Saturday, January 31, 2015

Matthew 17:25-27: Freedom and Conformity in Christ

“...But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?”
“They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them...”
-- Matthew 17:25-27 (NLT)

We are made free by the salvific atonement of Christ on Calvary and our faith in Jesus as our Redeemer. He conquered the world for us and saved us from our sins, death, and the enemy.  But even though we are free by His grace, we should avoid setting a bad example and offending others.  We can do this, moreover, by conforming in ways that are inoffensive to God and others.
This can apply to traditions of the church. Although we are liberated by our faith in Jesus and his sacrifice and resurrection, we should avoid offending others by feeling we are entitled to skip out on unnecessary traditions. How might this look in ordinary practice? When we know the church obligates us to follow a rule or precept, we should approach it not in the sense that the rule or precept will deliver us from sin, for Christ already did that on Calvary, but we should conform for the sake of the community and to not offend others.  Conformity, when approached in faith, can also lead our hearts to love more deeply.  For in humble conformity, we can put on Christ in our hearts, knowing that what we do in conformity we do for others and not ourselves.  And what we do for others, we do for the love of Christ.
Jesus tells Peter to pay the tax and not offend. We should, following the example of Christ and in the context of our conscience, conform and not offend.  Conformity, however, should not be at the risk of opposing an informed conscience and certainly should not be offensive to God.  We remember what happened to the Israelites that conformed to the idolatrous cultures around them even though God forbade it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Personal Commitment to Jesus Christ: Basic Christianity “Chapter 10: Reaching a Decision” by John Stott

“You can believe in Christ intellectually and admire him; you can say your prayers to him through the keyhole (I did for many years); you can push coins at him under the door to keep him quiet; you can be moral, decent, upright and good; you can be religious; you can have been baptized and confirmed; you can be deeply versed in the philosophy of religion; you can be a theological student and even an ordained minister – and still not have opened the door to Christ. There is no substitute for this.”
~ From Basic Christianity “Chapter 10: Reaching a Decision” by John Stott

Our faith life takes interesting twists and turns.  But if we truly commit ourselves to Christ, each bend in the road of faith leads us to God.  For Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (8:28).
Over the past several years, I have spent hours each day studying and reading about my faith tradition.  This study originally yielded the good fruit of initial conversion and a zealous appetite for knowing and submitting my life to Jesus.  But in that journey, in that depth of intellectual debate, I came up against problematic doctrines that I initially questioned but prayerfully submitted to in the name of “obedience” and a blooming faith.
This obedience, after some time and trial, started to internally gnaw at me. My personal life experience, reason, and moral conscience presented a challenge. When I prayed through these challenges, sought God's grace, and worked to be obedient, I found momentary peace, but continued strife quickly followed.  Several instances took place in my personal life that brought on spiritual hurdles, crises birthed out of doctrinal obedience. As a result, I hit a wall in my faith life. This wall, however, did not turn me away from Christ, but it opened my eyes to the indoctrinating paradigm of a Classicist worldview of faith.  I was trying to give my life to a closed-minded view of programmatic tradition rather than the Person, love, and community of Christ.
I was guilty (and in some ways I still am) of almost all of the things that John Stott lists in the above selection.  Although I did wholly commit myself to Christ and opened the door early on in my faith journey, I was trying to lead the re-creation of self.  I was, in effect, trying to work my way into the man Christ wants me to be. What I failed to see, however, is that it is Christ who does the work.  We are called to let Him work and to follow His lead.  
Letting Christ do the work and following His instruction can be a difficult task, and there are many temptations along the way, temptations that look like God’s will but are not.  How does this look? For example, in my wanting to submit my life to Christ, I might read a bit of doctrine and say to myself, I will follow this no matter what I feel or what those around me experience because of it.  If the Church teaches it, and the Church is Christ’s voice on earth, then it is truth. But in my experience, this can be destructive, harmful logic, a logic that ignores the “still small voice” inside of each individual.  It is not the voice of relativism, which many Classicists argue; instead, it is the voice of moral conscience.  That voice of conscience is the voice of the Holy Spirit in each of us.  It is a voice that is tuned to our specific life experiences, reason, logic, and well-formed instinct to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. It is not a voice to be ignored at the behest of authority or religious doctrine. Even the Church herself, in a clandestine way, teaches this. We cannot earn our salvation, do the work, earn the merit.  On the contrary, Christ already did and continues to do the work.  He did the work on Calvary when he offered Himself in salvific love to the Father for us, and it is Christ in us, through His Holy Spirit, Who, with our cooperation, does the work in making us adopted sons and daughters of God.  
We have to let Jesus in and give Him control.  It is our choice. Giving Christ control of our lives does not mean acquiescence and passive living, however.  We don’t say, “Christ is in control; therefore, I have nothing to do but stand still.” A life in Christ is anything but stagnation.  We are to love and live lives of self-giving and Christian witness; we are to let Him make us perfect as Jesus states in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Being “in Christ” means we carry the cross of discipleship and undergo the persecution of our witness in the world.  But the cross, although difficult and painful at times, is a light burden and sweet yoke (Matthew 11:30).

Have I arrived? Has my faith life reached maturity and fullness? Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But I have learned that in order to reach that deep intimacy and transformation with Jesus Christ, I have to give Him control, let Him completely into my life, and not think that I can figure it out by following a program or formula.  Although essential religious doctrines (such as the creeds, the Trinity, basic moral teachings, the commandments, etc.) are essential to living in the Body of Christ, anything outside of this is periphery to the centrality of Christ in our hearts.  It is sacrifice, intimacy, love, repentance, mercy, prayer, community, and daily renewal that brings us closer to our Lord.  All Christian virtue comes to us in different ways, but it is scripture, Christian reading, prayer, and by God’s grace, saying “yes” to loving God and others that draws us more deeply into a life committed to Christ.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Matthew 13:20,23 -- A Prayer to Produce Good Fruit in Christ

"'The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems ... The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest ...'" Matthew 13:23 NLT
A Prayer: 
Lord Jesus Christ, plant in me your Holy Spirit so that I, too, can produce your abundant harvest. Let me not be like seed on the rocky path, to which I sometimes feel. Instead, let the challenges and discouragements of religious tradition, as they die, become the compost that feeds the rocky soil. Draw me closer to you, Jesus, so that I can, in some small way, lead others to you. Let my roots grow past the rocks and into the rich soil below. The rocks, then, can serve as a weed barrier, strengthening and adding character to the gift of faith that you give. But I need your grace, O loving Savior. For without your love, all is lost.  Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

John Stott's Basic Christianity: Putting our Trust in Christ

“We shall never put our trust in Christ until we have first despaired of ourselves. As he himself said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” 
~ From Chapter 6 of Basic Christianity by John Stott

In the specificity of this passage, John Stott draws a direct bead on my initial conversion.   After decades of trying to live by my choices and only a conceit-driven faith in a sidelined Christ, I was slowly drawn into spiritual despair.  One day, I realized that I was afraid.  Fear gathered in me and despair about the natural and supernatural, life and death, and happiness and gloom welled up in me in a way that defies words. But I felt that void deep within my core; there was no mistake in that.
The Holy Spirit draws us to God through hints in our everyday, but, through the noise of the world, or what Wordsworth called “getting and spending,” the enemy is there to drown God out.  We, despairingly, turn in on ourselves and rely on our own conceit and instincts. True epiphany happens when we realize, and we all do at one point, that God created us to be powered by His love.  This realization, therefore, sheds light on our human failure to find complete, satisfying happiness by failing to seek Him with our complete selves.  We are, moreover, like a vehicle bereft of fuel stalling on the insufficient fumes of our pride. This despair opens our hearts to seek Christ and to put our trust in His deliverance and love. We were made in the “image and likeness of God” and created to love, serve, and be with Him for eternity.  Without Christ, we wither inside and slowly die. With Christ, however, we flourish and bloom into eternity.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

When Catholic News Agency (CNA) Refuses to Publish a Response

Paul VI was right to warn against contraception, Pope Francis says :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

   I always love to observe Pope Francis' faith and humility, and he is a such a Christ-like loving leader of the Church.  But the issue of contraception has so divided the Church that for the more historically-minded faithful, hearing the same references to Humanae Vitae and the echoes of condemnation of artificial contraception as "intrinsically evil" in all circumstances still drives an unnecessary wedge between the Church.  In this article, CNA quotes:

“He [Paul VI] knew the difficulties that families experience, and that’s why in his encyclical, he expressed compassion for particular cases. And he taught professors to be particularly compassionate with particular cases,” Pope Francis said.

    This statement emphasizes the compassion and mercy that we faithful need to have for those who, although in their moral discernment give prudence and "attend to" the ordinary teachings of magisterium, through evaluative conscious discernment and contextual limits use artificial contraception to plan their families.
    I pray that the Church be united in not only loving but accepting all in the Body of Christ, which is what Pope Francis models.

  • Note on 1/19/15: I submitted this response on the above CNA article page in the comments section, but they, for reasons not disclosed, did not publish my response.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Temptations: C.S Lewis and Choosing One while Condemning the Other

"...which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs— pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors."  Passage taken from Book 4 Chapter 6 of Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis.

Lewis points to an important overarching concept, for we are many times drawn into an oppositional approach to differing Christian points-of view.  For instance, the Church is clearly divided into two moral theological camps: historically-minded and classicist worldviews. Thinking one is a better approach than the other is a temptation, and not only does it draw us away from the truth contained in both sides, but it frustrates us and creates a closed-minded approach to a needed synthesis espousing the truth found in both points of view. Furthermore, many Christians argue that one religious tradition is more authentic than the other, but to exclusively side with one can make the other an enemy.  
Religious exclusivism is the same issue that come up in the early church between the Jews and Gentiles who initially converted to Christianity. In Acts 21: 27-36, Paul is arrested in the Jerusalem temple and accused by a person in the mob who states, “ ‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’” The mob wrongfully accuses Paul of leading Jewish converts away from the Law, a typical charge that even Christ becomes victim to among the Pharisees in the gospel accounts.  The question of adherence to the Law for Gentile converts is one that Peter handles at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15: 9-10 when he states, “... and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?”  Peter, in a vision given to him by God, declares all foods clean and that Gentile converts need not first convert to Judaism, for it is by faith in Christ and not the Law that saves all. But we tend to get it wrong and think our own views are on par with God’s. This leads to constant debates and murderous mob reactions among many who hold differing opinions about faith, even Jesus’ chosen apostles.  
C.S. Lewis accurately observes our fault when he says, “And he [the enemy] always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse.” When we become distracted from the beauty and saving grace of faith in Christ lived out in love, we sometimes focus on the errors of others’ faith traditions and develop an “us vs. them” mentality.  Oppositional Christianity is a lie and its pride-filled competitiveness for the “truth” does not come from God.  We are all in the Body of Christ and called to be unified by our love for God and neighbor.  Let us love each other and celebrate the common thread of Christ’s truth in all of us.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Acts 20:17-36 Paul’s Missionary Zeal and Example

Acts 20:17-36 Paul’s Missionary Zeal and Example
Paul asks the elders of the church at Ephesus to gather one last time with him, and he gives an incredibly moving, heart-felt farewell speech.  Throughout the speech, Paul’s devotion to Christ, the community of believers, and mission are inspiring and give all believers a saintly example of true devotion to the gospel message, a message that we can carry into the simple, everyday spaces of our lives.
In verse 19, Paul makes a statement that models the humility to which all Christians should strive. Paul’s life example is to “[serve] the Lord with all humility and with tears, [and endure] the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.” Paul, no matter what the obstacle, follows the will of God and serves Christ and community.  This model of discipleship is something all followers of Christ need to emulate.
In verse 24, Paul displays raw humility, a humility that we see modeled in the life of Christ.  Paul states, “But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.” Putting ourselves last and others first is a clear message in the gospels and modeled in the life of our Lord. Paul lives this message, too, for in verse 23, he acknowledges the dangers, divulged by the Holy Spirit, that lie ahead for him in Jerusalem.  This, however, does not deter Paul from his mission.   Suffering for the gospel and bringing the message of God’s grace to others strengthens Paul.
In verses 29-30, Paul warns the Ephesian elders about the threats to the gospel message from the “savage wolves” of non-believers and Judaizers. He further states that “some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.” Paul reminds the community to be on the watch for false teachers, distorted messages, and to never forget the love and formation he shared with the community over the past three years.
At the end of the passage, Paul reminds the Ephesian elders to love others by not only preserving and teaching the gospel message, but by supporting the weak and destitute: “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (verse 35).  Paul's life after his conversion at Damascus, was one of service to Jesus Christ and to others, no matter the circumstance. 
In essence, Paul sets the saintly example for us.  We, too, need this missionary zeal in all that we do for Christ and our neighbor.  We may not be, like Paul, traversing the world to spread the good news, but we serve Christ right where we are, in the common spaces of our everyday duties.  Our declaration of the Good News can come in the form of a smile, an attentive ear to others joys and complaints, or act of denying ourselves some comfort for the benefit of someone else.  Living the gospel can be deceptive in its simplicity; instead, many think it comes in dramatic form only. The opposite is true, though, and living the simple gospel message through small acts of loving-kindness is where we either most easily fail or succeed.  I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ grant us the peace and love of His grace so that we, too, can “[serve] the Lord with all humility.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Basic Christianity by John Stott: Chapter 1 Study Questions

Basic Christianity by John Stott
Chapter 1 Study Questions

  1. In what ways are the first four words of the Bible ‘the key which opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole’?

“In the Beginning, God. . .”  These first words of the book of Genesis indicate God’s initiative in all creation and in reaching out to mankind. We are not the ones who initiate anything beyond our choice to respond to God’s invitation.  All things are from God’s grace and His freely given love for us.  God has taken the initiative in all things: creation of the world and man, revelation of his love through the patriarchs and prophets, and our salvation in Christ. In Philippians 2:12-13, St. Paul says that we must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us], enabling [us] both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It is God who takes the initiative in us, and it is by His grace that we can love our neighbor as ourselves.

  1. How would you go about putting together ‘a summary of the religion of the Bible’?

God has created.  God has spoken. God has acted. The first is the creative act of God in the universe, world, and man. God speaking refers to the Bible, the traditions of the church, and the examples of extraordinary faith and love of the saints.  God speaks and acts through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Jesus humbly took on flesh and the cross to redeem mankind to God.  

  1. What differences are there between God’s ‘general’ or ‘natural’ revelation and his ‘special’ revelation?

    God’s “general” and “natural” revelation is for all people through His creation in nature, which give hints of His divine power and creative glory in all that we see and perceive with our senses.
    God’s “special” revelation, however, is something more.  It is coming to know God personally through Jesus Christ to have our sins forgiven, to enter into relationship, and to know his holiness, love, and power. This revelation was originally given to His people, Israel, through the prophets and later manifested to all in Jesus Christ.

  1. Why are these distinctions so important? ‘ isn’t enough for God simply to reveal himself to us in order to dispel our ignorance.’ Why not? What more does he need to do?

We need to experience God’s holiness, love, mercy, and inspiration in order to enter into relationship with Him. Natural and general revelation only give us a look at God’s creative world, but His special revelation gives us a personal invitation to grace, forgiveness, and faith in Him. We cannot enter into adopted sonship with creativity; we need to know God personally through Jesus Christ.

  1. What did Jesus come to do? In what ways does this make Christianity unique?

Christ came to deliver us from the bondage and alienation of sin. Christianity is a religion of salvation where God, through Christ, sought, loved, died for, and delivered a sinful world.

  1. Why is it so important for us to ‘seek’ God? What does this mean in practice? How do we do it?

Although God is waiting and initiating our finding him, we must make the choice to put aside our intellectual pride and moral self will and actively seek him.  We need to seek God humbly, knowing that God wants us to use the intellect and rationality he gave us but also to seek him with the humility of a child. We need to seek God honestly with an open mind and without pride or prejudice toward our own preconceived will. We need to seek God obediently by revising our ideas and reforming our lives to Christ.  We have to believe and obey God in aligning ourselves with His will. We must set aside all prejudices, sins, apathy, and pride and seek (and love) God with all our heart, mind, spirit , and strength no matter the cost. Our lives will radically change, and the worldly attachments we lose, we will gain a hundred-fold in Christ. We have to give God our full consent of the mind and will, and He will reveal Himself to us. Reading the Bible, especially the Gospels, and prayer are two primary ways to seek God.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reason Informed by Faith by Fr. Rich Gula: Formation of Conscience

Our moral choices are reflective of our personal character and vision, and this character and vision are directly shaped by our experiences in the world.  In “Chapter 10: Formation of Conscience,” however, there are two discussions of prime interest in how we form our conscious choices.  The first discusses how the media and entertainment shapes our imagination and values, thus influencing our moral choices.  The second, and more important, presents an analysis of several questions we answer in making moral choices, and it is here that I have discovered great wisdom and insight.
Fr. Rich cites William Fore’s book Television and Religion: The Shaping of Faith, Values, and Culture and how it surmises that media is usurping the role of the church in our lives. Fore’s ideas are even more relevant today with the role of the internet and social networks.  Fore argues, moreover, that television (and I would add internet and social networks) is the place where people establish their world view. Fr. Rich elaborates here by pointing out that even “family” shows portray a lack of marital fidelity, and popular sitcoms present characters that live the single life and use sexual innuendo to gain acceptance and elicit laughs.  These programs represent a world that is in direct conflict with the gospel message and rob us of the beauty and depth found in images and stories of truth in the gospel message.  Although there have been pioneers in television such as Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the secular, prime-time norm is a message of violence, self-serving behavior, and sex.  Fr. Rich, furthermore, discusses the world of advertising and media’s even deeper influence on what we see and how it influences both a skewed vision and our developing character. Our vision and character are influenced by the various experiences we have in our world, but we must strive to form our imaginative experiences, and those of our families, through scripture and the meritorious lives and teachings of Christian tradition.
Daniel Maguire’s The Moral Choice presents several important questions we must consider in forming our conscious decisions. Of all the questions Maguire proposes, there are two that make us think most critically about our moral choices.  First, is the why. When we consider why we do something, it should point to our motivation and reason for choosing to do our actions.  The why, in essence, points toward either the motivation of charity or something other than love. Honesty, Fr. Rich explains, is the ethical challenge that shapes our integrity that we face in approaching the why, and a “whole-hearted wanting is the only sound basis for our why.”  
In understanding critical moral choices, we must also look at the what if.  This, consequently, looks beyond the here-and-now to the extending consequences of our actions. The what if, then, is detrimental to the what and the why of our moral choices in that it looks beyond the immediacy of the choice to the impact it has on the future and any influence the moral choice may have on other future moral outcomes. Fr. Rich gives several pertinent examples including euthanasia and shoplifting.  Each, according to his argument, has ramifications on future decisions and can set precedent for more negative moral behavior.  An example Fr. Rich does not mention, however, but that illustrates the what if extremely well, is Pope Paul VI’s decision to uphold artificial contraception as inherently evil in his 1968 publication Humanae Vitae. Even though the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control established by St. John XXIII in 1963 published a majority report that recommended to approve artificial birth control, Pope Paul VI chose to side with the minority report and condemn artificial contraception thus upholding the papal moral decision on birth control in Casti Connubii in 1930.  Although this is one of the most contested decisions in the Catholic Church, even moral dissenters can at least appreciate the pope’s reasoning by considering the what if.  On p. 373 of The Catholic Catechism, Fr. John A. Hardon points to the argument made in Humanae Vitae that contraception “is inseparable on a moral plane from either abortion or sterilization.” The contraceptive mentality, many classically-minded traditionalists argue, ushers in an abortive mentality.  The what if in this case leads to a grave offense against humanity and life, and, in my opinion, is relevant to understanding the pope’s moral judgement on this controversial teaching.
What else is the next step from Maguire’s The Moral Choice.  The what else explores options that spring out from the morally dangerous what if scenarios.  Using the above example, the what else in this case clearly aligns with the Church’s teaching, which came out of Humanae Vitae, regarding natural family planning.

I am currently reading Reason Informed by Faith by Fr. Richard Gula, S.S.  While reading the text, I will occasionally share some of my notes and observations.  All concepts are taken from Fr. Gula’s text, but I have added my interpretation, voice, and analysis throughout. Taking personal liberty, I have skipped documentation and in-text citations.  Enclosed are my notes and thoughts on a given text and nothing more.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Acts of the Apostles 16: 25-35

From Acts of the Apostles 16: 25-35:
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer [129] called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord [130] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Narrating in the first person, Luke relates a story about irritation, persecution, imprisonment, prayer, and evangelization. 
In irritated frustration, Paul’s exorcises a demon from a slave-woman fortune teller. Her owners, consequently, are angered that she no longer can make them any money, so they take Paul and Silas to the Roman authorities. Paul and Silas are whipped and put in jail. During midnight prayer, an earthquake happens, the doors of the jail are miraculously opened, and the chains of the prisoners are unfastened. A jailer who was about to be lost both corporeally (he was about to commit suicide out of duty) and eternally is saved by the grace of God operating through His servants, Paul and Silas. Paul and Silas evangelize and conversion happens, not only saving the jailer but his family as well through faith in Jesus and Baptism. 
The jailer asks what he needs to do to be saved, and Paul is quite clear, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). Our justification is not about works; it is about faith in Christ. And it is only through the grace made available in this new faith that the jailer is able to charitably wash the wounds of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:33) and, "without delay," receive Baptism. 
Good things come out of bad situations when suffering for Christ (Romans 8:28). Paul is flogged and imprisoned in the name of Christ. He suffers bravely, prays, and is able, through God’s grace, to convert and save a jailer and his family. In the midst of tumult, there is rejoicing.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reason Informed by Faith: Freedom and Knowledge -- A Summary and Analysis

I am currently reading Reason Informed by Faith by Fr. Richard Gula, S.S.  While reading the text, I will occasionally share some of my notes and observations.  All concepts are taken from Fr. Gula’s text, but I have added my interpretation, voice, and analysis throughout. Taking personal liberty, I have skipped documentation and in-text citations.  What follows are my notes and thoughts on a given text and nothing more. Enjoy!

Chapter 6: Freedom and Knowledge: A Summary and Analysis
Freedom is important to the moral choices we make, and according to Bernard Hӓring’s fundamental option, we choose to live out our lives in covenant with God through Christ.  Through this fundamental option (or basic choice), we seek constant conversion.  Hӓring’s fundamental stance, additionally, is rooted in the person we choose to be and lays out the direction of our lives in Christ. In determining internal direction and commitment, however, we should not only look at our particular actions, for it is the underlying levels or buried depths of our actions that reveal the basis of moral conversion in our lives.  Deep within our hearts we choose, commit, and self-determine living through a loving faith in Christ.  This basic choice either reinforces or reverses the fundamental direction in our faith life and the moral choices we make.  Freedom and knowledge are two crucial variables in making right moral choices.
Freedom of choice, or moral freedom, is responsibly choosing because we want to and not because of an external set of rules or authoritative obligation. The “wanting to” is emphasized because it manifests deep in our hearts and provides true direction to our moral actions. For example, the prophet Hosea says that “[God desires] steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).  Cross reference this with the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:7: “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Through grace, true love for God is deep within our hearts; it is not reflected through obligation and the law of “sacrifice.”
Knowledge is divided into two essential camps: conceptual knowledge, or knowing concepts and facts; and evaluative knowledge, or discovering through personal experience and intrinsic appreciation.
Conceptual knowledge is tied into the classically-minded moral theology in that is focuses on immutable facts and deductive knowledge. Observable facts and demonstrated logic are the focus of conceptual knowledge, and it can be easily learned by rote and passed on through generations.  
Evaluative knowledge, on the other hand, focuses on the quality or value of the thing or person, and it is normally acquired through personal discovery, encounter, or experience. Evaluative knowledge helps us avoid the pitfalls of blind faith to which conceptual knowledge can easily lead. Whereas conceptual knowledge dictates rules governing moral truth, evaluative knowledge leads the person to discover, experience, and internalize moral truth. Conceptual knowledge, moreover, can lead us to the legalities of “sacrifice” rather than the true conversion of the heart found in the evaluative discovery and experience of charitable faith in Christ. 
Are both conceptual and evaluative knowledge necessary to reach right moral choice? Yes. However, an effective synthesis should acknowledge the rules and facts while carefully weaving in the discovery and experience of the person and their socio-historical context. We cannot ignore the teachings of the Church, but the historicity and anthropology of personal experience guide the teachings to an evolving, living truth.