Category Archives: charity

Missionaries of Mercy

Pope Francis has recently called for an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will start on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015 and end on the Feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016.  Click here to read the proclamation in Pope Francis’s Apostolic Letter, “Misericordiae Vultus” (The Face of Mercy).

It’s very readable, so I won’t summarize all of its points here, but I would like to highlight one intriguing initiative, the “Missionaries of Mercy,” priests who will be sent out to dioceses throughout the world.

In the Pope’s words:

During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy.  They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.[18]

Fascinating!  I immediately looked up what sins could be absolved only by the Holy See, and learned there are five:

  1. defiling the Eucharist
  2. attempting to assassinate the Pope
  3. as a priest, breaking the seal of confession by revealing who has sought penance and why
  4. offering  of absolution by priests to their own sexual partners
  5. directly participating in an abortion, such as by funding it, and later seeking to become a priest or deacon

Of course, as a baptized layman, I should not be so distracted by this that I lose sight of my own responsibilities during this Year of Mercy.  The Pope was pretty clear about that too, and among other things, he encourages us to rediscover the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy during the Jubilee.   He lists them, in case we’ve forgotten them:

The corporal works of mercy:

  1.  to feed the hungry,
  2. give drink to the thirsty,
  3. clothe the naked,
  4. welcome the stranger,
  5. heal the sick,
  6. visit the imprisoned, and
  7. bury the dead

 and the spiritual works of mercy:

  1. counsel the doubtful,
  2. instruct the ignorant,
  3. admonish sinners,
  4. comfort the afflicted,
  5. forgive offences,
  6. bear patiently those who do us ill, and
  7. pray for the living and the dead.

As it turns out, we’ve all been challenged to be “Missionaries of Mercy.”

References

Misericordiae Vultus” (The Face of Mercy). April 11, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html, accessed on April 14, 2015.

Pope Francis presents Bull of Indiction of Jubilee of Mercy, Vatican Radio, April 11,  http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/04/11/pope_francis_presents_bull_of_indiction_of_jubilee_of_mercy/1136108, accessed on April 14, 2015.

Vatican Reveals Sins Only Pope Can Forgive, Nation Post, January 16, 2009, http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=d9e2cfc6-182d-4afc-9e0f-9708f1bea4f9, accessed on April 14, 2015.

The Atheist’s Love Problem

I believe that atheists have a problem with love.  Specifically, their materialistic world view prevents them from having a rational basis for loving in every instance, and this, I would think, would undermine their worldview.

To see why, let me start by proposing a working definition of love, one that pertains specifically to loving others and one that might be satisfactory to rational people of all faiths or even none. I propose:

 “Love is freely choosing another’s good, even at the expense of one’s own good.”

This definition, based upon one from Thomas Aquinas, is simple, acceptable to people from many backgrounds and perspectives, and very broad and inclusive. It does not exclude feelings and emotions like romance and sexual attraction, but it does not demand them either.

At this point, though, we can expect an objection from the atheist camp.  Any “good”, they would say, must not transcend the physical and material.

Well, okay.  Let’s restrict the “good” to the temporal and the material for now.  The good that our definition references could be the mutual pleasure of two lovers sharing a candlelit dinner together, or the care a man gives to his disabled wife.  It might involve a small act of thoughtfulness or a heroic act of self-sacrifice.  By the way, note that our definition of love makes it clear that the choice to love should be free, not forced.

In this definition, “love” is intrinsically tied to another’s “good”, but what is “good”?  As we’ve said, to an atheist, all reality is material and nothing spiritual exists that transcends the material and physical. So any notion of “good” and all motives for choosing good must be based upon purely materialistic principles.

Most modern atheists attribute human altruistic tendencies and love to evolution. That is, love is an evolutionary impulse that serves to promote the thriving of human life on earth.  The working definition of love that I proposed above does not exclude the possibility that evolution has contributed to the human drive to love, but is there is anything in a purely material perspective that would mandate that the “survival of the fittest” be considered the paramount good, over and above any individual good?  No, and one reason is that for an atheist, death ends the possibility of the enjoyment of any good for an individual.  Could the choice of a good that could never be be realized ever be a rational choice for an individual with a solely materialistic perspective?  I don’t believe so.

Consider the case of caring for a permanently and seriously disabled person, such as the example of a man caring for his seriously and permanently disabled wife. Suppose the woman is bedridden, unable to meet most of her needs on her own and the man has no hope of having an intimate emotional and/or sexual relationship with her ever again.  While evolution might explain the man’s caring instinct in general, a strictly materialistic perspective would not provide any basis whatsoever for the man expending his time, energy and comfort. i.e. his own good, for caring for his wife.

Or take the case of a rescuer who loses his life while saving that of another.  If that rescued person were old and sickly, how could the lifesaver’s sacrifice be considered “rational” from a strictly evolutionary perspective if “good” does not transcend the material?

Loving often has a cost, and the cost is some loss of one’s own temporal good. Throughout all cultures and time we see that people measure love by it’s cost and that generosity is most often seen as the measure of love. Atheistic materialism fails to provide a rational basis for loving when it would result in a net loss of one’s own temporal good.  If it were otherwise, then the world would probably be seeing more orphanages and the like being built by avowed atheists.

Atheists, if they wish to only love rationally in all cases, really have only two choices: either refrain from loving at the cost of their own good, or admit that some good exists that transcends physical reality and is accessible to those who love at a cost to themselves.


 

This post is a revised version of a similar post I wrote for the Catholic Evidence Guild of Guam in 2012.

A Frank Discussion

A response to an editorial in the Pacific Daily News, August 15, 2014:  Community needs to have frank and honest discussion on suicide

Robin Williams, USA Today file photo.
Robin Williams, USA Today file photo.

Thank you, Pacific Daily News, for bringing up the topic in the wake of Robin Williams’s death and for your frankness.  His death triggered quite a bit of strong feelings in me, Continue reading A Frank Discussion