his Creator and to reinstate the sincere and correct worship of the one true God…

It was “not created” that really grabbed my attention.

Much as we believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal, uncreated, Word of God, so Muslims believe that the Quran is the uncreated words of Allah. As Christ’s birth was proclaimed by the angel Gabriel, and given through Mary, so Muslim’s believe the Quran came through Gabriel, and was given to Muhammed to give to the world. We believe that in Christ, we can know God as He reveals Himself; similarly, Islam teaches that through the Quran, we can know God as He described Himself. As Jesus himself reveals how we should relate to all things, so Muslims believe about the Quran. As Jesus was sent to renew and confirm the relationship between God and man, so Muslims consider the Quran.

So, theologically at least, Christianity and Islam shouldn’t be compared Jesus against Muhammed, or the Quran against the Bible, but Jesus to the Quran, Muhammed to the prophets or apostles (or maybe even Mary), and the Bible to the Hadith. And certain practices, such as reciting the Quran in Arabic, even when it is not understood, should not be looked down upon with condescension, and considered as oppression or superstitious religious nonsense, but as practically (in Christian terms) sacramental; encountering a divine and unfathomable mystery in a simple, strange, and humble manner.

I would also like to point out at this point, that when, in recent years, some fundamentalist preachers threatened to burn Qurans, it was less like if Muslims had threatened to burn Bibles (sad as damaged Bibles are), than like when satanists threatened to desecrate Jesus Himself in the Holy Eucharist.

Of course, I must make it clear that (to my knowledge) no Muslim claims that the Quran is consubstantial with God. So the analogue is close, but not quite. But, I think it may still be, to Muslims, the Holiest thing on earth.

One thing I see that must be appealing about this view of the Quran, is the direct, ready access it gives to God’s words and divine mystery. Any Muslim can hold it in their hands, and relate with Allah according to the words He gave them to relate to Him with. If Christian’s had the Bible alone, we would (at least, theoretically) be further from God, than Muslims are from Allah. But, thank God, through the the Church, the very Body and spouse of Christ, and through the sacraments and the sacramental life, we are thoroughly immersed in the mystery of God’s own Trinitarian life.

As a final note, here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.841:

The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

Pax Christi, Shalom aleichem, and Salaam alaikum!

The Necessity of Religion in Politics

Religion is necessary to politics, because the idea of the person is necessary to politics. The person is in fact something only perceptible by faith. By science or philosophy, you can determine many things about the nature of Homo Sapiens, but you cannot demonstrate their personhood. By these methods, you may discover various different ways of how they work, engaging various material, or even “spiritual”, mechanisms within the creature, but you won’t find that it is a person to relate to, to engage and commune with, that participates in the unfathomable mystery at the foundation of the universe, and so has universal rights.

Persons and personhood, cannot be proven or discovered, but only encountered. They are too profound to be found through our external and detached methodologies, but must be met, and communed with. Personhood is a truth we can only accept on faith, born of encounter.

Of course, you don’t have to be “religious” to encounter and accept the reality of personhood. People from any religion (I think…) or none can. But it is a thoroughly religious idea.

And without a solid, well built faith, the idea of personhood will be attacked on all sides, by various ideas of ‘pragmatism’, ‘utility’, ‘realism’, ‘moderation’, ‘fairness’, ‘liberty’, and even ‘compassion’. Personhood must be held to tightly at all times, or it will not last, and with it, the dignity of many lives. But personhood is difficult to hold alone, because it refuses all compromise, and to be strengthened needs to be part of a larger system of mystery. That is, personhood cannot well last, if it is understood as an isolated reality, without proper relationship to the rest of existence; it requires to be placed in relationship with a similarly profound mystery of all that is, that is also to profound for any knowledge but the knowledge born of encounter: the knowledge of faith.

Believers, when engaged in politics, cannot leave religion at the front door, because it will leave personhood, which should be the heart of all politics, exposed and vulnerable, to inferior ideas making reckless use of lesser truths. When the true principle of man’s life, that is, man’s relationship to the divine, is ignored, life is easily denigrated, and we end up with a culture of death.

In practice, personhood means that humans are not things to be used, but people to love. From this view, we can see that society’s focus shouldn’t be the individual or the collective, but the community, which transcends and harmonises both, in a shared life of dynamic love.

God bless you

P.S. I hope to write more posts on politics and society soon.

Is Christianity Knowable?

One of the main things that drove me from protestantism to Catholicism, was realising that within protestantism, I couldn’t really know about most areas of my religion. One day I could be sure an issue was settled, and the next day I would have seen an argument against my earlier position, and think the matter’s open, and within a few days my mind could completely change on an issue. And each time, I’d have to run about, looking into ancient languages, history, and literary styles, to support my new belief. Often, I was trying (with moderate success) to push my own ideas onto the Bible (I very nearly had a vegetarian Jesus at one point, but there was a pesky fish in the way…).

There could be arguments over what was scripture (“Paul never even met Jesus…”), what the scripture said (“the Hebrew word used, beit-nun-hei, was used to…), and how scripture should be read (“scripture came through men, and cannot be taken at face value”) [I can see the appeal of KJVonlyism]. I read good Christian books and theology, and found they kept referring me to a new “heart of Christianity”. It was when I heard about a Christian who believed we should still follow Jewish dietary laws that I got really fed up. Without hearing him out, I couldn’t dismiss him, as he was probably better informed on the matter than me. But I decided to anyway, because I was tired of being told I didn’t know my religion until I learned about ancient languages and history and the rest. I felt it was settled by St. Paul in the first century Anno Domini. I began to wonder if I had be a full-time scholar to know the “true” teachings of my own religion.

Sadly, these arguments aren’t confined to trivial matters. To this day, there are people arguing from the Bible against Christ’s divinity, God being the Trinity, who God loves, how we are saved, the way to read the Bible, the role of the law, the nature of sin, and much more. Today, protestantism still has to fight many of the heresies dealt with by the early Church. Protestantism is, naturally, in a worse state than the early Church was, because they have only the scriptures to refer to, and so each theologian must start again from the scriptures, whereas the early Church could also refer to the oral teachings of the apostles, and those given authority by the apostles.

As a result of this general uncertainty (and greater geographical mobility), you’ll find most protestants today will only call themselves Christian, and will avoid even calling themselves protestants (perhaps out of politeness also). Few are willing to associate with a denomination, since a better interpretation may come along, or they may move somewhere where that denomination is less to their worship taste. Exactly what constitutes a “Christian” is up for debate, and it’s accepted that on most matters, there is only opinion. As a result, churches only teach basic Christianity.

At the end of the day, the question remains unanswered, “Who is Jesus, and what exactly does he want?” Does he just want to save us, so we can sin as much as we like and still be saved? Does he want to threaten everyone with eternal torture so they obey his blood-thirsty Father? Does he want us to start a revolution? Does he want us to not judge others? Does he want us to follow him even to death? Does he want us to eat his body and drink his blood, and so enter into mystical union with him? Does he want us to be saved for doing good to the needy?

The Solution

Catholicism. Catholic teaching is known, and does not change. The Catholic Church has an immense, two thousand year old intellectual tradition, reasoning through everything thoroughly, and yet, the Catholic faith can be reasonably accepted by illiterate peasants as well as the finest scholars, because it is from the Church that Jesus founded.

The Catholic Church doesn’t struggle with the old heresies anymore, because they were definitively settled more than a millennium ago. The arguments were laid to rest, and we’re done with the matter. That’s not to say there are none left. There are always new heresies, but they’re being dealt with too.

The Church has come a long way since she was the early Church, and has remembered and passed on all of the teachings of the apostles, and ‘treasured all their words and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). Indeed, the Church has internalised the understandings of those who originally wrote and received the scriptures, so that the Church’s teachings are naturally the teachings of the scriptures in their proper context. That’s not to say that the Church isn’t looking back to the scriptures though.

In protestantism, the believer is always looking to the fresh rain of the scriptures, but in Catholicism, the believer looks to the fresh rain of the scriptures, as well as the great torrents of the river of reflection and consideration by the saints upon those same scriptures, going back to their source in the incarnate Son of God. To take this analogy a step further, the puddle corrupts and muddies the water it receives far more than the fast flowing river.

‘Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church.’
St. Thomas Aquinas

Ultimately, the reason I became a Catholic is because I had come to believe that the Catholic Church really knew Jesus. I looked at her teachings, practices, and attitudes (particularly towards poverty and suffering), and I looked at the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, and found she was living in radical continuity with Jesus and the apostles. Catholicism was the real deal. And since the Church really knew Jesus, she really knew his teaching.

God bless you.

My First Confession

I received the Sacrament of Confession for the first time last week, and I feel it would be good to share some thoughts from it.

Beforehand, I felt an almost overwhelming guilt. It was painful. But as I thought about receiving the sacrament of forgiveness for my sins, it remained painful, but it felt like it was good pain, like God’s grace was attacking the sins already. As I made my way there, my heart was thumping heavily.

When I finally had the sacrament, I felt great shame at my sins, but I felt like they were being destroyed and washed out even as I confessed them. What really struck me was how my confessor showed no signs of judgment at all. I had come ready for being told, at least a little bit, how bad I had been, but there was nothing except forgiveness. The absence of judgment and ready forgiveness really showed me an image of holiness. It really made me appreciate priests, who are blessed to even administer God’s forgiveness.

Afterwards, I felt liberated. There was no more guilt. I was happy, and light as a feather. A few hours after, I noticed that I felt naked [I was outside at the time, and genuinely wondered if I might be]. I felt like I was naked before God, and He accepted me in my vulnerability. I had revealed myself to God. Of course, God already knew everything to begin with, but by the sacrament, I had gone out of my way to show myself to Him. God hadn’t just happened to oversee my sins, but I had presented myself, in all my sinfulness, to Him intentionally. I think this is part of why He gave us this sacrament. It was liberating.

All in all, it was a terrifying experience, and a good, healing, surprisingly liberating experience.

Pope Francis goes to Confession

Pope Francis recently went to confession publicly. I’ve heard that he usually goes every two weeks (privately).

May God bless you

Can God create a stone…

Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it? If yes, how is He all-powerful? If no, how is He all-powerful?

I love this question. Initially, it seems like a perfect proof that an all-powerful being is impossible, which is troubling (to say the least) from the standpoint of religion. It is the kind of question that probes into the fabric of reality. It seems like the perfect trap. But I don’t believe it is inescapable. In fact, I would say that such questions force us to look into the depths of reality, and the fundamental facts of God Himself.

It seems that to answer yes, is to admit defeat, and to answer no, is also admitting defeat. Apparently we can do neither.

The first key to the question is the difference between what God could do theoretically (i.e. what’s in His power to do), and what God would do (i.e. what’s in His nature to do), and the second is the power of the question itself. Yes, God could (theoretically) create a stone so heavy that He could not lift it, and what’s more, He could then lift it. Yes, this is the contradiction the question was after. But what question is so powerful as to bind God? God is not subordinate to logic (or He is not God), nor did He create logic (or He Himself would be inconceivable), but God is (in a sense) logic (look up the theology of Jesus as the divine Logos and the divine Wisdom).

So, if God is logic, can God do something illogical? Theoretically, He could if He changed Himself. Can the unchanging God change Himself? Again, theoretically, yes. Nothing constrains God but God.

But then again, God won’t ever create such a stone, do something illogical, or change Himself, because of who He is. God will never change; He will never lie; He will never be unfaithful. And God will never change, because there is nothing that can affect God but Himself; and He will never choose to change because He is not even subject to time, and to change your mind requires time’s work. He already knows all things perfectly, and will not discover anything to change His mind.

So if we consider that God is, in a certain sense, unable to create and lift such a stone, it is only because He Himself, by His very being, makes it that way, by His free and continued choice.

 

God bless you

[P.S. I’d love to keep the discussion going, so if you have any further points, either agreeing or disagreeing or neither, I’d love to see them. Thanks]

The truth will set you free

Freedom is a bit of an obsession of mine, largely because of its relationship to truth.
If I believe a lie, I am a slave to the deceiver, because I don’t live according to the world I live in. I’m not in accordance with the nature of my existence.
If I tell lies or live a lie, I make a slave of myself, as I deny my own nature in favour of one that does not exist. A lie always concerns the liars nature, at the least by the idea that they know what they talk of.
What is freedom but being true to yourself? But who is yourself? We are such twisted creatures that we seem to be contradictory things at different times, and often at once. And not only are we divided, but we are profound. We contain depths beyond our own knowledge.
That ‘Who am I?’ is a valid question, is enough to show its significance. It is one of the greatest question of all. Whether we study maths, chemistry, animals, people, religion, God, or anything else, we’re looking for where we fit in, and what that makes us.

“If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:31-32

What truth does Jesus mean? The truth about who we are.
According to Jesus and his disciples, we are the objects of God’s love, we are His children, we are called to His family. We are here to love. This is freedom.
But this is not just the answer for humanity. We are not loved just as a part of humanity, but as an individual child of God, made in His image. Our place isn’t as specks in a faceless mass.
We exist for perfect love. What is love?

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
1 John 3:16

Love is a giving, and especially a giving up. And love is also receiving, and sharing.
Love is giving what is good, and especially giving up what is good, for another’s sake. Love is sharing in another’s sorrows, weaknesses and struggles. And love is receiving another’s gifts of love, with joy, thanksgiving, and the plan of giving back whatever you can. And so, love is the complete sharing of life.
God gave us life and His Son, Jesus Christ gave up his life for us. By his incarnation, Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, shared in the sorrows, weaknesses and struggles of all humanity. We ought to receive his gifts, including his very self, with joy, thanksgiving, and the plan of offering him ourselves, as we follow him, carrying our crosses. And he will be faithful, and receive our offering with joy, and continue to give himself to us. And we will share in his life, as he abides in us, and we abide in him.
This is what we truly are, this is what we are made for, and this is our freedom.

Love doesn’t seem to be perfect freedom. What if we were slaves? Would we not then be free by resistance and disobedience, rather than love?
No, because if we consistently disobeyed, for example, the masters could just tell us what not to do. My point is, we can even become slaves to resistance itself.
Undoubtedly, there are times and ways to resist all injustices, and it is an imperative of love to take such opportunities, but resistance is not freedom itself. Even in such conditions, love is the greatest freedom, because by love, we are our true selves no matter who or what may oppose us.
To love our enemies is not only righteous and relaxing, but genuinely liberating, as we live by the truth of us, of them, and of God, that no one’s actions can ever change.

I’d like to finish with a prayer:

Heavenly Father,
Help us to know, remember, and live by the truth;
Help us to live in freedom, and to liberate others;
Help us to live by your love, always.
Give us to love and seek the truth with all humility, and with great joy and zeal.
Teach us to be grateful to you at all times, for our existence and for our redemption, and so for our entire lives.
Teach us, by your Holy Spirit, to pay without ceasing, so that we may thank you always, serve you always, listen to you always, and accept you always.
Amen.

May God bless you, and your family.

The Old News

Christians have been reporting the same piece of “news” for nearly two thousand years. And hundreds of years before that, the prophets were predicting this same piece of news. After all this time, we still call it news, and we still report it, each and every day, around the entire world.

And it truly is news, even to this day. Even to those who have heard it a million times. Why? Because it’s still relevant to every single soul in the world. The “Good News” isn’t just about a one time event. Of course, a few unrepeatable events are crucial components of it, but equally, it’s about God coming down to you and to me, on this very day.

It’s news to us, both because we didn’t know about it beforehand, and because now we know, it changes everything. The salvation of humanity is the greatest event in all of history, and it’s as important today as on the day Jesus was born, the day he was crucified, and the day he rose again. Everything else is fleeting, and fading away, and come tomorrow no one will care, but the good news of the Kingdom of God changes all things in creation for all of eternity.

What’s more, it’s news to me every time I hear it. Yes, I have heard before, but I am forgetful. And while it’s relatively easy to get into the habit of living by the belief that God is “good”, it’s far tougher (and far more wonderful) to live by the belief that God is love. It’s shocking every time: God is merciful. Even while I haven’t forgotten, I am, so to speak, being continually shocked by this great truth. Further, He’s not merciful to us from a distance, and He’s not love in a vague and confusing aura of love; He is love, and He has mercy, in the person of Jesus Christ, God who took on flesh for us, and then gave his flesh for us, that we may live forever in him, and he in us. God is love, and He comes to us!

The gospel of our salvation is incredibly wonderful, and the most important truth in the universe. We should aim never to forget it, and never to neglect it. Not in thoughts, words, or deeds. It is truly our life.

This ancient truth is what matters. The most meaningful and wonderful truths in existence are held within it. It is to this old truth that we should be always looking, and not for a new understanding. I have often tried to write something original and “deep”, but I find that these are rarely worth reading. Such ideas may have some small worth, especially in a good context, but compared to the uncountable riches of salvation, they are nothing.

I should focus on the riches of God’s grace. Hopefully, what others have not yet found, I may show them, and if God one day allows me to notice a previously overlooked trinket among His treasures, then God will have shown me yet more favour that I don’t deserve.

That said, it is clear that we can’t all be full-time “theologians”, and I’m not sure a people composed entirely of theologians would be desirable. I am obliged to think about events other than salvation, and men other than Jesus. But at these times still, I should aim to keep in mind the gospel of God’s grace, which changes how we view all of reality, from the soul within us to the ground upon which we tread. There is nothing in reality which is not God’s, and there is nothing we should do if not for God. All things relate to the good news of my God, the Creator and the Redeemer. Perhaps this is part of what is meant by “pray without ceasing” (1Thess 5:17).

[I’d like to end with a prayer, if that’s all right. Let us close our eyes and pray. Are they closed yet? Good.]

Dear God, who by your mercy has offered us the gift of salvation,

Thank you for saving us.

Remind us constantly, and prepare our souls, to hold on to the good news of Your Kingdom.

By your grace, grant us the help we need to give up our all to possess Your Kingdom,

and to live out Your gospel, in love.

Help us to remember those who have not yet heard Your news,

and give us the courage and everything else we need, in order to share it with them.

Simplify our souls, so that we may accept your gospel entirely,

and live honestly before you.

Help us to pray better.

Thank you for the good news! You are so wonderful.

Amen.

[You may open your eyes now.]

May God bless you in all that you do.