Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Believing in God
 
By Phyllis Zagano

If a friend asked you why he or she should believe in God, how would you answer?

Catholics have a common understanding of what it means to speak of God. But in our pluralistic society where many different religions meet every day in the marketplace, just what people mean by God is not so clear. Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe in a single God but define and think about God in different ways.

When agnostics say they don’t know about God, it is the God of these great Western religions they profess ignorance of. The same is often true of atheists, who do not believe in one Supreme Being who created the world and sustains its existence.

For the most part, either you believe you are in charge, or you believe you are not. If you believe you are not in charge but that the cosmos is ordered by a supreme intelligence and not the chaotic result of chance, then it is likely you believe in God.

Why is that? A French philosopher named Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) presented an interesting wager. He said that we all either bet that there is a God or bet that there is not. The possible results of Pascal’s Wager really argue for belief in God.

If we bet that there is a God and there is not, then we effectively lose nothing. However, if we bet that there is not a God and there is a God, then we lose everything. And if we bet that there is a God and there in fact is a God, then we “win” everything. This is a coldly rational way of looking at God, but for many people it is a way to start thinking about the reality of God.

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Limits of Human Reason

Even so, we cannot really know much about God. That is because our intellects are limited and if God is God, then God is without limit. Our minds are not able to surround the complexity and the enormity of God.

Before Pascal wrote, many great thinkers such as St. Anselm (1033-1109), St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and René Descartes (1596-1650) presented proofs for the existence of God. To this day, philosophers argue the point. But arguments and counterarguments about the existence of God are limited by the confines of human reason.

These arguments can be more than a little intimidating—unless there is a God. If there really is a God, the limitless source of love and of hope, then we are safe in thinking about him. The first definition of God, after all, is that God is love. Sometimes God’s love is difficult to see, but mystics promise that God does not create evil, even though he allows it to exist.

In the end, whether we are the greatest philosopher of the modern age or the simplest child, the Church teaches that we have a capacity to know and love God, and that we have a capacity to make God known and loved.

How can that be? Well, to begin with, Christianity teaches that God came into history as Jesus Christ. The mission of Jesus was to teach us of the Father, who loved Jesus—and us—into being. The fact of that love, and of God’s continuing animation of the world, is understood in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is how we understand God as the Trinity. In the earliest years of the Church Christians hammered out the definition of God that the faithful hold today, and which forms the first few words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary....”

Unique Evidence

Even so, after the millions of people throughout history who have professed the Apostles’ Creed, after all the brilliant philosophers who have “proved” that God exists, why should any of us believe in God?

The question can be best understood in the negative. How can anyone see a sunrise or a baby and not believe in God? How can anyone watch a flower grow or see a wave upon the shore and not believe in God? How can anyone who has, in the clear calm of a winter night, seen reflected in his or her own heart the bright star that shines in the East and continues to shine to all eternity, not believe in God?

Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Associate-in- Residence at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, and Visiting Associate Professor of Catholic Studies at the Yale Divinity School. She has written widely on Catholicism and on spirituality, including On Prayer: A Letter for My Godchild (Liguori), which has been translated into Indonesian, Italian and Spanish.

Next: Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?

Questions for Reflection:

• Has there ever been a time in your life when you did not believe in God? Explain.

• How has your image of God changed from the time you were a child, adolescent, young adult?

FAMILY CORNER
I Believe in God
By Judith Dunlap

A few months ago I overheard a frustrated mom trying to control her preschooler by warning him that God was watching his misbehavior. I found myself wondering what sort of image of God that child would grow up to have.

Teaching children to believe in God is important, but it is equally important to consider what kind of God we want them to believe in.

Believing in God is a life-shaping conviction. And the way we see or image God is equally life-altering. I can see God as someone who is always there to judge me or as someone who loves me so much that nothing could make him stop. I can see God as one whose love is all-encompassing or as someone who only loves those who love him back.

When I talk to parents about their children’s faith, I often begin by asking them to close their eyes and picture a table. The images they have, based on their own experience, are as diverse as they themselves are. If something as concrete and everyday as a table can provide such variety, consider the possibilities when imaging God. Parents, or any grown-ups who share their faith with children, need to check their own images to make sure what they are handing down is authentic and positive.

If we want children to believe in a good and loving God, they have to see that the people most important to them truly believe in a loving God. They have to hear us talk about God as a reality in our life. They need to see that, unlike the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy, God is not seasonal or for special occasions. And God is certainly not a substitute for keeping children in line when Christmas is over and the Santa threat no longer works.

For Family Response:

Using pencils or crayons, have each family member draw a picture that completes this sentence: “God is like....”

Media Watch
Good Night, and Good Luck
By Frank Frost

Whether or not you were alive in the 1950s, the opening scene of Good Night, and Good Luck puts you there with unerring detail—the clothes, the hair, the smoke-filled room, the subtle lack of sophistication as friends gather for a photo. But most of all it’s the richly shadowed black-and-white cinematography.

The scene is a hotel ballroom where reporters are gathered to pay tribute to Edward R. Murrow. When Murrow (David Strathairn) rises to speak he warns that he is about to bite the hand that feeds him: television. He accuses TV of decadence, escapism and insulation. With that the film jumps back five years to show how he reached these conclusions.

Good Night, and Good Luck is about integrity, particularly in journalism. The story line itself is about the chilling effect that the House Un-American Activities Committee, chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy, had on freedom of speech and freedom of association, and the fear it generated among journalists and other Americans.

Murrow is not immune to intimidation, signing the dreaded loyalty oath extracted by the leadership of his employer, CBS TV. The network’s corporate owners do not want to risk the political fallout of McCarthy’s wrath, and the sponsors want it even less. TV reporters do not want to jeopardize their jobs. McCarthy’s campaign to root out suspected Communists (with claims he has a secret list of 200 registered Communists who have infiltrated the Eisenhower administration), was noted for dragging witnesses before the committee’s televised hearings, accusing them by innuendo and guilt by association, ruining careers, destroying lives.

But the Murrow generation of reporters is also committed to bringing the facts to their audiences. Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (played by George Clooney, who also directed the film), pursue a news story that demonstrates the loss of civil liberties that can result from government exploitation of fear. Pressures are brought by a threatening visit from two high-ranking military officers and by Alcoa’s withdrawal of its sponsorship of the show.

CBS head William Paley (Frank Langella) turns out to be as heroic as Murrow, though reluctantly. Despite risk to himself and the network, he nervously backs Murrow when the chips are down.

Strathairn’s portrayal of Murrow is uncanny. Director Clooney has Senator McCarthy play himself through the use of blurry historic kinescopes. And the repetitive use of jazz vocals for bridging scenes is very effective. Unsteady handheld shots and the use of McCarthy’s own televised hearings make us believe this is not just drama but is real.

It calls us to look again at the responsibility of major news operations to speak truth to power. As Murrow says: “Our history is what we make of it.”

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

It’s difficult not to use superlatives when speaking of Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest and most influential theologians the Church has known. Yet there was a simple, humble side to the man who is honored with the title of Doctor of the Church.

Born in southern Italy into a prosperous family, Thomas was a quiet boy and a gifted student. His parents, hopeful he would join an established and highly regarded Benedictine monastery, were devastated when he announced his decision to join the newly established Dominican Order. His brothers were sent to kidnap him and held him for more than a year before relenting.

He proceeded to Paris and to Cologne, where he studied under (St.) Albert the Great and astounded his teachers with his intellectual gifts and his skills in teaching, writing and preaching. Following ordination, Thomas began work on his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, a systematic explanation of the Catholic faith. Rather than simply appeal to authority or refuse to entertain objections, Thomas explored other points of view, including those of the “pagan” Aristotle as well as scholars of other faiths.

A man of great holiness too, Thomas mysteriously and abruptly stopped work on his Summa in late 1273. He seems to have had a mystical experience while celebrating Mass. “I cannot go on,” he said. “All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

While on his way to the Council of Lyons several months later, Thomas of Aquinas, 49, fell ill and died. He was canonized almost 50 years later. He is the patron of Catholic universities and students. His feast day is January 28.

Father Luke Buckles, O.P.

If Thomas Aquinas were alive today, he would do what he most loved—celebrating daily Mass, giving time to prayer, preaching and teaching—but he’d also “audit as many university courses as possible,” Dominican Father Luke Buckles told Every Day Catholic. “He desired to learn and know about everything.”

Father Buckles should know. He just finished teaching a course, “Introduction to Aquinas,” at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in California. Next month he begins teaching in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“The gift of my being a Dominican is to know Aquinas,” said Father Buckles, who could well have gone through life altogether unacquainted with him. Raised a Lutheran, he had his first exposure to Catholicism at age 10 and was received into the Church in his late teens. On his way toward a career in medicine he heard the call to priesthood and the Dominicans.

While Aquinas is best known for his theological writings, Father Buckles believes he should be remembered for other teachings as well: his understanding of the Incarnation as “God’s will to be our friend,” his understanding that “the spiritual life is the real life of the Christian,” his “openness to the truth wherever it could be found.”

Thomas’s love of the Eucharist was dramatized when he received Communion on his deathbed. “Jesus,” he said, “I receive you now in this holy sacrament of faith, and I believe I will see you face to face.”

Thomas Aquinas became a saint not because he was brilliant, said Father Buckles, “but because he lived his vocation as preacher, teacher and theologian with love.”

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