The basics of any morality is “do good, avoid evil”. But, if we change the definition of “good”, then we can’t help but act in a way which isn’t truly good. So, the problems we see are really found in a morality which comes from an individuals’ faulty …
When I was a child, I had a very child-like image of God, which came with both positives and negatives.
I remember thinking of God as a wise old man, with a long white beard. He sat on clouds and looked quite sour most of the time. He was a judge who saw everything I did and waited for me to do wrong. When I sinned, He would get me back – one way or another. It was like a childhood idea of karma tha I had projected upon God.
On the other hand, God also forgave anything I asked Him to. He had all the answers and was all-powerful. This gave me some peace and comfort.
Once I took on an adult faith, I had to deal with other defective images of God I had taken on through the years. These faulty images have implications in how I act, how I see others, how I view the world, etc.
The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“There are three images in my mind which I must continually forsake and replace by better ones: the false image of God, the false image of my neighbours, and the false image of myself.”
All of us must deal, at some point or another, with our disordered views of God. Below are a few of the most common and the problems they may present.
These are only 10 of the many ways we can misunderstand God’s nature. The way we fix these problems (and others) is by continued conversion in faith, that is, we constantly seek to allow God to reveal Himself to us, through:
- Sacred Scripture
- The Sacraments
- other people
To be attentive to how God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us, we have to make ourselves available to Him and once we receive such grace, we must allow our minds and hearts to be transformed. Thus, we have to choose to act on His grace. In this, our hearts can be attuned to understand Him more deeply. Which is why the discovery of God’s nature is a never-ending task, even in heaven.
Yet, these revelations of God to our hearts can transform us deeply, just as when God revealed Himself to St. Augustine:
“Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.” -St. Augustine
Many non-Catholic Christians still hold the common misconception that Catholics are discouraged from reading the Bible. Below is some background and more.
The first thing we need to do is shed ourselves of our preconceived ideas. We take for granted now that anyone can have a Bible if they want one. Yet not only has this not been the case through most of Christian history, but it isn’t the case in many parts of the world still today (North Korea, Middle Eastern countries, etc). Remember that a majority of people during Christian history couldn’t read well, if at all. Most didn’t have access until books, even after the printing press, because of the high costs.
With all of this background, we can see that throughout most of the 2,000 years of history of Christianity, Bibles were not an everyday possession of most common people. So, the way they learned about the Bible was through other means – Mass, fine art (think stained glass windows, murals, paintings, music, etc), stories, and oral tradition. With this being said there are a number of “myths” surrounding the Catholic Church and the Bible. Here are 3 of them:
1 - The Catholic Church chained Bibles to keep the from the people.
-more accurately, they were chained because they were so valuable and a church might have only one copy. For most of the Church’s history the Bible was transcribed by hand (many by monks) and they were very expensive. This was not to keep Bibles from the people but rather to keep them from being stolen.
2 - The Catholic Church discourages personal Bible reading because they know that if you read the Bible for yourself you will find the truth behind their lies.
-This one sounds silly, but many believe it to be true. The problem is that the Catholic Church has always maintained that Scripture is indispensable to a Christian. In fact, the Church even compiled the canon of the Bible.
3 - The Catholic Church banned early translations of the Bible because they didn’t want common people to read it and know the truth.
-Rather, the Church banned early translations because they were done “unofficially” and without proper Church oversight. Most contained errors and the Church banned them because they were bad translations – just as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a bad translation today, filled with many errors, some of the deliberate (if only we were protected from some of the bad translations we have today).
There are many more myths, but what happened is that they worked there way into the consciousness of many people, even today.
Another factor in perpetuating the myth is the confusion that ensued after Vatican II in the 60′s. If you want to read about some of that, you can in previous posts I have made here and here. Suffice it to say that many problems in the Church were amplified after Vatican II, including Biblical teaching.
So, are Catholics discouraged from reading the Bible? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
In fact, here are a few pertinent quotes from through the ages about the Bible:
“Flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures.”
-Irenaeus, 2nd Cent.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”
-St. Jerome, 5th Cent.
“The church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fullness of the two Testaments.”
-Ephraem, 4th Cent.
“If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”
-St. Augustine, 4th Cent.
“Holy Scripture is a stream in which the elephant may swim and the lamb may wade.”
-Pope St. Gregory, 6th Cent.
“Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful.”
-Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 20th Cent.
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“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
Is this passage proof that early Christians were socialists? Many believe that is the case. What we can see from this passage, and from others (as well as historical evidence), that many (though not all) Christians lived in a form of society where belongings are shared with others in their group. But, one thing we must be very careful not to do is to translate the Bible into a political statement. Socialism is a form of governmental policy, not a statement on how Christians should support one another. Notice there was no government enforcing this form of society, it was purely voluntary. So, I would be careful to call it “socialism” at all – which is state-ownership of property and means of production.
The Church has never said that one form of government or economic system is the only one we should support. In fact, it warns against the evils that threaten the common good present in all governmental systems. What it does do is proclaim the truths that all governments and economic systems should adhere to. But, any form of government which is compatible with the common good is allowable.
“Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all. . . . Every human community needs an authority to govern it. . . . Its role is to ensure as far as is possible the common good of the society.” -CCC 1897-1898
The only form of government / economic system the Church has said is incompatible with Christianity is Communism. This is because it does not seek the common good and denies the basic rights of human persons; because Communism is an officially atheistic, totalitarian government, and by definition cannot seek what is good for the human person, who has as the greatest good, the search for God. Pope John Paul II wrote:
“the class struggle in the Marxist sense and militarism have the same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.” -Centisimus Annus, 14
The Catechism states:
“Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.” -CCC 1901
“The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.”Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.” -CCC 2425
While some forms of socialism, republic, and democracy are valid forms of government, they need to guard against seeing man as a mere means of production or as an end to a means.
One Catholic social justice principle, that is almost unknown by most Catholics, that I think can shed some light on this subject is call subsidiarity. That is, the lower-level organizations should not have their power usurped by higher-level ones. For instance, the family is the original place of education and that authority of the parents to educate their children should not be taken away by a local school district, state, or federal government. Those higher-level organizations need to support and help the lower-level ones, but not supersede their authority.
In the same way we are to support one another and the federal government needs to allow us (and support our efforts to do so) and then if it has to, be a safety net for those that “fall through the cracks”.
Therefore, we cannot see the Bible passage above as promoting socialism. But, it does promote generosity and helping others in whatever ways we need to accomplish that. One way is what is put forward in the passage – giving all we have to be shared with others.
“You should live your life in such a way that it would make no sense unless God exists.”- Cardinal Souhard
Never be afraid to ask yourself the big questions:
- Is there truth?
- Can truth be known?
- Is truth universal to all?
- Does God exist?
- Is the Bible reliable?
- Is God active in the world?
- Aren’t all religions the same?
- Who am I?
- What was I created for?
- What is the meaning of life?
- What is my purpose?
- How am I to live?
- What kind of life (vocation) and I called to?
- Why is there death?
- Why is there suffering?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why do good things happen?
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
- What is love?
- What happens after someone dies?
- How do we determine right from wrong?
- How do I go to heaven?
- Does God answer prayer?
Are you satisfied with your answers; and maybe even more important a question: are you satisfied with your life or is there something missing? Regardless, don’t be afraid of asking big questions, but always be ready for God to provide a big answer.
Never be afraid of the answer to big questions. You were made to ask them, and even more so, you were made to find the answer in a relationship with Jesus.
Fr. Barron hits a home run with this video, while he touches on some of these big questions.
It is a bit philosophical, but worth watching and reflecting on.
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