Monday, August 31, 2009

As Stewards of God's Gifts

I wrote the following as a comment on another comment on an article about the opposition between Socialism and Christianity. This is something I have pondered off and on, though my knowledge of economics is pretty limited, so I don't tend to take too strong a position on these matters.

This is one area where I think it may be right to behave one way in the political realm and another in the personal realm (though the law should support, rather than discourage the personal behavior).

Generally, I think it is best to vote like a capitalist, work like a capitalist, and live like a communist (by sharing what he has, not by thinking like an anti-Christian Marxist).

What I mean is that a free market is simply the most effective economic system, though it should be restrained by some degree of law, to avoid dangerous work conditions, for example.

But also, as Christians we must recognize that our wealth is given to us by God, not simply for our own good, but for the glory of God. Our wealth should thus be freely given to support the Church and to support the "widow and the orphan."

Of course, since it is to us that God has given the stewardship of these goods, it should be up to us how we use them, and it is not wrong to consider them our private property. We do have rights over what we have been given. But as stewards, we cannot imagine these gifts as being solely for our own pleasure.

God gives us graces so that we might pass them on. Then God will reward us with more abundant graces, though not necessarily of the same kind as those we passed on.

Now, this is one of those times when my advice is hard for me to follow, but with God, anything is possible. I must repeatedly remind myself:

"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world..."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The "Question of Coercion"

I recently came across this challenge to the faith in an Amazon book review:
My belief in God, if not out of love or a want to establish a relationship with God, would be based on nothing more than coercion:

I want a pleasing and pain-free after life; I want to be as happy in the after-life as I am with life, but I don't have or have a desire for a relationship with God; therefore, I may be cast to hell (which, according to this book, I've created). If I want to be happy in the after-life, I need to establish a relationship with God. I don't want a relationship with God either because I don't believe one can exist or I don't believe a relationship with God is beneficial for either participant; however, I want to avoid discomfort and joylessness. I'll establish a relationship with God so I do not experience pain or joylessness.

Unless I missed it, Tim doesn't address this, and I think it's quite possibly the most difficult obstacle for any organized religion; I would like the author to address coercion without resorting to "you've misunderstood the point of God's love."
I would say that the first problem with this "question of coercion" is that it ignores what Christians believe heaven and hell are. Heaven is a place where we are happy because we are in a relationship with God; therefore, if we truly want to be in heaven, we want a relationship with God. Basically, what the one who asks this question wants is to have a part of something without having the whole. He wants to live in a man's house without asking that man if he can come in, and without acknowledging the man once he is inside. He wants love without a lover, a smile without a face. He is separating the inseparable.

The alternative, hell, is terrible because we are separated from God. That is why we go to hell. We didn't want God, so he let us be alone. But, since God is the source of all good, we are left with no good, and thus no joy. This is a deranged choice, but we men make deranged choices all the time.

We cannot separate cause and effect. I cannot ask for sunlight, but without the sun. I think we all ask for such absurdities sometimes, and that is more-or-less the definition of sin. We want to live on a diet of candy, but without gaining weight, rotting our teeth, and having stomachaches. We want to walk through fire without being burned, but burning is inherent with fire.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Truly Present? Physically Present?

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist confusing. Surely that is what drove Martin Luther to discard transubstantiation (the bread becomes the body) and replace it with consubstantiation (the body becomes present "with" the bread). This is also probably much of what led most other Protestants to drop the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether.

Now I find myself learning that I'm slightly more confused about the idea than I thought I was.

This got me thinking. I wonder if the Church has not yet decided whether it would be correct to say Christ was "physically" present, or if it has decided that it is incorrect to say he is "physically" present. Further, I suppose I do not know exactly how Catholic philosophy defines "physical."

Still, I'll take the step of pondering what little I do know, in the hope we learn something, and also hoping that we will read more about this before letting ourselves be misled by my thoughts on the matter.

Christ is present under the appearance of bread and wine. We know this "appearance" extends beyond just the visual, and into all other senses and scientific measures. Now, is "apparently," in this case, the same as "physically?"It is possible (from the little I know) that they mean the same thing, but have different connotations. If the Church was to say, for example, "Christ is not physically present," would the problem be that we would misunderstand this to mean he wasn't "really" present? Or would the problem be that it isn't true, because he is, in a sense "physically" present? Or perhaps, is there a third option? Is it both incorrect to say he is not "physically" present, but it is also incorrect to say he is "physically" present?

Now, since I cannot yet answer these questions, I will try an illustration of what it might look like if "physically" and "apparently" are synonymous in this situation.

In the Old Testament, angels often took the form of men, and interacted with humans (which they may still do today). In some cases the angels physically interacted with the world and even ate food. So, like the Eucharist, these angels did not just appear as men visually, but appeared as men to all the senses. Still, what were they? They were not "really" men, though they could be called "men" just as statues of men might be called "men." They were "really, truly, and substantially" angels. But physically, are they men, or are they angels? It seems that "physically" they were men, though "really" they were angels. Of course, this leads us back to the same problem.

But either way we define the physical (as just the apparent, scientifically testable aspect of a thing, or as something more), I think the angel illustration does help me to better understand the Eucharist, and how it can fully appear to be one thing while being "really, truly, and substantially" another.

Edit: Okay, I should have read a few more issues. See the following [from This Rock]:
In Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul VI says, "To avoid any misunderstanding of this type of presence, which goes beyond the laws of nature and constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind, we have to listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. . . . [After the consecration] nothing remains of the bread and the wine except for the species—beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in his physical ‘reality,’ corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place"
Not that this completely answers my question, since if we defined physical as I did above, it would be "in the manner in which bodies are in a place." So it still seems to depend on the definition of physical.

Also, being that the Eucharist "constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind," I suppose the comparison with angels might be helpful, but not entirely equivalent.

According to Fr. J. Michael Venditti: "Yes, he is really, physically present, as really present as you are to those around you, though present in a different way--present sacramentally rather than in the normal physical way."

So he is "physically present," but not in the, "normal physical way." Yep, this is going to stay confusing. I can only figure that this means that he is physically present in a unique way, which has no correspondence outside the Eucharist. Thus, any word, such as "physical," that we use will mean something somewhat different than usual when applied to the Eucharist.

I guess this is similar to using words that describe God. If we call God "beautiful," he transcends the normal sense of the word, and at the same time, our normal understanding -- a visual beauty-- doesn't really apply. God is immaterial, and thus not visible to the eyes, yet he is the source of all beauty and infinitely beautiful.