Getting Angry with God

There is a feeling in life, a position in life, that I absolutely hate. I was under the illusion that this painful moment is a one-time season that we must go through when we are in our 20s in order to grow and mature. After we have gone through it, we then have been brought to a spiritual place where God can use us more effectively.

In some talks that I have given, I use the image of alabaster flasks from the ancient Middle East. These alabaster flasks were filled with perfume and then were sealed. Since there were no screw-off caps in the ancient world, the only way to access the fragrant oil was to break the flask. Once broken, the fragrance was released.

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This is what I thought the “Eliza Doolittle” syndrome did. I thought there was a one-time period of suffering that will break us and then allow us to be used by God for the rest of our lives never to be endured again.

That is far from the truth.

If you’re not familiar with the character of Eliza Doolittle in the play, “Pygmalion”, and in the musical, “My Fair Lady”, she was the subject of a bet between two members of the English elite and upper crust. The bet was that one of the gentlemen, Henry Higgins, could take a lowly street vendor, Eliza, and pass her off as royalty. Spoiler alert: if you aren’t familiar with the story, it worked. By teaching her how to speak properly, she was mistaken for a Hungarian princess. In the wake of this seeming moment of triumph, she was reduced to tears. She asked, “What is to become of me?” This was the right question to ask and it is something that I have asked of the Lord on too many occasions. She asked this question because she did not fit in to the British upper crust. She was not a proper lady. Yet, she couldn’t go back to being a flower girl either. She didn’t fit in there any more either because she had been exposed to a new world and differently way of living. She was alone. She was in between two worlds. She was stuck in the between, in the “liminal” space.

This feeling of being caught between to worlds or two moments in life is incredibly painful. My past life is no longer working for me and I can’t see my next place. In these moments, we can be sincerely angry with the Lord. Eliza Doolittle said to Henry Higgins, “What have you made me good for?” When we cannot go back to our past self or former life and we cannot imagine our future we are Eliza Doolittle’s liminal space. When we have spent months and years preparing for a particular ministry or career and when we hate it, or when it hates us, we are Eliza Doolittle’s liminal space.

Again, I went through this as a young man and I thought I was done. I was very wrong. I continue to find myself in this liminal space.

When we are in the middle of it, we cannot imagine when or how we get out. My hope, however, lies in the fact that I have never, ever stayed there. Every time I have been in that space I have been broken and I sincerely believe that my relationship with the Lord, and sometimes my ministry has grown more fragrant. I guess if I am going to belabor the analogy, we are not a single alabaster flask. Instead there are many alabaster flasks within each of us.

This gives me hope.

Again, I have never stayed in that liminal space even when they have lasted for two or three years. I have always found myself out of these situations it and in a place of fruitfulness. While I am in the midst of these times, there are two things that have kept me sane. The first is St. Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” The second is the lyrics from a song:

We’ve come this far by faith, 

leaning on the Lord.

Trusting in His Holy Word,

He’s never failed me, yet.

Whoa, I can’t turn around.

We’ve come this far by faith.

Looking back, I feel so silly for having doubted God’s faithfulness. Even in the midst of it, I know God will not fail me, but it is so hard to modify the feelings of despair. Yes …despair. When I find myself in the throes of defeat, I can’t not feel defeated. The only thing I can do is remind God of what he has done and what I have done. I have said to him, “Lord: I have followed you imperfectly, but I have sincerely wanted to follow you and I believe I have been obedient to your movement in my life and in the life of my family. Why did you bring me to this place?” 

I believe the Lord hears the cry of an honest heart. The greatest act of faith I can do in these moments is to speak to God angrily. If I am angry with him, it means I know he is there and that he is the one to do something about my situation. Good news. He always has and I am left broken, but I am far more fragrant as a disciple and more fruitful as a minister.

Being Perfect as the Father Is Perfect

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I want to meet Cardinal Kasper one day and thank him for changing my life. In the wake of my failure as a youth minister in the first parish where I served, I was doubting everything and questioning everything, including my faith itself. I went back to graduate studies as much to sort out my faith as to prepare to be a better minister. I went back to the Catholic University of America very wounded and in need of healing from that experience at my first parish. God knew just what I needed.

That first semester back, I had a Theology of God (Trinity) class and The God of Jesus Christ by Cardinal Walter Kasper was required reading. That class, that book saved my relationship with the Lord.

Because of my mental make up, I needed to have tight intellectual answers in the face of a growing Nietzsche inspired atheism I saw within me. I needed to understand what it means to be saved. I needed to know who God is.

Cardinal Kasper’s writings rescued me from the seductive web of Friedrich Nietzsche and set me on a path of a deeper encounter with the Lord and a path to holiness beyond piety.

I knew that God is love, but Cardinal Kasper defined God as freedom to love.

Matthew 5:48 reads, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

You have to be kidding me! Perfect? Be perfect because God is perfect? Seriously, Matthew, are you sure you heard Jesus correctly? 

The Greek word for perfect is “teleiosais” with “teleos” as the root word. The best translation would be something akin to “end”, as in “goal”, or “fully developed” or “fully realized”. God is perfect because He is fully who he is and nothing can place limits on who He is. He is completely free to be his deepest identity: Love. God is freedom to love and nothing can stop him from that. He is perfect.

I, too, am to be and can be perfect. Holiness for me is to be the fullness of who God created me to be and freedom in Christ means that nothing has any power over me. I am created from freedom to love and I am created for freedom to love. I am the man God created me to be when I am free to love.

If my love for someone else is dependent on their mood, I am not free. If my love of the Father is dependent upon my enthusiasm for prayer or for ministry, I am not free. A person’s loveableness is to have no power over my love of them. If it does, I am not free. God is freedom to love. When I am before another and their past has no sway over me; their mood holds no condition for my love; when I only see them in the present moment and love that person with my full attention, then I will be free. Then I will be perfect as the Father is perfect.

Freed to Love

If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.

I am free to love.

I am free to move from the quiet and consolation of the morning into the noise and the disruption of the day.

I am free from the anger of being misunderstood.

I am free from the anger and calumny of others.

I am free to love.

I am free from being a prisoner of the moment and I am free to live in the Sacrament of the Moment.

When mood dictates actions, I am a prisoner of the moment.

When the shadow of flaws obscure, I am a prisoner of the moment.

When the vacuum of ego ingests all particles of light, I am a prisoner of the moment.

I am free from the emotions and moods of others.

There is no future. There is not past. There is only the presence of God in this moment. There is only the Sacrament of the Moment.

I am free to love.

Anger. Embarrassment. Appetite. They hold. They blind. They constrict.

These things have no sway where there is love.

Love frees me to love.

I am free to love.

Heaven, Antiphons, and Friendship: A Thought for Songwriters

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John 17:3 gives us a definition of eternal life. “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

We get to know God. At this point I am very tempted to linger just with this thought. We get to know God. The source and the force behind the Universe is a person and that person wants to communicate himself with us. The force is not nameless, not amorphously ethereal. No. The Creator’s name is Father and the Father wants to be known, forever.

To know the Father as a person forever is how John the Evangelist describes heaven. As I mentioned, I could linger on this thought, but I now want to make the jump to worship. If the liturgy is a foretaste of heaven, which it is. And if heaven is a deep knowing of the Father, which it is. Then the liturgy is an exchange of selves: the communication of ourselves to God the Father and God the Father’s communication of Himself to us.

Worship is authentic when we have come to know God better and have made ourselves vulnerable to God and made ourselves known to HIm. It is the kind of exchange found in friendship, in relationship. In authentic worship, God does not simply enjoy our adoration. This is a very incomplete understanding of worship. He is not fixed on his throne and idly receives our adulation. Instead, there is an exchange: a person communicates Himself to particular persons. This why we receive Holy Communion. There is an exchange of selves. Eternal life is the constant communication of God’s very self to us and we, in turn, lay the totality of ourselves to bear most vulnerably before God because this is what friends do.

And this is why the antiphons are important.

The Father communicates himself, gives knowledge of Himself, and makes Himself known through the liturgy, all of the liturgy. Being proper to the liturgy, the antiphons are part of God’s self-communication. This is why those of us who hope to write songs for the Church must make use of the antiphons and do so faithfully.

Artistic expression through music is also a means through which God communicates Himself because it conveys emotion. This is why we don’t simply recite the liturgy. We sing the liturgy and we convey the spirit of the text with the emotion of artistic expression. While the text of the liturgy is eternal, the artistic expression is situated temporally and should utilize sonic elements, the rhythms, the melodic structures, the harmonic structures, that will move the hearts of the particular people who have gathered for worship to reveal themselves to God and to be open to the self-communication of the Father.

A songwriter wishing to write music for the Church must be immersed in the antiphons, the Scriptures, the prefaces, and the collects: the entire liturgy. They must absorbed by the liturgy and pray through the liturgy. As we pray through the liturgical texts, the God beyond our words allows us to experience Him in a manner that escapes adequate description. In our intuition, our thoughts, and yes, our feelings and in our emotions we encounter the Lord. The artist tries to bring these experiences to expression and desires to move the entire person, intuition, thoughts, feelings, and emotion, toward the One who desires to be known for all eternity. 

How, then, can we know if our expressions are accurate of God’s nature? We submit these experiences and expressions to the liturgy itself, the place of God’s self-revelation. 

The Sacred Heart

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I have never been a very devotional person. I can remember rolling my eyes at a Prayer to the Shoulder Wound of Christ when I was much younger than I am today. I reluctantly go to such places as devotional prayer, but I have to say that Our Lady of Perpetual Help has truly chosen me and a devotion to her has gotten me through some incredibly tough times in life, both practical and spiritual. As much as I say that I am not devotional in my prayer life, I can point to clear moments where it has meant everything to me.

Now, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has taken my by the hand and won't let go.

In particular it is the wound from the soldier's spear that I can't get out of my mind. I know this is an artistic thought more than it is a theological thought, but I sincerely believe that the piercing of the side is what saved us. This is not just a shedding of blood. It is a doorway, the doorway, through which we enter into communion with Jesus. Salvation from the Catholic perspective is not being washed in the blood. I am painting a simplistic charicature here, but Luther thought we were displeasing to God because of our sin. The blood washed us clean of our sin and made acceptable to God. Of course, this is part of our understanding of salvation, but that is where the mystery stops for many. The mystery of salvation goes much deeper than that. Salvation is an entrance into Jesus himself. It is communion with him. It is union with him, with his experience, with his destiny. 

Salvation is being adopted as a son or a daughter. In fact it is an exchange of DNA. Paul says that the old self has died. I really think Paul say baptism as a real death, not just a metaphorical death. Emerging from the waters of baptism, we now begin the change, the transformation, the metamorphosis into the image and likeness of Jesus. This includes holiness, but it is not limited to holiness. It is taking on the experience of Jesus which is the experience of God as the eternal Father. Jesus shares this with us in the exact way that Jesus experiences the Father. The point of the spear opened the door to this communion. My father is in the oil and gas industry and before it was so widely known, I would hear him say that they needed "frack the well". The fissure needed to be opened wide.

The spear piercing the heart created the fissure and the resurrection fracked it wide enough for the entire Universe to enter. Here is a poem to the Sacred Heart reflects some of these thoughts. If it blesses you and you would like to use it elsewhere, please free. I only ask that you let me know by emailing me at robert.feduccia@mac.com

Nails have pierced the hands.

Nails have pierced the feet.

Was it these that saved?

Thorns on the head.

Stripes on the back.

Was it these that saved?

Insults and spit.

Kicks, mocking applause.

Was it these that saved?

 

No. It was not these that saved.

 

A man in terror.

A man who could have run.

A man who stayed.

A man under the olive tree.

The torches. The friend. The obedience. The surrender.

 

The pleasure of cruelty’s thrust.

The wound that scarred perfect love.

A door so slight fracked large as the Universe.

Large, wide, and free.

Room for you to enter. Come. Enter the wound.

 

Blood flows. Water flows.

In the water: come enter the wound, the wound of cruelty’s thrust.

 

The Surest Way of Keeping Our Teens in the Church

When I give talks on evangelization, I can feel great energy in the room as we look at the Church’s documents on evangelization. Evangelii nuntiandi, Evangelii gaudium, and a host of quotes from popes, thinkers, saints, and atheists get people fired up and ready to go out into the streets to live and speak the gospel. While it is a great feeling to see Church leaders getting fired up, that enthusiasm can often fade when I begin to share current statistics. Real, cold-hard facts that give black and white numbers to peoples’ hunches and experiences about the dramatic loss of numbers experienced in our churches.

Among these statistics, there is one that breaks my heart more than any other. Among Christians, Catholic teens are the least likely to pray daily. It breaks my heart because of the richness of our Tradition in terms of personal prayer, contemplation, and mysticism. I know many evangelicals and when they begin to dive deeply into personal prayer, they begin to read Catholic writers and spiritual masters. Merton, Rohr, Theresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Thomas a Kempis, and Julian of Norwich: these are the great writers and mystics in our treasury that my evangelical friends discover with great delight and about whom many Catholics remain ignorant.

The second vexing statistic is that the Catholic Church has the greatest rate of attrition among Christian Churches. Even worse, among those who still identify as Catholic rather than ex-Catholic, only 16% are highly involved in their Churches. Only our Episcopalian friends have a lower rate of high involvement at 13%.

The third statistic, and it sounds like a contradiction, is that Mass attendance does not equal Mass attendance. By this we mean that taking your children to Church every Sunday is no guarantee at all that they will continue to go to Mass in college and in the later young adult years. Of all factors, the one factor rating as the highest guarantor of ongoing participation in the life of the Church is daily personal prayer.

It seems that the dots are quite clear to connect: 1) the greatest guarantor of ongoing religious affiliation is daily prayer 2) Catholic teens are the least likely to pray daily 3) the Catholic Church has the highest rate of attrition among Christian Churches and ecclesial communities. May I posit a “therefore”?

Therefore, the greatest thing we can do as youth ministers and as parents is to foster a daily prayer life among our teens. I don’t know why we haven’t done a better job at than we have. When I was in the parish, I lead awesome group prayer. Candles, incense, music, lighting, an authentic proclamation of the scriptures: the weekly prayer services at our youth nights were stunning. Yet, I don’t recall asking my teens about their personal prayer life. I wanted to give them experiences. I wanted to instruct them in the Church’s teaching, but did I give them what they needed to develop a daily personal prayer life?

Those of us who follow the lectionary have all of the tools to help our teens do so. We don’t just stick a bible into teens’ hands and say, “Here, start reading.” The Church gives us a rhythm of seasons and daily readings from Scripture. We have an inherent guide through the bible. Even more than that, the Church also gives us lectio divina, a four-step method for praying with Scripture:

  1. Use your body. Read the passage.
  2. Use your mind. Think back through your day at school and what happened with your friends and family today. What does the passage mean to you based on what you’re going through in life?
  3. Use your feelings. Now that you understand the meaning this passage has for your life, what does it make you want to pray for?
  4. Use your intuition. What does God say to you in return?

We have to remember that our faith is not an ideology. Our faith is in a person, Jesus the Christ. It is he whom we encounter, fall in love with, follow, and to whom we conform ourselves. I feel like those of us in youth ministry are pining for the one, single program, movement, or innovation that will stop the bleeding of our youth and young adults from our churches. Our mission trips, lock-ins, leadership training conferences, efforts at liturgical renewal will all only make sense if our teens are rooted in a person that they encounter on a daily basis. Back when I was a parish youth minister I discovered that good youth ministry is about asking the right questions. Perhaps the best question we can ask is, “How was your prayer time last night?”

 

Are Sundays in Lent Actually Part of Lent?

There are 46 calendar days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Yet, we observe 40 days of Lent. Why the discrepancy? Very simple. Sundays don’t count! Each and every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection regardless of the season. Lent, Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time: all Sundays are a celebration of the Resurrection. The bridegroom is here and, as Jesus said, when the bridegroom is here there should be no fasting. Give a high five and eat some chocolate because even in the midst of our desert times Christ has defeated suffering, death, and the pain of waiting for redemption. He is here and he is risen. Because of that, your Lenten penance isn’t suspended on Sundays; you’re penance is being reminded that sin and affliction will bow before the central event in the history of the world: the Resurrection. The interruption in the fast is a reminder that you do not earn your salvation. Our salvation has been won by the obedience of Christ. If you resume your eating of chocolate, your use of social media, your consumption of alcohol, you’re acknowledging that you are not working your way to heaven; you’re uniting yourself to Christ Jesus who is heaven. You’re not a slacker. You’re not taking the easy way. And people who continue their fast are not anymore hardcore than those Christians who interrupt their fast. The interruption of the fast is acknowledging that Jesus has already overcome sin and death. Amen.

So why don’t I interrupt my fast?

Our bodies matter. We are not essentially spirit beings that are animating superfluous material. Yes, we are dust and to dust we will return; but “dust” we will not remain! Jesus experienced resurrection in his body because we are not body and soul. We are body-soul. If bodies don’t matter, then Jesus’s body didn’t need to resurrect. It could have remained lifeless and the resurrection could have been a spirit event that the disciples felt in their hearts. When all things are restored in Christ Jesus, your body, my body, will unite to Jesus’s resurrected body. We will experience resurrection in our bodies. These bodies. This very conglomeration of DNA and molecules that houses my memories and contains a record of my history, including my experiences of the Lord, will rise and be in communion with the glorified body of the Lord. This is the faith that is professed every time Christians proclaim the great Creed that was crafted in year 325 in the lakeside city of Nicea.

Our bodies matter.

I want to feel the resurrection in my body. Because of our spiritual atrophy and because we live in the most comfort that humans have ever known, we don’t always feel the true spiritual ache of the resurrection. Too cold? Turn on the heat. Too hot? Turn on the air conditioner. Feel like eating oranges even though they don’t grow in your area and are out of season? No worries. They have been conveniently imported from somewhere on the globe where they are in season and are available everywhere from grubby gas stations to gourmet grocery stores. Do we ever ache and pine anymore? I don’t. I need to feel a yearning for the resurrection and the release from a broken world and I need to feel it in my body.

I pretty much identify with hipster culture. Organic coffee, vinyl music, recycling conscientiousness, Converse, scarves, and local produce. I can’t help it. I am drawn to all of those clichés. But one part of the hipster culture that I can’t stand to be a part of is growing a beard. My beard is coarse and itchy and the follicles on my face get sore. Weird. When I describe this to others they look at me like I have an arm growing out of my chest. But soreness accompanies my beard. The worst is the beard dandruff. Don’t mean to gross you out. I’m just making the point. Tiny white flakes on the front of my shirt are embarrassing.

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I can’t wait to shave the blasted thing off when I get my pogonotrophy going on. This is exactly why I grow a beard during Lent. Through the 46 calendar days my face gets entombed only to be released at noon on Holy Saturday in anticipation of the Easter Vigil. My body aches and then it is free. It is small and it is a silly little thing, and I run the risk of taking myself too seriously with this. Still in all, the celebration of Easter means something very real to my body, just as the day my destiny as a Christian will be fulfilled and my body will be joined to the Risen Body of Jesus the Christ.

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Ashes, 3rd World Farming, and Regrets

This past Ash Wednesday, I was thinking about how weird it is that we get our foreheads smeared with calcium carbonate to begin a season of repentance and to give us hope for Easter. I won’t quote which songs we sang at the liturgy, but they were categorically unhelpful for giving insight into why we do what we do. I admit that I started to glaze over during the homily and I started thinking about a big pile of ashes. I remembered a video I saw in a college human geography class when we were learning about the manner in which many developing or 3rd world residents cultivate crops. They use the “slash and burn” technique. They slash a few acres of jungle or vegetation and then they burn everything they cut. The nutrients that had been stored within the trees are now released through the chemical change from wood to ash and they enter into the soil. When seeds are planted in the ashes, they have access to the nutrients in the ash and they can grow thereby providing food to the village.


I have never identified with people who say, “I have no regrets.” That must feel great because I very often feel the heavy burden of deep regret. I have hurt people. I have made bad decisions. I have been selfish, shortsighted, arrogant, untrustworthy, lazy, and deceitful. I’m a sinner and I regret every single moment when I have sinned. But even when I have not sinned in the strictest sense of the word, I have much I regret due to being impulsive and blithely going about my own interest. I’d like to be released from all of these regrets and have the damage done be restored.

Now the ashes begin to be hopeful.

I love the biblical image of the Holy Spirit as fire and the way that the Letter to the Hebrews describes God as an “all-consuming fire”. My beloved youth minister when I was a teenager, Mary Catherine George, used call Holy Week “the Week of Fire”. I think she has it right and I would extend it to all of Lent: 40 days of fire. As Christians, our hope is in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Love of God, to burn away everything that is not love within. For me, the regrets I have will not go away, but the Love of God, the fire of Love can transform them and they can become the fertile ground for holiness. Nutrients and richness are in the memories of the regrets. Maybe this is the rich soil that Jesus was talking about when the sower sows the Word of God. Maybe this is how someone goes from being rocky soil to fertile soil. Sin and regrets get burned by the love of God and we become receptive to God’s work in our lives. I’m thinking the ashes aren’t just going to be the way I begin Lent, but they are going to be the constant symbol this Lent and become my prayer. “God, by the fire of your love, burn away everything that is not love. And let those ashes become a place where holiness can grow.”

The smearing on my forehead symbolized the transformation of sin, regret, and mistakes. I wanted the person to smudge those ashes deep in my pores because Romans 8:28 says that all things will work for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. If God can work the crucifixion into resurrection, he can take this dust and sow the seeds of temperance, chastity, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

Then, the very things that burdened me will become the soil for holiness.

In Dialogue with Atheists: Five Things to Consider, Part 5

This entry, “Religious Responses to Our Existence Is in Our DNA”, is the fifth in a five-part series stemming from a debate I did with former believer and youth group leader, Brian Govatos, who runs the website The Proud Atheist. As we debated, five observations occurred to me as useful launch points for a dialogue between the Catholic view of faith and the common atheistic views of faith. The fifth is that religious response seems to be part of our DNA.

5) Religious Responses to Our Existence Is in Our DNA – I have been greatly struck recently by a speech that famed atheist, Richard Dawkins, gave at an atheists’ convention in Melbourne, Australia. He invited his audience to consider two things: a) the likelihood of our species or a species like us due to evolution by natural selection b) the improbability of our individual existence. Regarding the likelihood of our species or one similar to humanity, he said that there is a force dragging the evolutionary process back on course. Because of this force, we emerged.

Yet, despite this high level of confidence that we or a species like us would emerge, there is a tremendous amount of luck that particular individuals are here. For example, if your parents would not have copulated on at the exact moment they did, you would not be here. The same goes for your grandparents, great-grandparents, and the line continues all the back to the origin of life. The variables are simply too high to number. Considering both of these realities, we should, according to Dr. Dawkins, give thanks for our existence.

Any time I listen to Dawkins, I would love to talk to him and pick his brain about biology instead, not atheism versus faith. But in his brief comments, I see three things that could launch our conversation about science and faith. Two are scientific. I want to know more about the “force” and the “course” that he describes. But I am most fascinated by Dr. Dawkins’ desire to give thanks for existence. From my perspective, that is a religious response. We look at the wonder of our being or the wonder of creation or the joy on our child’s face and our impulse is “thank you!” It seems this experience resonates with the famed line from Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” In conversations with atheists I am hesitant to quote scripture at all. But in our sacred text, we find language that corresponds to the experience of a scientist who has mediated on his being and is left with a single thought: “thank you.”

We highly evolved, big-brained African apes called Homo sapiens have something that rises up within us that causes us to give thanks and to be in relationship with something outside of ourselves. This aching desire has been articulated in many ways by the great spiritual masters of the centuries. From Buddha’s articulation of Dukkha to St. Augustine, there has been the spiritual insight that we yearn to be in relationship to something transcendent, something beyond us. I hope this common human experience can become a basis for dialogue.

In Dialogue with Atheists: Five Things to Consider, Part 4

This entry, “The Unity of the Human Family”, is the fourth in a five-part series stemming from a debate I did with atheist and self-professed disciple of the rule of love, Brian Govatos. As we debated, five observations occurred to me as useful launch points for a dialogue between the Catholic view of faith and the common atheistic views of faith: 1) There is evidence; 2) It is reasonable to believe; 3) Believing is compatible with science; 4) the desire for unity; 5) religious responses are part of our DNA.

4) The Desire for Unity– My dealings with atheists, especially Brian, have demonstrated that believers do not have and should not claim moral superiority. It is greatly offensive to atheists to accuse them of having no moral compass. Moreover, most are people with vision and hopes for the human family. Among these friends, I have found a common vision: the unity of all humanity. Despite this desire for unity, I do not discern among atheists a way, a plan, or a method for bringing about that unity or even a uniform symbol of that unity. I would argue that Catholics possess exactly that in the Eucharist. This point may be a challenge to many Catholics and non-believers alike, but I offer it as an invitation for both to think differently in hopes of advancing the unity of all.

My personal profession of faith centers around the Eucharist and I am drawn to the long line of Catholic spiritual writers who see the Eucharist as both a symbol of human unity, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender and as a means for bringing about that unity. Consider this prayer from the Didache, a 1st century, instructional Christian document. “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth…” Scholars believe this prayer originates in an oral tradition from the 30s AD and represents the earliest recorded theology of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is a symbol that God is unifying all things in his son Jesus. However, it more than a symbol. The Catholic faith believes that it has the power to bring about the very unity that it symbolizes. It affirms what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the residents of Ephesus when he said that God has a plan to sum all things up in Christ. “All things” is to be understood as all cultures, all nations, and all individuals. This is what Catholics believe the Eucharist does. It is a symbol. It is also a means. Even without a belief in the supernatural power of the Eucharist, which I certainly believe, there seems to be a sociological/anthropological acknowledgement that rituals hold a unique role unifying societies and cultures. By the very nature of atheism, there are no unifying rituals. In my conversations with atheists, this is something that many recognize and many lament this fact. In a dialogue with my non-believing friends, I ask for them to consider the possibility that belief and ritual could in fact bring about the unity they desire.

In Dialogue with Atheists: Five Things to Consider, Part 3

This entry, “Belief is Compatible with Science”, is the third in a five-part series stemming from a debate I did with atheist, brainiac, and übermensch, Brian Govatos, who runs the website The Proud Atheist. As we debated, five observations occurred to me as useful launch points for a dialogue between the Catholic view of faith and the common atheistic views of faith: 1) There is evidence; 2) It is reasonable to believe; 3) Believing is compatible with science; 4) the desire for unity; 5) religious responses are part of our DNA.

3) Belief is Compatible with Science – There is a commonly repeated belief among some in the atheistic community that religious belief and science are completely incompatible. Often this perceived incompatibility is rooted in a misreading of Scripture, almost treating the Bible as a science or a history book. For example, some people (both Christians and non-Christians) read the story about the seven days of creation as a scientific teaching. This does not bear true in the Catholic understanding of Scripture or in the Catholic approach to living in the Universe. Let’s be clear, the Catholic approach to interpreting Scripture is that we don’t make Scripture become something it is not. The Bible is truly a “bibliotheke” which is the Greek word for a collection of books, a library. Libraries are filled with book from many different genres. A cookbook is not a history book, a science book, or poetry. It is a cookbook. Similarly, the bible contains many different genres and should be read as such.

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures contain allegory, poetry, hero biographies, letters, and songs. All are different and all serve differing functions. The writings are sacred, not because they have recorded human history like a series of newspaper articles but because they reveal who God is and who we are. The stories work as a way to plumb the depths of our existence and offer an invitation to be in relationship with the creator.

With this as our approach to the sacred text, we are not afraid of what science discovers and where scientific discovery will lead us. Science is not a threat to our faith; instead it leads us deeper into the mystery of our faith. Scientific inquiry and discovery is a joyful pursuit and not something we engage in with suspicion. We see the world with clearer eyes and we see God more explicitly at work as we grow in our understanding of the universe and its marvels. This can only lead to joy for the believer. Fr. Paul Gabor, SJ an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory says, “Science allows us to enter into a dialogue with the creator that is inaccessible by any other means.” And as Br. Guy Consolmagna, SJ also of the Vatican Observatory says, science is an arm of the Church. Because of the way the Universe allows us to dialogue with God, we should all be well versed in the sciences, not protected from them.