Monday, March 25, 2013


   Some people who question our faith sometimes ask, "What kind of a monstrous Father is God for sending his Son to earth to be crucified to avenge God's anger at sinners?"

   This question is misguided.  From all eternity, God intended to create the universe and send Jesus into the world.  God knew that the space/time universe would be incomplete. Only God is complete.

   The universe itself was created in a "big bang." Earth was created from a star that exploded.  The evolution of the earth is a sometimes violent journey from chaos to cosmos, from upheavals and disorder to order.  

   From the beginning, long before humans arrived on earth, microbes died; then fish, plants and animals died.  Living beings learned to eat other living beings in order to grow and thrive.    Animals suffered, whether through sickness, accidents, fire, earthquakes or floods, or by being killed by other animals.  Long before sin entered the world, natural disasters, suffering and death were a natural part of creative life on earth.  This was the natural way to completeness through evolution that produced beings of a higher order.

   Now for us, to live fully is to accept life in all its evolving possibilities, which includes accepting natural suffering and death.  (We are not masochists, e.g., we seek medical help for our illnesses and we reject the sinful suffering of hatred and war.)

   When we die, we are not annihilated.  We leave behind the memory of ourselves, with all our learning and accomplishments, even all our suffering, and we make room for others.  Scientists call this memory, "Information."  This information is used by later humans to help move our culture forward and evolve.  Think, for example, of what today's medical students learn in four years, compared to what medical students learned in four years 100 or 50 years ago.  How easy is it to build a computer today compared to building one 30 years ago?

   When Jesus came to live among us and share our lives, he came to live deeply and fully.  He freely accepted natural joys, e.g., the joy of his friendships; natural suffering, e.g., his sorrow when his friend, Lazarus, died; and death itself.    

   Jesus showed us the way to live freely, deeply and fully.  This way is to live the truth in love.  So powerfully did Jesus live the truth in love , especially in caring for the poor, sick, oppressed and vulnerable, that people either had to fully accept him or fully reject him.  There is no half way.  To be a Christian--to be a living expression of Christ--is to commit ourselves freely, deeply and fully to living the truth in love, and even suffering and dying for truth and love.  With Jesus there is no in-between.  Nobody can be part-Christian.

   Tragically, sin exacerbated and exacerbates our incompleteness.  Sin is the mortal enemy of truth and love.  When it met Jesus, it killed him.  If sin were not present in the world, Jesus could have lived a long life and died peacefully.  And he still would have elevated our lives to a new plane and opened the way to our total completeness, beginning here in space/time and reaching fulfillment in eternity.  But because of sin, he died a horrific death on the cross.  Because of sin, he also had to save us.  Our brother had to become our Savior.  This was not any monstrous revenge ordered by his Father; it was a sad necessity courageously accepted by the all-loving, completely self-giving Jesus.

   On Good Friday, we kneel humbly before our crucified Savior, sadly repentant for making his horrible suffering and death necessary.  On Easter Sunday, we rejoice and celebrate his resurrection to a new level of life, and on Pentecost we share in this new level of life ourselves. 

   Our Happy Easter comes when we thankfully and praisefully take advantage of the new level of life that Jesus has raised us to, and in the power of his grace, we work to move creation forward as discerning and prophetic expressions of him in and for today's world.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013


   In the Spirit of Christ, who brings ever new, evolving hope and life to the church and world, let us all pray that Francis will fulfill the promise of new hope and life that his election brings.

    His choice of a name helps put our prayer in focus.  Like St. Francis of Assisi, who was a poor and humble nature mystic, may Francis champion the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast, and may he be a loving protector of all of nature.  Like St. Francis Xavier, the missionary, may be help the church grow throughout the world, not merely in number but in faith, hope and joy, by inspiring us to give ever increasing, prophetic, humble and loving service to all peoples.

   Reports are coming in on Francis' personal views.  Here his humility will be tested.  As pope, he will need to put his personal views aside and realize that the office of the papacy is different from the man who holds that office.  (Benedict clearly showed that when he resigned.)  As Jesus intended for Peter to do, Francis will have to listen to the whole church and then authoritatively teach only what the whole church believes.

   He is reported to personally champion the poor and outcast.  His personal view is his own.  But here, it is clearly in line with the teachings of Jesus and the whole church.  (Even the Democratic and Republican parties agree on this teaching in principle.)  We therefore pray that as pope, he proclaims social justice ever more effectively.

   He is also reported to personally hold "conservative" views on various social/sexual issues.  Again, his personal views are his own.  But holding "conservative" views is invalid for a pope, just as holding "liberal" views is invalid.  In fact, such issues are being seriously questioned throughout the whole church today, especially on grounds of contemporary information and understanding concerning human sexuality and human nature itself.  Such understanding and discernment have always been a factor in determining what is moral, and therefore must be seriously listened to.

   If Francis does not listen to the whole church--if he simply imposes his personal views on the church--he will forsake his humility and contradict the explicit will of Jesus by lording it over the people.  Here he faces a great challenge.  He has inherited an office that is encrusted with centuries of accumulated imperial power.  As a result, the teaching office of the church now lives within a bubble of "creeping infallibility," whereby it cannot admit it was ever wrong in the past (e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition and slavery), and that it can therefore never change any teaching.  Fear of contradicting his immediate predecessors may tempt Francis to take such imperial power to himself.  Rejecting this power and breaking out of this bubble will be a great challenge for him.  The success of his papacy may rest on his success or failure in this regard.

   For now at least, let us live in hope as we pray for Francis, and for the whole church and world.  As I say at the top of this blog, people are suffering, waiting is not an option.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


   Recently the parents of a gay man refused to attend his wedding because they believe it is God's will not be marry another man.  They are sure they know God's will.  Are they right?  Or are they stuck in their understanding of God's will, and therefore missing the evolving development of the truth?

   In the page, "An Evolution Story," we see how the ancient Hebrews grew in their awareness of God's will, at times badly misinterpreting it, e.g., when they believed God willed them to kill every man, woman, child and animal in a land they conquered.  The Bible shows how the people's understanding of God's will evolved and changed over time.

   Today we increasingly understand that while we may possess a basic kernel of truth, the truth itself is alive and constantly revealing itself to us.  For example, I know that I am me and have always been me.  But my awareness and understanding of myself has evolved throughout the experiences of my life.  As the truth possessed me ever more deeply and clearly, I changed my view of who I am (while still remaining me).  To paraphrase St. Paul, when I was a child, I understood myself as a child.  As I grew up, I put away my childish understanding and began understanding myself  in a more adult way.  Throughout all the changes, I always possessed the same basic truth.

   The same process of growth pertains to the one, evolving Truth that we possess as Catholics.  We infallibly believe, for example, that God exists, that God has created the universe, that Jesus is our divine-human Savior, etc.  But our understanding of the basic truth keeps evolving over time.  The Nicene Creed, for example, shows how the one Truth was received and expressed in the 4th century.  It calls God, "Father," because the church, following the male-dominant cultures, preferred the male designation.  Also, creation was considered a male activity.  Now in the 21st century, we are more sensitive to inclusive views and language, and can easily accept the truth that God is neither male nor female.  So today for example, we can believe that God would joyfully will that we also say, "God birthed forth the universe from her divine womb."

   The Creed also says that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  Vatican II tells us that we all share in Christ's prophetic office.  So would it not be better to say that today, God wills that we say the Holy Spirit is speaking through the prophets?

   As we saw in my opening paragraph, the question of God's will is especially sensitive regarding today's great moral problems, e.g., sexual orientation, contraception, just war, capital punishment, etc.  One major key to understanding God's will today is our spiritually evolved, 21st century understanding of ourselves and our everyday experiences.  Today, it is spiritually and theologically legitimate and necessary to accept that God's will is experienced and discerned in our everyday lives and experiences, as well as in high level, abstract principles.  And it is also legitimate and necessary to admit that everyday experience has shown some abstract principles to be incorrect.  Let us humbly remember how church authorities misunderstood God's will regarding the Crusades, the Inquisition, and slavery.

   As a new pope is elected, we will be faced anew with the challenge to work to have our own legitimate spiritual discernment concerning today's moral challenges seriously considered and respected.  We have a rightful and important role in discerning God's will today.  We owe our great efforts to ourselves and to the world; we owe it to the living, evolving Truth, who is God.  We owe it to God's will.