Friday, February 20, 2015

The Non-Existence of Evil

Evil does not exist.

“What?!?!” you say.  “How could a conservative Catholic ever truly believe such a thing?”

Good question.  Glad you asked!

When I say that evil does not exist, I do not mean that it doesn’t exist in some progressive morally relativistic way.  I mean that evil, in and of itself, does not exist.  It is not the equal and opposite of good.  In fact, evil requires good in order to define itself, whereas good does not.  You see, evil is actually the absence of good, whereas good is not the absence of evil.  Evil is something contrary to God.  It is an absence of God, who is goodness itself.

“T. Paine, what have you been smoking?  I thought you were against illegal drugs!”

Hold on, a minute.  Let me explain.  And yes, I am strongly against illegal drugs, but that is a topic for another post.

Let me use an analogy.  Let’s take light and dark.  Dark only exists in the absence of light.  Its very dependence counts upon there being no light.  If you light a single candle in a massive warehouse, it is no longer completely dark.  Light and dark are not equal and dualistic opposites.  Light actually exists in the world.  Dark does not.  Without darkness, we could still scientifically analyze light.  We know its speed, its wavelength, and its particle-like properties.  What is the speed or wavelength of dark?  We cannot tell you because it does not exist.


Still not buying this?  How about another analogy then?

The same is true for hot and cold.  Cold is merely the relative or perhaps complete absence of heat.  It does not exist unto itself.  Heat actually exists.  We can measure heat’s temperature, which is a function of its molecular energy.  When molecular motion ceases completely, that is what we call “absolute zero”.  There is, however, no maximum temperature where “cold particles” no longer exist.  There is no “smoking hot” converse to absolute zero, with the possible exception of my beautiful wife.    

The same concept can be applied for evil.  As I said previously, evil is metaphysically dependent upon good.  It, like dark and cold, does not actually exist itself.  Evil is an absence of good.  Indeed we cannot understand the very concept of evil without understanding good.  The reverse of this is not true, however.  We do not do good things because we seek evil.  Conversely, we do not need to understand the concept of evil to understand and do good in the world.  Evil is not the opposite of good, any more than light is the opposite of dark.

“Whoa, T. Paine!  That is heavy, man!”

Lightness is not the opposite of heaviness; it is a lack thereof.

“Stop that, dude!”

Okay, sorry.  Back to our discussion on evil not existing.

As I was saying, evil is an absence of good… an absence of God.  As a “thing” in and of itself, it does not exist.  We can see the actions, the results, of this lack of good in the world though, just as we can see the darkening results as we extinguish more lamps in a room.  We can see what happens when we remove ourselves from goodness.  It is through that drawing away from good that we become selfish, greedy, and narcissistic.

Ironically, evil actually pays homage to good, not only in its very definition, but in the actions of it.  Evil is always perpetrated in the pursuit of some real or perceived good.  Someone may commit an act of evil in pursuit of a good such as pleasure, honor, love, etc., that they think will come from that act.  For that person, the ends justify the means.

Let me give you some examples.  Abortion is an evil that is unfortunately chosen for the perceived good of the mother sometimes.  The destruction of God’s creation in the environment is often done under the perceived good of economic development.  ISIS and other similar Islamic terrorist organizations see their acts of evil as necessary in order to convert the world to their perverted brand of Islam.  All of these acts of evil are paying homage to perceived goods.

And while evil actions and unspeakable atrocities occur daily throughout the world, the fact of the matter is that evil only exists in the world because of a consciously chosen decision to turn away from goodness.  It is through the misuse of our God-given free wills to turn away from Him… to turn away from good… that allows evil to exist.  It does not exist on its own.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Extremist Islam, Christianity, and a Prayer Breakfast

Nearly 1400 years ago, in 638 A.D. a large Islamic military force sacked the city of Jerusalem over the course of three days.  In the process of doing so, they destroyed more than 300 churches and monasteries and put many Christians and Jews to death or into enforced servitude.  Over the following four centuries, as the religion founded by the Islamic prophet Mohammed grew, so did the conquest of other Christian lands in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and indeed as far west as Moorish Spain.  Those people living under the rule of their new Muslim conquerors were constantly persecuted if they refused to convert to Islam.

In 1095 A.D., after putting up with over four and a half centuries of continued unprovoked Muslim aggression and oppression of Christian lands and people, Pope Urban II preached for men from all of Christendom to march to liberate Jerusalem.  Those Christian men, women, and children who were forced to live under Muslim rule in those lands were to be set free. Thus was the start of the first crusade.  Other crusades followed over the next several centuries.

Today, no thanks to revisionist history and Hollywood license, the crusades are synonymous with the evils of the Christian faith.  Indeed, there were certainly atrocities committed during the Crusades by Christian Knights and warriors, just as there are in any war.  That said, the overall stated purpose of the Crusades as preached by Pope Urban II was a noble cause.

Nearly a millennia later, President Barack Hussein Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday pointed to these supposed “evils” of the Christian Crusades in a seemingly school yard attempt at saying, “See!  They did it too!”

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today's world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try."

 ~ President Barack Hussein Obama 2/5/2015

Yes, we as fallen and flawed men and women of faith - of ALL faiths - will always fall far short of the lofty ideals and tenets of doctrine espoused by our various religions.

But, there is indeed a profound difference.

Christian “extremism” is largely something that was last commonly found centuries ago in the Middle Ages.  Islamic extremism is something found occurring this week.  Christian “extremism” is something largely relegated to the history books.  Muslim extremism is a clear and present danger today and is a very real threat to all of Western civilization.

So, what was the point of President Obama bringing up real or imagined evils of Christianity at the prayer breakfast when such have not been a threat to America’s way of life in anyone’s lifetime today?  It would seem that he invoked those “evils” as a way of trying to mitigate the recent actions of Islamic extremists.

President Obama further gets it wrong in pointing out the evils within our own United States history.  Indeed it was Christians following the true dictates of the faith that were abolitionists and were largely responsible for the precipitation of our bloody civil war to right the wrongs of slavery.  God created us to be free men and women and we are charged with the moral and ethical duty to “love thy neighbor” accordingly.  Nowhere else in history has a nation fought amongst itself to champion such a Christian ideal.  It was indeed true Christianity that ended American slavery; it was not the justification for keeping such an evil institution in place.  Indeed, slavery still exists in the world today, and is largely practiced by adherents of extremist Islam. 

Despite President Obama’s tale of seeming moral equivalence, and the implied statement that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” rhetoric, there is a profound difference between Christian extremism and Muslim Extremism.

The Christian faith teaches us to “love our neighbor” and to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”  Unfortunately, for millions of extremist Muslims throughout the world, the new crusade of hate that al Qaida, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram, and other such groups are waging is one they see as being commanded by their god and countenanced by his holy book.  It is a war, not unlike the one waged 1400 years ago against Jerusalem, where the Islamic extremists wish to kill or enslave all those who refuse to convert to their perverted brand of Islam.  Even Muslims that do not hate enough are subject to the extremists’ persecution.

The Islamic faith is waxing ever stronger across the world today, while Christianity throughout much of Europe and indeed the entire world seems to be waning.  With the growth of mainstream Islam, so too will the number of extremist Islamic adherents increase.  And, with that growth in Islamic extremism, the battle will continue to be brought ever closer to our own doorstep yet again.

America, as a Christian nation, is very tolerant of those having differing faiths and cultures, and this is indeed a very good thing.  That said, we must not kowtow to political correctness.  It is not racism, intolerance, or bigotry to point out evil wherever it might be found.  The ability to fight evil is greatly weakened when we refuse to call it what it is.  Sadly and most dangerously, President Obama seems to fail to acknowledge that extremist Islam is even the enemy.  Instead he equivocates and says “we all do it”.
How do we fight, let alone prevail, against an enemy that we refuse to even name?

How is it that we have turned our backs time and time again on this existential danger after seeing first-hand the convictions of Islamic extremist hatred for us as evidenced in Beirut, Mogadishu, the U.S.S Cole, Khobar towers, the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, the World Trade Center on two different occasions, the Pentagon, and myriads (more than two) of other such terrorist events.

No, Mr. President; the sins of extremist Islam and extremist Christianity are nowhere near in moral equivalency.  In fact, if we are to survive as a nation, I would submit that robust Christianity and a willingness to protect and fight for all that is good and holy as predicated by this faith founded in God’s love, is indeed going to be our last and perhaps only hope.  Extremist Islam is the enemy and the problem.  It is only through true Christianity that we may find the solution to this problem, Mr. President. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ascending Secularism

About a year ago, a traveling exhibition of The Dead Sea Scrolls went on display at the local museum near where I live.  These early manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible dated as far back as the 3rd century before Christ and are the second oldest known manuscripts of the type in existence.  The finding of these scrolls was a truly remarkable discovery.  I figured it would be fascinating to see these in person, so I sauntered on down to the museum to spend the afternoon perusing them.

Immediately upon entering the exhibit, I noticed the museum placards describing various artifacts and scroll fragments were all listed in the ridiculous Before Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE) notations.  At first I was borderline amused, which quickly turned into extreme annoyance.  A museum placard at the beginning of the exhibit explained with politically correct reasoning that the museum did not want to upset those people viewing the exhibit that might be offended by the notations of Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD) [Latin for “in the year of our Lord”].


I would bet that anyone that was interested in coming to see these scrolls which were a part of the Hebrew Bible (aka part of the Old Testament) would probably not be offended by the non-secular “BC” and “AD” notations.  While I had been aware of the ever-encroaching foolishness of political correctness manifesting itself in hyper secularism, this really sent me over the edge and made my teeth itch.  Had the most remarkable religious discovery of the 20th century fallen victim to politically correct secularism?

Secularism.  What the hell is that?  It is not necessarily the same thing as atheism, although the two often go together like the ACLU and hypocrisy.  Secularism, in the classical understanding of the term, is used to mean those things that dealt with earthly matters or the temporal order.  Today, the term seems to be used in the context of an absence of religious belief or participation thereof.  Indeed in the modern era, seemingly more and more people embrace a type of purely self-sufficient humanism – a secularism aimed at one’s material flourishing without any consideration whatsoever of a transcendent order and reality.  And that in and of itself is fine with me, if such is a person’s choice.  More power to him or her. After all, we still live in a free country – well, kind of anyway.  

That said, America as a nation was founded with an acknowledgement of our “firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence” and those most precious inalienable rights bestowed upon us not by the government, but by our Creator; thus states our Declaration of Independence.  Regardless, the idea was that Americans could worship as they choose, in public and indeed in government buildings and institutions, or they could choose not to do so.  Today, with the rise of this seeming virulent secularism, some twisted notion that faith should never intrude into the public arena seems to be the rule of the day.

And so we see this infectious secularism now spreading to a historical religious exhibit at the local museum in the guise of BCE and CE notations. This is really nothing more than a mere change of a name.  It is as if some secularist decided, “Don’t bring this Lord stuff into the debate!”  Okay.  Fine, but then tell me, what is the single defining event that separates BC and the silly BCE from AD and the sillier CE?  Is it not the birth of Christ regardless of the terms?  I suppose if one were to ask some quasi-scientist or politically correct historian what was The Event that delineated BCE from CE, he could shuffle his feet and mumble something about a non-theologically significant event --- or he could tell you about Christ.

Whether one accepts the divinity of Christ or not, the historical fact of His existence and the undeniable fact that He changed the history of the world since His human incarnation is the lone event that ends the era “Before Christ” and ushers in the era “In the Year of Our Lord”.  The changing of the names of the eras to something that is politically correct does nothing to change the actual event that delineates those eras.  Rather it simply points out in glaring fashion the degrees to which secularism has ascended in our Western culture today.

The BC/AD to BCE/CE debacle is only one small thread in this new secularist tapestry being woven by many of the politically correct and secular humanists today.  There are other issues on the secularist’s loom that they are trying to remake too.  For example, a denial of our country’s history and its founding as a Christian nation is a pervasive meme found taught by many of higher academia’s teachers today.  Even President Obama has insisted in the past that we are not necessarily a Christian nation.

The secularist’s axiom seems to be as science and reason spread, religious belief will wane.  The notion that science and faith are inextricably linked seems like an utter impossibility to the secularist, and any mention of God or faith in the public sphere is something to be shunned lest it lead society backwards into the dark ages of superstition and the supernatural.

Because of these new ideals, public prayer or Christmas nativity displays are often banned in many cities today.  And yet debauchery is on display in some of those same cities with gay pride parades and the like where members openly mock Christ and those things that a majority of Americans still consider sacred.  Even during the Christmas season, it is often seen as an affront to PC Secularists to wish someone “Merry Christmas!” instead of the more benign and ambiguously indifferent “Happy Holidays”.

And what have we gained by this metastasizing secularism?  Are we a kinder, more generous and caring people because of this?  Is ours a society that strives to take care of the least of our brothers and sisters in desperate need?  Or do we simply focus on the humanistic secularism that says we must “get ours first and foremost” in a Darwinian survival of the fittest?

It has generally been my experience that those people whom are the most militant in their secularism are often times the most disagreeable and abrasive of souls too.  They seem to be very unhappy, and indeed how could they not be?  If one believes in nothing more than materialism and temporal matters alone, how could one be truly happy?  Love, beauty, and life itself are not magnificent gifts from God to the militant humanist secularist.  They are subjective things to be used as tools for a means to an end to further one’s earthly gains.  With such an outlook, I suppose I would be grumpy and acerbic too!

Unfortunately though, it is not enough that they alone hold this merely as a personal opinion.  Rather, it becomes incumbent upon them to spread this secularist mindset to all of society so that nobody might be offended by God, His son Jesus, or religion at all.

Myself having once traveled down an atheistic, if not secular road before, I found life to be very unfulfilling.  It was lacking in purpose – in meaning – and certainly in true agape love.  My heart was restless and often very saddened until, through God’s grace and mercy, I eventually was lead back to Him.  Indeed I pray that this secularism is nothing more than a trend that will eventually pass like a strong winter storm.  In its passing, we will once again come into the Spring of God’s blessings and perhaps many of those lost secularists will return or perhaps for the first time come into Christ’s fold. Their need to replace or wipe away any vestige of things that are overtly religious or even having religious connotations, such as replacing BC and AD with secularist substitutions in our museums, will no longer be necessary for them.  Perhaps these would-be secularists can then finally find some semblance of peace.  St. Augustine said it best regarding God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you.”


Friday, June 13, 2014

Living the Dash with Vulnerability

My priest recently said in one of his homilies something that struck me as rather profound.  He stated that the most important symbol engraved upon a tombstone is neither the date of birth nor the date of death; rather, it is the dash between those numbers that is the most meaningful.  It is what we do with that dash, that time between our dates of birth and death that gives meaning and significance to our life.  And this is true regardless of how long or short of a life that may be.

With the passing of my beloved wife last November, this struck me to my very core.  I have been reflecting on Jenny’s life and have come to realize all of the people she had touched, how many lives she changed for the better, and how many people she comforted with her love when they felt despondent and alone.  With all of the medical issues my Jenny had, she could have easily retreated into her own self and cried “woes is me”!  She was not one to play the victim though, and I always admired and respected her immensely for that!  Whenever she was physically able to do so, and indeed sometimes when even that was questionable, she lived her life by caring for and loving others.  It was something I saw her do again and again and again for the 25 years we were together. 

I am rather slow on the uptake most of the time, but she taught me a lesson that I didn’t even pick up on until after she was gone.  You see, most of the time the people that Jenny helped showed her great gratitude, affection, and love in return.  But there were some people that only wanted more from Jenny, even when she could give any more.  Those few people became bitter and spiteful towards her when they couldn’t “get more” accordingly.  Those broken relationships injured Jenny deeply and left her feeling betrayed, and yet she never gave up on people.  She remained vulnerable enough to put herself out there to try and help and love others yet again.

Now many people when you ask them what they think vulnerability means will respond with the answer that it is weakness.  That is sure as heck what I was taught.  Most men in my and preceding generations were brought up with that same notion, I think.  I was taught that big boys don’t cry.  My boyhood heroes certainly wouldn’t show signs of vulnerability.  You certainly didn’t see John Wayne throw his feelings out on the table like so many cards.  He absolutely wouldn’t cry.  Stoicism and strength were something to be admired, particularly in men.  And that is how I was raised and how I lived most of my life to date.  (Never mind that most of the time these days I have become a great big wuss!) 

But what Jenny and the example of her life showed me was that REAL strength doesn’t come from living a stoic life.  It doesn’t come from holding one’s self aloof from others.  Vulnerability is not weakness at all.  Indeed it is the very antithesis of weakness.  It takes great courage and strength to be vulnerable and live your life being open to others, even though showing such vulnerability might get you hurt.

My brother-in-law, Jenny’s brother, came to live with us a year and a half ago.  (This was because once again Jenny was showing great courage in her vulnerability in reaching out to her brother who didn’t have any place else to go at that time.)  Jeff likewise showed great vulnerability in agreeing to come live with us.  Jeff has lived a difficult life, and he would be the first to tell you that it was largely due to his own doing.  Jeff is a fighter and is exceptionally tough with his street smarts, and yet he is like his sister and indeed his whole family, as he exhibited that same kind of strength in vulnerability.  Jeff, despite being a man’s man, was never afraid to tell me that he loved me.  He has put himself out there literally giving his last dollar in his wallet to try and help someone else that was worse off than him.  He too has been hurt in his attempts to help others at times because of that strength in vulnerability, and yet he perseveres also.

So now I am taking a new look at how I live my life this past year.  I am struggling, mightily at times, to put myself out there more and more for others.  I am trying to shed my more stoic and self-centered exterior.  I am trying to find the courage to be vulnerable especially with my family and dear friends.  While frightening and difficult at first, it has become easier as time progresses. 

I have a friend whom, along with his wonderful family, has more or less adopted me this year.  They have filled many of my weekends with laughter and happiness, not to mention wonderful meals.  (Being a fat man, that is something very dear to me!)  I am very grateful for their friendship and told them so last time I was at their home and that I loved them all very much.  At first there was an awkward moment.  After all, guys just don’t do that these days, but then they each responded that they too loved me.
I am not going to go through life holding back anymore.  If somebody has touched my life or allowed me the privilege of coming into their lives and touching them, then I am going to respond with gratitude and let them know it!  I want to find and hold on to that courage to live my life in the strength of vulnerability. 

Living in my own shell certainly was not a life.  It was an unsatisfying and unfulfilling existence.  My choosing to love God and to love my neighbor as myself by being open and vulnerable to others has proven to be a much more rewarding life.  I know that is what Jenny did and what she would want me to do.

Indeed, her wish for me was that if anything ever happened to her that I would fall in love and get married again.  She said that I had too much love to hold that inside of myself.  Well, I don’t know about all of that, as she always brought out the best in me.  I will leave my path open to what God wants me to do whether that is marriage, should the right woman come along, or perhaps taking Holy Orders and entering the clergy.  Perhaps I will remain single and simply live my life loving God, my fellow man, and his creation as best as I am able. 

Regardless of the path that the Good Lord places before me, I am going to make dang sure I try living my life with the strength and courage of vulnerability.  I intend to try to follow the example Jenny lived.  It has taken me far too many years but I have concluded that it is the only way to truly live that dash between my birth date and my eventual date of death… to live a life of meaning and significance.  By doing so, I will hopefully have lived a life that will make my daughters reflect upon with smiles when my time comes to leave this earth, just as it has been for me with the fond memories of their mother’s life.  Jenny definitely lived the dash.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Real Cowboy Way

When I was a boy, I used to love to read Louis L'Amour westerns.  It was a simpler time for me when I had no doubt who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.  The cowboys that were the main characters in each of those novels were always tough, honest, and chivalrous.  In some small silly way, I think those books helped form my own sense of honor, and I am grateful for that.  Perhaps I am naive to be the age I am now and still often thinking in those terms, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the world would be a better place if more people thought and acted like my old cowboy heroes.

One of my favorite of those Louis L'Amour books was Hondo.  Now Hondo was a tough but fair man that came across a woman and her son that were unknowingly abandoned by the ne'er do well husband/father on their homestead right in the middle of Apache territory.  Of course, Hondo ends up teaching the boy what it really means to be a man and also inevitably falling in love with the woman. A few years later, I discovered that they had made a movie of the book staring John Wayne.  That was it for me!  It seems my heroes have always been cowboys ever since.

Cowboys these days are definitely a dying breed and there are darn few of them around anymore.  That is surely a damned shame, because I think the country would be far better off if we had more of them around. The several real cowboys I have had the great pleasure of knowing and counting as my friends are all men that love God, love their families, and love America, and in that order.  Each of them will look you in the eye and their handshake and word is their bond.  They work hard, love their women faithfully, and they love and teach their children to grow up strong, independent, and true.

All of that said, I think we can still learn a lot from the simple philosophies lived and spoken by the cowboy. Some of my favorite sayings and pieces of wisdom from this dying breed follows below.  Enjoy!

Find her, protect her, spoil her, dance with her and never stop loving her or someone else will.

The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with watches you shave his face in the mirror every morning.

Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

Keep skunks, lawyers, and politicians at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plough around the stump.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.

Meanness don't happen overnight.

Don't sell your mule to buy a plough.

It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You can't unsay a cruel thing.

Every path has some puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

Most of the stuff people worry about never happens.

Don't squat with your spurs on.

Don't judge people by their relatives.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Don't interfere with something that ain't botherin' you none.

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

The easiest way to eat crow is while it's still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.

If it don't seem like it's worth the effort, it probably ain't.

It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.

If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.

Don't worry about bitin' off more'n you can chew; your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger'n you think.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there with ya.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.

You can't tell how good a man or a watermelon is 'till they get thumped.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

Some days ya just gotta put on your boots and dance anyway.

Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

The only substitute for good manners is fast reflexes.

The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.

A young cowboy once asked his father, “Father, how will I ever find the right woman?”  His father replied, “Forget finding the right woman; focus on being the right man.”

What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.  ~ Will Rogers

Never take to sawin’ on the branch that’s supportin’ you, unless you’re bein’ hung from it.

Just because you’re following a well-marked trail don’t mean whoever made it knew where they were going.

Hard work spotlights the character of people:  some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.

Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.

Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.

Every cowgirl knows if you’re wantin’ to find yourself a good stallion, don’t go looking in the donkey corral.

You can’t fix stupid.

Life will change without our permission.  It’s our attitude that will determine the ride.

If you want to know what a man’s character is like, take a good look at how he treats those which are not his equals.

Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.

Friday, May 23, 2014

In Love of Beauty

Sadly it is very easy to find evil and ugliness in the world today.  Indeed one does not have to search far to find it. That said, it is also true that there is much beauty in this world.  That beauty is often evident in God's creation of nature and in God's gifts of talent to humankind thus allowing us to create beautiful works of art in paintings, music, and architecture.  There is also much beauty and love to be found in each other throughout humanity and our caring and loving for one another.  And, of course, there is infinite goodness and beauty and love to be found in God himself.  Indeed he is the very essence and definition of these things.

Instead of focusing on ugliness, despair, and evil, I am trying mightily to find that love - that beauty - in God's creation.  In doing so, I came across some pictures that illustrate that wondrous and transcendent beauty that is ultimately created and held in its very existence through God's own will.  I do hope you will find that same beauty that I see in the following pictures accordingly.

This is a picture I personally took several years ago from in front of the picture window over the altar of the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park.  I commented to some other visitors there at the time how it must be difficult for any pastor to come up with a sermon to surpass the beauty of this scene above the altar.  One older lady said that she was an Episcopal Minister that had preached there before and that I was indeed correct.

This is a picture of the Milky Way over the Anasazi Indian ruins at Hovenweep National Monument.  The stars anywhere on a cloudless night away from the small town lights in Southern Utah are simply magnificent!  They truly make me feel small, and yet very special, to be a part of this unfathomable universe God has created for us. 

Michelangelo's masterpiece, "The Creation of Adam", which  he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is truly amazing and beautiful!  Seeing this painting in person in the Vatican is definitely something that I would love to do before the end of my earthly days.

The next picture is of a coral reef and it is truly  breathtaking in it vibrancy.  It almost feels other-worldly in its beauty.  Years ago when I was in the Navy I was lucky enough to be stationed in both Puerto Rico and then Okinawa, Japan.  Both places had beautiful places where I snorkeled and saw just such amazing reefs and the life that they sustained.

A Monarch butterfly was flitting around in the warm Autumn sunshine when my wife noticed it and took this picture down by Capitol Reef National Park in Southern Utah a few years ago.  There was an ever so slight breeze and the warm sunshine was dappled on the ground as it was filtered by the huge cottonwood trees above us that lined our wooden path.  Among that scene, several of these beautiful butterflies would occasionally lite on the vibrant yellow flowers swaying in that gentle breeze.

The beauty of the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist  which was given to us by Christ himself at the last supper is something that sustains me and many millions of Christians throughout his beautiful world.  What could be more beautiful than a God that would lay down his life simply out of love for someone like me?

Another one of my most favorite places on earth is the serenely beautiful Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park in western Montana.  There is something about this place that simply brings peace to my soul.

The Italian Baroque master Caravaggio painted the "Incredulity of Saint Thomas" over four hundred years ago.   Thomas was told by his fellow apostles that the risen Christ had appeared to them.  Saint Thomas  in his incredulity stated, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."  A week later Jesus appeared and told Thomas to touch Him and stop doubting. Then Jesus said, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  This beautiful masterpiece is one of my favorite paintings.

The stunningly beautiful site of Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450 in the mountains of Peru. Visiting this location someday is definitely on my bucket list.  A friend of mine will be venturing here later this summer!  I am very excited for her and hopes she takes lots of pictures to share!

This world's beauty is also reflected by many of the people that live on our planet.  This picture is of my oldest granddaughter when she was just a baby.  She has grown up to be a teenager now and is one of the most beautiful people I know.  Her spirit is so full of love, light, and God's joy.  Those are the things that make her so beautiful.  That said, she is also exceptionally beautiful on the outside too.

When I was a boy and a teenager, I spent a lot of time camping and hiking throughout many wild and gorgeous places throughout the Pacific Northwest.  One of my favorite spots was around Mt. Jefferson in the Cascade Mountain range in central Oregon.  It was through my hiking and exploration of such beautiful places that I learned to love and come to deeply appreciate the natural wonders of our world that we must ensure are secured and protected for all of mankind to marvel at in future generations.

This is another picture that my beautiful wife took several years ago on our trip back from exploring the beautiful red rock country in southern Utah.  The clouds that day were truly amazing and seemed to be like giant tufts of cotton that God had just suspended in the warm Fall sky.  

This is a picture of another of my favorite places on earth.  (I know - I know - I have lots of favorite places!) I took this picture of Bryce Canyon on that same trip as the one from the picture above.  God's artistry as displayed in the beautiful sand stone spires, called hoo doos, is something that I have never seen anywhere else in this beautiful world.

Another item that I have on my bucket list is to someday travel far enough north in Alaska to be able to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.  I have always been fascinated by this atmospheric phenomenon.

The Pieta was sculptured by Michelangelo and depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus.  This solemnly beautiful sculpture is heart wrenching in its beauty and what it depicts.  There is a beautiful reproduction of this sculpture at my local parish.  Michelangelo's is in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Another place of beauty where I spent plenty of my teenage years was along the magnificent Oregon Coast. I have always appreciated the rugged landscape of the coastline throughout much of the Pacific Northwest far more so than the over-crowded sandy beaches of southern California.  God's handiwork is often on display in the rock formations and the crashing breakers that line the Oregon and Washington coastlines.

I never get tired of seeing God's painting of magnificent sunsets.  From my time growing up in Oregon to the present time as I watch the setting of the sun over The Great Salt Lake and the Oquirrh Mountain range from my back deck, I always feel a sense of awe and wonder. Below is scene of black-eyed Susan's in a field as the sun sets in the distance.  I don't know where this picture was taken, but it is a common scene around here and could have easily come from this area.

God has also graced humankind with many great gifts and talents.  Some of those talents have been used to make beautiful structures and works of architecture, in particular in houses of worship to him.  The below picture is that of the the altar at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  The superlative detail in the craftsmanship is truly beautiful.

Sometimes there is even a sense of beauty in the destructive and creative forces of God in nature.  Such is the case during an eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii!  While it would be unsettling to be close to this eruption, the beauty of it is certainly evident.

And finally for my last picture of beauty!  The Catholic Church teaches that God calls each of us to a vocation.  Vocation in this context doesn't simply mean a "job", but rather a specific life calling.  Those vocations are meant to impart God's graces and happiness for the individual that strives to live that vocation faithfully.  The vocations that one can be called to are to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders as a Priest, Deacon, or consecrated religious man or woman.  Further, one can be called to the vocation of lifelong sacramental marriage.  Finally one can be a consecrated single person.  

My vocation for the last 23 years of my adult life was that of a married person.  God blessed me with the most beautiful woman, both in her spirit and in her countenance, to be my beloved wife.  With her passing, I am praying and discerning which new vocation he is calling for me to follow.  I was blessed with such beauty in my marriage with my Jenny.  I am sure that whatever my future vocation holds for me, God will also bless me with much beauty to be found within it as well!  

Lastly, I pray that each of your reading this will listen in your heart to God's calling to find and live your vocation in order that you too will be able to see the beauty that is so easily found and evident everywhere in God's creation!  Amen!