Archives For March 2015

“Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself” (Jean Paul Sartre).

(The Crowning of Napoleon: The Self-Made Man)

Atheism is trending, and I’d like to propose a few reasons why (with accompanying pictures and responses):

1. People are tired of “religion” telling them what to do.

(Paris’ Palace of Justice: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity)

Liberte! Freedom! We Americans, especially, appreciate the alignment of freedom of choice with independence from authority. As the King of England restricted the rights of the colonists of the New World, the Pope of Rome treads on the liberated consciences of the citizens of the New Age, right? Right…well…sort of… If you define freedom as “the ability to do whatever you please,” then surely atheism of the existentialist sort is perfect for you. However, if you define freedom as “the ability to do what is good,” then a certain difficulty arises in atheism. What, exactly, is good? Sure, we may all agree that it is “good” to be “good,” but this agreement has no practical effect if we cannot agree about what actually is good. If we want to work for the common good, then doesn’t there have to be something common, something objective, towards which to strive? Therefore, instead of criticizing the Pope for being a moral dictator, it is helpful to ask two deeper questions:

i. Does the Pope actually teach what is good?

ii. Does the Pope have the authority to teach what is good?

The first question is important because it gets at the issue of freedom and goodness. If, for example, the Pope does teach what is good, then his teaching would not be a hindrance to freedom but rather a catalyst for freedom. The second is crucial because it touches upon Jesus Christ Himself. We Catholics don’t blindly follow the Pope–at least not ideally; rather, we follow him because we believe that Jesus wants us to follow him. Jesus gave the Pope the power to teach correctly (Matthew 16). If Jesus is really God, then we might do best to listen. You see, then, that, from the Catholic perspective, the Pope enhances freedom instead of hindering it. There is much more to be said on this topic, but we have a good start here.

2. We have largely accepted the idea that you don’t need to have faith in order to be a good person.

(The Tomb of Voltaire)

You will notice that Voltaire is dead. Why did this ardent atheist make a deathbed confession in order to become a Catholic? Death! Of course an atheist can do good things! But doing good things alone does not lead to eternal life, which is what we really want. The band Queen asked the famous question, “Who wants to live forever anyway?” I do! Hopefully, you do, too. If, in fact, Jesus is God, then we should take His words seriously: “Whoever believes in me will live forever” (John 3).

3. People are saying, “Jesus was not God; he was simply a good moral teacher (or maybe a bad moral teacher).”

(The Sacred Heart Basilica of Paris)

We’ve arrived at the heart of the matter: atheism comes from a lack of faith in the divinity of Jesus. You might say, “If Jesus were God, then, yes, I would follow Him and His Church, but he was not, so I don’t.” I’d like to propose three main points as ways of attacking this predicament. These points are not answers; they are pointers towards the answers that I’ve found helpful.

i. Studying the Bible: The four gospels (accounts of Jesus’ life) claim to be historical, not mythical. St. Luke begins his biography by writing, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). Perhaps Luke was straight up lying; however, there are non-Christian sources which reveal that Jesus’ disciples were willing to die for the factuality of what is written in these accounts. Some people were so sure of Jesus’ rising from the dead that they suffered great persecution for it; at least for historical interest, we might seek out why for ourselves by reading the primary source documents.

ii. Praying for Faith: We want there to be eternal life. The possibility of Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that we might truly live forever. If God wants us to believe in Jesus, then He should answer our prayer for faith. If we are on the fence about the evidence, then prayer cannot hurt. Catholics affirm that faith in Christ (when all is said and done) is a gift. We can be 99% sure that Jesus was God based on the historical data, but only faith propels us to full confidence.

iii. Talking with Real People: The Internet is full of clever phrases for God and against Him. However, live conversations with real people help to keep us honest. It is easy for Christians to look at only Christian websites. It is easy for atheists to look at only atheistic websites. What if we made an effort to dialogue? Here is one virtual location for such conversation: http://www.strangenotions.com/ . Still, there is no substitute for a good heart-to-heart.

May God give us to grace to free ourselves to pursue what is truly good.

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

(Snowdonia, Wales, chosen for its fittingness: the mist and the clouds block a bit of the beautiful view)

“Things visible and invisible”–both are the creation of God. However, there are times when we must wait for the invisible to be revealed as visible. When we stand on the top of a mountain, there are moments of intense cloud-cover. We see nothing. If we wait–sometimes a very long time–the mist dissipates, and the beauty of the landscape comes alive.

So has it been during my first few weeks at L’Arche, a community in which people with and without developmental disabilities live and work together. Upon my arrival the cloud-cover was strong. Though I was full of energy at the prospect of “making a difference” here, it seemed as if my impact would be small. It would only be six weeks. The work would be slow. How could simple acts like cooking or helping in the bathroom or listening to music in a group ever live up to my expectation of significant development and relationship-building? Would I ever be able to “find God” in people with disabilities? And anyways, couldn’t the Author of all things just have made everyone healthy from birth?

Ah, yes. Don’t doubts almost always come when we are most confused about the facts in front of us? It is at such times that it helps me to remember the beautifully simple line of St. Theresa of Avila, “Patience achieves everything.” Just as the sun scorches away the mist, so does the Son of God, Jesus, evaporate our insecurities over time. I wonder, “How did the Virgin Mary feel when she realized that she would have to wait 9 months for God to be born from within her? Isn’t waiting part of being human? God has given us the concept of time for a reason. Time matters.”

Sure enough, now, three weeks into the placement, a few rays of light are penetrating through the overcast. Whereas at first I wondered whether I would be able to see people with disabilities as sharers in the fullness of humanity, now I am confident that they are more human than I am. In people with disabilities, there are joys and pains, rationality and irrationality, faith and doubt, love and hatred. In fact, I witness each of these elements each day to a large degree. (I’ll give some examples in upcoming posts.)

Could it be that people with disabilities are at the deep end of the pool of human experience while I’m stuck in the shallow? Here there is an intensity of life that surpasses most, if not all, of my past!

Yes, the cloud-cover returns from time to time, and that’s the way it has to be. Regardless, once you’ve caught a glimpse of the view, the sight propels your desire to continue up the peak.

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

A.M.D.G.

L.D.S.

I.H.S.

“It is truly a sickness–and a tragedy–to have an appetite for knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself” (Miguel de Unamuno).

(Photo taken from http://www.pilaralmagro.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Miguel_Unamuno2.jpg)

Over the last three weeks I have been making my way through the Spanish philosopher and writer Miguel de Unamuno’s work Del sentimiento tragico de la vida. I’ll share a few of his insights and make some comments on them because they are worthy of attention and deep consideration:

1. “Nothing appears to me as horrible as nothingness itself.”

  • Existentialist tendencies were becoming more and more pronounced at the time of Unamuno’s writings; the concept of nothingness features prominently in this book in particular. Whereas fear of eternal condemnation motivated some conversions to the Catholic faith in the Middle Ages, in the post-modern era it is nothingness that pushes humanity to consider religion. The idea of our complete annihilation at the time of death tears us up inside. We can’t cope with the seeming reality of the end of ourselves, both body and mind. Modern scepticism has whittled away at the Catholic and Platonic belief in the eternal soul. We are left only with our existence here and now. (Note how much of our contemporary popular music contains this idea: YOLO, carpe diem, “there’s no tomorrow.”)

2. “A person is an end, not a means. Civilization strengthens the person, each person, each ‘I.’ Or what is that idol, called Humanity, to which each and every person must sacrifice him or herself? Because I sacrifice myself for my neighbours, for my compatriots, for my children, and these in turn for their children, and theirs for their children, and as such in an endless series for generations. And who will receive the fruit of that sacrifice?”

  • Unamuno is raising questions about the importance of the individual human person. Is society for the person, or is the person for the society? Likewise, he is challenging utopian visionaries who imagine a world without death, suffering, and selfishness. Doesn’t our freedom to choose entail the possibility of our failure? Can freedom and utopia coexist? (Unamuno is drawing from Kierkegaard here.)

3. “[Consolation] is not being possessed by God, but rather possessing Him, making myself God without discontinuing to be the self that I am now. Monist tricks don’t do anything for us at all; we want the full volume, not the shadow, of immortality.”

  • Deification is a central tenet of the Catholic Church, and Unamuno loves it. Catholic divinization (becoming divine) is not falling as a drop of water into an endless ocean; rather, we affirm that we retain our personality and our individuality in heaven. For this reason Catholics, including Unamuno, continue to insist on the existence of the soul. The soul is what makes us “us” even beyond our death.

(Pixshark)

Thanks for reading! I hope that these quotes and comments on Unamuno have been good sources for some reflection!

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

P.S. Below: Here is the painting that Unamuno considers to be Spain’s best piece of art–Velazquez’s Christ, which captures the humanity (flesh and bones) of God. Don’t we want the same…to be human (with bodies) and divine (with spirits)?

(Photo taken from the Telegraph)

The Three Languages: Mind, Heart, and Hand

“I like to speak of three languages: head language, heart language, and hand language. There has to be harmony between the three. It should be such that you think what you feel and what you do, that you feel what you think and what you do, and that you do what you feel and what you think. That is what is concrete” (Pope Francis, my translation from the original Spanish).

Pope Francis has nailed it once again! In a recently published interview with a pastor from a poor area in Argentina, the Pope speaks about the three aforementioned languages: head (intellect), heart (emotion), and hand (action/sensing in the concrete). The best sort of faith is not simply emotion (e.g. “I feel that Christ has saved me”) but rather a harmony of all three sorts of languages. I must know about the economy of salvation. I must feel the depth of Christ’s love for me. I must witness his gaze of love and sense his consoling touch. Isolating one of the these three parts is simply inhuman, as we humans experience all three modes of being at once! As the great Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno has put it (and I paraphrase), “What an injustice it is to stop at seeking to know the truth when we ought best to LIVE it!”

My prayer for all of us is that we begin to integrate all elements of our human experience into our faith. May we not be “museum” Christians who know many things but never exit the confines of our fossilized knowledge. God has made us human beings of flesh and bone; may we never fear our humanity, for God became human so that we might be divine.

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

(See http://www.news.va/es/news/una-parroquia-de-la-periferia-entrevista-al-papa-e for a full copy of the Pope’s interview.)

A.M.D.G.