Thursday, June 29, 2006


syn·the·sis: The combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole.
a·nal·y·sis: The separation of an intellectual or material whole into its constituent parts for individual study.

One of the tasks of the past year was learning how to read Scripture synthetically. A tall order, for people in our age of analysis. We analyze everything - it's how our brains are wired. Give us the Bible, and we will sit down and break it up into pieces and try to understand all we can about those pieces. If we read the Gospel of John, we want to know who John was, when he wrote it, what the cultural setting was surrounding the writing, and what he meant with every turn of phrase that came from his pen.

There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. But it's an incomplete way of looking at the Word of God, if that's all that we ever do. And, interestingly enough, it's not how the early Christians read Scripture. They certainly wanted to understand the meaning behind each passage. But they were more apt to spend their time making connections between passages throughout the whole of scripture than they were to sit down and analyze one particular section.

It's for this reason that we modern folk often have a hard time understanding what the church fathers were talking about in many of their writings. John J. O'Keefe and R.R. Reno offer their experience in the opening paragraph of their book Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible:
Reading the church fathers is difficult. Simply to pick up Irenaeus' treatise Against the Heresies and read invites confusion and boredom if one does not know the point of the many digressions. Most of them involve biblical details, either as misread by his adversaries or arranged as so many bricks in Irenaeus' seemingly endless wall of defense... As first-time readers, we dutifully soldiered through page after page, underlining here and there when he seemed to be saying something that fit with what we were told. Vast stretches of text seemed irrelevant to these issues; they were veritable wastelands under titles helpfully provided by a patient nineteenth-century translator... We did not so much thirst for righteousness as hunger for what we imagined to be the red meat of doctrine.
The key to reading Scripture synthetically, is first of all to see the Bible as a unified whole. It's true that the Bible is a collection of many books written at different times by different authors. But it's also true that, as Vatican II's Dei Verbum maintains, the scriptures "have God as their author" and "firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures." Hence the many parts can be taken together as a whole to transmit a unified message. Not surprisingly, this was the starting point for the church fathers. Origen, in fact, held that the scriptures were "the sole source of wisdom."

Once you see the entire Bible in this way, connections come alive that otherwise wouldn't seem possible. The Old and the New Testaments complement each other and bring new understanding to each other. For example, Israel's passing through the Nile river into freedom from slavery becomes a precursor to the waters of Baptism, through which we pass into freedom from the slavery of original sin. Likewise, the suffering servant found in Isaiah 52 tells us an awful lot about Christ and his sacrifice. And the list goes on...

This is how the church fathers read Scripture.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


The existence of evil is quite possibly the most troublesome fact to reconcile with our faith. Everything about Christianity stresses over and over, that God is good, Good, GOOD. Yet it's only natural, then, to wonder why such a "good" God allows evil in the world. Why do innocent children get sick and die? Why do tsunamis devastate the lives of thousands of people? The list goes on...

There are a couple of precursor points I'd like to make. First, there's a time and a place to discuss this topic. In the moment of grief, when someone is crying out in pain, "WHY???" --- that is generally NOT the time to launch into a philosophical or theological diatribe, as it's really a request for compassion, not a long-winded answer. Philosophy can wait for a less emotional time. The second point is that, at some point and time, every single one of us will be that emotional person. And the time to be prepared for it is NOW, when we are able to think calmly about it. The less prepared for it we are the more likely such moments of grief will become serious challenges to our faith.

Of course, the only final, difinitive answer to the question of evil is to look at the cross. We can say that Jesus Christ became evil for our sake. By this we don't mean that he was actually evil, but that he took upon himself the consequences of evil. There is, at our disposal, a lifetime's worth of reflection on this fact, and we will still only have skimmed the surface.

But there is another way of approaching the subject, too. One of our assignments for our Fundamental Theology final exam, in fact, was to explain how one can circumvent the problem of evil philosophically (recall that philosophy = "natural" theology), without relying on God's revelation to man (in other words, without talking about Christ). As deep as the mystery of Christ's suffering is, we only know about it because it was revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition. Someone who doesn't accept Scripture and Tradition will not find a reflection upon Christ to be a useful way of resolving the problem of the existence of evil in the world, and in fact will find evil to be a barrier to ever accepting the Christian notion of a "good" God or even of the existence of a God at all. Their argument will likely go:
If God is all-good and all-powerful, then He would not will evil, and would have the power to make sure it doesn't happen. Since evil exists, either God is not good or He is not all-powerful.
It's a conundrum for the Christian to answer, because we do believe that God does not will evil, and we also believe that He is all-powerful. But we don't accept that the above conclusion follows from the premises given. The tricky part, then, is in countering this argument without resorting to the negation of God’s attributes of “good” and “all-powerful.”

This is how you do it: The first integral step is to ensure a correct definition of evil. The common misperception about evil is that it is some thing; it has an existence, or being, of its own, which is opposed to goodness. Yet this dualistic understanding of good and evil ascribes evil more credit than is its due, for the correct definition is that it is rather an absence of something good, a privation. Existence, in and of itself, is a good bestowed by God. Evil rears its ugly head when some aspect of existence that is due a thing by its very nature is not present. That is, evil is encountered when something ought to possess some good, but does not. If I, as a human, am supposed to have two arms, but I only have one, then I am experiencing an evil. As a contrast, I do not experience evil by not having a tail, for humans are, by nature, not supposed to have tails.

A second step in overcoming this argument is by making clear the distinction and connection between the types of evil: moral evil and physical evil. As embodied creatures, humans generally experience what we consider physical evil (disease, injury, etc.) most vividly. Yet moral evil is no less present in human experience, if perhaps more subtle. As moral agents with free will, men are always capable of sinning, by making lesser choices that do not allow them to attain some good which they rightfully should possess. This deficiency is a moral evil. With this distinction in place, there is a correlation between physical and moral evil that provides the explanation for how they came to be. The greatest moral good that a person can possess is God himself; a right relationship with the Creator. Yet the common condition of all humans is that we do not possess this good; rather our relationship with God begins, from our very birth, broken. Among the effects of this deprivation include the exposure to physical evil in the world. Moral evil is therefore, properly speaking, the preeminent evil, and all evil can be explained by the presence of the broken relationship with God (i.e. Original Sin).

One further thing must yet be demonstrated to see that God can be good, all-powerful, and still allow evil in the world. God’s tolerance towards moral evil can be shown to be a result of His protection of a greater good. Human beings are free moral agents; free will is a good that is due to men by their nature. It is true that man experiences moral evil because of the poor choices of his free will. Yet if God were to remove free will, then that would be another absence of a good due to man by his nature, and that by definition would be a moral evil. God, of course, is good and cannot will evil. Therefore, by tolerating the evil brought about by man’s free will, God is protecting the greater good of keeping man free to choose his own actions.

So there you have it. In a nutshell, evil is the result of man's free will, and therefore God allows evil to continue in the world because it would be evil for Him to remove our free will.

Of course, this argument only brings you so far. If you believe that Christ died for our sins, then you will find an inexhaustible amount of reflection on the problem of evil by meditating on this:

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Grade

And in other news, my report card arrived in the mail yesterday. Let's just say I'm wearing a smile today. Thanks for all who offered prayers for me during the past semester!

I am now enjoying my precious "time off" until fall semester starts (already on July 29).


I've been a little scarce around these parts lately. But I just know you all will forgive me when I tell you what's up:

Joy & I are pregnant!!!!!

Here's the new little one. Our first child. God is good indeed!

January 6, 2007 is the big day. Unfortunately, I'm supposed to be in Green Bay sitting in class that day. Hmmmm.... we'll have to work something out. Or we'll just have to tell the kid he's (she's?) gotta wait another couple days before bursting forth onto the scene.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Corpus Christi Procession

Sunday, June 18. 2:00 pm.

From Assumption Church to the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Get the details here!

(hat tip: Roamin' Roman)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Boyz in da haus

I just have to pass this along, especially for my readers with large families.

I recently stumbled upon the website of a family who was profiled in Rod Dreher's book Crunchy Cons.

It's the online journal of a woman who lives in a house with her four young sons (and her husband) titled, aptly, Testosterhome.

If you ever need a good laugh, here's your one stop shop to get your fix.


You may have noticed that the right-hand sidebar on this site is considerably fuller than it used to be. I took all of my links, which used to be buried deep within a perma-post, and moved them to the sidebar, where they would be more accessible. I also added a few new ones.

I abhor clutter, so I will do my best to strike a balance between keeping a thorough list of links, and yet not overwhelming the page with too much. But feel free to head over and browse - there's a lot of great resources and websites over there!

Ave Maria Pizza

This past weekend I had the pleasure of conversation and company with a few other Twin Cities' Catholic bloggers. (The event was chronicled here.)

While there, our host, Catholic cartoonist Dan Lacey, shared the following drawing with me that he had composed in response to the big ACLU brouhaha over Ave Maria University's plan to build a town that would promote family values:

You can see many of his other cartoons at his website, Check it out!

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Bible, Online

And while I'm on the topic of great resources for Scripture study and research, I would be remiss if I didn't include this site, which has bailed me out many times while in a pinch for completing an assignment:

This site has a searchable or browseable database of the entire contents of over 25 translations of the Bible. I'll put in my plug here for the best translation - the Revised Standard Version - but it's useful to sometimes see how different translations parsed out a particular passage. It's a piece of cake to do on this site. Plus, the mere ability to search the entire Bible for a particular word or phrase is worth oodles, in my book.

In addition to that handy feature, there are other tools as well: concordances, commentaries, lexicons, other historical writings, and much more.

Originally, the Word of God was part of oral tradition. Then it became part of written tradition. And now, it's part of "electronic" tradition, on this bookmark-worthy site.


Oh, how I love maps.

Seriously. Ask my wife - I'm a very cheap date. For fun, we sometimes go to Barnes & Noble just to browse and invariably, if Joy loses me, she knows exactly where to find me: in front of the map section, gazing longingly at the two-dimensional representation of some part of the world.

I suppose I could attribute it to my love of travelling. But by the same token, I think my love of travelling stems as much from an obsession with geography as it does from anything else. I could have a blast on a vacation where all I did was drive and drive and drive, enjoying the scenery while paying attention to the changes in topography and vegetation, committing them to memory to create in my head something of a virtual map of some part of the world. I know that's wierd. But it's true. And it's me. Now that you know my deepest, darkest secret, I suppose it's time for me to show you where I'm going with this post.

This past year's Old and New Testament courses surveyed events which covered a large span of time and geography. So, one of my favorite parts of the studies were the opportunity to - you guessed it - study MAPS! And lots of them. Big ones, little ones, regional maps and localized maps. And maps showing key cities during different time periods. A significant component of each test was even an exercise of our ablity to identify the locations of many of those sites. What better excuse to spend hours looking at maps, under the guise of "studying"? I was - quite literally - in map heaven.

Along the way, I stumbled upon the following very useful resource for biblical maps: The Bible Atlas Online, by the Access Foundation. It's a collection of very easy-to-read maps which can help enhance one's reading of scripture.
For example, this map showing Paul's third missionary journey puts his travels in perspective, and helps show the locations of the churches to whom he wrote his letters (which we now include as part of the canon of Scripture).

It's definitely a site worth bookmarking.