Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Principle of Charity

Cholmondeley I first came across the “principle of charity” thanks to one of the lecturers on the MA in Philosophy that I attended (but sadly not completed) at Sheffield. In the first lecture of the Aristotle module, where we were going to cover Book 9 of the Metaphysics, Dr. Stephen Makin* put something like the following idea to his students:
Aristotle wrote the Metaphysics in the 4th century BC, using the language of the day and firmly set in the cultural, scientific and political context of the time. If we approach this text without an attempt at looking for something positive, valuable or meaningful, we will very quickly come to dismiss it, as it is very easy to find it dated, set it superseded modes of thinking or irrelevant. This would be a great shame though, as it would keep Aristotle's insights hidden from us. Instead, let's adopt the principle of charity and look for the most favorable interpretation of Aristotle's words - the interpretation that would give his statements the greatest value, the most sense.
As you can imagine, I was super enthusiastic about this attitude, since it struck me both as very sensible and like exactly the kind of angle that the Gospels would take, had they addressed the topic of hermeneutics. While looking into the background of this principle, I came across the following example of its application in the context of religion that I found particularly positive:
“The next [human representation of the ideal of divine love] is what is known as Vatsalya, loving God not as our Father but as our Child. This may look peculiar, but it is a discipline to enable us to detach all ideas of power from the concept of God. … [T]he Christian and the Hindu can realize [this idea of God as Child] easily, because they have the baby Jesus and the baby Krishna.”

Swami Vivekanda (1863–1902)
Not only does Vivekanda shed light on an aspect of Christian revelation from a new angle, but he uses it to draw parallels with Hinduism, thereby making both religions' insights accessible to each other's followers. In this context it is particularly rewarding to see how this same point is emphasized in a recent homily of Pope Benedict XVI:
“God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness.”
Just to avoid the ever-lurking accusation of syncretism when considering inter-religious questions, I don't read Vivekanda as equating Jesus with Krishna or proposing their co–existence or merging, but instead as pointing to principles expressed with similarity in both traditions.

If only the principle of charity were more broadly applied both in secular and religious discourse …

I can't mention Dr. Makin without sharing the following anecdote: One morning Dr. Makin arrives late to give his lecture and with indignation exclaims: “I have been asked to do some administrative work! Can you imagine a professional administrator being asked to write a book about Aristotle?!” I often feel the same (but still have to do it :).


Multiplication of loaves and fishes c osseman

After Sunday’s Gospel reading at mass, I was struck by a seemingly throw-away point made during the homily, where the priest said that Jesus asked his disciples to go and buy some food for the people who assembled to listen to him and were in danger of running hungry:
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days?' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.'" One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?" Jesus said, "Have the people recline." Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.

John 6:5-13
The suggestion that Jesus wanted them to use regular means for feeding the masses made me listen up and reflect on the nature of miracles. The conclusion I am coming to is that the miracles Jesus performed were mostly accidental - not premeditated, planned (maybe with the exception of Lazarus' raising from the dead where Jesus' actions took place sometime after he was informed of his friend’s death). In this case, Jesus is spreading the good news of his Father's love for all and it becomes apparent that the crowd following his words is going to get hungry and disperse to seek food in the nearest towns. Instead of following his disciples' suggestion to call it a day and send his listeners on their separate ways, Jesus instead challenges their faith and asks them to provide for the crowd. Essentially he's saying to them: nip down to the shops and fetch some dinner.

In spite of the effect that Jesus has already had on his disciples, Philip comes out with a bit of accountancy, ballparking the order at 200 days’ wages (a touch over £9700 in the UK today, which would give a budget per person/family of just under £2 - not exactly a lavish affair) and attempting to bring Jesus' desire not to interrupt his mission stumbling down on logistical grounds. What comes next is a really great, but super-hesitant, move by Andrew, who says “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” In other words, I hear Andrew as sticking his neck out and positioning himself next to Jesus by taking a leap of faith and bringing up the slightest of possibilities that could address the present challenge. To my mind the miracle is as much a reward for Andrew as it is a lesson for Philip and for the crowd assembled at Jesus’ feet.

Personally I read it as a call to trust in God and not to self–impose constraints where God’s providence is ready to provide against the odds. I have often experienced generosity by others or the discovery of solutions that only came to light because I placed my trust in God’s providence. Shortly before my older son was to be born, the house we were renting was put on the market and we were given a month’s notice to move. When we were informed about it, I was filled with panic and started rushing around, looking at vacancies but failing to find anything whatsoever as it was two weeks before Christmas and most places were shutting down for the holidays. One evening, and I remember this distinctly, I realized that I was leaving God out of this process (and doing so during Advent of all times!) and decided to skip the frantic search and instead spend the evening in prayer. This certainly calmed me down and when I woke in the morning. the thought came to me to look in the neighboring city instead of the one were we were living at the time. That same day I found us a new house to rent and the following months have shown how good the change of location was for us in ways we could not have anticipated.

Now, was that a miracle? No, in the sense that I don't believe God intervened in the regular running of the universe. But, it did bring about a conversion in me that lead to greater closeness to God and a more attentive listening to his whispers.

This brings me to the final thought I have about Sunday's Gospel: how much of what John describes (and incidentally the other three Evangelists too) was a miracle in the sense that the laws of nature were locally and temporarily altered? My impression is that not all. Let me explain … I believe that many people in the crowd that day had some food with them and that, when the gathering was dispersed, they may well have moved to a nice spot, laid it out and had a picnic. Others, who had no food would have had to trek to the nearest village and buy some, yet others would have had to go hungry as they may not have had the means to buy more food for themselves. Instead, what Jesus did by arranging the crowd into smaller groups (making the people assembled to hear him less of an anonymous mass), taking the five loaves of bread and two fish, blessing them and beginning to hand them out, was to create better conditions for sharing. I can imagine that someone who saw what Jesus did and had some food on them would add it to the food passed on to the next person, which in turn would lead to a positive, pyramidal-scheme-like avalanche and result in the many basketfuls collected at the end. Am I saying that I don't believe a miracle (in the laws-of-nature-bending sense) took place? Certainly not - I do not see why Jesus should not have performed miracles, being God who created the universe out of nothing, but I do believe that his miraculous actions also triggered responses in their witnesses that lead to an amplification. Could Jesus have made food appear for 5000 families - sure! But, isn't the humble (five loaf of bread + two fish) gesture much more loving, as it allows for human participation, rather than a sudden, imposing appearance of rows of fully-laden tables would have been?

Friday, 27 July 2012

I’m with Müller: the Eucharist


The Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has a new head – Gerhard Müller, the former archbishop of Regensburg in Germany and he is being severely criticized by various ‘traditionalist’ groups. The accusation is heresy (a pretty tricky label to pin on the Church’s Chief Doctrinal Officer), principally on three counts: denying the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, denying the virgin birth and falsely proclaiming Church unity where it isn't there. From everything I have read by Archbishop Müller, I have a very positive impression, also for his saying the following:
“Faith is characterized by the greatest openness. It is a personal relationship with God, which has within it all the treasures of wisdom. Because of this our finite reason is always in movement toward the infinite God. We can always learn something anew and understand with ever greater profundity the richness of Revelation. We will never be able to exhaust it.”
To me this sounds exactly like the right attitude and what I have read by his accusers just seems to reveal their insecurity and their sense of feeling threatened by his freedom and lightness of approach. So, what I will try to share in the coming days is my understanding of the three counts on which he is being charged with heresy and I'll start with the most important one by far – the Eucharist.

Before giving some thought to what Müller said, I would like to come clean about the fact that I treasure and love the Eucharist and also that I believe in Jesus’ real presence there - in it being Jesus! (More on what ’real’ and ‘being’ means later, plus I hope my agnostic and atheist friends are not put off by my coming out like this and that they will bear with me for a couple of paragraphs :)

If you take Jesus seriously (and I do), you can't not take to heart when he says: “Take it; this is my body.” (Mark, 14:22) as he passes bread round to his disciples and next “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mark, 14:24) when he does the same with wine. This is a very strange thing to say and definitely one that would have grabbed your attention had you been sat there with the apostles! What it means to me, and what it has meant to many over the last two thousand years, is that Jesus has left his followers a great gift - a way for them to have a relationship with him like that of the apostles. When I receive the Eucharist, or even when I walk past a church anywhere in the world, I thank him for his presence there and I both derive strength from it and take it as an opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to following him with all my strengths and weaknesses.

OK, lets turn to Müller now and see what he actually said, that earned him such ferocious criticism:1
"In reality, body and blood of Christ do not mean the material components of Jesus the human during his lifetime or of his risen bodily existence. Here, body and blood refer much more to the presence of Christ in the sign of bread and wine."
The way I read it is as follows: bread and wine don't materially turn into the bodily parts of Jesus (i.e., there isn’t a restructuring of matter from predominantly carbohydrates to predominantly proteins) during transubstantiation. Instead, bread and wine acquire Jesus' real presence while phenomenologically remaining only its signs. In other words, I see bread and wine while I believe that the priest’s acting on Jesus’ behalf when repeating his words from the Last Supper brings about Jesus' presence. My affirmation of the Eucharist really being Jesus is an act of faith and is in no way compromised by stating that the bread and wine have not altered in a way accessible to the senses.

So, while the above attempt at unpacking Müller’s statement merely transposes it into my words and exposes that I fully agree with him, let’s take a look at whether it sounds like what the Church teaches:
“[B]y the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1376)
In essence, Müller changes nothing in how St. Thomas Aquinas puts that the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist “cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone” (Summa Theologica, III, 75, 1), but for the sticklers there remains the question of what the Catechism means by ‘substance.‘ Here we have to refer back to Aristotle, whose theory of being it employs and where a distinction is made between a thing-in-itself (the substance) and its properties (which can be accidental or essential). Loosely put (for to do anything else would take us way off track), the substance of something is that which is inaccessible about it to the senses, while its properties are what is. This distinction between the sense-accessible and sense-inaccessible is echoed throughout the history of ontology and there are certainly other, more recent ways of thinking and talking about it than Aristotle’s ones. In Müller’s defense, it is plenty to realize though that his ’presence’ refers to ‘substance‘ while his labeling bread and wine as ‘signs’ refers to their ‘properties.’

Finally, it is worth remembering though that the above sophistication of thought is merely an attempt at being formal and structured about something that is ‘technically’ unknown and that fully relies on faith.

1 Note that the quote is my own translation, as opposed to the following, Googlified one, bandied around on English websites: “In reality, the body and blood of Christ do not mean the material components of the human person of Jesus during his lifetime or in his transfigured corporality. Here, body and blood mean the presence of Christ in the signs of the medium of bread and wine.” For the German speakers among you, here is what he said directly: „In Wirklichkeit bedeuten Leib und Blut Christi nicht die materiellen Bestandteile des Menschen Jesus während seiner Lebenszeit oder in der verklärten Leiblichkeit. Leib und Blut bedeuten hier vielmehr Gegenwart Christi im Zeichen des Mediums von Brot und Wein.“ quoted from „Die Messe.: Quelle christlichen Lebens “, Augsburg, S. 139f.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

James, the firestarter

The apostle James, whose feast it is today, is a super popular saint and is widely believed to have been a bit of a hot-head among Jesus’ disciples (likely also leading to his early martyrdom). On one occasion, when some Samaritans didn’t welcome Jesus with open arms, he asked: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (Luke, 9:54). Needless to say, he and his brother John, who was in on the plot to bring in aerial support, got swiftly told off by Jesus and they moved on to the next town.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Muddy road

Muddy road
And now for something not all that different: my favorite Zen kōan:
Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. “Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?” “I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

For more great kōans see this collection.

Monday, 23 July 2012


Nativity icon
Spirits without bodies will never be spiritual men and women.
It is our entire being, that is to say, the soul and flesh combined,
which by receiving the Spirit of God constitutes the spiritual man.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The last day

It is impossible to spend the coming day in faith
if we do not think of it as the last day of our life.

John Climacus (7th century)
(quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism)

Friday, 20 July 2012

Sunrise skirmish

Two men who wanted to see the sunrise would be foolish to argue about the place where it will appear and their means of looking at it, then to let their argument degenerate into a quarrel, from that to come to blows and in the heat of the conflict to gouge out each other's eyes. There would no longer be any question then of contemplating the dawn ...

Let us who wish to contemplate God purify our hearts by faith and heal them by means of peace; for the effort we make to love one another is already a gift from him to whom we raise our eyes.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
(quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The God of Explanations

God of explanations

Not to be confused either with the God of Small Things or the God of Rain, the God of Explanations1 is fast running out of business. At the dawn of civilization he was busy with lifting the sun across the sky, with making fire, with curing the possessed; by the middle of the 20th century he only had to flip the switch of creation and now we can even notionalize a self–creating Universe and affirm that the God of Explanations is “not necessary,” “surplus to requirement.” And I totally agree! [but apologize for the sarcasm :)]

Leaving to one side the awkward question of where the laws that govern such a self-creating existence come from and that a "[complete unified] theory [that explains our universe] itself would determine the outcome of our search for it!" (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History Of Time "), I would like to argue that applying criteria of “necessity” and “explanatory goodness” to God is a category mistake. It is akin to a child saying that their mother is not necessary for explaining breast milk - true, but not very much to the point ...

An atheist has no need for God in their world view - a huge amount of what is going on can be explained by science and some cannot, but is firmly believed to be scientifically explainable. This is a self-consistent view, which rightly looks at God as an unnecessary bolt-on. Someone like me, who believes in the existence of a loving, personal God, can take the same science though and can also split phenomena into explainable and as yet unexplained and, just like my atheist friends, hope for a future increase of the former and decrease of the latter. Neither do I have to equate the unexplained with God's actions and view the former as having been wrestled off God by science (à la the “God of gaps” argument). On the contrary! I see science as telling me how it is that God's creation works and I marvel at the beauty of the Standard Model, evolution, neuroscience and cognitive psychology, to mention a few. I also derive pleasure from looking at the history of science, with its drive towards greater understanding peppered with herculean paradigm shifts and all the good that its advances have have done and “to [which] humanity owes so much of its current development” (Fides et Ratio, 106).

Instead of coming to a conclusion that science and belief in God end up being irreconcilable (like Christof Koch does in his interesting “confessions ”), I would like to say that a greater understanding of science and a science that has greater and greater predictive and explanatory powers leads to a fuller and greatly enriched understanding of God.

Finally, it is worth realizing that this view is nothing new, as already St. Paul says that “[e]ver since the creation of the world, [God's] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20) and in the 1960s the Second Vatican Council affirmed that “if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God” (Gaudium et Spes, 36).

1 I would like to thank my bestie, Margaret, for coining this phrase and for reminding me that “all holy people reject that kind of a God.” :)


As is a grain of sand weighed against a large amount of gold, so, in God, is the demand for equitable judgement weighed against his compassion. As a handful of sand in the boundless ocean, so are the sins of the flesh in comparison with God's providence and mercy. As a copious spring could not be stopped up with a handful of dust, so the Creator's compassion cannot be conquered by the wickedness of creatures.

Isaac of Niniveh (7th century)
(quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Who is a Christian?

What is
“Christ is the first-born of God, his Logos, in whom all people share. That is what we have learned and what we bear witness to ... All who have lived in accordance with the Logos are Christians, even if they have been reckoned atheists, as amongst the Greeks Socrates, Heraclitus and the like.”

Justin (died 165) (quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism)
Just to preempt a misinterpretation of the above, I don't believe the idea is akin to the dubious posthumous baptisms practiced by some groups - instead it is an acknowledgement of the universality of Jesus' message and a recognition by Justin (Christians) of its practicing and adherence to by others. It is not an imposed labeling of ‘good’ atheists as Christians against their will but an affirmation that being Jesus' follower is about following his words (feeding the hungry, quenching their thirst, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, … (Matthew 25:31-46)). In many ways St. Justin's statement is echoed in Pope Benedict's point made during the homily at Freiburg airport last October:
“[A]gnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our[, the Church's,] sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith.”

Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Me too!

A brother who has sinned was expelled from the church by the priest. Whereupon Abba Bessarion rose and went with him, saying “I too am a sinner.”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers (quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism)

Monday, 16 July 2012

Faithfulness and caring


When I read an interview (in German - English here1) with the youngest Cardinal of the Catholic Church - Rainer Maria Woelki, the following question and answer struck me in particular:
ZEIT: You were quoted as saying the following during the Catholic Congress, which resulted in a lot of anger being directed at you: “I can imagine that people who take responsibility for one another and who live in a permanent, homosexual relationship, can be seen similarly to those who live in a heterosexual partnership." Do you stand by this statement?

Woelki: The Catechism says the following about those who have homosexual tendencies: “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2358] If I take this seriously, I cannot look at homosexual relationships and only see their being “contrary to the natural law,” as the Catechism states [§2357]. I also try to acknowledge that they take responsibility for each other on a permanent basis, have promised each other faithfulness and want to look after each other, even though I cannot endorse their life choices. The life choice, that we as Catholic Church represent, is sacramental marriage between a man and a woman, that is open to the transmission of life. This is how I have said it also at the Catholic Congress immediately before the statement you have quoted.

[translation and references in square brackets mine]
What I like a lot about this quote is the obvious desire by Cardinal Woelki to see the good that is there even under circumstances that the Church does not endorse, without being unfaithful to its teaching. This strikes me like exactly the thing Jesus would do today.

1 The translation does seem quite skewed to me, so, proceed with caution if you are thinking of reading it. You can get a sense of this even just from the one question I re-translated above and from the article's title, which bears little resemblance to the Cardinal's words.


He who created human beings in order to make them share in his own fullness so disposed their nature that it contains the principle of all that is good, and each of these dispositions draws them to desire the corresponding divine attribute. So God could not have deprived them of the best and most precious of his attributes: self-determination, freedom ...

Gregory of Nyssa (330-395) quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Solitary amongst a crowd


Amma Syncletica said,
“Many live in the mountains
and behave as if they were living amidst the uproar of the city,
and they are lost.
It is possible
while living amongst a crowd
to be inwardly solitary,
and while living alone
to be inwardly beset by the crowd.”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers (quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism)

Friday, 13 July 2012

How to keep parishioners awake

112arcabas jpg

One of my favorite books of all time is the superb Roots of Christian Mysticism, from which I would like to share a couple of quotes with you over the coming weeks. The book as a whole is a joy to read and the quotes you will find here are among my absolute favorites - they are a list I compiled for one of my best friends, who is also the most sincere agnostic I have ever met. So, here comes the first one:
Some elders came to see Abba Poemen to ask him,
"If we see some brothers dozing in the congregation,
do you want us to reprove them so that they stay awake?"
He said to them, "For my part, when I see a brother dozing,
I lay his head on my lap and let him rest."

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Does Dawkins need God to be good?


While I have to admit that I am not a fan of Richard Dawkins' rhetoric, I found myself immediately agreeing with what he meant by the title of one of his most recent articles: “You don’t need God to be good ... or generous.” Leaving aside the 95% of the article where he attacks religion in his trademark ad hominem, populist manner (“as a matter of fact it probably is not the case”[emphasis mine]), it turns out that his argument simply is that non-believers too are capable of “selfless generosity.” Both this and his claim, which I would translate as “you don't need to believe in God to be good,” are statements that I wholeheartedly agree with and which are in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Here the Catechism (§33) affirms that we are all
“open to truth and beauty, [have a] sense of moral goodness, [have] freedom and the voice[s] of [our] conscience[s], with [our] longings for the infinite and for happiness.”
None of this is predicated on a belief in God. What I believe though is that it does come from God, who is the source of all goodness, generosity and love. This is where Prof. Dawkins and I would disagree.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Jesus loved Judas


During these last weeks I have been thinking about a passage that struck me during this year's Good Friday way of the cross that was lead by Pope Benedict XVI and for which the meditations were prepared by Danilo and Anna Maria Zanzucchi (the first married couple ever to provide the thoughts to reflect on during this key moment of the Easter triduum):
It seems we can hear you say:
“I have been condemned to death;
so many people who seemed to love and understand me
have listened to lies
and accused me.
They did not understand my words.
They handed me over to judgement and condemnation.
To death by crucifixion, the most ignominious death.”
What caught my attention here was the insight that Jesus loved Judas as much as all the other apostles and that Judas' betrayal must have hurt him a lot. The picture of Judas in the Gospels is understandably negative and his mentions tend to be accompanied by warnings of his future betrayal. This, to me, has until last Easter obscured the fact that Jesus would not have viewed Judas in such a light. He would have been fond of him and would have looked upon him as he did upon John, Peter, James or the other apostles. His betrayal would have been a searing pain for Jesus rather than the consummation of the inevitable that I previously got from a superficial reading of Scripture. What this underlines to me is that Jesus experienced not only the abandonment by society that Golgotha presents, but a very personal, individual betrayal by a loved one too.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

What do I believe?

Trying to answer this question is hopelessly ambitious and as unlikely to be precise or comprehensive as trying to exhaustively describe someone. Nonetheless, I'd like to take a first stab at it and probably return to it as the Year of Faith kicks off and progresses. The following then would be a couple of the highlights:
  1. I believe in doing to others what I would have them do to me. (Mathew 7:12)
  2. I believe there is a God who is Love (1 John 4:8).
  3. I believe God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to us (John 3:16).
  4. The beliefs of the Nicene Creed are mine.
  5. I believe the truth will set us free (John 8:32).
  6. I believe that beauty stands equal alongside goodness and truth and that they all are how God shows himself to us.
  7. I believe there is goodness and truth to be found in all religions (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 843) and that they all “reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men” (Nostra Aetate 2).
  8. I believe that agnostics and atheists are my brothers and sisters.
  9. I believe in defending the right of others to say things I disapprove of. (Voltaire)
  10. I believe there are motives worth dying for but none worth killing for. (See: “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16))
  11. I believe in being strict to myself and lenient to others. (John Paul II)
  12. I believe that “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” (Fides et Ratio) and that the scientific method not only holds utility but also opens our eyes to God's creation.
Twelve being a good number to stop at, I'd say that's it for now :).

St. Benedict

Lorenzo monaco incidents life saint benedict NG4062 fm

Today is the feast of Saint Benedict - the father of western monasticism, who in the prologue of his Rule says the following:
Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps 94 [95]:8).

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Where to start?

Over the last months I have been reflecting on what it is that my faith consists of and I have to say that the definition put forward for the Year of Faith fits like a glove - it is all about my relationship with a person: Jesus. To leave it at that though could make it sound like a lot of very different things to different people and may well also be the basis for the typical first reactions I get whenever religion comes up in conversation with colleagues or friends and I admit to being 'religious' (a term so loaded with connotations alien to me, but nonetheless one I don't want to deny):
  1. Really? I would never have had you down as being religious!
  2. Do you believe in magic then?
  3. [my favorite and one that I actually took as a compliment] Anyone over the age of thirty who is religious is either an idiot or very smart. :)
This is typically followed by a stream of 'So, do you believe in X?' questions, where X includes the virgin birth, immaculate conception, papal infallibility and a list of other (often also fictitious) articles of faith. The next phase then is an (often thankfully only temporary) imposition of a sense of self-censorship on my friends (‘Sorry, did that offend you?’) as religious people do so easily take offense :). The fact that I am a scientist further complicates my admission of religiosity as the former has an image of rationality while the latter conjures up connotations of superstition. I am therefore either a schizophrenic or there is something else going on ...

Monday, 9 July 2012

Year of Faith 2012-2013

The Year of Faith that the Catholic Church is going to launch on 11th October this year is meant to be an “occasion to understand more profoundly that the foundation of Christian faith is [an encounter with Christ].” In this blog I will try to share how I respond to this call and try to deepen my own relationship with Jesus.