Cozy Catholic CCD – Edition 2: Creation

One of my goals for this blog is to talk about the Catholic faith–not only how it is lived out in my own experience, but also the actual teachings of the Church, in all of their complexity, difficulty, and beauty. Once a week, I’ll post an edition of “Cozy Catholic CCD,” where I’ll discuss one aspect of the faith–and I will try to do it in a way that is conversational, interesting, and–of course!–in line with the teachings of the Magisterium. But I am not perfect or a professional theologian, so please let me know if you notice an error!

 

Guys.  (By which I mean, “everybody.” Ladies and dudes.) Are you ready?

We are going to tackle a BIG IMPORTANT THING today. I want to cover this topic early, because almost every other teaching is related to it somehow—so I want to be able to link back here in the future. Of course, that also means that whole enormous books could be written on this subject, and I’m going to try to fit some of the basics into one paltry blog post… So bear with me. We can only dip our toes into what is really a vast, deep sea of wisdom and knowledge.

Let’s talk about Creation.

And let’s start at the beginning. When you read, you begin with A-B-C; when you sing, you begin with do-re-me; when you talk Creation–“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And then there’s the rest of Genesis: the story of the seven days of creation, followed immediately by the story of Adam and Eve.

Let’s get one thing clear: neither of these stories answers a scientific question of “how” the universe was created. The Church is totally cool with scientific theories like the Big Bang (first posited by Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest) and evolution, which help explain the mechanics of how and when creation unfolded.

So what CAN we know from the Biblical accounts of Creation?

First: God is the boss of EVERYTHING. God creates the heavens, the earth, the waters, the sky, the sun, the stars, trees, the animals, people… everything! Out of nothing (literally nothing–not even empty space or a vacuum), God made everything. Historically, human cultures have understood that a creator has authority over his creation, so they would have read the seven days of creation to mean that God has authority over everything in existence. He is King of Heaven and Earth—nothing exists that is not subject to Him. (Fortunately for us, He’s the perfect ruler.)

We also see in the creation stories that God is the source of everything that exists. Now, the Catholic Church doesn’t mean this in the Deist “clockmaker” sense, where He is only the origin, setting everything in motion and then stepping back to let the world run on its own. No, our understanding of God’s Creation is way more impressive than that. We believe that God is the foundation of all existence—that is, everything that exists, at any moment in time, depends on Him in a vital and immediate sense. God is the originator, but He is also the sustainer: He maintains Creation at every moment. He has His eye on you right now—and it’s a good thing, too, because if He stopped actively sustaining you, you’d blink right out of existence. That’s true for every person and tree and sparrow, and every lilly of the field, and every mite of dust—everywhere in the universe.  He keeps us all in existence by His divine will. The next time you stop and stare in wonder at a beautiful blue sky, or a breathtaking landscape, or a piece of music that makes your heart sing along—know that God is experiencing that wonderful moment with you, because he is not only keeping YOU in existence to feel those feelings, but he’s supporting that blue sky, the shape of the earth, and even the very speaker in your iPhone that is playing the song.

Now, again, this is not a denial of science. It’s more like underneath science—another layer of understanding. In fact, another thing about Creation: we know from John’s gospel that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” and through the Word the world was created. God created the world through Christ, the Word of God. The Greek word for “Word” that John used was “Logos”—which does mean “Word,” but also means wisdom, reason, rationality. We believe that when God created through the Word, He did so in a way that is rational and reasonable. Creation is a reflection of the rationality of God. God makes things that make sense. That’s part of WHY science works: because the universe was designed in a way that we can study and understand. And understanding Creation leads us to a better understanding of God, the Creator.

So science is good and valid, but God is still The Source of everything and In Charge of it all.

Now let’s consider WHY God created anything at all? Continue reading “Cozy Catholic CCD – Edition 2: Creation”

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The Radical Notion that Children are People

Have you seen this article? It’s about a woman in Australia, Jayne Cornwill, who, after having three sons, travelled to the United States and paid $50,000 to guarantee that her next baby would be a girl through sex-selective in-vitro fertilization.

Now, there are a lot of sad and scary things in that story. Simcha Fischer did a really great job addressing them last week.  First, I hope Ms. Cornwill’s sons don’t know how disappointed she was in them; especially her third son, whom she considered aborting after finding out he was male. For another thing,  there is the tragic loss of the tiny babies that were discarded as medical waste during the selective IVF process. And frankly, I don’t even understand how this woman gets through the day since her happiness seems to depend so much on things going according to her own plan—my  own plans rarely last more than ten minutes before falling apart.

But today Dwija over at House Unseen wrote this fantastic little post about how our children are not about US all the time, and I wish I could send it to this poor woman. Dweeja is right: children are people, too! They are individuals, fully as human and important as we are, and they do not exist solely for the sake of their parents. They are not just our little helpers, they are not only our little mini-me brigade, and even when they ARE doing us good and teaching us how to be better people, that is not the whole “why” of their existence.

As Dwija put it, “After all these years it has finally occurred to me that God gave these kids to each other as siblings just as much as he gave them to me as children.  I am for them as their primary educator and caregiver, sure.  But they are not always for me.  Sometimes they are for each other.  Sometimes they are for their friends.  Sometimes what’s happening is a growth in their relationship with God.”

She’s right.

We parents are entrusted with raising and teaching our children, but ultimately, we are only their stewards. They exist with their own inherent goodness, and their roles in the world will be much grander and more complicated than we can foresee. They are their own persons, even when they are “our” children. We do not get to fence them in, to make them all about us–and we do not get to decide on their identities or their personalities.

Jayne Cornwill seems to believe that children are just another commodity that can be chosen off a shelf—do I want the blue one or the pink one? The tall one or the short one?—instead of precious individuals, to whom God has given an identity and a destiny all their own.

This is one of the most troubling aspects of language like “reproductive freedom” and “choice”—because the truth is, we DON’T really have a choice in who our children are. They are not supposed to be “just what I wanted!” Their dignity as people doesn’t depend on our wants or hopes or dreams. We can help mold them and care for them and teach them good habits, but a lot of their identity is just who they ARE—the personality and temperament that God gave them. We do not get a vote. We do not get a choice.

The choice we do have, is simply to accept our children for who they are, and to love them as hard as we can.

Cozy Catholic CCD – Edition 1: Saints

One of my goals for this blog is to talk about the Catholic faith–not only how it is lived out in my own experience, but also the actual teachings of the Church, in all of their complexity, difficulty, and beauty. Once a week, I’ll post an edition of “Cozy Catholic CCD,” where I’ll discuss one aspect of the faith–and I will try to do it in a way that is accessible, interesting, and–of course!–in line with the Magisterium. But I am not a professional theologian, so please let me know if you think I have something wrong!

For those not familiar with the term “CCD,” it’s the name of the program that many Catholic parishes run to teach the faith to children. Wikipedia tells me that it stands for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,” but I had to look that up because everyone always just *knows* what you mean by CCD, so no one ever uses the full name. Plus, the whole phrase is kind of a mouthful, right? I went to CCD as a kid myself, but the actual education I received there was… spotty. Lots of “Jesus loves you,” but not a lot of what else the Church believes. I’ve had to do a lot more reading to learn the rest of it–so I’m hoping to share some of the Truth with you!

Ready? Here we go. Cozy Catholic CCD, first edition.

It’s November! The month of gratitude, turkey, and moldy pumpkins slowly rotting on front porches. And for Catholics, since the month opens with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, it’s also a good time to think about the saints.

In high school, I had a friend who asked me what the deal was with Catholic Saints. For his Protestant church, “saint” just meant a person in heaven, but the Catholic Church seemed to have a more specific list. I didn’t know how to answer him at the time, but it turns out that really, the Catholic definition is the same! Everyone in heaven is a saint.

The saints in heaven experience the Beatific Vision–they see God face to face, and give him praise and glory. They also intercede (pray to God for us) for living people, to help us do God’s will and gain salvation ourselves. That is why we pray to the saints: we are asking them to intercede for us. Even when we phrase things more directly, like, “St. Anthony, please help me find my cell phone!”, what we mean is, “St. Anthony, please ask God to help me find my cell phone!” Just as we ask our friends here on Earth to pray for us, we can ask our friends in Heaven–and we know they are already on God’s good side, so we hope their requests are especially effective!

But wait!” you say. “We are still here among the living. How can we know who is in Heaven, and who isn’t?”

Continue reading “Cozy Catholic CCD – Edition 1: Saints”

God, the Universe, and Everything

I love this story. A Jesuit brother named Brother Guy Consolmagno who works as a Vatican astronomer is being awarded on Thursday one of planetary science’s most illustrious awards, the Carl Sagan medal. That is awesome in and of itself of course–astronomy is fascinating, and it’s great to see a Catholic brother being recognized for excellence in the field–but the best part about it is that it’s another piece of evidence to support the idea that the Catholic Church is not anti-science; in fact, it’s very, very pro-science.

To quote the Detroit Free Press article:

Last month, Pope Francis made headlines because he said that evolution is not in contradiction with church teaching. The pope, leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, said the universe wasn’t created by God’s “magic wand.”

Consolmagno said he’s constantly battling the unfounded perception that Catholic teaching is incompatible with science.

“There’s nothing new in what he was saying,” Consolmagno said of the pope. He noted that evolution is based on genetic theory, first discovered by the Catholic monk Gregor Mendel, who died in 1884.

“But so many people have bought into the lie that science and religion are opposed, so the pope has to keep reminding the world otherwise,” Consolmagno said.

Everyone remembers the dust-up between the Vatican and Galileo–and that was a mistake, no doubt. The Church changed its tune after a hundred years or so, and did eventually issue a formal apology to Galileo. But Roman Catholic clerics have contributed a lot to scientific progress over the years, as well, and somehow that seems to have escaped society’s notice.

There’s only one reality, and the truth can’t contradict itself. Science and faith need to complement each other; they reveal different aspects of the world, but they’re both talking about the same world. They can’t truly disagree. Where there are apparent conflicts between religion and scientific discovery, it means we need to do some more thinking and studying, not stick our fingers in our ears and start singing “La la la, I can’t hear you!”

As Catholics, we believe that God is the source of Reason, and that his creation reflects a divine logic and meaning. We do not side with the creationists, who insist that dinosaur bones are a demonic trick to deceive us about the age of the Earth. We say that science is good, because it reveals truths about God’s creation, and therefore can help inform us about the Creator. Studying the universe–whether looking at the big, interplanetary picture like Brother Guy, or studying microscopic organisms in a lab–is a good, worthwhile, Catholic pursuit.

Bravo to the Vatican astronomers in general, and Brother Guy in particular!