Some Random Thoughts on God’s Nature

•October 29, 2009 • 12 Comments
"So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God."

"So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God."

This post is just basically a bit of an info dump, some scripture and some St. Thomas Aquinas quotes.  Just things on my mind.

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent.” – Numbers 23:19
“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” – Malachi 3:6

“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” – Hebrews 6:17,18

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” – James 1:17

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, giving his first arguement for God, showing that He is the unmoved mover, a being of Pure Act:

“The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.” 1…02.htm#article3

More St. Thomas, regarding whether it is possible to know God:

“It is written: “We shall see Him as He is” (1 John 2:2).

I answer that, Since everything is knowable according as it is actual, God, Who is pure act without any admixture of potentiality, is in Himself supremely knowable. But what is supremely knowable in itself, may not be knowable to a particular intellect, on account of the excess of the intelligible object above the intellect; as, for example, the sun, which is supremely visible, cannot be seen by the bat by reason of its excess of light.

Therefore some who considered this, held that no created intellect can see the essence of God. This opinion, however, is not tenable. For as the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest function, which is the operation of his intellect; if we suppose that the created intellect could never see God, it would either never attain to beatitude, or its beatitude would consist in something else beside God; which is opposed to faith. For the ultimate perfection of the rational creature is to be found in that which is the principle of its being; since a thing is perfect so far as it attains to its principle. Further the same opinion is also against reason. For there resides in every man a natural desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees; and thence arises wonder in men. But if the intellect of the rational creature could not reach so far as to the first cause of things, the natural desire would remain void.

Hence it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God.”

More St. Thomas, regarding change in God:

“I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable.

First, because it was shown above that there is some first being, whom we call God; and that this first being must be pure act, without the admixture of any potentiality, for the reason that, absolutely, potentiality is posterior to act. Now everything which is in any way changed, is in some way in potentiality. Hence it is evident that it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.

Secondly, because everything which is moved, remains as it was in part, and passes away in part; as what is moved from whiteness to blackness, remains the same as to substance; thus in everything which is moved, there is some kind of composition to be found. But it has been shown above (Question 3, Article 7) that in God there is no composition, for He is altogether simple. Hence it is manifest that God cannot be moved.

Thirdly, because everything which is moved acquires something by its movement, and attains to what it had not attained previously. But since God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously. Hence movement in no way belongs to Him. So, some of the ancients, constrained, as it were, by the truth, decided that the first principle was immovable.”

Perhaps more importantly, St. Thomas on the love of God:

“It is written: “God is love” (John 4:16).

I answer that, We must needs assert that in God there is love: because love is the first movement of the will and of every appetitive faculty. For since the acts of the will and of every appetitive faculty tend towards good and evil, as to their proper objects: and since good is essentially and especially the object of the will and the appetite, whereas evil is only the object secondarily and indirectly, as opposed to good; it follows that the acts of the will and appetite that regard good must naturally be prior to those that regard evil; thus, for instance, joy is prior to sorrow, love to hate: because what exists of itself is always prior to that which exists through another. Again, the more universal is naturally prior to what is less so. Hence the intellect is first directed to universal truth; and in the second place to particular and special truths. Now there are certain acts of the will and appetite that regard good under some special condition, as joyand delight regard good present and possessed; whereas desire and hope regard good not as yet possessed. Love, however, regards good universally, whether possessed or not. Hence love is naturally the first act of the will and appetite; for which reason all the other appetite movements presuppose love, as their root and origin. For nobody desires anything nor rejoices in anything, except as a good that is loved: nor is anything an object of hate except as opposed to the object of love. Similarly, it is clear that sorrow, and other things like to it, must be referred to love as to their first principle. Hence, in whomsoever there is will and appetite, there must also be love: since if the first is wanting, all that follows is also wanting. Now it has been shown that will is in God (19, 1), and hence we must attribute love to Him.”

And more on love, because it is awesome:

“It is said (Wisdom 11:25): “Thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made.”

I answer that, God loves all existing things. For all existing things, in so far as they exist, are good, since the existence of a thing is itself a good; and likewise, whatever perfection it possesses. Now it has been shown above (Question 19, Article 4) that God’s will is the causeof all things. It must needs be, therefore, that a thing has existence, or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. To every existing thing, then, God wills some good. Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists. Yet not as we love. Because since our will is not the cause of the goodness of things, but is moved by it as by its object, our love, whereby we will good to anything, is not the cause of its goodness; but conversely its goodness, whether real or imaginary, calls forth our love, by which we will that it should preserve the good it has, and receive besides the good it has not, and to this end we direct our actions: whereas the love of God infuses and creates goodness.”

In conclusion: God is pure act, without any potentiality, yet he is not static and is a knowable, personal and loving God. This is the account of the Bible as well as the philosophers. Pascal was wrong: The Unmoved Mover is Love, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the great I AM THAT I AM.


The Man Who Would Be Küng

•October 24, 2009 • 5 Comments
The Man Who Would Be Küng

The Man Who Would Be Küng

Long time, no post.  I think I’m pretty much done doing what I started doing on this blog, but I think I might post more random thoughts of mine here in the future, so if you’re interested you can read them.  I was received fully into the Sacramental life of the Catholic Church on April 11 of this year, and have been regularly practicing ever since.  Deo gratias!

Anyways, my roomate read me this bit from Phillip Trower’s book “Turmoil & Truth: The Historical Roots of the Modern Crisis in the Catholic Church” (p. 25, footnotes 7 and 8 ) ( and I felt like sharing, especially as it plays into conversations I’ve had with my Reformed friends vis a vis Church discipline.  It really sheds a lot of light on what the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been up to the last half century, especially as concerns dissent.  Based on what I’ve heard and read elsewhere, the way the Church has dialoged with others these past 60 years has much in common with the approach Poland always took to religious dissenters and minorities.  This is, for the most part, a good thing in my book.

“7. There seems to be reason to think that at the time of the Council the highest authorities were persuaded that had Luther not been excommunicated, the reformation would never have happened.  A little more dialogue and Luther and his followers would have returned to the fold.  This would explain the handling of Fr. Hans Küng.  Ironically, Fr. Küng has shown every sign of wanting to be a new Luther.  He has done everything in his power to get himself excommunicated.  However the Holy See seems equally determined not to oblige him.  he must be a deeply disappointed man.

8.Explaining the new policy over a decade and a half ago, the then secretary of a Roman congregation (now the cardinal prefect of a different one), told the author that, rather than condemning errors, the Holy See today preferred to ‘swamp errors with truth’, or in the words of John Paul II to André Frossard, allow ‘error to destroy itself’ (Catholic World Report, Nov. 1995).  This is simply an extension of Pope John’s principle ‘it is better to use the means of mercy than of condemnation’.  Most Catholics thought Pope John was talking about its use at the Council.  They did not realize the principle would continue to be applied more or less indefinitely.  However, Cardinal Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI for those keeping track] has thrown the clearest light on the origins of the new policy in his Principles of Catholic Theology (Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 229: German original, 1982).  After speaking of the ‘great tension and turmoil’ in the Church, of the demand by many of the faithful for ‘a clear drawing of lines’, and the inability of “the Pope and bishops as yet to decide in favor of such an action’, he attributes it to ‘the resentment that has grown up in the last half century because of innumerable faulty decisions, and above all because of the too narrow handling of Church discipline (in the past)’, a resentment he describes as ‘like an inward-growing boil on the ecclesial conscience’ that ‘ has created an allergy to condemnation, from which we can more readily expect an increase of the ill than its cure’.  As to whether truth wil succeed in swamping error in the long run, the cardinal [now Pope] confines himself to the cautious statement ‘we shall have to see whether…this approach to discipline in matters of doctrine can serve as a model for the future.'”

I would like to note that since becoming Pope, Benedict has in fact continued along similar lines in terms of discipline.  “Always proposing, never imposing”.  Hans Küng is still not excommunicated, and no other mass excommunications seem imminent.

Experiencing the Real Presence

•August 29, 2008 • 2 Comments


Apologies dear reader, I appear to have gotten ahead of myself in my what I said at the end of the last post. The post about the Blessed Virgin will have to wait. Much more important in the cosmic scheme, and chronologically antecedent, is the story of the first time I attended Mass.

Now I had established for that I had no choice spiritually or intellectually but to enter the Church, and still I had no idea what that meant, really. I was still unsure about what exactly I was supposed to be doing, but I came to the conclusion that I should probably attend an actual Catholic Mass. So on Sunday evening the week after the Walk for Life, I nervously made my way to Newman Hall in Berkeley around 9 PM.

I sat on the couches in the reception area for about half an hour, reading my Bible and wrestling with my innate discomfort with attending a Catholic Mass. I had already felt the moving of the Spirit in the Church (indeed, within the very Parish I sat in), I had intellectually explored the Churches claims and found them impregnable, I had seen private Catholic devotions up close and felt a tug in my heart.

Yet for all this, still the Mass frightened me, set me on edge. I had been raised to believe that the Mass itself was a blasphemy against God, a re-Crucifixion of Christ that spit upon the Gospel. I no longer believed that to be the case, but there was a deep place in my gut where I still felt primordial disgust at the thought of attending a Catholic Mass.

I knew the Mass started at ten, so I made God an offer. If someone I knew came up to me and asked me to enter the sanctuary, I would take that as a sign and enter in peace. I felt relieved after making this promise, as the part of me that wanted to avoid going in to Mass thought there was little to no chance of that happening, even though I did know some parishioners at Newman.

I paced up and down the hall slowly, examining the pictures and icons up for display, appreciating their finer details. The clock ticked on towards 10, and I had seen no-one that I knew. I was conflicted, on one hand I wanted to attend Mass and knew that I should, but I was strangely glad at the idea of being able to avoid it. Then, something exceptional happened. The sign I had asked for came to pass, and from a completely unexpected source.

Someone I vaguely recognized walked up and expressed surprise to see me there, and I explained that I was visiting for the first time. I couldn’t place her at first, so we quickly reintroduced ourselves. Her name was Andrea, and she was the friend of a good friend I had hung out with a couple times in the past. She invited me to come on in to the service that was about to start up, and so in we went.

I was flabbergasted that my ploy to avoid going to Mass through asking for a sign actually resulted in being given the requested sign, but I’ve learned to not be surprised when that sort of thing happens.

The Mass itself was life-changing. The sanctuary was lit only by candles, lending an air of mystery. The music was lead by a man with a guitar to the far left side of the sanctuary. It was bewildering following along with the congregation who knew the liturgy by heart, including when to sit, stand, or kneel.

One of the charges leveled at the Catholic Church by Evangelical Protestants is that one “never hears the Gospel” being preached, especially from ex-Catholics with axes to grind. I had not seen this to be the case in the case of Catholics I knew, or in Catholic writings I had read. At the Mass, however, I was overwhelmed by the sheer presence of the Gospel in the liturgy, from the scripture readings, the homily, the Creed, the prayers, and most especially the consecration of the Host and communion. The whole Mass, from beginning to end, was a testimony to the Gospel. I could not, and still cannot, understand how anybody could look at the liturgy and see anything other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed and glorified.

Now, I mentioned in an earlier entry how I had mocked my friend Amanda for the Catholic belief in Transubstantiation. By the point I had actually decided to attend Mass, I no longer thought of it as a silly doctrine, and assented to it intellectually, but I didn’t believe it fully. I cannot explain what I sensed when kneeling during the prayer of consecration, but I knew that the elements had been changed, that the power of God had indeed descended upon the bread and wine. I came in with an intellectual agreement with the concept, but I left with sure faith in the reality of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, an experience that is validated whenever I attend Mass.

I went up and received the blessing from the priest, and felt profound peace and grace from the experience. The priest blessed us and sent us forth. I’ve attended Mass many times since then, and while it is always a deeply enriching experience, I will not ever forget going for the first time, and the providence I encountered.

Next time, we shall discuss the Blessed Virgin.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni Per Mariam

Encountering the Culture of Life

•August 19, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Okay, so I haven’t updated in a while. I blame the Latin course I took in July, combined with procrastination. So, I’ll try to continue the story where I left off. This piece will probably be a bit rambley, being more a report on my reaction to encountering Catholicism in reality rather than in theory.

In January of 2008, I found myself in a very weird place. I had come to an intellectual decision about the Catholic Church, but I didn’t know what to do. I had talked with a few of my friends about the Church, but had no real idea what becoming a Catholic would actually mean. I now knew the arguments about the Catholic faith from both sides, and saw the Catholic side as true, indeed as the Truth. My world was upside down, left was right, cats lived with dogs. I was, in short, confused.

After my encounter with her family on Mardis Gras, I hung out with Mary and her brother John Paul around Berkeley a few times. We had some good random conversations running into each other once in a while. Mary and her friend Dan decided to check out the Berkeley poetry scene, where I’ve had some minor involvement over the past couple years, so I saw them around a couple of times. Every once in a while, she would send out invites to events for social causes, which I usually supported in concept but couldn’t be bothered to actually attend. Always something more important to do, or I didn’t particularly care enough about the cause to be bothered to leave home.

So it happened that in mid-January, as I found myself wondering what exactly it meant to become Catholic, I noticed that I had been invited to the 4th annual Walk for Life in San Francisco. I had ignored it when I was initially invited, thinking it was far too much trouble to go to San Francisco. Now, pro-life issues were something I’ve always had strong feelings about, even in High School, but for whatever reason I had glossed over it as being somehow unimportant. Not something that would inspire me to go out and walk 2.5 miles, even if I supported it in theory.

It was about 4 days before the Walk that it suddenly struck me that this would be a good thing to do, primarily because the cause was good and just, and needed as much support as possible. But another aspect that occurred to was that Mary and her friends and family who I knew were going, were the same people I had previously had to grudgingly acknowledge as good Christians despite being Catholics. Now that my opinions about the Church were utterly transformed by my experiences, I needed to talk to good Catholics, to interact in reality rather than abstract theory. So I contacted Mary and asked her what was the plan for the walk, and she told me when and where to go.

I met up with Mary, John Paul and a few other acquaintances at the Berkeley BART station around 10, and Dan joined up with us at MacArthur. We chatted a bit on the trip through the tunnel, about the Walk, it’s young history, and John Paul’s native shyness among other topics.

Justin Herman Plaza was crowded, as can be seen from the picture above. 25,000 people had turned out to join in the walk. Coming in all shapes, sizes, colors, and tongues united in one purpose, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The main thing that popped out to me was the huge number of images of the Blessed Virgin Mary that were visible. For the first time in my life, I did not shrink away in horror and scandal at the sight of her. I saw it for what it was, a sign of love for the Mother of God, and hence for her son, Jesus Christ. I saw it as beautiful.

The speakers were decent, the highlight being Gianna Jessen, a young woman who had actually been aborted and lived. She has cerebral palsy as a result of the attempted abortion. Amazingly, she remains a very bubbly and outgoing person despite her problems, giving full credit to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her speech moved me, and I provide the YouTube link below.

After the speeches had been spoken, the actual walk began. 2.5 miles along the San Francisco waterfront, moving at a rather slow pace due to the huge number of people on the walk. Around 250 counter-protesters lined the way jeering and shouting invective at us as we passed by. People mostly responded by breaking out into devotional song or praying. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, surprising in January.

I walked along with Dan, Mary, and several of her younger siblings, mainly discussing the issues of abortion and contraception, but bouncing a bit all over the place. At some point, somehow, Dan and myself got drafted into carrying an unwieldy banner someone had made, which made us move considerably slower.

As I mentioned earlier on, there were many people carrying images of Our Lady. I noticed this more and more during the walk, and increasingly I felt the inherent rightness of it. This was not idolatry, this was the right and proper veneration for the woman who had carried the infinite God in her womb. One man was leading a prayer of the Rosary on a bullhorn, with the crowd around following. Even in my search through apologetic works, I had never seriously meditated on the words of the Rosary. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Hearing it repeated over and over led me to consider the words carefully, and slowly to begin joining the crowd in the response. It was my first experience actually participating in Catholic ritual, and it was profoundly moving to me. I felt like I was coming home.

My breakfast that day had consisted of a single apple. I was exhausted and loopy with hunger by the end of the walk, having carried the banner for a good half the while. Mary was kind enough to share a bottle of water with me, so I didn’t get too dehydrated. At the end of the walk, people dispersed to various prepared picnics and barbecues that had been set up withing view of the Golden Gate. I joined with Mary’s family and a few others and enjoyed a nice sandwich with them. At this point, I was able to unwind and shake off some of the exhaustion of the day. Afterwards, Dan, Mary, myself, and Matthew, a friend of theirs in seminary, walked over toe Barney’s Gourmet Burgers to more fully satiate our appetites.

Now, at this point, I had said nothing about my intention to enter the Catholic Church, nor had I actually told it to anyone Catholic yet. As far as Mary knew, I remained a convinced and staunch Protestant, with a deeply dismissive attitude towards Catholicism. She knew of my confused reaction to the Mardis Gras party, and how the Catholic practices freaked me out. Additionally, when I was having having dinner with a group of friends including her and one of the others was talking about his walk towards apostasy from the Catholic Church, I made some rather unsavory comments about how understandable it is for someone raised in the Catholic Church to reject its silly and pernicious doctrines. She overheard this comment, and seemed quite hurt by it. When we got to the restaurant, I realized that she had seemed wary all day about talking about anything Catholic, as she got very nervous mentioning a prayer request pertaining to the Church.

“You know, it’s funny that you should mention that, because I’m actually planning to enter the Catholic Church,” I dropped casually into the conversation. Dan and Matthew responded with a slightly surprised congratulations, but Mary seemed absolutely shocked. Immediately, she was grinning from ear to ear, seemingly flabbergasted at my unexpected change of heart. I don’t think she knew quite what to make of it, a reaction I have encountered quite a bit since, and one of the primary reasons I started this blog to begin with.

We went on to eat, and continued talking about many subjects, from science fiction novels to John Henry Newman. We parted ways with Seminarian Matthew, and the three of us used the fine mass transit system of the city by the bay to get back to Berkeley, conversing the entire way. We parted ways in good cheer, and I went home with the burning certainty in my heart: I was coming home.

Next time, I promise not to take so long to post. As to the topic, we will discuss the Blessed Virgin Mary, Most Holy Mother of God, and my warming relationship with her and the communion of Saints.

This is amazing

•June 30, 2008 • 2 Comments

Wordle is an amazing website. I highly recommend it. Here’s the Nicene Creed that someone made:

Here’s the contents of this blog so far:

And the St. Crispian’s Day speech:

I’ll be working on a new blog entry. Expect it soon!

Entering the World of Apologetics

•June 21, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We now turn our attention to the season of Advent in 2007. Due to my encounter at Newman Hall, I found my entire perception of the world turned on its head, and I hadn’t figured out what that meant. For several weeks I found myself floating along, trying to figure out what it all meant. I found my poetic spirit stirred, and started to compose more verse in my spare time trying to capture the essence of my dilemma.

Christmas rolled around, and I spent some lovely time with my family, both immediate and extended. I got a gift certificate for Borders, and used it to buy a book that I had heard good things about, “What’s So Great About Christianity?” by Dinesh D’Souza. Though I don’t particularly care for all the man’s politics, D’Souza is a lucid and erudite Apologist. His arguments were well formulated throughout the book, and I found myself agreeing with him all along the way. Then towards the end of the book, things got very interesting. He turned his arguments away from a general defense of Christian beliefs in the modern world, towards a vigorous intellectual defense of traditional Catholicism. And again, I found myself unable to disagree with him, or disprove his defenses.

I was shocked to find a rational defense of Catholicism. Though I had a mystical encounter in a Catholic parish that powerfully persuaded me of the spiritual dimensions of the Catholic Church, and had interacted with Catholics who lived out a Christian life, I still maintained the belief that the Church had no intellectual, historical, or Biblical foot to stand on in comparison to the rigorous Protestant faith. This book effectively challenged this, my last bulwark against the Papist tide.

To get to the truth, I started scouring the Internet for Apologetics, for and against the Catholic Church. Reading the articles at Catholic Answers, I was utterly shocked to discover that most of the reasons my father had taught me to distrust the Catholic Church which I had accepted wholesale (“Call no man ‘Father'”, the Sacraments, veneration of Saints, Marian devotion, Purgatory, the OT Canon, Whore of Babylon, Authority, etc, etc, etc…) were very handily refuted by the writers there. I desperately searched for counterarguments that would show the Protestant position to be the correct one. What I found caused me great consternation. Good, faithful, loving Protestant Christian thinkers who loved Jesus invariably failed to actually address the points Catholic apologists raised, content to rely on ignorance and hearsay to casually dismiss the Catholic Church. It concerned me to find no solid, rational arguments for the Protestant position over and against the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, the only arguments I could find that met the Catholic positions head on were from the rabidly Anti-Catholic fringe, like Dave Hunt and James White. While they would claim to refute the Catholic positions, all they did was rant and rave and commit horrible logical fallacies, or fabricate elaborate conspiracy theories about the ancient pagan origins of the Cult of Mary. There was reason to be found in their arguments, but of a twisted and nasty variety that was simply not true, indeed proved laughably easy for Catholic opponents to refute in turn. They repelled me and served as an excellent argument for the Catholic Church.

So it was that as I was reading an article written by Jimmy Akin defending some contentious point of doctrine or another, the full intellectual realization of my path hit me. I must repent and become a Catholic. In the name of the Truth, of all things Holy, and most especially in order to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads, I must become Catholic. I had no other choice spiritually, experientially, logically, or Biblically. No weapon fashioned against the Church could stand in the light of the Truth.

I wasn’t sure whether I was ecstatically happy or miserably sad by this realization. At this moment, I had not yet crossed the Tiber over to full acceptance of the Church, but I had forded the Rubicon of faith. Alea iacta est, ‘the die is cast’. There was no going back.

it came to pass at this time that two of my oldest and dearest friends, from grade school through college, dropped by to hang out with me. My childhood best friend, Nathaniel, a Lutheran in background and thus lacking the full set of Fundamentalist prejudices I was raised with, had talked to me previously about my wrestlings with the Church, and he was cool with it.

My other friend, Mark, I had not seen for months, and wasn’t sure what he would have to say. Mark came from a similar background to myself, highly Fundamentalist Evangelical, and had often talked of going to seminary to become a Southern Baptist minister. I was very nervous, as I could not lie and say anything less than what I believed, but neither was I particularly eager for a heated argument.

The two of them arrive at my parents home, we exchange pleasantries, and retire to the kitchen to refresh ourselves. The first thing Mark starts talking about is how he’s starting to feel led towards the Catholic Church, both spiritually and intellectually. He didn’t know what to make of it, and didn’t understand it, but he could feel the Truth pulling him Rome-wards.

Needless to say, I was floored by the similarities in our paths, and the outlandish “coincidence” of the timing. We spent the evening discussing our explorations in theology and apologetics, including the discovery of our mutual love of Peter Kreeft. It was a great conversation, and came at a critical point in my journey home. Mark and I continue to talk about the Church, and have helped each other make some headway through our mutual problems. The workings of the Holy Spirit are truly wondrous to behold.

So, dear reader, we now find ourselves at the point where I consciously acknowledged and accepted the moving of the Spirit in my life. Such is only the beginning, however. In upcoming entries, we shall explore my adventures of actually begging to enter the social world the Catholic Church, starting with my experiences at the Walk for Life 2008.

In the Heart of the Flame…

•June 19, 2008 • 6 Comments

In my last semester at Cal, Spring 2007, one of the classes I took was the Bible as Literature with Professor Stephen Goldsmith. It was a stimulating class, and it’s structure forced me to re-evaluate many of my preconceptions about the Bible and it’s formation. It gave me the opportunity to read much in the way Higher Criticism and get a feel for the arguments scholars use, which allowed me to reject much Sophistic nonsense from an informed stance. In many ways, it was a faith building course for me. My studies did, however, take me further and further afield from the Biblical Literalism of my childhood, which concerned and confused me. I was also reading more of C. S. Lewis, who accepted Orthodox Christianity with gusto, but did not hold to Literalist interpretations such as I was raised with, and had excellently reasoned out arguments for his position. For the most part, I took this paradigm shift in stride, but I was terribly concerned what a non-literal reading of parts of the Bible, combined with the complex history of the formation of the Canon, did to Sola Scriptura, a doctrine near and dear to my heart.

In this class, I sat next to a friend named Amanda, a fellow English major whom I’d known from several previous courses. Amanda was a Catholic, and a devout one at that. Given the subject matter of the course, we had ample opportunity to discuss religion in general and Christianity in particular, among many other topics. I was impressed with Amanda’s genuine spirit for Christ, and the well-articulated knowledge she brought to the conversation. Again I found myself vexed by the visible presence of the Spirit within a Catholic. Indeed, in a semester of reading critical texts on Scripture, including Gnostic Gospels, the thing that spiritually challenged me the most was this friendship.

Then May rolled around. Finals were taken, all was set in place, and I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and the rest of my life began. Being the easy-going person that I am, I had no solid plans, so I took what life brought me. In this case, it was work in the Video Game industry, which I shall not go into in great detail. It was, in many ways, a great job, but in others, very frustrating. I don’t know if I’d repeat the experience, but in all likelihood I’d make radically different choices given another chance. Such is life.

Because of the pressures of working and commuting, my social life suffered a bit. My only regular social activities outside of work were my tabletop gaming buddies in Berkeley on Saturday, and my old church friends in Hayward on Sunday. Now, I love my old church in Hayward, and the people there, but my friend Steve summarized all the problems it has quite nicely the one time I convinced him to come: “this is why I don’t go to church anymore, all they talk about is World of Warcraft, not Jesus”. Painfully, the church over the past few years has transformed more into a cliquey social club where the main topic of conversation is the latest cool video game. Now, I have no problem with that line of conversation in general. But when the service has been done for all of five minutes, and all that is being discussed is the latest raid run on Molten Core…*sigh*

Now, my job was seasonal, for if they employed us for over 6 months they would have to do all sorts of crazy things, like provide “health benefits” or something. By the time the job had run it’s course, I was weary and sick at heart. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want to do. I was still living in Berkeley, as my roommate was still in college and I was in particular no hurry to move out. After work was done, I had some time to relax and think things through. I touched bases with some friends back in Berkeley, and started to breath a bit. One of my friends I ran into shortly after staying in town for a while was Amanda. We bumped into each other, said we should get coffee or something, which I promptly didn’t think about for the next two or three weeks.

I started going to church in Berkeley again, but like my old church in Hayward, something seemed off. There was something missing, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were loving people gathering together to offer worship to God, showing each other the love of Jesus Christ. But I felt out of place, like I belonged somewhere else, needed to pursue something else. I was, in a word, tortured.

My desires were also often in the wrong things, disordered. I wanted money, toys, and all the crass material goodies and pleasures that modern culture has to offer. My discontent with my church life led to a downwards spiral in how I viewed life, and the value of the human person. I found that not even my church friends rose above the level of crass materialism most of the time, and I found myself settling for less and less of myself all the time.

A decisive moment came when I had a conversation with several of my good friends at the Free Speech Cafe. We discussed what we wanted from life, specifically our philosophies of love and marriage. During the conversation, I had an epiphany, that defies my ability to describe it. I fully grasped that I wanted something more, needed something more, than I could possibly imagine, and that only by seeking God could I find it. But I also knew that if I did seek, I would find. Immediately, in the middle of the conversation, I went from being morose and overwhelmed with negative emotions, to a sense of absolute calm and peace. I walked home prayerfully considering my life. When I got home, I poured out my heart to the Lord, and asked for some sign, some guidepost as to what I must do. Almost immediately a thought popped into my head: I needed to contact Amanda and hang out with her.

I hadn’t thought about my random encounter with her in several weeks, so it struck me as odd that I would immediately think of that, so I took it as a sign. I got in contact with Amanda, and we met for coffee. It was a pleasant chat, and it was good to catch up with her. Again, I was impressed by how different she was, the genuineness of her spirit, and this intrigued me. We met up a couple of times towards the end of the year, and our conversations went a bit all over the place, as I am wont to do. But I remember quite clearly one time I asked her earnestly if she really believed all that Transubstantiation, Real Presence in the Eucharist stuff? It sounded crazy to me (“who can stand this teaching?”), and I kind of gave that impression in the way I asked the question. She softly answered with “It was what I was raised to believe…” as a response to my aggression over what I perceived to be Papist corruptions of the Clear Gospel Truth, to my shame.
As we were having lunch one time, she mentioned that her parish was throwing a praise and worship night together for the end of the semester, and wanted to know if I was interested in attending. I was still leery of the Church in general, but I was open enough to not see the harm in a basic praise music event. I mean, it wasn’t anything overtly pagan or idolatrous like a Mass, which I probably would have thought of as beyond the pale. I saw it as being harmless enough, so agreed to attend.

I arrived at the parish a bit early, and made my way to the upstairs room where the praise night would be held. I sat down on a comfy couch in the corner and awkwardly waited for it to start. The priest in attendance, one Father Charlie, came over with a tray and offered me a cookie, which threw me a bit. I got to know him better in the months to come, but at the time, all I could see was that he wore a Roman collar, and remember what my dad always taught me about Catholic priests. Namely, that they couldn’t possibly be actual saved Christians. Despite my innate hostility to the priesthood, I took the proffered cookie, for it looked delectable, and so it was. Now, I can only shake my head at the prejudice I felt when I saw that collar.

The praise and worship that night was quite beautiful, the band had put a great deal of effort into preparation, and it showed. The music was well done, the songs were heartfelt, and everyone in attendance got into the singing. It fell very firmly into my cultural comfort zone, and I got into it. I was struck by how these were the same sorts of songs a good Baptist church would sing, and similar sentiments. By the end, I was very much at ease, and felt a good deal of warmth in my soul. But that was nothing compared to what came next.

One of the organizers of the event had prepared a candlelight meditation. Candles were passed around, the lights were dimmed, a brief prayer was said, and some Gregorian Chant was put on to set the mood. This sort of thing was also not foreign to my Evangelical background, so I went along with it, and then something extraordinary happened.

I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit, as I had only rarely ever known Him, or have since. I cannot fully describe in words what I felt during those ten minutes, which seemed to stretch for an eternity. On my walk home, I composed a poem that got to the essence of my encounter with God. Though it is only words, it must suffice:

“Theophany of the Candle”, by Samuel Urfer

I saw God in a candles flame tonight,
As it consumed a braided cotton wick.
I prayed: “Let me be the wick, holy Lord,
That you may engulf me in your embrace.”
I saw the wax melt into a pure lake
Of molten white, no blemish to be seen.
I prayed: “Let me be the wax, righteous Lord,
That I may be clean of all my pollution.”
I saw the flame, and in it was the form
Of the seeming of the image of the Lord.
I prayed: “Let me be the fire, good God,
That I might shine for You as a beacon.”
The time came to blow out the lone candle.
It felt like Blasphemy, horribly wrong.
But I knew the flame was not God,
Just a reflection, like the one in me.

I was flabbergasted. The Catholic Church wasn’t supposed to have the Holy Spirit’s presence. This blew my mind. I had no idea what to make of this astounding fact, that I had encountered God in a Catholic Church. Next time, we shall explore my efforts to cope with this. Stay tuned!