“The intelligent faithful don’t need trinkets like this to justify their belief, surely?”

Sometimes one runs across an article that so aptly summarizes a point of view that it takes your breath away.  That is especially so when the point of view is articulated by someone whose error is matched only by his ignorance.  An example of this crossed my path recently.

The Shroud of Turin is mysterious.  A preponderance of the evidence, if not clear and convincing evidence, supports the idea that it was the burial shroud of Christ, the shroud that covered His body at the moment of His Resurrection.  If proven, the implications are breathtaking: we would have physical evidence not only that Christ lived, but that He conquered death.

As a result, an almost panicky body of writing has developed attempting to debunk the Shroud’s connection to Christ.  Some points are worthwhile. We will never be able to conclusively demonstrate the Shroud’s connection to Christ simply because no reliable chain of evidence carries us back to the tomb.  (Of course, this is just another example of religious and specifically Christian claims being subject to higher, impossible to meet standards of proof).

The recent discovery that the Shroud’s image may have been produced by extremely intense ultraviolet radiation set the so-smart-we’re dumb set into another round of the vapors.  Perhaps one of the best examples of such hand wringing came from one Tom Chivers, who holds the exalted position of “Assistant Comment Editor” for the Telegraph newspaper.  In response to the news from Italy, Mr. Chivers quickly manned the barricades with a wonderful post titled “The Turin Shroud Is Fake. Get Over It.”  

This is quite an assertion.  Mr. Chivers, “Assistant Comment Editor,” it appears, knows for certain that the Shroud is fake .  Surprisingly, Assistant Comment Editor Chivers does not explain what the Shroud is, which you would think he would do since he KNOWS it is not what those Christians think it is.  Wow! A question that has baffled scientists for more than a century has been resolved by an Assistant Comment Editor for the Telegraph.  (Maybe the Telegraph should promote him to a full-fledged Comment Editor.)  What groundbreaking evidence does Mr. Chivers advance for this assertion? The debunked (or at least questionable) radio carbon dating from the 70’s. Oh, my, bestill my afluttering heart.  Mr. Chivers, of course, does not answer exactly how the 13th or 14th Century artist (assuming it was art — Mr. Chivers does not deign to tell us what the Shroud “is;” only that it is not, not, what those Christians say it is.)  He also notes that St. John’s Gospel mentions two burial cloths.  Finally, he states that John Calvin was skeptical, which of all things is the most revealing comment.

All of this writing, however, only the lead up to Mr. Chivers’ deepest insight.  He wrote:

“The intelligent faithful don’t need trinkets like this to justify their belief, surely?”

This is simply classic: a combined ad hominem deprecation of one’s rhetorical opponents.  Presumably, “intelligent” works both as a psychic goodie for those who agree with him (if you agree with me, Mr. Chivers implies, you qualify as “intelligent”) and a slam on those who don’t.  No reasons needed; only self-regard and the more of it the better.  The choice of the word “trinket” is even better.  No matter what you think the Shroud of Turin is, it is not a trinket — a small ornament of little value.  It is large — more than 14 feet in length — and priceless.  Perhaps, trinket means large and priceless in England.

But Mr. Chivers unwittingly stumbled on a very important point.  The point of the Shroud is that it reminds us that God became man.  God, an ineffable spirit, became a human being in a very specific place at a very specific time in history.  He had features.  He had a voice.  He was tall or short.  He was strong.  He ate. He drank.  He was one of us in all things but sin.  Why did God do that?  Why didn’t he continue to interact with us as on an ineffable, intellectual plane?  While we do not need the Shroud of Turin specifically, we did need Christ to become man.  Why?

The answer is well beyond your humble blogger.  But part of it is this.  God treats us like persons.  Mark Shea put it best in one of my favorite quotations:

For all the folk notions in the press that God thinks he is the Great and Terrible Oz, it appears the reality is something much different: God treats us, not like cringing, mindless slaves, but like persons. And persons ask questions.

Not only do persons ask questions, they relate to others concretely through sight, sound, smell, and touch.  I wonder if Mr. Chivers ever received a perfumed note from his girlfriend.  I wonder how he reacted.  Did he say, “Intelligent persons in a relationship don’t need such trinkets, surely?”  I doubt it.  I think he was happy to receive it and hold on to it because it was a concrete reminder of his affection for her.  On their most recent date, I am sure Mr. Chivers did not refuse to hold her hand, saying drily “Intelligent persons in a relationship don’t need to hold hands to know that we love each other, surely?”  I doubt there’d be another date if he did.

God’s approach to humanity is the same.  He could have remained an ineffable Spirit, complete in His perfections.  But He wanted us to love Him and if relating to us in a concrete form in a historical place and time was what it would take, then so be it.  Again, the insight is that God relates to us as persons.  He meets us much more than halfway — sort of a cosmic “come as you are.”

The answer to Mr. Chivers’ snark is this: the “intelligent” faithful do not turn the faith into a dry, inhuman intellectual exercise that demands that we cease to be persons.  For Mr. Chivers, God does not relate to us as persons, but as something else entirely — something that does not exist.  Our faith is a faith of sights, sounds, smells, and pageant of the whole human experience, concretely lived.  It is as much the stately beauty surrounding  a Carthusian monastery as it is the sights, sounds, and smells of a hospital ward in which a priest is administering the final Anointing and Viaticum.

So while the Shroud may not be the burial cloth of Jesus — we will never know for certain this side of Eternity — it is important because it is one thing among many through which God relates to us, not as automatons, but as people.  The Shroud reminds us that “smells and bells” are important and that a religion that posits a purely intellectual relationship between a god and man is a false one, no matter how intelligent the faithful are or how small the trinkets.

"Thy Face, I seek, O Lord"

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How Often Should Catholics Go To Confession?

Are You There When You Need To Be?

Are You There When You Need To Be?

Stories abound about how often some notably holy people went to confession.  Bl. John Paul II is said to have gone to confession every two weeks.  Bl. Mother Teresa is said to have gone to confession every day.  Does that mean we of lesser holiness ought to be going at least that often? If not, how often?

Here is some advice that I received from a friendly priest about this question:

+     We should always go to confession when we are aware of having committed a mortal sin or a serious venial sin.  We should go as soon as possible.  Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a priest if need be.

+     We may go to confession for regular venial sins, but should remember that the Church offers numerous ways to obtain forgiveness for those sins without full sacramental confession, such as the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.

+     We should be aware that any religious practice can become rote.  Going to confession for the sake of going to confession can becomes rote and is not a good practice.  We should go to confession when we are aware of sin, are truly sorry, and want God’s forgiveness.

+     Don’t be worried or discouraged if you seem to confess the same sins over and over again.  Just keep working on overcoming them with God’s grace.

+     We should pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten our consciences so that we can avoid sin in the first place, know when we need to go to confession, and make a good confession when we get there.

photo source (wikimedia, creative commons, Adam Smith)

Updated: How To Strengthen Your Faith In College

This post was published last winter.  Now that it is getting to be back to school season, it seems that now is a good time to re-publish it.  I added some additional thoughts at the end.

___________

Will The Crucifix Be There In Four Years?

How do you keep your faith in college? It can be done. 

The following advice was written by Peter Bullen, a Stanford grad, who has long been a member of the St. Francis of Assisi.

1.    Make a conscious decision to love every single person you meet.  Love is an action rather than a feeling, so it’s the key to living your faith actively.

2.    Love yourself because God loves you and you are His child.  College is hard, and you will fail sometimes, so you may have a hard time loving yourself, but if you don’t love yourself, it’s harder to love others and love God.

3.   Get involved in a Christian fellowship on campus.  Christian friends can support each other in their faith and encourage each other towards Christ.  We’re all members of the Body of Christ, so we’re meant to work together.

4.  Pray and share your faith with your friends.

5. Take time to pray when you have down time, such as when you’re walking to class.  Praying often helps you keep God at the center of your life.

6. Put your faith into your regular schedule.  For example, go to daily mass on a certain day of every week or read the Bible at a certain time.

7. Do not be afraid to ask questions about your faith.  Questions can help you grow if you take the effort to find the answers.

8. At times when you doubt your faith, be active instead of passive. Pray for stronger faith, talk to someone who has a strong faith, and learn more about your faith.

9.   Learn more about the mass and the Eucharist.  The mass can be so rewarding if want to love it.

10. Participate in a community service activity.  Faith without works is dead.

Update (August 6, 2011):

I would add a couple of thoughts to Peter’s excellent summary.

+    Everything your professors think they know about Catholicism is wrong.  Their mistakes will seep into their teaching (mostly) unknowingly and they will rarely reflect well on the Church and her teaching. Most often, they will say or suggest that Catholic Church believes “X” and imply that “X” is really stupid.  Stop and think: Would a billion Catholics believe it if it were really stupid?  Would the Church teach it if it were really stupid?  Is this professor really smarter than some of the most brilliant thinkers known to history — St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. John Paul II — thinkers who believed what the professor is mocking?  Uh, no.

So, if they tell you something troubling about Catholicism or the Church, ask someone who knows.  You will find either that the professor has misstated what we and you believe or that the professor simply does not know why we believe what we do — reasons that the Church has probably believed and taught for, oh-I-don’t-know, centuries.

+     “The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.”  Bl. John Paul II, 2002.

In college, you will experience new-found freedom.  Much of the so-called ‘college experience’ is nothing more than an attempt to find happiness by “excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.” Have lots of fun — just choose your fun well.

+     Grace.  Participate in the sacraments — they are the ordinary means of receiving sanctifying grace.  More than anything you need grace.  Grace opens the door to Heaven — nothing else.  Your faith will wither without it.

+     The Church Will Always Be There For You.  The Church carries within her and freely gives out a love like no other.   Your professors don’t.  The guy you met in the bar who’s plying you with drinks and pretending that he likes you doesn’t.  The girl who’s doing shots with you so she can forget what she’s about to do doesn’t. They won’t be there when the chips are down.  They will abandon you; the Church will not.

Updated: How To Strengthen Your Faith In College

This post was published last winter.  Now that it is getting to be back to school season, it seems that now is a good time to re-publish it.  I added some additional thoughts at the end.

___________

Will The Crucifix Be There In Four Years?

How do you keep your faith in college? It can be done. 

The following advice was written by Peter Bullen, a Stanford grad, who has long been a member of the St. Francis of Assisi.

1.    Make a conscious decision to love every single person you meet.  Love is an action rather than a feeling, so it’s the key to living your faith actively.

2.    Love yourself because God loves you and you are His child.  College is hard, and you will fail sometimes, so you may have a hard time loving yourself, but if you don’t love yourself, it’s harder to love others and love God.

3.   Get involved in a Christian fellowship on campus.  Christian friends can support each other in their faith and encourage each other towards Christ.  We’re all members of the Body of Christ, so we’re meant to work together.

4.  Pray and share your faith with your friends.

5. Take time to pray when you have down time, such as when you’re walking to class.  Praying often helps you keep God at the center of your life.

6. Put your faith into your regular schedule.  For example, go to daily mass on a certain day of every week or read the Bible at a certain time.

7. Do not be afraid to ask questions about your faith.  Questions can help you grow if you take the effort to find the answers.

8. At times when you doubt your faith, be active instead of passive. Pray for stronger faith, talk to someone who has a strong faith, and learn more about your faith.

9.   Learn more about the mass and the Eucharist.  The mass can be so rewarding if want to love it.

10. Participate in a community service activity.  Faith without works is dead.

Update (August 6, 2011):

I would add a couple of thoughts to Peter’s excellent summary.

+    Everything your professors think they know about Catholicism is wrong.  Their mistakes will seep into their teaching (mostly) unknowingly and they will rarely reflect well on the Church and her teaching. Most often, they will say or suggest that Catholic Church believes “X” and imply that “X” is really stupid.  Stop and think: Would a billion Catholics believe it if it were really stupid?  Would the Church teach it if it were really stupid?  Is this professor really smarter than some of the most brilliant thinkers known to history — St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. John Paul II — thinkers who believed what the professor is mocking?  Uh, no.

So, if they tell you something troubling about Catholicism or the Church, ask someone who knows.  You will find either that the professor has misstated what we and you believe or that the professor simply does not know why we believe what we do — reasons that the Church has probably believed and taught for, oh-I-don’t-know, centuries.

+     “The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.”  Bl. John Paul II, 2002.

In college, you will experience new-found freedom.  Much of the so-called ‘college experience’ is nothing more than an attempt to find happiness by “excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.” Have lots of fun — just choose your fun well.

+     Grace.  Participate in the sacraments — they are the ordinary means of receiving sanctifying grace.  More than anything you need grace.  Grace opens the door to Heaven — nothing else.  Your faith will wither without it.

+     The Church Will Always Be There For You.  The Church carries within her and freely gives out a love like no other.   Your professors don’t.  The guy you met in the bar who’s plying you with drinks and pretending that he likes you doesn’t.  The girl who’s doing shots with you so she can forget what she’s about to do doesn’t. They won’t be there when the chips are down.  They will abandon you; the Church will not.

The Real Face of Jesus, Part I

The Church Guys have finished the “Real Face of Jesus.  Is this Him?

UPDATE:

Re-reading this post, what sticks out is the Incarnation.  God became one of us in all things but sin.  He had hair. His eyes were bluish-gray.  His hair brown.  He had a mother.  Thinking about that  mystery leaves me dumbstruck with awe.

_________________

The whole topic of trying to figure out what Christ looked like provoked a lot of discussion.  Some guys thought that we were the “face” of Jesus and trying to find the literal face of Jesus was illegitimate.  Others thought that we fell so short of Christ that talking about being the “face” of Jesus was almost sacrilegious.

Although I was an advocate of one view, the more I think about it, both positions miss the point — and suffer from the same error.  The point is the incarnation.  Christ was a flesh and blood person.  The two positions, however, spiritualize Christ.  The first is a metaphor in the same way calling the Church the “Mystical Body of Christ” is a metaphor.  The second is almost Gnostic; by(over)emphasizing our unworthiness, it almost reaches a point where matter, the physical, the concrete, are evil — in its rush to save Christ’s presence from being physically embodied in us, it ends up divorcing Christ from the world.  That is error — an error any Church Guy ought to recognize having just studied John’s Gospel.

So where does that leave us?  The ‘you are the face of Christ’ idea has much to recommend it.  I think it needs to be understood a little more accurately, though.  When we are in a state of grace, Christ’s very life is in us.  We return His love with the only thing worthy of an infinite gift — by returning His love to Him through acts of service and of worship.  We are unworthy to untie the sandals of His feet.  But we can, if we want, hand on what we have been given — His grace.  Through the sacraments and the ministry of the Church, we grow in our capacity to manifest that love.  Not because of any merit or ability on our part — how can a finite creature repay even the smallest infinite gift?  Our money’s no good.  But God gives us what we need through the Church.  Grace to have something to return.  Grace to be pleasing to Him.  If we understand being the “face” of Jesus to mean giving whatever grace we have back to Him and to those He loves out of love for Him, then yes being the “face” of Christ is our highest aspiration.  Realizing that it is not our grace and that we really have nothing to give (except what we have been given) means accepting our limits.

The debate over the real face of Jesus turns out to be one of those debates where both sides were advancing a partial truth as if it were the whole truth.  Whether we should try to figure out what Jesus looked like is the topic of Part II.