A Limited God and Christian Intolerance

I have begun reading Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and have run into a familiar pagan conception.  Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, says that no god could be great enough to create or run the entire world.  To reference anime, Holo of Spice and Wolf claimed the same thing.  The idea of an Infinite Being baffles the pagan mind.  I will say that even though we Christians believe in such a Being, we understand terribly little about Him.  We understand enough to be saved, but not even an eternity is enough to fathom all of God’s thoughts.  This prompted one Church Father to say that anyone who knew the least thing about God was a great theologian.

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Merlin, Igraine, and Viviane claim that Christians are foolish in denying the existence of other gods.  Indeed, in St. Justin Martyr’s opinion, these gods are really demons; in St. Augustine’s, they are nought.  But, these pagans remind me of the Ancient Israelites, who believed that other gods existed, but they were nothing compared to the God of Israel.  It is not until later in the Psalms that we see the assertion that no god exists besides God.  This suggests an evolution in thought: God is not limited, but ever-present and all powerful.

67184_maxAnd so, why not wipe out the pagan gods who are either demons or nothing at all?  Viviane makes the further accusation that Christians only want to spread their wisdom and to suppress all other kinds.  If this were the case, why has so much pagan mythology and literature survived?  Who do you think preserved it?  Monasteries and Christian schools!  Christians have always recognized wisdom where they saw it.  God ever worked for the salvation of all men, so one should not be surprised at finding wisdom in other cultures!

Cicero denouncing Cataline

Cicero denouncing Cataline

Christianity does not wish to wipe out wisdom, but only the worship of pagan gods, which must surely be accounted utter foolishness since they do not exist.  At one time, it might have been virtuous for pagans to worship gods, especially if they accounted them good, just, and holy–as Cicero and Socrates did.  But, Christ has come to remove the veil of ignorance, teaching about salvation through one Infinite God.  But, what a widening of the mind early pagan converts must have had to change their idea of God from a creature-like form to a formless and limitless Creator!

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The Benefit of Litanies

This morning, I was reminded of one form of prayer which I have long neglected: the litany.  Some Protestants have qualms about the litany and repetitive prayer in general, dubbing it “babbling like pagans” (Mt. 6:7), who thought that their prayer would be answered when they hit upon the right name for their god.  But, Protestants ignore Psalm 135 (136 in the King James Bible), which repeats “for His mercy endureth forever” 27 times!  Surely, the Bible is not to be judged as having vain repetition!  Then, why ought a prayer form imitating Psalm 135 be judged as vain?

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Another word for worship is adoration.  The virtue of the litany lies in us being able to adore different facets of the same God, whose attributes, though perfectly simple in God, cannot be contained in one human word.  And so, I recommend the Litany of the Sacred Heart to all in order to adore and recall the innumerable excellences of Jesus Christ, Noster Dominus et Salvator.  One can also remind themselves of the excellences of his two parents, St. Mary and St. Joseph, as one begs their intercession.  The Litany of the Saints is also a wonderful prayer, very long and happily so, because it reminds us of the various ways God led a great diversity of persons to heaven and so praises the Most Efficacious Salvation of God.

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But, it is of immense importance to remind ourselves of God’s goodness, because suffering in our lives can cause us to forget God’s goodness, and the world, the flesh, and the devil try to blot out the memory of God.  Rather than the true image of a Forgiving and Loving Father, they try to impose the image of a stern, demanding, and wrathful judge whose standards may never be met.  Then, instead of approaching God with confidence that He will cleanse us from our iniquity, we shall rather run away and seek solace in amusements, which are often occasions of sin.  The devil pounces on our own lack of faith to make us think that there is no longer hope of salvation–even though all that’s necessary is to be sorry and make a motion, even if only mental, to do the right!  I myself confess that this morning, as I said the Litany of the Sacred Heart, doubts came to mind as I prayed verses about God’s mercy and patience, for which I repent in the bitterness of my heart.

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This shows the necessity of constantly learning about God.  One must never forget God’s goodness and mercy!  Remembering God’s mercy allows us to approach Him without fear even if we have blackened our souls by the most vile and scandalous iniquity.  After all, He did die for us, and it was not easy: an ordinary mortal would have died from agony to feel the anguish in Christ’s Heart as He said: “Amen I say to you, one of you is about to betray Me.”  I write this because a certain atheist dubbed the Passion “a rough weekend.”  If one considers the Most Dolorous Passion of Jesus Christ easy, that–as the atheist claimed–anyone might be willing to undergo it to save mankind, is it any wonder that this man supposes the Christ could take him or leave him?  A most vile temptation of the devil!  If we truly understood the anguish which racks the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the loss of a single soul, we would be willing to eat only bread and water for our entire lives to offer penance for them and beg their conversion.  None of us can do that?  Don’t worry: God holds none of our weakness against us even as he tries to make us more virtuous.

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What is God’s Will and Why One Should Strive to Follow it

Interestingly, people sometimes become nervous when they hear about God’s will.  Perhaps because they expect it will take a great sacrifice or they associate this term with misfortunes–e.g. “It was just God’s will.”  Yet, who is it that is willing for us to follow His will?  A perfect and infinitely good God who is absolutely merciful and just.  He wishes all things to come to perfection, which for human beings is nothing other than our happiness.

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So, God wishes us to be happy and to be perfectly happy with Him for all eternity, sharing in God’s own happiness.  Therefore, God’s will cannot be other than His Glory and our complete happiness.  Indeed, if we should all become happy in the way that God wished, like the blessed Virgin Mary–the only human being to perfectly follow God’s will in all respects (Of course, Jesus Christ followed His Father’s will perfectly too, but He was also God), then we should all be saints and the happiness of one would increase our own happiness.  How greatly would God’s glory be revealed!  The saints dwell in perfect happiness in heaven and were more joyful on earth than us ordinary sinners.

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Yet, why this hesitation and fear of following God’s will if it leads us to perfect happiness?  The great crosses in the lives of the saints might deter us; yet, is there a life without a cross–that gift from a most loving God?  If suffering be our lot whether we are saints or sinners, why not suffer for the sake of virtue and our happiness rather than going against God’s will?  Is it possible that we shall have a lighter cross by doing what ultimately makes us unhappy, even if it might seem the easier route?

I should like to compare three lives for you, all of which seemed to have been lived by God’s will: St. Padre Pio, Louis Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkien.    One does find crosses therein, but these same people seem to be happier than most.

Padre Eusebio Notte

On one hand, the life of Padre Pio seems to have been stuffed with crosses: demonic persecutions, persecution by church authorities, people maligning his good name, much pain, and many severe physical illnesses.  On the other hand, he delighted to suffer because suffering increased his likeness and closeness to Our Lord and Master–to the degree that he was marked with the Stigmata.  Furthermore, he was able to help people reconcile with Christ through his ministry of the Confessional and his example of a life dedicated to Jesus Christ.  Doing so brought him so many spiritual children than he could have had as the father of a family.  No other kind of life would have made Padre Pio happier.

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You might know that Louis Martin was the father of St. Therese of Lisieux.  If I remember rightly, he owned a jewelry business and delighted in his family: a loving wife, who has also entered the process of canonization, and five daughters who became religious sisters.  He strictly observed the sabbath, exercised patience toward all, was always the first to respond to the village fire alarm, made time for quiet meditation, and loved his daughters dearly.  If he had gone into religion, as he had planned, we would never have had St. Therese of Lisieux, and he would never have enjoyed the love of his family and been an example to all his neighbors.  And despite his illnesses toward the end of his life, he actually seemed to grow happier and holier and edified people even by his death.

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Lastly, Tolkien’s early life also contained suffering: his mother was disowned by her family after converting to Catholicism and she died a widow while Tolkien was in his teens, he was forced to separate from his fiancee for years without contact (save once) and almost lost her to another man, and suffered many illnesses and wounds while at the front lines in World War I–losing all save one friend in the war.  Yet, his mother’s sacrifices increased his fervor for the Faith, his separation and reunion with his beloved purified and strengthened their love, and his suffering in the war increased his understanding.

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Suffering does increase understanding.  How well could Tolkien have written The Lord of the Rings without this experience?  Could he have written the romance of Luthien and Beren?  How much less penetrating his academic articles?  Truth and wisdom are great possessions.  Can anyone doubt that Tolkien was anything less than happy in dramatically reading the first fifty lines of Beowulf before new classes?

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All these lives are happy and according to God’s will.  One might judge Padre Pio’s life to have been more according to God’s will because he’s a canonized saint, but that is speculation: we shall not know until we have arrived in heaven, and I am certain that we shall see all three of them there!  What we can be sure that Padre Pio would not have been happy as a teacher of Old English, Tolkien as a jeweler, or Louis Martin as a monk.  Each person was made to be happy in a different fashion, but all of these lives are focused on Christ and following the Will of God: your salvation and happiness.