A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Valley of Shadows

Despite the popularity of many moral nihilists now and in the past, such as Nietzsche, the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in some form of morality. It is a deeply human trait to instinctively classify our experiences, whether our choices or anything else, as good, bad, evil, immoral, charitable, loving, positive, negative, just, unjust, etc. Even before the nihilist can stop himself, those moral sentiments have already appeared, and even the most immoral people usually believe their bad actions are justified, or they simply ignore their conscience until it builds to the point of personal ruination.

With this innate moral compass that all people share, everyone is also capable of having their own attitudes and intellectual beliefs about morality. These primarily derive from the way we understand and interpret the moral sentiments our conscience gives us, and the way we decide to act on them. Through reason, we can expand our morality by implications, religious belief and what we know about human behavior to include things such as culpability, imputability, concupiscence, law, and myriad other concepts. However, reason also gives us the ability to "rationalize" our choices - meaning, we can think up seemingly-reasonable reasons to excuse or justify our choices even though those excuses defy conscience and/or the rational moral framework we believe in. Often, this moral framework is influenced by the excuses we build up over time, a filter through which we experience the world and by which we make choices. This creates an attitude, a way of looking at the world and ourselves that usually determines (though not beyond free will) our moral compass.

One of the most common attitudes that every person is susceptible to is what I call "justification by utility", or to use the philosophical term, utilitarianism. A fundamental principle of objective morality, of a morality independent of the arbitrary preference of the individual person, a morality attested to by the essential logic of philosophy and lived (even if refuted intellectually) by almost every person, is that an action which is objectively moral or immoral is so regardless of the situation or condition of the person. Now, this only involves the moral quality of the action or thing itself, involving the inherent philosophical morality of them; the guilt of the individual is determined by their internal consent and knowledge. But regardless of the person's internal condition, an immoral act is immoral - regardless. Theft, the stealing of one person's private property by another person, is immoral, violating the fundamental human right to private property. But if a severely impoverished or ignorant person steals food, is it still immoral? Yes, the theft itself is still wrong - but the individual's guilt is lessened.

This is an essential principle of morality which utilitarianism rejects. Utilitarianism is the attitude that the morality of an action, separate from the culpability of the actor, is determined by its practical result. Now, the standard by which the practical result is judged to be good or bad is arbitrary, and depends on the placement of another moral belief system atop utilitarianism (such as the affixation of liberal consensus relativism to it featured in the philosophy of desire utilitarianism). But regardless, with this attitude, only the utility of an action determines its morality.

Usually, proponents of utilitarianism would say that actions such as lying, stealing or killing are wrong, since they most often lead to more negative results than positive. Lying creates an unsustainable fantasy, endangers one's reputation and is essentially uncreative, never leading to productive results for the common good. But, what if doing something wrong, such as lying, stealing or killing, does in fact lead to great positive result? This is the true loophole within the attitude (as it is not truly a rational philosophy due to its rejection of constant objective morality) of utilitarianism, and it was the excuse used to justify the Holocaust, the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, stem cell research, contraception - the list is almost infinite.

The opposite of the utilitarian attitude is an attitude of integrity. This, as a virtue, is naturally difficult, the main reason few people have it. Integrity is adhering to what is right and true regardless of one's situation, one's difficulty, or even the possibility of better results by using an immoral means. Justifying the ends by the means derives from a lack of integrity, a weakness of character where one chooses to succumb to the temptation to sin - the immoral means - and justifies it with the possibility of positive ends. It is a test of the heart: what do you love - ease, productivity and pleasure, or truth, goodness and hope? For without the light of hope, and the faithful life of the hopeful person, willing to undergo the trials of suffering - without the certainty that, in the end, no end is worth a wrong means, no result attained by immoral means will last, and salvation will come - there is only darkness.

The Birth of Modernity Part 1

For nearly four centuries before the fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity had become a popular and, when it was made the official Roman religion by Emperor Constantine in c. 313, influential religious movement. The Roman pagan deities had been in decline for centuries, giving way first to worship of Caesar, then to a relativist hedonism very similar to the worldview currently popular in the West. Most Roman citizens spent their days concerned only with the things of the world, the daily trials, duties and pleasures. They abandoned virtue - even as Christianity flourished, the common Roman had already lost all integrity, patriotism, patience and compassion. In fact, Christianity was ridiculed as a "woman's religion" due to the influential roles and high regard women held in the Church, a concept completely foreign to Roman paganism, and the charity of Christians visiting battlefields, tending to victims of both sides, was given a confused response of disgust and appreciation by Roman observers. The legions had forgotten their long-held national pride, military vigor and dignity, giving way to laziness and continual complaining to higher officers and on up to the Caesars who for the most part, before Constantine, were the epitome of the Roman decline.

Because of the heavy, if sporadic, persecutions Christians faced in the Roman Empire, their ability to evangelize outside Rome was very limited. After the Empire was split into the Western Roman and Eastern Byzantine Empires, and particularly after the conquest of Rome by the Goths, Christianity was opened up to the world. Despite the majesty of Byzantium, it reserved much of its splendor and power to the east, leaving the Roman Catholic Church as the torch of civilization, morality and truth in the West. Without borders, Catholic missionaries spread as far and wide as they could, risking (and often suffering) death in the quest to convert the Germanic, Gothic, Celtic, Britannic, Slavic and many other ethnicities of pagan peoples in Europe. At the advent of monasticism in the 500s, developing from Eastern desert hermitage and heralded by the Rule of St. Benedict, communities developed purely to prayer, holiness, charity service and especially to study spread across Europe, carrying Roman culture and Catholic religion to every part of the continent.

As can be seen by the example of Rome, European cultures have a general tendency as regards religious conversion, peculiar to itself: regardless of the popularity of a religion with the people, the whole conversion of a society depended heavily on the conversion of its leader. Christianity had been popular for centuries before Constantine, but only when he converted and made it the official Roman religion did it truly flourish. This was even more so true for other peoples in Europe over the centuries. Almost without exception, the religious allegiance of a society depended inextricably on the religion of their chieftain, king, emperor, etc. Catholic missionaries used many different methods to convert Europe, especially "sanctifying" the native religions by showing their people its similarity to and fulfillment in Catholicism, exemplified by St. Patrick, but the crowning act of European Catholic Christendom was the conversion of Charlemagne and his coronation on Christmas 800 by Pope Leo III. As King of the Franks and the first Holy Roman Emperor, he heralded a massive spread of art, culture, religiosity, morality and the advent of feudalism during what scholars call the Carolingian Renaissance. Under his Catholic leadership, Europe quickly became Christendom, with citizens, who had been leaning towards Catholicism for some time or had been leaning between it and their native paganism, following their leaders who took Charlemagne's cue.

As the religion of the kings and nobility, the Church was voluntarily given important and powerful roles in national politics during the Middle Ages. Cardinals and bishops often acted as chancellors, royal advisors and many other positions, while monasteries were the center of medieval society, representing their hospitals, hostels, colleges, documenters, historians and preservers of language, literacy and academia, particularly the remnants of antiquity. Many popes began in monasteries, and anyone seriously interested in academic studies became a monk. Nuns were equally important, being the primary physicians and caretakers of society. Over time, Catholic clergy and monastic officials with important roles in government and society received heavy financial endorsement of many kinds, including both real coin and goods such as land, livestock or other products, in the form of regular religious tithes and extraneous tokens of appreciation. These gifts usually had one of two motivations: genuine religious obedience and gratitude, or for political position due to these officials' importance in society and government. Often, tithing a cardinal with close ties to the king meant receiving favor and benefits from the king in return. As always happens, as Church officials became wealthy and powerful, being treated as almost supernatural themselves by the people, abuses crept up and spread corruption. This corruption has been largely overestimated over time, largely due to the propaganda of Protestants and others which, as propaganda always does, exaggerated to persuade and emphasize. But it did exist.

One of the main events which carried the Middle Ages into the Renaissance was the Black Plague. Primarily occurring in the 1300s and cropping up sporadically afterwards, it wiped out between 30-60% of the European population, reducing entire regions to vacancy. In the Middle Ages, life was difficult, turbulent and volatile, particularly due to war or other social causes such as poverty or corruption, but the people put their hope and faith in the Catholic Church and in its theology of God, believing that whatever hardships they faced, even death, Heaven awaited the obedient faithful. This worldview created a continent-wide devotion and deep religiosity that formed the center of people's lives. As the Black Plague began, this hope was punctured. For centuries the Church and the national monarchs had delivered the people from invaders, social problems and sin; but now, life seemed doomed to destruction with no end in sight, no cure, no salvation. Desperate, many began using pagan practices such as witchcraft and other superstitions, or the little medicine they knew, trying anything in their power. Many Catholics died in charity to help those inflicted with the Plague, but this did little to relieve the doubt on people's minds.

In the Middle Ages, the minds of people were always turned towards Heaven, even as the sweat of daily toil and pain weighed them down continually. Weekly, or even daily, Mass was the chance to get a preview of Heaven, with the wonderful art, music, bells, smoke, Bible readings, inspiring homilies and, finally, the jewel of the Eucharist, the true Life of Christ before and subsequently within them. But the Plague tore away people's focus from the Heavenly to the earthly, from the spiritual things of God to the physical things of man and nature. The unrelenting environment of death and horrible pain made people doubt and largely reject the hope they had once placed in the Church and her God. In desperation, they began to believe that the only viable, practical and truly moral focus was man and his world, to use it for his benefit - that only we could save ourselves, through power over nature.

This new worldview led into the Renaissance, expressed in its religion, philosophy and culture. Replacing the medieval art which depicted saints, angels and Heavenly things with man and nature; replacing the salvation of Christ through His Church with the industrious power of science; stealing goodness and holiness from God and giving it to a vague concept of "humanity" bound within us by political and religious tyrannies; and replacing egalitarian feudal economy with the mercantile which would lead to capitalism, the Renaissance had begun, and so the modern world.

The Death of Hippocrates

Although it is not as much of a staple of the modern initiation of physicians as it was in the past, the Hippocratic Oath exemplifies the purpose of medicine. Central to this purpose is the upholding, preservation and health of life of all kinds. As Margaret Mead once said: "For the first time in our tradition there was a complete separation between killing and curing. Throughout the primitive world, the doctor and the sorcerer tended to be the same person. He with the power to kill had power to cure, including specially the undoing of his own killing activities. He who had the power to cure would necessarily also be able to kill... With the Greeks the distinction was made clear. One profession, the followers of Asclepius, were to be dedicated completely to life under all circumstances, regardless of rank, age or intellect – the life of a slave, the life of the Emperor, the life of a foreign man, the life of a defective child…" (quoted in a BBC online article about the Oath)

This is the most fundamental purpose of medicine. Yet, in modern times, it is used more as a tool for business, vanity and personal convenience, prioritized over life itself. Befitting the modern trend of individualism, the "iUniverse", where any means necessary are employed to customize life and bend it to one's personal pleasure and profit, the essential value of life is left behind, even from medicine. The taking of an unborn life by a medical physician is the deepest betrayal and taint upon medicine and care giving in general that a physician could perpetrate, aside the horror of a mother choosing to murder their own baby and go against the most fundamental instincts and responsibilities of motherhood. Abortion is done for only one reason; all the excuses pro-abortionists employ are simply thin veils to conceal this deepest attitude: for power. All other desires that go into abortion, such as convenience, emotional relief, avoiding social shame, financial concerns, etc., derive from this essential thirst for power, to rip the maturation of life from God's hands into their own, to triumph over the "chains" of nature which God "imposes" - to be gods themselves. Indeed, this is the mentality of abortion doctors and the mothers who use them, and it is the primary reason used by advocates of abortion such as Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama and Planned Parenthood. "A woman's choice" is simply a gentler term for power, in the same way, as G.K. Chesterton said, "birth control" means less birth and no control.

Created in the image of God, the human person is the crown jewel of God's Creation. In order to fully adhere to the call to love and responsibility involved in this essential human dignity, and in reciprocation of God's love for us, human activities should always be oriented toward the betterment of mankind. Does this mean always giving people convenience, pleasure, power, ease and even always being nice? No. As any parent can attest, love is not always gentle or easy, but it is always the best thing for everyone - age does not revoke this fundamental truth of human life. Does this mean completely neglecting our pleasures, convenience, basic needs or the condition of the natural environment and its creatures? God forbid. They are all His creatures, stamped with His divine thumbprint, and this innate goodness can only be responded to with reverence, care and prudence in our use of it. But we should always prioritize in truth and love, with God as our highest concern, followed by humanity and afterwards all that which God Himself loves and cares for. By acting as stewards of Creation, we are tasked both with renewing nature to its just vision, without the stain of sin, and orienting it towards the simultaneous affirmation of God and the betterment of mankind. Abortion is the most horrid and tragic wound against this most essential Christian - and indeed human - concept, and the only true remedy is love.

"Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you." (Isaiah 49:14-15)

The Birth of Modernity 2

The advent of the Renaissance led to a steady rise in the relative safety of the general population throughout Europe. Mercantile brought exotic resources retrieved by explorers, such as silk, spices and tea, leading to an economic boon that essentially began the middle class, neither peasant nor nobility. This growing merchant economy and the rapid expansion of science and technology created more jobs, a wider variety of career paths, and an explosion of literacy across the continent after the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg around 1400. Customization was made available in the lives of the common people; rather than one outfit, the same material as all other peasants, one could have several, each based on one's personal preferences and style. The individual became the new center of society and life itself, fitting the world to himself.

Having already experienced the deep loss of faith and hope in feudal government and the Catholic Church, nobility was no longer enough in and of itself to possess leadership - politics became the new standard. Replacing the standard of hereditary birth with the combination of new wealth and political requirements, Renaissance leadership developed into a widespread European aristocracy. Castle-centered fiefdoms were slowly replaced with towns governed by politicians and businessmen. As firearm technology developed, expensive and well-trained knights were no longer needed, replaced by conscripted mass forces of commoners with little training or expense to the politicians. Although many remnants of the Middle Ages remained through the Renaissance, in the minds of the people, "medieval" died in the Plague.

With the decline of feudalism, countries once defined by their heritage and ruler became defined by the qualities valued by the common people - ethnicity, national identity, wealth, language, military power, etc. This was the beginning of the modern nation-state, the conception of countries as political entities, separated from other nations only by the general values of the people rather than objective and historical differentiation. Monarchs became merely symbols of the nation itself, not truly above or beyond it, and whenever a monarch attempted to possess ultimate power as they had often held in the Middle Ages, rebellion quickly followed. However, this did not stop them from attempting to gain as much power as possible, far surpassing the power of monarchs in the Middle Ages.

As described in Part One, the conversion of Europe to Catholicism was inextricably linked to its cultural reliance on the decision of its leaders. The philosophical advent of self-reliance, life customization and nationalism which developed in the Renaissance also influenced religion. While in the Middle Ages common people valued sacramental religion, heritage, and living the "heaven on earth" of Catholic Mass in every part of their lives with order and regularity, Renaissance commoners came to value physical health and security, mental pleasure and happiness, individual identity, power and expression, and a religious sentiment reminiscent of the ancient Jewish Sadducees popular in the time of Christ, viewing morality as a means of making this life easier and more pleasant. God and the afterlife became both more personal and distant in the minds of Renaissance people. Despite their emphasis on physical health, happiness and security, they believed God should be absolutely separate from the world, a Platonic spiritual divinity whose perfection lied precisely in His separation from this world and the activities of man which, people came to believe, were completely beneath God's concern. Our salvation, performed entirely by God, was simply done for His glory, and the pursuits of man ranged from meaningless to actual hindrances to the life of faith, only being relevant to our life here.

Equally, the general populace began associating the Catholic Church with the royalty they resented so much. With these changes in values, the wealth and power of the royalty was both despised and envied, being insurance of physical security and the power to attain happiness. As I have said, the Church was deeply involved with national government, especially to the royalty, and due to variously-motivated tithes over the centuries the Church had accumulated great wealth and political influence in Europe. Though the corruption this caused in the Church was greatly exaggerated, its existence was a popular focus of the general population, associated with their mutual distaste for royalty. The symbolic meaning of the Church's liturgical gold and the wealth freely given to it over time was transformed from a religious symbol to one of pomp and greed, with the corruption present in the Church's human members emphasized and highlighted over all else.

The Protestant Reformation was the culmination of these seeds of doubt that had existed since the Plague. Protestant theologians, though often different in their theology, uniformly professed a rejection of the Church, citing its wealth, splendor and holes of corruption as proof that it was not the same Church Christ founded. Already in the mind of the people, this movement became very popular, even in its different forms. Allowed to place nation over church, to localize parishes into distinct churches themselves, to customize one's beliefs and morality based on personal preference and opinion, and replacing the pope with kings, Protestantism was widely accepted. Catholicism came to represent an antiquated ornamentation, making it completely inaccessible and irrelevant to the common people and accordingly unfair, unjust and immoral. In popular middle class culture, going against the traditions and morals of the Church was a personal sign of maturity and independence, feeling that their actions were justified by the unfairness and corruption they perceived in the Church - thus were clerical celibacy, religious authority, iconography and many other Church teachings rejected increasingly over time.

The vast growth of wealth, political power and religious diversity in the Renaissance led to many subsequent historical developments. The revival of superstition and magic in the Black Plague period led to the witch-hunts of the 16th century, the popularity of alchemy which stunted the growth in academic chemistry pursued during the Middle Ages, and the eventual trend of favoring ancient paganism to Christianity exemplified by modern Wicca and neo-paganism. While opposing aristocratic wealth and Church authority was intended by the general populace to decrease their power and corruption, removing the authoritative conscience and charitable service the Church provided gave permission for national leaders to pursue power to the furthest extent they could. Unfortunately, even many in the Church, including popes and cardinals, gave in to this temptation, becoming corrupt and providing a negative example which partially inspired the Protestant movement.

While many negative developments occurred because of the Black Plague and Renaissance, many good things also came about, both in the Catholic Church and secular society. Opposing the Reformation gave unity of doctrine and purpose to the Church, purified its conscience, illuminated its theology, and encouraged acts of charity and self-sacrifice that has been a beacon of inspiration ever since, most exemplified by the English martyrs who were murdered by the English government after King Henry VIII's creation of Anglicanism. Although the Church had been studying, preserving and promulgating Greek and Roman knowledge for a millennium by the time of the Renaissance, focusing on it once again reminded Catholics of their Roman character, especially the Church Fathers and the ideal of civilization. Art, science and democracy flourished, largely from Catholic funding and the innovation of groups such as the Jesuits, and the general tyranny of feudalism was somewhat mitigated. However, it has had negative consequences which have led to terrors, genocides, mass irreligion and immorality ever since, and the ideas that inspired these events cannot be forgotten - even their subliminal traces in ourselves.

In truth, it was not primarily what the Renaissance added to European culture, but what had been left behind in the wake of the Plague, the abandoned legacy of the Middle Ages. This created a hole in the spirit of Europe that many have tried to fill with alternative religions, philosophies that proclaim science, politics or economics as the savior of mankind, and simply an indifferent agnosticism that prefers to let the world unfold around them with comfortable neutrality. None have succeeded, and as long as Europe and all its Western-influenced progeny across the globe continue in futility to replace the universal faith, hope and charity of the Catholic Church, the horrors of the 20th century - even that perpetrated in the privacy of a doctor's office - will continue.

True Pro-Choice

In the debates about the morality of abortion, there are usually two self-titled "sides": pro-choice and pro-life. I believe these are, for the most part, misnomers, but also signifying something deeper about each side of the argument and the constituent belief systems supporting them.

Christianity is the primary proponent of pro-life, particularly the Catholic Church, one of the few groups in the world that is opposed to abortion in absolutely all circumstances. The Church's stance on abortion is merely an extension of its fundamental affirmation of life itself, exemplified morally by its stance on birth control, homosexuality, premarital sex, murder, etc. Pro-life for Catholicism is not simply a political movement - it is the expression of a fundamental and necessary worldview within the Church and her Tradition, upholding the inherent value of Creation apart from suffering and sin, and upholding objective morality apart from justification by pain, convenience or perceived "fairness". No difficulty, "cause" or excuse can justify sin.

Most adherents of the pro-choice movement use that term to signify that espoused view that abortion is morally permissible (or at least justified) because the mother has the right to choose for herself with "her own body", as they often say. This is an extension and mirror of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize abortion, itself founded on the argument of the mother's privacy. But in truth, the term pro-choice evidences an attribute of abortion itself.

In reality, the relationship between a mother and her unborn baby is a "pro-choice" arrangement. As a bond between a guardian and a dependant, with the dependant entirely relying on the guardian for life, health and wellness, the mother has the option and power to sever that bond. This applies to all guardian-dependant relationships, exemplified by other actions such as adoption, where the parents completely break their role as provider of the helpless child. But abortion being a pro-choice situation does not give equal validity to both choices of whether to provide for and sustain the dependant unborn baby, or break that connection. Like all situations involving human free will, abortion is pro-choice - but as in all other situations, one choice is wrong, and the other is right.

Having an individual be fully dependant on another person calls that person to love, responsibility, suffering and self-sacrifice for their wellbeing. Even more than in any other kind of relationship, this dependant bond brings to the forefront the centrality of interpersonal, communal responsibility, being "my brother's keeper", even when it inconveniences and even hurts us. The bond of mother and child is the highest expression of this.

If a pregnancy results from a sinful act, such as rape or incest; if it endangers the health or life of mother or baby; if it could involve future suffering of the mother from emotional, financial or social problems, or suffering for a deformed, retarded or unplanned-for baby - nothing can remove the inherent dignity and inalienable value of human life. We can be confused - very easily, in fact. Our culpability can be lessened. But abortion is wrong, and as St. Paul said, we are "without excuse" (Romans 2:1). The law of God is written in our hearts - all have a conscience. How can we not know that murdering an unborn child is wrong?

Or, perhaps a better question would be: how can anything make that murder permissible? The cure for pain, sin and evil is love - we must fight evil with good, not evil. Murder will not remove the taint of rape or incest, poverty or deformity, and there will never be a time when a parent feels absolutely, certainly comfortable with their situation to have a baby. Different excuses have been employed throughout history by to either avoid having children or to terminate those children after conception. But they are just that - excuses. Making abortion illegal is important, yes. But legality does not force abortion - it is chosen from the heart. Only a changed heart can change the world.

Is It Worth It?

There are many enjoyable things in this life, innumerable gifts of God's infinite Love for us, His beloved children. We have sports and games, romance and sex, artistic and creative pursuits, academia, friendship, beauty, and so many other wonderful things. And, above all, we are given the eternal joy of knowing and loving our Creator, to understand our purpose on this earth within the context of our mere existence. Only by God's creative and generous love do we have life, and have it to the fullest.

But happiness and joyful things are not the only aspects of life. There is also sin, within ourselves and the world. While there is much good, including the inherent goodness implicit in God's creative act, the world is not entirely as God desires it, "missing the mark" or sinning against God's Will. By this confusion of purpose and context, meaning in life is lost, and all is given up to chaos, power and debauchery.

When we deviate from the fundamental purpose and context of our existence as God's creations by sinning, betraying His love and trust, our souls become tainted. By abandoning God by sinning, we kill our souls, losing a little piece of the heavenly life that only God can give. In His mercy, God has given us many avenues to cleanse and heal these spiritual wounds and to regain the living waters of His grace. He has many covenants with us and each time has fulfilled His promises, culminating in the redemptive life of Christ and the foundation of the Church of His Body. Through the sacraments He instituted and the Traditions of the Church sealed by the Holy Spirit, we can partake of this grace and renew our covenant with God through Christ, the covenant we break each time we sin.

This Ash Wednesday began the Catholic season of Lent, the time of spiritual preparation for the renewal of Easter and commemorating the many trials of Christ's live, particularly that of His 40 days of testing in the desert and His Crucifixion. Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence, more frequent Church attendance and the obligation to penance, self-cleansing and reconciliation. While for many this is a curse rather than a gift from God, in truth it is the greatest opportunity of the liturgical year, the time when we have the chance to take part in the deepest mysteries of God, to truly live the life of Heaven, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, clothed in white linen of the pure heart and satisfied by the rivers of Living Water which satiates all longing. This is the reality of Heaven portrayed in the Book of Revelation, in which we take part at every Mass, the highest vision of the mind of God. But at no time can we partake of this mystery more deeply than Lent.

For most, it seems, life is a series of gift and curse in this way, "bad luck" or "good luck", the roll of the cosmic dice as to which feeling we will feel next. We live for those moments of pleasure, and endure the difficulties only to get back around to the pleasure which we are confident will come again until that final day when all we see drains away into an infinity of accursed darkness. This is a life without faith, particularly Catholic faith. Christ did not simply die for our sins - He suffered horribly, in all ways, bearing the sin of all mankind in His body, mind and spirit. He felt all the pain, confusion, guilt and death all have felt throughout history, all on His shoulders in that one day. He did not simply die - He was murdered, by all of us.

Being a Christian means living this life of Christ, taking up our cross and embracing it as our salvation, thanking God for the fire of suffering that burns away our sins and like the phoenix lets us rise to new, eternal life in Him. Lent reminds us of this most central Christian concept, that of redemptive suffering and the heavenly mystery of salvation.

Indeed, Ash Wednesday is an even more specific reminder. Feeling as if we're being carried through life, bounced back and forth between various pleasures and pain, we strive only for the pleasures and tend to avoid all that might cause us pain, even if it is for the best. Even though we are supposed to unlearn this as children, most only learn how to endure pain - not suffer it. Without suffering, pain is allowed to twist the mind into a bitter, cynical husk waiting only for the next pleasurable distraction. In this cyclic confusion, this delusional fantasy of godless hedonism where even religion is often used as just another pleasure or painful duty to get over with, we often lose sight of God's Providence.

It is so easy to forget the fact that God is the source and cause of our very existence, all the gifts we have and the tests we must go through. He is our very purpose for existing, to know, love and serve Him with all we are. But we are not immortal. As Ash Wednesday reminds us, we are only "ashes", and will return to ashes - dust to dust. Our time in this world is a gift of God, but it is not eternal; living in the world of sin, we must die, and when we will die is known only to God. We constantly say, "oh, I'll pray tomorrow", or, "oh, I'll give up smoking tomorrow," or, "who needs obligatory Church to worship God?" Well, there just may be no tomorrow - or even a tonight. Or we may live a hundred years - only God can know. But a relationship with God is not therapy; it is not Him giving us pleasures and uplifting sermons and music to make us feel good for a bit, like going to a spa. No - a relationship with God is that of a child, a sibling, a royal servant, and a priest.

God's gifts are not bad - God forbid that they should be perverted into something negative. But by fasting, by offering up ourselves and our valued things to God, we affirm that He alone is Sovereign, the center of our lives and, as the ashes on our foreheads remind, He should be our highest priority. Sure, we can shun God and His Church, avoid self-sacrifice, obligations and difficulties for the sake of momentary pleasures. But is it worth it, "(f)or what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26)

Bare Bones: A Parable

John, a mechanic, was refitting a custom car for one of his most high-paying customers. His friend and fellow employee, Tim, had already finished his work for the day and was watching him work. The customer wanted the most comfortable fittings available, but wanting to pay as little as possible. Retaining only the bare essentials of the original model - an old beat-up 70's sports car handed down by the customer's father - John planned to make it the best job he had ever done.

"So what're you going to do about these?" Tim asked, one hand grasping a soda bottle and the other pointing at the dirty, ripped seats inside the car.

John rubbed his chin thoughtfully, mulling over his available options. "Let's see..."

Awhile later, the old seats were replaced with comfortable black leather seating. "What do you think?" John asked.

"Hm..." Tim mused, taking a drink of his soda. "It looks nice, keep going."

Grinning at his friend, John moved on to the electronics. He put in the most cooling air conditioner, the warmest, gentlest heater, the most clear audio system, a CD player with wi-fi access, and GPS. Everything worked perfectly.

Next, he installed a powerful but efficient, quiet motor, clean hybrid fuel system and a refurbished version of the original sports car exterior, with new windows, windshield, head and rear lights, and a rear windshield wiper. Finally finished, John tried it out - everything ran perfectly, and he felt incredibly comfortable with all the car's ammenities.

"Wow man, this thing looks great," Tim said, inspecting John's work. "Very nice job."

John smiled proudly, standing back to survey his product. "Thanks. I really enjoyed doing it. You always feel satisfied when you give a customer what they want, y'know?"

Tim grinned. "Yep, I do." He paused a moment, furrowing his brow, then turned to his friend. "But, there is one problem."

John felt his heart sink and he frowned, turning to Tim. "Be gentle."

"How much does all this cost?"

John froze, then turned to gaze at the car. Closing his eyes, he ran a hand over his face and sighed heavily. "I didn't even think about the guy's budget. I just wasted a ton of resources and my entire day. I don't even know who'll be more angry, the boss or the customer."

Tim patted his friend on the back reassuringly. "Let me help you out alright? I can make this car just as comfortable, but well within the guy's budget before you even get off work."

"I couldn't ask you to do that man, you've already done a whole day's work."

Tim smiled. "Don't worry about it. Buy me dinner sometime," he said with a grin.

John returned his grin and laughed with obvious relief. "I will, don't worry. A steak as big as your head."

"Don't be insulting me now."

Sharing a laugh, John went back into the break room while Tim worked. He could hear all the myriad tools he had employed only moments before, and, if he heard correctly, a couple more. Drinking a soda, he tried to calm down from his moment of terror, hoping his friend could pull through.

About an hour later, Tim bent into the break room, grinning with satisfaction and John instantly shared it. "Come on out buddy, it's done."

John jumped out, sitting his drink down as he followed Tim back to the work area. There sat all of the fixtures he had added before, all the electronics, padded leather seating, high-quality engine - with no chassis, wheels, tires, and all other essentials completely missing.

He blinked. "Uh, what happened? Did you get robbed halfway through or something?"

Tim smirked. "Nope. These are all the comforts, for a fraction of the price. Just what the customer wanted, right?"

"I guess you're right."

Lent and Original Sin

In the Mass readings for this, the first Sunday of Lent, the reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans read:

"Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.
For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous."
(shortened version)

Now, in this reading we see a very important idea - original sin. St. Paul says that by Adam's sin, by his rebellious, prideful disobedience to God, he brought sin and death to all men. But he also says, "inasmuch as all sinned". Why give this specification? Because Adam did not make every person guilty in the same way as when we voluntarily sin. Rather, by Adam's sin, we lost the destiny of eternal life in Beatitude which God intended for every person when He created them. Adam did not merely become guilty - he forfeited the spiritual and physical sustenance and immortality afforded to him by living in the garden of Eden, the paradise of living in complete harmony with God's Will. Before his sin, even the world in which he lived was without the death, pain and chaos which sin procured.

Adam sinned and was subsequently cast out of Eden, out of harmony with the condition of direct sustenance from and harmony with God. The consequence of being outside this harmony was an environment of death. As God's Creation, nature did not cease to exist when Adam sinned, and it retained the inherent goodness and life God gave at its beginning. But as Genesis tells us, "(t)horns and thistles shall it bring forth to you" (Genesis 3:18 newadvent.com Bible). Our relationships with ourselves were perverted (Gen 3:8;16-17), our relationships with one another were distorted (Gen 3:12-13; 16), and our relationships with nature were distorted as evidenced above. By sin, we abandoned God and so abandoned the source of all love, truth and goodness, falling into the death, chaos, enmity and pride of a sinful world.

By Adam's sin, humanity lost its destined spiritual life and its physical perfection, now vulnerable to age and decay, attacks from nature and the bodily consequences of personal sins. Through Adam's lineage, all of us inherited this physical mortality, this environment of sin, the existential stain of the human heart which, with this original sin, always has a weakness and a preference for sin. Further, Adam's sin opened up the fixation and proclivity for sin that has been characteristic of humanity ever since Eden. Whenever we encounter sin and are given the option to choose it, tempted by the Serpent, we automatically feel an inclination towards it, an emotional weakness for it. The Serpent makes it seem appealing to us, gives us innumerable excuses and rationalizations to choose it (Gen 3:4-5), and even tempts us to encourage others to choose sin as well. After all, in his miserable Hell, Satan loves company.

To return to my earlier question - what did St. Paul mean when he specified, "inasmuch as all sinned"? Because of the weakness to sin I described, the heritage of Adam's rebellion, every single person with this taint of original sin has sinned throughout history, at least venially once in their life. While we still retain free will, we have no real chance of being completely sinless in our lives. Indeed, being omniscient, God planned His act of salvation through Christ with this fact in mind. But how does Christ relate to original sin?

St. Paul said, "just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all." By Adam's sin, all but the Blessed Virgin and Christ Himself have been damaged from birth with this original sin, with the spiritual and physical death, and near-certainty of personal sin it involves. But God, in His infinite mercy and justice, gave us a way out - the only just punishment to remove original sin: death. But not just any death - only the death of the most innocent being could be a high enough sacrifice to repair the damage Adam caused, to remove original sin from all humanity. There is only one way for this to be achieved, only one being truly pure enough to completely remove original sin, truly omnipresent enough to count for all men for all time, and to ensure the eventuality of the salvation of the entire universe: Christ. Through His Passion and crucifixion, Christ paid the penalty all of us deserve, through His resurrection He opened up that river of living water for all (even the dead), and through the Sacraments He instituted, we can partake of this New Covenant, washing away our original sin, our personal sins and renewing the destiny of Beatitude for which we were made. So universal is His grace that even those before His coming who truly were without personal sin were removed of original sin by His sacrifice, effective in all time and place. (Hebrews 11)

However, just as Adam did not give people personal guilt but opened up sin and a proclivity for it, Christ did not immediately save all people and justify all their actions. If Christ had justified our sins without any work to prove our contrition and faith beforehand, He would be unjust and thus go against His own divinity and revelation. Rather, by the spiritual death and resurrection of baptism, dying to sin and rising to eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23), we are forgiven of the human guilt and physical distance between us and God imposed by original sin, and through the fire of Pentecostal love in the Spirit, we are given a new inspiration towards faith and life, a bolstering strength based in confident hope of the promises of Christ (Titus 1:2).

While the weakness towards sin and the physical mortality of original sin remains even after baptism, Christ's sacrifice also opened up the avenue of mercy. Adam's sin opened up the awareness and preference for sin, but Christ's sacrifice opened up the channel of merciful grace, spiritual renewal and strength that is acquired through the sacraments and sacramentals (such as reading the Bible and praying the rosary). Adam chose sin and thus tainted all humanity with sin; but Christ, the new Adam, chose mercy, and so all are given the opportunity to live in the life of the light of God. And by the certain hope of the salvation Christ has assured for us, we are empowered to the freedom of overcoming our sinful chains and joyfully carrying our cross.

This redemptive suffering, repeating the sacrifice of Christ and bearing in ourselves the penalty of sin, even that which we did not commit, we are "(a)lways bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies." (2 Corinthians 4:10; also see Romans 8:13) Until the Final Judgment, when the entire universe is brought to salvation or damnation unto the fullness of Christ's redemptive sacrifice, the world will not entirely reflect His new life in the Spirit, but through redemptive suffering, charity and other means, we may conform the world and ourselves to God, healing wounds, giving ourselves in aid, service and protection to others, and forever worshipping God in His Divine Liturgy - Heaven on earth. (Revelation 22:17)

The Sacred Science

Apologetics, being the rational defense of Catholic teachings and the answering of arguments against them, has always been a central part of Catholicism and the very spirit of Christianity. It is an intrinsic part of spreading the Gospel - God desires to reach people on all levels of our humanity, and reason is one of the most central parts of our mind and the process of belief. Moreover, it is important for keeping the mind of the Church, and oneself, free from error or confusion. But despite the many apologetic works throughout history, from the Church Father and St. Augustine to the scholastics and St. Aquinas, to Pope John Paul II the Great and Pope Benedict XVI, the message of Catholicism is constant, received directly from God as revelation. These central dogmas have never and can never change - they are our constant Tradition. However, Catholic Tradition also encompasses the interpretation of the Magisterium, begun by the Apostles and thenceforth guided to infallibility by the Holy Spirit under the holy seal of the successor of St. Peter, the Pope. This interpretative "branch" of Tradition is constant, just as revelation is - the Spirit guides both. Magisterial interpretation cannot deviate from God's revelation, as both are Truth from the same Source.

Nevertheless, while the Spirit guides Catholic interpretation to infallibility by the Magisterium, under the Pope, it is not always done by the Magisterium initially. Many teachings which the Church has adopted over time have come from people within the Church who contemplated and studied Tradition themselves, discovering new connections between ancient dogmas, answering heresies and thereby finding new perspectives on Tradition, and many other avenues of scholarship. Further, many of these findings were not even scholarly - such as the Catholic mysticism of St. John of the Cross, the "little" ideal of St. Therese of Lisieux, and the very lives and work of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc and Josemaria Escriva. But even though many saints pursued little or no scholarly work, they reaffirmed, exemplified and clarified the central teachings of Tradition just as much as scholarship.

Despite the claims of Modernism, Catholic Tradition cannot change over time - but around the root and bough of the Gospel, many branches and leaves can grow. These offshoots of interpretation do not deviate from the parent Gospel itself, nor the Tradition that has preceded each new branch, just as branches and leaves are mere extensions of the tree and cannot live without it. The myriad interpretations, affirmations and examples of great Catholic men and women throughout history work to make the Gospel a living tree, rather than a dead husk of a single moment in history, or the ethereal, ultimately meaningless humanist morphological agnosticism of Modernism.

For apologists, a field that I very humbly claim to share some familiarity with, it can sometimes seem pointless to continue writing about and propagating the same teachings that Catholic Tradition has always had, especially with two millennia of growth from some of the greatest minds ever. We often feel as if the only worthy apologetics is to reprint the old material, including the Bible itself (the oldest work of Tradition), and simply hand it out to people, answering questions if need be, but refraining from writing our own work, in our own words. Whenever we feel this temptation, we need to remember: we are individuals. Each person is a new soul, with fresh eyes. Even though Tradition is unchanging, God's Truth immutable, just look at the work of Catholics throughout history. What if St. Augustine, St. Aquinas or St. Francis had said, "it has already been done - my work is pointless"? Imagine all that we would not have now. We only have to look at the spiritual starvation of sola scriptura to see the impoverishment of this. No - God desires all to come to Him personally. Every single person has something to contribute. Your work may not be in the future edition of the Catechism; you may not even be a recognized, canonized saint someday. But we cannot strive for greatness - to be first, we must be last. We must make ourselves vulnerable and give all that we are to God and our fellow man. No one is generic in God's eyes.

Most Catholics seem to think that to be a saint, to be holy, means to be uniform, to conform to the ways saints have done it in the past. No - being human is being an individual. Everyone is different, distinct. Yes, we are all similar, and we should learn from others both present and past. But we each have our own unique personality, perspective, ideas, thoughts, experiences, etc. on life and spirituality.

Though we will not truly create, since God is the only Creator of anything truly new, we create new emphasis and perspectives, highlighting certain aspects of Truth and showing it in a new way based on our unique viewpoint. All saints throughout history have done this - even those who lived in complete simplicity were different. And being new does not mean being revolutionary. It simply means giving a new contribution. Evidence of this beyond the saints is the Bible. Each book is a new experience and a new perspective from a different author.

As Christians, we have an advantage: God, the Author of Creation, tells us His meaning. Life becomes an allegory for Him. While in literature this would give no input from the reader, in Christian spirituality, God is always a mystery, always beyond us in His infinity. Thus, there will always be a new way to see His Truth, and we can simultaneously correspond to God's message and contribute our own ideas. Most are too afraid, too shy, or too indifferent to do this.

Since converting to Christianity, around three years ago (prior to my conversion to Catholicism), I have been discussing, debating and writing apologetically, offering theological answers to questions from people of all religious backgrounds and worldviews, both on and offline. I have also continued this practice as a Catholic. It worked to shape my Christianity, as did my experience of debate in my conversion from atheism to Christianity, ultimately leading me to the rational summit of Catholicism.

Apologetics is certainly a sacred science. However, Catholic apologetics and conversion are quite different from Protestant evangelism - it is not a one-time event, where one mentally accepts the reality of Christ's sacrifice and, by retaining that belief over time, is saved by it, giving peace but ultimately being limited to that time, place and event. Conversion is a lifetime, and salvation occurs after death as the result of this lifelong conversion - meaning, converting our souls towards God in the deepest, brightest ways. Apologetics informs and gives witness for Catholic beliefs; but it cannot be done with the expectation of converting the individual who discusses, reads or learns about the apologetic material. Hope is certainly valid, and indeed is the motive of all Christian evangelism and apologetics - but ultimately, it is the individual's decision. Even God does not force conversion, so how can our efforts do so without using immoral means?

Dr. Scott Hahn, in his book Reasons to Believe about apologetics, stated that the most important activity to strengthen one's resolve in apologetic work is frequent attendance of Mass, and prayer - conversion of oneself. Lorenzo Scupoli, a Catholic spiritual writer of the 16th century and author of Spiritual Combat, said that God desires the conversion of your own soul, the increase of love and devotion within oneself, lived by holiness. Indeed, you have more control over your own conversion than that of others.

I believe apologetics is certainly a wonderful and necessary Christian practice. As Pope John Paul II once said, on the wings of reason and faith the mind ascends to God; without both, we are like birds with only one wing, doomed to stare at the earth and constantly long for flight again. Unfortunately, some clip one or both wings and prefer the dry thirst and hunger of the earth, starving without the Eternal Nourishment of Christ. By converting our souls, in combined effort with the Holy Spirit, we make ourselves worthy of the promises of Christ, as the Catholic Hail Holy Queen prayer begs. Reason, however, is not self-sufficient in the human mind - it requires acceptance, which is belief. As St. Thomas Aquinas says (Summa Theologica, First Article): "Although those things which are beyond man's knowledge may not be sought for by man through his reason, nevertheless, once they are revealed by God, they must be accepted by faith. Hence the sacred text continues, 'For many things are shown to thee above the understanding of man.' (Ecclus. 3:25) And in this, the sacred science consists."

The Human War

Firearms have existed for over five centuries. Since their invention, they have quickly grown to occupy the preeminent role in all combat situations, both civilian and military. Particularly in the past century the world has witnessed an extreme rise in the complexity and destructive power of firearms and their offspring, explosive weaponry. And accordingly, the 20th century was the most deadly era of human history. Millions died on battlefields scorched by an endless rain of bombs and machine guns. Crime has increased exponentially, and the most devastating weapon ever made - the atomic bomb - was utilized, eradicating thousands and inciting half a century of weapon escalation in a macabre competition to determine the quality of a nation by its capacity for destruction.

However, the destruction wreaked by firearms and explosives since their implementation does not ignore the brutality of pre-firearm warfare. Uncounted millions have died by sword, arrow, club and horse. Their deaths are no less tragic and terrible than those caused by modern weapons. But war, while not inevitable, will in all probability continue to happen in the future, as it has throughout our history. Thus, we must strive to fight as morally as possible, humanely, civilly, and with as little destruction and unnecessary death as we can.

Tyranny has always existed, in the myriad forms people have devised over time, ranging from brutal chieftains and despotic warlords to communist dictators and terrorist regimes. In no form is tyranny ever good or justifiable. While tyranny was once enacted by the edge of blades and the quantity of soldiers, in modern times, it has become much easier to do and thus more common. Further, it has become more difficult to resist or change. Anyone can craft a melee weapon or even a bow and arrow. Even a simple farmer with a pitchfork can resist the most well-trained swordsman. But with firearms and bombs, there is no equality. Armament in modern society is determined by monetary resources and technological advancement, and so becomes accessible only to the wealthy and powerful - hence, the leadership, those who would be tyrants. A farmer can no longer resist even a single soldier armed with an AK-47 and hand grenades - not even an army of farmers.

Firearms and explosives require no personal involvement. The enemy is dehumanized, reduced to a mere target in a scope, destroyed with a pull of a trigger or push of a button from thousands of miles away. We have even now developed robotic airplanes, manned from tens of thousands of miles away and carrying bombs. Not only has warfare become easier and deadlier - it has become completely impersonal. No longer are soldiers required on a daily basis to wrench the very life from their enemy with their bare hands, and no longer are battles won by strength of arm and heart. Now, a child can slaughter their entire family with a pull of a trigger.

It could be argued that modern weaponry enables a higher ratio of enemy kills to the death of our own soldiers. While this is sometimes true, it takes little research to see the historical and contemporary effects of modern weapons on civilians and their lands. Entire regions have been environmentally decimated, whole populations eradicated by modern weapons. There is no honor in war, if there has ever been. Our enemies are often very willing to use civilians as human shields, on all scales of war, and this situation is even more difficult for police officers. Soldiers continue to report on the dangers of urban combat, made even worse by the use of human shields. The moral, qualitative conduct of combat must be considered before the practical, qualitative. Even the lives of enemies should be spared if at all possible, ended only as a last resort.

Nations of the world have grown considerably over the past century in financial and technological prosperity. We are now capable of things never before imagined. But the universal truths of life and human nature remain unchanged. The growth of power is directly proportionate to growth of responsibility and the call to goodness and truth. Rather than continue the endless escalation of threats, death and destruction we have witnessed, even the fear of the total annihilation of our race by the horror of nuclear weaponry, we must use our great fortunes and advancements to fight evil not with itself, but with good. By combating destruction with greater destructive power, we only continue the perpetual cycle of death and dehumanization without end. We must strive to develop non-lethal alternatives to weaponry, greater national defense and protection of individual soldiers and police officers, and more accessible humanitarian aid worldwide. If we are capable of developing nuclear weaponry, laser-guided missiles and ever-faster machine guns, there is no reason we cannot create more effective non-lethal methods and defense measures.

Like all human creations and activities, firearms and explosives are not inherently evil. I believe that the use of firearms purely for sport, collection, historical research or self-defense is not immoral. Nor is, in my opinion, the use of explosives for mining or other endeavors that do not cause extraneous harm to the environment or society. But when used in combat, particularly in large-scale situations or when other measures are possible, both quickly become corrupted.

World disarmament, while often discussed and even occasionally implemented to various degrees (usually only as concerns nuclear weaponry), has now become only a hope. But hope is sufficient. All people of good will and conscience must not forget, even in the heat of battle, the higher obligation towards the good of all mankind. Even now, weapons designers are working to develop new non-lethal technology, even for battlefield use. There is indeed hope, as there is always hope - without end.

The Grace of Freedom

The process of conversion is widely-discussed but very difficult to understand, primarily because it is such an intimate and interior relationship between God and the individual person. But in His love, God has revealed much about it to us, and indeed all of us experience this conversion - even so-called "craddle Catholics", those born into the Church. Conversion is a lifelong activity, a journey of self-exorcism to remove our faults and to be redeemed in the purity of God, bringing us ever closer to the Beatific Vision Christ has opened for us all.

As a kind but just Father, He wants the absolute best for us, unsatisfied until we give ourselves fully to Him and His plan for our eternal lives. We are created for and by Him, and any estrangement from that purpose corrupts the condition of our spiritual, mental and physical lives. As the source of all goodness and truth, separation from God can only bring negativity. But God, in His all-knowing mercy, knows that we will fall, being born with an innate weakness to sin already, and so He gives us inborn faculties to discern and overcome this sin, and finally return to Him. These are conscience and reason. With conscience, "the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness". (see Romans 2:14-15 NIV) And with reason, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20 NIV) Yet, because of sin, our minds become confused and our hearts darkened. We need a cleansing to wash our eyes and restore our vision to its original clarity in the light of God's love and truth.

Each human soul is created with God-given free will. But like conversion itself, free will is often misunderstood or misinterpreted, usually either liberalize or condemn man. But true free will consists of two parts: the common idea of autonomy to choose between various options; and freedom from error and sin. True freedom is not only the capacity to decide, but to decide the right option. Sin and error enslave the will and the entirety of the person to the prison of confusion, ignorance and contradiction to God's will. But as sinful, finite creatures, we cannot attain complete freedom by our own effort; even the free will given to us is from birth distorted by original sin. However, God has opened up the cleansing I spoke of above: grace. Given by God's own perfect, sinless freedom, the grace of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life and wisdom, washes away the cloud of sin from us. It alleviates all pressure and influence from sin; while we still experience it, our will becomes empowered to freely choose the good, without being forced to do so.

By nature, God's grace is unearned, given purely by His objective love. Indeed, "God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:11 NIV). However: "it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Romans 2:13 NIV) And, through God's justice, "(t)he righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17 NIV). Even though we are capable of recognizing God's law, in all its forms, our will is weak and sinful. In order to see the divine truth of God's law, our will must be partially alleviated of this darkness. When our will turns to the true and good and we attempt to follow God, He gives grace - unearned, unmerited, but fairly rewarded for our faith, the faith to recognize God despite looking "through a glass darkly." This grace empowers us to live in faith, and to receive forgiveness and penitential rejuvenation when sin taints our spirits. By living in faith, according to God's law and through the channel of His Church, we are "declared righteous". Indeed: "we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) Knowing our sin and afflictions, God gives us avenues to heal and return to Him. He never abandons His children to torment in the dark death of sin, persistently yet gently offering us salvation even at the last moment of life and, to those already assured Beatitude, Purgatory in the afterlife.

As we have seen here, conversion is centered on three activities: obedience, faith and penance, in sequential order. Only by a life of conversion can we be made worthy of the promises of Christ, to truly be the image and likeness of God and fulfill our purpose to know, love and serve God and our fellow man.

The Light of the World

A universal faculty of the human mind is what I call "adjective thinking". Without an interpreting, experiencing human consciousness, the physical world is simply there, functioning according to its patterns and characteristics necessitated by its structured, finite nature. Infinity would have no behavior, only stagnation. But even though the universe is structured and ordered, without a human mind, it is just there, without thought or understanding. Other living things experience the world without contemplation or imagination, living only what is in front of them or directly pertinent to it. We, however, are capable of more.

When a human being experiences the world, it is not only as the endless steam of information our senses receive. We are able to identify the structures and patterns of the world, separate them from their context, contemplate them individually in our mind. We visualize and manipulate their appearance any way we wish with our imagination; we construct a web of ideas from its information and organize it into a designed, rational concept; we affix emotion to it with such depth and precision that every remembered event or understood concept forms our incomprehensibly-complex subconscious mind. With these and myriad other powers we transform our experience of life into a uniquely human form, recognizing, grasping and savoring all the wonderful depth of Creation.

With this adjective thinking, we are given many of our natural human senses, such as beauty, justice, love and forgiveness. We are able to understand that there is more to life than the apparent, even the superficial qualities of ourselves. Even though everyone expresses these senses differently, all human beings have them, proving their fundamental objective reality. Aware of these attributes innate in life, from birth we long to understand their true nature and for their fulfillment. We search for the satiation of our spiritual longings and for reasons to answer our desire for truth and knowledge. We never lose these things - if anything, they only increase over time. Age brings myriad avenues we take in the hope of satisfying our deepest longings, to fill the spiritual hole we are all born with, only to walk away with moderate, if any lasting satisfaction.

Without identifying the Source of the qualities all humans recognize and inherently long for in life, we can never take the true road to everlasting fulfillment and rescue from our burdens. Without this Source, we would be animals not only in body but in spirit, as many who live without this Source believe, doomed to live with blinders on our eyes and our minds and hearts. As Pope John Paul II said, with the wings of faith and reason we rise to the call of Truth. And indeed, many live with one or both wings cut, sending them to crawl on the earth and subsist on dirt alone, forever thirsting for true and eternal Life.

God is "the way and the truth and the life." (John 14:6 NIV) He is the Creator, the Divine Love and Wisdom. He did not create the physical universe only for itself, though by its mere existence it affirms Him who is Being. Rather, He made humanity to live and breathe in it. But even further, He made us to know, love and serve Him. In order to further affirm His Divinity, and especially as a tool after the casting of the clouded veil of sin after the Fall, He threaded the world with living spiritual symbolism on all levels, from symbolic imagery to broad concepts like truth and beauty. Even within ourselves we evidence this symbolism. The very instinct and drive of our bodies to survive is evidence of His love - why else would matter which would otherwise be inanimate constantly strive to retain its form and support its living will? Nothing but life does this, and nothing but humanity recognizes the love, creativity and infinite wisdom that life and existence themselves reflect of their Maker.

Under the corruption of sin, the world has become dim and ugly to us, a blanket of death and darkness obscuring the beauty and wonder God has made. But this is not permanent - God Himself has come to remove this concealment and redeem the world not only to its original perfection, but to raise it up to a supremacy beyond any understanding, revealed and previewed for us by Christ Resurrected. In our prayers of hope, petition, love, contemplation and thanksgiving, we not only ask for God's direct help in our lives, but we recognize the good underneath the bitterness of mortality. Whenever there is good in our lives, we thank God for it and for our knowledge of it. Without sin, there would be no lack of these - but, accordingly, without sin, we would lack the deep appreciation and thanksgiving we experience whenever we see the light of God shining through the darkness, pointing towards a future brighter than any can imagine.

Unless we respond to the living spiritual symbolism all around us, evident to all (Romans 1 and 2) through human faculties universally possessed, following the river back to its Divine Source in the Trinity, we will forever remain starved pilgrims sojourning from one ruined temple to another, affixing our hearts to idols that, as facades of true Divinity, wither and decay, leaving us thirsting once more. Millions and millions live this way, "in quiet desperation" as Thoreau said, searching for the truth. But why must we search - the Truth has come to us! We no longer have to strive and struggle against the limitations of this world and our own faultiness. But without purification, there can be no purity - thus without the filter of challenges given to us by mortality, finitude and disunity, we do not deserve satisfaction in God. Only by trusting and loving one another, affirming each other and mutually affirming God and His Creation, can we enter the true relationship of adoption in the Trinity. God has given us the Church of His Body, offering answers to our challenges without removing their purpose: trust and community for disunity; infallible dogma for ignorance and confusion; and grace for healing and eternal life. Christ has shown us the Way, and the Way is Him. He waits with open arms to receive us, if only we would relinquish our prideful disdain and open ourselves to the loving obedience of faith. Eternal life awaits.

The Mystery of Life

We often characterize the lives of human beings of the ancient past as filled with a profound sense of mystery. When saying this, many of us mean that ancient peoples were ignorant and susceptible to any idea suggested to them, a very unkind and irrational presumption. But if we mean to use this word "mystery" in its deepest, oldest sense, I believe it would be inaccurate to assume a sense of mystery in people long ago, simply because they seem to us so very mysterious. They were human, as we are, despite the differences in our external lives. They thought and felt, grew up and grew old, ate, drank, slept - only their methods were different. We have changed less in our interior lives from these ancient humans than many assume, I think. When we truly examine the history of the daily lives of people in those times, they were little different from our own, and daily life seemed to afford them as little a sense of mystery as it does in these modern times.

Mystery nowadays has been relegated to either an archaic form, almost exclusively used in religious thought (such as the Mysteries of the Rosary), or to denote something we know little about. While both senses are not entirely incorrect (the second incorrect only because of the ignorance most people have about its meaning), the original meaning of mystery was quite different. Rather than indicating our ignorance of a certain topic, mystery connoted an awareness of the invisible things of reality, within ourselves and outside. We are naturally capable and indeed drawn to seek the invisible. This is the primary impetus that inspires genuine spirituality, but many limit mystery only to direct experiences of the supernatural, or to a vague sense of awe at our ignorance about the world. In truth, mystery reflects a deeper awe at the essential ineffability of reality itself, even our very lives. It is a recognition of the dispersion of the invisible throughout reality, in all things. The very experience of life and being are mystical experiences.

Mysticism is very old. While in ancient religions, especially the Greek "mystery religions", spirituality was limited to a select view, it was opened to all with Christianity. Like its "mystery" root, Mysticism is the state of awe I described - the experience of awareness of the invisible, both positive and negative. Further, true Mysticism is an understanding of the root of all invisible things in the Divine, the Great Mystery. Beauty, truth, love, reason, life, death, consciousness - all these things are invisible, as are good and evil, revelation and deception, law and crime. Human beings alone are capable of recognizing the invisible. We have many different ways of understanding the invisible, particularly reason and the imagination, the former grasping truth and the latter, meaning. Both contribute to Mysticism.

As finite beings, we will always lack complete knowledge of anything. But this is not a bad quality - we are not made to become God, but to be like Him, non-Divine yet complete mirror images. Meaning is the evidence of will, of intent and purpose, while truth is the actual reality of a thing. Even without complete information or understanding, reason can judge the sensibility of something and judge it to be true - living according to these truths is faith. While truth is invisible, meaning is more ineffable to us - reality can exist as a principle of a thing itself, but all meaning derives from the Will, God Himself. Even human will cannot create meaning - we can only identify, receive and experience it. The experience of meaning is integral to Mysticism.

By recognizing the Divine Will of God in and above all things, even within the farthest depths of ourselves, we may live in a constant state of profound spirituality. Every moment in time becomes an experience of the sustaining Mind of God. Every thought becomes a transmission of the human soul, itself spirit and connected to the very Life of God. In this way, we may "pray unceasingly", as St. Paul instructs us, forever contemplating, living and breathing the infinite mystery of Being.

Christ: The Meaning of Life

A Good Friday and Easter weekend Article

Throughout His ministry, Christ referred to children. He met them personally, talked with them, and used the image of a child in His parables, discourses and teachings. Christ refers to all humanity as children, and even shows Himself to be the Son of God, calling Him "Father" and teaching us to do the same. We are children of God by origin, and adoption through Christ. Children call out to Him "Hosanna" at the Cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:15), hailing Him as the "Son of David", heir to the throne of Israel. How could mere children recognize His Divinity while the high priests, the Roman governor, and even His own disciples rarely could?

Christ goes so far as to tell His apostles, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3 RSV 2CE) Does this mean we are to shun everything about adulthood, to forsake our responsibilities, our education and relationships? God forbid - Christ Himself was an adult, and as the Incarnation of God, He was only what He desired to be. Christ clarifies immediately after: "Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:4 ibid.) Even the most spoiled child possesses a humility they seem too quickly to lose in age, a willingness to depend on others, to trust others for their very lives, and to recognize and obey authority - even if those authorities must sometimes enforce this obedience.

The humility of the heart of a child is even deeper than their willingness to obey. This willingness springs from their heart. Every child is born with a sense of the ideal. Intrinsically, they understand and desire the ideal state of life, the fulfillment of all things, where beauty is realized universally and perfectly, where there is no fear of pain or death, where our body, mind and spirit are sustained with eternal life. Any who have been around children know their surprising (and often disruptive) ability to perceive lies, and their insatiable honesty always ready to reveal a lie and coax truth out of even the most stubborn and cruel. For children, sin is a shock, met with a sense of confusion and deep sorrow. They simply cannot understand - how is the world not as they expected it to be when they were born? How can things suffer and die continually, and how can people, all people, choose to sin and propagate this abnormality of Creation, ripping holes in the heart of the world? Indeed, the heart of the child is pierced from birth, crowned with thorns of disappointment, sorrow, and a longing for the cleansing of existence and a restoration of the perfection for which it was made, for which they were born.

Yet, something changes as we age, doesn't it? As we grow up, we constantly experience sin - in the world, in people around us, and in ourselves. The wounds of our pierced hearts seem to increase without alleviation. The most we can aim for then is distraction, a moment's release from this endless cycle of pain and dissatisfaction. Our thirst grows, unquenched, and our spirit dries in the scorching heat of sin. Our heart becomes hard. As teenagers, we become indoctrinated by society's "adult" expectations to be perfectly successful, perfectly rich, perfectly controlled, and yet perfectly individualistic and confident. Namely, we are taught to distance ourselves as much as possible from that original perfection of our birthed selves, to trust no one, to love no one, and to give only what is expected while demanding full recompense in return. We abandon our hopes and dreams, and we come to believe that only by becoming addicted to sin, embracing the cynical bitterness of adulthood and following self-centered ambition until we have an "iLife", can we become mature human beings. Our hearts are no longer pierced - they are maimed and hardened into impenetrable suits of armor.

It seems to be the question of every philosopher, the question considered by all humanity as the single most difficult to answer: what is the meaning of life? Different people in different times have offered answers, while most concede to an ignorant self-assurance and simply do "the best they can". In today's world, the popular responses are agnostic "faithful ignorance", atheistic denial of God, or a "common sense" conservative religiosity determined by heritage, culture or situation. Needless to say, humanity remains today as unsatisfied and hardened of heart as it ever has. We continue to long for an answer - when the Answer has given Himself to us already.

Jesus Christ is the Answer to all questions, the Living Water to quench all thirst, the Bread of Life to satisfy all hunger, the Truth to reveal all deceptions, and the Pierced Heart whose suffering and death pour out endless love to all the world, unhindered by space or time. Before the Incarnation, God came to man through the myths and philosophies of his mind, or through angels, prophets and inscriptions to Jews. But Jesus Christ was at last the personal revelation of God Himself without any intermediary. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, the true purpose of Jesus Christ was to bring God to man (Jesus of Nazareth, Part One, Introduction). Christ, the King of the Universe, stepped down from His heavenly throne to meet with His people personally, to know us, to love us. He has invited every one of us, from birth, into a personal relationship with God. So how would Christ answer the question, what is the meaning of life? There is only one answer: God.

Against the expectations of Jews in Jesus' time, the Messiah was not a revolutionary, a zealot sent by God to establish an earthly kingdom and instantly abolish all sin in the world. No; the way of Christ is even more profound. Christ showed us the way to eternal life, living it Himself and even attaining it, previewing it to us in His Resurrection. His way is the Via Dolorosa - the Way of the Cross.

The astounding mystery Christ introduced is the idea that suffering, even unto death, is the path to attaining eternal life and the fulfillment of all desiring. Growing up, we are taught that suffering is precisely contrary to spirituality and the perfection expected of God's salvation; rather, suffering is portrayed as the emblem of the bitterness of mortality, the mark of adulthood in a world full of irreparable hardship and unfulfilled longing. In this way, Christ is counter-intuitive: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." What humanity considers common sense, even genuine humility, is revealed by Christ to be only a despairing resignation and acceptance of sin, the hardening of the heart against Christ. But it is precisely this suffering that Christ has redeemed into the Via Dolorosa, His Passion.

Pain and suffering are too often confused, as many old words are. Pain is any discomfort we experience; but suffering is living this unavoidable pain without falling to sin. Despite knowing His necessary future Passion, Christ did not like it - even asking for the "cup to pass from" Him while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, (Matthew 26; for quote, see 26:39 RSV) the very Cup of the New Covenant that He would later offer to His apostles. (Matthew 26:27-28) Like the Paschal Lamb of Judaism, the blood of Christ became the seal of the covenantal promise of eternal life.

This sacrifice was accomplished only by His suffering and death, vicariously offering Himself up as the offering of all sin to the healing hands of God. Christ endured the pain, humiliation, abandonment and death of the Cross without recourse to sin, remaining ever faithful to God and loving to others, even begging for the forgiveness of His murderers. (Luke 23:24) This pure and devout suffering, even on a Cross unto death, burned away the sin of the world that He carried for us as our Paschal Lamb, taking the punishment of our sins upon Himself despite His complete innocence. Nothing but the blood of God, most holy and pure, universally opened to all, could shine through the sin of the world and baptize it to renewal. Only He could remain whole and complete regardless His experiences, never crumbling or mingling with sin, remaining perfect.

Even though the Passion of Christ has not yet brought Creation to the perfection promised us, we have been shown the path - the Way of the Cross. Only by carrying our crosses - our pain, our sin and our longing - and suffering for God can we attain the Resurrection, replicating Christ's own journey to it. By obedience to the certain hope of faith in Christ, we become worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. And indeed, at every Mass we experience this Heaven. Heaven is now. It is not some distant hope, a pleasant idea we wish for as children and learn to forget in "maturity". It is everyday, made alive by the sacramental grace of His Church and exemplified by the Eucharist, the very re-presentation of His Beatitude. By faith, we are certain of God's promise: one day, salvation will engulf all Creation, redeeming it to a Resurrected state encompassing all things, beyond any imagination. The Divine Liturgy is a preview of this, just as Christ's Resurrection is a preview of our own.

The season of Lent is coming to its end. I hope that all of us took the opportunity these forty days in the desert of Lent to reawaken our hearts to God, cleansing ourselves of sinful habits and passions we have accumulated and suffering for the sake of Christ. Now, we finally enter Easter, the holiest time of the year and truly the most wonderful and significant event of all time. Each year at Easter, we commemorate the day when all our hopes and desires were satisfied in the Resurrection of Christ, a hope powerful enough to suffer all things to attain it. Yet, we cannot forget: only through Good Friday can we reach the glory of Easter. We must always remember the sacrifice God gave for us all, giving His Son for our sake. Nothing is more valuable to God in all Creation than the human person - and He gave the ultimate sacrifice in order to guarantee us the destiny for which we were made: eternal life and happiness with Him. This Good Friday and Easter weekend, let us all recall God's love and renew our baptismal promises, living in the light of the hope of Christ.

Christianity in Pakistan

Christianity has been persecuted throughout its history by many different groups, at times even persecuting one another. Sadly, this remains true today. In the West, Christians are witnessing a steady degradation of the moral and spiritual foundations it struggled and died to build for two thousand years, having brought Europe and the rest of the world out of darkness. While much of the explicit violence against Christians has receded in the West, taking more the form of marginalization and defamation, it has continued strongly in the East, especially under the violent intolerance of extremist sects in the Middle East and elsewhere under the fa├žade of feigned piety.

Unfortunately, Islam has been abused and perverted into a tool to persecute Christians for some time. Wealthy, corrupt despots and cultists pervert the innate piety and devotion of Islam, very good things in themselves, into devices of deception and brainwashing. Taking advantage of the poverty of many Middle Eastern peoples, they set up the West as the emblem of debauchery and Satanism, the antithesis of Islam and their way of life. They foster hatred and fanaticism in these followers, sending them on missions of murder, terrorism and propaganda, all under the guise of holiness. The deeply inhumane and tragic lie of using religion for terrorism, a good thing for evil, is an all-too-common human weakness, one which many of these sectarian leaders are willing to use.

Often, the sentiments propagated by these so-called "Muslim extremists" stretches beyond the limits of cultic terrorist sects, becoming popular in the general masses and favored, even funded by the governments of many Middle Eastern nations. Throughout history, many countries in this region have had a rich Christian culture and population, and this proximity of contrasting groups has caused much tragic conflict.

One of the most visible predominantly Muslim nations afflicted by this problem in today's world is Pakistan. Being the second-most populous Muslim-majority nation(1), the conflict of Pakistan's roughly 173 million Muslims and 2.8 million Christians(2) is very volatile.

Simply being Christian and adhering to it faithfully is a frequent source of trouble in Pakistan. A recent example of this is the imprisonment of a woman named Asia Bibi. A Christian who formerly worked in a factory, she was one day with a group of Muslim women. They began to accuse her of blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammed, and so a group of extremists found her and beat her repeatedly. The local police incarcerated her on charges of blasphemy and she was in prison for a year, until a judge ruled in favor of giving her the death penalty. This story has received some news coverage, though not to the extent it deserves. Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minorities, and Governor of Punjab Mr. Sulman Taseer then took action for her release and both appealed to the President of Pakistan Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and to the Prime Minister of Pakistan. While the case was in process, extremists across Pakistan began to incite rallies against the Minister of Minorities and the Governor of Punjab, saying that if Asia Bibi was released, they would murder both of them. By late January 2011, Governor Sulman Taseer was assassinated, and on March 2, 2011, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered in Islamabad as he was going to his office. Although the Pakistani government is considering a pardon of Asia Bibi, the case remains very much open and the people of Pakistan are in an extremely volatile situation, the Christian citizens feeling afraid to even leave their homes. The courage of these Christians, their devotion to God and remaining good and faithful, is truly inspiring.

Another recent instance of Christian persecution in Pakistan was this Easter. One week before Easter, a group of Muslim priests accused Christians of burning Korans. Announcing this accusation over Mosque loud speakers, Muslim citizens rallied and attempted to burn down the homes of Christians. Fortunately, the Christians acted quickly, managing to move to distant, safe sanctuaries, such as the Aziz colony. That night, the Christian leaders, political leaders and social workers of that region called a meeting with the local government and police. Although the police took over and effectively got the situation under control, they arrested four of the persecuted leaders who had met with them earlier. The Muslim priests then asked for custody of these four leaders, saying that the Prophet had ordered them to kill the prisoners as punishment. The police rejected the request, saying they would have their own legal trial for the prisoners and the claims made against them by the Muslim leaders. The priests continued asking for them, but the meeting was dismissed. Nearly two-thousand Muslim priests were involved in that meeting. This was simply a continuation of an earlier Muslim rally against Christians on Good Friday, when almost five-thousand Muslims were shouting "burn the Christians and their houses". Police were required to keep the peace until finally the rally dispersed. The four persecuted leaders remain in custody, their fates yet to be decided and, if tried in court, would likely be little different from the punishment asked for them by the Muslim priests: death - according to the methods of Pakistani courts reported by my source.

The impact of religious violence and persecution between religious communities is far-reaching and devastating, distorting the public perception of religion itself until the attitude of many modern citizens of developed nations completely disregards religion and even sees it as a definitive source of evil. Without religion, they say, we would simply focus on the necessities - survival, health - and would try to be happy while respecting one another's happiness in a utopian paradise. If nothing is worshipped, nothing believed to be worth living or dying for, we would do only what is necessary or enjoyable, causing no problems. This is a delusion, one witnessed by the atrocious Communist regimes of the 20th century. Rather than learning from the inherent lack of morality and concern for human life necessitated by an irreligious system, society after Communism simply removed its violence and retained its atheistic socialist principles. Hence the extreme debauchery, abortion rate, lack of marriage and irreligion of China, Japan, modern Europe and, increasingly, North America, spreading its confusion slowly across the world. Indeed, to be considered a "developed" nation, one must adopt this atheistic, liberal creed - otherwise it is seen as fascist, primitive and irrelevant, if not evil.

However, a good cannot be abandoned because of negativity deriving from it. Religion cannot be considered based on the actions of those who violate its very principles - to judge this way is to verge on absurdity. If someone commits an immoral act and in so doing violates the very religion this act is performed in the name of, such as a terrorist bombing in the name of Islam, how can this be attributed to the religion? Only if bias against the religion exists beforehand. We must strive to move past bias, ease, preference, power and pragmatic success to rejuvenate an interest in true, profound love, recognition of the intrinsic, personal love of the Creator of the Universe, and pursuing this love without fear. As Pope John Paul II said repeatedly throughout his pontificate, "Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!"

I am unable to source most of my material taken from current events in this article, by the request of my source, who out of fear for survival and the survival of loved ones. However, I can attest to the truthfulness of this source, who is personally involved in these issues and reported them to me firsthand, asking me to write about the cause of Christians in Pakistan to raise world awareness and for the prayers of the Faithful across the globe. I hope and pray that I may accomplish this task through this article. May God protect and guide Christians in Pakistan, and give cleansing, renewal and forgiveness to the Muslim population there as well, showing to them His Infinite Love and Mercy for all, even those with whom we may disagree.



Endnotes

1 "Muslim Population—Statistics About the Muslim Population of the World". About.com. http://islam.about.com/od/muslimcountries/a/population.htm. Retrieved 27 July 2009. Referenced from Wikipedia article, "Pakistan".

2 -"Country Profile: Pakistan". Library of Congress Country Studies on Pakistan. Library of Congress. February 2005. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/profiles/Pakistan.pdf. Retrieved 2010-09-01. "Religion: The overwhelming majority of the population (96.3 percent) is Muslim, of whom approximately 95 percent are Sunni and 5 percent Shia."
-Miller, Tracy, ed (October 2009). "Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population". Pew Research Center. http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Mapping-the-Global-Muslim-Population%286%29.aspx. Retrieved 9 June 2010.
-"Pakistan, Islam in". Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e1809?_hi=1&_pos=1. Retrieved 2010-08-29. "Approximately 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim. The majority are Sunnis following the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Between 10 and 15 percent are Shiis, mostly Twelvers." Referenced from Wikipedia article, "Pakistan".