Tag Archives: God

Happy Fingernail Appreciation Day!

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Fingernails are one of the lesser-appreciated parts of the human body. We tend to treat them more like a tool than a body part. But we depend on our fingernails, and so our family decided to celebrate Fingernail Appreciation Day.

Our fingernails are not just for scratching an itch, but if you have ever had an itch you cannot scratch, you know that function is no minor matter. Our fingernails first and foremost protect our fingers. Without them, we would cut and scratch and bruise those fingertips on a regular basis. They also increase our dexterity, providing firm support when we pick up large objects, and acting as tweezers when we pick up small ones. And in our primitive stage, our fingernails acted as rudimentary utensils: tearing, cutting, and scraping our food as necessary.

When misused and abused, however, our fingernails can become a source of pain and suffering. If we chew them in nervousness, they become ragged and the fingers sore. If we fail to trim them, they can break and tear, and we can bleed. Bleeding or sore fingertips can keep us from doing what we need to do and can make even simple tasks painful. Finally, if we don’t keep them clean, they can harbor bugs and diseases.

Fingernails are like every other part of the human body. God designed them for a purpose, and when we abuse our bodies or use them in ways other than how God intended, we can and will suffer.

So Happy Fingernail Appreciation Day! Let’s take care of them and use them wisely.

How an Atheist Ph.D. Physics Student Found God and the Catholic Church – Part 1: Tilling the Soil

Late at night, in the middle of winter, traveling from town to town through central Italy on a slow-moving train, with precious few Lire in my pocket, God talked to me.

But it didn’t start there.

As the Gospel says, the seeds of faith sprout and grow on fertile soil. For most of my life, though, I was the rocky path, where seeds fall and die. But eventually God, unbeknown to me, began to sweep away those rocks, one by one.

The Young Atheist

In high school, I decided I was an atheist. It wasn’t a momentous decision. It wasn’t a rebellion or a walking away from the youth of my childhood. It was more an acknowledgement of a state of being.

My family was nominally Methodist, but we never went to church. The only vague memories of church I had were of felt banners with pictures of doves and fish and loaves of bread and a few pleasant stories that sounded to me like tall tales. In my mind, Paul Bunyon, Sampson and Delilah, Jesus, and the Lone Ranger all had equivalent claims on historical verisimilitude. I saw the stories of Jesus as moral tales used by certain adults to teach their children how to live. That was pretty much it.

By high school, I was an avid reader of science fiction and I was taking my first physics class. I fell in love with science. Science – and physics in particular – could explain anything, answer any question. My newfound passion for science solidified a vague idea I already had, which was that religion was nothing more than myth. But that didn’t really matter to me either way. The important thing to me was that I had found my passion. I was going to be a physicist. A Newton or an Einstein. The fact that I had “decided” that I was an atheist was, to me, seemingly only a natural consequence of that.

Living the Lack of Faith

After high school, I moved on to one of the premier science and engineering institutions in the nation, a home to Nobel prize winners and other assorted verified geniuses. Everything there confirmed to me my atheism, as religious faith was found on campus about as frequently as bigfoot sightings. If I knew anyone who went to church weekly, they didn’t talk about it. Drugs, alcohol, and sex were everywhere and dominated the recreational side of student life.

I had been a wallflower, but I embraced the party atmosphere. I grew my hair long, got my ear pierced, stopped wearing shoes, and developed an unhealthy appetite for beer. The partying was soon more important than my classes – which I frequently overslept – but somehow I maintained a ‘B’ average. My mental state, however, didn’t fare so well. I was confused and lonely, and I didn’t know how to be happy without drinking.

Still, my love for physics persisted. I developed a fascination for that most basic of fields, particle physics, and I finished my bachelor’s and moved on to graduate school.

Clearing Stones from the Rocky Path

The first gift God gave to me in graduate school, though I didn’t realize it as such at the time, was to get me to a new school, off campus, and away from the party culture. Being away from campus meant I had nothing to do but focus on my classes and find a Ph.D. topic. I stopped drinking so much and began enjoying life again.

The first two years of graduate school consist of core classes, and that’s where God began to do his work. What I learned in these classes dispelled some of my more naive notions about science in general and physics in particular and opened my mind not so much to the possibility of God but to the understanding that science itself wasn’t a god.

Unanswered Questions

I found that science as wonderful and powerful and amazing as it was, couldn’t answer a handful of difficult and important questions.

– Why is the universe ordered the way it is and not some other way? Why is the universe here at all?
– Why are certain fundamental physical constants of such precise values to allow for a universe capable of sustaining life?
– Why does mathematics describe the universe? If the universe arises because of mathematics, then how does mathematics arise?
– What is this consciousness thing anyway?

Essentially, I came to understand that science explains how the universe works, not why it works in a particular way or why it is there at all. And while I wasn’t thinking too much about the issue of God, his existence having been so thoroughly dismissed from my mind for so long, I did come to the uncomfortable conclusion that my assumption that science could disprove his existence was false.

Science can’t disprove the existence of God because it can’t talk about God. Science, I came to understand, is a part of this universe. God, by definition, is outside of the universe. So science has nothing to say on the subject.

None of these things made me believe in God. They didn’t even make me think of God all that much. But they did prepare me for a later conversion. They made me see that the concept of God, at least in the abstract, was not unreasonable, and they made me see that the universe was more mysterious and complicated and wonderful than I had theretofore imagined.

In Part 2, I will talk more about my graduate research and that fateful moment when God stepped unmistakably into my life.

Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Little Way

Yesterday’s Office of Readings contained a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that nicely summarizes The Little Way.

The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly,to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly,to do it because it is his will.

For those of us who are married and parents, the will of God in our life, our daily work, is simply to love our spouses and children, to live out our marital vocation, and to teach and raise our children in the faith. It is not to make a bunch of money, move into the nicest neighborhood, or raise a sports star, pop star or otherwise hyper-successful child.

What is the manner in which he wills it? We do our daily work as perfectly as we can, with a spirit of self-sacrifice. We don’t cut corners in order to make time for TV, partying, or ladder-climbing. We focus on the task at hand and are grateful for it, even if it involves mowing the lawn or cleaning up after a sick toddler.

We do it because it is God’s will. We don’t do it because it makes us feel good, though satisfaction and joy may come as a grace. We don’t do it with the expectation of gratitude from wife/husband or child. We don’t do it to impress others. Others might not be impressed. Gratitude might not be forthcoming. This daily work might include suffering such that satisfaction and worldly happiness is a rare experience. The fact that God wants it must be enough for us.

So let us today resolve to be an instrument of God’s will. We don’t have to be the next Mother Theresa or Padre Pio or John Paul II or Elizabeth Ann Seton (who, by the way, was a wife and mother). We just have to be a devoted husband, wife, father, or mother.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!

The Hand of the Lord Feeds Us, He Answers All Our Needs – Does He Really?

The Hand of the Lord Feeds Us, He Answers All Our Needs. Is this just touchy feely religious sentiment? The cancer patient who prays for a cure; is He answering her needs? How about the expecting mother facing a miscarriage? The husband seeing his wife slip away into the mystery of Alzheimers? The martyrs that shed their blood to this day in many corners of this world?

We all suffer. We all die. We all eventually lose those we love. We all mourn and weep in this valley of tears. Is God really answering all our needs? It is easy to say no. It is easy to reject the faith on this premise alone. It is easy to be tragically wrong.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Somehow, some way, these sufferings are supposed to work for good, for our good. Is this just another condescending little head pat to console us when our prayers aren’t answered? Or is it the case that suffering happens and God tries somehow to make it up to us? Again, no. Such a promise cannot be so easily dismissed.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.
Collossions 1:24

So the good that our sufferings work for isn’t just some consolation prize from God, but it is something essential. Christ’s afflictions were and Sources necessary for the salvation of all of us. Since Christ is God, He cannot of course be imperfect, so the only thing missing from His afflictions must be something that He requires as our contribution, and that would be our suffering. If our suffering makes up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, then both our and His suffering must be working toward the same goal – salvation.

So our suffering is not only turned into good by God, it is in fact necessary. But why? This is not some arbitrary rule. In fact, it derives logically from the nature of our existence.

God created man not as an animal, and not as an automaton. He gave us free will. Why? Because He wanted to create a creature whom He could love and who could freely love him back. Without free will, there is no love, only coerced action.

But with free will comes the ability to say no, the ability to reject God. With free will also comes a selfishness, a base desire to guarantee my own self-preservation, to look out for my interests above those of others. To truly love someone – in a total and pure way – you have to be willing and able to put the other’s needs over your own. In perfect love, this self-sacrifice extends even unto death. I would die for my wife and my children.

So to love God perfectly, I must be willing and able to sacrifice my life for God. How many of us are sure we could do that? Adam failed at the task miserably, and we are all still paying for his failure.

The reason why our suffering – joined to that of Christ – is essential to our salvation is because it helps us to learn how to offer our lives up for God, how to be willing and able to sacrifice our very existence for Him. Once we have learned that, we have learned to love God perfectly. And once we can love God perfectly, we can become the creatures He originally intended us to be.

So yes, God does answer all our needs. And one of our needs is to suffer. We don’t need to be afraid of it.

The Answer is to Love God More

When we struggle to accept a difficult situation, the answer is to love God more.
When we battle with a sin that we just can’t shake, the answer is to love God more.
When we want to do God’s will but just don’t know what that is, the answer is to love God more.
When we cannot forgive our neighbor, the answer is to love God more.
When our prayer life is dry, the answer is to love God more.
When we are angry or hurt or afraid, the answer is to love God more.
When our suffering is more than we think we can bear, the answer is to love God more.

When we love God more, we love ourselves less.
When we love God more, we love the world less.
When we love God more, we see Him in the eyes of those around us.
When we love God more, we find joy in unlikely places.
When we love God more, we come to understand His love for us.
When we love God more, we learn to love our neighbor.
When we love God more, we open ourselves to His abundant graces.
When we love God more, His will becomes our will.
The answer is to love God more.