Tag Archives: God

God is Always Greater – Not Your Average Cliché

By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

There is a cliché in the theology world, “God is always Greater,” which – despite being a cliché – succinctly describes a fundamental belief of the Christian faith.  St. Anselm’s said it a little differently, God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought;” a definition which is as famous for its delicate beauty as it is infamous for its logical vulnerability.  This simple description is actually rather remarkable; it requires us to hold that God plus all of creation, all of the contents of all of the cosmos, past, present, and future the we do and do not know about, that exist in our dimension of reality or not, all of this is still not greater than God alone.  God loses nothing at all if all those things that are not God do not exist; which makes the god of the children of Abraham rather unique among the deities/forces that humans believe in.

This idea the foundation of apophatic or negative theology; you cannot say God is something because God so transcends that thing you use to describe God.  Thus, you can say God is greater than whatever you want to say He is greater than and be right.  Obvious things come to mind: death, sin, evil, suffering.  Then there are less obvious things: definitions, images, desires, hopes.  Then there are things you might not think of: Goodness, Being, Power, Love.  God is greater than all of these; yes, even love.  Does that surprise you?  

It surprised me when I read it in Alphonsus Liguori’s feast day Office of Readings.  While describing the love God has for us, Alphonsus says, “By giving us his Son, whom he did not spare precisely so that he might spare us, he bestowed on us at once every good: grace, love, and heaven; for all these goods are certainly inferior to the Son.”  Alphonsus is utilizing an apophatic method here – if God is always greater, then everything else is always less.  Isaiah says it in another way, “who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? (Isaiah 40:13).”  That’s biblical sarcasm for you.  But the point is the same each time; you cannot tell God who God is because God is greater than you are.

Continue reading God is Always Greater – Not Your Average Cliché

Advertisements

There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

by Patrick Angiolillo

Earlier in January, the story broke that the popular book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,  written by Alex Malarkey and his father, is a hoax. The book, which details Alex’s journeys to and from heaven while  suffering a coma after an unfortunate car accident as a child, was all fabricated by the boy in order to garner attention. He publicly admitted to this fact in an open letter.

This story finds itself as one of the latest installments in a somewhat new (although, actually quite old) phenomenon known as “heavenly tourism.” This sub-genre of Christian literature (perhaps equally to be called a sub-culture of Christian culture) is probably not as familiar to Catholics as it is to some Protestants. But either way, it is a movement within the Christian faith in which people claim to have experienced a journey to and back from heaven in their lives. Another example than Alex Malarkey’s is  Todd Burpo’s. His is a similar story, in which Burpo experienced heaven while undergoing an emergency surgery as a young boy. The details are recounted in his co-authored book, Heaven is for Real, the veracity of which has been maintained by author and publisher.

Whether or not we believe folks today who say they have had visions, or out-of-body experiences, or other kinds of journeys to heaven is not really a doctrinal matter.  Nothing in their stories makes absolute claims on the Christian faith. We can, if we please, ignore their tales and go on professing the Creed in perfect peace…

But we are curious, aren’t we? We’d just like to know, wouldn’t we? Continue reading There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

Who Are You Trusting?

trust11

By Claire McGrath

Much of our human experience depends on our ability to trust. I’ve come to realize that the things that are most important to me, like faith and relationships, are built primarily on trust. Trusting is one of the most challenging things to do, because it requires us to take a risk; we must be courageous and bold enough to have faith in something that we cannot control. When we trust other people, we are open and vulnerable with them because we believe that they will love and value us despite our weaknesses. We allow ourselves to be guided by others because we believe that they will lead us to goodness and joy, even though we may not know for sure. When we trust, we reveal to others our true selves, with our gifts and weaknesses, our suffering and our joy, allowing us to forge strong and authentic relationships. When we do this, we are taking an enormous risk, because we may not know for sure whether the other person will still love us when we are being vulnerable and weak; we may not know for sure that they will lead us down the right path or reveal the truth to us. These are things that we believe because have faith in another.

To trust is one of the boldest things that we can do because, as I mentioned, it means that we must relinquish some of our control, and be willing to follow where another is leading us even when we cannot see the path. Sometimes this will require us to do or believe things that we may not understand, or things that may cause us fear. When I visualize trust, I think of walking through the dark, guided by a voice, and believing that this voice is leading you to the light, even though you cannot see the path before you. Sometimes we end up trusting in the wrong things—things that will only lead us deeper and deeper into darkness instead of toward light. If we are to overcome challenges, to grow into who we are meant to be, and to find our way when we get lost, then we must learn to trust the correct voices. This is a lesson that I have learned slowly, after some time wandering and straying from the path.

Continue reading Who Are You Trusting?

Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

by Patrick Angiolillo

In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.

Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1

While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.

Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2

A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3

What, then, is the responsibility of the world’s religions, and of world religious leaders in the wake of such attacks? How does our Catholic faith play into this puzzle? Continue reading Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Married with Children…and Ministry

married-with-children1 (1)

By Ellen Romer

Have you checked out Boston Globe’s new all-Catholic-all-the-time new site Crux? More specifically, have you read their piece by the married priest? Well go ahead and read it right now. I’ll wait a minute…

This personal reflection bursts with rich themes – power and authority, responsibility and accountability, faith and conversion, and the role of celibacy in the priesthood. I admit I initially clicked on the headline because a married priest had written it and I find the married/celibate priest conversation fascinating and important. I did not expect to come out of it realizing I have a lot more thinking to do about my own vocation to ministry and to marriage.

Rev. Duncan writes about priesthood and marriage/fatherhood as ‘two all-consuming vocations.’ While he focuses on his vocation of priesthood, I found that a lot of what he said rings true for myself and probably for many lay ministers. Ministry, in all its many forms, can be all-consuming. As I begin my fourth year working and studying at the School of Theology and Ministry, I see over and over again the great passion that lies in our lay and religious students.  The work our students and many others go into is not the kind of work that you can simply leave at work. Beyond explicit ‘church’ jobs, people in many fields – whether medicine, social work, counseling, and others – see their work as a vocation and more than simply a job. When faith deeply affects why and how you do your work, it also affects how you live your life. Little space exists between life at work and life at home; all of it grows out of convictions grounded in faith, remaining ever intertwined.

Continue reading Married with Children…and Ministry

Homily for the 21st Sunday: How Do We Live as Catholics?

Christ_Handing_the_Keys_to_St._Peter_by_Pietro_Perugino
Pietro Perugino

By Brian Niemiec

Who do you say that Jesus is? That was the first question I was ever asked in spiritual direction. This passage – “but who do you say that I am?” – is one that I have never been able to answer sufficiently. Peter had the easy way out, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” If I were the first one to proclaim that, I would have gotten the keys too. Now I say it because people told me. It isn’t a personal revelation, but a formula we have come to use in describing Christ over the centuries. Theologians and devoted women and men of faith alike have spent their whole lives cracking open this question. They have explored the question of humanity and divinity in Christ, wrestled with the great Paschal Mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and professed with faith the same words Peter spoke a millennia ago.

Yet, none of them have ever grasped the whole answer to the question. No one has said who Christ really is, and that is because Christ is more than we can ever possibly say. He is more because God is more. To quote a favorite professor of mine, God is always bigger than our image of him. God always surprises us with something new and different.

Continue reading Homily for the 21st Sunday: How Do We Live as Catholics?