Thursday, November 15, 2001

J.R.R. TOLKIEN´S TAKE ON THE TRUTH

An Interview with Author Joseph Pearce
on "Lord of the Rings"

NEW YORK, NOV. 15, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Catholic convert Joseph Pearce is author of two popular books on J.R.R. Tolkien, "Tolkien: Man and Myth" and "Tolkien: A Celebration" (both Ignatius Press).

With the film release of "Lord of the Rings" scheduled for next month, Pearce mused about Tolkien (1892-1973) and his work in this interview with ZENIT.

Q: There have been criticisms of some fantasy stories because of their allegedly pagan orientation. Do you see Tolkien´s works as being part of this genre or is it different?
Pearce: Tolkien spoke of myths and fairy stories, rather than "fantasy." He was a lifelong practicing, and very devout, Catholic who believed that mythology was a means of conveying certain transcendent truths which are almost inexpressible within the factual confines of a "realistic" novel.

In order to understand Tolkien´s "philosophy of myth" it is useful to commence with a maxim of G.K. Chesterton: "not facts first, truth first." Tolkien and Chesterton were both intent on differentiating between facts, which are purely physical, and truth, which is metaphysical.

Thus a myth or a fairy story can convey love and hate, selfishness and self-sacrifice, loyalty and betrayal, good and evil -- all of which are metaphysical realities, that is, true, even if conveyed in a mythological or fairyland setting.

There is no need for Christians to worry about the role of "story" as a conveyer of truth. After all, Christ was the greatest storyteller of all. His parables might not be factual but they are always truthful.

Take, for instance, the parable of the prodigal son. Probably, Christ was not referring to one particular son, nor one particular forgiving father, nor one particular envious brother. The power of the story does not reside in its being factual but in its being truthful.

It doesn´t matter that the prodigal son might never have existed as an actual person; he exists in each of us. We are all, at one time or another, a prodigal son, a forgiving father or an envious brother. It is "applicable" to all of us. It is the story´s truth, not its facts, that matter.

This was Tolkien´s point. Furthermore, there is more truth in "The Lord of the Rings" than in many examples of fictional realism.

Q: In recent years, magic in diverse forms such as games, TV shows, etc., has been very popular among young people. Given the way magical powers are presented in the "Lord of the Rings," do you think that there could be any dangers for youngsters?

Pearce: There is very little of what could be termed magic in "The Lord of the Rings." There is much that is supernatural, but only in the sense that God is supernatural, or that Satan is supernatural, or that good and evil are supernatural.

It would be more accurate to describe the so-called magic in "The Lord of the Rings" as miraculous, when it serves the good, and demonic, when it serves the evil.

Tolkien´s Middle-Earth, the world in which "The Lord of the Rings" is set, is under the ultimate power of the One God. It is also under the corrupting influence of Melkor, the fallen angel who is Tolkien´s Satan.

The greatest of Satan´s servants, Sauron, is the Dark Lord who is the enemy in "The Lord of the Rings." In other words The Fellowship of the Ring is in a fight to the finish with Satan´s servants.

How can Christians possibly object to a quest, the purpose of which is to thwart the evil designs of the demonic enemy? Far from being a "fantasy," "The Lord of the Rings" is a theological thriller.

Q: Do you think this was Tolkien´s intention?

Pearce: There is no doubt that "The Lord of the Rings" is a profoundly Christian myth, but that is not the same as saying that it is an allegory.

Tolkien disliked allegory because he saw it as a rather crude literary form. In an allegory, the writer begins with the point he wishes to make and then makes up a story to make his point. The story is really little more than a means of illustrating the moral.

Tolkien believed that a myth should not be allegorical but that it should be "applicable." In other words, the truth that emerges in the story can be applied to the truth that emerges in life.

There is, therefore, a good deal of truth in "The Lord of the Rings" even though its author never set out intentionally to introduce it allegorically. This is, perhaps, a subtle distinction but one which Tolkien believed was important.

Q: What values do you think "The Lord of the Rings" has to teach us?

Pearce: The values that emerge in "The Lord of the Rings" are the values that emerge in the Gospels.

In the characterization of the Hobbits, the most reluctant and the most unlikely of heroes, we see the exaltation of the humble. In the figure of Gandalf we see the archetype of an Old Testament patriarch, his staff apparently having the same power as that possessed by Moses.

In his apparent "death" and "resurrection" we see him emerge as a Christ-like figure. His "resurrection" results in his transfiguration.

Before he laid down his life for his friends he was Gandalf the Grey; afterward, he becomes Gandalf the White. He is washed white in the purity of his self-sacrifice and emerges more powerful in virtue than ever.

The character of Gollum is debased by his attachment to the Ring, the symbol of the sin of pride. The possessor of the Ring is possessed by his possession and, in consequence, is dispossessed of his soul. The wearer of the Ring always becomes invisible to those that are good but at the same time becomes more visible to the eyes of evil.

Thus we see that the sinner excommunicates himself from the society of the good and enters Satan´s world.

Ultimately, the bearing of the Ring by Frodo, and his heroic struggle to resist the temptation to succumb to its evil powers, is akin to the Carrying of the Cross, the supreme act of selflessness.

Throughout the whole of "The Lord of the Rings" the forces of evil are seen as powerful but not all-powerful. There is always the sense that divine providence is on the side of the Fellowship and that, ultimately, it will prevail against all the odds. As Tolkien put it succinctly, "Above all shadows rides the Sun."

Q: Many lament the depravity in the mass media today. What can we learn from Tolkien about improving the quality of entertainment?

Pearce: The greatest lesson we learn from Tolkien is the objective nature of truth. Evil is real; and so is good.

Goodness is the real presence of God; evil is his real absence. Tolkien has no time for the amoral relativism that is so prevalent in much of what passes as modern entertainment.

The fact that Tolkien´s myth contains more truth than most of what passes as realism serves as a damning indictment of the false vision being presented by today´s mass media.

ZE01111520

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

A Bin Laden Thank You

(Author Unknown)
Dear Mr. Bin Laden:

Sir I would like to thank you for taking the time out to send a few of your willing workers of hate and deception to this country to attempt to destroy us.

In the process of trying to terrorize us to death, the hand of God stepped in and still got glory within your evil and deceptive plan to put fear in the hearts and minds of the American people.

1. Thank you for showing and allowing our President and past Presidents to Worship and pray together in the same Sanctuary.

2. Thank you for having Congress bow at the Feet of Jesus and ask for forgiveness and ask for the Lord's strength in leading the nation's people.

3. Thank you for allowing Prayer in the schools once more and having our children across the nation be able to ask God for strength and protection throughout their school day.

4. Thank you for letting employers give workers time to pray and worship our Savior during their work hour.

5. Thank you for showing us that it is the hand of God that allows us to be here day in and day out, we are not just here on our own .

6. Thank you for leading more people back to church in one day to get things right with God than all the witnessing of all the Christians in this country could do in one year.

7. Thank you for waking us up and letting us know that people still care in this country and that we are bigger than the problems in this country.

8. Thank you for reminding us that racial, religious, and cultural hatred is useless and nothing good comes from harboring it.

9. Thank you for letting us again understand why on our money it says in God we trust, we sing God bless America and what true patriotism is.

10. Most of all Mr. Bin Laden now that the Lord is on our side, Thank you for letting him take his rightful place on the battlefield, so you will know that he will have the victory His word says...If two or three gather in my name it is done.

So in all, we thank you very much for strengthening our faith in God and our love for our fellow American no matter what color, race, creed or religion.

Signed,
A Proud American Citizen. and a Soldier in the Army of the Lord.
September 26, 2001

Saturday, March 10, 2001

The Joy of Suffering

The following letter was written to my elderly Aunt who's husband, Burton, was dying in a rest home. At the same time she was recovering from cancer therapy that had physically incapacitated her and which would dramatically shorten her life. I just hope this all makes sense to me near the end of my life. 


Stanley D. Williams, PhD
Northville, Michigan

Mrs. Burton Winke
Troy, Michigan

March 10, 2001

Dear Aunt Hope,

It was good to spend time with you, Uncle Burt and his son Raymond yesterday. It was a meaningful time. Times of great sickness and pain should have special meaning for a Christian. In a deep theological way the word "joy" comes to mind, although in a practical way we don't experience laughter and smiles. But, for the Christian, the concept of "joy" carries connotations of "meaningfulness," and "purpose." It is Christ's suffering and death, not his life and resurrection, that bought our salvation. It is the Crucifixion that is the center of all history, for it was on Calvary that God extended to us eternal life and made sense of the suffering of his people in the centuries before.

The answer to the question, "How can a loving and all powerful God allow so much pain and suffering?" is the central question of all existence, because, in its answer we come to Jesus Christ and discover the meaning, purpose, and deep-seated joy that his passion, suffering and death, has for all mankind.

Thus it is that Christians should look upon suffering as a special and meaningful time, filled with great purpose.

I Hate God
A young woman came to Bishop Fulton Sheen one time in a rage and in hatred toward God, because she believed that God had allowed her only daughter to die. "Why," she demanded of the bishop, "did God allow such a terrible thing to happen to me?". Sheen replied, "I'll tell you why your daughter died. It was so that you would be here today and hear about God's love." Moments later, The woman broke down and began her eventual road to God, salvation and a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Her daughter died so that she might be saved.

Murder Begets Redemption
When the murderous Acua Indians killed Jim Elliot and his four companions, there was outrage among many that did not understand the ways of God. But, there in the jungle of Ecuador (not unlike the wilderness of Christ's passion), God understood as others later did, that the only way to get to the hearts of the Acua was through an act that they had perfected to a science—murder. The Acua practiced murder, vengeance, and retribution like Arnold Palmer practiced golf. How does a missionary get through to a tribe of jungle natives like that. God knew. It was to allow the Acua to kill true Christians who did not practice retaliation with vengeance. Instead, these Christians led in part by Jim's wife Elisabeth, practiced sacrificial love. Thus, it was that the missionaries murderous deaths were offered up by their wives and by Christ as a ransom, and as a redemption for the salvation of a whole nation. Although Elisabeth Elliot continues to claim that she doesn't know why her husband had to die that day, the title of her best selling book about the murders, indicates that she knows all too well the importance of Christian suffering. The book's title is Through Gates of Splendor.

Suffering in Scripture
When Christians are open to the suffering that God allows them to experience, He can bring about great redemption in their lives and the lives around them. Here are verses in the Bible that point to this truth. The translation is the New Revised Standard. The essence or premise of these verses is: Suffering for the Christian, always brings with it a greater redemption. The corollary of this axiom is: There can be no redemption without suffering. Ultimately that suffering is Christ's, but because we are his children and heirs, he allows us to suffer with him.

When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
—Romans 8:15b-17

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope [the lack of pain which is not seen] we were saved.
—Romans 8:22-24

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
—2 Corinthians 4:8-10

For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you...Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
—2Corinthians 4:11, 15

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
—2 Corinthians 4:16-17

For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.
—Philippians 1:29

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone that teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
—Colossians 1:24, 28

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking on nothing.
—James 1:2-4

So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
—2 Corinthians 12:9-10


The Enigma of Leon Porter
February 21, 2000, on the Northwest Flight to Orlando, the bulkhead aisle seat I am normally able to reserve for myself was unavailable and I was given the center seat next to it. It was cramped and uncomfortable. But the flight was to be anything but unfortunate. For, a few minutes later a wheel chair came down the aisle to deposit in the seat next to me a large, muscular, clean cut black man. He was paralyzed from the waist down and he had to be lifted into the seat next to me. He had been shot in Pontiac, MI during a drug related fight between warring gangs. At that time, ten years earlier, he had been on the fringe of the drug trade. After the shooting, he spent six years of excruciating painful rehabilitation.

Today, Elder Leon Porter is the full time youth minister at New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Pontiac. That day with me on the plane, he was traveling with several other ministers to a conference in Florida. As we got to know each other, I made a comment to him about how terrible and awful it must have been to be shot and go through the many years of pain associated with his disability. He looked at me and said, "You don't get it. Being shot was the best thing that ever happened to me. It caused me to turn to God. I became a Christian. God is my savior. And my continued disability is a tangible reminder to the kids I minister to every day, of the pain and destruction of sin. I'm a rolling object lesson. The suffering I've been through continues to be part of Christ's redemption for many young people." Leon is completing in the flesh what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of the other young people he daily meets.

The Suffering of Michael Zahodne
My friend, Mike Zahodne, died at age 41 from childhood diagnosed diabetes. Since the age of 7 he learned to stick a needle into his fingers every few hours to test his blood. He married Joanne and together they had two children: John and Katie. During high school they saw their father continuously in and out of hospitals. The last few years, every few months, the doctors would cut off another part of Mike's body where gangrene threatened his life. By the time I met Mike, both legs and one arm were gone. On his right hand, all he had left was a thumb and index finger. Even though he had no calves, ankles, feet or toes, his nerves continued to tell him that they were still there and were in the process of being cut off. The pain never ceased. Dialysis made him so sick between sessions that he could not hold food down, and for the past year he had refused it. He had a kidney transplant from his mother (both of his had failed) but now his mother's kidney was only operating at 15%. Slowly, over the months that I knew Mike, his body swelled up from the gathering toxins that would eventually kill him. He threw-up the hospital food they brought him. Once while we were talking, his dinner came up and I cleaned up the mess.

For the eight months before he died I often brought him communion from church. He was a life-long Catholic and understood the significance of The Eucharist (what Catholics sacramentally believe and the Apostles taught is the real body of Jesus Christ (John 6). The Eucharist, of course, is the "celebration" of Christ's suffering and death. It's a celebration because in Christ's suffering and death we have eternal life and forgiveness.

I asked Mike one day as I was interviewing him for his biography, if he was bitter or angry at God for the lifetime of pain and suffering he had sustained. He said something like this to me: "Stan, I have family and friends like you that love me and visit me and do all manner of nice things for me. My Lord, when he was suffering and dying, had nobody. They all left him, even Peter denied the Lord's friendship. How can I complain? My Lord, suffered far more than I did. If my suffering can bring others to God and reconcile the relationship between my mom and wife, then it is all worth it.

Suffice it to say, Mike's suffering had deep and eternal redemptive purpose. A videotape was made of his testimony several months before his death that was used in a Christian retreat for youth. A teleplay for television was written about his life, death and Christian witness, and may one day be produced and seen by millions. His two children are models of purity, discipline and character. His son John, is now a Freshman at the United States Naval Academy. Those that know John say he will someday be either the President or the Pope. Such is the product of Christian pain and suffering.

I could go on and on, about the blessings we experienced and those that rededicated their lives to God through Pam's cancer.

Of course, not all the pain and suffering that Christians suffer has a redemptive outcome. Why? Because Christians don't see the pain and suffering as a gift. They see it as a burden that comes only from Satan. So, God accommodates. As he always does, he answers our prayers.

The Death of Kevin Zambo
But there are some, like Marty Zambo that understand differently the purpose of grave pain and even death of Christians. Marty's son was Kevin an honors graduate of Fairlane Christian High School where his dad was the school janitor. Kevin was an outstanding Christian young man gifted with athletic ability and academic smarts. My wife, Pam, who taught at the school, encouraged Kevin and helped a little in his application to the United States Naval Academy where he was accepted. Occasionally, on our visits to see our son Josh at the Academy, we'd see Kevin, smartly dressed in his uniform. Despite the hazing that plebe's receive, Kevin always wore a broad smile. His Christian faith was strong and real. Yet tragedy would soon strike.

Just before returning to the USNA as an Academy "Youngster" (Sophomore), Kevin attended a church youth social near his home in suburban Detroit. Near midnight, he was riding his motorcycle home when a truck ran a red light, hit Kevin's bike and sent Kevin's body sprawling across the intersection. Minutes later, Kevin was pronounced dead at the scene.

Several days later Josh flew in from Annapolis and we all went to the funeral home to pay our respects. The Navy was there with full honors and Kevin lay in his casket, a folded United States flag tucked between his body and the coffin. The greeting room was large and packed with people of all ages and walks of life. At the head of the reception line was Marty Zambo greeting visitors who seemed to be in the hundreds, an uncommonly large number for such a gathering. As Pam and I eased our way into the line and as the line crept slowly forward, we began to understand the attraction to this seemingly cursed family who had lost their only proud son to a reckless driver.

When I came to Marty, whom I had only met once or twice before, Marty looked at me, his eyes clear, his face bright and smiling and gripped my hand with the firmness and assurance of a winning politician. Before I could say a word of condolence or how sorry I was about Kevin's untimely death, Marty embraced me, as he had everyone before, and prayed for me and blessed me, and asked God to shower me with blessings. He prayed and prayed and prayed for me, as he did everyone else. I do not think I was ever able to say my little rehearsed and now insignificant speech about how sorry I was, or how terrible the accident was, or how unfortunate the family was. You see, Marty had fully understood on Kevin's behalf Paul's encouragement to Timothy:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
— 2Timothy 4:6-8

 Marty had succeed in raising Kevin and ushering him into heaven (our eternal hope of glory). But, at that very hour, there in a dingy funeral on the outskirts of Detroit, the light of Christ was illuminating hundreds of people through Marty's joy in Christ. I don't really know, but my study of the faces and voices on that afternoon indicated that many, many people, because of Kevin's death and Marty's ministry of reconciliation, rededicated their souls to God. Just as Christ died, so we are asked to take up His cross and die, for we are Christ's body, his church.

Paul understood that while we physically may suffer, so our spirits would be filled with the antithesis of suffering—consolation. In classic Christian literature you'll read about the consolation of the saints while facing death or the consolation experienced by cloistered nuns and monks whose lives of contemplation are given over to full time prayer for the world. In this sense consolation means a great comfort and peace, the assurance of goodness, or the deep sense of rightness and deep seated joy.

For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.
—2 Corinthians 1:5-7

We Always Know Why
In times of suffering, ministers and others will offer words of consolation like, "We don't know why these things happen. All we can do is trust God."

These are unfortunate words because the reasons for suffering are clear to both ministers and people close to the victims of suffering, if not the victims themselves.

1.   Christian ministers know that suffering, in general, is punishment for original sin. We physically die because God placed a curse on Adam that we inherited. "You shall surely die..." God said, and suffering is part of that death. This is the underlying basis for the next two reasons. What people often mean when they say, "We don't know why so-and-so suffered or died" is that we think God's plan for our life is so mysterious that we can never know it. And while this is true on a micro level, it is false on a macro level. From the days of ancient Israel to modern Christianity, we suffering and die because we are under Adam's curse. Why suffering attacks us at one point in time or another is perhaps answered by the next two reasons. But, ultimately, we suffer because Adam sinned. It's that simple. It's that clear.

2.   Ministers also know that we suffer because we are connected in some way to specific violations of the spiritual laws of the universe. When we or someone close to us breaks their spiritual relationship with God and sins, some level of emotional or physical trauma always results. The violation may be conscious and premeditated, or unconscious and subliminal, but the violation always has a consequence. For instance, adultery never affects just the offending parties, but also destroys the trust and loyalty with others. Likewise stealing and lying affect self confidence as guilt constructs obstacles to normal mental processes. Even for the non-Christian all of this is true, for the effects of breaking spiritual laws are substantiated by modern psychology although, at times, different terms are used.

3.   Lastly, and this is typically known to those close to the suffering victim if not the victim himself, suffering can be the result of a violation of the physical laws of the universe. Sometimes the violation is conscious and premeditated. Other times a law has been broken unawares. But the violation, nonetheless occurs. Such violations occur when we eat spoiled food, fall down the stairs, are exposed to a carcinogen, or unknowingly strain a muscle. Sometimes the suffering is immediate, other times it takes days or decades to appear. Marty Zambo died because he was careless and the drunk driver was reckless. Mike Zahodne died because of an incurable disease and because he rarely followed the regimen of diet and exercise prescribed for diabetics. Leon Porter got shot because he was associating with gangs that shoot people. In each of these cases, and most others, the reason for the suffering can be clearly identified by the honest and inquisitive person.

But, all of this suffering can be redeemed if we offer it up to Christ for the salvation of ourselves and others. Just as Christ offered up his body for the salvation of the world, we are Christ's body and we are asked to complete in our flesh the sufferings of Christ on behalf of individuals and the church. For, it is through physical suffering that we proclaim that we are not of this world but of the next. It is through joyful suffering that we give testimony to the world that our bodies are only temporary, and that the storehouse of riches that we have piled up are spiritual, eternal, and of dimensions beyond those of this universe.


Your devoted nephew,


Stan

The Joy of Suffering

The following letter was written to my elderly Aunt who's husband, Burton, was dying in a rest home. At the same time she was recovering from cancer therapy that had physically incapacitated her and which would dramatically shorten her life. I just hope this all makes sense to me near the end of my life. 


Stanley D. Williams, PhD
Northville, Michigan

Mrs. Burton Winke
Troy, Michigan

March 10, 2001

Dear Aunt Hope,

It was good to spend time with you, Uncle Burt and his son Raymond yesterday. It was a meaningful time. Times of great sickness and pain should have special meaning for a Christian. In a deep theological way the word "joy" comes to mind, although in a practical way we don't experience laughter and smiles. But, for the Christian, the concept of "joy" carries connotations of "meaningfulness," and "purpose." It is Christ's suffering and death, not his life and resurrection, that bought our salvation. It is the Crucifixion that is the center of all history, for it was on Calvary that God extended to us eternal life and made sense of the suffering of his people in the centuries before.

The answer to the question, "How can a loving and all powerful God allow so much pain and suffering?" is the central question of all existence, because, in its answer we come to Jesus Christ and discover the meaning, purpose, and deep-seated joy that his passion, suffering and death, has for all mankind.

Thus it is that Christians should look upon suffering as a special and meaningful time, filled with great purpose.

I Hate God
A young woman came to Bishop Fulton Sheen one time in a rage and in hatred toward God, because she believed that God had allowed her only daughter to die. "Why," she demanded of the bishop, "did God allow such a terrible thing to happen to me?". Sheen replied, "I'll tell you why your daughter died. It was so that you would be here today and hear about God's love." Moments later, The woman broke down and began her eventual road to God, salvation and a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Her daughter died so that she might be saved.

Murder Begets Redemption
When the murderous Acua Indians killed Jim Elliot and his four companions, there was outrage among many that did not understand the ways of God. But, there in the jungle of Ecuador (not unlike the wilderness of Christ's passion), God understood as others later did, that the only way to get to the hearts of the Acua was through an act that they had perfected to a science—murder. The Acua practiced murder, vengeance, and retribution like Arnold Palmer practiced golf. How does a missionary get through to a tribe of jungle natives like that. God knew. It was to allow the Acua to kill true Christians who did not practice retaliation with vengeance. Instead, these Christians led in part by Jim's wife Elisabeth, practiced sacrificial love. Thus, it was that the missionaries murderous deaths were offered up by their wives and by Christ as a ransom, and as a redemption for the salvation of a whole nation. Although Elisabeth Elliot continues to claim that she doesn't know why her husband had to die that day, the title of her best selling book about the murders, indicates that she knows all too well the importance of Christian suffering. The book's title is Through Gates of Splendor.

Suffering in Scripture
When Christians are open to the suffering that God allows them to experience, He can bring about great redemption in their lives and the lives around them. Here are verses in the Bible that point to this truth. The translation is the New Revised Standard. The essence or premise of these verses is: Suffering for the Christian, always brings with it a greater redemption. The corollary of this axiom is: There can be no redemption without suffering. Ultimately that suffering is Christ's, but because we are his children and heirs, he allows us to suffer with him.

When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
—Romans 8:15b-17

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope [the lack of pain which is not seen] we were saved.
—Romans 8:22-24

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
—2 Corinthians 4:8-10

For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you...Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
—2Corinthians 4:11, 15

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
—2 Corinthians 4:16-17

For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.
—Philippians 1:29

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone that teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
—Colossians 1:24, 28

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking on nothing.
—James 1:2-4

So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
—2 Corinthians 12:9-10


The Enigma of Leon Porter
February 21, 2000, on the Northwest Flight to Orlando, the bulkhead aisle seat I am normally able to reserve for myself was unavailable and I was given the center seat next to it. It was cramped and uncomfortable. But the flight was to be anything but unfortunate. For, a few minutes later a wheel chair came down the aisle to deposit in the seat next to me a large, muscular, clean cut black man. He was paralyzed from the waist down and he had to be lifted into the seat next to me. He had been shot in Pontiac, MI during a drug related fight between warring gangs. At that time, ten years earlier, he had been on the fringe of the drug trade. After the shooting, he spent six years of excruciating painful rehabilitation.

Today, Elder Leon Porter is the full time youth minister at New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Pontiac. That day with me on the plane, he was traveling with several other ministers to a conference in Florida. As we got to know each other, I made a comment to him about how terrible and awful it must have been to be shot and go through the many years of pain associated with his disability. He looked at me and said, "You don't get it. Being shot was the best thing that ever happened to me. It caused me to turn to God. I became a Christian. God is my savior. And my continued disability is a tangible reminder to the kids I minister to every day, of the pain and destruction of sin. I'm a rolling object lesson. The suffering I've been through continues to be part of Christ's redemption for many young people." Leon is completing in the flesh what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of the other young people he daily meets.

The Suffering of Michael Zahodne
My friend, Mike Zahodne, died at age 41 from childhood diagnosed diabetes. Since the age of 7 he learned to stick a needle into his fingers every few hours to test his blood. He married Joanne and together they had two children: John and Katie. During high school they saw their father continuously in and out of hospitals. The last few years, every few months, the doctors would cut off another part of Mike's body where gangrene threatened his life. By the time I met Mike, both legs and one arm were gone. On his right hand, all he had left was a thumb and index finger. Even though he had no calves, ankles, feet or toes, his nerves continued to tell him that they were still there and were in the process of being cut off. The pain never ceased. Dialysis made him so sick between sessions that he could not hold food down, and for the past year he had refused it. He had a kidney transplant from his mother (both of his had failed) but now his mother's kidney was only operating at 15%. Slowly, over the months that I knew Mike, his body swelled up from the gathering toxins that would eventually kill him. He threw-up the hospital food they brought him. Once while we were talking, his dinner came up and I cleaned up the mess.

For the eight months before he died I often brought him communion from church. He was a life-long Catholic and understood the significance of The Eucharist (what Catholics sacramentally believe and the Apostles taught is the real body of Jesus Christ (John 6). The Eucharist, of course, is the "celebration" of Christ's suffering and death. It's a celebration because in Christ's suffering and death we have eternal life and forgiveness.

I asked Mike one day as I was interviewing him for his biography, if he was bitter or angry at God for the lifetime of pain and suffering he had sustained. He said something like this to me: "Stan, I have family and friends like you that love me and visit me and do all manner of nice things for me. My Lord, when he was suffering and dying, had nobody. They all left him, even Peter denied the Lord's friendship. How can I complain? My Lord, suffered far more than I did. If my suffering can bring others to God and reconcile the relationship between my mom and wife, then it is all worth it.

Suffice it to say, Mike's suffering had deep and eternal redemptive purpose. A videotape was made of his testimony several months before his death that was used in a Christian retreat for youth. A teleplay for television was written about his life, death and Christian witness, and may one day be produced and seen by millions. His two children are models of purity, discipline and character. His son John, is now a Freshman at the United States Naval Academy. Those that know John say he will someday be either the President or the Pope. Such is the product of Christian pain and suffering.

I could go on and on, about the blessings we experienced and those that rededicated their lives to God through Pam's cancer.

Of course, not all the pain and suffering that Christians suffer has a redemptive outcome. Why? Because Christians don't see the pain and suffering as a gift. They see it as a burden that comes only from Satan. So, God accommodates. As he always does, he answers our prayers.

The Death of Kevin Zambo
But there are some, like Marty Zambo that understand differently the purpose of grave pain and even death of Christians. Marty's son was Kevin an honors graduate of Fairlane Christian High School where his dad was the school janitor. Kevin was an outstanding Christian young man gifted with athletic ability and academic smarts. My wife, Pam, who taught at the school, encouraged Kevin and helped a little in his application to the United States Naval Academy where he was accepted. Occasionally, on our visits to see our son Josh at the Academy, we'd see Kevin, smartly dressed in his uniform. Despite the hazing that plebe's receive, Kevin always wore a broad smile. His Christian faith was strong and real. Yet tragedy would soon strike.

Just before returning to the USNA as an Academy "Youngster" (Sophomore), Kevin attended a church youth social near his home in suburban Detroit. Near midnight, he was riding his motorcycle home when a truck ran a red light, hit Kevin's bike and sent Kevin's body sprawling across the intersection. Minutes later, Kevin was pronounced dead at the scene.

Several days later Josh flew in from Annapolis and we all went to the funeral home to pay our respects. The Navy was there with full honors and Kevin lay in his casket, a folded United States flag tucked between his body and the coffin. The greeting room was large and packed with people of all ages and walks of life. At the head of the reception line was Marty Zambo greeting visitors who seemed to be in the hundreds, an uncommonly large number for such a gathering. As Pam and I eased our way into the line and as the line crept slowly forward, we began to understand the attraction to this seemingly cursed family who had lost their only proud son to a reckless driver.

When I came to Marty, whom I had only met once or twice before, Marty looked at me, his eyes clear, his face bright and smiling and gripped my hand with the firmness and assurance of a winning politician. Before I could say a word of condolence or how sorry I was about Kevin's untimely death, Marty embraced me, as he had everyone before, and prayed for me and blessed me, and asked God to shower me with blessings. He prayed and prayed and prayed for me, as he did everyone else. I do not think I was ever able to say my little rehearsed and now insignificant speech about how sorry I was, or how terrible the accident was, or how unfortunate the family was. You see, Marty had fully understood on Kevin's behalf Paul's encouragement to Timothy:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
— 2Timothy 4:6-8

 Marty had succeed in raising Kevin and ushering him into heaven (our eternal hope of glory). But, at that very hour, there in a dingy funeral on the outskirts of Detroit, the light of Christ was illuminating hundreds of people through Marty's joy in Christ. I don't really know, but my study of the faces and voices on that afternoon indicated that many, many people, because of Kevin's death and Marty's ministry of reconciliation, rededicated their souls to God. Just as Christ died, so we are asked to take up His cross and die, for we are Christ's body, his church.

Paul understood that while we physically may suffer, so our spirits would be filled with the antithesis of suffering—consolation. In classic Christian literature you'll read about the consolation of the saints while facing death or the consolation experienced by cloistered nuns and monks whose lives of contemplation are given over to full time prayer for the world. In this sense consolation means a great comfort and peace, the assurance of goodness, or the deep sense of rightness and deep seated joy.

For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.
—2 Corinthians 1:5-7

We Always Know Why
In times of suffering, ministers and others will offer words of consolation like, "We don't know why these things happen. All we can do is trust God."

These are unfortunate words because the reasons for suffering are clear to both ministers and people close to the victims of suffering, if not the victims themselves.

1.   Christian ministers know that suffering, in general, is punishment for original sin. We physically die because God placed a curse on Adam that we inherited. "You shall surely die..." God said, and suffering is part of that death. This is the underlying basis for the next two reasons. What people often mean when they say, "We don't know why so-and-so suffered or died" is that we think God's plan for our life is so mysterious that we can never know it. And while this is true on a micro level, it is false on a macro level. From the days of ancient Israel to modern Christianity, we suffering and die because we are under Adam's curse. Why suffering attacks us at one point in time or another is perhaps answered by the next two reasons. But, ultimately, we suffer because Adam sinned. It's that simple. It's that clear.

2.   Ministers also know that we suffer because we are connected in some way to specific violations of the spiritual laws of the universe. When we or someone close to us breaks their spiritual relationship with God and sins, some level of emotional or physical trauma always results. The violation may be conscious and premeditated, or unconscious and subliminal, but the violation always has a consequence. For instance, adultery never affects just the offending parties, but also destroys the trust and loyalty with others. Likewise stealing and lying affect self confidence as guilt constructs obstacles to normal mental processes. Even for the non-Christian all of this is true, for the effects of breaking spiritual laws are substantiated by modern psychology although, at times, different terms are used.

3.   Lastly, and this is typically known to those close to the suffering victim if not the victim himself, suffering can be the result of a violation of the physical laws of the universe. Sometimes the violation is conscious and premeditated. Other times a law has been broken unawares. But the violation, nonetheless occurs. Such violations occur when we eat spoiled food, fall down the stairs, are exposed to a carcinogen, or unknowingly strain a muscle. Sometimes the suffering is immediate, other times it takes days or decades to appear. Marty Zambo died because he was careless and the drunk driver was reckless. Mike Zahodne died because of an incurable disease and because he rarely followed the regimen of diet and exercise prescribed for diabetics. Leon Porter got shot because he was associating with gangs that shoot people. In each of these cases, and most others, the reason for the suffering can be clearly identified by the honest and inquisitive person.

But, all of this suffering can be redeemed if we offer it up to Christ for the salvation of ourselves and others. Just as Christ offered up his body for the salvation of the world, we are Christ's body and we are asked to complete in our flesh the sufferings of Christ on behalf of individuals and the church. For, it is through physical suffering that we proclaim that we are not of this world but of the next. It is through joyful suffering that we give testimony to the world that our bodies are only temporary, and that the storehouse of riches that we have piled up are spiritual, eternal, and of dimensions beyond those of this universe.


Your devoted nephew,


Stan

Monday, January 1, 2001

Fr. John Hardon, S.J. - Our Eulogy

First, here is a link that will take you to an organization founded by Fr. Hardon and which contains some of his writings. It also appears to be the beginning effort for Fr. Hardon's sainthood.


Link to The Real Presence Association


From Pam Williams

I know that his prayers brought Stan and I into the church (along with the prayers of many others). I will never forget every encounter I had with this beloved man of God.

The first time was when Ed Wolfrum introduced Stan and I to him in the upstairs hallway of the education building at Assumption Grotto Church in Detroit. That's where his office and library were at the time. I'll never forget him asking me, "Are you Catholic?" I answered honestly, "No," and I wanted to add that I was a Christian, though, but I don't think it actually came out of my mouth. When I said no, I think he began praying for me. I didn't understand the real significance of that question until much later.

The next time I recall was at St. Joseph's Home for the Aged where Fr. Hardon became in need of care. It was Stan and my first meeting with Fr. Brown to begin the apostolate of the Communications Congregation which we have since made first promises to. Fr. Hardon peeked his head into the room where we were meeting to ask if Fr. Brown was going to join him for supper in the dining commons. I was struck by his appearance because his one eye was blind and he seemed so frail, and my heart went out to him.

The third time was again at St. Joseph's when Marie Coules took Stan and I upstairs to Fr. Hardon's room to greet him. I was wearing the Marian Miraculous Medal and St. Joseph medal that Ed had given me. I asked Fr. Hardon to bless them. He did so with water from Lourdes quite generously, and I was humbled.

The fourth time was again at St. Joseph's just outside the main floor ladies restroom. I was coming out when I saw Fr. Hardon approaching me on his way to the chapel accompanied by a nun and steadying himself on the side railing. I stepped up to him and said, "Fr. Hardon, the first time I met you, I was not a Catholic. Now I am, and I want to thank you for your prayers." He said something that I could not make out, so I asked him to repeat it. He said he would like to bless me. I said, "Oh, yes, please." When he said the blessing, he asked the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to rest upon me now and forever. And when he said, "...forever," it struck me that I was being blessed forever… forever! I began to cry, and backed away in tears watching that dear man of God slowly make his way on down to the chapel and enter the door with the nun's help. He was totally dependent on others, yet with a power within from a direct line of authority from God.

That was my last picture of him, my last encounter with Fr. Hardon here on Earth. My thanks forever to Ed Wolfrum, for introducing Stan and I to Fr. Hardon and for revering him (by his own godly example), so that we had the proper respect for such a gentle servant of God.

Pam Williams
Northville, MI
January 1, 2001

From Stan Williams

The first time I met Fr. Hardon, Pam and I were together. I think he asked me the same question he asked Pam a moment later, "Are you Catholic?" I said no, but that I was on my way into the church. I think I was in RCIA at the time. So, his second question to me was, "Who's your patron saint?" I had no idea I was even suppose to have one. I was still mostly Protestant, I suppose.  (This is told in some detail in my Conversion Memoir Growing Up Christian, and I think a bit more accurately and funny.)

Whenever I referred to him or saw him, I wanted to call him, and often did, Dr. Hardon, because I so respected his academic achievements. Of course, this too revealed my poor old Protestant mindset. It wouldn't be until I was a Catholic for a good 2 years or so before figured out that the title "Father" was far, far superior to "Doctor" unless the "Doctor" referred to being a Doctor of the Church, which there is little doubt that he will someday become. Ed Wolfrum told me Fr. Hardon had 7 earned Ph.D.s. That number came into question later on, but it was obvious the man was a master intellect.

And I think, in his humble yet confident way, he knew how smart he was…at least in Earthly terms. I recall listening to Ed's digital recordings of Fr. Hardon's Catechism classes. I had read some John Hardon by this time and was anxious to hear his verbal stabs and recitation of evidence, footnotes and personal anecdotes to support and "prove" the theses he was arguing. I suppose it was late in his life, and he no longer had the physical strength to cart half his library to the classroom. But I recall on numerous occasions on those tapes what will undoubtedly become a famous Hardon euphemism for QED. He would make his declarative topic statement (however outlandish it might be), provide a long pause to give your memory time to fill in the support, evidence and citations, and then he would state, just as emphatically, "And I should know!" There was nothing more to be said. And when Ed figures out the holographic algorithm for "And I should know!" you'll be able to see Fr. Hardon's well known smirk float in space just about 12 inches in front of the audio speaker.

I recall giving Fr. Hardon a pile of Moveguide magazines and asking him to send them off to the Vatican Library so the publisher could brag that his Protestant Christian (and occasionally anti-Catholic biased movie reviews) were "in the Vatican." I recall the excitement upon seeing Fr. Hardon get out of a car after a long hospital stay he sustained and my kneeling on the asphalt in my good suit so he could bless me, …again. I still use the Rosary that Ed gave me at my confirmation which he had received from Fr. Hardon and which Fr. Hardon had received from Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I remember Ed telling me stories about how Fr. Hardon, hard-of-hearing and sitting bent over in his Detroit office would be yelling into the speaker phone trying to carry on a conversation with equally hard-of-hearing Mother Teresa half a world a way and the signal badly delayed. I can remember the time Ed and I videotaped Fr. Hardon in his Detroit office as a promotional spot for a Catholic Holiness conference. Fr. Hardon could hardly look up at the camera, I felt so sorry for him. We had to do a second take, but not because Fr. Hardon blew his lines. He got so excited about what he was saying that he went way too long. When we asked him to shorten his lines to 2 minutes, I think he came in at 1 minute 58 seconds. Lastly, I recall Ed's great devotion to this man, even to a fault, at times. And I tell this with great tenderness for Fr. Hardon and Ed Wolfrum. As I was learning about Catholicism I would occasionally argue with my godfather, Ed Wolfrum about matters of doctrine and practice. As a life-long Bible thumbing Evangelical, the Bible was the ultimate authority for me. Until I saw the truth of the matter, it was hard to hear Ed telling me what the Catechism of the Catholic Church said before he first pointed out the applicable Scriptures. Today, when I'm talking to a Protestant or Evangelical I'll quote Scriptures before I reference the Catechism. But Ed, was different. When Ed would get riled up and angry with me because I just I had my Protestant brain on cockeyed, he didn't bother wasting time with the Bible or the Catechism. He'd go right to the primary source; he'd quote Fr. John Hardon. I tell you, St. Peter better brush up on his Hardon.

Someday, those that knew him best should write a book about this present and future saint. Ed can write the chapter "Laughing Out Loud with the Saints." Ed I hope you can remember all those jokes he told you. Fr. Hardon's were the best.

Stan Williams
Northville, MI
January 1, 2001