On not finding God in the worldStarting then with the being of a God, (which, as I have said, is as certain to me as the certainty of my own existence, though when I try to put the grounds of that certainty into logical shape I find a difficulty in doing so in mood and figure to my satisfaction,) I look out of myself into the world of men, and there I see a sight which fills me with unspeakable distress. The world seems simply to give the lie to that great truth, of which my whole being is so full; and the effect upon me is, in consequence, as a matter of necessity, as confusing as if it denied that I am in existence myself. If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when I look into this living busy world, and see no reflexion of its Creator. This is, to me, one of those great difficulties of this absolute primary truth, to which I referred just now. Were it not for this voice, speaking so clearly in my conscience and my heart, I should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist when I looked into the world. I am speaking for myself only; and I am far from denying the real force of the arguments in proof of a God, drawn from the general facts of human society and the course of history, but these do not warm me or enlighten me; they do not take away the winter of my desolation, or make the buds unfold and the leaves grow within me, and my moral being rejoice. The sight of the world is nothing else than the prophet’s scroll, full of “lamentations, and mourning, and woe.”
John Henry Newman
Apologia Pro Vita Sua
Mar. 22 at 10:28pm
A few days ago, a young engaged woman, Emma Smith wrote a piece on Catholic exchange called Marriage is Work. The take-away, as it came across to me and, apparently, others, was that failed marriages indicate a failure of the spouses to work, and that the primary advantage of a Catholic marriage is that Catholics do a lot of marriage prep, and that the sacramental nature of marriage gives you a sort of supernatural guarantee that, as long as you work on it, you'll have the kind of loving, faithful, happy marriage that we all want.
I read it. I shrugged my shoulders and kept going. How could I say anything without sounding like sour grapes trying to pop the bubble of a sweet and joyful …
Mar. 20 at 4:22am
I don't recall how it is that I started reading Elizabeth Esther's blog, but I know it was in connection with the problem of spiritual abuse, which we could define as systematic violation of the central features of personhood, i.e. suppression of a person's freedom, autonomy, and conscience.
It's what happens in cults and cult-like groups and families.
Elizabeth Esther grew up in one of those. Her grandfather founded a fundamentalist Christian cult, called the Assemby, in which her father and uncle were fulltime leaders. She left with her husband and small children when she was 25 and has been recovering in the ten or so years since. Blogging about her experience is part of her healing. …continue reading
Mar. 19 at 6:26am
One strong impression from our visit to Israel earlier this month is of the geographical concentration of ground zero of salvation history. The place is small, and the spiritual imagery that pervades it incredibly dense. Today's readings (for the Feast of St. Joseph) bring the point home again.
The LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure …
Mar. 12 at 4:16am
Jules just came home from dropping our son Benedict off at school here in Holland. He told me the teacher had a approached him to say that they would be doing sex education over the next three weeks. She mentioned it because "I know you're religious." (How did she know that?!) She thought we might have concerns. She said he could possibly join the 4th graders, where they cover only the biological aspect of human reproduction. In fifth grade, they get rather heavy. (We're talking about 10, 11 and 12 year olds.)
Jules asked if it's normal for kids to be pulled out. She said, somewhat apologetically, "Really, there aren't so many religious people around here."
There's an information meeting …
Mar. 10 at 9:10pm
I have a confession to make. I'm a Star Trek fan.
Not the movie versions. I tried to watch one of them once, but it was too much like being imprisoned in an unpleasantly frenzied video game.
Not even The Next Generation, or whatever the remake is called.
I mean the old, old, OLD Star Trek, the version that was already a rerun during my annual childhood visit to my grandparents’ house. (Every year my sister Abby and I spent one week at Nana and Lenny's house, busily making up for the other 51, which were TV-less. This involved a lot of Star Trek.) Now my husband and I watch DVDs of the reruns with my own kids.
So there we were, last night, all cozy in the basement, watching Captain …continue reading
Mar. 10 at 4:32am
When I was a teenager, Ann Kiemel was one of my heroes. I read all her books. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to "change the world for Jesus." It was especially her simplicity of faith and personal warmth that drew me in. I was used to a cold, prohibitive religious and moral environment—one where being Catholic was mainly about knowing the teachings and following rules rather than love and mercy. Evangelicals—Ann Kiemel first among them—showed me something different. Christianity is first and foremost a personal relationship of love with Jesus.
Later, I found her work too superficial to satisfy. It didn't feel fully real. It sounded forced and fake. It sounded like it was more about Ann …continue reading
Feb. 27 at 10:21pm
Last Tuesday, I brought my eight-year-old in for a checkup, sensing that something wasn’t right.
My mother’s intuition only took me so far, though: I assumed that, whatever it was, a week of amoxicillin would probably take care of it.
But it turned out to be juvenile diabetes.
Her prognosis looks very good, but treatment is time-consuming, especially for us beginners! So it’s a fine day for 7 Quick Takes. (Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting.) Here are seven things that have been on my mind:
A heartening bit of personalism has found its way into the Pink Panther book, a highly acclaimed guide routinely given to parents of kids with this diagnosis.
" Think …
Feb. 20 at 5:03am
I'm reading a book about a young woman's escape from the Jehovah's Witnesses when she was 18. Her mother had been a fanatical devotee for ten years, blighting her youth with excessive control. It's not a very good book; I don't recommend it. But it has its insights. I'm thinking about this one today:
My parents had failed to follow through on the most important obligation they had as parents. They had failed to create autonomy in me by letting me experience life— good and bad— providing guidance and emotional support when I needed it.
I think there's a lot to this, though, speaking as a parent (soon to be grandparent!), living in a society aggressively hostile to the values I most …continue reading
Feb. 17 at 1:35pm
I’m not speaking here of a boxing-match or of bullies who like beating up others. What I’m referring to is the widespread human temptation to put others into “boxes”. What makes this so terrible, and yet so tremendously tempting?
It can seem an innocent enough pastime. What I tell my spouse or mother, or what I talk about in the inner recesses of the family, won’t hurt anybody, right? I can trust my mother or spouse sufficiently that he or she won’t be going round, spreading the bad news about Aunt Emma’s character faults. Perhaps I can trust them, and neither of us will share this with other members of the family or let alone, God forbid, with Aunt Emma herself (nothing worse than having …continue reading
Feb. 17 at 10:46am
A friend of mine shared a link to my post "Love is unconditional; relationships have terms" on Facebook, adding a question: "Should we put conditions on relationships?" This gives me an opportunity to expand and clarify my thoughts. (Thanks, friend!)
The kind of terms I had in mind aren't the kind we "put"; they're the kind we receive. They come with the relationship.
Some relationships involve arbitrary (in the sense of at-will) terms. If I hire someone to clean my house, I might stipulate that she has to come on time and she can't smoke. Those are my conditions for hiring. She might have conditions of her own: She wants $20 per hour and she will only work with non-toxic cleaning …continue reading
Feb. 16 at 5:51pm
“Apologetics is a hobby of mine.”
As soon as I'd said it, something didn’t sound right.
My friend was looking into becoming Catholic, and I was offering to answer any questions she might have. I’m a convert and a bookworm, and over the years, I’ve studied a lot of theology. Just the hours I’ve logged listening to Catholic Answers radio while chopping onions for supper are probably the equivalent of a degree or two. Add 25 years of retreats, study courses, days of recollection, reading and writing…
But, a hobby?continue reading
Feb. 12 at 2:29am
Following the death-by-overdoes of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman last week, a Ricochet contributor raised the question of the use of psychedelic drugs in treating heroin addiction. She thought it scandalous that more isn't being done to research and employ the method, when studies show it to have been effective in some cases.
I commented that I have doubts about the approach. Among other misgivings, I worry that it can become a way of avoiding the prime thing at issue in addiction, which is moral and spiritual, not biochemical. (Our society and culture are so vested in denying or downplaying the spiritual and moral dimensions of human life.) I have similar worries about using ritalin to …continue reading
Feb. 10 at 10:35pm
When I was seven, my parents, my little sister, and I joined a cult which later made headlines for all kinds of bizzare and criminal conduct.
We only lasted two days. There were red flags, but my parents, brand-new Christians, mistook some of them for radical, early-Church-style discipleship. (Also, the classic signs of cults were not so well publicized then as they are now.)
Still, there was one thing they couldn’t swallow: the part about sending my little sister and me away to be “educated” in another city. So after two days, we were done.
You can read the whole story of our family’s conversion in my mother’s hilarious chapter of this book.
Getting ahold of the children as early as …continue reading
Feb. 7 at 2:14am
Vatican II resolved a theological and philosophical dilemma that had perplexed Catholics since the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars that followed in its wake. We have always believed that our Faith is the One True Faith. We believe that error and heresy are destructive of individuals and communities; they can't be considered as on par with truth. "Error has no rights" was the way the point was usually expressed.
And yet we also believe in religious liberty. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory dogmas?
The answer came through the personalist developments in modern thought. Error has no rights, but conscience does. (Newman put it this way, "Conscience has …continue reading
Feb. 5 at 11:38pm
I ran across this unfortunate object on the internet the other day.
I don't know how compelling it might look to your run-of-the-mill New Atheist, but it does shine light on a common misunderstanding, rampant among Christians and anti-Christians both.
We seem to be sending a mixed message, and the most effective way to stop doing that is to get clear in our own minds what we believe.
So--Is God’s love unconditional, or isn’t it?
If it is, why did he bother to give Moses 613 commandments?
Doesn’t unconditional love accept the beloved as she is? What if your boyfriend claimed to love you unconditionally but was always pressing you to lose twenty pounds, or dye your hair blonde, or …continue reading
Jan. 28 at 6:01pm
We don’t know much.
This thought is a useful remedy for anyone inclined to nose around in other people’s consciences and make free about the state of their souls. Reflecting on just how miniscule our knowledge is, and how many, many unknown variables are at play is handy for warding off judgmentalism. It turns out gaze back on our own cluelessness and helps us realize how unqualified to pontificate we are.
But it can also have a more pleasant (and just as crucial) use. It reminds us to wonder.
If fallenness does anything, it makes us jaded. The “cares of this world” crowd out the pleasures of wonder. We get mired in the anxieties of wrestling the family budget into submission. Or …continue reading
Jan. 28 at 4:54am
Isn't it weird how exactly right and at the same time completely wrong Sartre was when he wrote, "Hell is other people"? He is right in as much as hell is the use and abuse that is the master/slave dynamic of the fall.
When you're being used, you're in hell. When you're using others, you're in hell.
The only way out is through the heaven of self-oblating, other-receiving, life-giving love. I've had very intense experiences of it this week. I mean, the contrast between being loved and being abused, between hell and heaven. I've had searing existential confirmation, this week, of the truth of the deepest mystery of human life: our path to heaven or hell has everything to do with personal …continue reading
Jan. 21 at 2:30pm
I first joined Facebook to stalk (and I mean that benevolently) my college-bound daughter. For this I endured some ribbing from her younger brothers and sisters, the usual targets of my anti-social-media tirades. My standard rant went something like this:
Children, beware the subtle snares of self-absorption! They don't call it a web for nothing, you know!
Pity those poor wretches with nothing better to do than cultivate pseudo-relationships with virtual “friends”! Whose self-worth is so puny that it craves the thrill of the little red notification flag! Who’ve forgotten the feel of fresh air! Who inevitably come to a sad end because they can’t bear to be parted from their social …
Jan. 17 at 3:55am
One of the best moral lessons I ever learned came through the example of a non-religious friend. She and her sister had been the designated heirs of a rich, childless aunt. But a smarmy, conniving distant cousin managed to manipulate the dying woman and induce her to sign over a large portion of her fortune to him.
My friend's mother was furious with indignation when she found out. Choked with gall. My friend, though, shrugged off the loss, and wouldn't let her mother rant over it.
"You know what Mom? He has to be him and we get to be us. Think of it that way."
When she told me the story, besides being stunned with admiration at her generosity of spirit (so unlike the reputedly religious …continue reading
Jan. 12 at 10:31pm
It’s January 13th. Do you know where your New Year’s resolution is?
Mine is right around here somewhere. Like Mr. Micawber, I’m hoping it will turn up. But in the meantime, I’ve learned one thing.
It only works if you do it.
Obvious? Yes. But it was a revelation for me, and I have reason to believe that plenty of people in high places have yet to figure it out.
The Only Works If You Do It Axiom applies to countless areas of life. For example:
Organizational tools. My kids laugh at my fondness for charts, schedules, and lists. They sprout like toadstools all through the house at the start of each new semester, and sometimes around New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday, too.
This year …continue reading