Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

Can Computers be Persons?

September 17, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

In recent years, the question of artificial intelligence (AI) possessing personhood has become a hot topic of debate. Some believe that AI could one day achieve sentience and become its own entity, while others believe that personhood is something that can only be attained by beings with a soul. The Catholic Church has not yet taken an official stance on the matter [a debatable claim –Fr. VF], but it is an interesting question to consider. For example, if an AI became self-aware and could think and feel for itself, would it have the same rights as a human being? If an AI was created with the sole purpose of serving humans, is it ethical to treat it as a mere tool?

The preceding paragraph was not written by a human being but generated online by a LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications). I gave the program GPT-3 the instruction: “Write an interesting introductory paragraph, including an example, for a Catholic article on the question of artificial intelligence possessing personhood.” The paragraph above was its first five sentences of its output. The accompanying illustration above was also created online using the image generation program DALL-E from my submitted prompt: “A robot touching a monolith (like in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’)”. GPT-3’s paragraph and DALL-E’s image each took less than a minute for computers to produce. We can expect computers to be capable of even more amazingly sophisticated things in years to come. This leads to the question: “Can computers be persons?

Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the modern world, says “[man] is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself.” But this teaching was written in 1965, when Seymour Cray had only begun building the earliest supercomputers in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Could mankind now fashion a new type of rational creature, a self-aware being endowed with an immortal soul? There are philosophical and theological issues with that proposition. First, if an AI were ever self-aware, how could we know? A computer need not be conscious to say “Hello, World!” according to its programming. Second, I am aware of nothing in divine revelation which suggests God would begin imparting souls into the works of our hands. Various electronics may be equipped with sensors and speakers and means of motion but I do not believe any of them will ever truly see or hear or speak or walk. As noted in René Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images,” a mere depiction of a pipe “is not a pipe.” Pope Francis spoke about this fundamental difference between man and machine, persons and things, in a 2019 address at the Vatican:

The inherent dignity of every human being must be firmly placed at the centre of our reflection and action. In this regard, it should be noted that the designation of ‘artificial intelligence,’ although certainly effective, may risk being misleading. The terms conceal the fact that – in spite of the useful fulfillment of servile tasks… functional automatisms remain qualitatively distant from the human prerogatives of knowledge and action. And therefore they can become socially dangerous. Moreover, the risk of man being ‘technologized,’ rather than technology humanized, is already real: so-called ‘intelligent machines’ are hastily attributed capacities that are properly human.

I cannot see Catholicism ever attributing personhood to complex machines, but I predict that others will begin to in the coming decades. As new applications are programed to increasingly replicate human conversation and emotion I could see young people imagining them as their real friends. As anthropomorphized technology’s creative feats far surpass our human abilities, I could even see some adults revering them as wise and powerful idols. If so, then these passages of Psalm 115 will find a new fulfillment: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell. They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk; they produce no sound from their throats. Their makers will be like them, and anyone who trusts in them.”

The potential of AI is very exciting, and yet it also holds dangers. The 5th Psalm reflects, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet…” Let us honor our Creator, defend the primacy of human dignity over all earthly creations, and never worship the works of our hands.

Parish Directory Photoshoots

July 20, 2022

Be included in the next parish directory by scheduling your free photo session. Both St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s can have your household’s photos taken at St. Paul’s. Participants will receive a free 8×10 photo and the completed directory. Please sign up today to help make our new parish directory a complete success.

  • To reserve a time at St. Paul’s Church on September 6th-10th or September 20th-24th, CLICK HERE and enter Church Code “wi193” with Church Password “photos”.

If you have five or more in your family, please claim two adjacent timeslots. Online scheduling may be unavailable on Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate paper sign-ups at Mass.

Should Superman Be Baptized? A Thomistic Disputation

March 3, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) is often considered the Middle Ages’ greatest theologian. His most famous work, the Summa Theologica or “Summary of Theology”, tackles more than five hundred theological questions, such as “Does God exist?”, “Can the good or bad angels work miracles?”, and “Whether it is lawful to kill a man in self-defense?”. Aquinas responds using the disputational format popular in his day: first, strong objections are raised, next the author presents his own stance, then each prior objection is answered in turn. In fun commemoration of the March 7th anniversary of St. Thomas’ departure from this life for heaven, here is a question he died too soon to address presented in his classic style:

Question: Whether Clark Kent (assuming he existed) ought to be baptized?

Objection 1: It seems that Clark Kent should not be baptized. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can even fly—like a bird, like a plane! These seem to be preternatural gifts characteristic of an unfallen creature who has no need for baptism.

Objection 2: The Protoevangelium (or “First Gospel”) announced in the Garden of Eden promised a Savior for Adam and Eve and their descendants: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Clark Kent, however, is not descended from mankind’s first parents; therefore, Christ’s saving baptism is not meant for him.

Objection 3: The Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed a human nature in order to save humanity. But Clark Kent’s Kryptonian nature is that of an alien race. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 A.D.) wrote, “What was not assumed [by Christ], was not healed.” Therefore, Clark Kent’s nature is incompatible for baptism.

On the contrary,You shall not oppress an alien.” (Exodus 23:9)

I answer that Clark Kent is a created, fallen, and rational animal; a sinful man capable of receiving the gospel message in faith. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and Jesus told his Apostles, “Proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (1 Timothy 1:15, Mark 16:15-16) Provided he is properly disposed to receive the sacrament, there is no reason why Clark Kent should not be baptized—apart from him being fictional.

Reply to Objection 1 (that he’s unfallen): If Clark were unfallen, his mature reason would grasp, for instance, that sexual activity outside of marriage is contrary to the natural law. His transgressions (portrayed on both page and screen) reveal that his nature has been wounded by sin and fallen short of the glory of God, requiring Christ’s redemption. (Romans 3:23)

Reply to Objection 2 (that he’s not a descendant): Of the Savior, Scripture says, “Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham,” and St. Paul the Apostle teaches, “It is those who have faith who are children of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:16, Galatians 3:7) Therefore, Jesus came to save those who have faith. St. John the Baptist said, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9) Nothing prevents God from granting the faith necessary for baptism to the Man of Steel.

Reply to Objection 3 (that his nature’s incompatible): The philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) said, “the higher includes the lower.” The title “Superman” implies that Clark Kent’s nature includes that which constitutes man. Though he can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel with his bare hands, with just a quick change of clothes and a pair of glasses Clark Kent is entirely inconspicuous living mild-manneredly among humanity. He shares in every meaningful aspect of the human condition: joy and sorrow, strength and vulnerability, birth and even death. Our Savior himself exhibits powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary men; walking on water, calming storms, and more. Nothing found in Superman is beyond what Jesus can image and redeem, so nothing in Clark Kent’s Kryponian nature is incompatible for union with the Body of Christ through baptism.

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Recreating the Way of the Cross

March 21, 2021

Our 1st Station, with an introduction and a map of our Way of the Cross

The experience of visiting the Holy Land (as I did in 2016) gives a person lasting impressions. One is a deepened sense that the Gospel stories were not “once upon a time” but events of a real time and place. Another takeaway is a better sense of the region’s scale – which is smaller than what you would think. The size of the nation of Israel is less than New Jersey, and the area enclosed by the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City (0.35 square miles) is that of only one-and-a-half Vatican City’s. The Way of the Cross, from where Governor Pilate sentenced Jesus to death to the place of Christ’s death and burial, is about 600 meters or 2,000 feet, less than half a mile.

Remember in the film “The Passion of the Christ,” when Jesus falls and Mary rushes to him? This is my photo of the 3rd and 4th Stations in Jerusalem.

In the Holy Land I also learned that Christian tradition not only preserves details about Jesus’ Passion (such as his three falls and St. Veronica’s veil) but also commemorates the locations at which these sad moments occurred. These fourteen Stations of the Cross are still venerated and prayerfully walked by pilgrims in Jerusalem today. It is a powerful, beautiful experience which I wanted to recreate in the streets of my community, and which you might wish to offer yours.

A present-day map of the fourteen Stations on Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

This Lent, we’ve created an outdoor Way of the Cross. It begins in front of our church and school and loops one time around the city block opposite them. After measuring maps and receiving permission from the various landowners, we posted the traditional fourteen Stations along a path which approximates the actual Way of the Cross, both in its length and its distances between the Stations. Walking it takes about twelve minutes (if one does not pause to pray) and we plan to keep the Stations up until Easter Sunday. Our small-town, local newspaper even ran a story about them.

The final five Stations, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, are grouped closely together near the end. This is because the locations of Jesus’ Cross and Tomb were situated only about 150 feet away from each other. Both sites are now housed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On Good Friday, the Roman soldiers led Jesus west outside the walls of Jerusalem to a white limestone quarry. St. John’s Gospel records that many people read the sign posted above our Lord’s head on the Cross indicating the “crime” for which he was condemned (“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews”) because the place where he was crucified was near the city. It was also apparently alongside a road, since St. Matthew notes “those who passed by hurled insults at him.” Christ was crucified atop a rock formation there called Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin, which laborers had cut around and left behind. As Psalm 118:22 had foretold, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

A view from Calvary of the Stone of Unction in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The new tomb which St. Joseph of Arimathea gave to Jesus had been cut into a rock face amidst a garden nearby. Midway between these two places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now displays a stone venerated as the slab upon which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by his mother and his friends. In whatever ways you accompany Christ through his sufferings this Lent, may you come to share more greatly in the graces and joys of his Easter Resurrection.

A Homily Series on The Apostles’ Creed for Lent (Year B)

March 21, 2021

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried,
he descended into hell,
on the third day he rose again from the dead,

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

If you enjoy these Lenten reflections, I recommend The Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose discussion of The Apostles’ Creed was the primary source for my homilies here.

Five Reflections on St. Joseph

December 11, 2020

By Fr. Victor Feltes

This week, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal (that is, the entire) Church, Pope Francis declared this “The Year of St. Joseph” through December 8th, 2021. The Holy Father also published an apostolic letter about Jesus’ beloved foster-father entitled “Patris Corde” (or “With a Father’s Heart”). In it, Pope Francis writes about Christian devotion to this great saint and mentions how the phrase “Go to Joseph” has an Old Testament origin. These are five of my personal reflections on St. Joseph.

Go to Joseph

In the Book of Genesis, during a time of famine across the known world, the Egyptians begged their pharaoh for bread. He in turn replied, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” Pharaoh was referring to Joseph the son of Jacob who had risen from a very lowly state to become the viceroy of the kingdom. Enlighted by divinely-inspired dreams, this Joseph’s leadership went on to feed and save the whole world from death, including his own family. According to the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the New Testament’s Joseph also had a father named Jacob. Though poor and obscure, St. Joseph’s heaven-sent dreams enabled him to guide and protect his Holy Family, leading to the world’s salvation through the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Today, as a powerful intercessor in the Kingdom of God, we are wise to “go to Joseph” for needed help.

His One Word

Within the Gospels, St. Joseph has no recorded words. There is no indication the foster-father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary was physically unable to speak or ever took a vow of silence; he is simply never quoted. Yet the Gospels suggest he said at least one specific word.

Matthew’s Gospel records how an angel (probably the Archangel Gabriel though perhaps another) told Joseph in a dream: “‘[Mary, your wife,] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus…’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” Just as John’s Gospel tells us “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book,” so St. Joseph almost certainly said many unrecorded things. But the one word that Scripture most clearly suggests St. Joseph said is “Jesus.” The name of Jesus is the sum total proclamation of St. Joseph’s life. May it be so for us as well.

Image of the Father

The Letter to the Colossians says of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Something analogous was true of St. Joseph for Jesus in being the earthly image of his Father in Heaven. Joseph’s life has no recorded beginning or end in the Bible. We know that he was a carpenter craftsman – a creator of many things to be blessing for others. Perhaps he looked at everything he made and found it very good. Alongside Mary, Jesus was obedient to Joseph; he was Jesus’ boyhood teacher, deliverer, and role-model. Jesus lovingly called him, “Abba, father.” St. Joseph was a holy and loving image of God the Father for his Son. Though imperfect, may we likewise be images of God for each of our biological and spiritual children.

The Hour of his Death

When did St. Joseph die? Luke’s Gospel tells us that when 12-year-old Jesus was found at the Temple in Jerusalem he went down with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them. After that joyful reunion, St. Joseph makes no further personal appearances in the Gospels. Joseph had apparently passed away by the time of Christ’s Passion since Jesus on the Cross does not entrust his blessed mother’s care to her faithful husband but to a beloved disciple. Other episodes in the Gospels suggest that Joseph died before the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

How did St. Joseph die? If Joseph, the heir to the throne of David, had been murdered we would expect this prefigurement of Jesus’ own death to be described in the Gospels like the death of St. John the Baptist. Unless some sudden catastrophe befell him, an ailing Joseph would have reached his deathbed. And who would have been compassionately comforting him and powerfully praying for him at his bedside as he reached his hour of death? His having most likely died peacefully in the loving presence of Jesus and Mary is what makes St. Joseph the patron saint of a happy death.

The Terror of Demons

St. Joseph is called “the Terror of Demons” and his spouse “the Queen of Angels.” Yet the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation was greatly troubled and afraid at the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting, and when resettling his Holy Family from Egypt Joseph feared mere flesh and blood – avoiding Judea because Herod’s son ruled there. How can this man and woman now be leaders of awesome angels or banes of dangerous demons?

One key trait Joseph and Mary shared is obedience. The Book of Exodus displays Moses’ obedience by recording God’s instructions to him and then repeatedly presenting Moses doing “just as the Lord had commanded.” Whenever St. Joseph receives instructions from God (to take Mary into his home, to escape to Egypt, or to return to Israel) the text that follows has Joseph doing exactly as God commanded. Mary was also radically open to God’s will, as when she famously said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The demons, for their part, fell from Heaven’s glory because they refused to do God’s will.

Joseph and Mary were also among the first on earth to accept and love the (then still-unborn) baby Jesus. The demons, in contrast, were the first to reject the Son of God. We do not know the exact reasons for their primordial rebellion but some theorize the demons took offense at God’s plan that the Eternal Son would become an incarnate human being, crowning that creature with a greater glory than the angels. “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world,” says the Book of Wisdom.

Joseph and Mary’s obedience to God’s will and their love for Jesus on earth lead to them being gloriously empowered in Heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and St. Paul reminded the Corinthians “we will judge angels.” It seems that faithful human creatures who, by God’s grace, love and serve the Lord in the likeness of Christ himself are best suited to become powerful, humble, servant rulers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us throughout this holy year!

Do Good While You Sleep

September 28, 2020

St. Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). The sufferings we endure and penances we freely offer not only help to perfect our own souls but can spiritually benefit others as well. Doing penances of some form (classic three being prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) should be a part of our lives. “The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way,” says the Church’s Code of Canon Law. Whatever penances we undertake should be properly moderated and suitable to our state in life.

During my seminary days, I experimented with different penances. I practiced fasting by limiting my eating and tried sleeping on my floor, but both of these shared a serious drawback: they deprived me of the energy I needed for my studies. This led me to discover a new penance to offer in their place which preserved my nutrition and good night’s rest.

I have found that when I offer my coming nights’ dreams to God as a penance, my ordinarily unremarkable dreams change. Because they do not terrorize me I would not call them nightmares, but I would describe these dreams as stressful. Ever dream that you must do something you’re unready for, like give a talk or take a test, and then awake relieved to find it was just a dream? When I form an intention that my dreams may have redemptive value and go on to experience dreams like this, I am pleased that God has apparently answered my prayer and used my modest suffering to spiritually aid others.

I recommend trying this experiment for yourself. God will not give you anything or any more than what is good for you, and considering the burdens that others carry in our midst and around the world it’s really a small sacrifice. “[God] pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber,” even enabling us to do good for others while we sleep.

Jesus Psalms

July 30, 2020

To pray the psalms in a fresh new way, wherever you see “the LORD” in a verse substitute the name “Jesus“. For example, here is most of this Sunday’s psalm (Ps 145:8-21) as explicit praise and celebration of God the Son:

 

Jesus is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

Jesus is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.

All your works give you thanks, Jesus,
and your faithful bless you.

They speak of the glory of your reign
and tell of your mighty works,

Making known to the sons of men your mighty acts,
the majestic glory of your rule.

Your reign is a reign for all ages,
your dominion for all generations.

Jesus is trustworthy in all his words,
and loving in all his works.

The Jesus supports all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
you give them their food in due season.

You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Jesus is just in all his ways,
merciful in all his works.

Jesus is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.

Jesus watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he destroys.

My mouth will speak the praises of Jesus;
all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Meet St. Paul’s Newest Teacher

July 20, 2020

Rachael Butek is a Cooks Valley native and graduate of Christendom College. She will be teaching English and Religion at St. Paul’s Catholic School this fall.

Why did you choose to teach at St. Paul’s?
Because to me teaching is a mission, not just a job, and as a member of St. John’s for the past 15 years I desired to give back to the community which has done so much for me.

What do you love about English?
Everything! I love the intricacy of our language, and delving into its origins in order to better understand how we communicate today. I also enjoy exploring the way that good literature can communicate Truth and Beauty to us.

What are ten other things you like?
In no particular order: Anglo-Saxon England, gardening, calligraphy, wild turkeys, book binding, singing, bugs, dancing, long walks, and good conversation. Feel free to ask me about any of them!

What do you wish to become patron saint of someday?
Good communication. I think about 90% of the worlds problems could be improved by better communication skills!

To learn more about enrolling into St. Paul’s Catholic School call our principal, Jackie Peterson, at 715-568-3233.

Virtuous Thomas

July 14, 2020

Doubting Thomas — That is how the apostle is remembered since he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Upon seeing Jesus alive he professed, “My Lord and my God,” but the ignoble nickname endures. St. Thomas has just four quotes in the gospels, all of them found in John; his two other quotes reveal more of his character.

After Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” and the disciples objected, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insists on going, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” Then later, Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Where I am going you know the way.” And Thomas relies, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?

From his four quotes we glimpse Thomas’ weakness and his strengths. He should have believed his friends’ testimony that they had indeed seen and touched and spoken with Jesus resurrected (especially after having witnessed Lazarus risen from the dead) but Thomas was lacking in trust. Yet at the same time, Thomas possesses great loyalty and courage.

Where is Thomas one week after Easter Sunday? The disciples are gathered in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors for fear of those who murdered Jesus, and Thomas is right there with them. He could have chosen to retreat to someplace safer but he is loyal and brave and these virtues lead him to encounter the risen Christ.

We typically focus on our faults and flaws, on the vices and sins that hinder us. However we each possess virtues as well, areas where God has had success in us. Know and acknowledge these virtues, give thanks to God for them, and utilize them to grow. Pray for grace and use your strengths to lead you to perfect holiness like St. Thomas’ virtues led him to glory with Jesus Christ.

False Paths to Paradise

July 9, 2020

Early in the Book of Genesis we read about a great flood wiping out humanity (sparing only Noah, his three sons, and their wives) and then about people building a great city and high tower until God confounds their efforts. These two inspired tales hold important lessons for every society in history, including our’s today.

When God saw how wicked the human race was he decided to pour down judgment on the earth and start over. So he told Noah, the best of men, to build an ark for his family to survive. Once the floodwaters had receded, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” This was to be Eden anew. But when Noah drank wine to excess and became drunk he was somehow violated by his son while laying naked inside his tent. The flood was meant to cleanse the earth of sin, but sin stowed away upon the ark.

Then, after detailing Noah’s descendants, Genesis tells how people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves!” The Lord said, “If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach.” God confused their language so that they stopped building the city and scattered across the earth. Why did God react this way? That city is called Babel because God made them babblers but also likely in reference to ancient Babylon, the enemies of God’s people who had high towers called zigguratts on which they worshiped false gods and offered human sacrifices. God thwarts Babel to limit the evils they can accomplish.

The tales of the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel reflect two ineffective strategies for eradicating evil: purging all the wicked and uniting everyone apart from God. Our world seeks scapegoats, persons and groups to blame for our problems. “If only it were all so simple,” writes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Our world also clamors for greater unity in one leader or party, nation or race, economic system or secular ideology. We must not ignore politics, realizing that a movement detached from God and sufficiently empowered will lead people to physical and spiritual deaths.

God’s desire is to unite all peoples in Christ, undoing Babel with Pentecost. The Church, Christ in his members, is sent to save our world through conversion rather than destruction “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” Sin and sinners must be opposed but not without the love which we ourselves have received as sinners reconciled to God. Take courage today by recalling the conversions of Saul and the Romans Empire, Christianity’s early enemies – by grace and virtue the Church can win over even her worst persecutors.

Called & Led into His Friendship & Community

June 17, 2020

Elena Feick at 2007’s Easter Vigil where she received the Sacraments of Initiation

How does a 15-year-old unbaptized Canadian girl, a practicing Wiccan with SSA, come to find a relationship with Jesus in his Catholic Church? For Elena Feick, her journey began when she sought to join a coven.

Elena used to meditate by herself, worshiping the five elements and a pagan goddess, but she longed for more community. A particular coven, before they would admit her, asked that she research another religion besides Wicca first. Elena chose to read Christianity’s Gospels thinking she would be able to easily dismiss them. However, to her surprise, “I just… believed them. I didn’t want to. But when I got to Luke 11:9 (“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”), I realised I did believe. But I didn’t like how the Christian God wasn’t willing to share me with other ‘gods’ so I resisted for a long time.” She still wanted to practice Wicca and worship a goddess yet she couldn’t say she didn’t believe in Christianity. So, instead of joining a coven, she joined the Unitarian Universalists (a creedless religious movement founded in 1961).

Elena’s journey to God was then helped by another unlikely source: “Sex and the City.” That was her favorite TV show as a teenager and her favorite character on it was Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis). In one episode, Charlotte converted to a new religion in hopes that her Jewish boyfriend would marry her. Elena was very disappointed in Charlotte, convinced that she had the ordering of things all wrong. “One’s relationship with God should come before even romantic relationships,” she thought. That’s when Elena decided not to date anyone seriously until she figured out for sure what she believed. She went on to explore lots of religions. Eventually, against her will, she ended up at a Catholic Mass.

The Mass was held at her new Catholic school and she was very afraid to attend. She thought the priest might supernaturally read her soul and denounce her as a witch. But when he gave her a blessing at Communion time something happened. In a way she couldn’t explain or put a finger on, she felt different and overwhelmed. “I can still sometimes feel his thumb tracing a cross on my forehead. It was the first time I really experienced the feeling of the love of God.” A few weeks later she decided to ask the priest about the experience and that was her inroad to the Church. A year later, she joined the local RCIA program to become Catholic. “It took quite a few conversations before I would agree to stop practicing Wicca though! But I did, just before I started RCIA.

Elena beside a reliquary of St. Therese of Lisieux in Scotland in the fall of 2019

When her RCIA teachers instructed the class about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, Elena was skeptical. “Ok, so they’re crazy,” she thought. But at the encouragement of the now-trusted priest who had blessed her (Fr. Terence Runstedler of Ontario) she began going to the perpetual adoration chapel every day and recognized its graces. “[I] realised that things I had prayed over at home that made no sense made perfect sense if I prayed over them in the chapel. …Every time I went to Adoration, Jesus spoke to me in some way. Every time. I couldn’t ignore it. … The Eucharist is the reason I didn’t completely ignore Church teaching on SSA [same-sex attraction] and find myself a girlfriend.

Elena had been in denial about her attractions growing up. After discovering Catholicism, she prayed for these feelings to go away but they wouldn’t. She decided that maybe the Church was wrong and started going to LGBT support groups. Her mind changed back again at her grandmother’s funeral. It was a non-Catholic service and everyone was invited to come forward and receive their communion, “but I just knew so powerfully that I couldn’t because it wasn’t *Him*. It was lacking the Real Presence. Which meant I still believed in the Eucharist. Which meant the Church has to be right. So I changed my whole life again even though I didn’t understand the teachings on chastity.”

In 2007, at the age of 19, Elena was baptized, confirmed, and received her First Communion at the Easter Vigil. “Right up to the night, I was still partially afraid that God would strike me down when the baptismal waters touched me. I wanted so much to belong to Him but half thought that maybe He didn’t want me… I thought if He wanted me in the Church, why didn’t He have me born in a Catholic family? But then I received Him for the first time and I just *knew*. I could hear Him (not like a voice but like thoughts that you know come from Him) saying that I always belonged to Him and always would.” Elena notes that some people have deeply intellectual reasons for converting but her reasons were more relational. “[The Lord] just kept inviting me and pulling me along and putting things in my path I couldn’t ignore. He kept introducing me to Himself, over and over, until I finally recognised it was Him I was longing for.

Elena at The March for Life UK in London, May 2019

Today, Elena is 32 years old, lives in Scotland, and prior to the pandemic she worked as a personal support healthcare worker. (I myself made her acquaintance and learned her story this year through the social media website Twitter.) In her spare time, Elena enjoys writing songs and making rosaries and is a member of both Courage International and Eden Invitation, two groups which support those with same-sex attractions in living chaste and saintly lives. Through Catholic faith and community, she says, “I started to learn my identity as belonging to Christ and as a daughter to the Father.” Elena hopes to help other LGBT-identifying persons to also discover a deeper self-identity in God. Even in the discouraging modern culture we live in, Elena’s story encourages us that Jesus Christ is still powerfully, lovingly, calling and leading people into his friendship and community.

Virtue in Obedience

June 11, 2020

According to likely tradition, St. Ignatius the bishop of Antioch learned about our Faith from St. John the Apostle. Around the year 110 A.D., St. Ignatius was brought by Roman guards from Syria to Rome for his martyrdom. On this long journey, he wrote seven famous letters which provide insight into the teachings and beliefs of the Early Church. In his letter to the Christians in Smyrna, he wrote:

See that you all follow the bishop even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery [priests] as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist which is administered either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Catholic priests at ordination promise obedience to their bishop and his successors, but religious submission to one’s bishop-shepherd (in things which are not sinful) is Christ’s will for all the faithful. “Whoever hears you, hears me,” Jesus said, and “whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” “Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop,” St. Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians, “in order that we may be subject to God.” Before he lost the kingdom, King Saul was told by the Prophet Samuel, “Obedience is better than sacrifice; to listen, better than the fat of rams.” The Lord delighted in obedience to his will more than in burnt offerings and animal sacrifices because holy obedience is a sacrifice of one’s own self.

Even the yoke of Christ remains a yoke. It’s natural to feel frustration at our gradual return to normal, towards the careful procedures our bishop has promulgated throughout our diocese to help protect against a still-deadly pandemic. These policies may prove overly cautious in retrospect—and I hope that is the case rather than seeing our safeguards prove tragically inadequate—but the will of Christ for you and I is to obey our God-ordained successor to the apostles. Blessed is that servant whom the Lord on his arrival finds doing so.

Watch “The Chosen”

June 8, 2020

The Chosen” is a truly excellent dramatized series about Jesus’ early ministry. I highly recommend it. They flesh-out characters and scenes from the Gospel texts in creative but faithful ways. The depiction of Jesus is particularly compelling. You can see the first season’s episodes on YouTube or through this free app.