Sunday, May 31, 2015

Holy, Holy, Holy (Lord God Almighty) & Weekly Roundup

     Today is Trinity Sunday, on which we commemorate the unique and absolutely necessary Christian doctrine that God is simultaneously One and Three.  The word “Trinity” is the Anglicized form of the Latin Trinitas, which was coined by Tertullian in the early third century.  It is a combination of the prefix tri- (three) and unitas (unity).  I once took a class from a gentleman who was fond of saying that it’s almost impossible to discuss the Trinity in detail without falling into heresy. I’m sure he was only half-serious, although if you’ve ever wondered why Tertullian isn’t “Saint” Tertullian, well, he fell into heresy later in life . . . but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.
     Interestingly, there are not many hymns related to this foundational doctrine, and I have been unable to find a good video of a live performance of even the best known Trinitarian hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty."  I did find the recording below, however, which is a bit of a different take than I'm used to, but I like it (not all the commenters on YouTube agree).

Weekly Roundup

We're right at the end of the school year, which leaves little time for bloggish pursuits, but I did manage to post both some new and some old (but worth revisiting) stuff over the past week.  Feel free to look around.

Tuesday: Pascal's Wager "old and outmoded"? Nonsense - see the "debunkers" debunked: “Has Pascal’s Wager Really Been ‘Debunked’?” [here]  

Wednesday – A sea-side meditation on the vastness of God's Mercy: “What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him?”[here]  

and – When we pray Lauds as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, we start our day confident that we have oriented ourselves toward our Lord: "Lauds Points Us In The Right Direction Every Morning”[here]  

Thursday – Attacks on the Church, Christian morality, and Holy Matrimony are nothing new, nor are heroic witnesses in their defense: “Blessed Margaret Pole: Martyred For Church And Marriage” [here]  

and - A Christendom that truly has Christ at its center cannot be conquered by any external enemies, but once Christ has been abandoned, well, what's to stop them? "If they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization" [here]

O God Almighty Father (Trinity Sunday Hymn) & Weekly Roundup

   Today is Trinity Sunday, on which we celebrate one of the most mysterious of Christian Mysteries.  I find it fairly easy to understand that there can only be one infinite being, one "Divine Substance"; I can also understand that love is something necessarily directed toward another, and so a God Who is Love would want to have other Persons to love.  I have a very hard time wrapping my finite mind around how they can both be true at the same time, but how could it be otherwise?  Fortunately, even if the philosophical explanations elude us, we can know the Triune God through the experience of Faith.  Thanks be to God.
     Perhaps because the Trinity is such a deep concept, there aren't a lot of Trinitarian hymns (certainly not on YouTube, anyway), but here's an old favorite, in a beautiful video created by JMJ HF videos.  I have included information about the group, which relies on charitable donations, beneath the Weekly Roundup below.

Weekly Roundup

We're right at the end of the school year, which leaves little time for bloggish pursuits, but I did manage to post both some new and some old (but worth revisiting) stuff over the past week.  Feel free to look around.

Tuesday: Pascal's Wager "old and outmoded"? Nonsense - see the "debunkers" debunked: “Has Pascal’s Wager Really Been ‘Debunked’?” [here]  

Wednesday – A sea-side meditation on the vastness of God's Mercy: “What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him?”[here]  

and – When we pray Lauds as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, we start our day confident that we have oriented ourselves toward our Lord: "Lauds Points Us In The Right Direction Every Morning”[here]  

Thursday – Attacks on the Church, Christian morality, and Holy Matrimony are nothing new, nor are heroic witnesses in their defense: “Blessed Margaret Pole: Martyred For Church And Marriage” [here]  

and - A Christendom that truly has Christ at its center cannot be conquered by any external enemies, but once Christ has been abandoned, well, what's to stop them? "If they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization" [here]

To help defray the cost of making these videos possible, please send donations to:
St. Vincent Ferrer Foundation of Texas
5628 Rosa Ave.
El Paso, TX  79905
Phone # (915) 500-3025
Please indicate donations are for support of the JMJ HF videos. 
The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) Non-profit Corporation. You will receive a receipt for your donation. Thank you!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"If they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization”

It's never really safe to be a Christian

It’s never completely safe to be a Christian in this world.  In my recent Sunday Snippets post [here] I briefly discussed the plight of Christians in Iraq, who are facing brutal persecution at the hands of ISIS, an armed movement embracing a particularly virulent strain of radical Islam. I illustrated the post with the Arabic “N”, with which ISIS terrorists target Christian homes, and which has since become an emblem of solidarity and a badge of honor for Christians around the world.
The Fall of Rome
     That explicit identification as Christians, and with other Christians, is vitally important. I made the point the week before [here] that radical Islam would pose little threat to “a Christendom united in Faith and fortified with Prayer”. Unfortunately, what had been Christendom is rapidly de-Christianizing, which creates a twofold threat, both from within and from without.  The external threat, a radicalized and aggressive Islam, still looks fairly distant to those of us in the United States; it looks a lot more formidable in Europe.  There, a growing, poorly assimilated, and increasingly alienated and hostile  Muslim population is combining with the forces of societal destruction under the guise of “multiculturism” to attack the very basis of historic (which means, essentially, Christian) European culture, as described by Joseph Pearce in a piece that is appearing on Life Site News [here].  The article is well worth reading in its entirety; the best summation of Pearce’s point comes in a quote from actor John Rhys-Davies, who played the dwarf Gimli in the screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Rhys-Davies says: “I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged, and if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization”.  Since the actor first spoke these words several years ago, the concrete evidence of their truth has been rapidly multiplying, and so although the multi-culti wrecking ball pounds on, an increasing number of Europeans are starting to see multiculturalism for the civilizational suicide that it is.

"If we falter and lose our freedoms, 
it will be because we destroyed ourselves" -Abraham Lincoln

     To those of us in the United States, events in Iraq can seem very far away, especially now that there are no longer many of our countrymen serving there under arms.  The incidence of jihadism here can be seen as sporadic, with only a few serious incidents (9/11, the Fort Hood Massacre), and the local Muslim population is still quite small and has shown only scattered signs of radicalization – so far.  The heedless dismantling of our culture from within, however, proceeds apace.  I’ll provide just two recent examples.  First, the College Board, which through the content of its Advanced Placement (AP) exams determines the curriculum of thousands of high school classes around the country, has come with a new AP American History [article here] course that omits great Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, jr.  Instead it emphasizes impersonal “historical forces” - and not so much those familiar to earlier generations of students like the development of democratic institutions and religious tolerance.  From the Fox News article: 

“ . . . you’re not going to find Thomas Jefferson and the House of Burgesses and the cradle of democracy either,” said Larry Krieger, who retired in 2005 after more than three decades in the classroom.  And finally, you’re not going to find Benjamin Franklin and the birth of American entrepreneurialism . . . what you’re going to find is our nation’s founders portrayed as bigots who developed a belief in white superiority . . .”

The article adds that students will find, overall, “a narrative laden with tyranny and subjugation.”  As if it’s not enough that individual classes are convincing young people that their country is and always has been irredeemably corrupt, we now have entire schools dedicated to the purpose – at your expense.  We now have “social justice” charter schools [here], government schools funded with taxpayer money.  And while the term social justice has an honorable origin in Catholic social teaching, it has long since been hijacked by the left.  No, the students at these schools won’t be studying Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, they’ll be training in “social activism”, a.k.a. leftist political agitation.  All of which means that in certain localities in the United States we’ll have the curious phenomenon of the government expending public funds to set up public schools dedicated to training young people to tear it all down. 

"The Church of the Living God, the pillar 
and the foundation of the Truth." -1 Timothy 3:15

     Tearing it all down is the program of the cultural and political left, whether we’re talking about multi-culturalism, the redefinition of marriage, revisionist history, or Robin Hood economic activism.  They don’t even pretend anymore to have a coherent positive vision of what might replace all the institutions they seek to eradicate.  Not that it would help much if they did: every attempt to destroy a society that had developed over time in response to the real needs and experiences of human beings and construct on its ruins a society hatched in the brains of men (e.g., the French Revolution, Soviet Communism) has been a disaster; bloody, inhuman disaster, such as is still playing out in North Korea.  In similar fashion, the man-made religion of Islam has had a track record over the past millennium and a half of spawning anti-human horrors such the one currently on display in Iraq.
     The most profound and radical revolution in human history, on the other hand, was the transformation of the Greco-Roman civilization by the unlikely spread of Christianity.  It was no mere human idea, but the revelation of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ that subdued “the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” (props to Edgar Allan Poe).  And notice that the Church didn’t destroy and replace the institutions of the Roman Empire, but rather “baptized” them and made them the bulwarks of a more humane culture [for more on that, see here and here].  When Rome did fall to invaders from the North, the Church worked the same transformation on the newcomers.
     And now here we are in a society that wants to do away with both the Church of Jesus Christ and the institutions passed on by our ancestors.  Do we really think that the empty shell that will be left can stand against the legions of the New Caliphate, or any other motivated and determined conqueror from without or within?

(This Throwback was first published on 12 August 2014)


Blessed Margaret Pole: Martyred For The Church And Marriage

Blessed Margaret Pole
Martyr of England. She was born Margaret Plantagenet, the niece of Edward IV and Richard III. She married Sir Reginald Pole about 1491 and bore five sons, including Reginald Cardinal Pole. Margaret was widowed, named countess of Salisbury, and appointed governess to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon, Spain. She opposed Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the king exiled her from court, although he called her “the holiest woman in England.” When her son, Cardinal Pole, denied Henry’s Act of Supremacy, the king imprisoned Margaret in the Tower of London for two years and then beheaded her on May 28. In 1538, her other two sons were executed. She was never given a legal trial. She was seventy when she was martyred. Margaret was beatified in 1886. (from Butler's Lives of the Saints)

     I called my piece last week on St. Julia of Corsica [here] “A Saint For Our Times”; when I think about it, I have yet to find a Saint who isn’t for our times. But today’s Saint, Blessed Margaret Pole, who gave her life in defense of the sanctity of marriage, seems especially suited to the situation of our increasingly post-Christian culture. The niece of kings, Blessed Margaret was martyred because she refused to applaud publicly the sacrifice of Holy Matrimony to a third king’s lust.

Henry VIII
     Blessed Margaret’s antagonist, Henry VIII, could serve as a sort of patron “anti-saint” for our times. He was a man possessed of great gifts: he was given a strong, handsome, athletic body, a quick mind that he applied to writing and musical composition as well as to governing, and the rule of a rich and powerful kingdom. Henry never mastered himself, however, and so his prodigious talents were put at the service, not of his people, but of his equally prodigious cravings for women, wealth, and power. In the end he tried to swallow even the Church. In his later years his grossly obese body became a living image of his insatiable appetites.
     People come and go, but human nature doesn’t change. King Henry is long gone, but his imitators are still with us. Like Henry, they are not satisfied with mere tolerance or tacit assent: they require full-throated public approval, and so the Margaret Poles must be silenced. Nobody is literally being led to the block, thankfully, and pray God it never comes to that. Nevertheless, as we have seen over and over again,  those who stand up for Church, family, and traditional moral norms today, even if they do so privately, can expect to have their character blackened and their livelihoods threatened.
     I have often heard Blessed Margaret’s younger and much better known contemporary, St. Thomas More, proposed as a Patron Saint for our times because of his martyrdom in defense of the Church and Marriage. Like him, Blessed Margaret's firm reliance on Christ's loving care gave her the strength to stand fast in face of mortal threats, and the serenity not to be swallowed up in bitterness against her persecutors.  We would do well to invoke Blessed Margaret Pole along with St. Thomas More, and to pray for her intercession against the ravenous spirit of Henry VIII that yet again threatens both Faith and Family.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Lauds Points Us In The Right Direction Every The Morning (LOH 6)

In my latest discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours we take a look at Morning Prayer, also known as Lauds.  One may pray the Office of Readings first, which traditionally has been prayed in the middle of the night, but Lauds is specifically designed to start us on our daily journey.

The Structure of the Office

"The Birth of St. John the Baptist" by Giuliano Bugiardini
    First, a few words on the structure of this office.   If it’s the first office of the day we start with the Invitatory; otherwise, as in the other offices, we start with “Lord open my lips/and my mouth will proclaim your praise” followed by a “Glory be . . . “.   This is followed by the psalmody where, unlike the Office of Readings, where there are three psalm readings, we find two psalms with an Old Testament canticle of comparable length in between.  All three are followed the “Glory Be”, and are bracketed by antiphons.  The particular reading and antiphons follow a four-week cycle, and there may also be other antiphons for particular times, such as Holy Week or Easter.

     Next comes a brief scripture reading, normally only a couple of verses.  These vary more widely by the season (there are different readings for Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter) and, often by particular Holy Days.  This is followed by a three-part responsory, which also varies according to the liturgical calendar.  For Today, Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, the responsory is:
I will bless the Lord all my life long
                - I will bless the Lord all my life long

With a song of praise ever on my lips,
                -  all my life long

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                - I will bless the Lord all my life long

     The Canticle of Zechariah (called the Benedictus from it's first word in Latin) always follows the responsory.  This Gospel Canticle is the song of praise proclaimed by Zechariah after his voice has been returned to him at the naming of his son, John the Baptist. It is also preceded and followed by antiphons determined by the liturgical calendar.
     The office ends with a series of intercessions and a closing prayer which, yet again, accord with the season or Holy Day.

Our Daily Orientation

     I have always appreciated the way in which this office “orients” me at the beginning of the day.  Any morning prayer or offering should be expected to direct our attention to our relationship with our creator, of course, and Lauds certainly does that.  In addition to that, the canticles are passages that we might not ordinarily see: the Canticle of Hannah, for instance,(1 Samuel 2:1-10), a precursor to Mary’s Magnificat; a canticle from the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 3, that includes the evocative line “decay invades my bones”; or the triumphant song chanted by the Hebrews after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1):

            I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant,
            Horse and chariot he has cast into the sea . . . .

This last is reputed to be one of the oldest (at least in its present form) passages in the Bible.
     But the office of Morning Prayer does even more.  It does not just orient us as individuals to God: It orients us to the whole scope of Salvation history.  For instance, every Friday the penitential Psalm 51 opens the office:

            Have mercy on me God, in your kindness.
            In your compassion blot out my offense.
            O wash me more and more from my guilt
            And cleanse me from my sin.

This prayer and others in the Office remind us of the fact that on Friday we focus in a special way on Christ’s suffering for our salvation. When we faithfully pray the Divine Office we always start our day knowing how that day fits in the Big Picture, throughout the week and throughout the liturgical year.
     We also start our day with a specific celebration of the liturgical season, or a particular solemnity or saint’s day, which has a much greater impact than if we should happen to remember it (or not) at some point during the course of the day.  The overall effect is that it brings us out of ourselves and unites us in prayer with the entire Church, which is saying the same prayer throughout the world, and which lives the same faith throughout time.  What better way to greet the new day?

Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full texts of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets for group prayer – but you need to buy a subscription to gain access to most of the site. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (although there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it involves a sizable financial investment (well over $100 for the whole set)

What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him? (Worth Revisiting)

This past Monday we made our first beach visit of the year.  It was much too cold to go into the water yet, even though it was a warm day.  Nonetheless, it put me in mind of this Worth Revisiting (I think) post, first published on June 24th last year. To enjoy the work of other Catholic bloggers,please visit Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

            When I look at the Heavens, the work of thy fingers,
            The work moon and the stars which thou hast established;
            What is man that thou art mindful of him,
            And the son of man that thou dost care for him?
            Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
            And dost crown him with glory and honor.  (Psalm 8:3-5)

The author's feet, Pine Point Beach, Maine, June 2014
Yesterday morning at the beach with my family, enjoying some beautiful early summer weather, I was reminded of a hymn we sometimes sing at Mass: “There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.”  Standing on the edge of the ocean we can find its vastness overwhelming: we can feel very, very small in comparison.  Sometimes when we look up at the heavens and think about the immensity of the universe , we can almost feel physically overwhelmed by it, as Edna St. Vincent Millay describes it in her poem “Renaissance”:

            So here upon my back I’ll lie
            And look my fill into the sky.
            And so I looked, and, after all,
            The sky was not so very tall.
            The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
            And – sure enough! – I see the top!
            The sky I thought, is not so grand;
            I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
            And reaching up my hand to try,
            I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
            I screamed and – lo! – Infinity
            Came down and settled over me;
            Forced back my scream into my chest,
            Bent back my arm upon my breast . . .

     How much more humbling than the vastness of creation is the infinite God who created it?  How can we not feel absolutely insignificant by comparison?  As I’ve said before, it’s not so much the existence of a creator-God that is so difficult for us to believe, it is that such a God could possibly even notice something as small as ourselves, much less love us.
     That’s part of the wonder of the Incarnation, which we just celebrated this past Sunday in the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16): God put himself on our level (to the degree that he can), he gave us a human face to gaze on, and in taking on human form sanctified humanity.  “If God is for us,” Saint Paul asks, “who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)  It is Christ Incarnate that allows us to feel the boundless immensity of creation not as an infinite indifference swallowing us up without a second thought, but the embrace of infinite Love, because by lowering himself to become man, and by suffering and dying for us, Jesus showed us in the flesh that, truly, “God is Love”(1John 4:8). Let us thank The Lord.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Has Pascal's Wager Really Been "Debunked"?

The Wager

Blaise Pascal
     Is it true that Pascal’s Wager has been “debunked”? Most informed Catholics will be familiar with Pascal’s Wager, which is an argument 17th century Catholic Philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal developedin his Pensees.  Pascal says that we all have to make the choice to believe in God or not.  There are four possible outcomes to our choice: if we choose to believe and we are right we experience endless bliss after death, if we are wrong we experience nothing at all, we simply cease to exist; if we choose disbelief and we are right we likewise experience nothing after this world, but if we are wrong we suffer eternal damnation.  Belief is clearly the best bet, because we risk nothing and stand to gain infinite joy, whereas disbelief gains us nothing even if we’re right, and costs us absolutely everything if we’re wrong.
     It’s a simple a straightforward argument, and it seems pretty obvious.  You wouldn’t think that there was room for much “bunk” in it.  And yet the New Atheism’s evangelists of nothingness claim to have shown it to be an empty shell.  You can find websites created by self-proclaimed debunkers which present the main anti-Wager arguments (along with a fair amount of neo-atheist snark).  One such site, for instance, takes three main lines of attack:

1)      “It assumes that there is only one religion”, thus we are presented, not with two clear choices, but with a myriad of choices. This objection, which has been around since Pascal’s time, is traditionally known as the argument from inconsistent revelations.

2)      The second, as we shall see, is not so much an argument as an unsupported opinion: ‘Also, the second problem is that it assumes that the possibility that the Christian doctrine that “everyone is going to hell unless they become a Christian and accept Jesus as their Savior” is a realistic and significant possibility.  Perhaps they think it is even as probable as the possibility that there is no God.  However, based on the arguments in this book and in others linked, it should be clear that that probability is pretty much zero by now.’

3)      ‘Finally, few, if any, disbelievers disbelieve out of choice . . . Most disbelievers disbelieve simply because they know of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe . . .’ and  ‘Even if you said all the right prayers and attended church regularly, that would still not be the same thing as believing from the heart, and any real God would obviously see straight through that.’

    Let’s get the second out of the way first because, as I observed above, it is not a serious argument.  Our unbelieving friends make a sweeping assertion and offer no proof other than inviting us to read their book.  Sorry guys, your opinion isn’t proof of anything.  And if the quality of their argument here is any indication, I doubt that I’ll find the rest of their book any more persuasive (and I’m willing to bet I’ve heard all those “arguments” before, too).  This is no more than an attempt to dismiss the case before it can be litigated.
    Number one at least has the virtue of being an actual argument, one that was first raised, in fact, in Pascal’s lifetime (just as an aside, if Pascal’s Wager is “old and outdated”, as the debunkers assert, isn’t their counter-argument as well?).  Pascal himself dismissed it as an attempt to derail the argument, rather than an attempt to get at the truth, adding “But if you desire with all your heart to know it, it is not enough; look at it in detail.”   What he says next points up the main weakness with this objection: “That would be sufficient in philosophy; but not here, where everything is at stake.”  His wager is not an exercise in formal logic, nor is a metaphysical proof, nor is it an attempt to offer a comprehensive answer to all the possible possibilities raised by religious belief. He is offering it as a guide to making a real decision of which path to set out on, confident that a seeker who is sincerely looking for the truth will, ultimately, find it.
    Consider the following analogy: suppose you’re driving down the road and you come to a T intersection.  A sign pointing to the right says “Jerusalem”, the sign pointing to the left says “Danger: Bridge Out.”  If you take the left road, you might find yourself driving into a river, or maybe the bridge will have been repaired, or there could be ferry service, who knows? If you take the right, there might be an unexpected landslide, or you might miss another turn and get lost, or you might get eaten by a lion; there are an endless variety of things that might happen.  Nevertheless, you can be reasonably sure that if you want to get to Jerusalem, the right hand turn is your best bet, while the left will, at best, take you somewhere else, or at worst get you killed.  That’s what Pascal’s Wager is about, it’s about that initial decision to commit yourself to finding God, or to turn away.  If you choose God, you will still have an endless series of further choices and decisions ahead of you, even if you are sure that the Catholic Church is the True Church.  And remember, Pascal doesn’t promise that you will find salvation if you choose God, only that you might, whereas if you choose to reject the possibility of God you definitely won’t.  The argument from inconsistent revelations does nothing to change that.
     The third argument is a variant of the argument from inauthentic belief (briefly, that Pascal’s Wager is arguing for the outward appearance of belief, as opposed to actual belief).  Like the first, it misrepresents what the Wager is really saying, and misunderstands what Catholics have traditionally understood by “belief”.  It starts out, as does the debunkers' second argument, with an unsupported assertion: "few, if any, disbelievers disbelieve out of choice", followed by another, “Most disbelievers disbelieve simply because they know of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe.”  Not only do they provide no proof whatsoever for either of them, the two statements are, in fact, contradictory: if nobody chooses to disbelieve, then what does evidence have to do with it? In any case, they don’t say reasons and evidence don’t exist, but “they know of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe”.  The word “compelling” means persuasive, and implies that they do have a choice either to accept or reject the evidence on offer. And as it happens, according to polling data, 8 out of every 10 Americans do find the same evidence “compelling” enough to believe, so it would seem that whether or not it is "compelling" is in the eye of the beholder, in which case we all do have a choice; or maybe believers don’t have really choose either, in which case, why try to “debunk” anything, since none of us, apparently, have any control over our beliefs?  I have no choice but to believe this argument is simply incoherent.
    That leaves us with the argument that following the outward form of religious observance without “believing from the heart” would not count as real belief, and “any real God would obviously see straight through” it.  Like many fallacies, this point contains enough truth to make it appear plausible at first glance, because insincere belief is, of course, false belief.  

     Part of the problem here is that this objection misrepresents what a Christian means by belief, in the same way that the secular world misunderstands what is meant by “love”.  The modern secularist sees love as primarily an emotional effect, or even as pure emotion, and therefore something that happens to you, not something you do.  In the Christian view, Love is a decision of the will, informed by the intellect, and ideally supported by the emotions, but the emotional part is the least essential.  It is therefore possible to love, truly love, someone whom you heartily dislike if you sincerely desire what is best for them, without regard for your own self-interest. Genuine belief is likewise a conscious choice and a movement of the will.  Emotions are a very unreliable guide to actions, but often serve to support and reinforce the will.  Very often we find that our emotions change (sometimes slowly) following a firm decision on our part, especially if we change our habits or practices to go along with it. Countless people have experienced such emotional changes after switching political parties, for instance, or changing some other allegiance.  In fact, it is very often the emotional attachments that what keep people from switching long after they see solid reasons to do so, and it’s only after they decide to act that the emotions follow.  
    Pascal believed (as Catholics and many other people traditionally have) that reason, not emotion, should govern the will, but that emotions were the main obstacle for most people, certainly for those who claimed that they wanted to believe but could not. Accordingly, this is his advice to such people:

Learn from those who were bound like you . . . Follow the way by which they began: that is by doing everything as if they believed, by taking holy water, by having masses said, etc. Naturally, even this will make you believe and will dull you. -’But this is what I am afraid of.’ - And why? What have you to lose?

    Of course, Pascal was depending not only on the natural tendency of emotions to follow a firm will, but also the working of God’s grace on those who are sincerely seeking Him, even if they are not yet sure that they have found him.
    Now, our atheist friends might point out that they don’t believe in God’s Grace, and our emotions don’t always do what we want them to do.  True enough.  But it also doesn’t matter.  Notice that Pascal isn’t offering a counter argument above so much as advice to those might be hesitating, because the argument from inauthentic belief isn’t really an objection to Pascal’s Wager at all.  As I indicate in the“T intersection” analogy above, the Wager is solely concerned with whether it is wiser to choose a road that leads toward God, or one that leads away.  The choice itself is just a beginning, and is the same whether or not there might be difficulties or further choices along the way (as, in fact, we should expect there will be).
    The simplicity of the choice is what gives Pascal’s Wager its persuasive power. You can find critics who present much more formal and complicated discussions than the self-proclaimed debunkers cited above, but they are all variations of the same old arguments presented here, all of which have been around since Pascal’s day, and all of which rely on making his Wager something it is not.  They all have to do with raising questions about the certainty of Eternal Salvation, but that is, of course, why it is a wager in the first place, because there is no certainty in this world.  But what’s the worst that can happen if you gamble on God?  What’s the worst if you take the other path?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Veni, Creator Spiritus & Weekly Round-Up for Pentecost Sunday 2015

Juan Batista Maino, Pentecostes
     Today is Pentecost Sunday, on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem; we also take this as a special opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our own lives, often by praying or singing the ancient hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus" ("Come, Creator Spirit").  In the moving clip below we see the College of Cardinals calling upon the Holy Spirit in this way, not at Pentecost but at another time when the aid of the Third Person of the Trinity was required: the last Papal election.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love.

Weekly Round-Up, Pentecost Sunday 2015

The academic year is drawing to a close, and bloggery needs to take a back seat to more immediate responsibilities.  Nonetheless, I did manage to post a thing or two:

Wednesday - “FeedYour Mind And Soul: The Office of Readings (LOH 5)”  How you can enrich your prayer life and also expand your Biblical literacy through the Office of Readings (the fifth installment of my series on the Liturgy of the Hours for lay men and women). 

and “Hidden Law,Society, and Catholic Teaching”  The informal “laws” created by family, relationships, and religion often govern our lives much more effectively than laws imposed by the state. 

Thursday - “Quick!What’s The Summit And Source of the Christian Life?” We lose more than we might realize when we lose reverence for the Eucharist 

Friday - “AbortionMyth # 14” If ‘a woman and her doctor’ told you to jump off the roof, would you do it? 

Haydn's The Creation, Day 2 & Weekly Round-Up of posts

     Here's another selection from Haydn's magnificent oratorio The Creation.  In he first part is (And God Made the Firmament) in which the music represents the separation of water from the land and the the first storms (you'll know the storms when you hear them).  The second part is a beautiful soprano aria (The marvelous work beholds, amazed, the glorious hierarchy of Heaven) in which the Heavenly Host praises the creator and his work.

Weekly Round-Up, Pentecost Sunday 2015

The academic year is drawing to a close, and bloggery needs to take a back seat to more immediate responsibilities.  Nonetheless, I did manage to post a thing or two:

Wednesday - “FeedYour Mind And Soul: The Office of Readings (LOH 5)”  How you can enrich your prayer life and also expand your Biblical literacy through the Office of Readings (the fifth installment of my series on the Liturgy of the Hours for lay men and women). 

andHidden Law,Society, and Catholic Teaching”  The informal “laws” created by family, relationships, and religion often govern our lives much more effectively than laws imposed by the state. 

Thursday - “Quick!What’s The Summit And Source of the Christian Life?” We lose more than we might realize when we lose reverence for the Eucharist 

Friday - “AbortionMyth # 14” If ‘a woman and her doctor’ told you to jump off the roof, would you do it? 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Abortion Myth # 14

MYTH: “Abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor.”

TRUTH  Involving a “doctor” doesn’t change the nature or reality of abortion; it is still the intentional taking of innocent human life, which is never morally permissible, not even with a doctor’s assent. Also, why doesn't the child's father have a say . . . or the child?
Hippocrates: doctors must not abort

-          Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, which for over 2,000 years had the following clause:

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.  Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.  In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

Unfortunately, this clause has been removed in recent years at medical schools in the United States and Western Europe, because so many doctors are now doing what the oath forbids..

-          Very often the only doctor involved is the abortionist himself or herself, who frequently does not even speak to the mother before, during or after the “procedure”.

-          We quite rightly expect fathers to take responsibility for their children when they are allowed to live; should we deny them the right to protect their unborn children from death by abortion?

-          Fathers of aborted babies often undergo great suffering; see “Men Hurt Too” [here] on the Priests For Life website and FatherhoodForever [here].  Shouldn’t they have a say in the decision?

-          The aborted child, who is most directly affected by abortion, has no say at all.

The idea for the arguments above comes from Randy Alcorn’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments.


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link

Priests for Life (link)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quick! What's the Summit and Source of the Christian Life?

     And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  -Matthew 22:35-39

We have Company

Pope Francis at Easter Mass
     Years ago when I taught at a Catholic high school in New York State I was the faculty moderator of the student newspaper.  On one particular occasion I had brought some of the students on the newspaper staff on a trip to another school, which had at one time been a convent school, and still had a number of the good sisters in residence.  We were casually conversing in a hallway when an elderly nun began furiously shushing at us as she pointed to an open doorway.  Looking through the door I noticed, for the first time, a tabernacle on the far wall with a red presence lamp glowing next to it.  We were standing in front of the chapel, and sister wanted us to quiet down out of respect for Christ in the reserved Sacrament.  When I recounted the incident to my lovely bride, she told me that the exact same thing had happened to her a dozen years or more before when she had visited the same school as a student.  Whether it was a sort of tradition there, or the same sister had made a life’s mission of hushing boisterous guests in front of the chapel I don’t know, but the incident has stuck with me.
     I was reminded of this incident yet again the other day, in fact, when I saw this post [here] on Michael Seagriff’s blog, in which he recounts his sadness at the disrespect shown Our Lord at a Church he attended while travelling.  He says:

The loud chatter and laughter before and immediately after the end of Mass each day made silent prayer an enormous challenge if not an impossibility.  The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.

I think he hits the nail right on the head here. If we knew that an important man or woman were in the room with us – the President of the United States, for instance, or some other high-ranking official – would we carry on as if he weren’t there?  And wouldn’t he command at least as much of our attention as our friends? Surely when the Lord and Creator of the Universe is in the room with us (as He is in the consecrated Eucharist), we should show even greater deference.  In fact, shouldn’t we by all rights fall to our knees in awe-struck silence? And yet what Michael Seagriff describes above is all too common; he could have been describing a church I know near me, but the same thing happens, often to a lesser degree, just about everywhere I know of (to a much lesser degree, I must admit, where the Mass is being offered in the extraordinary form).

Maybe sometimes we should "sweat the small stuff"

     I’m not just being the President of the No-Fun Club here (although I do bear that title, and proudly); the issue of reverence before the Holy Sacrament, and at Mass in general, is no small matter.  We’ve all heard some variation on “God doesn’t care what I’m wearing/ doing, etc. . . .  He just wants me to be there . . . He’s a big Guy, he can take it  . . . blah,blah,blah”.  God’s not the problem: no amount of irreverence, in fact nothing we can do at all, can harm Him.  The problem is that it’s bad for us to disrespect God, we are not honoring and obeying our Heavenly Father, the One who told Moses “Take off your sandals, the place where you’re standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  It’s right to behave differently in the immediate presence of God.
     There’s also another problem, as Michael indicates when he says “The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.”  If you asked them, I’m sure the chatterboxes from the back of the church would insist they had enormous respect for the Divine Presence in the Tabernacle, and they would probably mean it.  We Catholics know, however, that mind, body, and spirit all work together.  “The Word became Flesh” (John 1:14) John the Evangelist tells us, and the Apostle James assures us that “Faith apart from deeds is dead” (James 2:26). We cannot separate what we do from what we believe, and if our behavior says, not just to others but to ourselves, that being at Mass is no different than being at a business meeting or a cocktail party, sooner or later we’ll believe it.  And that is why, after all, we have all the “smells and bells”, beautiful churches and colorful vestments, because we flesh and blood mortals need tangible signs in order to absorb spiritual realities.  Why else should the Word become Flesh? Why else have sacraments?

Summit and Source

     The spiritual reality we’re meant to absorb when we’re at Mass, of course, is the True Presence of Jesus Christ.  The first commandment is to love God (see the quote from Matthew's Gospel at the top of the page); loving our neighbor is similar to that, but subordinate. Our purpose in going to Mass, then, is not to meet our friends but to meet God Himself, face to face, and even to take him physically into our bodies.  That’s a big deal.  We need to know it, to feel it, and to live it.  The Vatican II fathers tell us that the Mass is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; and at the same time, it is the fountain from which all her powers flow” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). Isn’t that worth asking your friends to wait a little while?
     I don’t doubt that most of the natterers in the pews intend no disrespect.  Most have been mislead by an elite group of liturgical ideologues who really do want to de-emphasize the Divinity of Christ, and have been acculturated to a societal ethos that has made a fetish out of informality.  We all need to do our part to model appropriate reverence, and educate others (recall that “Instructing the Ignorant” is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy; this definitely qualifies).  We should also encourage our priests, many of whom apparently think that lay people are put off by reverence, formality, and the like.  Share with them resources like this post [here] from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on ways to improve the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass; I’m willing to bet that any church that followed Fr. Z’s advice from this article would be bursting at the seams.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and our profound encounter with Him in the Mass, is too big to ignore.
(An earlier version of this Throwback appeared on August 27th, 2014)