Encouragement in an age of unbelief

“The Church does not grow old, the faith does not grow old, the Holy Ghost does not grow old; say not, The days that have been are better than those which are. We can go into this city and find as strong faith, as tender piety, as thorough self-annihilation, as the world in any age ever witnessed. God is as near us as ever; we have all the aids we ever had, and we may emulate the virtues of any past age. God has not changed; his religion has not changed; man’s nature has not changed. What was possible aforetime is possible now. Let us not, then, suppose we have come too late into the world to aspire to holy living. Let us turn our eyes, not out upon the barren wilderness without, but in upon the vast treasures we have been accumulating for ages, and dare use them.

“Who cares for the heretics and infidels around us, — except for their conversion? They cannot harm us against our will. Were not the early Christians in a hostile world? Were they not surrounded by Jewish and Pagan relatives and friends? Had they not apparently even greater obstacles than we to overcome? Why, then, shall we not speak to this age as they spoke to theirs? Suppose we are sneered at, ridiculed, abused, insulted, trampled on. Suppose the world becomes mad against us, mobs us, shoots us down, sends us to dungeons, the scaffold, or the stake; worse it cannot do. Suppose all this. What then? We have only to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Woe unto us only when all men speak well of us. Woe unto us only when we prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.”

Orestes Brownson, “St. Stanslaus Kotska”, Brownson’s Quarterly Review, October, 1847. (H/T to Siris.)

Is the Pope causing confusion?

I think he is. Some don’t. I thought I would start posting examples of people being evidently confused by the messages being sent by Pope Francis:

“You may argue that the bible tells you to go to church and observe the sabbath and by not doing so I can’t stake a claim in living as a catholic is intended too. Or just by believing and practicing on my own terms is not ok, and that’s alright. To each his own. Society has evolved and the practice of religion should evolve along with it if retaining the younger generation is to happen. Which is why I admire the philosophies and teachings of Pope Francis. I can relate to what he says and am constantly in awe at how he has identified with current society and adapted the scripture to today’s context. His lenten message was no different to the way I lead my life on a daily basis, and all that is essentially part of what the bible asks you to do in the first place.”

A Perspective on Faith,” Notes on Mirrors blog, April 18, 2016.

“Reducing the stigma around divorced couples is not the church saying divorce is okay. It’s the church’s way of adapting to the changing family values and definitions of what it means to be a family.

“Francis … recognized that life isn’t always perfect. Sometimes marriages just don’t work out, but these couples are now encouraged to continue to be an active member of the church and to receive the nourishment from the Eucharist.

“So that’s a leap forward in one aspect of family life.”

Rosie Kean, “The Definition of Family is Evolving But Will the Church Evolve with It?,” The Writer’s Bloc blog, April 18, 2016.

The blessing of not seeing and yet believing

A couple Sundays ago we had this Gospel reading at the traditional Latin Mass:

[W]hen it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Jn. 20:19-31.

This used to be a puzzle to me: Why are they more blessed who did not see, and yet believed?

I now think it’s because anyone can believe with the eyes of science. There is no blessing in that; it’s mere nature.

As explained before, by “science” I mean “sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations”; basically, seeing things with our own eyes, or figuring them out using our reason. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, knowledge acquired by science, and knowledge acquired by 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“.)

Whereas faith is of things not seen either by the senses or the intellect; of what we can neither see nor figure out for ourselves.

Certainly, “Doubting Thomas” was blessed to have seen and believed. But even more blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed, that is, those who believe by the divine grace of faith, since faith is literally a blessing, a gift from God, and otherwise completely unattainable.

Charity and chastity

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation (which I’m in the process of reading), the Pope spends page after page exhorting us all — lay and clerical alike — to be kind, charitable, compassionate, merciful. He positively harps on it, with relentless persistence. He seems to have faith that exhorting us to be compassionate will bear fruit.

I wonder what would happen if he spent 264 pages exhorting and harping on us, with relentless persistence, to be chaste?

It may not work. I admit that. But is it less likely to work than his exhortations to be kind? If we’re capable of charity, has he no faith that we’re also capable of chastity?

[For those who don’t know, the Apostolic Exhortation is about marriage and family, and is controversial in that it seems to open the door to divorced and remarried couples being allowed to receive Communion despite living in situations involving sexual immorality.]

Faith and the weakness of human intellect

[S]omeone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly. We even read that a certain philosopher spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If, therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. And against this is the word of Job: “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge [Job 36:26].”

Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas, Introduction.