The first is what we mean by God. God is far from the ‘straw man’ that atheists often imagine – a version of God as a creature more or less modeled on us, who arbitrarily decides things in some magical way, goes into pouts when angry, and showers blessings when pleased.
This is far from what the deepest and most solid Christian thinking says: God is the ground of all being, infinite love and grace, the mystery behind everything that is, the font of goodness toward which everything is moving. The Christian God is not the Divine Meddler who snaps his fingers and, presto, things happen. The Christian God, rather, is Goodness itself. God is personal love, in a way far more infinite than we can ever be loving persons. When hearts are open to God, people feel an abundance of grace and love.
In this way, God is rather like the way we think about the sun: the light is there, it pours forth. It’s our choice to stay in the shadow.
The second issue is whether our hearts are open to mystery, to something beyond what we can feel, see, and measure. Science has certainly made huge advances in understand the material world. We can see this every time we visit the hospital or turn on our smartphone. Science works!
Yet we have a choice of staying with this level of existence—atomic, molecular—or of acknowledging that, within and beyond this level, there exists other dimensions of life which are also real. Such as? Art, music, human interaction, language, thought.
The word “mystery” doesn’t only refer to something that Sherlock Holmes dealt with; it means the deepest layers of existence, hinted at in every moment, seen like illuminations at various moments in our lives, and the foundation of everything else we experience. Mystery is a way to point to the unexplained graciousness of existence—in spite of moments of pain and fear. Our world is, first of all and surprisingly, gracious.
Why is love prior to hate? Truth prior to deceit? Life prior to death? Because we instinctually understand love, truth, and life as the components that ARE, and hate, deceit, and death as absences, as holes, as negatives. God is the reason that what is most real is what is positive—good, true, beautiful, alive.
God’s goodness is there in spite of evil, pain, and death. People say: “If God is omnipotent and good, God would not permit suffering and death.” But God’s omnipotence respects the freedom and laws of nature that God has brought about in creation. Jesus’ death shows us how God’s love works beyond even the greatest showing of evil.
Believers are people who, looking at and interpreting their lives, need a word to describe this mystery. The word for this is “God.” Believers find in revelation a confirmation of this sense of mystery. God appears to Moses saying: I am who am (Exodus 3: We see Abraham enraptured when he experiences God (Genesis 15:7-17). Isaiah sees God and quakes (Isaiah 6:4-5); Ezekiel, in exile, see God in a fantastic vision of electronic lights (Ezekiel 1:4 ff.). Jesus talks about the finger of God coming among us (Luke 11:20), and ultimately says his destiny is to show us what God is like (John 14:9). A few of us may get into the intellectual questions. There are many guides for these avenues because many believers have been privileged to put their minds to the service of their faith. Most of us will get there by attending to those luminous, sacred moments that come into every life. It is these—revealed in awe, truth and, most of all, love—that get us in touch with God.
This happens to be a very handy way to think about our relationship to God: goodness, justice, and the attitude we carry around with us.
Whatever is in the Ten Commandments can be written in shorthand: we are called to love and live for goodness. This means recognizing the goodness of creation, the goodness of our own selves, and the goodness of other people. Justice flows from this recognition of goodness.
We can look at justice in a minimum way—each one gets what she or he deserves—or we can look at justice in an ideal way. The ideal of justice means that there are goods and goals that have yet to be achieved. There is a rightness, a properness, that has to be pursued. Senior and young holding hands. But we can look at justice in a maximum way—providing the best that we can for everyone. Why should a child in a wealthy suburb have greater advantages in life than a child in the inner city? What does God will for each of us, if not the greatest we can have and be? To strive for justice is to have our vision for people charged by our faith in God; this gives us the ideals. But it also means getting into the nitty-gritty of the struggling, pain, and lack of justice that affects so much daily life. Ideally, the vision and the day-to-day striving work together, each reinforcing the other, each giving reality to the other. We can see this at work, for example, in the famous ministry of Mother Theresa whose faith led her to do simple, almost menial, things to relieve the suffering of old and abandoned people in India. Her nitty-gritty desire to make things right for people—simply because they were human—would not have worked without an ideal vision that arose from her sense of God’s love for all of humankind. What does God want? For me to be attentive to the inconsistencies and discrepancies that surround us, and how we can help address these issues. Obviously everyone has to live with limits. Justice cannot mean that everyone has a penthouse in Manhattan or Los Angeles. But it has to mean that people cannot be wasting food because of their excess while others are starving to death. Or that only the rich obtain true justice in our courts. How can I live more justly?
1. There is a God – How one can come to reasonably see that the universe was created by a divine intelligence and not the product of mere chance. There is only One God -The God of creation (of the universe) and the God of revelation (of the bible) are the same; reason and faith are not in conflict.
2. What God is Like – images of God are varied, but ultimately we can sense around us an unexpected graciousness and beauty which reflects God most of all. Our pain and suffering are understood against this background of love and graciousness. Hope springs in our hearts as a sign of the ultimate goodness for which we long.
3. Jesus, the Image of God – no one captures the nature of God better than Jesus Christ – this is why billions have believed in him and why crucifixion only spurred his message. The kindness, mercy and grace of God show most clearly in him. No other person in history comes close to revealing God as does Jesus. (Jesus’ incarnation reveals the inherent good present within humanity and creation. The implication of this incarnation affirms the Catholic belief that creation has an inherent dignity for which man must acknowledge thorough one’s actions.)
4. The Spirit, Connector with Jesus – Jesus would be only a memory were it not for the Spirit he gives us (or the means to connecting with the God and to the belief in Jesus as his Son), a spirit that leads us to the inner depths of God, joins us with God, and joins us with each other. The Spirit brings us to the inner life of God—Catholics understand God as a fullness that encompasses three personal presences, Father, Son and Spirit, an unending dynamic life of love. The nature of God is love and self-giving.
5. Community, Life Shared in the Spirit – God is more perfectly revealed in community because God cannot be known without Love, as Jesus shows us and the Spirit evokes in us. God calls us into community so that faith can be lived, demonstrated and have the ability to grow. Moreover, the unity present within the Catholic Church allows for the faithful to share in the insights and blessings of the larger community.
6. Wisdom, God’s Word – the living memory of Jesus was captured by those generations which immediately followed him. We have their memories and insights in the Christian Scriptures; these early Christians saw the writings of the ancient Hebrews as clues and signs of Christian life as well. The Old Testament and New Testament help expand our minds, give us the vocabulary and provide us essential perspectives on God. The Catholic Bible as being a compilation of the inspirational writings of the Church, for the Church.
7. Sacred Meals, Sacred Deeds – Jesus was a real human being, walking around in a body like ours. He used bodily presence and bodily gestures to communicate his love and life. He touched people, fed them, consoled them, lifted them up. The community of Jesus enacts these saving gestures through sacred deeds, sacred signs and the most sacred meal which joins us to Jesus. Catholic Ritual as the personification of Sacred Mystery. It is in the Sacramental nature of the Catholic Church that one perceives and receives the grace required to foster unity and sanctity in Christian life. The Sacraments are the means for which Christ intended his Church to thrive. Thorough participation in the Sacramental liturgy one experiences the beauty, grace, and unity required to persist in our vocations and so more perfectly worship God in our daily lives.
8. Live Heaven Now (through grace) – The Holy Spirit transforms us once we open our hearts. The transformation happens by our receiving new capacities by our union with God. We call these virtues – faith, hope and love actually connect us to God; the pursuit of peace and justice through our acts of generous kindness are share in the eternal life which we begin to live now. Moral life is not proving we are good or bad, but rather are the effects of heaven felt now.
9. Community and Continuity – Those who first remembered Jesus and proclaimed him formed communities of faith; these communities, though different, experienced a unity with each other through the scriptures and the sacred deeds they celebrated. Christian life is an experience of continuity with these earliest communities–we can see this continuity in the ancient Churches of the East and West, the Orthodox and the Catholic Church. The phenomenon of creating new churches on the basis of new readings of the scripture is a novel and strange development. Why would we think that the Spirit of God let Christians stray for a thousand or so years
10. Community and Continuity in Tradition – The role and function of Tradition in the flourishing of Church. How the accumulated knowledge, insight, and wisdom of the Catholic Church going back two millennium has afforded the Church unique and comprehensive insight into the Holy Scriptures and Christian life. Unity under a Pope and the role of Apostolic Succession. The belief that Christ left the initial stewardship of his Church to the Apostles and to St. Peter, who as leader of the Apostles ensured continuity would be maintained and unity protected thorough ordained successors.
How Not to Read the Bible
One of the bad raps against Catholics is that we do not read the Bible. Of course, everything about Catholic life is shaped by the reading of Scripture.
But one of the worst ideas around is this: that the Bible is an easy book that one can just pick up and read. If that were true, why are there so many disagreements about the Bible and its meaning?
The Bible, in fact, cannot be read like any other book because it is not meant to be like any other book. Centuries of historical scholarship—some of it affected by the discovery of scriptural texts at the Dead Sea in the 1940s—have only reinforced how different the Bible is.
The Bible, as Christians believe, is God’s Word. But God’s Word comes to us in the Bible in a special way. Through centuries of experience among ancient Jewish people, and centuries of reflection on this experience, a literature emerged slowly over a thousand-year period. So we don’t have writers turning on computers to put down thoughts. Rather we have a people reflecting on its history in many different ways over centuries of experience. That’s how God spoke to us... in slow motion over eons.
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