I recently had the opportunity to start a new blog series as a guest blogger for https://loveiscalling.org/ and the topic of saints. Please feel free to visit.
This past Sunday was the celebration of my favorite feast day of the liturgical year—Feast of the Most Holy Trinity! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teaching of holy Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity. Clear evidence of this in found in paragraph 249 of CCC, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis and prayer of the Church. Such formulations are already found in the apostolic writings, such as this salutation taken up in the Eucharistic liturgy: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”81
Revealed to us in the New Testament by Jesus Christ and later clarified by the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Church in ecumenical councils, our understanding of the Holy Spirit as developed but we still fall short in obtaining a full grasp of this mysterious reality and nature of God.
I have heard plenty of satisfying analogies that brought me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Trinity but the best example I have experienced so far is not academic or philosophically driven. The closest analogy I found to describe the love within the Trinity is the human family! Today I want to share my humble experiences as a young father where I see traces and hints of the Trinity in my adorable toddlers.
According to St. Paul, Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I definitely do not possess all those qualities all the time. However, my kids have allowed my virtues or patience and humility to grow—albeit slowly by surely in my case! Oftentimes, at Mass I get almost as good of a workout as when I churn out a 3 mile jog on the treadmill. My youngest son constantly finds himself dashing away from us in the pew so we have to take him out of Mass frequently. If I stay within the pew with my older children I often act as a diplomat to promote sibling civility during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Along with providing growth of my virtues, my toddlers are traces of the Trinity in their daily creative play. My older two children play in an imaginative world of ninjas, superheroes, princesses, and Lego-building. When I pay close attention to this mysterious play I am reminded of the Mysterious Nature of our Triune God as well. Something about the joy of children’s play piques adult interest. I find the same to be true when I reflect on the mystery of God being united as one but as a company of three divine persons.
To wrap up, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity will always be beyond our total grasp. We are not meant to fully understand this doctrine. Nevertheless, God revealed his nature as love and as a relationship of three Persons in Scriptures and hints is found within the family unit as well. Interestingly, God must have known I needed rest from my Sunday liturgical workouts. My wife and I were able to both listen to every reading and the entire homily for yesterday’s feast! Truly God works in Mysterious and in my children’s case humorous ways too.
What is truth? According to the dictionary, truth means that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality. For years I have found myself asking the same question: What is truth? This query has seemingly evaded philosophers’ full grasp for centuries and political leaders sought out the answer to this question as well. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate even posed this question before Jesus Christ himself in John 18:38.
What I want to focus on today is the words of Christ that caused Pilate to ask “What is truth?”. According to the fourth evangelist Jesus told Pilate, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 New American Bible). Jesus’ statement seems to be a stoic reply that apparently seems to not really give us much information. When I searched the rest of John’s gospel on passages that relate to truth I came across this verse that I think decisively answers Pilate’s question. In a discourse during the Last Supper, Jesus consoles his apostles, specifically Thomas, with the following words, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2466 declares, “In Jesus Christ, whole of God’s truth has been made manifest.’Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.’” Manifest means clear and obvious to the eye or mind. In other words, truth was plainly seen the Incarnation that occurred 2,000 years ago. Struggling with A.D.H.D and anxiety my entire life I have tried a gamut of remedies to cure my nervousness and constant worrisome. Truthfully, it is not until I rest in the Truth of God in the person of Jesus Christ where my anxiety truly disappears. All my successes: marrying my wife, celebrating our children’s births, earning my Master’s Degree, and promotions at work only give me temporary relief from my daily anxiety.
Uniting myself to truth is the only solution to my worry. I do believe humanity was created to yearn for truth. St. Augustine’s adage, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You” is truer now than ever before. I ask the Holy Spirit to continue to provide me consolation and strength to daily seek and unite myself to the Truth!
Does free will exist if God is all-knowing? Does God lack omniscience if free will for humanity exists? Questions such as these have flummoxed philosophers since the inception of philosophic thought! Fatalism is the belief that human actions happen through necessity and as a result humans ultimately lack free will. Upon initially hearing this argument as a new student to philosophy I too developed angst. How do I reconcile the Christian assertion of free will with God’s omniscience? For if a being is not omniscient the being cannot be God and if human freedom is a façade—Christianity is a sinister masquerade.
Opponents to Christianity may look at my stance so far with euphoria. Here a Catholic man admitting his struggles to reconcile basic Christian philosophy. I would tell any adversary that such triumph is premature. Through the lucid writing of C.S. Lewis, specifically his work Mere Christianity, and my own humble experiences in my nascent fatherhood I learned it is possible to reconcile the apparent Catch-22 between free will and divine omniscience!
- Light from Lewis: Mere Christianity was a book that I read after taking several theology courses. Yet surprisingly, instead of acting as a mere introductory and basic level of Christianity, C.S. Lewis managed to shed light on the looming battle over the omniscience of God versus the freedom of mankind. In the chapter titled Time and Beyond Time, Lewis put forth an incredibly simple and insightful example to describe God’s relation to time and space. He states, “Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn” (Mere Christianity 167-168). If you look in the above picture the blue arrow represents all of time and space. In other words the whole of the universe and reality as we know and experience is represented on that line. God is so above our comprehension that He is represented as “existing” on the rest of the page [see image above]. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ took place in a specific place on the line of time and space but God still remains above, below, outside of time while still being able to take on human flesh and live in time and space for 33 years!
Later on in the chapter Lewis acknowledges the same difficulty I put forth at the beginning of this post—how do we reconcile God’s omniscience with human free will? According to him, “Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being the He can see ahead and we cannot…But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him” (Mere Christianity p. 170).
- Clarity from My Children: Together with the insight Lewis gave me on the issue of reconciling God’s foreknowledge with free will, my experience as a father schooled me on this issue as well. Let me explain. I have learned that as my children continue to grow I have become aware of their preferences and likes. I once asked my oldest son if he wanted a animal crackers or a cheese stick for his evening snack. I had a foreknowledge that my son would select the cheese stick because I know that is his preference [AND YES HE DID CHOOSE THE COLBY-JACK CHEESE STICK J]. Another time I asked my daughter if she wanted to watch Frozen or Moana. I knew the answer was the latter and she choose that movie for that day. Despite my foreknowledge of their choice I did not stop my son’s and daughter’s freedom to choose. In a more deeper and intimate way God as our Father knows us better that I know my children. God already knows our deepest longings and loves us so much that He allows free will to take place.
Both Lewis’ example and my paternal experiences helped me reconcile the seeming chasm between God’s omniscience and human free will. While these examples ultimately fall short in explaining the nature of God’s omniscience I am still at peace with these explanations. I realize that I am a mere part of creation and my Creator is infinitely greater and more loving than I may possibly imagine. This endless wonder and awe about God is a gift. Let us not quiver at the omniscience of God but joyfully ponder it every day!
Cherry-picking, prior to me taking philosophy courses, was a term I associated with a fun fruit activity aimed at selecting delectable berries from an orchard on a warm summer afternoon. I have since learned that words contain a slew of meaning and context is everything in determining the meaning and authorial intention of a particular passage in a fiction or non-fiction work. The same may be said about cherry-picking evidence to build up the Scriptures or to tear them down. Between the erroneous stances of biblical fundamentalism [taking everything literally to be true] and modernism which jettisons truth from the Scriptures is the middle ground of the Catholic interpretation of the Bible.
Each of my previous works in the Why Catholic Must Have Bible A.D.D. series I stress the importance of reading the Old Testament and the New Testament as a whole instead of fragmenting and pitting passages against one another. The Old Testament prepares the way for the New Testament and the New Testament perfects the Old Testament. Today I want to tackle a commonly misunderstood and difficult text to reconcile with the Christian faith—Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac. I will look at contextual evidence within the book of Genesis in the chapters leading up to this troublesome event, evidence from the New Testament, and interpretations from Catholic Church Tradition on how to understanding the meaning of Genesis 22:1-19.
Before I begin with my analysis I will briefly outline Genesis 22:1-19 [traditionally referred to as the Akedah or binding of Isaac]. Genesis 22 starts with God testing Abraham. He charges the patriarch to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and “offer him there as a burnt offering”. Interestingly Abraham does not argue with God’s command [I will explain why I think this in the case in my analysis soon]! Arriving at the sacrificial site on the mountain Abraham raises his dagger and is just about ready to slay Isaac as an offering when the angel of the Lord intervenes. God saves the day by sending a ram caught in a thicket to be the substitute sacrifice in place of Isaac. Countless unbelievers find this passage deeply troubling and even Christians themselves struggle with reconciling Abraham’s faith with his willingness to kill his son. I too wrestled with the binding of Isaac until I discovered the following information.
1. Contextual Clues in the Chapters Leading Up to the Binding of Isaac: Randomly opening up the Old Testament and reading Genesis 18 really opened my eyes to the mysterious test God gave Abraham four chapters later.
a. Promise Not Meant to be Broken: Chapter 18 begins with a son [Isaac] being promised to Abraham and Sarah. This was a miraculous birth due to the elderly status of the couple. Sarah was thought to be barren so she laughed at the claim delivered by the angels. Because of this, the baby name was Isaac whose name means “laughter”. God does not make promises only to break them. Viewing the test of Abraham in light of the birth of Isaac is evidence that Isaac’s life was never in jeopardy.
b. Abraham tests God: The second half of chapter 18 sets the stage for God’s test of Abraham. Less than a chapter before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham fervently appeals to God to spare the sinful city of Sodom. Almost defiantly Abraham questions God, “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike! Far be it from you! Should not the judge of all the world do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23-25). God replies, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city I will spare the whole place for their sake” (Genesis 18:26). Abraham continues his interrogation of God with the same question substituting a smaller number of people from 45, 40, 30, 20, and eventually a mere 10 hypothetical righteous people. God answer remains the same. Despite the vengeful power of God his mercy always accompanies his judgment!
c. God’s test not arbitrary: Re-reading Genesis 22:1-19 I now see that God’s test to Abraham is not simply a game that he is playing with his son Isaac. Our faith is increased through testing but God already hinted at the outcome of the binding of Isaac through his merciful response to Abraham’s interrogation in Genesis 18.
2. Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross: Reading the binding of Isaac within the greater context of Genesis helps us understand the purpose of the event but the fullness of this test is not revealed until the Crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross. Cardinal Jean Danielou in his masterful work From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers, spends a chapters on the binding of Isaac viewed through a typological purview. The early church interpreted the akedah of Isaac as a prefiguration of Jesus’ death on the cross.
a. Ram as Sacrifice: The ram caught in the briar thicket is a type of sacrifice that foreshadows Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb. According to St. Augustine, “What does this [ram caught in thorns] prefigure, if not that Jesus, before being sacrificed, was crowned with thorns?” (From Shadows to Reality p. 127).
b. Way of the Cross: Isaac like Jesus both carry the wood [of the cross] on the journey to the sacrificial site [which was both on a mountain!].
c. Miraculous births and innocent victims: Another connection I noticed between Isaac and Jesus is their conception is considered miraculous. Sarah laughed at the absurdity of being pregnant since she was considered too old and barren to conceive. Mary was on the other side of the spectrum. As a young woman she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and was likewise surprised by the angel’s news (see Luke 1:34).
3. Tradition of the Catholic Church: The early Church Fathers viewed the New Testament events as fulfilling the Old Testament type. According to St. Athanasius, “When Abraham offered his son her adored the Son of God, and when he was forbidden to offer Isaac, he saw in the lamb Christ who was offered to God” (From Shadows to Reality p. 129). Theodoret also recognized the reality hidden in Genesis 22 when he said, “All these were shadows of the economy of our salvation. The Father offered his well-beloved Son for the world. Isaac typified the divinity; the ram the humanity: even the length of time is the same in both cases, three days and three nights” (From Shadows to Reality p. 130). Cardinal Danielou states that specifically the birth and sacrifice of Isaac foreshadow the fullness of the Incarnation in the New Testament ((From Shadows to Reality p 121).
I have only been satisfied with the meaning of the Akedah of Isaac when viewed in light of the interpretative key of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Noticing Abraham’s testing of God in Genesis 18 and the mercy of God helped me better understand that God does not make promises simply to break them. I hope that you have found this topic enlightening and I encourage you to continue to question seemingly problematic texts and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and the tradition of the Catholic Church!
“Everything changes and nothing stands still,” the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once claimed. I first heard these words as a sophomore in college during an Intro to Philosophy class. Years later, this truth resurfaced under the guise of different words in a response to a question I posed to my interviewing manager for the job I am at today. I asked, “What is the single greatest piece of advice you have been given to succeed at this company?” The interviewer paused and pensively stated, “Be prepared to deal with change and learn to embrace change!” Ever since that 2015 summer afternoon I have frequently pondered the meaning of these words and what exactly they mean for other aspects of my life. Today I want to share my experiences and knowledge that I have learned about the importance changing for the better meant, and still means, for my daily life.
As I mentioned in last week’s post Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer? I am on the autism spectrum. Change always posed a challenge to me. Growing up as a cradle Catholic I benefited from the guidelines of the Catholic Church teachings through which I developed a black/white dichotomous view of morality. Either you are holy or you are not. That was my though process and my coping mechanism to reconcile differences I noticed in the world. Not until suffering found me on a personal level did my judgmental and simple morality start to transform. Losing my job and suffering a nightmarish miscarriage led me to the end of my rope. Let with nothing in the aftermath of this change-filled maelstrom I turned to God. To be frank, I did not feel His presence at all but through the urging of my mom and wife I went to Eucharistic adoration on a weekly basis. Here I sought out the Unchanged One for stability and support.
Fast forward to 2017 and I am more at peace and learning to realize the importance of changing my mindset from negative to positive. My son’s official autism diagnosis in 2016 helped provide some clarity for my situation as well. I am not defined by my inherent inner struggle with change. Although I have moved toward the right direction I still have a long ways to go in embracing change on a daily basis. Encountering God as the Unchanged One through Eucharistic adoration and through Matt Maher’s song Deliverer gave me hope and perspective to change for the better. I learned that suffering is redemptive and clinging to the Unchanged One changes a person. I am not the same person that I was in 2015. I am transformed and I thank the Unchanged One every day!
If you are struggling with life’s changes in little and grand ways please consider relying on the Unchanged One to transform you. If I could go back in time, I would tell Heraclitus that he was half-right. I would change to his maxim “Everything changes and nothing stands still” to “Everything changes and nothing stands still. Only meeting the Unchanged One and standing still in His presence will let us authentically change.”
A fruit of my consecration to Jesus through Mary in the days leading up to the centenary anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima was reflecting on the heroic life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe by the hands of Nazi Germany. Aside from St. Athanasius and St. John Paul II, I do not think there is another saint that modeled love and courage to speak the truth with such tenacity!
From an early age, Maximilian promoted devotion to Mary and sought to bring others of God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Ordained in 1918, he continued to work promoting Mary throughout Poland. I believe Divine Providence strategically placed Maximilian in Poland to be a light to the destitute because this nation eventually became an epicenter for Nazi domination.
During May 1941, Maximilian was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Polish priest died on August 14th, 1941. Despite his short stay, the heroism of St. Maximilian lives on and impacted his fellow inmates and generations to this day. I want to highlight three essential points about Maximilian’s life that compelled me turn to him as a role model.
1. Savior: Maximilian only cared about others. He refused to sign German documents that would have provided protections to avoid sending him to the concentration camps. He heroically volunteered to take the place of a man, with a large family, who was sentenced to death. Such selfless love is powerful. Maximilian allowed the Holy Spirit to be so present inside him that he reflected the love of Christ perfectly and died a horrific death like Jesus to save others!
2. Sacrifice of the Mass: St. Maximilian once said, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” The Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium echoes this point as well by calling the Eucharistic sacrifice the “source and summit” of the Catholic life (no. 5). As a priest Maximilian lived this reality and he took it to a new level in the concentration camps as well. He celebrated Mass daily and fellow prisoners even attested the Polish priest took crumbs of wheat bread to gather the substance needed to perform the sacrifice of the Mass when times became really desolate in his cell.
3. Divine Insight: The theology of St. Maximilian Kolbe that taught me most about relationship between the Trinity and Mary is his insight and clarification of the truth revealed to St. Bernadette and dogmatic proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century. Mary’s apparition at Lourdes revealed to Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception. Kolbe expanded on this revelation by making a distinction between the created Immaculate Conception [Mary] versus the uncreated Immaculate Conception [the Holy Spirit]. Maximilian clarified the Catholic understanding of Mary for me personally with this distinction. It is important to realize that Mary is a part of CREATION and it not to be worshipped. I think St. Maximilian provided a good example to help me understand how we honor the Mother of God!
Role models are not merely people that exist in a state of earthly life today. We may all look to the Catholic saints as good examples to mirror when it comes to combating our own selfish wills and desires. St. Maximilian stood up against the malevolent force of Nazism by proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. In a world of tumult and lack of stability clarity has never been more important. St. Maximilian once said, “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.” Let us seek truth always!