Christian warfare

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GRANT US, O Lord, to enter upon the duties of our Christian warfare with holy fasts, that, being about to fight against the spirits of wickedness, we may be fortified by the help of self-denial. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Ash Wednesday, The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

They did eat, and were filled exceedingly, and the Lord gave them their desire: they were not defrauded of that which they craved.

Communion Antiphon for Quinquagesima Sunday (Ps. 77:29-30), The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

The meaning of Sunday rest

St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “[R]est is taken in two senses, in one sense meaning a cessation from work, in the other, the satisfying of desire. Now, in either sense God is said to have rested on the seventh day.” (ST I.I., Q 73, A. 2.) Further, “[I]it is right that the seventh day should have been sanctified, since the special sanctification of every creature consists in resting in God.” (ST I.I., Q 73, A. 3.)

Rest in this sense seems akin to enjoyment, “enjoyment” defined not as having fun, but as possessing something. For example when we speak of the freedoms we enjoy in this country, we’re using “enjoy” in that sense.

When you have been pursuing something, and finally attain it, you then proceed to enjoy it. You may also say that you are resting in its attainment, that is, resting from your pursuit of it. An example might be a man pursuing the love of a woman. Once he has proposed marriage to her, and she has accepted, he then comes to a state of both enjoyment and rest, since he now possesses the thing he was pursuing (and she possesses him too, of course). Similarly with regard to an academic degree, or a job, or climbing a mountain: You strive, strive, strive … and then you reach the goal. Your striving ends and you rest in your achievement, enjoying the fruits of your labor.

When we speak of God resting on the seventh day, what do we mean? Obviously he didn’t need physical rest, so it must be the rest of enjoyment: His work was done, and he found it good, and rested and enjoyed what he had made.

What then is the point of resting on Sunday, the Lord’s Day? Is it merely to rest from our temporal labors, namely our jobs? Or just to spend a day focused on God?

Is it merely that God rested, and commands us to rest, and so we rest (though not very strictly in modern days, it seems to me)? But surely we’re not resting in the same sense in which God rested: That we’ve been creating all week, and now we’re happy with what we’ve created, and we spend Sunday enjoying it?

It occurs to me that in the Catholic context, in the light of the Mass, it might mean something more. If rest is the enjoyment of what you have been pursuing, and if Jesus is literally present in the Eucharist, then the Sunday rest means literally enjoying God. We’re to spend the other six days “pursuing” God, so to speak: In praying and spiritual reading, penance and good works, giving of ourselves and denying ourselves (particularly on Fridays). But on the Lord’s Day we receive what we’ve been pursuing. We enjoy God’s literal presence in the Mass and we rest in it for the remainder of the day.

Consummatum est, Jesus said on the Cross, reenacted in the Mass. Ite missa estNow go and enjoy it.

Facts About Religion: Why are there no more miracles?

The blog Facts About Religion asks, Why are there no more miracles? FAR asserts that “[m]ost Christians say that the reason God performed such evident miracles in the past … was to prove to everyone that his messengers were speaking the truth, and that his message (the Bible) was a supernaturally inspired book.” I’m responding here since my comments on that blog are usually deleted.

I question whether “most Christians” would say that God performed miracles to prove that the Bible was inspired. I for one have never said that, nor heard any other Christian say it. I am also not aware of the Bible recounting a miracle that was performed to affirm the veracity of a written text.

To say that God performed miracles for one purpose is to overgeneralize. God had various reasons for performing miracles, at various times and places. For example the Ten Plagues of Egypt were miraculous, yet they had nothing to do with proving the inspiration of the scriptures. They were performed to prove to Pharoah that Moses had come from God, and to enforce God’s demand that the Hebrew slaves be set free. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira were also miraculous (Acts 5:5), but they occurred as a punishment for sin, and not to prove anything to anyone. Jesus is often said to have performed a miracle out of simple compassion (Mk. 8:2; Mt. 14:14; Mt. 20:34, etc.).

FAR asks further, “[W]hy would God stop performing miracles today, in a time when billions don’t believe his message, specifically because they have never seen a miracle to authenticate it? ”

FAR’s question assumes that miracles are part-and-parcel of the Gospel, and that no one can be expected to believe in God or in Jesus without having seen a miracle or two. But faith, by definition, comes not by the flesh but by the spirit. To put it another way, faith comes by grace, not by science; “science”, in the sense in which I am using it, meaning “sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations”. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, science and faith are equally certain, the difference being that science is certain about things that it sees, whereas faith is certain about what is unseen (cf. Heb. 11:1): “Now those things are said to be seen which, of themselves, move the intellect or the senses to knowledge of them. Wherefore it is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect.” (See “St. Thomas Aquinas on faith and doubt“.)

To say that, if the Christian Gospel is true, then God must necessarily prove it by performing modern miracles, assumes that faith is obtained through sight. But in that case, faith would no longer be “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). In other words, faith would be science and no longer faith.

All of this is aside from the fact that faith is more than mere belief in God’s existence and in his power. Faith is also trust in God, the conviction that he is good, that he loves us, and that he is so trustworthy that we may lay down our lives in reliance upon his promises. Some people saw Jesus’ miracles and yet still were not moved to faith. They saw some kind of power but still did not believe it was in their best interests to follow him — either that, or they were not willing to repent of their sins. Miracles don’t automatically change hearts, minds and wills.

Silly capitalization games

What is the point of an atheist spelling “God” in lowercase? To show that he doesn’t believe in him? But in common punctuational parlance, spelling something in lowercase doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in it. It just means that it’s a common noun rather than a proper noun. So “god”, in accord with punctuational convention, means you’re referring to any one of a number of gods rather than any particular one; whereas “God” signifies reference to the Judeo-Christian God in particular.

I don’t refuse to capitalize things I don’t believe in or like. I capitalize “Narnia” though I know it’s fictional. Likewise “Harry Potter”. I don’t refuse to capitalize “Adolph Hitler”, though I despise his memory. Nor do I spell “Allah” in lowercase, nor “Muhammad”, nor “Martin Luther” for that matter. Heck, I even capitalize “Satan”.  : )

Merry Christmas

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As we look forward, O Lord,
to the coming festivities,
may we serve you all the more eagerly
for knowing that in them
you make manifest the beginnings of our redemption.
Through Christ our Lord.

The Roman Missal, Offertory for the Vigil of Christmas.

Sing we now of Christmas,
Noel, sing we here!
Hear our grateful praises
to the babe so dear.
Sing we Noel, the King is born, Noel, Noel!
Sing we now of Christmas, sing we now Noel!

“Sing We Now of Christmas”, French Traditional.

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best,
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest.
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small,
To the devil go butler, bowl and all!

“Wassail! Wassail! All Over the Town”, English Traditional.

When you feel like you’re losing your faith

This is so good that I’m copying it in its entirety rather than just linking to it (though the link to the original is below), lest it ever be taken down from its original location and be lost:

Question:

For the past two years, I have been struggling with my faith, not due to a lack of love for the Church, but due to a struggle with religion in general.  As a cradle Catholic who has been devoted to her faith throughout college, this has deeply bothered me.  My doubt is not about the details of what the Church teaches, but about the existence of God, about Jesus, and about the Resurrection in general.

This is not something I welcome; in fact, I do not want to feel this way at all.  It is hard for me to attend Mass every Sunday and not be able to take full joy in it as I used to when my faith was whole.  However, it is this nagging doubt that lies underneath everything that prevents me from feeling completely whole in my faith as I once did.  I feel as if I have one foot in the Church’s door and one foot out.

I have turned to priests, friends, and books looking for an answer to resolve this perpetuating problem, but have been left empty handed.  I read that you went through something similar in college, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Reply:

Since we haven’t met personally, you must forgive me for speaking in generalities, but I think it would be good to consider some the most frequent reasons for the kind of distress you are suffering about faith.  By my count, there are about seven big ones.

First is the normal undulation of feelings.  I mention this one before the others because you haven’t described any intellectual problems concerning faith; the problem seems to lie in your confidence.  Faith itself is not a feeling of confidence, although many people think it is.  Faith is simply adhering to God by freely assenting to the truth He has revealed.  To put it another way, faith is something that the mind and will are doing, not something that the emotions are doing.  Since our emotions are unstable, it is entirely normal for our feelings of confidence to waver up and down, even if our actual adherence to God is consistent and strong.  If we don’t understand the difference between faith and feelings, the normal undulation of confidence might cause us to panic and think we are losing our faith.  This can make a trough last much longer than it otherwise would.

You ask for advice, so here is what you can do about the normal undulation of feelings:  Bear in mind that in itself, being in a trough of confidence isn’t a bad thing; God uses it to train us to place our trust in Him, rather than in our feelings about Him.  Live in reliance on Him, just as though your feelings weren’t wavering.  Eventually your confidence will return.

Second is depression.  Depression isn’t just feeling bad; the mind gets into the act too, because we get into the habit of allowing our minds to drone on repeating things that we have no reason for believing but that keep us feeling bad.  The worse we feel, the more we tell these things to ourselves, and more we tell them to ourselves, the worse we feel.  The interior monologue varies according to the person.  One person’s litany runs, “I’m a failure.”  Another’s, “I’ll never have any friends.”  Another’s, “Everything I touch turns to ashes.”  Another’s, “Nothing has any meaning.”  As to faith, yet another litany can be, “Those things about God and Christ just couldn’t be true.”

Here is what you can do about depression:  Find out if you are depressed.  If you are, seek help from the Church.  It’s surprisingly easy to be mildly depressed and not know it.  Check for that vicious circle I mentioned – the loop between what you tell yourself and how you feel.  Cut it in two.

Third is sin.  One would think that first people would stop believing in God, then start living in ways that He forbids.  Much more common, though, is to do something He warns against, fail to repent, and then start looking for reasons to disbelieve in God.  This is very common in the atmosphere of continuous temptation and habitual indulgence which characterizes most college campuses.

What to do about unrepented sin is very straightforward:  Turn away from it, sacramentally confess, and accept Christ’s forgiveness and penance.

Fourth is spiritual carelessness.  Although this is a sin too – the traditional name for it is acedia or sloth – its nature is different from the others.  Some sins are selfish.  We seek what is good for ourselves in unjust preference to others.  But the essence of sloth lies in failing to seek what is good for us enough — in particular, not ardently pursuing our ultimate good, who is God.  So we neglect worship, or spiritual reading, or works of charity, or the sacraments, or some of the sacraments (you mention that you attend Mass regularly) — and predictably, the rivers of grace silt up.

Here is what you can do about sloth:  Desire Christ to stir up your longing for Him.  He is doing that already, or you would not have written.  Ask Him to; ask persistently; ask your earthly and heavenly intercessors to help you ask.  Be patient, but be ready, because at the right time He will certainly respond.  God wants to pour His grace into us, but we have to cooperate.

Fifth is lack of spiritual friendships.  According to an ancient saying of the Church, solus Christianus, nulus Christianus – “One Christian is no Christian at all.”  God made us social beings; that is why there is a Church.  It is all well and good to resist bad peer pressure, but it is much more important to find the right peers, to spend time with them, to encourage them and be encouraged by them.  We cannot thrive in faith if our closest compadres are strangers to it, and your nonbelieving friends cannot help you with your problem, no matter how sympathetic they are.

If that is the problem, the solution should be clear:  Form spiritually healthy friendships, and avoid spiritually unhealthy ones!  You mention friends, but you don’t mention whether they are faith companions.  Seek for your friends among the most faithful Catholics you know, people you can pray with and worship with.

Sixth is cultural bombardment, which comes in two forms.  The first form is the unending hail of pagan propaganda which reaches us from a society which insists on living as though there is no God.  The second form is sheer noise.  Even on those rare occasions when we pull out our earbuds, disconnect from social media, and walk into the sanctuary, all those chattering, jingling, crooning, thumping incantations ring on in our minds.  God commands recourse to the abyss of silence so that we might hear Him in it: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Here is what you can do about the bombardment:  Turn off the hail of propaganda in words, sounds, and images.  Continually remind yourself that it is propaganda.  Sift your music and your pastimes.  Unplug and stay unplugged.  Get some holy silence in your life.  God will speak into that silence; listen.

The seventh common reason for distress about faith is probably the most misunderstood.  Sometimes Christians think that there must be something wrong with them if they find themselves spiritually unfulfilled.  Actually there would be something wrong with them if they thought they had attained fulfillment in this world.  St. Paul spoke searchingly of how we “groan” in the longing that what is mortal in us may be “swallowed up by life.”  Yet the same Paul counsels us to rejoice, because one day we will no longer see Christ dimly, as in a dark mirror, but face to face.

Here is what you can do about unfulfilled spiritual longing:  Rejoice the way St. Paul did.  That poignant longing is a blessed reminder that we are made for heaven, and cannot be completely at home in this world.  This is why we sing as we do in this season of Advent —

Zion hears the sound of singing;
Our hearts are thrilled with sudden longing;
She stirs, and wakes, and stands prepared.
Christ, her friend, and lord, and lover,
Her star and sun and strong redeemer —
At last his mighty voice is heard.

Has any of this struck any sparks of light onto what you may be suffering?   I hope so.

One more thing:  You can’t work yourself up into faith.  That’s impossible, because it is a gift, so don’t try.

But you can ask for it.  May the peace of Christ be with you.

J. Budziszewski, “That Mourns in Exile Here“, The Underground Thomist blog, December 21, 2015.