The Big Freeze

Imagine our world in the not-too-distant future In parts of the northern hemisphere, the temperature plummets to -9F. At 13 below, public transportation fails. Those caught outside freeze to death. Buildings collapse under the weight of snow and ice. The power goes out, society collapses, and anarchy takes its place. Could this be a vision of our future? Naked Science examines what may cause temperatures to plummet and how this could spell disaster for our planet.

That is the teaser for Naked Science: The Big Freeze airing on the National Geographic Channel. I only caught a few minutes of it (it airs again) but was quite surprised at some of the discoveries. Scientists drilled ice cores in Greenland representing millions of years in time and climate change. Not surprisingly (to me, at least) we are currently, and for the last 10,000 years, experiencing an uncharacteristically steady climatological period. The ice cores reveal that most of the time the earth’s climate swings in drastic and devastating cycles of global cooling and warming, sometimes by as much as 21° C in as little as ten years. And man has absolutely no control over it.  National Geographic has really been pushing the manmade global warming bull.  It will be interesting how they reconcile past shows with this one.  I’ll try and catch the whole thing next time it airs. Not Friday morning at 2am, though.

Lent Explained

For those who are not Catholic, Lent can be a mysterious ritual. Heck, even for those of us who ARE of the Catholic faith, it is STILL a mysterious time. Each year, we recreate ourselves in pursuit of the perfection of our Lord.

First, let me clarify what Lent is not. Ash Wednesday is not the starting line for “begin your diet now” Lenten observers. Lent is not one day of dirty foreheads. Lent is not just the end of wild revelry like Mardi Gras or Carnival. And Lent is not just for those who attend the Catholic church – anyone can observe Lent, as formally or as informally as they wish.

Now, to clarify what Lent is. The Lenten experience is different for everyone who truly dives into it. The Catholic Church observes a season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Triduum. The Triduum are the three days just prior to the grand celebration of Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil. To prepare ourselves for the grandness of the events of the Triduum and Easter Sunday, we spend our “time in the desert” preparing our spiritual selves. We imitate Christ by spending time preparing ourselves for ministry. Whether we are called to live as Christians in the secular world, or to wear a collar or habit, we all have the ministry to nourish ourselves and others with the Word. To do this properly, we must seek Jesus and to follow His ways.

Lent is known as a time of sacrifice and self-discipline. Giving up something valuable is not a popular practice, especially in these modern times. By practicing self-discipline, we remind ourselves of the sacrifice He made for us, and we flex our spiritual muscles by constantly reminding ourselves of what we are doing, and why. Being tempted by that candy bar in the store and forcing that temptation into a corner not only makes us stronger by not adding on the pounds, but the reminder of why we did not succumb reminds us of who we are, and to whom we belong. While chocolate is one of the more popular sacrifices (and speaking as a true chocoholic, it IS a sacrifice!), there are other things that we can sacrifice as well. Increasing our donations to our church, giving up our precious TV time to help out at a charity, passing up that gossip magazine – there are as many ways to improve ourselves by “giving up” as there are individuals.

In addition to “giving up,” Lent is also a time of “building up”. In addition to self-discipline, which gives us strength to get through the desert, we are encouraged to improve our spirituality, which is the road map through the desert. Being strong without purpose helps no one. Increased prayer time, reading the Bible, studying Christ, experiencing a retreat – these are all ways to bring ourselves closer the one who saved us. This provides direction for our lives. With Christ at our side as our guide, we travel in a straight line through the desert.

At the end of Lent, we face the long Easter season stronger emotionally and spiritually than when we began. How much stronger depends upon how far into the desert we tread. How many temptations will we face? That depends upon our sacrifice. Giving up something that is not important is not much of a sacrifice, and the spiritual trek won’t go far. Spending no time in spiritual preparation merely leaves on wandering aimlessly in circles, dipping into and out of the experience, as one would do at the edge of the wilderness.

So I leave you this Lent, wishing much sacrifice and much spiritual growth. I won’t challenge you – your challenges are yours to define. Just remember that the celebration that is Easter is like an oasis on the other side of the desert, where your thirst will be quenched. How big the oasis will be, and how deep and clear the water, will depend upon your willingness to tackle the challenge of Lent. In the spirit of Lent, I wish for you an arduous trip through your desert, so that you can dive deeply into the clean, clear, cool water of your Easter oasis!

Works Without Faith

As a Catholic, I have had many discussions with my Protestant friends who adhere to the dogma Sola Fide (Faith Alone), which states that once saved you cannot fall from grace with God. Catholics believe that faith without works is hollow:

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead — James 2:17

I’ve recently rediscovered the writings of Bishop Fulton Sheen. Currently I’m reading Peace of Soul, a book written at the dawn of the Cold War in 1949. Sheen looks at things from another direction I had not considered: works without faith. As I read I realized he was describing perfectly how the modern Liberal approaches religion:

We are willing to be saved from poverty, from war, from ignorance, from disease, from economic insecurity; such types of salvation leave our individual whims and passions and concupiscences untouched. That is one of the reasons why social Christianity is so very popular, why there are many who contend that the business of Christianity is to do nothing but to help in slum clearance or the development of international amity.

After the 2004 election the Democrats realized that the group of people to push the Republicans to victory was the faithful. So what did they do? They got that old time religion. But they only embraced the “works” part. To be sure, that is an important part of knowing God. But works without faith is also hollow:

This kind of religion is, indeed, very comfortable, for it leaves the individual conscience alone. It is even possible that some persons are prompted to courageous reforms of social injustices by the very inquietude and uneasiness of their individual consciences: Knowing that something is wrong on the inside, they attempt to compensate for it by righting the wrong on the outside. This is also the mechanism of those persons, who, having accumulated great fortunes, try to ease their consciences by subsidizing revolutionary movements.

This is the “religion” of environmentalists, of Palestinian rights organizations, of anti-war groups like Code Pink, of the entire leadership of the Democrat Party. Even people like Bill Gates and George Soros call this religion home. But Sheen points out the dangers of this “works only” religion:

The first temptation of Satan on the Mount was to try to induce Our Lord to give up the salvation of souls and to concentrate upon social salvation by turning stones into bread – on the false assumption that it was hungry stomachs and not corrupted hearts that made an unhappy civilization. … Sensing a broader need for religion, others are willing to join a Christian sect so long as it concentrates on social “uplift” or the elimination of pain but leaves untouched the individual need of atoning for sin. At the average dinner table people do not object to the subject of religion being introduced into a conversation – provided that religion has nothing to do with the purging of sin and guilt.

Wow! That is so obvious, yet so profound. Left-leaning social justice groups have no problem tackling the noble cause of caring for AIDS patients but recoil at the thought of atonement for sins. In my own Church such “liberation theology” groups will open shelters for illegal immigrants but refuse to acknowledge that that they are leading those same people (and themselves) into a criminal existence, causing them to live in a shadow world.

Faith and works are intertwined. I think a real relationship with God requires both.