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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Who do Atheists Thank on Thanksgiving?...

Nice setting for Thanksgiving...
In 1863, at the height of the most divisive and devastating period in American history, where brother fought brother and our country was being torn apart, amidst bloodshed, suffering, grief and despair, President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving to pause and give thanks for all the blessings God bestows on us each day.

We have been celebrating this day of "Thanksgiving" on the fourth Thursday of November ever since.

As we prepare for yet another Thanksgiving Day, a holiday tradition, which to me, is synonymous with the four f's; faith, family, food and football? (although my wife would contest the latter!), I couldn't help but think, in my own warped mind, about Atheists. 

Do they thank nature for their life, health, happiness and living in a country founded on the belief that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights?  Or do they thank the randomness of cells and chromosomes that gave them the ability to thank, in the first place, or even think, for that matter?

I came across an article on the subject recently on an Atheist website, where the writer claimed that Thanksgiving was not at all about thanking God.  Instead, he said, it was a secular tradition meant for thanking people, farmers, soldiers, science, modern medicine, etc.

I agree that we should thank those we love and people who do things for us that we couldn't do ourselves, but, as former Atheist and Oxford scholar, who became among the greatest Christian authors of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, would have pointed out, this begins with a premise; an innate moral responsibility to show appreciation for the "good" others do for us, as if there is a standard for "goodness," which of course, Christians know there is since it is written in our hearts by God but, flies in the face of an Atheist, Naturalist or Materialist (which are interchangeable) worldview.

In other words, if we are just accidents of nature, material beings who developed over millions of years from a primordial soup and will live purposeless lives, only to die and rot in the ground, then where does good and evil, right and wrong, or even an inclination towards showing appreciation towards others fit in? 

Does it come from trying to serve the common good?  But, then again, who determines that common good?  Would it be the powerful, like when Hitler began euthanizing handicapped babies in Germany for the common good, since might makes right under a naturalist perspective?  (Think "survival of the fittest," as Charles Darwin would say!)

Or, would it come from reason?  But, then what role does reason really play in a materialistic universe, considering reason is neither material or substance and thus, what would propel anyone to abide by it in the first place?  

Ultimately, then, as even the father of modern Atheism, Friedrich Nietzsche, who was the first to proclaim, "God is dead," concluded, under an Atheist worldview, any standard for morality would be arbitrary, since as Dostoevsky once wrote, "If God doesn't exist, everything is permissible."

Now, that's not to say that all Atheists are immoral anymore than to say that all Christians are moral.  It is just that under a naturalistic worldview, where there is no transcendent objective and absolute truth, who theists call God, the standards for morality would have to boil down to individual preferences.

The reason I thought about Atheists and Thanksgiving, is that, last weekend, I met and befriended a man of apparently strong moral character and integrity, who proudly asserts, without reservations (well, maybe just a little, after a bit of coaxing and discussion), his disbelief in God.

This wasn't just a garden variety agnostic, who isn't sure whether God exists and really doesn't care (which actually may be further away from God than an Atheist), that you run into from time to time.  This was a bona fide non-believer!  I read a lot about Atheists, more to learn how to protect my kids from it than anything else, but this was the first time I actually met one!

Therefore, as I sit there at the dinner table with my family and friends to express gratitude to the Almighty God for all my blessings He gives me, such as faith, which obviously not everybody has, my wife and children, extended family and friends, our health, provisions and the good times and bad, as Lincoln called us to do 150 years ago, I will no doubt think about my newfound friend.

Who will he thank, as he sits around the table with his friends and family on Thanksgiving Day?...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Words of Wisdom from John Henry Newman...

"I am created to do or to be something for which no one else is created:  I have a place in God's counsels, in God's world, which no one else has.  Whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name."

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, 19th Century bishop, theologian, author and Oxford scholar, who is  renown as one of the most influential Christian writers in history and his literary works are still impacting Christians today.  Cardinal Newman was so highly esteemed and respected that when he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, after setting out to prove the Anglican Church was the one founded by Christ, that about a hundred Anglican bishops followed him into the Church.

Bl. John Henry Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to England in 2010.  His canonization as saint is dependent on the confirmation of a second miracle attributed to his intercession....

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Papal Relic and a Debate on Idol Worshiping...

An outpouring of faith...
This week, as the Official Relic of the Postulation of Bl. Pope John Paul II, which is a vial of his blood taken days before his death, arrived in South Florida, and the news department I work for decided to do special coverage to get us out into the community we serve, I had an interesting conversation with a Protestant friend of mine about faith and the Church.

As most of us know, one of the "unwritten rules" of our times is to never discuss religion or politics in public because it often sparks inner passions that may degenerate into conflict (I know this from personal experience!).

In fact, we have been so deeply programmed in our "politically correct" culture, where many people walk on egg-shells to avoid crossing the line into what other people believe, that often, especially in mixed company, we may be more willing to discuss trivial things such as a ball game, the weather, the latest trend, a TV show or favorite wine then things that really matter in life like God, faith, philosophy and public policy.

In the process, we've unfortunately become a culture of superficiality and ignorance towards religion (if not outright rejection of it, even among some Christians!), where truth is distorted and relegated to individual preferences.  In other words, we mold God into what we believe instead of molding ourselves into what God wants us to believe.

With that in mind, as I drove with a co-worker to and from the parish, where the papal relic was going to be taken, for a meeting with the pastor, I struck up a conversation about marriage and the culture, knowing well that he was a fellow Christian.

After about an hour into our discussion about marriage, family, faith and the perils of today's society on maintaining all of them, he told me that his mother attended a Catholic church in another part of town but that he and his four siblings had left the Church for a small Bible church many years ago. 

Having heard and read dozens of conversion stories over the years (My favorite TV Show is EWTN's Journey Home), I know that one of the hardest things for parents to deal with is watching their children leave the church of their upbringing.  As you can imagine, even the most nominal believers feel a sense of loss, if not straight-out betrayal.

I attempted to navigate gingerly and asked him what his leaving the Church did to his parents.  He admitted, as I thought, that it was very difficult on them, even for his dad, who was not particularly a church-going man for most of his life.  It actually took his kids leaving the Catholic Church for him to start going to Mass, as it often happens with these types of challenges and adversities within families.  Yet, over the years, he said, his parents had learned to accept and understand that he had not joined a "cult" and that his church had made him a better man, husband and son.

As we approached the station, on our return trip, I said a little internal prayer to the Holy Spirit, took a gulp and mustered the courage to ask him point blank, "So, why did you leave the Catholic Church?"

If our conversation had been sleepily moving along until then, it was as if the Florida A & M University marching band (before the hazing ban) woke him out of a slumber.  That's when he really opened up!  Maybe, it was his cue to "share the Gospel" and, although respectful, proceeded to try to make me realize the waywardness of my faith. 

He started by saying that the more he read the Bible, and the more he studied the faith, he came to the realization that God doesn't want us to worship idols and statues (or relics for that matter!).  It's a common misunderstanding among Protestants, since Catholics don't worship idols or statues, but honor the men and women who the images represent, since they serve as our role models for living righteous and holy lives and are now more alive then ever, since they are in God's Glory in heaven.

In any case, he talked about the Holy Spirit guiding him and instructing him in his faith journey over the past thirteen years and that he found many unbiblical inconsistencies with the Church, such as purgatory, the Catechism, the role of works in salvation, etc. (And, he was just getting started!)

As I stated, having heard and read many conversion stories in the past, I knew where he was coming from and had heard every argument he was making against the Church.

So, I asked him how he knew the Holy Spirit was guiding him to the truth, since there are so many other Christians (about 30 thousand different denominations, for that matter), who swear by the same Bible and understand things very differently, which was how I led into explaining how Christ left the Church, which He founded upon Peter and promised to guide to "all truth," as the official keeper and interpreter of the deposit of faith, including the Bible, considering it was the Church, through the authority given to Her by Christ, that decide which books to include in the Bible in the late 4th Century.

He admitted the Church had kept and maintained the writings of the Apostles but that we added seven books that were not part of the original scripture to back up some of the teachings of the Church (a point of contention in the debate since the books were part of the Canonized Bible for almost 1100 years before Martin Luther decided to remove them!).

In any event, we started getting very involved in our discussion and carried it into his office, where we spent about another hour (if not more) debating various issues of the faith. 
There are two ways this could have ended, either in an all-out argument of tit-for-tat Bible verses, which we did a little of, or we could take the high road as Christian men that we both are and kept it respectful without loosing our patience. 

I can proudly say that we both took the latter, and while we had an animated exchange, among other things, about Apostolic Tradition, sola scriptura, sola fide, salvation outside the Church, the role of works and faith, the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John, and the the veneration of saints (despite the priest having possibly misspoken when he talked to us that morning, since my friend swears, he said the faithful would come up and "adore" Pope John Paul's Relic!); you know, many of the things that theologians, philosophers and greater minds then ours have grappled over since the Protestant Reformation over 500 years ago, we approached our contentions from the outset of love and respect.

Let's be honest, if there is one thing I have learned through the years is that I'm never going to be able to convince anyone about the truth of the Catholic Church, without God's intervention, anymore than he was going to convince me.

However, I don't see it as an exercise in futility since St. Peter tells us that we should, "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence." (1 Pet 3:15)  

Knowing our faith well and being able to explain it is what all Christians are called to do.  As long as we do it for God's Glory and not to win an argument, which I admit can be tricky at first, we shouldn't shy away from discussing religion, even if we come from different perspectives, because we may offend someone.  In fact, if we truly believe what we believe, as most people of faith do, then we are obliged to share it.

At the end of the day, I know my co-worker is a good man, who lives his faith according to his understanding and his small Bible church has no-doubt made him, as he said, a better man, husband and son.  But, as I could tell by our discussion, his understanding of the Church was limited when he left and probably has been negatively influenced since.  I think it's only natural, since he has to justify, at least his own mind, why he "protested " in the first place.

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ but, we are called to be One as Jesus repeatedly prayed to the Father for His Disciples to be, and since He founded just One Church upon the Apostles and gave them the authority to bind and loose on earth what would be bound and loosed in heaven, it is incumbent for all Christians to be humble, dig a little deeper and, at least, explore (or re-explore) the flock that Jesus instructed Peter to tend and feed.

The Church is the Body and Bride of Christ, according to Sacred Scripture, and while there is truth in all Christian denominations, the "fullness of Truth" can only be found in His Church; the "pillar and foundation of truth," as St. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy.

As far for our news coverage, it turned out excellent.  We had an anchor and a reporter live from in front of the Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah, as over thirteen hundred parishioners from all walks of life filled the one thousand-seat sanctuary and spilled outside.  They partook in the Holy Mass, prayed and venerated (not adored!) the relic...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Prayers and Conversations with My Children...

Good habits last a lifetime...
Although I don't always think so, because I want to get back to a TV show or ball game as soon as possible, one of the highlights of my day is praying with my children.

Every night, before our three kids go to bed, I blessed them with holy water and lead them in the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer and a Hail Mary.  You can say it's my one-on-three time, as I often tell friends. 

But, lately my 6-year-old son has added a new twist to our nightly routine.  As I'm doing the sign of the cross to wrap up and call it a night, he says to me, "Daddy, I want to talk to God," which means he wants me to pray so that he can repeat what I say. 

After doing it for a while, I use it as my Duck Dynasty concluding scene moment, where I think about all the things that we should be grateful for and the things that may have happened to them, friends or family that day, as he parrots my every word, except when he can't understand a big one! (Which prompts me to use a simpler term)

One night this week, my third grade daughter, who apparently is learning about the Four Marks of the Church, asked me whether I knew what they were shortly before I put them to bed (I guess she was trying to stump me!).

So, I decided to use my Duck Dynasty moment to thank God for giving us the Blessed Mother, the Communion of Saints, the Eucharist and the Church, which allowed me to elaborate on why the Catholic Church is said to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic (the four marks she was asking about).

Not to get too fancy or philosophical on them, I told them the Church is One because Jesus built just one, His Church, upon Peter the Rock.  She is Holy because the Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles to all truth and gave them the authority to bind and lose on earth what would be bound and loosed in heaven.  She is Catholic because the word means universal and is spread throughout the world, as Christ commanded the Apostles to "make disciples of all nations."  And, she is Apostolic because her roots can be traced back to the Apostles themselves. 

When we finished praying, my third grader asked, "Daddy, why do you call the Church a she and her?"

My 9-year-old daughter is very observant and likes to ask provoking questions, like the time she asked me why we pray to Mary, not because of any objection (since she is still to young to question what we teach her) but because of sincere childlike curiosity about our faith.  Last year, as she prepared for her First Holy Communion, her teacher often raved to me about her spirituality and profound understanding of the faith (for her age).

"Well," I answered, "Because Jesus is the Bridegroom and we, the Church, are His Bride.  We are united to Jesus through the Eucharist.  As a husband and a wife become one in marriage, we become One with Jesus when we receive the Eucharist.  And, since God is three persons, and where One is All are, then in the Eucharist are also contained the Father and Holy Spirit.  And, since the Church is the Body of Christ, as St. Paul says in the Bible, and you can't separate the head from the body, in the Eucharist we are united to the entire Church; the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, those in heaven, those in purgatory and all of us here on earth, who partake in the Eucharist."  Say what?   

Exactly!  I paused a moment and noticed a dead silence.

Either all three had fallen asleep, which I doubted, or their little brains were spinning frantically.  I could have broken into the old Simon and Garfunkel song, "Hello darkness, my old friend.  I've come to talk to you again..."  I could have sworn I heard crickets chirping outside.

I decided to leave it at that and got up from my son's bed, where I was lying, and gave him a kiss.  "I love you, Daddy," he offered with a hug and a kiss, as I got up. 

"I love you too, Buddy," I said, then got up, walked out of their room and closed the door behind me.

There is a fine line between trying to explain our faith to young minds and talking over their heads, as my wife often warns me. 

But, the way I figure it, as the Catholic Church teaches, the greatest responsibility I have as a husband and father is helping my family get to heaven.  Therefore, I think it's better to show them my fervor and passion for my faith, even if they don't quite understand yet, so that, as they get older and are  more ready to digest what I have passed on to them, they can appreciate and be inspired, if not by my words, at least, by my ardency.   

Besides, I also learned something very valuable that night.  The next time I want them to pipe down after a raucous day, I'll just try to explain the Holy Trinity!

St. Augustine once said, "Seek not to understand that you may believe but believe that you may understand."  Hopefully with belief, and God's grace, my children will one day understand, despite their dad's elaborate and silence-inducing explanations!

Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.
What do you think, was it too much?...