Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Catechism, Part 1 of ?

Q. What is man?
A. Man is a creature composed of a body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God.

First off, be careful with the word "Creature" (something that has been--duh!--created). Having said that, keep in mind that human beings are wa-a-a-a-ay different from everything else in creation. This is because all other things are either 100% matter, or 100% spirit. Angels and Archangels, f'rinstance, are "all spirit, all the time!" (sounds like a lame FM station motto) and sand is 100% matter; but humans have both spirit and matter, i.e., your soul and your body. (Mine too.)

Obviously, since God is a spirit and infinitely perfect, that "image and likeness" thing must apply to our souls, not to our physical appearance. I mean, really.

Q. How is the soul like God?
A. The soul is like God because it is a spirit that will never die, and has understanding and free will.


Okay...let's break these down into separate parts:

a) That it's "a spirit" means it really does exist, only we can't see it with our physical sense of sight. Of course, just because a spirit is invisible, that doesn't mean every invisible thing is a spirit. We can't see, say, air. Sure, we feel it or see what it's doing--like a windmill spinning or a kite flying or feeling ourselves breathe it, etc.--but we never see the air itself, right? Same with electricity. We see lightbulbs or computers, but we never actually catch a glimpse of the electricity itself. Interestingly, nobody (well, nobody SANE) denies the existence of air or electricity or ultraviolet radiation or atomic nuclei just because they are invisible.

So check this out, then: How can anyone say there is nothing spiritual--no God, no angels, no souls, zip, zilch, zero, nada--just because they they are invisible? After all, we really do have other evidence, far more compelling than any evidence our eyeballs could provide, that spiritual beings really and truly exist.

b) The soul will "never die," it will never cease to be; it is immortal. Stop and consider that a while. Now, if you are in the right place as far as God is concerned, this is a Very Good Thing. If you're in danger of winding up medium-rare after death...then, maybe not so much.

c) The soul "has understanding" which is another way of saying it has the capacity for reason. This gift lets people think about all their actions, and the reasons why they should do X and why they should avoid Y. With the use of reason, your soul is capable of thinking about past events and can make a reasonable assumption as to what might happen in the future. So...people can foresee with pretty good clarity the consequences of their actions.

In other words, people not only know what they do (or don't), but why they do (or not do) it. This gift puts humans wa-a-a-a-ay above the stars of Animal Planet in creation's scheme of things. Meaning people are not just plain ol' animals, but rational animals. Animals with (you guessed it!) the gift of reason. Now, "regular" animals have no capacity for reason at all, just instincts. If you wanna be all tech-y about it we can say people have access to upgradeable software, but animals only have hardware. We are like computers and they are like, say, blenders. Maybe toasters.

Animals follow the various impulses and feelings with which God created them. God made rules for each type of animals ("fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly!" or something like that). These animals just go through life following these rules. When we catch them at it (say, that cutie pie Free Willie chomping on an equally cute baby seal) we shrug and say "it is their nature."

Sure, it SEEMS like animals sometimes act as if they knew what they were doing, but that's not really the case. I, mean, c'mon, if animals could reason, the cheetah would have invented a far better way to catch a zebra for dinner than just sprinting after one, the same way cheetahs have sprinted after zebras since Day One. In contrast, people invent lots of things that were unbelievable to our ancestors...to say nothing of 10 years ago. (Remember--or ask someone old enough--about life before eBay. Why, blogs are only 3 years old!) One person can improve on the invention of another*, etc. But you never see animals trying this, oh nononono. The bald eagle, just to use a patriotic example, builds the same type of nests, generation after generation, without ever thinking of making any change or improvement in the nest-making process. No subcontracting the gathering of reeds, no hiring the beaver to gnaw some excellent twigs. Just the same stupid nests for millennia.

Furthermore, when someone teaches, say, a dog anything (sit, fetch, whatever) the dog can't teach the same thing to its puppies. "OK, OK, we got it...animals can't reason." I hear you saying.

So...even though someone has the gift of reason through which he (or she) can learn a whole lot, he (or, again, she) cannot learn everything through reason alone. There are loads of things only God can teach people. When God does the teaching, we call this Revelation. How could anyone ever figure out the Trinity using their reason alone?

d) The soul has "free will." This is another gift of God, via which we may do or not do as we please. Golly, we can even sin and disregard God. God, by giving us free will, will not force us to do anything and--guess what?--neither can the devil. We are free, and we may use this gift either to the benefit or detriment of our soul.

If we weren't free we wouldn't deserve any reward or punishment (duh!), since nobody gets punished for doing what he (or, of course, she) simply can't avoid. God will not punish us for a something if we weren't free to commit or avoid it. (We'll go over this later, but if you don't have a choice in the matter, it's not a sin.) We use this freedom for our own good if we do what God asks when, instead of doing the complete opposite...which is often a whole lot easier. This way He will be more pleased with us, and gve us greater rewards than if we did something simply because we had a gun to our heads.

Animals (again with the animals?) have no free will. If, for instance, turtles are hungry and you put Purina Turtle Chow in front of them, they will--duh!--eat. But people can starve, if they really want to, with an all-you-can-eat buffet staring them in the face. Just like a person can endure more, fatigue-wise than any comparable animal. Animals give up when exhausted, but people by strong willpower, can force themselves to move.

Ah...but I hear the clever ones out there saying "Wait! Didn't the lions in the den decline to chomp on Daniel (Dan. 6:16, for you keeping track) even when they were starving?" Yeah, but...they didn't not because they had free will and said:

"Gosh, Leo. This Daniel fellow sure seems a pious sort. What do you say we spare him?"

Not, it was because God prevented them. That's what makes it a miracle, right? When God stopped projecting His will upon them, these same lions immediately made a healthy snack of Daniel's enemies when they were chucked into the den.

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

This is one of (to paraphrase my oldest son) my very most favoritest parts. Let's break it down:
a) We have "to know Him," because we must know something before we can love it. An indigenous guy born and raised in some as-yet-undiscovered Micronesian island never longs to be at Lord Winchester's Wild Marmot Hunt, because he does not know of it and therefore can't love it. We have to "love Him." Let's say you see your wife (or husband). Inwardly, unconsciously you say "I love this woman!" (like in that diamond commercial...but substitute "man" if you are a wife and you wanna play along) and if you love her you will try to serve her.

Put it another way, if you truly love someone you won't--can't!--be satisfied with only doing the bare minimum she (or he) asks, but rather whatever we think might please her (or, obviously, him). We have to "serve Him." Think about how it was St. Valentine's Day just a few days ago . Most (good) husbands didn't go get something for their wives in the spirit of contractual obligation. Whatever the budget, the good husband went to the mall to find something he thought his wife would really enjoy, instead of just getting a gift strictly for the sake of not being accused of forgetting.

Same with God. We must first know Him--learn who He is from Scripture and other books and sources of instruction, from the teaching of God's faithful followers throughout history and today, etc. When we know Him, we inevitably love Him. If we knew Him perfectly, we would (duh!) love Him perfectly; so the better we know Him the more we love Him. Did I say "duh!" already?

[As an aside, you will note the exhortation "to know Him" definitely comes first, ahead of the other ones. A lot of times, people engaged in catechetical work make the mistake of trying to instill a love for God without this foundation. Don't misunderstand, I am not saying that striving to instill a love for the Lord is wrong or fruitless...only that one should make sure the necessary foundations have been laid first. Step one comes first and then step two, and all that. Remember, Christ explicitly stated the wise man builds his house upon rock and not sand (Mt. 7:24-27). To have knowledge of Him is imperative to loving Him. A "love" of God borne out of an absence of knowledge is only a mirage, let alone be able to stand. When the woman at the well asked Christ: "Lord, give me this water" (Jn. 4:15) she had the means--a spiritual bucket, if you will--with which to carry this water. If you have the means to carry the water He gives you, you will also have the means to take this water to others. So teach these others first, that they may also have the means to carry His water to yet more people who thirst. Just a thought. We now return to this post, already in progress.]

Since it's our main duty to love Him and serve Him on earth, it becomes mandatory (duh!) to learn here whatever we can about His nature, attributes, and holy laws. Now, we have all seen someone in this world, whom we have greatly admired, right? Still we don't love them perfectly; there is always some little something about them (that goofball grin, the way he or she won't stop saying "y'know" or whatever) that could be, in our estimable view, improved. OK. Suppose you had the power to take all the good qualities you found in the people you loved and smush them all into one person, and likewise squeeze out anything and everything that would bother you. Inevitably, you'd love that person a WHOLE lot.

But wait! There's more! What if that person loved you intensely, wouldn't it be the best thing--ever!--to hang out with a friend like that? Well, then, all the great qualities you see in created beings come from God and are His gifts. But even all the good qualities on earth (and of the angels and saints in Heaven) if you smushed them into one person wouldn't be JACK compared to the goodness and beauty of God. Therefore, it's obvious how good and how lovable God must be, right? (Duh!)

But what happens when we realize He loves us with a greater love than the one we could ever sunmmon towards loving Him? Even if we really, really, really and I mean, really tried?

Try to first know God and you will certainly love and, logically, serve Him. Don't settle with the little you learn about Him in passing, but read good books, and above all hear sermons and instructions and discuss with like-minded people.

b) "In this world, in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next." Because unless we do what He asks of us in this world we can't be with Him in the next. What happens to us in the next life depends totally on our behavior in this one. Think of a concert or a play...if you don't go through the hassle of getting tickets ahead of time, you run a serious risk of being turned away at the box office. "What happens next" is invariable the result of "what happened before."

More later!

-J.

* Sir Isaac Newton used to call this "standing on the shouders of giants."

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