Are you curious about any aspect of living the Faith or confounded by some obscure area of doctrine? Want a book recommendation?
Ask me about it! I would love to hear from you!
I promise to do my best to answer as many earnest questions as I can. I can share my experience and chase down the occasional obscure theologian. And if I just don’t know, I’ll tell you that too. Your question may even make it into its own post.
One of the most troubling objections made to the Faith is regarding the instances in the Old Testament when God commands the killing of human beings who have committed no obvious wrong. There is the commandment that Abraham kill his son Isaac, though God ultimately rescues the young man (Gen. 22). There are also the commands to slaughter entire groups. In 1 Samuel, God commands King Saul as follows:
‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).
Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult aspects of the Faith because it stems from a very natural proclivity towards valuing human life. And it bears mentioning that this is a secondary or even tertiary consideration after the question of the existence of God in general and the meaning of Scripture have been broached. To understand the Christian answer, both prior aspects are required. We believe in a loving God who is the source of all goodness and truth, even of all life and existence itself. The Catechism, drawing on the Old Testament and New, says:
“God, ‘HE WHO IS’, revealed himself to Israel as the one ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. These two terms express summarily the riches of the divine name. In all his works God displays, not only his kindness, goodness, grace and steadfast love, but also his trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness and truth. ‘I give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.’ He is the Truth, for ‘God is light and in him there is no darkness’; ‘God is love’, as the apostle John teaches (1 John 1:5, 4:8).” (CCC 214)
Theologically, the answer to the question about the supposed murders lies in the application of natural law, “If murder is always wrong, how can God command it?” Natural law is man’s guide to goodness through reason, which St. Thomas Aquinas says is “promulgated by the very fact that God instilled it into man’s mind” (ST I-II, 90, 4). By it, we know that killing innocents is wrong; this is also the fifth of the ten commandments.
However, the Natural Law has both primary and secondary precepts, the latter of which God can rescind according to specific circumstances, the former of which He cannot as it would create a contradiction in His unity (Summa I-II, 94, 5). As God is the source of the bindingness of laws, it belongs to Him to make these laws valid. In the case of killing innocents, killing is forbidden because God both creates and destroys all human life; it does not belong to man to take this upon himself. Because God is the true author of life, He can delegate that authority, to beyond that.
I don’t often do biblical commentary posts, but this exchange from the Wedding at Cana had troubled me ever since I read it years and years ago. But this thought came to me recently about explaining it, and my husband said I should write it down, which is saying something. I offer an explanation and then a re-telling that might resonate more with modern listeners.
We all know the story of the Wedding at Cana; it is where Jesus does his first miracle; he famously turns water into wine. But there is a difficulty, on a surface reading, it really seems as though Our Lord is blowing off his mother. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” he asks.
John 2:1-5 reads: On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus response to Mary in this translation sounds like a rhetorical question to our American ears, as though he does not actually mean it. It can seem like Christ is assuming the answer in the question and saying instead: “Your concern has nothing to do with me; it isn’t time for me to reconcile the world yet.”
Such a reading is troubling. Our Lord seems snippish and disrespectful. However, from what we know of the Faith and the rest of the Gospels, there is no good reason to believe that Our Lord is being insincere or rude.
How, then, can we read it in a way that makes sense with the whole of the Faith, a way that is true to the person of Christ Jesus, which is how the Faithful are meant to read Scripture? We can read it instead with the understanding that he truly means each of the words he speaks. On such a reading, he is sincerely asking Mary to explain how her concern affects him; he sees that she is worried, and is sitting there, giving her the space to make a request of him. In short, he is presenting the opportunity for her to intercede because he loves her and sees that she is upset.
Such a reading would mesh well with what we know about Christ’s divine and human knowledge. Continue reading →
In a recent column, David Brooks gently criticizes a new school’s approach to education that aims to respond to the out-of-date nature of many classrooms, but in the process throws out most of the good that schools do.
I love his summary of the learning process: Life skills are important and relating goes hand in hand with knowledge, but fact acquisition matters too:
If we want to produce wise people, what are the stages that produce it? First, there is basic factual acquisition. You have to know what a neutron or a gene is, that the Civil War came before the Progressive Era. Research shows that students with a concrete level of core knowledge are better at remembering advanced facts and concepts as they go along.
Second, there is pattern formation, linking facts together in meaningful ways. This can be done by a good lecturer, through class discussion, through unconscious processing or by going over and over a challenging text until it clicks in your head.
Third, there is mental reformation. At some point while studying a field, the student realizes she has learned a new language and way of seeing — how to think like a mathematician or a poet or a physicist.
At this point information has become knowledge. It is alive. It can be manipulated and rearranged. At this point a student has the mental content and architecture to innovate, to come up with new theses, challenge others’ theses and be challenged in turn.
Finally after living with this sort of knowledge for years, exposing it to the rigors of reality, wisdom dawns. Wisdom is a hard-earned intuitive awareness of how things will flow. Wisdom is playful. The wise person loves to share, and cajole and guide and wonder at what she doesn’t know.
This is so true. From my own limited experience, memorizing facts–if they really sink in–is actually hugely helpful and provides the legos with which to build a wall of understanding. Without the basics building block, there is nothing to build; there is no water to turn the water wheels of the mind.
Schools are certainly not perfect, and we shouldn’t think we can’t improve them. Rote learning has its drawbacks, as does sitting in a seat all day. But basic fact acquisition will always be a key first step to deep learning and critical thinking. No reform effort should ever forget that (including Common Core!)
The Pope has surprised a number of committed Catholics by his talking points, mostly because he did not focus too heavily on abortion. However, it should come as no surprise that Pope Francis focused on many of the same themes from Laudato Si, his first encyclical, such as the environment, immigration, ending the death penalty, ending arms proliferation and human trafficking, and supporting the poor and marginalized. These issues are generally given more emphasis by more liberal Catholics (and non-Catholics).
Of course, the pope has also mentioned the hallmark conservative causes, particularly the importance of the family and the sacredness of human life, but not anything against abortion or same-sex marriage by name. R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, called the speech to Congress “modest” and said that, “Francis discourages conservative Catholics, more by silence than anything else. He encourages progressives, both by his silences and his affirmations.”
That seems to sum up the reaction of many faithful Catholics to Pope Francis’s visit: disappointment that he didn’t shore them up or champion their causes.
However, I don’t think such downtroddenness is appropriate for three reasons:
The first is that “popes speak Vatican-ese,” as a Jesuit priest and professor of mine Fr. Gerald Fogarty once put it. The pope is head of a worldwide Church with many different cultural, national and ethnic sensitivities that they seek to balance in their pronouncements. It is rare for popes to come out with guns blazing, naming specific condemnations of specific national laws and policies. Pope Benedict did discuss abortion and Pope Francis did mention immigration by name, but he also linked it with the wider refugee crisis of displaced persons fleeing the Middle East. His concern is global, as the Church is global.