Return to Simplicity

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a happy corner of our little garden

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si has caused quite a stir inside the Church and outside as well, with a focus on the environment and other related subjects. Because I wanted to understand it properly and comment on it fairly, I decided to read the whole thing. In the process, many of my presuppositions were challenged, but overall I was very impressed by the pope’s knowledge and advice. He demonstrates how many subjects related to human life and stewardship of the earth are interconnected and interdependent. Pope Francis challenges Christians to remember the example of St. Francis of Assisi in the way we care for others and nature, and in the process we must back away from the consumerist culture and embrace the true joys of life. I really appreciated paragraphs 222 and 223 of Laudato Si:

“Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that ‘less is more’. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.

“Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.” –Papa Francesco

There is much that can be discussed regarding this encyclical, and I encourage everyone, especially Catholic Christians, to take the time to read it and allow yourselves to be challenged in a positive way. You can read or download Laudato Si here.

For a basic overview of Laudato Si, read this article.

God bless!

-Ben 6/27/15


Recognizing and Curing Selfishness

Lately I’ve come to really appreciate the wisdom of Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons, as I’ve heard him on some great radio podcasts discussing subjects related to marriage, parenting, etc. This short video offers insight into an underlying issue that plagues many of us. Being able to recognize our weaknesses and boldly face them can save marriages and more. Obviously this is from a Catholic perspective, but I think everyone can ultimately benefit from it.

God bless!

-Ben 6/24/15


John Cleese Being Scientific

I came across these videos through The Underground Thomist, and I think they’re worth sharing. It’s time to balance out my usual blog subjects with some science. Enjoy!

-Ben 6/23/15


Theology and Sanity: Book Recommendation

As I write this, I’m in the final chapters of reading Frank Sheed’s 1947 book Theology and Sanity. With all of the books out there that I could be reading, I went out of my way to get a copy of this one… and I’m extremely glad that I did.

I got it thanks to Dr. Peter Kreeft’s recommendation that he made during his talk entitled “Seven Reasons to be Catholic” (available through Lighthouse Catholic Media). Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher who has written over 50 books. He’s a super smart guy. He said, “Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity is probably the best single work of Catholic apologetics in the 20th century. It contains, for instance, the clearest explanation of the Trinity that I’ve ever read. He writes with clarity, and power…” So yeah with a description like that I knew I needed to add it to the list. I made the mistake, however, of ordering a recent edition from Catholic Way Publishing which turned out to be rife with typos. Bummer. I’ve gone through my copy with a pencil making basic corrections as I read. Hopefully future editions from that publisher will have corrected the errors, but I recommend the reliable Ignatius Press edition.

Many of my fellow Christians are familiar with the excitement one gets from reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity for the first time. It’s the experience of seeing your own faith articulated in such a way that you want to share it with everyone. This book is like that, but for Catholics it not only explores the faith in a general way, it also dives into some extremely deep subjects with the sort of clarity that we laymen require. Sheed writes to the average person, making use of accumulated knowledge that has taken theologians centuries to carefully unpack.

As I tend to like orderly ways of doing things, I appreciate how Sheed starts with the necessary basics (such as the importance of theology and the proper mindset with which to approach it), and builds upon each subject as he progresses. We often struggle in understanding God simply because we haven’t been taught certain understandable truths about Him. Sheed explains how God transcends time and space, and how He is essential to the existence of everything. This book confidently tackles difficult questions about God that I would have assumed were best avoided. The Trinity is explained very carefully yet understandably. This alone is worth the price of the book, as it is very easy to stumble into heresy when not properly educated on the subject. The Trinity is an essential aspect of Christian beliefs that is not easy to explain, so make sure you’re getting it right. But Sheed goes further, explaining creation, angels, the fall of man, the story of salvation history, Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice, and His establishment of the Church and what that means for us. The more we understand these things, the better sense we can make of our existence. The better we understand real theology, the saner we are as human beings.

By the way, Sheed isn’t just relying on logic and tradition; he also bases his statements on Scripture and the writings of great men from Church history like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. He writes about life as part of the Body of Christ, and life after death; the end of the world, and what a life of grace looks like. Although this book was written decades ago, his insight into modern society may as well have been written yesterday. We see the hopelessness of atheism (nisi Dominus frustra: without God there is only frustration), and we see the slide toward sin (even among Christians) apart from well-established expectations, and we see the general unhappiness and spiritual sloth that develop apart from the Church.

What’s very satisfying about this book is how Sheed manages to tie these various subjects together in such a way that they build upon each other, so he can keep his explanations brief and flowing logically. It’s all basically intertwined, but it takes someone with an overall understanding to explain it properly.

Disclaimer: as easy as this book is to understand compared to many others like it, I still had to digest it in small doses (sometimes reading out loud while pacing with coffee) because it’s deep stuff. Our minds today are not conditioned to delve deeply… we lack the mental muscle so to speak. However, having said that, if you want to understand the Christian faith in a way that can weather storms, I highly recommend this book. Many people have their faith established in their hearts, but I encourage you to also have it established in your head. It’s worth your time.

-Ben 6/14/15

“This book contains theology, not the great mass of it that theologians need, but the indispensable minimum that every man needs…” –Frank Sheed


Why a Crucifix?

Many non-Catholic Christians have a hard time with the idea of a crucifix. They say things like “Why are you portraying Jesus on the cross? We serve a risen Lord!” Does a remembrance of the crucifixion take away from the triumph of the resurrection? Some folks seem to think so. I think it might be good to offer an explanation of why there’s nothing wrong with displaying a crucifix.

It is a mistake to view a crucifix as a statement that Jesus is literally at this moment still on the cross. Catholics do not think they are “keeping Him on the cross” any more than they’re “keeping Him in the manger” at Christmas time. If you’re a Christian who does not like crucifixes, take a moment to really ask yourself why. You may find that your criteria would also demand empty manger scenes.

Catholics not only acknowledge Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we place special emphasis on celebrating the event. For Catholics, Easter is not only a day, it’s a season that lasts fifty days each year. We do indeed serve a risen Lord!

A crucifix helps us remember and explain Christ’s sacrifice in a way that everyone can appreciate. It can be seen by those who are illiterate, touched by those who are blind, noted at a glance by those who lack an attention span. A crucifix portrays the climactic moment of all world history, in high-definition 3D.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with displaying a bare cross. Catholics display those too. Personally, I prefer the crucifix. Here are some reasons why:

  • The cross itself was a Roman torture device, which by itself carries a message that is less specific than a crucifix. We want to remember every day what Christ did for us on the cross. Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
  • The crucifix is basically the gospel message of God’s love for mankind, spoken without words. It’s like the older version of those signs that say “John 3:16” and it communicates the message of God’s love with impact. Sure the crucifix can be offensive or difficult to understand, but so is an all-powerful God allowing Himself to be placed in a humiliating situation, tortured, and killed because of His overwhelming love for you. Does this bother you? Good. You should be bothered.
  • The crucifix is a powerful reminder that keeps our faith in focus, lest we as Christians slide into despair, ingratitude, or expectation of too much comfort in this life. If we are suffering, He empathizes with us. If we face death, He offers us courage and hope. He endured the worst of it, for us, so that we can also endure for love’s sake even unto death.

-Ben 6/7/15


C.S. Lewis on Purgatory

Ben:

A C.S. Lewis quote for those of us who appreciate his writings…

Originally posted on I Must Follow if I Can:

I have enjoyed the works of C.S. Lewis for a long time.  Though often too deep for quick reading, he still often spoke to the inner depths of my self and made difficult subjects more easily understood.  So it is no wonder that the concept of Purgatory was easier to accept when I discovered he not only believed in it, but also gave a short explanation.

——————–

cslewisOf course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?

Space

….The right view returns magnificently…

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Good Movies: Part 3

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Most would probably agree that the best portrayal of Christ on film was Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ, and the movie as a whole is top-notch. However, because of the sheer violence of The Passion, I’d like to recommend an excellent family-friendly alternative movie about the life of Christ. Movies about Jesus come and go but Jesus of Nazareth is still hugely popular for many good reasons. I’ll share a few reasons why I personally recommend it.

First of all, the casting is extraordinary. The Virgin Mary is portrayed as strikingly beautiful as we would imagine her to be, and her humility and willingness to serve God are inspiring. Simon Peter is the burly over-confident fisherman. Joseph is strong and caring and good-natured. John the Baptist is powerfully outspoken yet saintly. Judas is treacherous but still human enough to remind us of our own potential weakness. Caiaphas the High Priest a dominating presence. Pilate is confused yet in-charge… and I could go on and on. Many famous actors of the 1970’s were well chosen for their roles in this movie. And of-course Robert Powell as Jesus is the stuff of cinematic legend.

In our modern times it can be easy to slip into the mindset that Jesus is our buddy. This can be inadvertently encouraged by popular portrayals of Christ that emphasize His humanity. This movie seems to lean more toward emphasizing Christ’s divinity, which is something that might make many people uncomfortable, but in the Gospels His very presence seemed to cause a healthy discomfort in the people who encountered Him. He came to save the world from sin, not give people a warm fuzzy feeling. He was probably rather intense considering His mission, and noticeably different from the people around Him (the piercing blue eyes in the movie help to illustrate this). While Jesus’ love is undeniable, we’re reminded that spending time with Him is not necessarily a comfortable experience. One of the main reasons I like this movie is because we get a sense of the amazement that we should have at the knowledge that God came to walk among men.

The Tree of Life (2011)

I watched this movie and appreciated it largely thanks to Fr. Robert Barron’s commentary on it. So I’ll just turn this movie recommendation over to him and allow you watch his video. Enjoy!

If you missed them, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my “Good Movies” posts.

-Ben


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