Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think--or question!--by emailing us at email@example.com.
Question of the Day for Friday, December 7, 2007
Q. I’ve been hearing that we should avoid the new movie “The Golden Compass,” which is being promoted as a C. S. Lewis-type story for children. Can you provide some more information? -- F.R., Madison, Wis.
A. “The Golden Compass” opens in many theaters today, based on the first volume (published in 1995) in a trilogy entitled “His Dark Materials,” by Philip Pullman, who is something of an atheist crusader. The second book is entitled “The Subtle Knife” (1997) and the third, “The Amber Spyglass” (2000).
The story has some superficial (and perversely intentional) resemblances to Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” but the imaginary universe it depicts is actually the antithesis of Narnia. Lewis’s purpose was to awaken Christian faith; Pullman’s, by his own admission, is to undermine it. As Philip Hitchens has wryly observed, Pullman “is the anti-Lewis, the one the atheists would have been praying for, if atheists prayed.”
The three books feature one blasphemous element after another. Though the present movie (two sequels are planned) may have sanitized some of these elements, I think it would be unwise to allow kids to see the film because it would only encourage them to read the books.
Just a sampling of what the books offer young readers:
• Presenting a new version of ancient Gnostic heresies, the stories tell how God (Pullman calls him the “Authority”) is actually not the Creator of the universe. He took control illegitimately, and the demons are angels who rebelled because of this usurpation of authority.
• The story’s heroine is a charming 12-year-old girl. She sets out to kill God and overthrow the Church — a goal portrayed as worthy because it would be a boon to the human race.
• At the end of the last book, God is shown to be only a pathetic, senile creature. Once released from his cell, he is annihilated forever.
• “Daemons” are depicted as children’s best friends, much like talking pets. These aren’t exactly the equivalent of biblical demons; they have more in common with ancient Greek philosophical ideas. But given the books’ cosmology, the word choice is no doubt calculated to rehabilitate the traditional evil demonic figure.
• The Church is made out to be the wicked enemy of children; it attempts to “dehumanize” them by separating them from their personal “daemons.”
• In the new “Republic of Heaven” (rather than Kingdom of Heaven) that the story idealizes, there are “no kings, no bishops, no priests.”
• The story asserts that there is no heaven or hell. After death, all people enter a gloomy wasteland.
• Priests in these stories take on roles such as child abductor or assassin; a nun is depicted as breaking her vows, fornicating and worse.
As you noted, what makes these books especially pernicious is that they are marketed to young readers as children’s fantasy literature in the “tradition” of Lewis, Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. A “Golden Compass” video game is being released in time for Christmas, and an extensive line of related toys, games, puzzles, apparel, home décor, food and candy, collectibles, and gift and novelty items is planned. Scholastic, Inc., is also offering a line of curriculum texts based on the books to help teachers incorporate them into their students’ coursework — a troubling development that bears close scrutiny.
For more information, click read the OSV Newsweekly In Focus article by clicking here»
Read a review by Amy Welborn by clicking here»
Several new publications from a Catholic perspective are available to provide a more in-depth analysis. Check them out here:
The Catholic League»
Question of the Day for Thursday, December 6, 2007
Q. What should I tell my children about Santa Claus? We have arguments in my extended family every year about the matter. -- E. G., Montgomery, Ala.
A. Today’s a great day to address this issue—happy St. Nicholas Day!
It’s a perennial debate among Christians: Is Santa Claus a bit of harmless fun? Or is the tale actually a lie that turns kids’ attention away from Jesus? What should we tell our youngsters about St. Nick?
Why not just tell them the truth? That’s what we did with our children. I don’t mean a somber lecture about how reindeer can’t really fly. I mean the story of the real, historical St. Nicholas — a man whose life pointed beautifully to Jesus. You might tell them something like this:
Born in Asia Minor more than sixteen centuries ago, Nicholas was a bishop who gave his life to serve others. He worked miracles and brought many people to faith in Christ. He also shared his wealth with the poor and took special care of children.
We don’t know much more for sure than that, though legends abound. But this much is certain: St. Nicholas shone so brightly with the love of Jesus that Christians came to honor him all over the world.
Over the years, some honored him by dressing up like him and giving children gifts. As his fame spread across many countries, his costume and his name took many forms. The Dutch called him “Santa Claus” and introduced him to America. In our country, the red suit, sleigh and reindeer were added to his portrait.
Whatever we may think of these more recent notions of St. Nicholas, they shouldn’t keep us from telling our children the truth about a great servant of God. If we share with them the story of the real St. Nicholas, we won’t be turning their attention away from Jesus. Instead, we’ll be showing them how the Child of the manger can shine even now through a heart that’s devoted to Him.
Read a story about the real St. Nicholas on our Advent site by clicking here»
Question of the Day for Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Q. As a teacher of teens studying for Confirmation, through RCIA, how do I explain “fear of the Lord” as a gift? Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. -- P. L., via email
A. As you note, fear of the Lord is among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Isaiah 11:1-2. In numerous other places, the Scripture commands us to fear God (e.g., Dt 6:13).
If we’re tempted to think that the command to fear was a passing element of the ancient Jewish law, destined to fade away with the New Covenant of grace, we need only listen to the instruction of our Lord Jesus Himself. He warned sternly: “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Lk 12:5).
Many Christians are troubled by the notion that God would want us to be afraid of Him. It’s certainly true that we sometimes have false views of God, creating in us a groundless, unhealthy fear.
“I knew you are a hard man,” said the servant to the master in Christ’s parable, and his misperception led him to bury his talent (see Mt 25:24-25). In a similar way, I’ve known Christians so terrified that God will condemn them for anything less than perfection that they’ve given up trying to live the Christian life altogether.
Even so, since God commands us to fear Him, there must be something about Him that genuinely calls for an appropriate response of fear within us: a sense of restraint, of shrinking back, of stopping short, of corralling our desires and our actions in accordance with what we know about Him. The Scripture and ancient Christian writers identify several such divine traits:
First, we fear God’s superlative attributes as our Creator because we are mere creatures.
I could never forget the first time I stood beside Niagara Falls. I was awestruck by the sheer immensity and raw energy of that natural wonder. My heart pounded with fear just to be in such close proximity to something so big, so powerful, that dwarfed me by comparison and was capable of crushing me as if I were a tiny, brittle leaf.
Niagara, of course, is a little droplet in the hand of the One who spun the galaxies out across the heavens. So how much more should our hearts pound with fear in His presence?
We’re only grains of sand on the shore of God’s infinity, fleeting seconds in His eternity. He is utterly greater than all the greatness we’ve ever witnessed, fantastically more powerful than all the powers we’ve ever encountered, inconceivably more intelligent than all the most brilliant minds we’ve ever known or known about.
Scriptural examples of this natural fear of God are plentiful. At Sinai, the Israelites trembled at the fearsome power of God’s presence (see Ex 19:16-19). When God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind of a fearsome storm, He challenged the frightened man with these sobering words:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place …? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (Job 38:4, 12, 31, 35)
Job’s reply provides us a useful lesson: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. … Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6).
Like Job, we must learn that this kind of fear of God—a natural fear of the Creator by the creature—is healthy for us because it humbles us. It reminds us who we are by reminding us who we are not: The Boss. The universe does not revolve around us. We are not omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, or omni-anything. We have limits. He does not.
No wonder, then, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr 9:10). It teaches us who God truly is and who we truly are.
Second, we fear God’s utter holiness because we are sinful. Sin is a disorder in our souls — a stain, a rust, a scratch in the substance of who we are. When we come into the presence of a God who is wholly without such disorder, such corruption, we find the encounter jarring, even painful.
Why? Because when holiness meets sin, it “burns”; our God is a “consuming fire” (Dt 4:24; Heb 12:29). When we encounter Him, His order begins rearranging and correcting our disorder. His purity begins bleaching our stain. His wholeness begins rubbing against our rust and scratches, to make “the rough ways smooth” (Lk 3:5).
Ancient Christian teachers compared this reality to the encounter of a diseased eye with brilliant light. The eye is made to see the light, but because of the eye’s disordered condition, the light causes it pain. Nevertheless, if the eye will endure the pain and not turn away, the light will ultimately heal the disease.
We fear God because we fear the pain caused by the light of His holiness. His very presence provokes in us a discomfort; as it was for Isaiah in the temple, when we stand before a God who is “holy, holy, holy,” our sinfulness makes us cry out, “Woe to me!” (see Is 6:1-5). But once again, the fear is healthy; it’s a sign that we’re standing in the Light, which is the source of our healing, and the flaming coals of God’s righteousness can burn us clean.
Third, we fear God’s justice, because we deserve punishment and need chastisement. When we come to realize that God is just, and He “comes to judge the earth” (Ps 98:9), we fear Him, for we know we’re guilty. We rightly have “a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb 10:27).
Such was the fear that prompted three thousand listeners to be baptized after the Apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon, which ended with a warning of judgment (see Acts 2:14-41). It can be healthy if it spurs us to repent and seek forgiveness. If fear drives people away from hell, it can drive them straight into the arms of God.
Even when we’re striving to grow in holiness, we discover that the Lord often chastises His children in order to help them grow spiritually, just as He did the ancient nation of Israel. I’m reminded of my daughter’s toddler years: Her occasional serious misbehavior used to provoke a few corrective pops on the rump from my wife’s wooden cooking spoon. The spoon sat out in full view in a jar on the kitchen counter, and I still recall how thoughtful my little girl looked whenever she passed by it.
In much the same way, sometimes when I misbehave, I see God’s “spoon” coming. It may be the chastisement of shame from having my failings revealed to others. It may be the damaging effects on family relationships caused by my impatience or insensitivity. However the chastisement appears, it’s God’s way of getting me back in line and calling me to grow up. And the next time I’m tempted to sin the same way, I fear that divine “spoon,” and it increases my motivation to do the right thing.
This kind of fear, then, like the others, is our ally. “Through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Pr 16:6). It’s a fence to keep us from trespassing.
In all these ways, then, fear of the Lord is obviously a great good, a precious gift of the Spirit to be sought, a necessity for our growth in holiness.
Question of the Day for Tuesday, December 4, 2007
What Is the Soul?
Q. What exactly is the soul?
J. C., Sarasota, Fla.
A. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (362-67) has to say:
“The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal [i.e., with a body] and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that ‘then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.’ Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.
“In Sacred Scripture the term ‘soul’ often refers to human life or the entire human person. But ‘soul’ also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man.
“The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:
“‘Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day’ (GS 14 § 1; cf. Dan 3:57-80).
“The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
“The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not “produced” by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.
“Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify His people ‘wholly,’ with ‘spirit and soul and body’ kept sound and blameless at the Lord's coming. The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. ‘Spirit’ signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.”
Question of the Day for Monday, December 3, 2007
Q. I’m confused. The feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), which is of course a holy day of obligation, falls on a Saturday this year. So are the feast and its obligation transferred to Sunday this time? -- D. H., via email
A. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is the patronal feast of the United States. So in this country it’s always a holy day of obligation, even when it falls on Monday or Saturday. However, when Dec. 8 falls on a Sunday (as it did in 2002), the feast cannot replace the greater feast of the Second Sunday in Advent. In this case, the feast itself is transferred to the next day (Monday), but the obligation is not transferred.
See the year's liturgical calendar here, from the 2008 Catholic Almanac»
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