What does it mean to be worldly

Before being confirmed Catholic, I went to a lot of different Protestant churches. Every church emphasized the theme of not being of this world. As Christians we were told to be a part of the world, but not in it. This took many different forms; some churches prohibit drinking, others feel called to redeem the world. According to the latter, one could use worldly tactics as long as it glorifies Christ. I remember how the Young adult pastor at Vineyard church held a meeting on Halloween and gave a whole sermon incorporating Twilight. Catholics, for the most part, take the opposite approach. Most Catholics desire a liturgy free from worldly influences, which explains why music is so controversial. In most parishes, it feels like going back in time. I think the uninitiated or uninterested tend to have difficulty swallowing church teaching because there exists a disconnect between parish life and their own. This leads me to wonder, “what makes a person worldly?” Continue reading

More than a birthday

When you are little birthdays are a big deal. You celebrate with balloons, gifts, toys, and friends and family. As you get older birthdays become less of an extravaganza. Yes, your family and friends still acknowledge it; you may still get a few gifts, and you may still have a party, but it exists on a much smaller scale. Sometimes, I think the Church has become like that. Last Sunday marked an end to the celebration of Easter. Instead, the Church acknowledges the feast of Pentecost. The Bible describes the events of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Most people refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church since three thousand people joined on this day.
According to Acts 2:41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” Imagine what people would say if your parish received an influx of three thousand people weekly. People would assume that such a parish fostered a vibrant community. Other parishes would want to replicate the results. However, the model already exists in the book of Acts.
The following events happened to cause growth: The apostles were in the upper room praying as one; A loud noise such as a rushing wind; apostles receiving the gift of tongues; the apostles using the gifts of tongues; Peter proclaiming the Good news of Jesus Christ.  Basically, the surrender to the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the power and confidence to proclaim the gospel. That’s great, but this happened over 2,000 years ago, how can this help us grow today.
One should not merely remember Pentecost, but live it. In Peter’s proclamation of the gospel, he recites from the prophet Joel. Acts 2:17 states

‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says,
‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
your old men shall dream dreams.

Notice that it says, ” I will pour out a portion of my Spirit upon all flesh.” This means that the experience at Pentecost is ongoing. Every baptized and confirmed Catholic has the Spirit in them.
If you read the book of Acts, you realize that the early Christians were able to withstand trials and persecutions and still spread the Gospel with joy. The tenacious spirit of the early Christian’s carries over into today’s Christian rock and rap music.  The chorus from On the Frontlines by Light up the Darkness come to mind,

I’m standing on the front lines
With Jesus on my right side
I’m not defeated
I will stand tall
My armor is fitted
I will not fear
You held my hand
You led me here
You can defeat the enemy

The Holy Spirit gives the gift of fortitude. Fortitude describes the ability to conquer fear and face trials and persecution. I have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit first hand.
In 2010-2011, I suffered severe neck pain. I also started experiencing numbness in my fingertips.  By February of 2011, I had lost the ability to sit upright. At the time I also attended the University of Virginia fully time. However, two months before graduation, VCU medical hospital had admitted me to the neurological wing. I had a spinal cord injury. In the midst of losing everything, I desperately needed the ability to fight, to have hope. I turned to poppy Christian music, even though I wasn’t following Christ. I turned to this style of music because in it I found joy. Whether you love or hate CCM, You will not be angry while listening. This must have caught the attention of the nurse because he started sharing his interest in Christian music itself. At some point, it came out that I didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God. The nurse, like Peter in Acts, proclaimed the gospel to me. He told me to pray for wisdom. I prayed that night. While I didn’t hear a rushing wind, nor did I experience tongues of fire, I slowly became aware of an unshakable faith.
My mom asked me once if there would be anything that would make me renounce a belief in God. I can honestly say with complete certainty that nothing could get me to do so. I can say this not because I am a holy person or because my life is great, but because Pentecost is lived out in me daily.
In the United States, we have it pretty easy, we have the freedom to worship how we want and when we want. The persecution we face is an inward one. A general apathy. One that says that my life is pretty good, I don’t need God, church or religion. The other inward problem is to cave in the face of hardships. We deny God because we don’t see him in the fire with us. The church doesn’t need another birthday celebration, which is quietly celebrated with little fanfare and forgotten until next year. The Church needs Pentecost to be lived in the followers of Christ in order to renew the face of the earth.
 

What is worship?

I attended David’s tent, which is a 24-hour worship event. They have many different acts from many different Christian faith traditions performing worship songs. It provides people with an opportunity to worship and pray. There are different stations such as the dancing station, the Bible reading station, or the art station. One can choose to visit one of these stations or sit quietly soaking in God’s presence through the music. I decided to do the latter for the 8 hours I was there. For the record, I didn’t do 8 hours straight, I did 4 hours Saturday night and 4 hours Sunday afternoon. Saturday night was an interesting experience. They had scheduled a Christian music DJ to come in. A lot of people were turned off by the loudness of the music. Others questioned the talent behind it by remarking, “is he singing or just playing music?” Meanwhile, I stayed just to try it out. To me, DJing is an art, just like any other art. You have to feel the music and make sure it is in the right order. Yes, a good chunk of the songs were played straight, but some of them were mashups. The most notable was Hillsong’s Ocean and a rap song I’ve never heard before. Midway through people had started playing the bongo drums. It was a cool effect in that it sounded like thunder. It made me think about heaven and how our praise will be a mishmash of sound from all different sources.
Sometimes I wonder how will I experience heaven? Will I experience it as somber, peaceful, or serene like the Liturgy? Will I experience it as a loud joyous dance party?  Regardless of what the experience is like, I know I will experience the fullness of Jesus’ love unhindered by sin or my own unwillingness. I think experiencing different worship styles can help us focus on what truly matters, Jesus. I think exubrierent loud joyous noise can co-exist with the liturgy.  Catholic churches should offer both if for no other reason then the universal nature of music. Catholic’s fear that such praise overlies on emotions and entertainment; however, God created both as a vehicle to experience his glory. David’s tent made me realize the importance of praise and I hope that one day more Catholics learn to appreciate the benefits of such pursuits.

Mid-week reflection: Why I'm not offended by the Met-gala

Dear Readers, I’ve decided that in addition to my weekly planned blogs that should come out Monday, I would write a short reflection on what is happening in the world as it pertains to the Catholic church. These will be much shorter and infrequent.
So the Met-Gala took place this week on May 7th. If you do not follow celebrities or the fashion world, then like me you may have been baffled by the pictures all over social media. These pictures showed celebrities dressing in ball gowns adorned with religious imagery. The dresses ranged from beautiful and tasteful, to outright mockery.  In this blog, I will break down:  Met Gala, what the Church says about art and beauty, and how involved the Church was in this event.

What is the Met Gala

According to Wikipedia, the Met Gala acts as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It consists of both a fashion exhibit and art exhibit. Every year there is a different theme. The Gala encouraged attendees to dress in accordance with these themes. This year the exhibit thought to explore the relationship between religion and fashion. More specifically, the exhibit wanted to show how religious art and liturgical vestments influenced fashions from the earliest 20th century to the present. [1]
The Catholic Church has always had a relationship with art and beauty. The Catechism states

Created in the image of God, Man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the creator by the beauty of his artistic works.[2]

Art mimics God’s creative act and thus the Church feels led to participate in artistic endeavors from time to time. However, Sacred art separates itself from worldly art in that

its form corresponds to its particular vocation evokIing and glorifying the transcendent mysteries of God.[3]

The distinction between art and sacred art becomes important when discussing The Met Gala. The dresses inspired by the Catholic Church fall under the definition of art; while the liturgical vestments and other accessories fall under the definition of sacred art.  The question is, can sacred art every be used to inspire non-sacred art or must the two always be divided.

How involved was the Church in the Met Gala

Social media and certain news outlets made it appear that the Vatican supported the whole event. In reality, the Vatican authorized Mr. Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, to borrow vestments to display for the exhibit called Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination  [4]. Mr. Bolton met with Archbishop Gänswein to discuss his desire to show how the Church has served as inspiration for designers[4]. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the de facto minister of culture for the Vatican, agreed, saying that fashion has a biblical origin since God created the first clothes in Genesis [4]. Cardinal Ravasi also said that he saw similarities between gala attire and vestments in that both signify, “a distinction from the mundane and quotidian”[4].

Summarization and opinion

To summarize, if the exhibit itself makes any mistakes it conflates art and sacred art together. The liturgical vestments and other religious symbols are not mere expressions of truth but are objects designed to evoke adoration. They were never intended to act as mere fashion adornments. However, I have no problem with the acknowledgment that the Church has influenced art and fashion. The theme of the Gala; however, is another story. Encouraging others to dress in sacred imagery invites mockery.

Examples

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However, the mockery of the sacred should not surprise us. Jesus, in John 15:18, warns his followers that the world will hate them.

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Rather than becoming offended or angry, we should instead follow the advice of John 15; abide in Jesus, obey his commandments, and love one another.

Work Cited

[1] https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/heavenly-bodies
[2]  Catholic Church. “2501” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[3] Catholic Church. “2502” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[4] Horowitz, Jason. “How the Met Got the Vatican’s Vestments” New York Times, 3 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/fashion/heavenly-bodies-met-gala-vatican.html

Is liturgy worship?

When I first became Catholic, one of the hardest things to understand was the uproar over liturgy. I had seen an ad in the bulletin for Catholic match. I had decided to try my luck. I never did have any luck romantically (online dating is hard), I did make a couple of friends. I still remember staying up to 3 am arguing with my friend about liturgy. See, my friend had a very narrow view of the liturgy. For example, he was adamant that hand-holding during  Our Father is wrong; you should wear suits to church, you should kneel during the consecration. He was always complaining that Catholics were driving miles away to other liturgically incorrect churches. Looking back I can see that he was correct about everything, but at the time all I could picture was a somber unloving church. My basic response at the time was that aren’t those a matter of worship preferences. His response was the fact that you call it worship means you understand nothing. As a baby Catholic enjoying the milk of her vibrant but liturgical irreverent parish, I was thoroughly confused. However, I have graduated to solid food and am ready to settle the debate once and for all, what is liturgy and is it worship?
Continue reading

A defense of Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Six days ago Lizziesanswers posted a video on youtube titled 20 Strangest Parts of Catholic culture. Lizzie recently became famous among Catholic circles for her openness about her conversion to the Catholic Church.  I believe her story resonated with many Catholic converts including myself. In this particular video, she addresses things that appear weird to outsiders, but cradle Catholics accept as normal. Topics covered include lax attitude about alcohol, relicts, praying for the dead, prayer cards, and modern miracles from Marian or Jesus apparitions. She found modern miracles weird because her previous faith tradition taught that the Charismata had ended in the early church. The question remains, how does one define the Charismata and what role do they play in everyday Catholic’s lives. Most Catholics lack a familiarity with the Charismata. The Charismata gifts commonly include gifts such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy. However, some Catholics have experienced the charismata due to the Catholic Charismatic renewal and the practice of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The Catholic Charismatic Renewal teaches that every Catholic should experience the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other Catholics disagree and take a much more guarded approach in an earnest desire to protect the effectiveness of the sacraments. Reading and responding to the misunderstanding expressed in the youtube comments of Lizzie’s video prompted me to address the following questions: how does one describe Baptism of the Holy Spirit and does this description fit compatibly with Catholic sacramental theology. Based on scripture, the Catechism, and the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Baptism of the Holy Spirit fits compatibly with Catholic sacramental theology.

What is Baptism of the Holy Spirit

One must note that Baptism of the Holy Spirit is poorly named. The name describes, not an event like the sacrament of Baptism, but rather a continuous experience of the Holy Spirit. The phrase ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit does not describe a new outpouring, but an experience that must accompany the sacraments of Christian Initiation namely Confirmation. Ralph Martin describes it as,

an experience of the Spirit that is often accompanied by a deeper personal encounter with Christ, characterized by a glimpse of his Lordship, an experience of the Father’s love that is personal and deeply liberating, and a new awareness that we are truly not orphans but that the Holy Spirit is truly present and ready to encourage, convict, guide, and help us understand the things of God” (Martin, “New Pentecost” 17-18)

One may fear that if we say that a Baptism of the Holy Spirit experience must accompany our Catholic spiritual life, and so many people fail to have this personal encounter, then it seems the sacraments are ineffective. People, who express this fear, are well-intentioned, but fail to realize that the work of the Holy Spirit extends beyond the sacraments.

What the Catechism says

The Catechism is very specific about the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body.”247 He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity:248 by God’s Word “which is able to build you up”;249 by Baptism, through which he forms Christ’s Body;250 by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ’s members; by “the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts”;251 by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called “charisms”), by which he makes the faithful “fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.” (Catholic Church, “catechism” 798)

According to this passage the Holy Spirit works in five ways: Word of God, Baptism, sacraments, virtues, and Charisms. The Catechism lists these gifts hierarchically, meaning that the gifts given through the Word of God, Baptism, sacraments, and virtues take precedence over those given by charisms. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism by uniting us with the body of Christ. This means that Baptism unites us to the mission of Christ and calls us to take on the role of priest, prophet, and king.

Through faith and Baptism we participate in Jesus’ office of Priest, Prophet, King (Catholic Church, “catechism” 783-786)

The Holy Spirit also works in the other sacraments especially Confirmation. Confirmation has the following effects: “brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:  it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”; it unites us more firmly to Christ;  it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;  it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (“Catechism” 1303).  So after Confirmation, we as believers should 1. use the gifts of the Holy Spirit better, and 2. defend the faith better. The gifts conferred to us at Confirmation are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

Let us break each one of these down. Wisdom pertains to the ability to ascertain the divine truth and judge accordingly. Understanding describes the ability to see God and have divine insight. Counsel entails the ability to allow God to direct us in matters of salvation. Might or fortitude has to do with the attitude of perseverance even in the mist of dangerous obstacles and the assurance of everlasting life. In other words, you know that God has got your back. Knowledge refers to the ability to determine the right action in accordance with matters of faith. Fear of the Lord depicts the attitude of reverence towards God that causes a person to never want to be separate from Him. A validly confirmed Catholic, who regularly partakes in the sacraments, should display these gifts daily. The Church refers to these gifts as sanctifying gifts, because a person utilizes them for their own sanctification. Lastly, the Holy Spirit may choose to dispense charisms upon a person.

What are Charisms

The Catechism of the Catholic church makes special mention of the charisms and treats them as a distinct working of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism states,

Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms. (“Catechism” 799-800).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not provide a definitive list of the charisms. Likewise, it does not provide a way for a person to receive these special graces. One can infer that it involves surrendering to the Holy Spirit and asking the Holy Spirit for these special graces. In order to have an idea of the type of gifts involved, one must look to the scripture cited in footnote 255.

What scripture says about Charisms

Footnote 255 in the Catechism points to 1 Cor. 12:7 and draws a direct parallel between this passage and the charisms. 1 Cor. 12:7 states,

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit,and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Most view speaking in tongues as the most controversial of these gifts so I would like to take a few moments to address those controversies. Those, who disagree with speaking in tongues cite the fact that the words spoken in private prayer do not resemble any known language and thus does not correspond to the events in Acts. Acts 2:5 states,

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

This passage would seem to imply that God gives tongues as a  gift for evangelization in that it allows a person to preach the gospel regardless of a language barrier. While true that if a person speaks tongues publicly to a body, there must be an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:27), there exists a secondary dimension of the gift. St. Paul states that,

  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthains 14:2)

Hence, it seems that there exists a secondary private tongue that one speaks directly to God. Thus, it makes sense that certain people may receive unintelligible utterances. However, some may protest that this contradicts the Catechism in that The Catechism sees charisms as designed to build up the Church. My reply emphasizes the word, “indirectly.” Private tongues can build a person’s faith and trust in God and therefore equip them to serve the church better. I know that in my own life when I have faced doubts about God’s love and goodness, using tongues in private prayer solidifies His goodness.

Synthesis of the gifts of the Holy Spirit

To summarize what I have covered so far. The Catechism divides the gifts of the Holy Spirit into two categories: Sanctifying gifts and Supernatural Gifts. The Sanctifying gifts include sharing in the office of priest, prophet, and king as well as those in Isaiah 11:2: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and Fear of the Lord. Every Catholic has access to these sanctifying gifts through Baptism and Confirmation. The supernatural gifts include healing, miraculous power, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. The Holy Spirit at its discretion gives these gifts for the building up of the Catholic church either indirectly or directly. Not every Catholic receives supernatural gifts equally, but every Catholic should desire to receive the supernatural gifts. The Renewal considers tongues as the gateway gifts because it helps strengthen the faith of the believer, but a person may not receive tongues as the initial charismata.

What does this have to do with Baptism of the Holy Spirit

In my opinion, when a person experiences Baptism of the Holy Spirit, they have a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. This brings with it a new desire to live a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by displaying wisdom, understanding, counsel, might and fear of the Lord. I also believe that by going deeper and surrendering to the Holy Spirit that they receive special supernatural gifts. Increasing awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit received at Baptism and Confirmation describes the goal of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Is Baptism of The Holy Spirit necessary?

The hierarchical nature of the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly allows the Holy Spirit to work outside of the sacraments and encourages a person to encounter the Holy Spirit personally. However, if this happens organically, does one need Baptism of the Holy Spirit. No, if you already work on living a life practicing wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and fear of the Lord and you remain open to receiving God’s supernatural gifts. However, as the Catechism states this experience must occur. Martin agrees, he states,

 Whether the release of the Spirit is due to an awakening of sacramental grace, or merely the fruit of prayer, the important thing is that it happen.” (Martin, “sacramental fruitfulness”).

However, most Catholics need to reawaken the sacramental graces, not because of the ineffectiveness of the sacrament itself, but rather our own disposition never intended to receive the effects of Confirmation. Aquinas hints at this when he writes about the effectiveness of Baptism,

As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), “God does not compel man to be righteous.” Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. (Aquinas ST 3, q. 69, a. 9)

If Aquinas says this of Baptism, surely the same applies to Confirmation. Most people undergo Confirmation as teenagers and do not fully embrace the Confirmation effect, which is to make us more open to the working of the Holy Spirit. The work of the third person of the Trinity continues to be neglected and abused due to a misunderstanding about the role of the Holy Spirit. The practice of undergoing a Baptism of the Holy Spirit attempts to rectify this neglect by focusing on the gifts and encouraging Catholics to use the gifts in their daily lives.
 
 

Work Cited

  1. Catholic Church.  Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreia Editrice Vaticana, 1993.
  2. Martin, Ralph. “Sacramental Fruitfulness and the Power of Pentecost.” Homiletic & Pastoral review, 1 Aug. 2016
  3. Martin, Ralph. “A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and Baptism in the Spirit.” LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 4, 13, Summer 2011.
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (ST) I, q. 43, a. 6
  5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (ST) 3, q. 69, a. 9

What young people want

Recently, the Vatican held a PRE-SYNODAL Meeting with 13-30-year-olds. This meeting was designed to get the input from young people all over the world to help the bishops in their deliberations regarding young people that will take place in October 2018. If you associate with Catholic twitter at all, you know that this document is being heavily criticized by more conservative Catholics.  Recently ENTW entered the fray through their show, The World Over.


In the show,  the host asks, “Why are we listening to young people who don’t have life experience and have not been properly catechized.” Not only is the statement a loaded question, but it expresses a dismissive attitude towards young people. However, the reality is that young people are the future of the church and thus deserve a voice in the direction of the church. When watching the full interview segment, it becomes abundantly clear that the real fear is not the opinion of young people, but rather the liberal agenda. Certain individuals believe rightly or wrongly that the actions of Pope Francis and his writing of AMORIS LÆTITIA have encouraged a certain situational ethics. For example, AMORIS LÆTITIA hints at the idea that certain divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to take communion at the discretion of the priest.

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin –which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end. (AMORIS LÆTITIA, pg 237). The footnote reads, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013],1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).”

While not an outright endorsement of communion for divorced and remarried, it does provide enough ambiguity that would allow liberal-leaning priest and bishops to advocate for a change in practice. Hence, there is a genuine mistrust of Pope Francis by radical traditionalist Catholics, who want to uphold the teachings of the church. This mistrust extends to the letter written by youth in that either the youth themselves are liberal-leaning and want change (due to an improper catechesis)  or they are puppets for Pope Francis’ liberal agenda.  To this end, I would like to make two points. First, I would like to suggest that this fear is unfounded. Second, readers misunderstand the purpose of the letter.
To the first point, I would like to cite Matthew 16:18,

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”…

In this passage, Jesus appoints Peter to lead his church. Peter in Greek means rock, so quite literally Peter is the rock. Jesus makes a promise. The promise is the church founded by Peter will last; nothing can destroy it. Do we honestly believe this? Keep in mind, that Peter was not perfect. Peter denied Jesus three times. In fact, right after being given this promise by Jesus, Peter is rebuked for wanting to prevent the crucifixion. Mathew 16:22-23,

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Hence, clearly, the promise of the church lasting is independent of the Pope being perfect. Yet, in today’s age, when the pope speaks with imperfect clarity, conservative Catholic automatically assume that the church is in danger of changing its fundamental dogma. However, rather than being fearful, I would choose to rest in God’s promise that the Catholic church will prevail. That whatever happens with the synod for young people, the Catholic church as we understand it will prevail. However, I do not foresee any dogmatic changes for one simple fact, the letter is not a theological document.
This brings me to my next point; critics of the document do not understand the intended purpose of the document. The third paragraph expresses its intended purpose;

It is important at the outset to clarify the parameters of this document. It is neither to compose a theological treatise, nor is it to establish new Church teaching. Rather, it is a statement reflecting the specific realities, personalities, beliefs and experiences of the young people of the world. This document is destined for the Synodal Fathers. This is to give the Bishops a compass, pointing towards a clearer understanding of young people: a navigational aid for the upcoming Bishops’ Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in October 2018. It is important that these experiences be viewed and understood according to the various contexts in which young people are situated.

From the beginning, the document clearly establishes that no new teaching is intended, rather the letter is merely a synthesis of opinions that young people have regarding the circumstances that they find themselves. The major sense that I get from this document is that young people need a place to belong and to grow.

A sense of belonging is a significant factor to the shaping of one’s identity.

Because the sense of belonging is so important, the document notes that . 1. young people need authentic models and complex answers, and 2. Parishes need to be places of connection that impact their daily lives. Hence, we get the most controversial quote in the whole document,

For some, religion is now considered a private matter. Sometimes, we feel that the sacred appears to be something separated from our daily lives. The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism. Sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of “it has always been done this way”. We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards. Many of those who look for a peaceful life end up dedicating themselves to alternative philosophies or experiences.

An uncharitable interpretation of this paragraph would conclude that young people want the church to loosen its excessive moralism. However, if we keep in mind that no new teaching is intended, then this interpretation is unfounded. Rather I feel that this paragraph is describing the ‘because I said so” mentality of the church. I find in my own life that the church teaching can be hard to follow especially in the sexual revolution culture. Yet, there is no place to express my concerns or struggles. In fact, in regards to lust, one priest told me to simply stop thinking lustfully and that these thoughts come merely because I am older. The systems that work in past generations, no longer work now. My generation sadly no longer blindly accepts waiting until marriage. Hence, children being catechized no longer come from two-parent households.  There needs to be a way of welcoming those of “irregular unions” without sacrificing our heritage and moral teachings. If the church fails to recognize and love those, who fail to live up to its standards, then the church will continue to lose young people.
The point is that the church can no longer stick fingers in its ears and ignore the voices of the young people. Their opinions deserve to be heard because their struggles are real. As a young person myself, I want the church to love those, who are broken, while still standing her ground on moral issues. I want to support my attempts to live chastely, but please acknowledge that it is hard. Accompany me on my journey, but please don’t tell me to do it simply because “it has always been done this way.” Importantly, don’t let your fear of the liberal agenda cause you to ignore the issues facing the young people. Have faith that the church will prevail.

Reources

  1. http://www.synod2018.va/content/synod2018/en/news/final-document-from-the-pre-synodal-meeting.html

Mark 1:12-15 a reflection

I was tasked by a priest to explain this gospel to a non-christian and my daily devotion challenged me to reflect on what this passage meant to me personally. I will attempt to do both in this post.
The first thing I would want to explain is the word gospel. This word means good news. So Jesus comes out of the desert and proclaims the good news of God. Ok, well what is the good news of God? Well according to this passage, the good news is that in the present moment the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is the idea that God is going to restore his kingdom by ending oppression. In historical context, the Jews were God’s people and they had a kingdom that the had lost and were under Roman rule. Jesus is essential proclaiming that the kingdom of the Jews had will be restored. All the Jews had to do was repent and believe in this good news. What does it mean to repent? To repent means to turn around, or to stop disobeying. Outside of historical context, there is a spiritual significance. In verse 10 of Mark chapter 1, we read that through baptism Jesus received a spiritual anointing to do his ministry. In verse 12, we read that the same spirit sent Jesus to be tempted in the desert by the devil. This tempting process leads to verse 14-15 in which Jesus proclaims the good news of God’s kingdom. Hence, the kingdom of God only comes after the devil and temptation are overcome.
Personally, I find meaning in the knowledge that our savior also experienced being tempted in a desert wasteland.  I know that in my own life there have been periods of spiritual dryness, where nothing seemed to work out, where God felt distant and unloving. I also know that the same spirit that rested on the Lord during baptism is in me by virtue of my baptism. Hence if the same spirit can drag me to the desert then the same spirit can help me overcome temptation. If we allow the spirit in our lives, then we can help usher in the kingdom of God.
Right now I am in a desert and I am faced with the temptation of becoming angry, bitter, and unforgiving. I overcome these negative feelings by surrendering to the idea that the kingdom of God is at hand! God is in control and the victory over the devil is mine to claim.
Desert song lyrics by Hillsong
This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer and my hunger in me
My God is the God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames
I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here
And this is my prayer in my battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

Simulation theory, a response

So recently I stumbled upon a philosophic metaphysical claim that we are living in a simulation. This argument intrigued me because unlike other philosophical theories of existence, this one seemed to allow for a “god of sorts.” Afterall, if our world is a computer program, then there must be a higher being functioning as a programmer. It is important to note that this programmer need not have the characteristics of the traditional Christian theistic deity. In fact, it is more likely that the programmer is not omniscient, nor infinite. Thus if the simulation theory is true, then it will radically change our perception of God.

The Simulation Argument

So the argument that I will be working with is based on Nick Bostrom’s 2003 paper, “Are we living in a computer simulation.” In this paper, Bostrom makes three propositions:

  1. the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage
  2. any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);
  3. we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

Bostrom argues that one of these propositions must be true. He assigns probabilities to each of the propositions. “If there is a possibility that our civilization will make it the posthuman stage and they will run ancient simulations, how can we guarantee that we are not one of those simulations.”  In order to build his argument, Bostrom makes two assumptions.

  1. Mental states can supervene on physical substrates (The Assumption of substrate-independence)
  2. Current empirical information about computers indicates that at some point in the future we will have computers fast enough to convert planets into enormously powerful computers.

It is these two assumptions that I would like to explore and challenge.

The Response to the substrate-independence assumption

So I define mental states as the beliefs, desires, knowledge, thoughts, mental images, emotions, moods, perception, and sensations that occur in the mind. Bostrom wants to assume that these states that occur in the mind are entailed by the physical brain. In other words, if an identical copy of your physical brain could be made, then that copy would give rise to the same mental states. Therefore, a computer can stimulate the same mental states that a human brain creates. I deny this assumption and argue that mental states do not supervene on physical substrates.
I begin my argument by demonstrating that physical substrate cannot establish mental states. In order to establish this claim, I will be using the thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson.

Imagine that you have spent your whole life in a black and white room. You have been told what colors are and you have been told that certain things have color. For example, you have been told that an apple is red, but you have never seen an apple. You also have all the physical knowledge regarding how the mind works. You know that certain c-fibers when activated produce ‘red,’ but this knowledge is all you have. Do you know what red is?

Most people intuitively know that you in the black and white room do not know what red is. Rather the knowledge of ‘red’ or any mental perceptions requires something more. This something more is subjective experiences. The idea that mental states contain some sort of subjective state is expressed in the philosophical term qualia. So qualia properly defined refers to the introspective nature of the mental phenomenon. The thought experiment above shows that even the most exact physical replica could not tell us what it was like for us ourselves to experience it. Since physical models cannot give rise to the qualia of a mental state, the substrate independence assumption is false. If this is false then our consciousness, as we understand it, cannot be stimulated. Since we want to retain that we are conscious beings, then our world cannot be a computer simulation.
Chalmers’ zombie argument is another way of disproving the idea that mental states can logically supervene on the physical.

  1. A zombie is a creature that is physically & behavorallly similar to you, but has no concious experience
  2. If mental states logically superviene on physical states,  then zombies would not be conceivable
  3. Zombies are conceivable
  4. Thus mental states do not logically superviene on physical states
  5. Mentals states are something above physical phenomena

If mental states are something above the physical, then, replicating the physical structure of the brain into a computer program will not create mental states. Thus it is impossible to replicate consciousness on a computer program. If this is impossible, then our brains cannot be simulated by a computer. Thus simulation theory is false.
One objection to the above argument is that the idea that we have phenomenological experiences (qualia) is illusionary. We only have the psychological experience ( Awakeness, introspection, reportability, self-consciousness, attention, voluntary control, knowledge, awareness”). However, the idea that our subjective mind is an illusion is counterintuitive to what people claim to experience, and thus the burden of truth is upon the person, who argues for its nonexistence.
Having attacked the first underlining assumption, the conclusion should follow that simulation theory is false. However, for those who accept the substrate-independence assumption, there is another assumption that one can attack. This argument attacks both 1. the idea that there can be a computer fast enough to convert the world, and 2. that we can make ontological statements from mathematical equations.

The assumption about computers.

 In order to understand why computers will never be able to truly stimulate the physical world, we must have a surface level understanding of quantum mechanics and Bells theorem. The first thing to understand is the difference between a particle and a wave. Particles, when thrown towards two slits, will either travel through one or the other slit. Waves, on the other hand, when encountering two slits travel through both. We can imagine throwing a stone into a lake of water. This action creates waves. Furthermore, we can imagine that these waves head toward a wall with two slits. The waves that emerge from each slit interfere with each other. This interference creates a series of peaks and valleys. Now imagine that there is a detector on the other side. This detector can reproduce this pattern. It is called the interference pattern and looks like this:

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We can also imagine that a person shooting multiple projectiles on the wall would create two strips on the back wall. Scientist performed such an experiment with electron particles.  This experiment is the double split experiment. However, the electrons did not create a two strip pattern like you would expect from a particle, rather the electrons created the interference pattern like a wave. The experiment was repeated, but this time the gun shot the electron particle one at a time. However, even then, the particle manages to behave like a wave and make an interference pattern. This would mean that the one electron is somehow going through both slits and interfering itself. The experiment was repeated, but measuring devices were placed at the beginning of the slits to determine which slit the electron traveled through. The electron started to behave like a particle and no interference pattern was observed. This seems to indicate that the behavior of an electron particle depended on observation.

If electron particles behave like water or sound waves, then they can be measured mathematically. A wave function is a solution to the mathematical equation that can tell you the probability of the location of an electron before it is measured. It can never tell you the precise location of the electron particle since the particle has wave-like properties. One consequence of the wave function is that it gives rise to the idea that prior to measurement the particle can be in two or more places at once. This is known as quantum superposition. A second consequence is entanglement. A wave function has the ability to describe a system of particles. When these systems of particles cannot be broken down into individual particles, the particles are said to be entangled or linked together. When two particles are linked together, they have opposite values. So if particle A and B are entangled, when particle A is up, particle B is down. When we measure particle A, we can know B without measurement.  This holds true even if the particles are separated long distances. For example, imagine particle A is on the earth and particle B was on the moon. There is a scientist that measures particle A and finds that it is up, Particle B is measured as down every time. It was suggested that, rather than the particles sending information faster than the speed of light, thus falsifying relativity, there must be some hidden code within the electron that makes the entangled pair have opposite values.
Bell’s theorem disproves the idea of hidden values. Bell uses mathematical probability come up with Bell’s inequality. It states that when dealing with photon particles at different angles through a polarized lens, the likelihood that the angle would match is 33% if there are hidden values. If Quantum Mechanics is right, the likelihood would be 25%. For example, if we have three angles A, B, C and we measure a single photon through both A and B, the likelihood that they match is at least 33%. However, when an experiment was conducted, the matches occurred 25% of the time. This means that there are no hidden values governing the behavior of quantum particles.
Proponents of the simulation theory claim that since electrons and other quantum particles do not exist until measurement, it functions similar to a video game. In most video games, the graphics do not render until the player is in the location. They argue that the fact that electrons do not have precise locations until measurement shows the actions of a computer saving disk space by not rendering until observed.
My objection is that computer systems have hidden values or codes that tell the computer when to render the graphics. Quantum particles, on the other hand, do not have hidden values as proven by Bell’s theorem. Therefore, in order to duplicate our world accurately, a computer would have to produce all possible quantum superpositions and then collapse those superpositions upon observation without hidden values. Bostrom acknowledges this, “Simulating the entire universe down to the quantum level is obviously infeasible unless radically new physics is discovered.” (Bostrom, Nick). Since Quantum physics cannot be simulated, it seems very unlikely that we are in a simulated world.
Lastly, Bostrom makes the mistake of making a metaphysical claim based on mathematical principles. The Wave Function is a very accurate mathematical solution able to predict the behavior of quantum particles, but the mathematical equations does not entail anything about reality. It does not entail an idealist metaphysical claim on reality. There have been plenty of quantum interpretations that support realism. Just because the Wave Function appears to collapse upon measurement does not mean that reality only exists through observations.
The simulation theory, while intriguing, fails to support the various assumptions that it relies on for its argument to be sound. Thus, God remains still a mystery.

References

“A Ridiculously Short Introduction To Some Very Basic Quantum Mechanics | Plus.Maths.Org.” Plus.Maths.Org, 2018, https://plus.maths.org/content/ridiculously-brief-introduction-quantum-mechanics.
Bostrom, Nick. “Are We Living In A Computer Simulation?.” The Philosophical Quarterly, vol 53, no. 211, 2003, pp. 243-255. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1111/1467-9213.00309.
Halvorson, Hans. “What Does Quantum Mechanics Suggest About Our Perceptions Of Reality?.” BQO, 2018, https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/2015/02/24/what-does-quantum-mechanics-suggest-about-our-perceptions-reality/.
lacewing, Michael. “The Philosophical Zombie Argument.” S3-Euw1-Ap-Pe-Ws4-Cws-Documents.Ri-Prod.S3.Amazonaws.Com, 2018, http://s3-euw1-ap-pe-ws4-cws-documents.ri-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/9781138793934/A22014/dualism/The zombie argument.pdf.
Nida-Rümelin, Martine. “Qualia: The Knowledge Argument.” Plato.Stanford.Edu, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia-knowledge/.
“Physics In A Minute: The Double Slit Experiment | Plus.Maths.Org.” Plus.Maths.Org, 2018, https://plus.maths.org/content/physics-minute-double-slit-experiment-0.
Schneider, David. “Bell’s Theorem With Easy Math.” Drchinese.Com, 2018, http://drchinese.com/David/Bell_Theorem_Easy_Math.htm.

Dear Catholic church, a letter from a lonely young adult

Dear Catholic church,
I am a single 27-year-old female, who doesn’t know her place in the church. I am not sure where to go to for guidance, love or support. I am too old for the college crowd but too young for the 30-40 age group. Is there a place for me? Yes, you say enthusiastically, “come to theology on tap.” Yes because nothing fosters authentic relationships like beer and a motivational speech. Don’t get me wrong, I like theology on tap, but it doesn’t speak to me on a deeper level. It doesn’t help me connect with people, who will be lifelong friends. At most I get a drinking buddy for the night. It also doesn’t help me get plugged in elsewhere. If I’m lucky, I go back to a parish with a somewhat functioning young adult group; if unlucky, I go back to waving at people my age from across the pew.
Maybe one day I’ll work up the courage to talk to him or her, but why me. Yes, I know that we are called to be the change we want to see in the world, but I feel like it is unfair to expect me to foster my own community. I’m an introvert and can be socially awkward at times I know I’m not alone in this. I also know that I’m not alone at Mass; I see you and desire to talk to you, but I’m scared. Scared to break the unspoken rule that we all decided to uphold; the rule that says that we should never talk to anyone at Mass. That the ultimate goal is to get in and out as fast as we can. So out of respect for sacred silence, out of respect for the idea that mass is not a community club, I will stay silent. However; If I can’t meet people my age at mass, when can we meet?
Maybe I’ll meet people when I volunteer; that sounds like a good idea. The only problem is that most of the volunteers are older people, who have been in ministry for 10 to 15 years. They like doing it this way; they are comfortable. They don’t want a young thing like me coming in and messing it up or introducing technology they don’t understand. There’s no room for creativity or risk. Let’s just keep doing it the way we’ve always done it. We will complain that young people are unreliable because heaven forbids we were late to the meeting by five minutes. Maybe we had to take care of our kids or you know work. It would be nice if church meeting met after 7pm, but I guess that is too late for the older folk.
One thing young people have that older people don’t is awesome retreats and conferences. We get together once a year and have these crazy Catholic concerts with awesome praise and worship music, good speakers and good fellowship. The only problem is I want to be encouraged more than once a year. I want to have these amazing experiences in my local parish or diocese. I want to have it on a monthly bases. The crazy thing is that I know that such experiences exist.
I know that down in Atlanta GA they have monthly XLT for youth as well as young adults. I know in Dallas they have a ministry called 635 strictly for Young adults. I know that there are other wonderful opportunities in college towns. For instance, when I was at Yale, there was a ton of Catholic stuff to do and plenty of ways to meet people. However, I think it is unfair that my ability as a Catholic to meet other Catholics depends on my geographical location. If we truly are the universal church, then we should have a universal focus and a universal vision to help support young adults. Not just college students, but also those, who have graduated.
Sincerely
A lonely lost Catholic young adult