Category Archives: Theology

The end times are indeed near at hand…

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado Jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The end times are indeed near at hand. That is not to say that the “12/12/2012” Mayan prediction of the end of the world is true –it is not– or that the rapture approach is insightful. But if you really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior then an acknowledgement of our living in the end times is the right way to live. The Scripture readings in these final weeks of the liturgical year, but especially this week, prepare the believer to face the fact of the final things, sometimes called the Four Last Things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. We can’t get away from these things. If we could, then there would be no need of a Messiah, of the Cross and Resurrection, the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Church, and a spiritual life; no need for salvation. If there is no probability of hell, then there is no need of salvation.

The subject of the Four Last Things was taken up by Pope John Paul II in the Wednesday Audiences in July and August of 1999. Look them up, they are worth a good review. By way of summary, let me draw attention to a few things the Pontiff said:
  • heaven “is not an abstraction nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity;
  • When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God, which is the goal of human existence”;
  • the hell some will enjoy is not the result of God willing the death of the person but the result of the person not desiring the love and mercy God has offered, that he has freely given;
  • the Pope spoke of the danger of rigidly holding a literal interpretation of the Scriptural images of hell: for John Paul, and therefore us, “the inextinguishable fire” and “burning oven” in the biblical narrative points the hearer to “indicate the complete frustration and vacuity of a life without God”;
  • we know that hell exists; we don’t know the population of hell; Cf. Cardinal Avery Dulles’ famous First Things article, “The Population of Hell”; John Paul says that hell is not something that we can know but that real damnation “remains a possibility”;
  • On purgatory the Pope said, is the state of being “before we enter into God’s kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory”;
  • Purgatory is “the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but are not completely imbued with that love”; 
  • even though Christ holds His hand in friendship, that is, in love, the extension of our hand “does not exclude they duty to present ourselves pure and whole before God.”
  • Read the Catechism at paragraph 1861.
Perhaps tying all this together can be seen in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians where he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory” (3:2-4) And in the collect for this week’s Mass: “Stir up the will of your faithful, we pray, O Lord, that, striving more eagerly to bring your divine work to fruitful completion, they may receive in greater measure the healing remedies your kindness bestows.”
What ought be my approach to the four last things today, and in the years to come? Well, if I truly believe that Jesus is real, then the nihilistic approach is not a winning one. If I believe what Jesus exhorted us to consider as genuine, “Do not be afraid” then fear (sinful activity) can’t rule my life. If I believe that God is always present, then I ought to receive the sacraments of Confession and frequently receive the medicine of Immortality –the Holy Eucharist– reminding myself that Jesus told us that he’d be with us to the end of the world. His presence is neither magic nor fiction, but a real presence that no other warm body can ever give. These are the things that our spiritual life needs to be fed with, these are the treasures given by the all-loving, all-powerful God.
One of the monks at New Skete Monastery (in New York) said the following at the Divine Liturgy:

So how can we honestly and proactively approach today’s feast, and this holiday season in a way that will get us past the public façade of wise-guy banter and beyond the disconnect between hard realities and sincere beliefs and honest ideals? How might we bravely allow our deeper humanity to shine forth in the midst of some extreme assaults on such things as tenderness, hope, and compassion?

Today’s readings, along with monastic wisdom and psychological insight suggest the following: Daily if not hourly slow down the frantic pace of our media interaction, verbosity, and endless tasks: daily if not hourly return to the temple of our own person and the holy and fertile ground of our interior life. Daily if not continually express appreciation for whatever someone does that makes my life richer today: Daily or at least once in a while do something simple but concrete and different, for the express purpose of nurturing the human spirit, within yourself, for someone else, and for the future.

In these days in the post Christ the King observance and before Advent, let’s pray for the grace to know ourselves more deeply so as to accept more fully “divine work” in our lives with the gift of discernment showing us the way to the Father.

3 unavoidable questions for Christian faith’s reasonability

In recent years, we have seen a significant interest in teaching the faith more authentically, but also we’ve become more attentive to answering the real questions believers and unbelievers have. With the Year of Faith fully engaged now, I think we need to attend to three unavoidable questions whether we are teaching teens, adults, or expanding the horizons of our faith and understanding of the cosmos we live in.

There are no easy answers in proposing the Christian faith to others, especially to teens. Do you want pablum when considering real questions?

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When Fig Leaves Sprout

Fig Tree by mumacas.jpgMy neighbor has several fig trees. His children are now in the process of wrapping them up for the winter –New England is not an agreeable place to raise fig trees all year.

The opening prayer for Mass today speaks of “the constant gladness of being devoted to you [that is, God]” because God is “the author of all that is good.” This gladness, this happiness, and good is always lived in posture of hope. Symbolically, in many ways the fig is a tangible sign of happiness and goodness. In the Bible the fig tree is posited as figure of these virtues. Variously the fig is interpreted as symbolic of the good, of peace, personal and national prosperity, safety, concern for the other, personal and national fulfillment, and probably the most important, the Promised Land.

Likely to be the most spoken of tree is the fig. Our first parents cover themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7), as a sweet and satisfying fruit is the fig (1 Kings 4:25) and if you need shade when you study the Word of God outside you would sit under a fig tree (John 1:48) or if you need a spring fruit for the table you would have figs (Hosea 9:10). So, it’s no surprise that the Lord uses the fig to illustrate a point in the synoptic gospels about being a disciple and of the Church.

Based on today’s Scripture readings, the poem “When Fig Leaves Sprout” by Minnesota composer William Beckstrand captures the sense of what we are about in the Christian life.

When fig leaves sprout, the summer’s near;
Just so, when sun and moon grow dim,
This earth and heav’n will pass and Christ
Will come and raise the dead with him.

This coming Christ, who
once for all
A sacrifice for sin’s dark stain
Has offered, will bring back to
All those who sleep, for doom or gain.

Secure with Jesus, Advocate
pleads for us at God’s right hand,
We daily work to do God’s will,
And wait His
coming stern and grand.

Connecticut lawmakers to consider physician assisted suicide

The front page
of today’s New Haven Register carried an article by Jordan Fenster,
Right-to-die bill may be discussed by legislature” by which the citizens of
Connecticut were alerted to the possibility that in the next session of the
legislature the question of assisted suicide will be on the table. Following
the defeat of Massachusetts ballot on the same subject last week, the contagion is now again flowing south. Already three US states, Oregon, Montana and Washington, allow for
physician assisted suicide. 34 states prohibit lethal doses of medication that
would end human life.

Let me say from the outset, this is not a Catholic issue. Persons of belief and unbelief ought to be concerned about the potential passing of a law that legalizes medically induced suicide. Hence, this is not a conservative issue. This is not a an anti-human dignity issue. It
is just the opposite: this is a human issue. Who we are a human beings, and how
we teach each other is a human issue that is informed by what we believe and
how we behave. Committing this legislative error is a problem of education.
Recall that in the past when a similar bill was brought to the CT voters it failed only 51-49%.

Several weeks ago there appeared in the New York Times an
intriguing OP-ED article that I believe we need to seriously consider in the
discussion of physician assisted suicide. Considering voices that differ from ours need to be thoughtfully taken into account because we are people use who reason to frame our moral lives. We can’t simply dismiss the other and therefore I appeal to people of belief and unbelief to reasonably discuss what’s at stake. When we rush the discuss without fact we always get burned.

In my opinion not enough attention has been devoted
to considering how this legislation has been lived out in this country and in
others, nor have we considered the philosophical, theological, sociological and
human consequences of such an act. Most often our heart-strings are pulled, even stretched leading us to decide weighty matters without due attention to the reality in front of us –to the person and people and intimately connected with life and death issues. We also don’t always adequately consider the eternal consequences of killing someone before natural death happens. 

Who’s life are we “making dignified” by engaging death before it’s naturally
presented? What really is human dignity? What does it mean to be truly a man or
a woman in relationship with other men and women here-and-now, and following
death? To what extent does fear, anxiety and perceived suffering dictate how we
think and act toward others? Are we sufficiently aware of and sensitive to the difference between ideology and being a person, no matter how debilitated?

Here is Ben Mattlin’s October 31, 2012 New York
article published online.

Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast

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Cardinal Dolan tells US bishops: work on your own conversion first

President Timothy Cardinal Dolan began his address saying that we need to
attend to “First things first: we are first believers in Christ: the way, the
truth and the life…We need to recall that the Lord said, “Seek first the
Kingdom of God”: it is God who first engages us…”

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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