Last month, I concluded an article by asking how we can know for sure that Catholicism, in particular, is God introducing Himself to the human race while the other religions of the world are not. Some would suggest that “by definition” you cannot know which religion, if any, is right; that is why it is called “faith.” The idea is that if you do not know something but believe it’s true, it is “faith.” If you do know something for sure, it is called “knowledge” or science, or so it is commonly believed.
Yet there is a difference between faith and credulity. Credulity is believing something “just because.” For example, buying inexpensive ocean-front property in Oklahoma might sound exciting to someone who is credulous and sees an ad for it. (Being credulous is otherwise known as being gullible, i.e., prone to believe anything that someone else tells them.) It would immediately sound like a scam to those who are not credulous since Oklahoma is, obviously, not on an ocean.
If, on the other hand, one were to look up listings for oceanfront properties in California and find one ad that speaks of the property as a “steal” and then buys it, he is now operating on faith, not credulity. There are reasons for him to trust the information in this case. And that is what faith is – trusting another for good reason, not for no reason at all.
Are there “proofs” for God’s existence? Yes – contingency, beauty, the question of conscience, etc. Paragraph 31 of the Catechism explains, “These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of ‘converging and convincing arguments’, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth.”
But the Catechism, along with an apparent wide swath of society, seems to be behind on the scientific concept of “proving” things. The idea that science can “prove” anything, in the traditional sense of the word, outside the realms of math and logic, was rejected by the scientific community itself a long time ago.
It may surprise the reader to find out that “establishing the absolute, unquestionable, immutable truth of a matter” is not one of Webster’s definitions of the word “prove”. The closest the dictionary comes to defining the word in this way is when it describes proof as, “the cogency of evidence that compels acceptance by the mind of a truth or a fact [or] the process or an instance of establishing the validity of a statement especially by derivation from other statements in accordance with principles of reasoning.”
In other words, to “prove” something, by Webster’s definition, is to make a very compelling or “solid” argument for it. Not to “establish it beyond the shadow of any and all possible, unchangeable doubt.”
Who Do You Say That I Am?
Jesus of Nazareth is recognized in a number of non-Christian circles as a “wise teacher” or “enlightened spiritual master” – but not God.
There is a conspicuous problem with this assertion, though. In multiple locations in the gospels (i.e. John 8:58), Jesus claimed to be God. This means that we are left with only one of three choices regarding His true identity. As others have aptly asserted, Jesus had to have been either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
Either Jesus claimed to be God and knew He was not and was, therefore, consciously deceiving people – this would have made Him a malicious con man, not some sort of “wise sage” – or, Jesus claimed to be God because He was delusional, mentally ill. In such a case, how many other of His teachings do we need to call into question? Or, finally, Jesus claimed to be God quite simply because He was/is just that.
Who do you say Jesus is (cf. Matthew 16:13-17)?
Of course, this begs the question of whether or not the gospels were reliable historical accounts of what happened during Jesus’ walk in human flesh two thousand years ago. But in a word, yes, they are. I suggest reading Brant Pitre’s, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, and/or Josh McDowell’s, The Case for Christ, for a much fuller treatment of the matter.
If Jesus was/is God, then about 99% of the world’s religions cannot lay claim to being God’s personal revelation to mankind. Either Jesus was God or He was not. There is no in-between. And Christianity is the only religion in the world that I know of that “allows for” Jesus’ divinity. The only exception may be Mormonism, which makes Jesus a god, but one of many.
And one of the many problems with Mormon doctrine is that it is not historically reliable. Mormons believe, for example, that Jesus descended into America for a while after His resurrection and ministered to some of our indigenous peoples. “Believe” is the key word. There is no historical evidence for this – at all.
To be fair, the absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence. However, for the Bible to have plenty of historical backing and the Book of Mormon, as a whole, to have none, strikes me as a bit…peculiar. Mormonism also alleges that the Christian Church apostatized in its early centuries, something with which the historical record also disagrees. So, in one form or another, Christianity is all that is left.
The Shroud of Turin further brings home the message of Jesus’ divinity. Once thought to be a centuries-old fake, the ancient burial cloth has since been correctly dated to the first century and all but positively identified as belonging to Christ. And, try as some have for decades now, no one has been able to scientifically explain how the image of the crucified man appeared on the cloth – other than by way of the miraculous.
Marian apparitions narrow the playing field of true religion to Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing to people since not long after her Assumption into Heaven. Many of these appearances have been verified by the Church, which is eager to dispatch credulity and promote actual faith, and so examines these cases very carefully before endorsing or rejecting them. Historical evidence has sometimes been left behind during the course of the apparitions, such as miraculous roses and Our Lady of Guadalupe’s imprint on Juan Diego’s tilma in Mexico in 1531.
Beyond this, as at the apparitions of Fatima and Zeitun, there have been times where Our Lady or her signs are not merely seen by Catholic visionaries, but also by Protestants, Muslims, Atheists, and others as well. So compelling were Our Lady’s appearances to Catholics and non-Catholics alike in Zeitun that they compelled the Egyptian government to investigate!
Consider, also, Purgatory. There is plenty of empirical evidence for this too. Really. Look here.
Eucharistic miracles are arguably the most “heart-stopping” of all the evidence that, by Webster’s definition, proves the Catholic religion. There have been several of them throughout the Church’s history and a number of them have been scientifically tested with stunning results. See for yourself.
As we said recently to a group of laypeople, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” St. Peter expressed this well when he held up the example of a reverent and chaste life that wins over even without a word those who refuse to obey the word. It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity. (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)
Amazing as these miracles are, some still manage to find it easy to rationalize miracles away, or simply to ignore them. It is easy to turn a TV off, for example, to exit from an online article, or to listen to a podcast and then compartmentalize it or come up with myriad different ways it cannot be true.
The constant witness of a holy life is not easily dismissed, particularly when the holy person manifests miraculous qualities such as levitation, bilocation, stigmata, etc. When, a person consistently models this power of God, is gracious, kind, patient, joyful (in the spiritual sense, not necessarily the worldly sense), perhaps even works miracles of their own through their prayers – this is much harder to eschew. We have known people like this: Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II, among others. And what about you and me? (If we are not saints, why not?)
While a few Protestant churches recognize many men and women in history as saints, no Protestant Church has ever formally canonized its own, as do the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which further helps us narrow our search for the true faith.
We Walk By Faith
There is a difference between faith and credulity, between trusting the word of another for good reason and trusting them just because we feel like it.
Jesus did not say, “Follow me because I say so,” and leave it there when He walked the earth. He performed many visible miracles throughout His public ministry. In fact, the Gospel of John winds down by saying explicitly, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). (Emphasis mine.)
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Jesus said (John 20:29). But of course, this was immediately after providing Thomas physical proof of His Death and Resurrection by showing Thomas the nail marks in His hands and the lance mark in His side.
To sum up, it may seem like a ridiculous assertion to some, but science has indeed proven faith. Science has provided a coherent, very compelling argument for faith’s claims. Now it is up to us to act accordingly and move forward in that faith, growing in charity (love) at every turn. “To whom much has been given,” Jesus said, “much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
This should instill the fear of the Lord in us, but it should also fill us with great joy. As Romans 5:3-5 attests, “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
In what may seem like a wild, esoteric musing, this reference to a “Holy Spirit” is St. Paul’s witness to that unseen principle of life that holds the world in balance. In much the same way, scientists once could not “prove” that black holes existed but still had faith that they were there, based on the evidence swirling around those blacks holes. Now scientists can see them. Similarly, we have ample evidence of the very real existence of the Holy Spirit around us. If we but keep faith in God’s revelation to the human race of who He is and who we are called to be, if we but run the race with charity and endurance, we too will one day “physically” see the object of our faith face to face (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Mary, help of Christians, pray for us!