Archives for November 2011

Evil in God’s creation

Guest contributor:   Ed Trego

The presence of evil in the world has been a source of question and thought throughout history. Man has tried to understand how evil can exist in the good creation of God. St. Augustine, during his journey to Catholicism, battled with the concept of evil in God’s world. In The Confessions of Saint Augustine he wrote, “But being good, he has created good things. Behold how he encircles and fills all things! Where then is evil, and whence and by what means has it crept in here?” Still today, this question troubles Christians. If all of God’s creation is good, how did evil get here?

God did not create or intend evil. Created in the image of God, man is the only creature with the ability to choose good or evil. The free will of God will always choose the good. Man, however, is tempted by Satan, fails to withstand the temptation, and therefore chooses evil in many cases. This contradiction of the good of free will and the misuse of free will to bring evil into the world is not limited to man however. It is also present in the angels, whom God also granted free will. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

God could have created a world without evil. However, in doing so, He would have eliminated the gift of free will that He had bestowed on man. All gifts of God are good, including the free will through which so much evil has been done. While a world without evil may seem desirable, if there were no other choice, of what value would good be? St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “If evil were completely eliminated from things, they would not be governed by Divine Providence in accord with their nature; and this would have been a greater defect that the particular defect eliminated.”

While God did not create or intend evil, He can and does turn the evil done by man to the service of God. The story of Joseph, detailed in Genesis, chapters 37 through 45, demonstrates God’s ability to take an evil act and use it for good. Joseph’s brothers, out of jealousy, sold him into slavery in Egypt. God protected Joseph and, through His intervention, Joseph so won the favors of Pharaoh that he placed him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. As a result, Joseph was able to save his family from a devastating famine, ensuring the continuation of the seed of Abraham.

From the greatest evil ever committed God brought the greatest gift ever given. He permitted the murder of his only Son in order to raise Jesus from the dead and overcome death. Through the horrible evil of the crucifixion God brought salvation to man.

God does not promote nor desire evil, but he does use the evil in the world as a means of emphasizing the good he has created. For instance, the evil of slavery prompted men of good will and Christian value to strive for the elimination of slavery and the evil associated with it.

God alone brings good from evil; evil can never become a good and no good can ever be produced by man from evil actions. Man’s ability to overcome evil and to produce good depends upon his cooperation in God’s plan. He must make the free choice to accept the will of God.

Man’s opportunity to bring good rather than evil relies upon his acceptance of God’s grace. Grace is God’s favor, the free and undeserved help that adopts man into the family of God, making him heirs of heaven and enabling him to live as children of the Father. Grace allows man to reject evil and achieve the good which God desires. This grace, and the salvation it brings, comes only from God, through Jesus. In 1 John 2:2 we read “He is the expiation for our sins and not only for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” Only through acceptance of God’s grace is man allowed to participate in his plan of salvation.

In spite of the evil man commits, God desires the salvation of all mankind. His Divine Providence ensures that good will ultimately win out. Divine Providence is God’s plan for the universe He created. God is all good and his Providence encompasses all aspects of creation. As God is infallible and unchangeable, his plan for creation is also infallible and unchangeable. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us in his Shorter Summa that, “Since God alone is good by his very essence and all other things received their compliment of goodness by some sort of participation, all beings must be brought to their compliment of goodness by God. This, again, involves rule and government; for things are governed and ruled by God.”

In His infinite love and mercy, God offers man eternal life and salvation. Mankind must freely choose to accept the grace of God and respond to it in a positive manner if he is to bring good into the world. It is up to man to use God’s gift of free will as it was intended; to reject the evil and seek the good. Only through the free acceptance of God’s will and the positive response to His will is man capable of producing good and reducing evil in God’s good creation. God always has and always will desire the salvation of all mankind. It is up to man to seek the good, to reject the evil, and to accept the salvation offered by God.

Elsewhere: presidential grace

It has been a presidential tradition to “pardon” a lucky turkey before Thanksgiving. The tradition may have started in some form as early as the Truman administration in 1947. Regardless of how or when it got started, in recent times it has become an expected presidential action.

Such as it is, the president has the opportunity to address the nation. Regardless of the current political scene, he or she has a chance to reflect on Thanksgiving – what it means to both the nation and to himself. It is a moment to remember the sacrifice that made America great and the continuing sacrifice that is selflessly given. It is a moment to remember their own bountiful blessings. Most importantly, it is a moment to humbly thank God.

Turkey pardons are not addresses to congress, the UN, or a live nationwide audience. They are far less formal and polished. What we get are comments from the heart of our leader, an unguarded window into their unmanaged self.

It is interesting therefore, to compare this year’s pardon with that of the immediately preceding president. Both are professed Christians. Kathy Schiffer did this on her Seasons of Grace blog:

The difference in these two pardons was a metaphor for the stark difference in their presidencies. One is self-absorbed, clownish, mocking of faith, jokes about “luck” but forgets to mention “thanks.” The other — well, see for yourself. I’m including the video, which makes me really yearn for bygone days.

ONE WAY TO GRANT A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON TO THANKSGIVING TURKEYS:

  • Talk about the spared turkey as “lucky.” Note that your family, in a photo op, will deliver “unlucky” turkeys to a food bank.
  • Make a mocking, “funny” Sign of the Cross over the pardoned bird – an obvious disregard for the importance of this sacred symbol for Catholics and people of faith.
  • Disregard your daughters, standing beside you in bored complacency. Instead, focus your attention on the cameras.
  • Use the opportunity to obliquely criticize the United States Congress. Say things like “Some of you know that recently I’ve been taking a series of executive actions that don’t require congressional approval. Well, here’s another one.”
  • Use the opportunity to criticize the media. Say things like “They received the most important part of media training, which involves learning to gobble without saying anything.”
  • Never mention God, or thanks, or grace, or the American people. Never mention anything noble. Keep the attention on yourself.

ANOTHER WAY TO GRANT A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON TO THANKSGIVING TURKEYS:

  • Thank the men and women in uniform and talk about how proud you are of them.
  • Thank the armies of compassion – volunteers who feed the hungry and shelter the poor, teachers and nurses and pastors and firefighters, and others who serve their neighbors and better their communities.
  • Thank your wonderful and supportive family, and talk about the blessing they have been in your life.
  • Thank your wife for her love.
  • Thank your two daughters, “Thanksgiving blessings” some 27 years ago.
  • Express your thanks that your mother is doing well.
  • Express your thanks for a new son-in-law at the dinner table this year.
  • Thank the American people for the tremendous privilege of serving as President.
  • Wish all Americans a Happy Thanksgiving, and ask God to bless them.

Kathy’s piece is The Turkey Pardon: Metaphor for the Entire Obama Presidency. Thanks go to The Anchoress (Elizabeth Scalia) for spotting it.

I am reminded that one day the humble and the self-righteous will both stand in judgment. Some may have been powerless and others may have been kings, but station in life will not be relevant.

Happy Thanksgiving

A psalm of thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name;
good indeed is the LORD,
His mercy endures forever,
his faithfulness lasts through every generation.

I hope that you and your family have a blessed, happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Elsewhere: why Catholicism

Salesmen, particularly of more expensive goods or services, are taught to think about an elevator pitch. The concept goes something like this. Imagine you unexpectedly find yourself in an elevator with the key decision maker of an important prospect. You have been trying to get a meeting with him for months to no avail. What could you say to him to get him interested in what you have to offer, at least to look further, in a short period of time? How would you answer objections he may raise?

Along these same lines, what might you say about your Catholic faith if given a brief opportunity to present and defend it? I think it would largely depend on the background of the person you were speaking with. None-the-less, in general preparation there may be some points to consider for your arsenal.

H. W. Crocker III took a crack at this recently for Crisis Magazine. His list is composed of 10 points, in what he calls “countdown order.” Below is a shortened version of that list:

10.   Hope

Classical paganism, as we know, always ended in despair – a noble despair sometimes, but despair nevertheless. Eastern religions don’t offer much in the way of hope, as they are tied to doctrines of fate, cycles of history, and a nirvana of extinction. Reformation Protestantism is pretty despairing, too, with Calvin’s belief that it would have been better for most people if they had never been born, predestined as they are for damnation. Secularism and materialism are no better, as wealthy secular societies tend to have the highest rates of suicide.

But in the Catholic Church, there is hope. Salvation is open to every man willing to take it. And though Jesus warned His apostles that following His way meant enduring inevitable persecution and hatred, He also gave them this promise: The gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Even outsiders recognize this. Who ever heard of a deathbed conversion to Methodism? Hope comes from the Real Thing.

9.   The Inquisition

The Inquisition? Yes, let’s not be shy. The Inquisition is every Catholic-basher’s favorite tool of abuse – though it is one that is very much not in the basher’s favor. There were several Inquisitions. The first in order of importance in Catholic history was the Inquisition against the Albigensians – a heresy that encouraged suicide, euthanasia, abortion, sodomy, fornication, and other modern ideas that were distasteful to the medieval mind. The struggle against the Albigensians erupted into war – and a war that could not be carefully trammeled within crusading boundaries. So Pope Gregory IX entrusted the final excision of the Albigensian heresy to the scalpel of the Inquisition rather than the sword of the Crusader.

8.   The Crusades

All right, I recognize that this is another problem area for some milquetoast Catholics, but let’s be blunt: Do we believe in reclaiming the world for Christ and His Church, or don’t we? Medieval knights took that responsibility seriously, wore the cross on their capes and tunics, and prayed and understood an incarnational faith that acted in the world. It was these knights’ defensive war – and the defensive war of the Church and its allies up through the 18th century, for a millennium of Western history – that repelled Islamic aggression and kept western Europe free. For that we should be ashamed? No: It is one of the glories that was Christendom that in the Middle Ages the pope could wave his field marshal’s baton and knights from as far away as Norway – not to mention England, France, and Germany – would come to serve. Men were Catholics first in those days.

Today, because of Islamic terror groups, the West is again strapping on its armor. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our predecessors who were compelled to do the same.

7.   The Swiss Guards and the French Foreign Legion

Though only one of these institutions is under the direct supervision of the Vatican, both qualify as Catholic institutions that should warm the very cockles of our hearts. Indeed, next time you meet a Protestant who asks you why you are a Catholic, try telling him this: I’m a Catholic because I believe in the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church as founded by Jesus and His disciples and as led through the power of the Holy Spirit by the pope in Rome who is himself guarded by the Swiss guards of the Vatican whose uniforms were designed, at least some believe, by Michelangelo. If your interlocutor doesn’t immediately seek instruction to convert, you know you’ve met a hard case.

6.   Art

Certainly the famous literary Catholics of the English-speaking world – John Henry Cardinal Newman, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Siegfried Sassoon (who converted later in life), and Thomas Merton – have all played an enormous part in my own conversion and continuing appreciation of the faith. Even Catholics of an unorthodox stripe (like Greene) have had a powerfully orthodox influence on me.

Writing, of course, is far from the only artistic testimony to the faith. Catholicism has always surrounded itself with beauty, regarding it as the splendor of truth. In the words of the German priest, professor, and theologian Karl Adam, “Art is native to Catholicism, since reverence for the body and for nature is native to it.” The Puritan influence is foreign to Catholicism – just as the idea that smashing altars, defacing Madonnas, and breaking stained glass as a religious act is foreign, and indeed heretical, to Catholics. The Catholic Church leaves such Talibanism to the Protestants and iconoclastic heresies. The Catholic Church, instead, offers a celebration of beauty; and beauty, in our world of pierced faces, body tattoos, gangsta rap, and concrete tower blocks, is something we could use much more of.

5.   Freedom

Yes, the good old reactionary, repressive Catholic Church has been the most ardent defender of freedom in the history of the world – though it almost never gets credit for it. We live in an age of determinist ideologies – with the fate of nations and individuals supposedly determined by race, economics, history, psychology, genetics, or even – insofar as Protestants have any common doctrinal beliefs – predestination. The Catholic Church stands alone in radical defense of man’s free will.

4.   The Saints

The Catholic is never alone. God is always near. The Catholic remembers Mary. He remembers her saying yes to the Incarnation. He remembers those who have gone before him: the vast parade of saints whose personalities and attributes are so various, so free, and yet so devoted to the singular path that leads to holiness and union with God.

3.   Unity

When we affirm the Nicene Creed, we affirm our belief in the “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Creed does not say “many, reformed, anti-Catholic, Bible-based churches.” Nor does it say, “several nation-based, autocephalous, and selectively conciliar churches.” The Church is called to be one – one body of Christ, one bride of Christ.

2.   The Sacraments

The sacraments and the visible Church are another proof and nurturer of the faith. I am among the least mystical of men, but I will gladly stump up and affirm the efficacy of the sacraments, sincerely and prayerfully entered into. With Pascal I would affirm that one actually learns the Catholic faith by doing – which is why deracinated, prissy, critical philosophes standing outside will never “get it.” The faith of the Catholic is a great drama unfolding before God, and we are the players in it. There is the awesome reality of the Eucharist, God made flesh at every Mass, and our responsibility before Him and in receiving Him. There is the visible alter Christus of the priesthood. Even those sacraments that many Catholics find painful – such as penance – are powerful reminders of the reality of God and of the necessity of both our faith and our good works.

1.   Truth

Nothing else would matter about Catholicism if it weren’t true. But it is our firm belief as Catholics that it is true. And, indeed, I believe that the historical case for the Catholic Church is virtually irrefutable, as irrefutable as it was to Cardinal Newman. And there is something else. We know that the Church affirms that its members and servants are all subject to original sin. But while men might falter, the teaching of the Church does not. That has been our rock, tested through the tempests of centuries and undiminished through time.

Crocker is a convert from Anglicanism and author of Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church. His complete article What’s So Great About Catholicism? expounds on the above points.

BTW — Crisis Magazine is one of the best multi-author Catholic blogs out there. Check it out!

7 Quick Takes Friday (set #47)

This week: A stunning, beautiful visualization of life from conception to birth. Fr. Barron on just being a good person. Giving, why? New York’s ten year battle against “Choose Life” license plates (they are “offensive”). Milton Friedman on capitalism, more relevant than ever. Holy Smoke. Andrew Klavan’s take on the media and Occupy Wall Street.

— 1 —

Alexander Tsiaras is Associate Professor of Medicine and Chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale. In the course of his work for NASA on virtual surgery, he produced this stunning visualization of a baby from conception to birth (also the name of his book):

Spotted by Marcel

— 2 —

Faith is at its essence being good, right? This logic sounds correct to many, including many Catholics. Father Barron disagrees:

To place ungrounded ethics above doctrine amounts to accepting God on your own terms. It is a fundamental disconnect. Pray for the conversion of such people while they still have time.

— 3 —

A brief, powerful refresher course on why we give:

Spotted by Marcel

— 4 —

For TEN YEARS New York has successfully denied a “Choose Life” specialty license plate design, finding it to be “offensive.” Finally, a federal court has ordered the state to approve them. New York, the state in favor of unnatural unions and in opposition to life.

— 5 —

In 1979, world renown economist, statistician, author, academic and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics Milton Friedman appeared on the Phil Donahue show. YouTube has many superb excerpts. Here is one clip where Friedman explains why capitalism is superior to everything else:

Spotted by Matt Cassens

— 6 —

I wrote recently about the body, including how remains must be cared for. Scattering ashes, turning them into jewelry and the like is not allowed. Add to this list another non-option: Holy Smoke, an Alabama company that will turn your loved one into shotgun shells. I am not making this up.

— 7 —

I confess, I love Andrew Klavan videos. Here is his take on the media and their fondness for the Occupy Wall Street protest:


Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Thank you Jen for hosting this project!

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