Category Archives: Saints

Is God a Cosmic Sadist?

Question: “Why would a loving God send people to Hell?”
Answer: People choose Hell over God.
Question: “Why would anyone choose Hell over God?”
Answer: Because they’ve spent their lives preparing themselves to make that choice.”
Question: “How could a Christian make that choice?
Answer: By formulating and clinging to a false notion of God that makes us recoil when we see the reality, or by allowing ourselves to be so attached to sin that we don’t want to be relieved of the attachment even in Purgatory.
Question: “Well, why did God make it so hard.  Doesn’t that make Him some kind of Cosmic Sadist who just wants to torture us?”
Answer: That’s a mystery.  The Old Testament basically says that’s what God is, at least from our perspective, and we just have to accept it because He’s God and we’re not.  New Testament atonement theology doesn’t help much, and there are many interpretations that try to get us out of that trap.

The simple answer is love, and the personalism of St. John Paul II.  Yes, God could have made us differently than He did. He could have made the angels differently than He did.  Maybe He has made other life-forms that are different–He certainly seems to love diversity and possibility.  But the fact is, He made us, and He made us such that, just as each specific kind of plant or animal needs certain nutrients and environmental factors to thrive, so people function to our fullest potential when we live according to God’s design and intention for us.


The New Testament tells us over and over that God has “imprisoned all in disobedience” that He might show Mercy to all, that He prizes the sheep who stray and come back more highly, and so on.  Again, it might seem like a weird way to set things up, but the more we understand it as a relationship of love, the more sense it makes.

To be free to love we must be free to reject, and I believe strongly that Christ gives us the freedom to reject Him. I believe that we have to pray to Christ to shape our understanding and our will to accept Him, just as spouses must both try themselves and pray for the grace to improve ourselves to be better people and to love our spouses for who they are, not who they want them to be.

I believe we set ourselves up for rejecting Christ when we form images of Him that conflict with Who He really is and refuse to allow those images to grow. In marriage, we start off with an idealized Other whom we love. As we grow, we realize the Other doesn’t always match that Ideal. The Ideal gives way to the Real, we try to make ourselves more like the Other’s Ideal, and one day hope that we will be together, perfected, in Heaven, where the truly Ideal and the truly Real meet.
The same is true of our relationships with Christ, but the difference is that He is unchanging.  We are mutable and weak, and blessed with the gifts of ignorance and unknowing that He gave us to give us the opportunity to grow.  However, we start with an “ideal” of Christ that we tend to cling to.  If we take our mistaken view of Christ, whatever its basis, without trying to grow in our understanding, we end up like Javert, confronted with the reality of Christ and too proud to admit we were wrong.
In this sense, the ancient Christian tradition, reflected in both Catholic and Orthodox sources, tells us that it might sometimes be easier for a pagan or an atheist who has gone through life with an attitude of sincerely seeking God, to embrace Jesus when she meets Him than for a self-proclaimed Christian who is too self-confident to admit being wrong.
This is also why we must caution ourselves against the extreme of presumption–we use the rather extreme example of someone who has lived a life of erstwhile holiness potentially “snapping” and committing a murder-suicide, but the far more realistic example is that we are too attached to *something* to let it go for Christ when called to do so.
Paradoxically, one of those attachments can itself be scrupulosity.  We can often be the worst Javert’s to ourselves–indeed, in the book, Javert resigns his position, writes a confession, and commits suicide because he has broken the Law by not arresting Valjean on sight.  He cannot forgive himself for being forgiving–the ultimate paradox of the damned.
The possibility of damnation does not make God a Cosmic Sadist–though, as C. S. Lewis, St. Francis de Sales and the Book of Job all tell us, even if God *is* a Cosmic Sadist, we don’t have any choice in the matter so we might as well play by His rules.
At judgement, we put God in the Dock, as Lewis says–we judge Him.  We say, “I can’t accept Your Mercy,” or “I can’t accept Your Justice,” or both.  In Lewis’s Great Divorce, souls are first tempted — not with the more obvious ones but tests of pride, impatience, etc.–and then greeted by Saints they have the biggest grudges against.  This is similar to the Orthodox theory of the “toll booths”—that personal judgement is a journey, where we must stop and confront different temptations that plagued us in life, and if we don’t built up the resistance to them now, we won’t be able to resist them then.  As well as the tollbooths, like in Lewis’s story, the soul is called to both by the Damned and the Saved, and if the soul has kept bad company in this life, she will be drawn to the appeal of the Damned to join them.
It’s like the joke about the millionaire who is told he can decide between Heaven and Hell and after seeing Heaven, he is taken to Hell for his three day preview.  He spends three days at a luxury resort, with every pleasure imaginable, and all his friends and family are having a big party.  So he decides that Hell has been misrepresented and tells the angel he wants to stay in Hell.  He finds himself in torment, with his friends and family chained nearby, cursing him and each other, and the handsome concierge now revealed as Satan, and he asks what happened.  “That was sales pitch.  You purchased.”
The other mistake we can make with every conception of judgement, even the “tollbooths,” is that we think, “Christ forgives everyone.  He will forgive me.”  We presume that we haven’t bought into Satan’s sales pitch.  We presume we will be able to withstand any temptation in our final journey or that we won’t find ourselves agreeing with all the celebrities and internet combox atheists who say that they’d rather be in Hell because all the interesting people are there.
We have to shape our minds, our lives, our desires to make God, as He has revealed Himself to be, desirable to us, and to recognize when the World is trying to make us think differently of Him.

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Vegetables and Grace

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Grace is received according to the mode of the receiver.

So are vegetables.

Some people naturally love vegetables. Most people don’t.

Most people love a few particular vegetables. For me, my favorites are broccoli and spinach, which I’d eat an entire package of on my own if I could but I take Coumadin so I’m only allowed to eat small amounts of them. Ironically, a few months ago I ate a whole bag of broccoli by myself and sent myself to the ER with a clot.

If we don’t have any desire to eat vegetables, we need to have our desires adjusted before we can eat them.

If we grow up eating vegetables, it is easier to love them as an adult. Often, if we grow up eating both, or having our vegetables coated in twinkies, as someone recently suggested, then we are really being taught that vegetables are not desirable.

If we have a desire to eat vegetables but a greater desire to eat junk food, we might eat *some* vegetables but not all the vegetables that are being served to us because we spoiled our dinner by filling up on junk food.

If we fill up completely on junk food, we have no room for vegetables.

So it is with grace.

Our Father in Heaven is offering us a smorgasbord of spiritual vegetables. Our Lady of Victory told St. Catherine Laboure that the precious stones falling from her hands on the Miraculous Medal–the stones which Mel Gibson symbolically has her casting to the earth in The Passion of the Christ, are the graces that go to waste because people aren’t willing to receive them.

Original sin and concupiscence are such that most of us are disinclined to accept His Grace.

Some people are born more naturally receptive to grace.

Some people are born with an inclination to particular graces from God, rather than having a well-balanced spiritual diet, gorge themselves on one kind of grace to the detriment of their overall spiritual life (such as a preference for Scripture or a particular devotion, a scrupulous devotion to COnfession, fasting excessively, doing charitable works without prayer, etc.).

Some people are raised in holy homes and taught to shun the world.

Some people are raised by holy parents who try to teach them the right way, but the enemy sows his seeds of spiritual junk food anyway, and the parents themselves don’t realize the subtle ways they’re teaching that God is second in their lives or that faith is not desirable in itself.

Most people don’t even try to accept God’s grace, and if they try, they get their souls so full of sin that they can’t, and they need to get that out of their systems, one way or the other, before they can take in the graces God is trying to offer them.

The Four Questions 99% of Protestants can’t answer

After a few discussions in the past 24 hours, I am revisiting the Socratic questions that always seem to stymie our separated brethren.

Preface: St. Paul tells us to hold fast to all the Apostle’s teachings, whether by “letter” or “word of mouth” (2 Thess 2:15). Our Lord speaks of the Church having the power to Loose and Bind (Matthew 16:18-19) and frequently speaks of giving us a Church but never speaks of Scriptures as anything other than the Hebrew Scriptures. St. John tells us Jesus said and did many other things that are not recorded in the Bible (21:25). St Peter says that nothing in Scripture is personal interpretation but is to be guided by the Church (2 Peter 1:18-21).
1) So where, in Scripture, is Sola Scriptura? The usual response is some verse about how important Scripture is, but never one that proves it is *exclusive*.
2) Where does the Bible say one must specifically have not just a general foundation for an idea but a specific chapter and verse citation? (Answer, nowhere, since chapters and verses were a Medieval addition and aren’t even consistent among Medieval texts)
3) If one truly believes in “sola Scriptura,” why quote any books or ministers? Is it not really just picking and choosing the Tradition one prefers and calling it Scriptural?
4) Last, but not least, if you are opposed to “secular knowledge,” “images,” etc., what are you doing on the Internet?

On Catholics using “Big Words”

If you listen to the MSM, you might have heard how those big meanies at Russia supposedly leaked emails to make poor innocent Hillary Clinton look bad, or how a leaked video of Donald Trump engaging in admittedly repulsive talk should destroy his campaign.
If you get your news on TV, you probably missed that among the latest “dump” of Clinton-related emails by Wikileaks are comments about setting up various front groups to undermine the “backwards” Catholic Church (as C. S. Lewis would say, if you’ve strayed off course from your goal, “backwards” is “progress”), proving that groups like “Catholics United for the Common Good” and other supposedly “moderate” groups that have sprung up in the past decade or so are, as I and others have argued, secular liberal front groups.

Many have asked why Julian Assange isn’t publishing much about Trump.  Well, the big batch that was released this weekend and covered up by discussion of which members of which parties engage in worse violations of the second, sixth and ninth Commandments, also included evidence that another “conspiracy theory” was true: that the Clinton Campaign was behind the Trump campaign all along, to avoid someone like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio getting the nomination.

A third headline that you may have missed if you get your news from Clinton News Network, Nothing But Clinton, All ‘Bout Clinton or Clinton Broadcasting System (the more common acronym for CBS would violate my own broadcasting rules), and the one I’d like to reply to most directly here, concerns a batch of emails between some folks named John Halpin (jhalpin@americanprogress.org), Jennifer Palmieri (JPalmieri@americanprogress.org) and John Podesta (john.podesta@gmail.com).  I’m sure these individuals’ emails are flooded, if not shut down, but I would like to reply to the following statement that’s garnered no small attention in the circles of conservative Catholicism (and, I imagine, counterweighted Trump’s obscenities for some of us  on the fence about whether to vote for Trump or a more conservative third party candidate.  Said Halpin:

[Catholic Conservatism is] an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.

Apparently, Mr. Halpin is “totally unaware” that “Christian Democracy” is not just an oxymoron but an outright contradiction.

Now, prior to the era of Donald Trump, I’d have pointed out how liberals can’t even communicate amongst themselves without resorting to rough language, but given that that is a perfectly good word abused by abusers of language, what is more of an — adulteration — of the Faith than to try and mask Socialism with Christianity and call it “Christian Democracy”, or to claim the Church has “severely backwards gender relations”?

[Catholic conservatives] can throw around “Thomistic” thought and “subsidiarity” and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.sIt’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.

Well, first off, that’s precisely what we’re talking about–how to avoid going to Hell, which should the secondary concern of every person on the planet (the primary concern being learning how to properly respond in love to the selfless gift of Christ).

Second off, for people who throw around sentences like “postmodern approaches to reevaluating paradigms of patriarchal and Eurocentric hegemonies” to accuse anyone else of using “big words” to “sound smart” would make me laugh if I were physically capable of it anymore.

Third, and most importantly, if “Thomistic” political theory is too complicated for you (for me, St. Thomas Aquinas himself, once you learn the method of properly reading a Summa is about as simple and clear as possible), and if “subsidiarity,” one of the basic principles of Catholic Social Thought, going back at least as far back as Pope Pius XI, and best summarized in the famous dictum of Lord Acton, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, is too big a word, on this, the 99th anniversary of the Sun Dancing at Fatima, I would like to offer a far simpler explanation of why I, for one don’t support Socialism, Statism, modern “gender relations” or so-called “Christian democracy”. In the words of Our Lady:

“Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be annihilated.”

“God is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Communions of reparation and for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart … In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, which will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

(See also Miraculous Medal and La Salette Apparitions)

I *am* guilty of this Man’s Blood.

“If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains” (Jn 9:41).
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Matthew 9:12).
“I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matthew 27:24).
“Then may his blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25)

“Blood that but one drop of/ has the worth to win/all the world forgiveness/of its world of sin” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, after St Thomas Aquinas).

It is a great disgrace that one of the most important verses in the Passion narrative has been distorted into a statement of hate such that to even quote it is considered hate speech.
Unless we accept Christ’s self-offering, we have no place in His kingdom (Jn 13:8).  Pilate, by professing his innocence, proclaims his own guilt.  The people, by accepting the guilt for Christ’s death, and accepting His blood, are actually accepting their own redemption.

When the people say “Let us blood be upon us and upon our children,” that means all of us.  Unless we accept our guilt for Christ’s death, and not only accept His blood offered for our sins upon us but into us through the Sacrament, we can have no life in us (Jn 6:53).
This is something to consider when public figures profess their alleged Christianity by saying they have never told God they were sorry.

On Van Gogh, Lewis, Koontz, Autism and the Afterlife

Here’s a thought process: I’ve long believed that part of what we take to be “mental illness” is the brain perceiving reality differently, particularly in the case of schizophrenic disorders, hallucinations, etc.: that whatever connection there is between the soul and the mind is overactive, so the person is extra-ordinarily aware of the ordinary spiritual activity that surrounds us. St Anthony of the Desert was once given a view of the angels and demons simply fighting at that moment over his soul, and asked not to be shown it again lest he go insane.
Now, I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple days about sensory overload. If you dare, here are a couple videos that simulate sensory overload experiences:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oe7yNPyf2c
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcS2VUoe12M
Tonight, I saw an interesting video on Vincent van Gogh and physics. The article and video can be found here.  Van Gogh’s painting’s, particularly Starry Night, accurately depict the motion of the stars according to the phenomenon called “turbulence,” and Hubble Telescope researchers found that patterns from the Hubble telescope match van Gogh’s work.  That’s the nutshell version of the physics: the articles leave open the question of *how*, but at one point the video touches on the neurological side of things, and that’s what inspired this blog post.  Now, if I understand what they’re saying, all the Impressionists depicted light in a way that’s revolutionary and matches with things scientists discovered later.  They all seemed to intuit or access perceptions of light that most people aren’t aware of, but our brains can still process.
Van Gogh, however, was the only one to do it with such detail and scientific/mathematical precision.    He did all this during the same period of  “mental chaos” that led to both cutting off his own ear and painting his greatest works.  They’re stopping at “apparently, by depicting the chaos in his mind, he accurately depicted the chaos in nature.”
What if the chaos in his mind was caused by perceiving the chaos in nature?
What if van Gogh was what  we call “severely autistic,” and hyper-perception turned to sensory overload?  If you have no idea what “sensory overload” means or is like, and think it means “ate too much sugar” or something, please watch (and listen to) the videos I posted above. The closest possible experience is migraine, and that’s not even half of it.
Imagine: for some reason, van Gogh went into complete sensory overload.  He could see light so well he was seeing turbulence.  He could hear every sound around him in a deafening cacophony.  That’s why he cut off his ear-to try and stop the sound.  He channeled the visual overload by painting things the way he actually saw them.
Now, the theological side of this discussion.  My wife has been reading Dean Koontz‘s books, particularly the Odd Thomas series.  If you don’t know Koontz, and are looking for someone other than the usual litany of ChestertonEliotLewisTolkienO’Connor, read him.  I started with Brother Odd, and was hooked when, within a page, he referred to Batman, Odysseus, and nuns who think they’re “social workers who don’t date.”  Anyway, as she’s told me about different Koontz books, we’ve discussed what things struck me as reminiscent of Lewis, Eliot and O’Connor.  I suggested she read The Great Divorce next, so while she’s read that, we’ve been discussing how Lewis depicts part of Purgatory being the soul’s adjustment to the sheer Reality of Heaven: grass, for example, that feels like walking on knives because it’s so REAL.  St. John Bosco had a dream where he saw a stage of the afterlife that wasn’t even the beginning of the farthest outskirts of what we call “Heaven.”  St. Dominic Savio, who greeted him there having already died years before his teacher, said that “No one can see Heaven and live.”
Perhaps it’s because Heaven is so overwhelmingly real.
Now, if you haven’t, go back and look at the sensory overload videos.
If the phenomenon/symptom that was originally called “autism”–catatonia, retreating into oneself, etc.,–stems from a brain that is so aware and so full of information that the person can’t handle it, and has to find some way of dealing with all that information that shoots in and out constantly–if Vincent van Gogh, as I’m speculating, had such an experience and was so overwhelmed he cut off his ear–if my son can have a meltdown because he suddenly keenly remembers some incident from when he was 2 or 3 years old like it just happened–imagine being suddenly confronted with the ability to instantly remember everything that happened in your life: every good memory, every bad memory.
Imagine being suddenly able to, if you and God will, see or hear anyone, anything, anywhere in time or space, at a level of detail that you cannot possibly imagine now.  That’s to say nothing of the Beatific Vision.
If you were to die after reading this, do you think your psyche (both in the modern and original senses of the word) would be truly prepared for such an overwhelming crash of reality?   It’s what Plato described with his allegorical man from the cave who suddenly goes from seeing nothing but 2D shadows his entire  life to seeing three dimensional people and objects in full color, in the sunlight.  Do you not think that you’d need to at least let your eyes adjust?  Like jumping into a swimming pool, you’d need to adjust a moment to the drastic change in your surroundings.
That adjustment is Purgatory.

Small Miracles

On Saturday night, we went to a “Healing Service,” the third time I went to what I’d call a “Charismatic” healing service, with a fellow named Damian Stayne, and the first with a laymen and no sacramental aspect. I went because, though I accept my just suffering and try not to test God or seek out consolations, I so desperately want to sing again. I made the usual promise to seek the diaconate if God granted me my voice back, or for greater healing for Mary and me so we could bear another child. Of course, nothing dramatic happened. There were some apparent healings that took place–I saw many leaving very downcast, though.

I was deeply troubled–not by God. I understand how God works. I was troubled by the event. The fellow was deeply admired and recommended by people I admire. I was invited the last time he came through Augusta, and I declined.

What bothers me about Charismatic spirituality besides the consolation hunting that goes against the recommendations of the Carmelite Doctors–yet I also know some amazing Carmelites who are also Charismatics–is that they never make room for the importance of suffering, or the fact that God answers prayers in His own time. One thing that really impressed me was how Mr. Stayne pointed out that the man Sts. Peter and John heal in Acts (the chronologically last mention of the Beloved Disciple in Acts) has been laying outside the temple *his whole life*, and Jesus passed him by. At the same time as insisting that God has this “big bowl of healing” or some such and that He doesn’t pick and choose whom to heal, Stayne touched on the most important point.

Little Therese says that one of the reasons Jesus says “faith the size of a mustard seed” is that He works miracles to nourish small faith–people with no faith will ignore miracles (“your doctor was an idiot and read the test wrong,” “we mixed up the records,” etc.) For a person with a seed of faith, a miracle will water it. But for a person with a lot of faith, God tests them. She points out that Our Lord allows one of His best friends to die so He can work a greater miracle because He is testing the faith of Sts. Mary and Martha, and showing everyone else God’s glory.

Think about Mother Angelica: first, she was told she’d never walk. Then she prayed that if God let her walk, she’d start a monastery in the deep South–and she walked again *but with braces*. Forty years in braces. Then the time she was speaking in Florida, and a woman came up and said “Mother, your talk changed my life.”
“Really? What did I say that touched you?”
“I didn’t hear a word you said.”
“Uh, then how did my talk change your life?”
“Your braces. I have to wear leg braces, too, and all my friends tell me it’s because I don’t have enough faith. I saw you in leg braces, and I know you’re a woman of faith, so I know my friends are wrong.”
Of course, a few years later, she was healed of needing her braces. Then a couple years after that she had a massive stroke.

To someone with a fully formed understanding of suffering, and God’s purpose in showing His glory through miracles, Mother Angelica is a perfect example.

I wish a “healing service” would include those insights, so that people aren’t left with their faith devastated by empty promises.

It is wonderful when people are healded, and I believe Mr. Stayne is sincere and filling a role God has made for him. He said sometimes people come out of his services and something good happens days later. Maybe tomorrow morning will be that morning I’ve prayed for for as long as I can remember that I wake up and don’t need my glasses. However, in the meantime, I accept God’s will. I felt sorry for people who left seeming discouraged. I feel sorry for the fellow who prayed for me–he was really desperate to get me “total healing.” He was worried about *my* faith, and I tried to say how God has worked many healings in my life.

So, we were concerned about our kids’ reactions to the whole thing, and we were talking to them, and our son said, with a big smile, “He cured my asthma!” We were more concerned about the “big things,” and here he was joyful that, when he got bored with the 3+ hour service, and went running around in the front hall of the convention center, he could run without gasping for air.

Those are the little miracles that we need to see.