Who Could Ever Be A Saint?

In 1851 an Englishman by the name of John Henry Newman founded the Catholic University in Dublin, the precursor of today’s University College Dublin. Last month, he was canonised by Pope Francis along with four others at a ceremony in Rome. A Catholic convert from Anglicanism, Newman was a strong promoter of education and wrote an influential work called “The Idea Of A University”. When he was alive, he was recognised as a Cardinal. Now he’s also a Saint. 

In his own time it was suggested that he led a saintly life, but he was quick to downplay the connection: “I have nothing of the saint about me as everyone knows and it is a severe and salutary mortification to be thought next door to one.”

Now that Rome has disagreed with the man himself, it raises the question: what is it that makes someone a saint?

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Jeffery Epstein And The Failure Of Justice

Jeffery Epstein is dead. By suicide they say, although the details seem odd and the list of powerful people who could have been damaged by his trial is long. Either way, he’s gone. And the only reason anyone seems sorry about that fact is that it means his horrible crimes won’t come to trial, his many victims won’t get their public vindication, and his powerful accomplices will remain free. Epstein set up a large network for trafficking underage girls, and the long list of his crimes is dark and disturbing. I suppose there is some satisfaction for his victims in knowing that he was finally caught and is now dead, but those facts do nothing to pay them back for what was done to them, or restore the years and innocence that was stolen. The life of Epstein is a classic example of wealth and influence subverting justice. He should have been stopped in 2005 when charges first came to light. He should have been stopped in 2007 when the FBI prepared a 53-page indictment against him, yet somehow he got a deal and 18 months in prison, of which he only served 13. After that he lived in freedom, continuing all the same crimes, until just recently. And the many powerful men who participated with him remain free still.

In other words, justice failed.

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What If The Higher Power Really Is Higher?

Seems to me it must be hard to live in this beautiful world and remain entirely confident that it is only accidental, that our lives are only accidental, and that our meaning and love and passions and sense of right and wrong are only the accidental output of material machinery marching to the orders of accidental DNA. Pure materialism doesn’t fit well with our actual experience of life on Earth. Even many who are not religious recognise this, and acknowledge the probable existence of a “higher power”.

Allowing for a higher power solves a lot of problems. It gives an explanation for love beyond chemical imbalances, hope beyond physical death, and value beyond usefulness. Religious or not, most people still want these things to be true, and still see (rightly) that they cannot be derived from pure materialism. Yet for all the problems it solves, the idea of a higher power raises more questions than it answers. What exactly is a “higher power”? One thing is for sure: it’s high.

A higher power is, by definition, higher than we are. Continue reading What If The Higher Power Really Is Higher?

Of God And Suicide

Guest post by Dan Oosthuizen

I used to think that God was there to give me things. Good health. A job. Harmony in my marriage. Getting a table at a nice restaurant on a Friday night!

The Bible does teach us that God is concerned with our material welfare, in the sense that He will provide us with what we need in order to do His work. So, I think that I was following a Biblical pattern when, having been unemployed for 18 months and then recruited by the civil service, I praised God with thanksgiving. Seneca and I organised a party at our house, and invited friends who had walked alongside us through that journey. We wanted to give thanks to God, and to do so by celebrating the blessing He had given us. That was a really enjoyable evening, and I think everybody felt the sense of joy and gratitude. One week later, at 7 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, September 5th 2015, I got a phone call that felt like a sledgehammer to the ribcage:

My sister, Mari, had hanged herself.

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For Hannah Grace

This week twelve years ago, we should have been welcoming our firstborn child, but she wasn’t here. I’ve written about the day we found out about Hannah’s death in this post. This week, in honour of the daughter we haven’t met (yet), I’m sharing a poem I wrote shortly afterwards to process my thoughts about God and the death of a child.

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Good Friday (A Poem For Christmas)

I do realise that Good Friday is actually a separate holiday from Christmas. But I also realise that if it hadn’t been for Good Friday, we’d have no reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Christmas is about how the same God we all tried to push away came down and invaded our world anyway, come to rescue us from the broken reality we created, come to give us life at the cost of his own. Even at Christmas, the shadow of the cross hangs over the manger, and the glory of Easter resurrection is just around the bend! So this Christmas, I submit to you that a poem about Good Friday is not out of season:

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I Refuse To Be Content With Shorthand-Reality This Christmas

In front of me, there is a rectangle with rows of little squares on it. On each square a little symbol is emblazoned; bits of circles, lines, or a mash up of the two. Whenever I push on one of the squares, the symbol transfers to my screen, and I call this “writing”. Even more amazing is the fact that you can read it, because we’ve agreed by consensus with our forefathers that these funny little shapes on my keyboard correspond to real sounds, and that the sounds can be mixed together to make words, and that the words can serve as a shorthand way of communicating about real things, real concepts, and real people.

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