Theology

Does prayer change things?

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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.

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God bless you

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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!

The root of all sin is fear

‘The root of all sin is fear: the very deep fear that we are nothing; the compulsion, therefore, to make something of ourselves, to construct a self-flattering image of ourselves we can worship, to believe in ourselves — our fantasy selves. I think that all sins are failures in being realistic; even the simple everyday sins of the flesh, that seem to come from mere childish greed for pleasure, have their deepest origin in anxiety about whether we really matter, the anxiety that makes us desperate for self-reassurance. To sin is always to construct an illusory self that we can admire, instead of the real self that we can only love.’

– Herbert McCabe, OP, quoted in ‘Why Go To Church?’ by Timothy Radcliffe, OP (a very good book so far)

God bless!

The River of Tradition

‘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.’

I wrote this in a post a couple years ago, and I just wanted to post it again on its own.

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God bless you!

Your religion is mine, and my religion is yours

I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I’m not putting that in quotes, because this is my own profession, not someone else’s. It’s not just the faith of the Church, it’s my faith, and I take a great deal of delight in it. So, please let me elaborate on this beautiful aspect of my faith.

What this means, in the most simple terms, is that your religion is mine, and my religion is yours. The religion of John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, Ignatius of Antioch, Clare of Assisi, Anselm of Canterbury, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius of Loyola, Therese of Lisieux, Maximilian Kolbe, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope Francis, is all mine!

We are united in our relationship with Jesus. We relate to Jesus as one. All the theology, all the spirituality, all the life of the entire Church, belongs to me! We are truly one body; the Body of Christ. Every time we approach God, in prayer, sacrament, or service, we do so as one, in the one love of Christ.

Here is the authority of Church: that because we are one in Christ, we can never reject the religion of our brothers. If I refuse your relationship with Christ, I have become a schismatic and a heretic, and have rejected Christ Himself. Heresies aren’t born from creative insights, but from narrow-minded and prideful rejection of the divine mysteries that the Church lives. Every single time, without fail, heresy has belonged not to the inquisitive or open minded, but to the proud, judgmental and closed minded.

But how is this to be enacted and maintained throughout the world and across the ages? By the Apostolic succession of the Bishops, who have been entrusted with the whole of the Catholic faith, to guard and pass it on in its entirety. It is the incredible task of the Bishop to contain within himself the entirety of the Church. If that seems impossible, remember that the entirety of the Church is contained in the Holy Eucharist, the Body of Christ, and in the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bishop is, in simple terms, the reference point for the Church. They are the ones entrusted with the faith by Jesus, and they deserve our complete trust too.

So the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. She is one: united in one religion, who is named Jesus Christ; she is Holy: by the holiness of Jesus Christ that she shares in, and that is the source of all she is; she is Catholic: by accepting the wholeness of the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of God, as found in the whole of the Church and the whole of the world; she is Apostolic: authorised and sent out by Jesus Christ, who was Himself sent by the Father, and by His authority she goes out to whole world, preaching and practising unity, holiness, and wholeness.

Pope Francis Holds Weekly Audience - May 22, 2013

Pope Francis: the Successor of St. Peter

Father, let us be one, as You are one with Jesus Christ Your Son. Amen

 

God bless you!

Trinity Time!

Yesterday, I had two thoughts about the Holy Trinity. The first concerns the three words that characterise Mary’s life in the Bible: Ecce- Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; Fiat- Let it be done to me, according to the word of the Lord; Magnificat- My soul magnifies the Lord.

What I noted is, that Ecce relates to the Father, who we all belong to by our very existence. Fiat relates to he Son, the Word of the Lord, who acts in all creation and is to act in fullness in us. And Magnificat relates to the Holy Spirit, in who we go out, bringing Christ to the world and bring Him glory!

We have received all from the Father. We live and must live fully, in the Son. We must live out, and so be united to, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

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This is pretty…

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Not how I imagined the Trinity…

The second thought follows on from this: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, also correspond to the past, present and future. The Father is the firm foundation of all existence, from whom we receive all things. The Son is the revelation and presence of God in the world, through whom we have all things. The Spirit is the revealing of God, Father and Son, by whose power God is being conceived and brought forth in creation, in whom all things are.

The past, the present, and the future are intimate united and interwoven (and I’d argue, not as linear as we might suppose). Each is fully present within the others two. The past is revealed not in itself, by in the future, as time passes and the past bears its fruit. It is by the present that we know time (or anything in it) at all. The future is the power of motion within the past and the present, it is the motion and life of them, and the world of possibilities.

To be united with God the Father, who is the source and origin of all Being, all life, all everything, we must be united His Son, the Word of God, the Divine Wisdom, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the ever present expression of God the Father throughout creation. And to be united to the Son and the Father, we must be subject to the Holy Spirit, the divine breath of life, the one moving all creation forwards in God, bringing forth God, forming matter into the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Well, what do you think?

Thanks for reading, and God bless you!

How is Scripture to be read?/What is Scripture?

This question has kept on cropping up for me, whether I consider Catholic interactions with protestants, other faiths, or complete non-believers. A common issue in all such dialogues, is that they consider our Scriptures differently.

An easy example is a non-believer laughing at how, in the Genesis story, the character known as “God” doesn’t want us eating some random apple (which was actually the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”). But this is to read it as a mere story, when it is far, far more.

I think a large part of the blame lies with the protestant dogma of Sola Scriptura, saying that the Bible alone has authority. The basic issue with this is, that no interpretation of the Bible can then have authority, and without interpretation, the Bible literally means nothing. Of course, you can’t read the Bible without interpreting it, so they end up either abandoning any idea of certainty in belief, or only accepting the interpretation that seems to involve the least interpretation (though often this will be ignorant of the nature of what it is supposed to interpret). They must swing between liberalism and fundamentalism; between uncertainty and narrow-mindedness. There is no room for mysticism.

But Scripture is made to be interpreted! I’d go so far as to say that it’s made to have many (true) interpretations. The Scriptures are all, to varying degrees, art. At the time of writing, I believe the distinction had yet to be made between “mere art” and “mere fact”. Indeed, within a theistic universe, such a separation is incoherent! Truth cannot be separated from beauty, nor beauty from truth. All things are thoroughly a part of the whole, and all things must be understood in terms of each other.

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‘I have put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.’

I believe Scripture is the inexhaustible artwork. The Church with one heart and mind has been meditating upon it for near 2,000 years, and is still finding new depths! You may have found some yourself. The works of Shakespeare or Van Goph or Tolkien or Mozart may move us deeply, reveal truths even the artist didn’t perceive, and even transform us, but each has its end. Even if it might seem inexhaustible to us, nothing but Scripture can be meditated upon by a whole society (the Church in this case) for millennia, and consistently surprise us with its depths.

Another way to put it, is that all artwork is a window into a mind. The craftsmanship of the artist determines how clear or opaque the glass will be, and the contents is everything of their mind they open to us. Its worth noting that the artists don’t know or understand everything in their minds, and so are often more profound than they know.

Scripture, then, is a window into the Mind of God. It is mediated through the minds of men, and so is also a window into the minds of its authors, and of the cultures they lived in. But thankfully, these are also God’s creation, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit their minds provided a special window in God’s Mind.

“The Mind of God”… What does this actually mean? I would equate it with the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, the divine Logos: Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the complete and perfect revelation of God. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

All of Scripture serves primarily to reveal the person of the Son of God/Son of Mary. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He is brought to us, even as by the same Holy Spirit He was incarnate of the Virgin. And by the exact same Holy Spirit, He is to be conceived in you and me.

So, how is Scripture supposed to be read? As a Christian. As a mystic. As personal encounter with God. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word of God can be opened to us. It is only by the light of Christ that we see Christ.

There is no objective, “scientific” manner of interpreting the Scriptures as Scripture. Not even a little bit. Any doctrine gleaned in such a lifeless way, might or might not be correct… But either way, it will bring the reader no profit, no knowledge of the Truth. We should not read Scripture as a non-believer would (except for God’s grace intervening).

Theology must always be subject to mysticism. Every time this rule is refused, a heresy is born. How do we subject theology to mysticism? By always listening in humility for the Word of God, especially in His body, the Catholic Church. It is through the apostolic Church that Jesus desired to give Himself to the world, and it is there we must seek Him. The Church that is called to encounter God, is simultaneously called to be the encounter with God.

When we read the Scriptures, or do any theology, the only rule is to listen with humility to Jesus, wherever He is speaking to us. The powers of our intelligence are welcome, but they must sit at Jesus’ feet.

 

God bless you

Mary: Hinge of Salvation

“Let it be to me according to your word.” Lk 1:38

On these simple words, swing the entirety of Creation’s destiny. By Mary’s Yes, God entered and recreated the whole world. By Mary’s humble Fiat, we receive our Salvation, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

But why would God do this? Why would He make His plans so dependent on a creature? Why would He allow anyone else to assist in His plans, let alone be fundamental to them?

Because that’s God. God is humble, and has shared even His greatest work, the salvation and recreation of the universe, with His own creatures. God’s salvation is not just effective, but also intimate, acting not just upon us, but within us (if you don’t believe me, look at Mary when she was pregnant!). And so, God decided to save us from within Mary’s own freedom, so that God’s saving act would be hers too, and so she would be perfectly united to her Saviour.

God’s glory is not diminished a bit, but magnified, by Mary’s crucial cooperation, and the cooperation of all in accomplishing our salvation. By working through His lowly creatures, God makes Himself manifest in them as well as to them.

And the Virgin Mother, is the lowliest of all. That is why she accepts this life, this Son of God, from the lowly God, and why she has glorified God above all the angels in heaven.

If Jesus is the door through which we get to the Father, Mary is the hinge on which this door swings.

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God bless you