Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why was the Tree there?

That always puzzled me. Why would God make something, stick it into the middle of the Garden and say to Mr. & Mrs. Adam "You'd better not eat it." When I was but a mere lad, I thought this was playing dirty on God's part. But then again, I was thinking like a nine year old* and was projecting what would happen if my mom put a stack of Hershey's Chocolate Bars and then told me not to touch them: She'd walk in 4 minutes later, catch me looking like Bluto with profuse choco-smearage on my countenance and ask "Who ate all the Hershey's??"

Which is kinda/sorta how God found Adam & Eve, with the added cultural component that they were buck naked, no less. I suspect that, had I had gone through the Hershey Scenario as described above and decided to top it off by attiring myself with one of the houseplants** and then blaming it all on some convenient reptile, the result would have been similar, except that the cops would have pulled me over and asked why a 9 year old was wandering around dressed in only a forlorn philodendron.

But what would have been explicit in the Hershey Scenario that is only implicit in Genesis is this: "That [the tree or the Hershey's] was not for you." God didn't put that tree in the middle of the Garden to tempt Adam 'n' Eve, any more than my mom would have filled a candy dish with Hershey's for to tempt my hypothetical 9 year-old self. Things were/are put there for a good reason, and it is wrong to assume that if something is in our sights we are somehow entitled thereto.

Because we are not entitled to a bloody thing. We must always be aware we are privileged, and these privileges are just that...not entitlements. To assume we are capable of being entitled to anything from God is to be so arrogant as to think we can indebt God to us, which would be an embarrassing position to be if one is the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

Also, instead of reveling in the eleventy gazillion privileges that God HAD given Adam and Eve, they got all fixated with the one thing that was kept for a purpose different than they wanted. They had peaches, plums, bananas, kumquats, loquats, soursops, star fruits, grapes, kiwis and mangos...but the only thing they wanted was an apple. Which points out our human tendency to ingratitude.

This all points to the wonders of Our Lady saying "yes" to God's call. Our Blessed Mother didn't fret herself with what she thought God owed her, or was ungrateful. Instead, she answers yes, and not just a plain "Yeah, God. Whatever. If it means that much to You...fine." but rather, the Magnificat, which is as beautiful and moving and powerful as any chunk of Scripture this side of the 23rd Psalm.

This just goes to show us that Scripture actually says more than we think it does, and God's wisdom in His revealed word is even more magnificent than we think and why we have to read it, but read it with an eye towards its deeper meaning.

Yours in Christ,

-JMG

* Or maybe a ten year old, I was advanced for my age

** Not such a hot idea, considering my mother's capacity for houseplanticide

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Plan!

After going over some tidbits I received on Jesuit pedagogy* I decided last night to go over my CCD syllabi from Years Past and try to structure something which I have found yields good results, in the sense of a framework with new textbooks. With some textbooks, it requires a lot more backing up and wheeling around, but nobody promised me a rose garden. Come to think of it, nobody promised me so much as a rose, but I digress.

It's really nothing more than a series of steps, and to each step you tack on the bits relevant and appropriate to the person being catechized. It also struck me that, in a way, catechumens are our temporal (instead of geographical) missions. As a Church we travel all over the world building missions, and in a different dimension, catechumens are the same. The practical result is to take the same measures with a guy in some rainforest, covered in mud and living in a hut made from the earwax of his ancestors and apply them (suitably adapted) to a child who gets dropped off in a Ford Explorer.

This is what I have figured out, and I ask anyone with whom I deal to feel beyond free--empowered, really--to add, subtract, juggle and tweak to your heart's delight**:

1- Why God?
2- What does God ask of us?
3- What does/did God promise?
4- Why Christ?
5- What does Christ ask of us?
6- What does/did Christ promise?
7- Why the Catholic Church?
8- What does the Church ask of us? Why?

In my experience, once you get someone to fully accept any premise (say, that Jesus is the Messiah) it makes it impossible to ignore the actions required by that premise (that we keep His commandments), which in turn puts us in position to receive that which naturally flows from accepting a premise and the action it requires from us (We will be in Heaven and all will be swell).

In my classes I had particular success with posing the question Christ himself asked: "Who do you say that Jesus is?"

If a student were to answer (and nobody has said this yet so I always ask in a rhetorical way, but you never know) something like "He was only a Really Swell Guy" that can be easily countered ("Do you think Really Swell Guys are likely to ascribe themselves divinity?") and the same would apply to every other plausible answer. (That Jesus was a loon, that He was a New Age Guru Guy, or whatever) This is addressed until the only answer is the obvious one: Jesus is the Christ. Students are usually pretty happy to have arrived at this point through the give-and-take of thoughtful discussion.

Until it hits them. THEY have just figured out that Jesus = Christ = Son of God. They had previously figured out that there IS a God. So now they are left with the dawning realization they may no longer plead ignorance and therefore they MUST listen to what Christ (or anyone of whom Christ speaks glowingly) or else. This makes them take a LOT more stuff a LOT more seriously. I derive immensely perverse satisfaction from seeing the faces of "Now what have I gotten myself into?" on the 13 year olds who have graced my classes for all these years.

So anyway, that's for mediation. (I try to plant seeds better each and every year.)

Yours in the Lord,

-JMG

* SAT word

** Do not take a red pencil--or pen--to this unless you have printed it out. It'll be murder to explain why you need a brand-new monitor.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Out of the mouths of babes...or, at least, my 7 y.o.

You'll be pleased to note that my oldest boy had his first insight not 5 minutes ago. He walks up to me, as purposefully as a seven year old with a mouth full of cookie can walk, and the lesson ran something like this:

Him: I know something about God. We're like a burger and God eats the burger.
Me: How do you figure that?
Him: Well, it's like He's the shepherd and we're the sheep, so we're the burger and he is the Guy eating the burger.*
Me: Where did the burger come from?
Him: [Making that "Duh!" face] The guy who EATS the burger also flipped the burger. This is why God made the burger, He made the burger because He wanted to eat the burger. And because we're the burger, we can be IN God when he has the burger. So he made us to have us be inside of him, like a guy who makes a burger because he wants to eat one.

This is all pretty cool, because I had a bit of insight related to Sacred Tradition when I was on a business lunch.

***********************Background Information******************************
A friend (who happens to be Catholic) and I were talking and she complained that some of our mutual friends (who happen to be Protestants) always ask her, on some point of Catholic belief, "Where is THAT in the Bible?"** This then leads to them explaining their belief that anything extra-Biblical is inadmissible for the formulation of doctrine. I gave her a few pithy quotes from Scripture to help her Defend The Faith and went about my business. The next day I had a business lunch. Here is where we pick up the story.
****************************************************************************
My client and I sit at our table and the waiter comes by and gives us our menus. He returns a few minutes later and starts talking about what's good today, etc., and we're only half-listening and half-reading. Then he mentioned something that sounded really good and my client looked up, puzzled and said: "Where's that in the menu?" to which Mr. Waiter Guy replied "It isn't. This is today's lunch special, the chef told me to let everyone know about it."

Which is exactly how Sacred Tradition works. It takes what's on the menu (say, pizza) and explains it clearly ("we make our own dough, and we only use real homemade fresh mozzarella cheese and...") and/or adds meaningful and relevant stuff where the menu is silent ("It's not on the menu, but today's special is mushroom ravioli. The chef got some wild mushrooms and it's fantastic.")

This is so revelatory (as opposed to Revelatory) that I was left marvelling at how God opens up my head and dumps meaningful stuff thereinto.

Yours in Christ,

-JMG

* I have no clue exactly how he made this leap, but still.

** Somehow, nobody ever gets around to asking me those things.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Eucharistic thinkin'

A while ago...November, I think, I attended a catechist's in-service. Said in-service verily kicked, um, gluteus maximus.* I derived much, much benefit therefrom. As is usually the case with me, I had to jot down what the HS dictated to me were the Really Cool Bits and then meditate upon them in prayer. Some random--albeit non-connected--thoughts on this:

1- "Communion" meaning to be in "common union" with Christ was prefigured in His being referred to in Scripture as "Emmanuel", i.e. "God with us."

2- Not only is God eternal, He is always in the present, that is to say omnipresent not just in the three spatial dimensions but all throughout time. His name, again, as mentioned in Scripture is “I Am.” Not, you will kindly note, “I Will Be.” This is why Christ HAS to be “with [us] always.”

3- The Eucharist is OUR Passover, where the blood of the slain Lamb saves us from destruction and its flesh nourishes us for the journey to the place God has promised us, just like He promised our ancestors in faith who were enslaved in Egypt, as we are “enslaved” by this world.

4- The way we savor something particularly yummy on our palate, we have to savor the Eucharist in our hearts. It is only this way that we will derive the maximum benefit from partaking. Once you savor something delicious, it spoils you for anything substandard, much like when you savor the Eucharist in your heart, with all that implies, you cannot BUT be changed. Speaking personally, my own weaknesses and sinfulness are cast in much sharper relief and my own sense of contrition heightened.

5- Since God, and therefore Christ, is always in the present, the Eucharistic sacrifice for us is ever-going. Not only did Christ give up His body and blood for us, He is ceaselessly continuing to do so. This is like the ripples of a stone tossed into a pond, which keep going towards the shore long after the event of the stone being thrown took place. The repercussions are felt long after.

6- We must remember we don’t have a “right” to take Communion, it is a gift. By its being a gift it means we cannot earn it.

7- The reason the Eucharist affects everyone differently is because—duh!—we are all different. But that’s not quite all. It affects us different because we are all different fruits in the Lord’s Garden. God wants us to bear good fruit, but he doesn’t demand that we all bear, say, apples, or mangoes or persimmons. Different crops grow at different rates. Sometimes the effect is near instantaneous. Sometimes it takes years or even decades. (Ask me how I know.)

8- While we read in Scripture the Eucharist was instituted with the phrase “Do this in remembrance of me” the original meaning of this phrase actually says “Do this that to keep me present with you” that is to say “that I may always be with you.” (A little bit of trivia there, courtesy of a long-ago Jesuit education)

9- The Eucharist, as a ripple-in-the-pond for Crucifixion, shows God’s love for us. And we have to remember that love is (or bloody well oughta be!) unconditional. If there is a reason for our loving someone (even God), if that reason is removed, then so will our love. God loves us “because,” not because we’re smart or pious or generous. He just loves us, therefore He made this sacrifice for us, and continues to do so.

10- Regardless of how the Eucharist affects us, the one common effect to all who are affected is the strengthened personal connection with God. After all, when we are in “common union” with God, we are “at one”** with him. Much like a blood cell, we become part of the mechanism of His plan without becoming our own independent entity. As a blood cell on a microscope slide we’re not terribly useful, but as part of a body we become useful towards the accomplishment of the body’s plan.

11- The way I described this to my CCD students is that when we are a connected with God, we are now able to “download” His grace. The better our connection (say, DSL vs. 56K vs. 14.4K) the better we are able to access all that God has in store for us.

Now you know.

Yours in Christ,

-JMG

* I'm so orthodox I have to work Latin in there somehow.

** Sorry to get all New Age-y.