Friday, April 17, 2015

What do you mean the "Our Father" is dangerous? - part 2



Letter to Dan J. Russ “The Dangers of the Lord’s Prayer” continued…

So, when we pray the Our Father, also called the Lord’s Prayer, we start by asking for a Father, not a mother and we ask that He be ours, not mine. We go on to give Him permission to hide from us! What else can be meant by “who art in Heaven?  (By the way “art” is an archaic second-person singular English form for “you are” as in “thou art,” just in case you were curious. Or perhaps you didn’t notice that you were using an archaic second-person singular English form because when we pray we use fancy words of which we have no real understanding. We’ve just been saying them for so long, even though they don’t really mean anything, or we don’t even notice that we are saying things whose meaning we are clueless, which is why I am writing this article anyway!)  

Our Father who art (read: ARE) in heaven, not on earth, which means we will trust Him even though we can’t see Him. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see Him. I am like the little kid who raids the cookie-jar because Papa who would swat my little behind isn’t in the room at the moment and when he comes in, sees me covered with cookie crumbs and standing on a chair next to the empty cookie-jar asks me, “Did you eat the cookies after I told you not to?”  I sincerely say, “No!” and it’s off to the wood shed once again! 

I would much rather have a Father who was right there in the kitchen either forcing me to be a good little boy by his presence, or better still, a father who hangs around ladling out cookies and hugs. I would like to pray “Our Father who art right here at my beck and call.” Instead if I say His prayer, I must be like Jesus who prayed the 22nd Psalm from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?  However the Psalm ends in hope and trust.  “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one. He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” 

The Father may have been hidden on Calvary, but He was not distant! To say Jesus’ prayer is to want His Father, not a Father of my own design. We are saved by grace, through faith (trust), not by timely intervention. “Who art in heaven” is a promise to live by faith, not by appearances. I don’t know about you, but I am much better at appearances than I am at the real thing.

Next we have the dreadful words, “Hallowed be thy name” (Another grammatical note “Thy” is the second person singular familiar form, also archaic. It is familiar, not formal. It is like the “tu” in French or Spanish or Italian, or like the “du” in German. Most people think “thou” and “thee” and “thy” are fancy, and we only say them to God because He is so very big and powerful and we are all so very impressed down here. It is exactly the opposite. Once upon a time, we used “thou” and “thee” for friends, parents, relatives, children and those of less social standing. “You” was reserved for important people. We say “thou” to God because we are on familiar terms with God who, like our papas, loves us and would bounce us on His knees of we would let Him.

“Thou” is a word denoting intimacy that has passed out of modern English, probably because real intimacy has passed out of much of our conversation. Interestingly enough the “thou who art” as well as the “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer place Christianity in irreconcilable conflict with Islam. Muslims think that the Supreme Being is completely other and is not intimate with any of his creatures. He certainly is not “father.” Where was I? Oh, yes….. “Hallowed be thy name”). 

“Hallow” is a verb. It means to sanctify, to consecrate, to make holy. Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, a speech at the dedication of a military cemetery on the grounds of the Battle of Gettysburg, said, “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.” Hallow, consecrate, and dedicate all mean the same thing. How, in any sense can you and I, “…dedicate or consecrate the name of the Almighty?  We cannot, except in one sense. The Jews have always understood the phrase “the sanctification of the name” to mean living publicly as a Jew and in particular dying because you are a Jew. 

To “hallow the Name” means to cling to one’s public identity as God’s chosen even if it means death. In short, when you say “Hallowed be Thy Name,” you are volunteering for martyrdom. You are willing to die for God. You are saying, “May You use my life and, if need be, my death so that the world will know and honor You.” Next time you say the “Our Father” that phrase should catch in your throat.  Let’s go on to ruin some more of the world’s most beloved prayer.

“Thy kingdom come.”  The word in Greek usually translated as “kingdom” is “basileia.”  When you and I say “kingdom” we mean a political system or a geographical territory, as in the phrase, “the Kingdom of England” that land of fine weather, haute cuisine and randy royalty.  Though basileia can include these senses, they are not its primary meaning. Looking at the Arndt and Gingrich “Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament” (University of Chicago and Cambridge presses) 1,000 pages of philological obscurity, basileia is primarily defined “kingship, royal power, royal rule.”  A king is a “Basileus.” He has “basileia.”  

Herod the Great was the King of Judea when Christ was born. He had been a political enforcer for the Hashmon (Maccabee) family who had made themselves kings of the Holy Land after kicking out the Syrian Greeks. Herod managed slowly to kill most of the Hashmon family, and after allying himself with Pompey the Great, Roman general and boyfriend of Queen Cleopatra, he conquered the Holy Land and had himself confirmed as king by the Roman Senate. 

The Romans considered themselves able to do such things, so they conferred royal status, royal dignity on Herod who actually had all the noblesse of a junkyard dog. That is how basileia worked. It was royal dignity, inherited, won, conferred, but it was a quality of the king that entitled him to political power. It isn’t a geographical place or even heaven when you die. The Kingdom of God, or as Matthew puts it, the Kingdom of Heaven, is God’s authority, sovereignty, royal power. When I say “thy kingdom come,” I am promising to recognize God’s definition of royalty. So what’s God’s definition of royalty? Jesus! 

He was born in barn, on the run from the authorities as an infant, worked in the building trades, mocked by His relatives, arrested, tortured, spat on, laughed at and ultimately executed as a criminal. That’s true royalty. His throne was a cross and his crown was made of thorns. 

Who am I kidding? I don’t want God’s royalty. I want the Kardashians. I get excited about meeting people who are famous for being famous. I want their autographs. I want to watch them on Dancing With The Stars and I pretend that Princess Di was somehow heroic for dying in a drunken car crash in Paris with her rich boyfriend having left her horse-faced royal husband and her kids back in some drafty old palace in London. The outpouring of grief at her death amazed me. It was sad. Any untimely death is sad. But the rotting mounds of flowers, the near riots of grieving people and the maudlin songs composed by ageing pop stars of questionable tastes were beyond my understanding.  

We get all excited about famous reprobates while we ignore the person next to us who is made in the image and likeness of God, like the glitterati and you and I. Heaven mourns for the tramp on the street who dies in the cold as well as some poor princess who chose to live in the cold of a loveless palace and the icy glare of fame. They are both infinitely sad and infinitely mourned by a Father in heaven who cherished them both. 

Basileia, the good news of the kingdom, means that every human being, no matter how poor or how rich is the same in Heaven’s sight, they are potentially princes and princesses of the God’s royal family, and I should respect one as much as the other, remembering that the King of Heaven was a working stiff who died without a nickel to His name. 

When I say “Thy kingdom come” I am asking the Almighty to give me a reverence for all human beings. I am asking for the vision to reverence the poor, the old, the sick, the crippled as much as the world reverences the rich, the powerful, and the beautiful. I am asking for the gift to see beauty where the world sees ugliness. I am renouncing the values and the preferences of the world. Put me at the back table with the ragged people. That’s where the important guests are seated. At least that is what I am saying when I say, “Thy Kingdom come.”

Next Week: We’ve got a lot more of the Our Father to ruin. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

What do you mean the "Our Father" is dangerous?



Dear Rev. Know-it-all,


I recently heard you say that the Our Father is a dangerous prayer. Whatever can you mean by this? If it is so dangerous why ever would we say it right before receiving Holy Communion?


Dan J. Russ


Dear Dan,


You’d better believe it’s dangerous, and that’s why we say it right before Holy Communion. It‘s kind of a disclaimer on Heaven’s part. Remember what the Holy Eucharist is. It’s a covenant. A covenant is a relationship that last for a whole lifetime, like marriage. A contract lasts only until the business is done and the money changes hands. Marriage is a covenant. I give you myself that you might give me yourself.  In Holy Communion we enter into an unbreakable relationship with Christ and His Bride the Church! 


We are in effect saying that as Christ lays His very life on the altar for me, just so, I will live for Him today and die for Him and for His Bride, the Church, if necessary. The Eucharist is serious business, as solemn as a wedding. Remember that the very word “sacrament” is a Latin word that originally meant “oath to the death!” Before we take the Holy Eucharist we examine ourselves by looking at the conditions of the covenant. That’s what the Our Father is. It’s right before Communion so that we know what we are getting into. So let’s look at it.


The first word of the Our Father is not “our.” It’s “Father” as the prayer is written in Greek or Hebrew.  Everybody wants a mother. Traditionally it’s a father’s job to love, teach and correct. This involves much affection and occasional trips out to the woodshed (This is an American euphemism for a good and thorough spanking!) Everybody wants a mother. Fathers are traditionally less popular. We in the Church are asking for a Father. Not a mother. I know there are lot of simpering, politically correct, namby-pamby feminists, in tough with the inner woman types who say “Our Mother “or “our Father/Mother” as if the Almighty were some kind of hermaphrodite. Ignore these people, even if they are on the parish liturgy committee. They say ridiculous things like, “I could never identify with a god who is called father.”  You’re not supposed to identify with Him. You’re supposed to obey Him! I’ve heard some of these loons say things like, “Jesus, being a man of His times, could not conceive of God as Mother.”  


Do these people ever read books? There were temples with priestesses and mother goddesses in Tiberias not 20 miles down the road from Nazareth where Jesus grew up and not five miles down the road from Capernaum where he spent His days off.  If Jesus had experienced God as mother he would have said so. 


“Well,” the addle-pated progressive might say, “Jesus would never have called God mother because He didn’t want to upset anyone.” 


Why certainly, let’s do away with temple worship, circumcision and the dietary laws, but don’t upset anyone by calling God mother. Remember, they didn’t crucify Jesus for political correctness. 


Jesus called God Father, because in His full and perfect humanity, He experienced God as Father. Nobody ever says, “Are you sure she’s your mother?” She was there. You popped out of her as surely as the doctor swatted your little tuchus to get you to breathe. She was there or you wouldn’t be here! Motherhood is necessary. Worse still if you were raised in the way most homo sapiens have been raised these many years, you hung off her like an appendage. She was a food source and a place to rest your head. Between pregnancy and breast feeding you were glued to her like gum on a shoe for two or three years. Motherhood is not optional. It is always the necessary relationship, at least so far. 


Fatherhood? Fatherhood is optional in the most literal sense of the word. OPTional comes from the Latin word “OPTtare” which means “to choose”. So does the word adOPT.  Fatherhood is always a choice. Mom doesn’t get much choice. Dads walk out all the time. The Greeks, Romans, and ancient Israelites knew this. 


When a child was born in ancient Rome, it was placed on the floor in front of its supposed father. If the father picked it up, even if everyone knew that the child was a travelling salesman’s offspring, the child was legally made the son of the supposed father by his act of picking the child up off the floor.  If the supposed father turned and walked away, the child was not recognized as his and he was not legally responsible for the child even if it was clear by the crossed eyes, crooked nose and foul odor that the kid was that fellow’s genetic offspring. The child would then, quite literally, be thrown out to be picked over by the slave dealers or eaten by the stray dogs that populated ancient cities, no matter how much the mother wept and wailed. Fatherhood is always adoptive. 


It is always a choice, even in this modern world. A father is not the fellow who contributes a few genes and chromosomes to an infant in the womb. He is the man who raises you; teaches you; loves you; and yes, occasionally reasons with the area of your anatomy not capable of facial expression.  Fatherhood is always a choice. That is why God is described as father. He chooses you. Thus, Jesus called God Father because he experienced God as Father. 


He had a perfectly good mother. Her name was and is Mary, and I claim Her as my mother too! The reality of the feminine in the Holy Trinity is wrapped up in the mystery of the Church. The Church is traditionally portrayed as a woman, a bride and a mother. Mary is, in certain sense, the icon of the Church. Once, the Church had only one member — that member was Our Blessed Mother, Mary.  She was the first to receive Christ as her Lord. She stood faithful to Him at the cross. She was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She is the first and best of Christians. She is the icon of the Church. 


Trust me, Jesus didn’t have two mommies. He didn’t need two mommies.  A father is not just the one who engenders us. He is the one who shapes and disciplines us, at least traditionally, until this enlightened age in which one’s father is someone who gets visitation every other week, pays child support and runs off with a woman half your mother’s age. Traditional fathers are the ones who are there even when you wish they weren’t. That’s the first dangerous thing you are asking for: a pesky Father who has rules and expectations along with His strong, protecting embrace. 


The next unfortunate word in the Our Father is “our”.  It is really nice to be an only child. Trust me I know. I was an only child and my six brothers and sisters resented me for it.  I was the last of seven and was spoiled rotten by parents who had given up the fight. It was great. When we say “our”, we are asking for brothers and sisters. We are saying that we don’t want to be only children. We are agreeing to put up with, Heaven forefend, other people. And worse still, other church members. 


People are always talking about having a personal relationship with the Lord. That’s great! We Catholics have a very personal relationship with the Lord, just not a private one. To say “our” means I promise to go to church, not just to a perfect church, but a church where sometimes the people are irritating, the music is bad and the sermons are worse. It’s not “My Father.” It’s “Our Father.” Besides, if you find a perfect church it will cease to perfect the minute you join it!


Next week: We’ve just finished two words and it gets much worse!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Do people still believe the Shroud of Turin is real? part 2

Continued from last week

Letter to Alba Leavnutin

On the contrary! The more scientists look at the shroud the more amazing it becomes. It is an impossible image. The shroud itself is a kind of smudged cloth with a vague, light brown shadow figure and a lot of human blood stains. When you take a picture of it with the lights and shadows reversed it reveals a breathtakingly moving image of a man who was clearly scourged with a Roman whip, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced with a Roman lance.

More than that, the image has both three dimensional and holographic information in it. These effects can’t be created by painting or regular photography even now. The image itself is made by oxidation of the top most fibrils of linen threads, not threads, not fibers, but fibrils, much smaller than human hair. If you scrape the image with a kitchen knife it would pretty much disappear. There is no paint or dye that forms the image. It something almost, but not quite, like a scorch that makes the image. The most amazing thing is that the blood soaks through threads, but the image doesn’t.

In fact, the blood went on the cloth first. There is no image underneath the blood stains. This cloth has limestone dirt on it that comes only from Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb cut from limestone. It is covered with pollen that comes only from the area around Jerusalem, so it must have clearly been in Jerusalem at one point in time. It even seems to have the images of flowers on it that come only from the area of Jerusalem. Well, then if it has all these amazing properties and was clearly in Jerusalem at some point, why don’t we know about it before 1350 AD?

What makes you think we don’t hear about it? There is something called the Gospel of the Hebrews that was written around 110 AD. It claims that, after the resurrection, “…the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, and he went to James and appeared to him.” The Gospel of the Hebrews is most certainly not canonical, and doesn’t really shed light on what happened to the grave clothes of Jesus, but it does indicate that they were not simply cast off rags. They were important and remembered by the first Christians.

The text of the Gospel of John indicates how important the grave clothes were. “And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.” (John 20:6). There was something about the grave clothes that convinced them that something amazing had happened. The text uses a word that indicates the shroud was laying flat, “keimenon” and that the face cloth was still wound up, not flat. Something about the cloths caused the disciple to believe. The cloths were important. I doubt that they were discarded.

There is a cloth that has been revered since the earliest days of the faith. It is called the Image of Edessa, or the mandylion, a word that simply means cloth or towel.  This cloth has been known since it was discovered in the aftermath of a flood in 525. During the course of the repairs, a cloth bearing the features of a man was found in a tomb in the wall above one of the gates of Edessa.

There was an ancient legend that a king of Edessa had corresponded with Jesus, asking to be healed of leprosy. In some of these stories there is a sacred image of the Lord with healing powers that was sent to Edessa. The image found in the wall in 525 was immediately identified with that lost image. The image remained in Edessa until 944 when it was taken to Constantinople by Byzantine Greeks.

From then on it its whereabouts and description are very well known. It is described as a full length image of the Lord impressed on a cloth, with prominent emphasis given to the facial image. It is a blurry image that is not made with any paints or pigments. We see it depicted in the Pray Manuscript, a Hungarian text illustrated by someone who had seen the sacred cloth around 1100, 250 years before the carbon test date of the shroud. The image of Edessa vanishes in the fourth crusade in 1204.

It surfaces in France about 100 years later in the possession of a Crusader family, the De Charnays. From there we know exactly where it has been and where. I think it is pretty indisputable that the Pray Manuscript depicts the shroud, and the image it depicts was in Constantinople. All this would lead one to think that the cloth we know as the shroud is much older than the carbon tests indicate and that there is a pretty good chance that the carbon tests were somehow wrong.

In 2011, there was an interesting postscript to the whole controversy. A study led by Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro claims that the image on the shroud may have been caused by an intense and almost immeasurably brief flash of light. Test results “show that a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the shroud of Turin.” This is the only way thus far that anyone has been able to cause a kind of burn or oxidation that has the exact optical properties of the shroud. Interesting. Light. Light from Light. The light came into the world. A burst of light that singed a cloth leaving a perfect mysterious image of a crucified man. Interesting.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with the most unusual object in the world.  Maybe it is the burial cloth of Christ. It is certainly one of the most beautiful and compelling images of Jesus that I have ever seen. The most compelling part of the image is the face. It has a dignity and serenity about that the finest masters would be proud to have painted. The amazing part is that the serenity and dignity contrast so completely with the horribly tortured body. The blood marks are amazing. They are real human blood that came from a man who had been tortured mercilessly. The presence of invisible blood serum and bilirubin on the cloth attest to the horror of the death that He died.

The face attests to something far more wonderful. There is an old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Happy Easter,

Rev. Know-it-All

Friday, March 27, 2015

Do people still believe the Shroud of Turin is real?



Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Is it true that there are still Neanderthals that believe the shroud of Turin is the real thing even after it has been clearly disproven by science?
Yours,
Alba Leavnutin

Dear Alba,
I am sure that you are referring to the carbon dating tests that were done on a corner of the shroud in 1988. They dated the shroud to around 1300AD, exactly when the shroud appeared in France. Case closed. The thing’s an obvious fraud. 

I’m not so sure. The tests done on the shroud were amazingly badly done. They were supposed to take ten samples from all over the shroud. They took one sample from the most contaminated corner of the shroud, a corner that had been held repeatedly by dirty medieval hands over the course of centuries. The corner they took is clearly different in appearance from the rest of shroud, especially when photographed by instruments that are able to determine chemical composition by means of light waves. That corner is chemically different from the rest of the shroud. In fact, it seems to have been made of cotton and rewoven sometime in the Middle Ages or early renaissance. 

Dr. Ray Rogers, who thought the whole shroud thing was nonsense after the carbon dating tests, and was enraged at the Binford-Marino theory that the sampled area was a patch. He had some of the shroud threads from that exact area in his possession and set out to disprove the whole Binford-Marino theory. He ended up doing exactly the opposite. He discovered that the sample they tested had been a patch! His work confirmed by Dr. Villareal of Los Alamos labs in New Mexico. He and a team of nine scientists from Los Alamos examined the material from the area of the carbon 14 sampling. This is what they found in 2008.

“The age-dating process [in 1988] failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area or population must necessarily be representative of the whole. The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.”

Add to this the tremendous financial benefit that accrued to the English team and the British Museum, especially Dr. Michael Tite who supervised the tests, and the whole thing stinks like Limburger cheese.

Nor did he (Michael Tite, the project supervisor) shy from exploiting his laboratory's 'success' in its work on the Shroud in order to raise £1 million pounds to found the Edward Hall Chair in Archaeological Science, a post shortly after taken up by the British Museum's Dr. Michael Tite. This directly secured the laboratory's future." (Wilson, I., 2001, "Obituary: Professor Edward Hall, CBE, FBA," BSTS Newsletter, No. 54, November, p.59).

In other words, Dr. Michael Tite was able to raise one million pounds from anonymous businessmen for a job well done in debunking the shroud and with this money was able to provide a nice post for himself at the British Museum. (That’s $1,870,000 dollars in 1988 dollars when a million dollars was real money!) The whole thing stinks! 

Now the cherry on the cake! That one sample taken from a dirty mismatched corner of the shroud instead of ten pieces from all over the shroud was cut into four pieces and sent to carbon dating labs in Oxford, Z├╝rich and Tucson. The three labs all came up with different medieval dates that went from more recent to less recent as they moved down the sample. This was fairly odd. The conclusion of the “patch” theorists is that the sample had less contamination on one end and more on the other in a fairly consistent manner. 

In addition this testing was supposed to happen under the greatest secrecy until the results were all in. I happened to be in Albuquerque, not that far from Tucson, at a wedding that summer in 1988. At the rehearsal dinner when all the guests were happily liquored up, I struck up a conversation with a physicist from a rather prestigious local institution. I said something like, “Hey, how about that shroud test?” He suddenly got very solemn and shook his head, indicating by a few choice words and grunts that the results were in and they proved that the shroud was a medieval fake.  

In other words, I knew the test results a month in advance of the National Enquirer! I’m nobody! I don’t know science from a bowl of pudding. Still, I was in on one of the supposed greatest secrets of the era a month before the rest of the world. If that doesn’t convince you that the supposed tests were a bunch of stinking fish wrap, well, nothing will. Those tests were done contrary to scientific protocol on a dirty, probably repaired corner of the shroud, the fellows supervising the tests made a bundle on the bragging rights and I, a Midwestern rube, knew about the results well before they were announced.

If that’s your idea of science, perhaps your driving privileges should be revoked before you hurt yourself. People say that those who believe in the shroud are indulging in wishful thinking. The opposite is just as easy to maintain. Those who believe science has said anything that demystifies the shroud are indulging in wishful thinking themselves. They are more befuddled than Bigfoot believers. 

To be continued……..

Friday, March 20, 2015

Does God create some to be eternally damned?


Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

If God is all-knowing (knows every move we'll make until we die) and all loving... Why does he create souls from inception knowing they will not be with him in heaven? Being all-knowing, he knows when we'll be born, when we'll die and all the choices in between. Example: All God creates is good, yet he knew the choices and evil Hitler would bring upon world... And he created him anyway.  Does it affect our free will if we are created with our choices already known, maybe not known to us, but known by God who creates us anyway?
Yours,
 
Will Freilich
 
 Dear Will,
 
   The answer to this question is the little discussed and much overlooked heart of the Christian faith. Christianity is absolutely contrary to all other religions, at least the ones I know about. Most religions of the world seem to be an attempt to manipulate the powers that be; god, the gods, the forces of nature, etc. etc. to lighten up a bit, or at least a way to cope with the general disappointment that is life on this planet. You know suffering, alienation, crop failure, flooded basements, terminal diseases, death, that sort of thing.
Ancient Roman religion was a kind of voodoo that offered sacrifices just to keep the capricious faceless spirits of nature from making their lives miserable. It was a little like the pre-Walt Disney understanding of leprechauns, fairies and the other quaint creatures of Irish folklore. In truth, the leprechauns and fairies were cut from the same cloth as the banshees. They were nasty little nature spirits that would make life miserable for you if you crossed them. This seems to be a pattern in world folk religions. Religion was all about how to get the powers that be to leave us alone, and a big enough sacrifice might just get them to do what we want. More theologically developed religions like Hinduism and Hellenism had elaborate mythologies that attempted to explain everything. I know very few people, Christians or non-, for whom things similar are not believed.  
 
Your question is THE question. If God is for real and, especially if as the Christians say, He is all-powerful and all-loving, why is life such a struggle?  And if Christianity is right about an all-powerful all loving God, why does He allow eternal evil by creating those he knows will make evil choices and be eternally damned? The answer is, I think: Freedom. 
God has created beings that are truly free for the sake of Love. We Americans think we know all there is to know about freedom and love. We are clueless about both. We mistake freedom for enslavement to our desires and we confuse love with narcissism.  A real choice that reveals the essence of my being is necessary for love. If I must love you, I cannot love you. Here’s an example of what I mean. 
 
We’ve all seen those puff pieces on the telly, an interview with a 20-year old starlet who is about to marry some old geezer who is richer than God. There she sits next to some drooling, 90-year old fool of a billionaire who has one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave. She has hair as blonde as bleach can make it and has clearly had “some work done.” She says something stupid like, “Oh, I don’t care about the money. I love him and would marry him if we were the poorest man in the world.” 
 
In a few months, he dies of enthusiasm and leaves his entire fortune to the blonde bombshell and her two vicious little Chihuahuas. At that point a battle royal ensues between the lawyers of the grieving widow and the lawyers of the first, second and third wives. She didn’t love him. She was unable to love him. She was not free to love him. 
 
Your question rests on the assumption that the purpose of life is happiness, the assumption on which this country is founded. “We have been endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We Americans pursue happiness with a vengeance, even if the pursuit makes us miserable. The assumption of the Gospel is different. It holds that the purpose of life is Love because God is Love. (Understand that the specific word used in the Scriptures for this divine love is agape, or in English, sacrificial love, not just emotional attraction or affection.) The catechism says that God made us to know, love and serve Him in this world and so to be happy with Him forever. 
For moderns, the purpose of life is happiness.  For Christians, happiness is not a goal. It is a byproduct, a fruit of having pursued and attained the true purpose of life, which is true love. Heaven created us for Love and so heaven has endowed us with freedom and will not interfere with freedom. In short, we Christians worship a humble God. 
 
Once, many years ago, I was serving in a very poor parish. It was so poor that not only did the windows have no screens; the windows had no windows! I was all alone one day, offering Mass. The little flies were dive-bombing the chalice. In my mind I said to the Lord, “I believe that this is no longer bread and wine, but has become Your body and blood, but couldn’t You convince the fruit flies of this great miracle for just a moment?” 
 
The little voice inside said, “With My hands nailed to the wood of the cross, I was a feast for the flies.”
 
I reeled. I could almost not continue with the Mass. To think that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I believe to be the very hand that set the stars to spinning, could not lift His own hand to swipe the flies from His face. This is God??? 
 
We Christians believe that the All-powerful became powerless for love of us. Greeks and Romans believed that god was power. Muslims believe that god is will. Moderns believe that god is not. We believe that God is Love. Heaven is humble and will not force us to do His will. He will do His will if we ask Him to. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  
 
Most people want God to do their will. Some people say we should pray that we are able to do God’s will. The Christian prays that God may do His will because He does not do it unbidden and uninvited. He has tied His own hands, allowed them to be nailed to the wood of the cross until we give Him permission to act as He pleases in our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the Almighty knelt before human freedom? He stooped to wash the feet of Judas, His betrayer. For the sake of Love, He knelt before the man who would kill Him.  God, who is unlimited, has limited Himself for the sake of freedom. 
 
As for God knowing in advance, God does not know in advance. We cannot say that God knows in advance, because there is no “advance” for God. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We THINK. God simply KNOWS. He is eternal, timeless. We, too, made in God’s image are timeless beings but we live in time. The choices we make are made in time by our timeless selves timelessly. 
 
The mystery of true and absolute human is freedom wrapped up in the mystery of the timelessness of God. It is something that we do not, cannot now perceive, but the very existence of suffering is the evidence of the extremity of the love of God who wishes us to become what He has always been: Infinite Love. When our children suffer, do we wish they had never existed? No, we instinctively understand that sometimes suffering is the price of love.
 
In our smallness we cannot see past the suffering. We look at the cross and see tragedy. Heaven looks at the cross and sees Love, even in the midst of evil and sorrow.  As the old hymn has it, “What wondrous love is this, o my soul?” Hope this helps. 
 
Your Friend,
 
the Rev. Know-it-all