Friday, February 07, 2003

On the Journey

I have not posted much this week. Between a heavy workload and the near blizzard conditions here in "the Springs" the week has gotten away from me.

Steven at Flos Carmeli has pointed me to the blog of a gentleman who is discerning (I think) his Christian faith and the form that faith should take. Craig (the gentleman in question) has written several perceptive posts that give a picture of one on the journey from, perhaps a very weak faith, to a growing and increasingly discerning faith. I would like to elaborate my own reactions to some of the things he has written and I encourage you to visit his site and read these posts yourself.

Craig is not Catholic but is not, I would say, anti-Catholic either. So it might be interesting to try to elucidate the Catholic position on some of his musings.

Now I have to decide how we know what we know about the faith, and what that implies; whether there are zero sacraments, two, or seven; what constitutes a "legitimate" church, and so on.

The Catechism says this about faith

#(155). "In FAITH, the human intellect and will co-operate with divine grace: 'Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.'[St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 2, 9; cf Dei Filius 3; DS 3010.]"

The point being here is that faith involves both the intellect and will cooperating with God. It is not something we achieve through our own efforts. The way we cooperate with God is to know his will and we know that through one or both of two sources, first Scripture then Tradition. The Church believes that these two sources constitute God's revelation of himself; we take God at his word and accept his teaching. This is the virtue of faith.

Scripture is not, in itself, all we need to have to know God's plan for our lives. It should be clear from the myriad of Protestant denominations today that "sola scriptura" at best leads to chaos. How can there be even 20,000 Protestant denominations as varied as say the Presbyterians to the Jehovah's Witnesses, each asserting in the strongest possible terms that they have only the Bible as their source of truth in matters of faith and morals? The Bible does not teach confusion, nor does it teach multiple truths, there is no such thing. It would seem to follow that there must be some other authority, the Church believes this authority is the Holy Spirit, to guarantee that what is written in the Bible is interpreted properly.

If all of this is true then we can decide "what we know about the faith" by studying both Scripture and Tradition. This is, I think, a synopsis of the Catholic position on faith and what we know to be true.

Craig goes on to make an interesting point:

"Now, I have learned a lot just through the rest of the blogosphere; a majority of the Christian bloggers are Catholic, or so it seems, and they explain their faith better than the official channels in my opinion. But I don't feel any particular call to be Catholic, and I am distinctly an outsider reading their posts. There's a wide cultural divide between Catholics and Protestants even on the Internet, and the Catholics are feeling embattled these days for obvious reasons."

He notices that Catholics, at least some of those of us who are making the feeble effort to blog, seem to have at least some idea of what the faith is. This is the core of the cultural difference between Protestantism and Catholicism -- as a Protestant it is not crucial what exactly the individual believes. In fact, in most cases the Protestant will not be able to clearly state a basis for his faith other than that he believes Jesus Christ to be his personal Lord and Savior and that the Bible is God's word and his only authority for matters of faith. Now this is a very good start but when you get down to it it's pretty thing gruel. It is sufficient for most Protestants (this is not universally true, obviously) because Protestant spirituality tends to be based more on emotion and excitement than Catholicism. This is, I think, at least part of the basis for the cultural divide that he so correctly describes.

However, Craig says he feels no call to be Catholic. He says he feels an outsider when reading Catholic blogs. I know what he means. When I was a Presbyterian and first looking into the Catholic Church it all seemed incredibly impenetrable to me. How could one ever learn all that one had to know just to be comfortable attending Mass? This feeling of separation gradually disappeared as I made the effort to learn what the Church was all about. This, I think, is a common experience for all who first come into contact with the Church. I would urge Craig, first of all, to be Christian. If he is open to the Spirit working, as the Catechism calls for, in his life and if it is the Spirit's will for him to come into the Church eventually then it will happen. The key point is that first step, the rest will fall into place.

One final point. Craig seems to perceive that most Catholics feel embattled because of the recent scandals in the Church. I do not believe this is at all true, at least among Orthodox Catholics. I think we recognize that the scandals are a prime example of the consequences of ignoring the long-held teachings of the Church in matters of human sexuality and reproduction. It is an almost inevitable consequence of the open dissent that has become so widespread in the Church in the last 20-30 years. I think we also recognize that these priests are sinners, as we all are, and we pray that they will repent of what they have done. I don't think any of us would want any of these priests to resume their priestly ministry ever, but I think we all pray for their reconciliation to the Church, which is open to all Catholics who have strayed. We may be disgusted but we are not, I think, embattled.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Travels with Charley

I just finished rereading John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America. The book is a description of a trip Steinbeck took across America and back again in a pick up truck equipped with a camper. His French Poodle Charley was his only companion. This, I think, is the the third or fourth time I have read the book, the first time being when the it was first published in 1962 or '63.

At that time I was a kid living in Detroit attending high school and I was reading a book written by a man considerably older than myself; it was also a book that described a country I was familiar with.

Reading Travels with Charley now I am a man about the age Steinbeck was in 1960 and I am reading about an America that no longer exists. I am struck by the paradox. Steinbeck, in the pages of his book, is no older than he was 41 years ago, I have gone from a boy of 15 or 16 to a man approaching (at least in a couple more years) the age Steinbeck was when he wrote the book.

When I first read the book I thought it would be wonderful to have an adventure like that and, until this last reading, I think that idea never left me. When I read it now I wonder how in the world he could possibly have done it. Age is not always kind, if not to spirit, at least to body. The idea of spending three or four months couped up in the cab of a 1960 pickup truck is almost more than I can bear. I currently have a fairly new pick up truck with all the luxuries and creature comforts that can be put into a truck and I don't think I would contemplate a trip of more than 1 or 2 days journey from Colorado Springs. Pick up trucks in 1960 were work vehicles and primitive by any current standard, I marvel at his stamina and endurance.

But, if age is not always kind to body perhaps it compensates for it with kindness to spirit. I have seen many parts of the world from the North American continent, east to west, north to south, to Asia and at least parts of Europe. I guess some would say I have traveled widely and I would say that for a great part of my life I travelled joyfully. I don't regret all the travelling I have done. In fact, I have benefited greatly from my travels -- I now know I no longer need to travel. My desires have simplified.

I think one of the objectives I had when I traveled, even when I was in the military was not so much to see places but to see people and to get an idea for how they lived their lives. It was a restless curiosity that I could not then, nor can I now, explain. Yet, because of it I have come to see that whether they are Vietnamese, Koreans, Austrailians, French, Scottish or Saudis or Mexicans, while the particulars may vary, the essentials do not. Each is capable of great dignity and each is capable of great mischief. My task now is to understand how I am called to live out my life unaided by foreign example. I am called to do that wherever I am located. It seems that travel is now unnecessary, if not disruptive of the process. The value that travel has had for me is that I have come to see that the lessons to be learned are learned here, wherever I am, because that is where God can be found. It is, I think, one of life's important lessons and I think it is a lesson that Steinbeck did not learn from his journey.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

The Joy of St. Francis

The joy of St. Francis does not stem from the fact that he loved animals; the joy of St. Francis stems from the fact that he loved the Gospel of John. In his constant immersion in and love of that Gospel St. Francis learned the every created thing comes from God. He saw everything in creation as a pure, gracious gift from a loving Creator. Thus, everything in creation was to be treasured, not for itself, but for its Divine Providence. Yet there was a second, and more important, lesson that St. Francis learned from the Gospel of John. From John St. Francis learned that everything was destined to return to God. This, for Francis, gave everything meaning and purpose. It gave him an even greater reason to treasure not only the beauty of creation, but also the final dignity of every human person. He saw, simply and clearly, that through His Son, Jesus Christ, it was God's purpose to draw everyone and everything to Himself. That vision inspired the tremendous joy that St. Francis is known for.