Archives for August 2011

The soul

The Soul

Lately, I have been thinking about my soul – that warm, fuzzy “thing” that is difficult to describe. I wanted to know the what, when, where and more. Exploring the specifics, not vague generalities.

What is the soul?

The Soul is an automobile manufactured by Kia. It is also a style of music, but I digress…

Quite simply, the soul is you. The real you, your mind, spirit and intellect. It is God’s image in you. Your soul is not your brain, your body, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the house you live in, the car you drive or your job.

When are souls created?

God created you / your soul (one and the same). God always was. We on the other hand, had a beginning. Biological “material” contributed by our parents was formed into a human life by God at our conception. Along with most folks, I believe that God created our soul at that same moment although the Church has not spoken on that infallibably.

The Catholic view of ensoulment has a long and complex history. Suffice to say, if ensoulment is not at the moment of conception, it is not very long thereafter. Moreover, unique human life is created at conception and killing that life is always a grave evil. On that point the Church has always been very clear.

Once created, our souls, children of God the Father, are immortal. After our relatively short mortal life, our souls remain for eternity in either heaven (possibly after cleansing in purgatory) or hell. We get to choose, but that choice must be made in our mortal lives.

Where is the soul?

Our souls unite with our physical bodies. Souls are not physical but are present and in control of our actions to the degree that our bodies are functional. Our brains operate the machinery of our bodies but make no “decisions” on their own other than to operate routine bodily functions. Brains are chemical and electrical elements that, together with the whole body, host the presence of the soul. When the soul leaves, the body stops functioning and dies. The beauty of every person is the presence of their soul, without which the object we see is only a (dead) body.

God created everything, but we are his greatest and most loved creation. We are our souls. Our bodies hold a special place as temples / arks / containers for the soul but it is the human soul itself that is unique, special and immortal. Even identical twins have fully distinct souls.

Our bodies can become less functional through damage or disease. Our souls may suffer but can not be harmed by this. Damage to our souls comes only through our free will choices that distance or separate us from God through sin.

A computer analogy.

For a computer to “be alive,” both hardware and software are necessary. The hardware, the physical computer itself, is what we can see, measure and touch. The software is the programming which brings it to life giving it characteristics and purpose. Without the software, the computer does nothing. Our bodies are like the hardware and our souls like the software.

Software, like our soul, is created at some point in time. It may evolve just as we evolve. Unified with its hardware body, software animates it. The computer would appear completely unchanged, but would be “dead” if the software were somehow removed from it. The software when removed from the computer, would still exist.

Near death experiences.

Many of you may disagree with me on this, but I do not believe for a moment that anyone can “die” and come back to life other than in heaven, purgatory or hell. Every now and then I catch a show on the on the Biography Channel called I Survived…   Beyond and Back. They describe it as “the extraordinary stories of people who have literally passed on to the other side.” No sale.

The stories recounted are of people who have suffered near death experiences, not *actual* death. I believe that their souls remained firmly united with their bodies throughout their ordeal. They mistake dreams (probably induced by extreme physical circumstances) of hovering above their bodies, dark tunnels ending in bright light or reuniting with grandma for reality.

I can think of only one special exception – private revelation. It is possible, but a huge stretch to fit the square experiences of near death into the round hole of private revelation. This seems very improbable to me.

Animals have souls too.

Concluding on this topic is Richard Geraghty who explains it well, and their relation to human souls, for EWTN:

One principle is that all living things have a soul. Here soul is defined as what makes an organic body live. Now when any living thing dies, its soul is separated from its body. In the case of plants and animals the soul goes out of existence. But in the case of man, the soul remains in existence because it is a spiritual or immaterial thing. Consequently, it differs from the souls of animals in two important respects. First, it is the seat of intelligence or reason. For this reason a man is held responsible for his actions in a way that animals are not. Secondly, the soul is immortal. A thing which has no physical parts cannot fall apart or be poisoned or be crushed or be put out of existence. For this reason the souls of the saved will always be aware of themselves as enjoying the vision of God for all eternity. This enjoyment will be the result of having chosen to act on earth in such a way that one did the will of God rather than one’s own will. And the souls of the damned will be aware of themselves as never attaining this vision of God because they have shown by their lives on earth that they did not wish this vision but instead preferred their own will.

Update: So, what then is the role of our body? See my later piece, The body.

Baltimore Catechism: effects of the redemption

Baltimore Catechism

Lesson 10

102 Q. Which are the chief effects of the redemption?
A. The chief effects of the redemption are two: the satisfaction of God’s justice by Christ’s sufferings and death, and the gaining of grace for men.

An effect is that which is caused by something else. If you place a danger signal on a broken railroad track the effect will be preventing the wreck of the train, and the cause will be your placing the signal. Many effects may flow from one cause. In our example, see all the good effects that may follow your placing the signal – the cars are not broken, the passengers are not killed, the rails are not torn out of their places, etc. Thus the redemption had two effects, namely, to satisfy God for the offense offered Him by the sins of men, and to merit grace to be used for our benefit.

103 Q. What do you mean by grace?
A. By grace I mean a supernatural gift of God bestowed on us, through the merits of Jesus Christ, for our salvation.

“Supernatural,” that is, above nature. “A gift”; something, therefore, that God does not owe us. He owes us nothing, strictly speaking. Health, talents, and such things are natural gifts, and belong to our nature as men; but grace is something above our nature, given to our soul. God gives it to us on account of the love He has for His Son, Our Lord, who merited it for us by dying for us. “Merits.” A merit is some excellence or goodness which entitles one to honor or reward. Grace is a help we get to do something that will be pleasing to God. When there is anything in our daily works that we cannot do alone, we naturally look for help; for example, to lift some heavy weight is only a natural act, not a supernatural act, and the help we need for it is only natural help. But if we are going to do something above and beyond our nature, and cannot do it alone, we must not look for natural, but for supernatural help; that is, the help must always be like the work to be done. Therefore all spiritual works need spiritual help, and spiritual help is grace.

104 Q. How many kinds of grace are there?
A. There are two kinds of grace: sanctifying grace and actual grace.

105 Q. What is sanctifying grace?
A. Sanctifying grace is that grace which makes the soul holy and pleasing to God.

“Sanctifying,” that is, making us holy by cleansing, purifying our souls. Sin renders the soul ugly and displeasing to God, and grace purifies it. Suppose I have something bright and beautiful given to me, and take no care of it, but let it lie around in dusty places until it becomes tarnished and soiled, loses all its beauty, and appears black and ugly. To restore its beauty I must clean and polish it. Thus the soul blackened by sin must be cleaned by God’s grace. If the soul is in mortal sin – altogether blackened – then sanctifying grace brings back its brightness and makes it pleasing to God; but if the soul is already bright, though stained or darkened a little by venial sin, then grace makes it still brighter.

*106 Q. What do you call those graces or gifts of God by which we believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him?
A. Those graces or gifts of God by which we believe in Him, and hope in Him, and love Him, are called the divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

“Virtues.” Virtue is the habit of doing good. The opposite to virtue is vice, which is the habit of doing evil. We acquire a habit bad or good when we do the same thing very frequently. We then do it easily and almost without thinking; as a man, for instance, who has the habit of cursing curses almost without knowing it, though that does not excuse him, but makes his case worse, by showing that he must have cursed very often to acquire the habit. If, however, he is striving to overcome the bad habit, and should unintentionally curse now and then, it would not be a sin, since he did not wish to curse, and was trying to overcome the vice. One act does not make a virtue or a vice. A person who gives alms only once cannot be said to have the virtue of charity. A man who curses only once a year cannot be said to have the vice of cursing. Faith, hope, and charity are infused by God into our souls, and are therefore called infused virtues, to distinguish them from the virtues we acquire.

107 Q. What is faith?
A. Faith is a divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed.

“A divine virtue” is one that is heavenly or holy. Faith is the habit of always believing all that God has revealed and the Church teaches. “Firmly,” that is, without the slightest doubt. “Revealed,” that is, made known to us. Revelation is the collection of all the truths that God has made known to us. But why do we believe? Because we clearly see and know the truth of what is revealed? No, but because God reveals it; we believe it though we cannot see it or even understand it. If we see it plainly, then we believe it rather because we see it than because God makes it known to us. Suppose a friend should come and tell you the church is on fire. If he never told you lies, and had no reason for telling you any now, you would believe him – not because you know of the fire, but because he tells you; but afterwards, when you see the church or read of the fire in the papers, you have proof of what he told you, but you believed it just as firmly when he told you as you do afterwards. In the same way God tells us His great truths and we believe them; because we know that since God is infinitely true He cannot deceive us or be deceived. But if afterwards by studying and thinking we find proof that God told us the truth, we do not believe with any greater faith, for we always believed without doubting, and we study chiefly that we may have arguments to prove the truth of God’s revelations to others who do not believe. Suppose some person was present when your friend came and said the church is burning, and that that person would not believe your friend. What would you do? Why, convince him that what your friend said was true by showing him the account of the fire in the papers. Thus learning does not change our faith, which, as I have said, is not acquired by study, but is infused into our souls by God. The little boy who hears what God taught, and believes it firmly because God taught it, has as good a faith as his teacher who has studied all the reasons why he should believe.

108 Q. What is hope?
A. Hope is a divine virtue by which we firmly trust that God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.

“Eternal” – that is, everlastings life – life without end. “Means” – that is, His grace, because without God’s grace we cannot do any supernatural thing.

109 Q. What is charity?
A. Charity is a divine virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.

The virtue of charity makes us “love God,” because He is so good and beautiful, wise and powerful in Himself; therefore for His own sake and without any other consideration. “Above all things,” in such a way that we would rather lose anything than offend Him. But someone may say, he thinks he loves his parents more than God. Well, let us see. To repeat an example already given, suppose his parents told him to steal, and he knew stealing to be a sin; if he would not steal, that would show, would it not, that he loved God more than his parents, for he would rather offend his parents than God. That is the kind of love we must have for God; not mere feeling, but the firm belief that God is the best of all, and when we have to choose between offending God and losing something, be it goods or friends, we would rather lose anything than offend God.

“Neighbor.” Not merely the person living near us, but all men of every kind and nation – even our enemies. The people who lived at the time of Our Lord in His country used to dispute about just what persons were to be considered their neighbors; so one day they asked Our Lord, and He answered them by telling them the following. Said He: (Luke 10:30) A man was once going down from Jerusalem, and on the way robbers beat him, robbed him, and left him on the wayside dying. First one man came by, looked at the wounded man, and passed on; then another came and did the same; finally a third man came, who was of a different religion and nationality from the wounded man. But he did not consider these things. He dressed the poor man’s wounds, placed him upon his horse and brought him to an inn or hotel, and paid the innkeeper to take care of him. “Now,” said Our Lord, “which of these three was neighbor to the wounded man?” And they answered rightly, “The man that helped him.” Our Lord, by this example, wished to teach them and us that everybody is our neighbor who is in distress of any kind and needs our help. Neighbor, therefore, means every human being, no matter where he lives or what his color, learning, manners, etc., for every human being in the world is a child of God and has been redeemed by Our Lord. Therefore every child of God is my neighbor, and even more – he is my brother; for God is his father and mine also, and if he is good enough for God to love, he should be good enough for me.

“As ourselves.” Not with as much love, but with the same kind of love; that is, we are to follow the rule laid down by Our Lord: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Never do to anyone what you would not like to have done to yourself; and always do for another just what you would wish another to do for you, if you were in the same position. Our neighbor is our equal and gifted with all the gifts that we ourselves have. When we come into the world we are all equal. We have a body and a soul, with the power to develop them. Money, learning, wealth, fame, and all else that makes up the difference between men in the world are acquired in the world; and when men die, they go out of the world without any of these things, just as they came into it. The real difference between them in the next world will depend upon the things they have done, good or bad, while here. We should love our neighbor also on another account: namely, that he is one day to be in Heaven with us; and if he is to be with us for all eternity, why should we hate him now? On the other hand, if our neighbor is to be in Hell on account of his bad life, why should we hate him? We should rather pity him, for he will have enough to suffer without our hatred.

110 Q. What is actual grace?
A. Actual grace is that help of God which enlightens our mind and moves our will to shun evil and do good.

“Actual.” Sanctifying grace continues with us, but when grace is given just so that we may do a good act or avoid a bad one, it is called actual grace. Suppose, for example, I see a poor man and am able to aid him. When my conscience tells me to give him assistance, I am just then receiving an actual grace, which moves me and helps me to do that good act; and just as soon as I give the help, the actual grace ceases, because no longer needed. It was given for that one good act, and now that the act is done, the actual grace has produced its effect. Again, a boy is going to Mass on Sunday and meets other boys who try to persuade him to remain away from Mass and go to some other place. When he hears his conscience telling him to go to Mass by all means, he is receiving just then an actual grace to avoid the mortal sin of missing Mass, and the grace lasts just as long as the temptation. Sacramental grace is sanctifying grace – given in the Sacraments – which contains for us a right to actual graces when we need them. These actual graces are given to help us to fulfill the end for which each of the Sacraments was instituted. They are different for each Sacrament, and are given just when we need them; that is, just when we are tempted against the object or end for which the Sacrament was instituted.

*111 Q. Is grace necessary for salvation?
A. Grace is necessary for salvation, because without grace we can do nothing to merit Heaven.

*112 Q. Can we resist the grace of God?
A. We can and unfortunately often do resist the grace of God.

Grace is a gift, and no one is obliged to take a gift; but if God offers a gift and we refuse to take it, we offend and insult Him. To insult God is to sin. Therefore to refuse to accept, or to make bad use of the grace God gives us, is to sin.

*113 Q. What is the grace of perseverance?
A. The grace of perseverance is a particular gift of God which enables us to continue in the state of grace till death.

“Perseverance” here does not mean perseverance in our undertakings, but perseverance in grace – never in mortal sin, always a friend of God. Now, if God keeps us from all sin till the day of our death and takes us while we are His friends, then He gives us what we call the gift of final perseverance. We cannot, strictly speaking, merit this great grace, but only pray for it; so anyone who commits mortal sin may be taken just in that state and be lost for all eternity.

New atheism

New Atheism

Those wacky atheists! They are always trying to top each other as to who is the most atheist among them. Recently, Austrian Niko Alm took his place in their virtual “hall of fame.”

Young Niko apparently wished to mock religion when he discovered that Austrian citizens are permitted to wear religious headgear for their ID photos. What an opportunity! The Church of the Flying Spaghetti (a favorite faux religion in atheist circles) would form the basis for the headgear he wanted to wear – a colander (pasta strainer). Niko waged a 3 year battle, including submitting to psychiatric examinations, before he was recognized officially as a Spaghetti Monster “pastafarian.” Congratulations Niko.

This young man is an example of the new atheism. Not only do they not believe, they feel called to work fervently in mocking the belief of those who do. Their intelligence and intellect is very impressive – to each other.

Interestingly, Niko’s subterfuge was necessary as atheism itself does not usually qualify as a religion. It is after all a non-belief, that there is “no god” or other supernatural power. “New” atheists feel compelled to oppose religion by every means possible.

Ironically, their fervent efforts could be seen as a religion itself. Consider:

  • deity: human reason and science, essentially the worship of self
  • doctrine: “self” came to be through the happy coincidence of random, natural events
  • moral code: live and let live with a sprinkling of helping others (more reciprocity than morality)
  • worship: wherever 2 or more atheists are gathered to discuss among themselves how smart they are / how dumb are they who believe in a magical sky fairy
  • saints: they have saints who lived exemplary atheist lives, worthy of imitation
  • clergy: many, such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Hawking
  • hymns: an example is John Lennon’s Imagine (this might also be their creed)
  • mission: government, not religion, and the separation of them

While their hearts appear to be closed tight, there are more converts than many people might assume. Sometimes, in their relentless study to prove the fallacy of the Church, they unexpectedly find truth. C. S. Lewis is one famous example of a Christian convert.

Jennifer Fulwiler converted from atheism to Catholicism and is also a popular blogger. Some of her pieces on this topic are How I researched my way into Christianity, Love and conversion, On having proof and Why I’m Catholic.

Jennifer is but one of several atheism to Catholicism bloggers listed in my Convert Stories database. Others include Julie Davis, Devin Rose (story here), Elizabeth Mahlou, Jeffrey Miller, Sarah Reinhard and Kayla Garry. Each is a unique, good read.

7 Quick Takes Friday (set #38)

7 Quick Takes Friday

This week: People who understand their obligation to the poor taking action at the local market. The miracle of life. A great campus ministry promo. Another take on the corrected translation of the liturgy. Editing God. MSM bias is not just against the Church and conservatives. Surprise, you are getting married in an hour or so!

— 1 —

You are in line at the grocery store. It’s moving slow, some sort of problem with a person ahead of you. They are using EBT (food stamps) and there is not enough credit to cover their total. They struggle with what to exclude, such as baby food. What do you do?

(This video is no longer available.)

This gives me so much hope!

— 2 —

— 3 —

Great new promo for St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M:

Spotted by Marcel (of course)

— 4 —

The Life Teen folks have produced another informative video on the corrected translation of Mass:

— 5 —

Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

Some people simply can not leave scripture as revealed to us by God himself alone. God is out of step with modern man, has gender “inclusiveness” issues and is politically incorrect. Fortunately, as Mark Shea notes, there are “some scholars from the Protestant Churches Nobody Goes to Anymore and a few tired Catholic scholars of the Woodstock Generation have come out with the new Yet Another Version of the Bible.”

— 6 —

The bias and complete lack of objectivity from the MSM (mainstream media) could not be more obvious:

— 7 —

I am conflicted about this wedding:

On the plus side, it is incredibly romantic and a beautiful, loving gift to the bride. On the down side, the importance and presence of God is minimized. For Catholics, it does not have to be an either / or. Your comments are always welcome!

Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Thank you Jen for hosting this project!

Apostles: hot and cold

Apostles Hot And Cold

Father Joseph, one of the excellent priests at my parish, offers a kind of Bible study on Monday evenings. Instead of studying a Bible book, we look at the upcoming readings for the following Sunday, how they relate together, historical background, and so on. The group is small so everyone interacts more than in some larger classes.

One of the things I have noticed again and again is how “dense” the apostles were. One moment, they seem to have great clarity as to who exactly Jesus is. The next moment, they appear unsure. Our Lord often rebukes them for their lack of faith. A recent Gospel reading (Matthew 14:22-33) when Jesus walked on water is but one of many examples.

This almost schizophrenic nature of the Apostles continues right through our Lord’s Passion. One moment professing undying devotion to the Lord, the next (as if they were someone else) denying Him. Reading the Good News is like a roller coaster ride.

Finally at Pentecost, the Apostles truly and permanently understand all that they have seen and heard. The Holy Spirit fills them with grace so that they may fulfill Jesus’ command to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” The Apostles after Pentecost were significantly different than their pre-Pentecost, version 1.0 selves.

Please understand, I have the utmost respect for the Apostles – after all, they were chosen by God! I see rather, parallels to ourselves in them. We are also called to holiness and like the pre-Pentecost Apostles, we too struggle in our journey of conversion. Sometimes we make great strides. Other times we slide backward a little.

Through the spiritual struggles of the Apostles, God speaks to us in communicating the Gospel. We identify with their their conversion and their faith. After the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles are prototypical Saints. They were the first “torch bearers” of our faith passed through the millennia all the way to today’s Catholic bishops. We too are called to be saints and to be more than “followers” – to be disciples.

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

When Jesus said to Peter “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He is talking to us too.