The thing that strikes me the most when thinking about Saint Philip Neri, whose feast day it is today, is his infectious joy and sense of humor. I heard that he always kept a book of jokes with him and loved pranking people… all in Bird fa

The Philosophy of Resurrection

In the online philosophy class I took last year, there was a concept, a great achievement of classical philosophy, that really struck me and drilled into my mind. Throughout these last few days of Easter, the idea has come up to the surface so I thought I’d write about it (and it’s about time that I write about something in this blog). It has to do with human nature and the importance of the soul–specifically, as it applies to life and death.  According to Aristotle, body and soul are two principles of one thing, forming a composite unity. He was onto something for sure. The philosopher reasoned that something that is alive has a soul animating it, causing it to live. In other words, the soul is the animating principle of every living creature. The soul is the form or “whatness” of a creature… it makes a creature what it is. For example, the form or soul of a pig is what makes a pig a pig. (My philosophy teacher raises pigs and has a blog called baconfromaco     ). Now, the separation of soul from the body of the creature–death––causes the creature to cease being what it is. A dead pig is no pig at all. It’s just a clump of dead cells, a rotting mass.

This is where it gets particularly interesting. Amazingly, some ancient philosophers were able to reason that the human soul is immortal, because of its unique powers of reasoning. Pythagoras, for whom the is named said that the human soul must be immortal because it can understand immaterial, unchanging mathematics. Herein lies the problem: the human soul can’t prevent body and soul from being ripped apart in death. But if it (the soul) were immortal, and it is, you would think that it could prevent this from happening or at least go on existing somewhere until it could be somehow reunited to the body, now decomposing, which it left. How is it that soul lives forever while the body doesn’t? Aristotle, although he believed that the soul had immaterial powers, couldn’t understand the immortality of soul–when the body ceases, so does the soul. A disembodied soul doesn’t make sense. The necessity of the resurrection of the body then is something that can be arrived at through good philosophy. But there is no evidence of this happening (or is there?) so philosophy (temporarily) comes to a screeching halt–or more accurately, a dead end (see what I just did there?).

Now this is where the divine revelation of Christianity comes in. The problem is solved because someone has indeed risen, his body reunited with his soul never to be separated again: Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, as attested to by witnesses who saw him alive. Because of this historical reality, St. Thomas Aquinas and others are able to pick up where Aristotle left off! The immaterial soul of a human is immortal because it is possible for it to be reunited with the body, resurrected. Soon after the Resurrection of Christ, the good news reached the land of the philosophers who unknowingly longed to hear it. On one of his missionary journeys, the Apostle St. Paul found himself in Athens, Greece at the Areopagus, a renowned stomping ground and place of discussion for philosophers and seekers of knowledge. Being well educated in the rich Hellenistic culture of the Greco-Roman civilization in which he lived, St. Paul would have been acquainted with the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and the writings of other such learned men, so he knew exactly how to tell them about the Resurrection.

While there, he observed the shrine dedicated to a whole pantheon of gods included one in particular to an unknown God. This unknown God was the one that St. Paul proclaimed to the Areopagus.  Interestingly, Socrates had been labeled an atheist because he reasoned that there  could only be one God rather than a plethora of gods locked in constant rivalry. Within the non-Christian Mediterranean world then, it was not a totally novel idea to believe in one God. St. Paul brought the attention of his hearers to this monument to the unknown, invisible God and made known to them that he was real, known by those to whom he revealed himself. And this God, St. Paul informed the Athenians, was ultimately the one the poet Epimenides actually referred to when he wrote the words “in him we live and move and have our being.”  it turned out that he wasn’t talking about Zeus. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, the principle of reintegration of body and soul, Who animates the soul. In his power, the power of Jesus Christ and God the Father, Christ was raised from the dead. And he causes Christ to live in us,  thereby making us to be offspring of God (as another Greek writer, Aratus, wrote unknowingly) that we too may rise!  God is the one who can answer the philosophical dilemma of death with the bestowal of eternal life, the permanent restoration of body and soul. 

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Following Jesus into the desert…

For 3 weeks now I haven’t been able to go to Sunday Mass because of the crappy winter weather. The week started off gloomy, cold, and icy, and the forecast for the next few days don’t look any better. Cabin fever’s setting in right about now. In times like these I am consoled by the thought that suffering, death, and all the difficulties of this present life will eventually come to an end. Spring, Easter, and the ultimate glorification of all things are coming soon. The Scripture Readings+Gospel for this 2nd Sunday of Lent serve as a reminder. Before going into his passion and death, Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John up a mountain, Tabor, where he lets his divinity shine forth in all its glory. The luminous event on the mountaintop is provided to keep the disciples from losing heart when they see Jesus in pain and suffering when he’s in the dark valley of Gethsemane. Jesus took the occasion to inform the 3 that he would rise from the dead, indicating that Mount Tabor, not Calvary, would ultimately prevail.

Everything that Christ Jesus does is ordered to the restoration of humanity. The light with which he is clothed in is what Adam lost. We were created to participate in the divine nature. Jesus came to make that possible again. During Lent we follow him into the desert where he spent 40 days and was tempted by Satan from the outside. He submitted to being tempted because we experience temptation outwardly as well is inwardly. Because he overcame the ordeal, we too can overcome it in him. The desert  or wilderness is where Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden so that’s where Jesus the Word goes to make it accessible again, if we  listen to him. He left Paradise and entered a desert so that Man could exit the desert and enter Paradise.  Our world enveloped in the darkness of persecution and suffering desperately needs the Light of Resurrection. That’s why we follow him into the desert for 40 days.

Beloved Specks of Dust

The other day I was reading a Buzzfeed article with images that illustrate the Earth’s place in the the universe. When compared to the size of the sun, our planet looks like a little rock. When compared to the size of the largest star in the Milky Way, the sun looks like a little rock. Zooming out even further, the largest star becomes a obscure dot. As the Milky Way and the other galaxies get progressively smaller until the known universe is mapped out (thanks to the Hubble Telescope), the Earth seems hopelessly insignificant. I have to admit that I was initially scandalized and scared out of my wits by seeing these images. How is it that God is mindful of us? How can we humans understand our place in the universe without feeling totally lost? We’re all smaller than specks of dust–practically nothing at all.

The fact of the matter is that we really are dust and ashes, something that Ash Wednesday  consistently reminds us of. “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” It seems to me that the immensity of the cosmos serves to back this up. Just as we cannot fully comprehend the universe, we cannot fully comprehend the Creator of it. We are finite beings after all, and God is infinite. We shouldn’t expect to take it all in. I think that God wants us to know how small we really are in the grand design of things so that we might learn to be dependent on him and his providence. The earth being small compared to the rest of the universe is exactly in keeping with the ways of God–He chooses the weak and makes it/them strong: “It was not because you are more numerous than all the peoples that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you; for you are really the smallest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8).

And that brings me back to my experience in Lourdes (last week was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes). Thats where I began to learn that God is ever mindful of me, as he was with St. Bernadette, even though it might be difficult to perceive it at times. He loves me in my weakness and littleness. Just because the universe is so vast doesn’t mean that he somehow loses track of us or that we’re invisible to him. It is true that we are nothing but dust blowing in the wind–but God chooses to make something out of nothing. We were loved into existence. Lent is the opportunity to encounter this love and to be mindful of him by emptying ourselves of self love. Lent is for ramping up what Christians should be doing anyway, the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are about going out of ourselves to love God and neighbor–I think especially of the victims of ISIS at this time. Life was breathed into dust for a reason–to be loved and to love…

Groundhog Day and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Jour de la marmotte -- Groundhog DayThis past February 2nd was Groundhog Day here in the United States. Every winter, people look to a subterranean tunnel dweller to tell them what they hope to hear— that the warmth of spring will soon be upon them.  Unfortunately for them, the groundhog, I believe his name is Phil, saw his shadow on Monday, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Thankfully, I don’t put much stock in such predictions––what do groundhogs know anyway. If meteorologists can’t make accurate forecasts, I don’t expect these furry rodent-like creatures to make them. Speaking of , that is one of my favorite movies on Netflix instant streaming. It’s directed by the late Harold Ramis and stars Bill Murray as an arrogant weatherman, appropriately named Phil. Phil finds himself stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (the small town known for the groundhog ritual) on February 2, due to a blizzard that he doesn’t forecast. After checking in to a hotel for the night, he wakes up to the fact that it is February 2 again. Soon, Phil discovers that he is doomed to repeat Groundhog Day over and over and over again.

 This past February 2nd was Groundhog Day here in the United States. Every winter, people look to a subterranean tunnel dweller to tell them what they hope to hear— that the warmth of spring will soon be upon them.  Unfortunately for them, the groundhog, I believe his name is Phil, saw his shadow on Monday, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Thankfully, I don’t put much stock in such predictions––what do groundhogs know anyway. If meteorologists can’t make accurate forecasts, I don’t expect these furry rodent-like creatures to make them. Speaking of Groundhog Day, that is one of my favorite movies on Netflix instant streaming. It’s directed by the late Harold Ramis and stars Bill Murray as an arrogant weatherman, appropriately named Phil. Phil finds himself stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (the small town known for the groundhog ritual) on February 2, due to a blizzard that he doesn’t forecast. After checking in to a hotel for the night, he wakes up to the fact that it is February 2 again. Soon, Phil discovers that he is doomed to repeat Groundhog Day over and over and over again.

What would you do if you had to relive the same day in a perpetual loop? How would you live it?That’s the basic premise behind the movie. Through much of the movie, Phil, like his namesake, is scared of his own shadow. After several failed suicide attempts, Phil resigns himself to his fate and decides to make the best of his situation. He sets about learning as much as he can about the attractive new weather lady (Andie McDowell) and finding ways of winning her over, but not before pursuing much more selfish goals. In the process of repetitions, Phil embarks on a journey of self-improvement, and lives February 2 to its full potential. It’s a very creative twist of a film and while it falls under the genre of comedy, many sci-fi movies such as Edge of Tomorrow are modeled after it. Sorry about the mild spoilers.

Aside from February 2nd being Groundhog Day, it’s also the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. This Catholic and Orthodox Feast Day is traditionally the final culmination of the Christmas Season, or Christmas revisited, the 40th day after Christmas. Yeah, we really do our best to try to hold on to Christmas for as long as possible. The origin of the Presentation: According to the Jewish custom, spelled out in the Old Testament, firstborn male children were consecrated, set apart, to God and had to be bought back or redeemed via animal sacrifice ( look for the reason for God to ask for the practice of ritual sacrifice in a future post).  At the same time, the mother had to go through a ritual purification Simeon beholds his Salvationbecause childbirth rendered her sacred. In the case of Jesus and Mary these things were technically unnecessary; what with one of them being God and the other the Mother of God! Anyway, the Presentation of Jesus has special significance because it marks the day when the Temple’s Lord was found physically and substantially within it. The One long hoped-for made his appearance to deliver people out of the shadow and gloom of sin and death.

Better than Groundhog Day, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple in Jerusalem marks the fact that the cold of winter really is coming to an end, because the Light has come into the world and the darkness cannot ever hope to snuff it out. Jesus seeks out hearts to be enthroned in so that he can enable them to live to their full potential.

 

On the recent abuses of religion and speech, and the tragic losses of life

In the past few years, months, weeks, and days, we’ve been hearing a lot more about horrific persecution taking place around the world by terrorists in the name of religion. It’s not religion by itself but people who pervert religion to suit their own twisted agendas. And perhaps they do actually find some kind of justification within their understanding of their own religious tradition. No matter what though, as Pope Francis pointed out in-flight to the Philippines, killing in the name of God is not right, it is an aberration.”

The Pope also went on to say that “provoking and insulting other people’s faith is not right” either. Freedom of speech exists for the sake of the common good. The right to freedom of speech is ordered to that purpose. Just because people are free to say whatever they want even at the expense of offending others, doesn’t mean they should. I get that satire can serve to bring attention to problems by poking fun at them but it can easily be misunderstood and taken way too far, denigrating people and what they hold dear in the process. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion have to do with the dignity of every human person. However, both of these rights can be abused and distorted. And when that happens, human beings are trampled on.

Killling those responsible for publishing offending material that offends religious sensibilities is an extremely unreasonable and disproportionate response. That goes without saying. It’s understandable and Noble to want to stand up for your religion and your faith in God when it is attacked but there are peaceful ways of going about it.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims of those who twist religion, in France, Belgium, Iraq, Nigeria, and Niger, and everywhere where persecution persists.

Merry new year…

During these past days of Christmas I’ve been conscious of the state of poverty to which God has lowered himself. In Jesus Christ, God has plunged down into the depths of our misery and brokenness to be in solidarity with us and to enable us to transcend it. This is the mystery of Bethlehem. And what has helped me enter into it is the busy-ness of this season. While it is a time of joy, I’m sensing a kind of melancholy and emptiness. Even though I’m surrounded by family, I am aware of the loneliness that so often comes with having a physical disability such as mine. And so I am comforted by the realization that I am not alone in this state of poverty… that God assumed the nature of a helpless infant lying in a feeding trough surrounded by stinky animals in cold damp cave. It’s the tears of the Child that move me the most. He accompanies us in our misery and weeps with us. For so many around the world  the entry point for Christmas this year has been suffering. But the Light shines in that cave and the darkness cannot overcome it. The Christmas lights that linger on hint at that.

Jesus comes to me as one who is poor. I have nothing to offer him but my poverty. In his drawing near to me may I draw near to him throughout this new year.

May everybody reading this have a happy, bright 2015. Peace.

 

(I hope to get back to writing a new post at least once a week)

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Oh wow… it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. I know that this is not an excuse but I have been struggling with feelings of inadequacy and negativity stemming from a false self perception, and because feelings can sometimes be more debilitating than a physical disability, they’ve kept me away from writing publicly. No matter though, i believe that it is something of a Divine mandate to continue writing—and if it is, God will give me the strength to do this. My confidence lies in Him. Huh–just writing those lines were actually kinda therapeutic. I think that of the best way to combat the fear of writing is to write. So… I will do my best to continue with this blog.

I’ve come to understand that my life was not given to me to keep to myself, and in gratitude for the gift of life, I will make the best use of it. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that we need to share the gifts that we been given for the greater good of our fellow brothers and sisters, especially those who are hurting. We have to speak out on the plight of those who suffer so as sympathize them…because every life matters. I especially think of the family of Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson, Missouri. There is need for healing, forgiveness, and understanding in the face of the shooting death of young Mike Brown. He did not deserve to die like that. There is also need for finding solutions to prevent things like this from ever happening again. Racism is very much still alive. I don’t pretend to have solutions, although body cameras could go a long way in presenting irrefutable truth. I pray for the binding of our woundedness to the One who heals us by his own wounds.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Peace in the Middle East

Today in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel is a fertile mountain range near the city of Haifa, Israel. Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah prayed on the mountain for an end to a massive drought. As he prayed, a small raincloud appeared on the horizon. And the rain fell and watered the parched earth. Hundreds of years later, a group of hermits flowing in the footsteps of Elijah became Christians and settled on the mountain. These hermits had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary who they felt that Elijah’s clout symbolized because she was the one to bring Christ down to earth like rain upon the parched ground: “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down…” (Isaiah 64:1). The hermits continued to have followers and came to be known as Carmelites (of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.) The Carmelite friars and nuns can now be found all over the world, including Mount Carmel.

On this day I can not help but think of the conflict in the Holy Land, the land of Christ, the land of Mount Carmel. May peace come down like rain to water the hearts of hardened souls that instigate violence. I know that the Pope and many people are thinking along the same lines today. Just this past May the Pope was in Israel and Palestine calling for peace with the practical step of a 2 state solution. He prayed at the wall of separation in the West Bank where Palestinian Christian youths spray-painted heartfelt pleas for help to Pope Francis. Providentially, the graffiti remained on the wall when the Pope intentionally stopped there. That was one of the most memorable scenes of his visit. The Holy Father made the point of visiting the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, as well.

I was hopeful for the prospect of the institution of a two-state solution (where all are free to exist) when the Pope invited Presidents Abbas and Peres to the Vatican. I was hopeful when they accepted the invitation and prayed for peace at the Vatican in June, on Pentecost Sunday. I’m still hopeful even though extreme violence has broken out once again, the killings of innocent youth, the rockets that send residents fleeing from their homes, in which they lived for generations. We cannot lose sight of the fact that “Peace is Possible,” as the late Mattie Stepanek believed with all his being. The Palestinian Christians certainly believe in the possibility of peace—at the Papal Mass in Bethlehem, the celestial refrain heard by shepherds 2000 years ago was repeated several times: “Peace to all people of good will.”

We entrust the future of our human family to Mary Most Holy, that new horizons may open in our world, with the promise of fraternity, solidarity and peace.” (Pope’s Regina Coeli Address in Manger Square, Bethlehem, May 26, 2014). Through the prayers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Divine Mercy of her Son, the Prince of Peace, may this peace come quickly! God be with the people of Gaza in their time of need.

American Futbol

As can be expected, I’m really excited about tomorrow’s game—err, match between USA and Germany. We have to win or at least draw. I’m thinking we got this. Team USA’s been showing up, fighting pretty hard, hamstring injury and broken nose to prove it. No bite marks though because Uruguay wasn’t in our group. But i digress. This past Sunday, we went after Portugal and would have won if there were no such thing as added time. Jones, Dempsey, and Howard saved the day though. Sidenote: at least two of the aforementioned are Catholic. Anyway, I’m really digging the World Cup and I’m beginning to think that football– soccer— is just as exciting as American football–handball?