Philosophical Morsels of a Catholic  Kind
(Annonymous Contribution)

Brian's Law

For the philosophically inclined with a passing, non-technical interest in modern physics,  the longish short story, "Brian's Law," will interest and intrigue them.  It tells of a 14-year old physics prodigy at Princeton University who thinks Einstein got some fundamental ideas all wrong, and he proceeds to correct them. These are really philosophical issues with profound implications regarding how we see the natural world. The conclusions this lad comes to are quite marvelous in many ways. Phenomenologists and metaphysicians alike will enjoy it, guaranteed. Worth a read, right here.

“The obedience of faith must be given to God
who reveals himself” (John Paul II)

From this notion of obedience we learn that faith is not so much a "leap," as the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard suggests, as it is a “response.” Not a leap in the dark to someone we cannot tell is really there, but a response we make to light that has shined in that darkness, illuminating the one who beckons us. It is not blind faith that animates us then, but a signal, one we have received and responded to in a hidden place within us. This means that faith is not our doing so much as a right response to something God is doing in, to, and for us, and yes, with us, for nothing happens if we do not make our response. 

Secular minds cannot understand a lively faith as something not engendered by ourselves, by dint of will borne of ignorance, or simple psychological need, a calculated leap to someone who for all we know is not there. But if faith is a leap of the will, it is a leap into arms that have invited us. No secular mind can understand this because what takes place takes place as a gift placed deep within the soul, unobservable and unfathomable to the unbeliever and the merely curious.

Faith is our yes to one who has made us aware of him. And to what he wants to give us and what he wants to ask of us, both in myriad ways, through Scripture, through the witness of those who surround us, through the things that happen to us in the course of our day, and most particularly through the quiet stirrings someplace deep within us. We can pay attention to these signals or ignore them, but whatever the case, they are not our doing. 

This is why the Council and the Pope speak of faith as obedience. An obedient soul is a soul disposed to receive what is being given, and to do what is being asked, both in the order of belief and in the order of doing. An obedient soul is an attentive soul. The eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of the master. When the Master beckons, such a soul will answer. 

Who Cares About Causes?

We only become aware of the root causes of what’s happening in the world around us in and through their effects, through the effects these causes bring about. That is obvious. Causes, after all, are only recognized as causes by virtue of their effects. Indeed, by definition, there are no causes if there are no effects. At the same time, on the other hand, causes can often be hidden or possibly just unrecognized. We have the effect, clear enough, but we may not have a clue as to the cause (except that reasonable people assume there is one). In some cases, strange to say, much as we may deplore an effect, we can be blind to the cause, blind in some measure because do not want to know the cause. Like the alcoholic, for example, who might be witnessing the deterioration of his family life or his career, but refuses to acknowledge that the cause is alcohol.

A forest is ablaze because a match was lit. A match was lit because a man decided to strike it. The man did such a thing because of evil in his heart. The source (cause) of that impulse was the Evil One, manipulating a will he had been corralling for years. Then comes the investigation. The fire is suspicious and the man is eventually caught and jailed as someone with bad will. And thus the case was closed, to everyone’s satisfaction. Especially to the Evil One, who, undetected as ever, remains free to work his havoc through intermediaries. In short, very little is usually understood about such evil in the world.

And, of course, thank God, there are good effects all about us too that need to be understood. Like the dawn of each new day with its abundant goodness, air to breath, food to eat, hearts that keep beating (for reasons no one can really explain), and lovely faces, friends and deeds that constitute our blessings. All, to be sure, with their causes behind them. And, too, except in the most superficial way, most of this causation remains unacknowledged, for most of the world most of the time. We are like the family that sits down to a good dinner, night after night, and never thinks to thank the woman who spent half the day planning, shopping and preparing it. 

Philosophically, we are like phenomenologists who, as we grapple with the phenomenal world, never stop to acknowledge noumenal causalities that provide such effects for us. But not all phenomenologists are like that. Edith Stein and John Paul II were phenomenologists who, for all their philosophizing, lived by faith in the reality that lies beyond phenomena and accounts for it being given to us. A faith that answers Heideggers’s great seminal question as to why there are beings rather than non-being. In one respect, the question is an absurd one, because without being you cannot speak of non-being, just as you cannot speak of an effect without a cause, or a gift without a giver.  

What is so interesting (and alarming) about the modern mind is how we can focus so extensively and with such sophistication on effects and yet remain so innocent of their causes. Modern sociology is a good example of this. Sociology can quantify and chart the rise of divorce and the disintegration of the family in our day, doing so in great detail while having next to no understanding of the deeper reasons why this is happening. The same can be said about the sorry state of child education in our country. Or the growth of the drug culture among the young, and so on. We have statistics but little in the way of understanding.  

Could this be so because, in the final analysis, when it comes to understanding the reasons why things are as they are, we all collectively would have to come to terms with what G. K. Chesterton saw when asked his opinion on what was wrong with the world. His answer was simple and direct: “I am.

Ratiocination and Contemplation

The goal of ratiocination, philosophical or theological, is clear and distinct ideas organized in some helpfully coherent way. By contrast, the goal and motive of contemplation (acc. to mystical theology) is never improved ideas or conceptual coherence, but pure and simply a more perfect relationship, usually described as the intimacy of union. In short, ratiocination seeks clarity of understanding through right ideas, contemplation seeks the intimacy of love in God. According to St. John of the Cross, this union of love with God can only come about in the darkness of understanding, when human reasoning surrenders to the darkness of faith and, in doing so, abandons itself; and then, when it does this, it receives (at God’s pleasure) the light of infused understanding, i.e., divine knowledge arising inevitably (and solely) out of the intimacy between God and the human heart. By going beyond mental concepts, by going out of one’s self, out from one’s “I” and one’s own thoughts, one is brought into a new ontological reality, the order of “we” with God; and one gains a new form of knowledge, a knowledge that only comes from the experience of being with God, even if only momentarily. Such moments of intimate union are enough to change how we understand God, ourselves and the world. In purely human terms, we may perhaps glimpse the nature of this knowledge when we read that “Adam knew Eve.”

The Nice, the Good, and the Holy

There are three kinds of people, four, really, if you include the Not-Nice, those who pursue self-interest to the detriment of others. But we speak here of the three classes who are not that way.

The Nice are those who do virtually everything they do out of self-interest, but a self-interest that recognizes its limits. They obey the law and are generally careful to cause no harm. They remember to wave to their neighbor, and are often willing to lend a helping hand if it doesn’t cost them too much. In what they do and think, they hardly ever consider God.

The Good are those who take to heart the interests of others, even if at times it must be at the expense of their own self-interest. These are mostly devout people, religiously speaking, who want the good of others, seeing them in some way as their brothers and sisters. And in so doing and thinking, they become good themselves. In essence they try to live the Second Command, which is to love others as one loves one’s self. 

The Holy are those who place God first. They have come to live the First Command, which is to love God with all one’s heart, mind and soul, above all else. Their only self-interest is lose themselves in that love. They offer everything to God, and if called upon, so also to their fellow man, holding practically nothing back for themselves if need be. They believe that the good they have comes from God, the source of all goodness, and see no goodness of their own in themselves. In fact, apart from the grace that sustains them, they believe that, in and of themselves, they are among the worst. But they do not live in themselves, for now they live in Christ, and that is why they are holy.

The Nice, for the most part, are the godless secular, though certainly many of those claiming religion likely belong here as well. The Nice are the most numerous for the world today is filled with them.

The Good include virtually all Protestants who are devout in their faith, and many Catholics and Jews of similar disposition. And others too are in this number, even some without religion. But overall their number is smaller.

Though not necessarily so, the Holy are apt to be Catholic or Orthodox, if only because that form of Christianity issues an explicit call to holiness. Catholicism and Orthodoxy understand and venerate holiness, for they alone have the sacramental life to help bring holiness about. But surely, God can bring anyone to holiness by any means He chooses (“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (Ex. 33:19)), which is why it is impossible to number them or say where they are. It seems safe to say that the count is sadly small.

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​"God's temple, which you are . . . ."

We don't think of ourselves as holy in Christ. We try to make ourselves holy. Have reverence for yourself. The Pharisee in you is scandalized that Christ would dine with you.

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About turning to God after we sin

The Prodigal Son appreciated his father's love precisely through the very sin. The same with Peter.  Peter was sorry and his turning to Jesus increased his union.

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When you are loved

When you are loved, you want to love back. Love makes you a slave.  
Any desire to love God is a proof that God loves us.

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When you don't believe you are loved

When you don't believe you are loved, you become preoccupied with convincing yourself that you're lovable.

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"Love God and do what you want."

The saint is someone who is always doing what he wants because he is always doing what He wants.