Catholic vantages on Evolution

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco. news.providence.edu

Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory. — St. John Paul II’s 1996 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and “evolutionism,” presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? — Pope Benedict’s 2007 Meeting with Clergy

Recent studies indicate that the Church’s pastors have not been effective in communicating and leading this mission. In her 2015 study “Catholicism and Science,” sociologist Elaine Ecklund notes that 62% of high-attendance Catholics think that the Bible and science can be in conflict, indicating a lack of awareness that, in the words of John Paul II, “The theological teaching of the Bible, like the doctrine of the Church which makes this explicit, does not seek so much to teach us the how of things, as rather the why of things.” This is especially true of younger Catholics; according to the National Study of Youth and Religion, 72% of 18-29 year-old Catholics see science and religion in conflict, and 78% of 18-29 year-old lapsed Catholics cite the “conflict” of science and religion to account for their departure, despite the teaching of the Youth Catechism that “there is no insoluble contradiction between faith and science” (#23). This data suggests that in order to effectively catechize and evangelize this and subsequent generations, Catholic priests must be prepared to address scientific topics in a way that weds faith and reason. — Dr. Chris Baglow, author of Faith, Science, and Reason Theology on the Cutting Edge

That last quote is by my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Baglow, introducing the timely importance of a course he offered this Spring at our Seminary called, The Emergence of the Image: Human Evolution from Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Perspectives. I wish I could take it! It offers seminarians the opportunity to become part of the solution to the crisis these statistics evidence.

Recently he invited microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., who teaches biology and bioethics at Providence College, to give a series of lectures on evolution. Fr. Nicanor received his Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate in Moral Theology at the University of Fribourg.

One of his class lectures on “why would God choose to create through evolution” was recorded, and he wonderfully gave me permission to post his lecture for public consumption. I am so grateful! It’s over two hours long, the audio is not perfect, but I think it’s well worth your time. Enjoy…
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

“The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje” — Bishop Ratko Peri

[Busy days ahead so I will pause my posting till the weekend]

As a person who went on pilgrimage to Medjurgorje twice 25 or so years ago, let me say a few brief things about the recent judgment of Bishop Ratko Peri, following the lengthy Vatican investigation:

Considering everything that this chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of the alleged apparitions, it can peacefully be affirmed: The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje.

See also the cruxnow.com article here.

My comments today won’t analyze the content of the Vatican investigation or the Bishop’s judgment, which I don’t have time to think about or research, but I will offer four general reflections on claims to “private revelations” like those in Medjurgorje.

(N.B. I include a definition of what I mean by “private and public revelation” at the bottom of this post).

First. Private revelations always hold a relative status in the Catholic tradition. Even when the Church makes a judgment in favor of an apparition of Mary, belief in the apparition is not commanded for Catholics but only commended as “worthy of pious belief.” The obedience of faith is given only to public revelation, i.e. what is contained in Sacred Scripture as interpreted and handed on in Sacred Tradition. In fact, commending a private revelation as “worthy of pious belief” is actually quite modest language. Strictly speaking, the Church does not “approve” an apparition as true. Rather, it only asserts that the Church finds in the apparition nothing contrary to orthodox faith and practice.

That said, private revelations, like those in Fatima, Portugal can be given a revered status by the Church, even becoming the focus of a liturgical feast day (Our Lady of Fatima on May 13). And though one is still not required to accept the specifics of Fatima (e.g. Mary appeared between May 13 and October 13 at the Cova de Iria, the sun miraculously danced in the sky) as a truth of faith, the core message of Our Lady at Fatima must be accepted simply because it is part of the Catholic common core of beliefs, i.e. be devoted to God, repent, pray, do penance, make acts of reparation and receive the Sacraments.

Second. Following from the first point, private revelations can never be said to add anything substantial to the content of faith. When authentic, they only serve to emphasize and punctuate what is already fully present in the Church’s ordinary faith and sacramental life. In theological language, ordinary means not plain or dull, but rather the normal means by which God brings us His truth and salvation. Private revelations are always extra-ordinary, out of the ordinary. While we don’t diss their value, we also refuse to overinflate their value. Then why does God grant them at all? The Tradition is consistently clear that they are given by God when some aspect of the ordinary is being neglected or denigrated; or when there is an extraordinary crisis that may prevent the faithful from seeing and accessing the fullness of truth and life found in the Church. God does extra-ordinary things, yes, but extraordinary always tends back to the ordinary. As extra-ordinary, all private revelations are secondary, supplementary, ancillary and, like John the Baptist, should always be content to decrease in favor of the increase of the ordinary.

Those who latch on to private revelations in an obsessive, disordered, clingy or fanatical fashion sow the seeds of sectarianism, dishonor the fullness of salvation already “ordinarily” present in the Church, and they threaten the primacy of unseeing faith over visions. Faith, not sight, is the appropriate posture toward the supernatural in this life (see John 20:29; 2 Cor. 5:7).

In my experience, so much of what I call Catholic “apparition culture” resembles early Christian gnosticism that favored secret, esoteric, spectacular, special and new revelations over the ancient Apsotolic Tradition. A morbid fascination with novelties, the miraculous, the odd, as well as the compulsive need to feel special, is how St. Irenaeus might have described the gnostic pathology in his 3rd century treatise, Against All Heresies. St. John of the Cross made this same point thus:

Therefore if someone were now to ask questions of God or seek any new vision or revelation, he would not only be acting foolishly but would be committing an offense against God – for he should set his eyes altogether upon Christ and seek nothing beyond Christ.

God might answer him after this manner, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. I have spoken all things to you in my Word. Set your eyes on him alone, for in him I have spoken and revealed to you all things, and in him you shall find more than you ask for, even more than you want.”

Modern versions of this neo-gnostic “apparition culture” also seem to be a very human response to the crisis of modernity that has placed faith under the critical microscope of science, stripped away the sacred from the public square and made of religion a wholly private affair locked in the inner room of personal experience. Maybe, angst-ridden moderns fret, the personal experience of heaven breaking the laws of nature and bypassing the ordinary, telling us what it all means, and what to do, is the only way we can gain real certitude and peace with this age’s countless ambiguities. But succumbing to such an approach as a Catholic means, among other things, that we willingly grant faith and reason a written bill of divorce and relegate Christian apologetics to a course in miracles. But I digress.

Third. Because private revelations have only a relative status and are extra-ordinary, they have a certain inherent ambiguity. St. John of the Cross, who is merciless on claims to visions, locutions and other extraordinary mystical phenomena, makes it clear that those who claim to receive these “extraordinary favors” from God, or from a saint or angel, are always subject to errors in the process of receiving, interpreting or relating the content of what is heard or seen. Which is why, St. John says, the best approach a spiritual director can take toward a directee claiming such extraordinary things is not credulity (canonizing the experience), but scrutiny, placing faith, humility, discretion and prudence in the forefront. If the mystical phenomena are from God, they will come to pass through the fires of virtuous scrutiny and in fidelity to the authority of the Church. And this is the case especially when the recipients of revelations claim their message is for others or even the whole world.

Naïve credulity, John says, is the open gateway to diabolical and psychological delusion, while sage discretion is the gateway to genuine illumination that flows from reason informed by faith.

Unlike public revelation, even with authentic instances of private revelation it’s not always simply about believing “all or nothing.” To say either everything a visionary said is true or it’s all a lie misses the complexity of the reality. Seers and saints aren’t mediums who channel an unfiltered divine voice, but, like theologians, are interpreters of God’s living Word who are subject to error and are subject to the critique of reason and the final judgment of the Church’s authority.  Pope Benedict XIV, when referring to the mistaken predictions of St. Catherine Labouré, said: “The revelations of some holy women canonized by the Apostolic See, whose saying and writings came in [mystical] rapture and were derived from rapture, are filled with errors.” Yes, these women are still saints, and their teachings are still revered, but holy saints are not Holy Spirits.

Fourth. Even when claims to extraordinary mystical or supernatural phenomena are deemed problematic or false, or even diabolical, genuine graces received in association with those dubious phenomena are not thereby rendered meaningless. God, who sends rain on the just and the wicked, and who speaks through asses and antagonists (cf. Numbers 22:21-38; John 11:49-52), is very willing to work good wherever there is sincere faith, hope and love. Like it or not, weeds and wheat, wheat and chaff co-exist in this world.

So when some aspect of a good thing given by God is found to be tainted or flawed with some bad element, we should not simply throw out the baby with the baptismal water. We must use discretion, retaining what is good and rejecting what is not (cf 1 John 4:1). Consider that if a priest in mortal sin can validly consecrate the Holy Eucharist, absolve sin, etc. with all the fullness of God’s power, then good graces given in association with alleged apparitions that are subsequently deemed by the Church “not to be worthy of pious belief” should not be rejected or doubted. They only need be purified, detached from alien elements, winnowed and brought into conformity with the act of an unseeing Catholic faith, hope and love. The many graces I received in Medjugorje remain with me today, and to accept the judgment of the Church that these apparitions are not objectively genuine supernatural “visionary” events does not steal those graces from me, but makes me even more grateful that our God is a God who can make even the very stones cry out His praise: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, 40).

In some ways, hearing such a stark judgment on an alleged apparition can serve to strengthen faith. How? Inasmuch as it reinforces the bedrock truth that, in this life, God wishes us to cling to Him in dark faith and veiled sacrament within the ordinary life of the Church and amid the ordinary contexts of daily life. And the ordinary, for Catholics, burgeons with great mystery as it both conceals and reveals — like the earth’s serene crust — the fiery magma of grace burning beneath life’s homely surface. Seeking to bypass the divine economy of “the mystery of faith” is, it seems to me, a form of cheating.

I, for one, am grateful that the Church takes so seriously her shepherding role in the face of every claim to extra-ordinary graces and supernatural events. I’d have no faith in a credulous Church. Catholics must rejoice in knowing that, in the ordinary economy of grace, we have superabundantly more of God’s graces than we could ever ask for or imagine. As I said in class the other day, “If the fact that Baptism remits all your sins, recreates your nature, grants you adoption by the Most High King, makes your body-soul into a Holy of Holies for the life-giving Trinity, divinizes you, empowers you to consecrate the cosmos to God and labor into existence an everlasting new creation is not enough to satisfy your itch for mystery and thrill, nothing will do it.”

So when any “extras” do come to us, if they do, we must happily beg Christ to at once to give us a fresh infusion of the 9th beatitude that clearly gives Him such great joy:

 

[Revelation refers to God’s making Himself and His plan known, specifically to Israel and the Church, and above all in Christ. Public revelation, which ended with the death of the last Apostle, refers to all that God has made known to us that is contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Private revelation refers to any claim in the post-apostolic Church that God or a saint/angel has revealed something to a person or persons by some extraordinary means, like an apparition or locution. Public revelation demands the assent of faith by all Christians, while private revelation does not]

 

Jane Elizabeth, Orphan

img_0547

Jane Elizabeth

img_0551

Jane Elizabeth

Last year, on December 6th, I shared on this Blog an appeal from a colleague of mine at the Seminary, Dr. Jennifer Miller. See it here. She was asking for prayers and donations on behalf of an eight year old girl she met at an orphanage in Uganda. The girl’s name is Jane Elizabeth.

Dr. Miller asked me to share her gratitude to all who prayed and offered financial assitance, and share an update. Feel free to email her if you wish any further information: jmiller@nds.edu

Tom:

In regard to Jane Elizabeth, here is the latest update!

“Due to the generous support and prayers of all those who accompanied us through youcaring and on Facebook, the money for Jane Elizabeth’s travel documents as well as for the travel itself was raised. Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, St. Padre Pio’s hospital, has secured the humanitarian aid to cover the medical expenses once she reaches the hospital, and Dr. Leonardo has scheduled her first medical exam for April 1!

At this point, we are working and praying to make sure that the passports and visas for Jane Elizabeth and the sister who will accompany her can be ready by this date. Sr. Mary Lunyolo is working on the details for the passports, and Fr. Zachary Oburu is securing the letters necessary for the consulate to issue a visa for medical care.

Please continue to accompany us with your prayers for a timely processing of all of these documents and for all those who are working to help Jane Elizabeth. May the Lord lead and guide them so that Jane will be able to receive the gift of improved health!

The day she sent me this update, someone emailed me this music video. I felt it was a beautiful overlay of themes!

This week

NealObstat Readers:

Thank you for being part of this Blog, and allowing me to share with you my insights and the insights of others into the infinite implications of faith in Jesus Christ. These last two weeks have been remarkable in terms of feedback I have received on posts. In particular, the post reflecting on Sherlock received many more views than I am accustomed to because someone put my work on Facebook. I am very grateful.

I have a hectic rest of the work week and then give a retreat over the weekend. Please pray for these things, if you would.

I include below a haunting video of the rhythmic and litanic Jesus Prayer, chanted by monks in Russian at the Valaam monastery. That Prayer is among the most beloved devotions of the Eastern Church. It bears a power that at times leaves one shaken to the core. That Name.

I highly recommend it. I use a simpler version of the prayer, and pray it over and over: Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me. 

Here’s the Russian text from the video, and the full English translation:

Russian: Gospodi, Iisuse Hriste, Syne Bozhij, pomiluj mja, greshnago.

English: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

MLK Prayer

Fr Josh. churchpop.com

After I finished some work today, I took some quiet time and wrote a ‘prayer for racial harmony’. I sent it to a priest friend, Fr. Josh Johnson, and he graciously sent it back to me as a prayer, in rap. Something I could never do! He graciously gave me permission to share it.

O God, Lover of the human race,
we raise our hearts to plead this grace:
heal our division, outpouring reconciliation
in homes, neighborhoods, and our nation;
for Jesus Christ, your Son, our brother
came living, proclaiming: love one another
tearing down walls of race and creed,
tending the fallen, all those in need
of mercy’s balm, healing compassion
understanding, generosity without ration.
So send now your Spirit, that unifying Gift
who bears salvation, mending every rift
that your Church only uplift and inspire,
casting out upon earth your Refiner’s fire
only to your glory, O Father and Son,
with Spirit blest: Thy will be done.
Amen.

O Church: Serve the Sacred Secularists!

bookony.com

One very big obstacle to getting a significant number of lay Catholics to participate in missionary formation is the fact that, when this formation is complete, there will be no “job” for the “graduate” to perform. The current lay ministry formation processes run successfully on the hopeful premise that after lay students complete their formation they will be employed or given meaningful work by a pastor, or a hospital or a prison or some diocesan office. There is no such incentive for formation in the lay apostolate. This is a real hurdle to overcome if we are to attract larger numbers of parishioners to a formation in a theology of the laity. In short, after any education in the meaning of lay life is complete (if it ever really is), one will simply remain, for example, a plumber, a doctor, a truck driver, and will continue in the vocation of marriage, with two children, a dog, and a house payment. The missing incentive of getting to do pastoral ministry (e.g., being an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist or a visitor to the sick), cannot in itself abrogate the necessity of finding a way to offer such formation. To neglect this task is to neglect our duty to fill the world with secular missionaries. — Deacon James Keating

I met with some colleagues yesterday to discuss lay faith formation. You know, my same ole’ trope. Here’s my journal entry from last night. A collage of thoughts:

Every diocese, and every parish and Catholic institution in every diocese, should communicate unambiguously that their best energies are in service to lay Catholics called to live and move and have their being in the world, doing their secular things, and learning how to do them God’s way. In service to helping the lay faithful discover, embrace and carry out their noble secular vocations. Their best energies in service to the work of formation, catechesis, preaching, cultivating small faith communities, etc. All geared toward adequately resourcing those 99% of Catholics not called to church ministry but called to be salt, light and leaven in the lay apostolate. All geared toward illumining the specificities of people’s professional lives; the specificities of their life as faithful citizens in the ordinary, local, day to day worlds they inhabit; the specificities of their married/family lives; the specificities of their engagement with culture.

Those called and gifted for church ministry, ordained or not, need to be all about the specificities of these secular missionaries, experts in the actual details of the real people they are called to serve in the parish, school, nursing home, hospital, etc. under their care.

I remember when a reader of this blog 2 years ago wrote me and begged the church for this:

I am a cradle Catholic and a business owner. I have been very active in my parish for most of my adult life and I have had the benefit of having very orthodox priests and pastors in my life.

Here is my problem. A struggle every day with a whole variety of issues which challenge my ability to live my Catholic Faith in the business world, a world which is agnostic at it’s best and anti-Christian at it’s worst. I am dying for assistance on this, but what do I get at my parish? Homilies which deal with things too general to be helpful, from “do good and avoid evil” to immigration reform and abortion. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe everything Mother Church teaches and I appreciate homilies which remind me of her teachings. But the Church also teaches us to live our Faith out in the world, and I am not getting any help on doing this.

So I beg you, Dr. Neal, to pursue your inspiration to find people who can speak to those of us in the secular world.

My business consultant friends tell me that if you want to find out how to improve service to your customers, you need to talk to the customers and ask how you can serve them. Even better, talk to former customers and find out why they left.

I’m not saying that the Church is a business, but I have never heard of a priest asking his parishioners for homily ideas. Actually, that is not quite accurate. I have heard many “church people” telling the pastor that he needs to deliver a strong message from the pulpit to the riff raff who show up late, are inappropriately dressed, leave early, etc. I’ve been on all the committees, so I know that the pastor is busy, but perhaps the pastor needs to talk to the riff raff to find out why they arrive late and leave early. And by “talk to,” I don’t mean send out a check-the-box questionnaire. I mean really get to know them, like a father knows his children.

Isn’t that how it is supposed to be?

I desire nothing more in my work as a theologian-catechist than to detonate this “lay apostolate” teaching of the Second Vatican Council in the midst of the ecclesiastical scene of America. I feel I am inept before such an immense task! I want to kiss the feet of those who are sent out into the world to live there, love there, work there, play there, witness there, struggle there, suffer there in order to bring every aspect of the secular life they inhabit into contact with the re-creating power of the living God.

The aggressiveness of anti-religious secularism begs for an equally impassioned religious secularism, an unleashing of the secular genius of the laity that does not withdraw into safe-zone ministries or world-renouncing enclaves insulated from society and culture, but a laity that boldly exits every Mass with a re-enkindled sense of their world-enhancing mission to imbue all-things-secular with the very earthy love of God.

In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world. — St. John Paul II

Those of us who are Baptized are living temples (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), bearing within the fullness of a God who longs to take delight in His creation. As His image, we were created to be the locus of His delight in creation, the nexus of His love, the fire of His justice, the channel of His peace, the overflow of His mercy, a prism for the light of His Face to shine gloriously on all things He has made (Revelation 4:3). Man’s vocation is to reveal to all creation that His love for her transcends her finite longings. It is astonishing to think that it was by becoming man (John 1:14) that God chose to purify, reconcile (Isaiah 11:6-9), elevate, espouse (Isaiah 62:4) and reveal to all creation her final destiny of transfiguration in a New Creation where God will be all in all. The Incarnation was not just about us, but about the whole cosmos He entrusted to our care to cultivate and lift back to Him transformed and consecrated by means of our priestly hands (Romans 8:18-30; 12:1).

How God loves all He has made (Wisdom 11:24-12:1)!

St. Maximus says it beautifully:

…the Cause of all things, through the beauty, goodness and profusion of His intense love for everything, goes out of Himself in His providential care for the whole of creation. By means of the supra-essential power of ecstasy, and spell-bound as it were by goodness, love and longing, He relinquishes His utter transcendence in order to dwell in all things while yet remaining within Himself. Hence those skilled in divine matters call Him a zealous and exemplary lover, because of the intensity of His blessed longing for all things; for he longs to be longed for, loves to be loved and desires to be desired.

Personal prayer request

I’d like to throw out there a personal prayer request.

My wife Patricia, who has been in parish music ministry leadership for over thirty years, is looking for a music ministry position in the New Orleans area. Music director, cantor, choir director.

And if you know of any such opportunities in the region, please feel free to email her with/for information. nealfamsix@gmail.com

Many thanks. I am indebted.