Holy Scripture does not exactly answer this question. But the order in time matters much less than the order in being.
We human beings, alone among the animals, can conceive of the world as a whole, as God does. We alone can give distinct names to all the various parts of the world, the creatures that make up God’s creation. Alone among the animals, we form a spiritual bridge between the earth and the mind of God. The marriage of a man and a woman gives us a visible image of the union between God and mankind brought about by the God-man, Jesus Christ.
We know that the pro-abortion, “pro-choice” position betrays the truth. One way you can tell: the very euphemism that the pro-abortion movement chooses for itself. “Reproductive rights.”
Algae “reproduce.” Plants, bugs, other animals—they “reproduce.” Human beings marry. Human beings have families.
If you use words that apply to lower creatures to defend your position when it comes to human beings, you can be sure that you have strayed into a territory where violence reigns. “Reproductive rights” is a phrase from Orwell’s 1984, a mask to cover over systematic bloodshed.
On the other hand: Love. Marriage. Family.
That is the way that God gave to mankind, in the garden, before the Fall. The original gift of God—love, marriage, and family–makes Valentine’s Day happy.
Bill Irwin thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail blind, with the help of his German shepherd Orient. Irwin’s book, Blind Courage, narrates his journey.
An auto-immune disease cost him his sight. At first, his doctors misdiagnosed it as terminal cancer. They removed one eye to try to buy him a few months of life. Then he lived for many more years. The disease cost him his sight in the other eye.
This got me thinking about the origins of the human race.
If “fundamentalism” means: God made the world as we know it in the amount of time it takes for Sunday Mass to come around again, then the Bible itself refutes fundamentalism. As we reckon things, a week involves seven sunrises and seven sunsets. But in Genesis, God made the sun on the fourth day.
Seems to me that Christian doctrine about our origin starts with the fact that the Blessed Mother and her Son currently live in heaven, body and soul. Then we read Genesis by the light of that truth.
God put Adam and Eve in a garden, with a choice in front of them. Before they chose to disobey the Law of the Lord and Giver of Life, the First Parents of the human race lived a kind of life which we can only begin to imagine. The “state of innocence,” or “prelapsarian” state.
Adam and Eve had perfect integrity of body before the Fall. They enjoyed a super-natural gift which would have preserved them from disease and death. Since we do not believe in magic, we can only propose, then, that this super-natural gift carried with it a natural state of material balance in their bodies. Perpetual health.
Now, we ourselves only experience the passage of time as fallen human beings. We don’t know what the passage of time was like for Adam and Eve before the Fall. Nonetheless, we can say this: Adam and Eve could have obeyed; human nature could have continued in the state of innocence. We would have progressed through a pilgrim life through time, without disease or death, to the fulfillment of heavenly life with God.
In other words, the perfect material balance of the human body would have endured for some period of time on earth, without any corruption of the elements. Perfect health, with no mortality.
(I believe that everything I have asserted so far stands on solid theological ground. But please correct me if something strikes you otherwise.)
Our Christian faith does not, of itself, preclude our accepting the theory of the evolution of species. But IMHO: the theory of evolution does not stand to reason.
No one has ever observed the evolution of one species into another. For peppered moths to evolve darker wings due to a more-sooty environment does not involve the kind of mutations that would result in a different species.
Asserting the evolution of one species from another involves no more empirical observation than the assertion of an original Paradise for the human race. Does the fossil record provide more conclusive evidence of the evolution of one species from another than Sacred Scripture provides proof of the existence of the Garden of Eden? When a scientist interprets the fossil record (as we currently have it) according to the theory of evolution, s/he brings no more certitude to the task than a Christian does to the task of understanding our infallible Scriptures.
The evolutionist brings less certitude, in fact. The idea that God exists, and can create the cosmos, and can reveal Himself to His creatures—this idea explains much more than the idea that God does not exist, or the idea that He cannot (or does not) reveal Himself.
Now, a pure materialist (I think) would deny that “species” as such even exist. A “species” is a concept only. What really exists is: DNA.
But if species as such do not exist, then what is the theory of evolution? The theory presupposes the progress of organisms from an origin, to the current state of affairs, toward some future state. Even if we understand “species” solely as the steps along that arc of progression, they must exist, in order for the arc of progress itself to exist.
Anyway… The ancient gods of Greece condemned Sisyphus to roll a stone up a hill. But every time he got the stone near the top, something happened, and it fell back down to the bottom again.
This strikes me as the most-fitting illustration of the probability of one species evolving into another by way of random genetic mutations and “natural selection.” With every few feet gained in the ascent of the hill, the “gravity” of death and oblivion will keep pulling the rock down. Sisyphus has more chance of clearing the crest of the hill than random mutations have of producing a whole new species, it seems to me.
Ancient as our biosphere may be, can it possibly be old enough to accommodate all the endless changes that would be necessary for evolution by mutation and natural selection to produce all the species that we now observe? Modern physics and Christianity have this in common: We propose that the universe began. We do not think the cosmos has always been. It has an age.
But if the universe has less than an infinite number of years on its odometer, has enough time elapsed for all the random chemical reactions that the theory of evolution requires?
Into the middle of that question, dear reader, I would like to throw this wrench: Bill Irwin lost his sight because his own body destroyed its own eyes. People die of cancer because their own cells grow in a destructive manner.
Yes, people have died because bears have eaten them, or enemies have shot them dead in battle, or because the chemical equilibrium of the fallen human body (without the supernatural gift of integrity) cannot endure indefinitely. But also: an awful lot of people have died, or become incapacitated, because elements of their own bodies have attacked them in some way.
The evolutionary biologist would respond (I believe) like this: The immune defense system exists because of its evolutionary benefit. Its imperfection now indicates the need for further evolution, and it indicates the fact that evolution proceeds in fits and starts, rather than in a straight, orderly way.
Granted: our immune defenses, and our cellular growth, do us a lot more good than harm.
But: doesn’t it make more sense; doesn’t it seem more likely that the human organism sometimes harms—and even destroys—itself because: a perfect balance that existed originally has been lost?
The alternative explanation would require us to concede the passage of time not only for the “forward” evolution of species through random mutation and natural selection, but also the overcoming of all the setbacks which auto-immune diseases and cancers would introduce into the process.
That looks like ∞ years plus ∞ years to me. The Christian doctrine about the Garden of Eden and the Fall seem more reasonable. But I would love to hear rebuttals from more-qualified interlocutors!
Saints Joachim and Ann knew that they had a lovely daughter, the offspring of their flesh, a young lass of our human stock.
We, too, know some sweet young ladies, I am sure–of seven, or ten, or twelve. We know how reassuringly human they are, and playful, and funny. We cannot doubt that our Lady had those qualities, when she was a girl.
But Joachim and Ann, attuned as they themselves were to the interior life of prayer—they knew also that their daughter had an altogether unique and wonderful interiority.
In the gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass, we read how the Lord Jesus drove the merchants out of the Temple, saying: “this is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!” He could have been saying those words to us, referring to our souls. O fallen man, your soul is a house of prayer, but you have filled it with thievery! It takes a lifetime of penance to cleanse the temple.
But Joachim and Ann’s daughter, they could see, had no thieves in her interior temple. She could goof; she could laugh, like girls will do. But there was no grasping; there was no desperation; no unreasonable anger, no inconsistency of desire. The young Mary wanted one thing, focused on one thing, rested her whole heart and mind on one thing: God.
This girl belonged in the Temple. Everyone who knew her could see that she herself was a temple. When Joachim and Ann took her to the Temple to learn the things of God, the temple of a pure soul came to the Temple on Mount Zion.
President gave a speech yesterday evening. I must say that I was truly moved by the peroration. He painted the picture of the people we know, the fathers and mothers and children who deserve a better life than “it’s no fun being an illegal alien.”
President Obama quoted Exodus. Our Catholic Bible offers a more precise translation: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.”
The People of God know that this world offers no lasting city. Our true home lies above. ‘Resident-alien’-hood comes to us as a birthright, with Holy Baptism.
President said that our country is about more than what we look like and what our last names are. Amen to that. Then he added the usual throw-away phrase about religion: doesn’t matter “how we worship,” either.
How do we get where we want to be? That is: How do we get to the point where we embrace all men as brothers, because we have one common Father?
Only one human individual begotten of two human parents ever came into the world with that sentiment already at work in her beautiful soul. The rest of us have an intractable tendency to fight amongst ourselves.
America can only become the “America” of the beautiful vision by resting securely at the feet of the true patroness of this land, the Guadalupana, the immaculate Mother of God.
What we look like, and our last names, don’t matter. But how we worship not only matters, but is the key to everything. The religion that brings about e pluribus unum is the religion of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The conclusion of Genesis narrates how the descendants of Abraham came to leave the Holy Land. In other words, it narrates how our people came to leave the land of Canaan after living there for three generations. One thing makes this particular people unique: we worship the God in Whom Abraham believed. And the conclusion of Genesis recounts this part of our history.
It all began with God revealing Himself to Abraham. Abraham learned something of God’s plans. Much mystery remained. But Abraham learned that the whole world would be blessed through his descendant. This divine revelation established an alliance between God and Abraham’s people.
And we can see in today’s reading at Holy Mass how this alliance continued as a sacred tradition. In other words, from the very beginning, our holy religion has been a matter of handing down divine revelation from one generation to the next.
Abraham’s grandson Jacob was himself the patriarch of a very large family. Jacob would not leave the Promised Land without sacrificing to the God of his father Isaac, Who is the God of Abraham.
We see from what happened that the alliance—the covenant between Abraham’s people and God—this does not preclude new things from happening. God spoke to Jacob at the southern boundary of the Holy Land. God told Jacob to go without fear into Egypt. Your going into Egypt will not break the alliance. In fact, doing so will strengthen it. Your going into Egypt is part of my plan for your people, for the people of Abraham. Thus the Lord directed Jacob at this fateful moment.
So a living sacred tradition does not atrophy a people. Rather, it allows us to move forward through history without losing ourselves in the great ebb and flow of time. Because we have inherited the holy tradition which God inaugurated by speaking to Abraham, we can greet everything that the present sends our way. But we will fall out of alliance with God, and lose ourselves in the process, if we do not always act in accord with the sacred tradition we have inherited.
As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it:
In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. (Dei Verbum 7)
So we rejoice to receive from our fathers the mystery of salvation that belongs to the Church. And because we keep faith with it, we have nothing to fear from whatever comes our way today. We do not face the present alone; we face the events of today as members of the ancient People of God.
Everyone know what happened between Joseph and his brothers?
When Joseph was young, his brothers treated him with shameful contempt. Joseph had charm and creativity, and he delighted his father. So his brothers despised him out of jealousy. They planned to kill him, but in the end sold him into slavery in Egypt.
But Joseph’s fortunes rose while his brothers’ fell. Joseph became chief steward of Pharaoh’s enormous kingdom. Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers suffered through an extended famine.
How, though, did Joseph understand all these twists and turns of fate? Let’s imagine him sitting in his silken robes as master of the Egyptian dispensary. He sees his emaciated brothers shuffle in, begging for food. We could hardly blame Joseph if he thought to himself at that moment: Well, looky here. Look at the tough guys. They hated me for no good reason. Now they are paying the piper, and I am in the driver’s seat. Revenge really is a dish that is best served cold.
Who could blame Joseph if he had thought along those lines? But he did not think that way at all. To the contrary, he never gave a moment’s thought to revenge; it didn’t even occur to him.
All Joseph could think about was the hunger of his family. He promptly and quietly saw to it that his brothers received plenty of grain. The same brothers who threw him in the cistern and sold him into slavery.
In fact, not only did Joseph completely ignore his opportunity for sweet revenge—he even went further in the way he read the signs. A smaller person could easily have seen the hand of a vengeful God at work in the sufferings of his brothers. In point of fact, the brothers themselves read the signs that way, interpreting their suffering as punishment for their injustice to Joseph. But Joseph saw the opposite.
Joseph did not say to himself, Aha! God has justly punished these evil brothers of mine and put them into my power! Rather, he said: Aha! God has led me through all the trials and tribulations of my difficult, lonely life for one reason: so that I could help my brothers now and save them from starvation. A smaller person would have seen the hand of a vengeful God at work in his brothers’ sufferings. But Joseph saw the hand of a merciful God at work in his own sufferings.
This, I think, is the way to read the signs. Joseph knew God better than his brothers did. God does not move events for the sake of my own personal satisfaction; He moves them so that He may satisfy the needs of others through me. The universe does not revolve around me; my universe revolves around the people who need my help.
May Joseph be a sign for us. Scripture teaches us that all things work for the good of those who love God. All things work for our good—when we understand that our true good is really the good of our neighbors. So let’s put it Joseph’s way: All things work for the good of the people that the people who love God love.
Joseph possessed divine wisdom. When he was seventeen years old, he had dreamed that he would reign supreme. But he did not bear arms for his accoutrements. Rather, he wore a coat of many colors.
Joseph’s brothers despised him in their jealousy and conspired to sell the ‘dreamer’ into slavery in Egypt. Joseph, unarmed, but wiser than his brothers, offered no resistance.
Joseph became an attentive, prudent, and provident servant in Egypt. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams for him, the king of Egypt declared, “Can we find such a man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Joseph came to enjoy Pharaoh’s highest favor and ruled Egypt in Pharaoh’s place.
Joseph anticipated a coming famine of seven years. He lad aside stores during the years of prosperity so that Egypt could feed the world from its granaries when the hard times came.
God had a plan to re-unite the sons of Jacob, the progenitors of the chosen people. Joseph proved to be the hero of this plan. Not because Joseph foresaw it all, or because he accomplished astounding feats of strength or guile or will. Joseph emerged as the hero because he knew how to co-operate with the strongest person in the story, namely Almighty God.
After Joseph revealed himself and was re-united with his father, his brothers begged his forgiveness for the evil they had done him years before. Joseph did not hesitate to forgive. In fact, he had long since forgotten all about it, because he was too busy co-operating with the plan of God. He told his brothers not to blame themselves: “God sent me here ahead of you for the sake of saving lives.”
Moral of the story: The strongest, wisest hero—the one who truly reigns supreme—accepts that God is in charge, and co-operates.
Here is the first of four Lenten homilies on the seven deadly sins.
God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Ready!” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well, and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust, set out for the place of which God had told him.
On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar. Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.”
The NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest is always better than the game itself.
The game, however, was okay. Kobe could not miss in the third quarter. (I only watched the third quarter.) It is absurd that 265 points were scored in one game. The 192 points scored in the Syracuse-Georgetown game on Saturday set a dangerous precedent.
Shaq went out with a bang. This was Shaquille O’Neal’s last of fifteen N.B.A. All-Star games. (He was voted onto the team fifteen times, even though he didn’t play all fifteen games, due to injuries.) Only Kareem Abdul Jabbar has been voted onto more all-star teams–seventeen.