Thursday, April 29, 2010

Manliness in the West

Peter Augustine Lawler wrote the introduction to the ISI edition of The American Republic, originally written by Orestes A. Brownson.

In the introduction,he refers to Rousseau, an eighteenth-century philosopher, who complained of a shortage of manly virtues in Europe. What was just beginning to appear on the surface in the Colonial era is now a genuine crisis within Christianity and Western Civilization. Love and virtue has come to be solely identified with kindness, acquiescence and being nice. But no such support of this notion is to be found in the pages of the New Testament, the lives of the Saints or in the earlier periods of Western Civilization.

Lawler writes: "[W]hat we have come to call virtue is really just politeness, or aversion to argument, battle, and candor. Because we are too fearful to fight or even quarrel over the truth, we are short on real men;'characters have been enfeebled and debased,and we find no longer the marked individuality, the personal energy, the manliness, the force, the nobility of thought and purpose, and the high sense of honor, so common in the medieval world, and the better periods of antiquity.'"

There is no shortage of masculine virtues in the New Testament. Below are just a few examples of what was commonplace:

-"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force." (Matthew 11:12)

-"Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil." (Ephesians 6:11)

-"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna." (Matthew 5:29-30)

Giving it all, an aggressive and firm response to evil and a magnanimous spirit under God's inspiration, are just a few of the expressions which characterized the Christians of the early Church. These men and women possessed a martyrdom-like conviction. As such, when it served their purposes, they instructed and preached the Faith using stout-hearted language. Not only in the early Church was this imagery and vocabulary part of the Catholic Church's lexicon, but this manner of speaking continued well into the twentieth-century. Indeed, these expressions were used by Popes, Bishops, Priests and laity just a few decades ago.

Unfortunately, the biblically inspired, masculinized language used throughout the centuries has fallen into disuse by Catholics and Americans alike. Saintly heroism is only inspired by heroic ideals and a language friendly to masculine virtues. Perhaps, once again, we should learn how to speak the language of our forefathers; then manliness, heroism and even saintliness can once again be a legacy of the West.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

State Monopoly on Education II

State Monopoly on Education Continued-

Christianity, however, has the same aim. To be sure, there is nothing sectarian about God's revelation and the salvation he offers to mankind. Christ commissioned his Apostles to "make disciples of the all the nations." And in terms of the life of each individual, there is no aspect of that life which does not come under the care and rule of Jesus Christ. Indeed, from infancy to death, the Lord has something to offer each person through the Catholic Church such as the sacrament of baptism for infants, confirmation for adolescence, matrimony for adults etc.

The Church is also is the messenger of God's plan to the young and the old, the poor and rich, and the strong and the weak. Everyone, without exception, can benefit from the Gospel of Life. Therefore, it can be said that Christian education is truly "totalitarian." Its objective is to shed light on every aspect of human existence; not just on our life here on earth, but also on eternal life as we hope to possess it in heaven.

However, when the faith of Christians ceases to be "totalitarian;" that is, when they no longer exercise their faith in every department of life, then the State will fill those voids, becoming all things to all people in place of God.(1) Assuming this kind of role, the State will exercise a control which will know no boundaries or limits. The result is an all-powerful State; one that will not tolerate any rivals, especially the Christian religion.

To avoid conflict, one of the two institutions- the Church or the State -would have to forfeit its universal or totalitarian mission. But the Church is, by God's design and by the nature of her mission, totalitarian and universal in its scope. To deny this about herself would be to deny what Christ commanded her to do.

It cannot be denied, however, that the Federal, State and local governments in America are ever tending towards what rightfully belongs to the Church: influencing and shaping every department of life. The more civil authority progresses along these lines, the more the Church will have to prepare itself for conflict. Indeed, she will be forced to resist the kind of control the State is currently pursuing.

This control, which Americans are becoming more acquainted with, "would mean the end of freedom and initiative." More sobering yet, it would result in "political, economic, intellectual and spiritual slavery." Cardinal Gibbons and Etienne Gilson could not have been more accurate about the challenges Americans face in 2010.

Friday, April 23, 2010

State Monopoly on Education I

In a Pastoral Letter in 1919 to the US Bishops, James Cardinal Gibbons wrote the following:

"The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation."

Etienne Gilson, a Catholic philosopher, thirty two years after Cardinal Gibbon's pastoral letter, gives the reason why a State monopoly on education would spell disaster- spiritually, morally and intellectually -for America. Writing for the Vanguard Press in 1951, he wrote an article equally prophetic. In the article, The Breakdown of Morals and Christian Education, he writes the following:

"To the full extent that it educates, the State educates in view of itself…The only conceivable end of a State-owned education is the State itself. States themselves may not know it. They may sincerely believe that nothing is more foreign to their honest intentions; yet, to put it bluntly, the only reason why a State may not want children to be educated in view of God is that it wants them to be educated in view of itself. Totalitarian education does nothing more than go the whole way along the same line. The result is what we know: political, economic, intellectual and spiritual slavery."

In essence, he maintains that regardless of the good intentions of school administrators and teachers, State-run education will end up advancing the interests of the State rather than the education of the student. As the interests of the State become more of a priority in the public schools, education is bound to give way to an ideological, partisan or even a anti-religious indoctrination.

Although the interests of the State and the truths of the Christian religion are not inherently incompatible, they are, nevertheless, competitors when the State seeks to become all things to all people. The aim of influencing and controlling every phase of life, from womb to tomb, is a total one, hence the name "totalitarian."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The World Calls the Church to Repentance

Because the Church has not fulfilled its divine mandate over the last forty years to call the world to repentance, it was inevitable that the world would call the Church to repentance. No one knows this more than Pope Benedict XVI. He currently bears the burden of years of clerical mismanagement of pedophile priests within Catholic Church.

However, attentive onlookers will note that his pontificate was the impetus for immediate reform. Upon assuming the Chair of Peter, he wasted no time in disciplining high profile priests such as Fr. Gino Burresi, founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

Nevertheless, it is not all together a bad thing that he has taken the heat for the sins of the clergy. Indeed, the trials of Pope Benedict in recent weeks could be the beginning of the purification the Church needs. "For it is time,” says St. Peter, “for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God." (I Peter 4:17) For the household of God, divine judgment comes with greater speed and intensity than with other institutions.

It should be no surprise, then, that the Catholic Church- who holds herself up to a highest of standards in her own teachings -should find the world taking her at her word when Bishops and priests fall from grace. Sins committed by the men of Holy Orders are bound to draw public attention while the sins of other men are ignored and even defended. Our Lord, in the epistle to the Hebrews, issued a warning to this effect: “For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” (12:6)

The Church hierarchy, like their predecessors, has to lead the rest of the flock to repentance by taking that first step and repenting herself! There will be a time for criticizing and discrediting the media. Now is not that time. Pope Benedict XVI alluded to as much in a sermon on April 15, 2010: “We Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penance,” “Now, under attack from the world,” he continues, “which talks to us of our sins, we can see that being able to do penance is a grace and we see how necessary it is to do penance and thus recognize what is wrong in our lives”.

Not preaching and teaching on repentance for so long- be they Bishops, priests, or lay people –can only mean that repentance has not been a high enough priority in our personal lives. It also an indication that the seriousness of sin and its real life consequences has been woefully underestimated from Bishops down to parents.

When “sin,” “hell” and the “Devil” are no longer part of the language we hear and speak, then those who are charged with shepherding sheep as Bishops, or, raising children as parents, forget that evil looms. The unintended consequence over the last forty years was that our guard was let down, the sheep left the fold while wolves entered freely.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

3rd Century Rome and 21st Century America

History does repeat itself. Sometimes more than we would like it to. Take for instance the third century A.D.(200's) Ralph Martin Novak, author of Christianity and the Roman Empire, provides a sobering statistic of 3rd century Rome which serves as a warning to our U.S. government.

He said, "It is estimated that whereas at the start of the third century A.D. the Roman emperors employed only about 300 to 350 full-time individuals in administering the Empire, by 300 A.D. this number had grown to some 30,000 or 35,000 people [italics added]. The expense of this vastly increased administrative and military structure was an enormous burden on the people of the Empire, and the burden only grew more oppressive over the course of the fourth century A.D....Rome's efforts to collect the taxes necessary to pay for defense and administration exacerbated the already deep social and economic divisions within the Roman empire."

To repeat: In just one hundred years the administration of Rome, bearing a lot of resemblance to the current state of the U.S. government, grew from 300-350 employees to 30,000 to 35,000 employees! By 300 A.D., Rome's central government was so big and overgrown, that it hindered economic growth and its ability to defend its citizens against their enemies.

It is important to remember that this rapid inflation of central government resulted after two centuries of moral decay. And more disturbing, it happened on the eve of Rome's collapse; that is, just before it fell to foreign powers.

Social and moral malaise always prepares the way for an unchecked and oppressive State. As Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, "If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!" Not even the Republic.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Communism and the Western Conscience

Quotes from Communism and the Western Conscience, by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, 1948. Every single one of these quotes should explain something about our political crossroads in 2010:

"A nation always gets the kind of politicians it deserves. When our moral standards are different, our legislation will be different. As long as the decent people refuse to believe that morality must manifest in every sphere of human activity, including the political, they will not meet the challenge of Marxism…The apathy of the electorate to moral leadership is always reflected in the apathy of their politicians."

"If a time ever comes when the religious Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have to suffer under a totalitarian state denying them the right to worship God according to the light of their conscience, it will be because for years they thought it no difference what kind of people represented them in Congress, and because they never opposed the materialistic lie with spiritual truth."

"Many follow Communism not because they are convinced that it is right, but because they have a hidden hate against something or somebody. Those who feel individually impotent to vent their hate upon a person or a class or an institution feel that if they joined Communism they could find a corporate expression for their pent-up animosities and their dammed-up hate."

"Because they [the Communists]became disillusioned with their freedom, which produced chaos in their souls, they are for a Communist dictatorship outside of themselves to organize their chaos. Because they lost the power of self regulation from within, they seek a Communist-imposed regulation from without…[In] Communism they can have a seeming sense of righteousness and justice by hating the wrongs of others without any obligation to better their own individual lives."

Accepting All Things With Equal Reverence

In the book, The Dialogue, God tells St. Catherine of Sienna that his servants accept all things with equal reverence. Their discerning eye sees everything as being ordained by Divine Providence. God the Father goes on to say that the faithful disciple of His Son "holds all thing in reverence, the left hand as well as the right, trouble as well as consolation, hunger and thirst as well as eating and drinking, cold and heat and nakedness as well as clothing, life as well as death, honor as well as disgrace, distress as well as comfort. In all things he remains solid, firm and stable, because his foundation is the living Rock."

This was the spiritual and missionary secret behind the success St. Paul enjoyed in laying the foundation of Christianity. At the beginning of his ministry, the Lord showed him "all that he would suffer." To press forward, even after being beatened, imprisoned and rejected by his own people, he had learned to rejoice in the Cross. This is why he can, with credibility, write the following about himself: “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

What a difficult thing to do: to not only accept but to will all that God sends us in our daily circumstances, be they pleasant or painful. But that is what it means to be a Saint: to will what God wills because he wills it.

This grace was given to yet another Saint: St. Edith Stein, a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. St. Edith, because of her Jewish identity, was one of the millions of victims in the holocaust. Like no other victim, however, she demonstrated a calm and resolve in the concentration camp of Auschwitz . Being a Carmelite nun, she was used to daily prayer and spiritual sacrifices.

According to one eye witness at Auschwitz, she was taking care of all the children who were abandoned by their mothers. These women simply couldn’t cope with the situation they were in. Indeed, they had every reason to be terrified. They heard the stories of how the Jews were exterminated. St. Edith Stein was well aware of her fate too: which was to die in the gas chamber. Still, she found peace in God and was able to help those in need during her last week on earth. All this was possible because she willed what God willed. Belonging entirely to Christ, her will was no longer her own.

Heroism, such as the one St. Edith displayed, begins in the daily acceptance of God's will, whatever the circumstance. Chipping away at the preferences, desires, and false ideals we hold on to is certainly a kind of death to self. However, it is hastened by a frequent examination of conscience, an honest admission of our faults and a continual turning to Christ for making up what is lacking in us. The reward is incalculable! St. Dorotheus couldn’t have said it better: “The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man.”

What at first appears to be a drudgery of sorts becomes an instrument of peace. This union of wills- between Christ and his faithful follower -is the beginning of heaven here on earth. But before we possess this peace, we have to accept all things with equal reverence as coming from the wise counsel of God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Democracy in America: Soft Despotism

Democracy in America continued-

America's "new master", according to Tocqueville, will not be the abrupt and brutal regimes merging out of the French and Russian Revolution. No. It will operate under the guise of humanitarianism; that is, it will intervene in the private sector and meddle into people's private affairs on the basis that it seeks to help the needy. It will move slowly through local, State and Federal channels of government; using preventive measures to achieve its agenda. Like the erosion of our social freedoms over the last six decades, it will chip away at our civil and religious liberties one stroke at a time until we look up and find a new master staring down at us.

Of course, I say this using several years of hindsight. Tocqueville, on the other hand, relied only foresight. Good religious, historical and civic education can go a long way in anticipating future trends.

This last quote from Tocqueville is a prophetic one. It illustrates the political and social challenges facing America in recent months:

"If despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them.

[Under such despotism] the will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

It is not inevitable that "soft despotism" be the fate of America. If America's dependence is to pass from the State back to God, making Him the unrivaled Shepherd once again, it must begin with three institutions: the Church, the family and education.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Democracy in America: Without Religion?

Democracy in America continued-

Tocqueville warned that those who would want to keep their democracy should also jealously guard their religion. If the latter goes, so goes the former. When God ceases to be the highest authority in the minds of the people, the natural surrogate is the State. And that is the choice we face today: reliance on an all-powerful God or a reliance on an all-powerful State.

Approximately fifty years after the French Revolution, Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America. In France, people were increasingly of the belief that religion and liberty were incompatible. Responsible for this propaganda were the anti-Christian, secularist parties who championed the cause of freedom during the revolution. The irony is that they ended up suppressing the Catholic Church and executing hundreds of citizens…all in the name of freedom. It followed that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the French government and their public schools became venues for the myth that religion was the enemy of freedom. This should sound familiar to twenty-first century Americans.

The American Revolution, on the other hand, produced a different result. In the years that followed the war, Americans believed that religion was an indispensable principle in preserving the prosperity of a nation. For instance, in George Washington’s farewell address in 1796, he said, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” These words represented the vast majority of Americans at the time. That belief was still palpable when Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in Long Island, New York, May 14, 1831.

When he returned from America to his native land, France, he had two different models to compare: The American model in which religion was the guarantor of liberty and the French model in which religion was but an obstacle to liberty. Dissatisfied with the French model, he clearly supported the American model throughout his book, Democracy in America. One can even say that the reason he had such impressive foresight with regard to the future of American democracy, was that he was convinced that what happened to his beloved country was but the inevitable consequence of America if she too abandoned her religion.

Now, the following quote is philosophical in nature. But if it is read with attention, you will see that what Tocqueville writes is of immense value to us Americans:

“When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the highest portions of the mind, and half paralyzes all the rest of its powers.

Such a condition cannot but enfeeble the soul, relax the springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude. Nor does it only happen, in such a case, that they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently themselves surrender it.

When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion anymore than in politics, men are easily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them.

As everything is at sea in the sphere of the intellect, they determine at least that the mechanism of society should be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master

Believers are likely to not only see an Intelligent Design in the universe but also in the daily occurrences of their own lives. Everything that happens has meaning; so goes the Christian saying. By the way they see the universe as having order and design, they are trained, in a sense, to see a similar design of order and meaning in their own lives. Unforeseen trials and even death, if they are schooled in the principles of the Christian religion, does not alarm and frighten them as much because they see meaning in these events.

A people without faith, however, must necessarily see the daily occurrences of life as being random. If human life is but a product of chance, then it follows that whatever happens in any given day is also a product of chance. The unpredictability of evil and harm that might come to us, therefore, such as those we have to guard against over these last six decades, creates a frightening prospect; especially for those who do not daily rely on an all-powerful God. This is why Tocqueville writes, “The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them.” Like a row boat in the middle of a stormy sea, the person whose faith is weak, naturally wants to take refuge in something more powerful than himself- namely, the State. About this mindset Tocqueville adds: “They determine at least that the mechanism of society should be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master.”

The “mechanisms” he refers to are State regulations, programs and entitlements; from this, the Nanny State creates the illusion of giving security to the people.

“Their ancient belief” the people can no longer resume is their faith; that is, the reliance on Divine Providence and the belief that perfect justice will be had in eternity. A subset of that faith is the recognition that human rights and responsibilities are God-given; and that every authority under God- especially the State –is duty bound to recognize individual liberty. But when the faith among the people is destroyed, the independence of the individual from the State is less felt; indeed, it weakens and eventually gives way to servitude.

The “master” Tocqueville refers to is none other than a tyrant or an oppressive government. The French Revolution fashioned such a government in the late eighteenth century. And in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, America has become more and more acquainted with its new master: an intrusive government. This new master did not force himself upon us; we chose him (or them). Finally, the most telling thing about the loss of freedom is what he writes next: “Nor does it only happen, in such a case, that they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently themselves surrender it.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Preface to Democracy in America:

The fear of neighbor always precedes the fear of government. When the morality of a people breaks down, they no longer trust their neighbor. Increased frequency of crime rates, dishonesty, and exploitation naturally causes distrust of both stranger and neighbor. However, when we no longer trust even our neighbor, we look to the government to protect us from the neighbor we no longer trust.

Take for instance the last six decades: As late as the 1940’s, hitchhiking was considered a safe practice; as late as the 1950’s, the front or the back door to our homes remained unlocked at night; as late as the 1960’s, we were free to walk downtown Chicago, New York City or Los Angeles without fearing for our lives; as late as the 1970’s, parents could leave their children in their cars (with the windows rolled down) while they went shopping; as late as the 1980’s, seals for medication bottles were unnecessary; and as late as the 1990’s, school shootings were unheard of. In this decade, our children’s "playground" is much smaller than what ours were growing up just a few decades ago. We had the whole neighborhood, they have the front or the backyard; usually under the condition that one of the parents is on the lookout.

Slowly but surely, over these last six decades, we have lost our social freedoms without even knowing it. But there is one thing that more and more Americans do know: our civil liberties are becoming increasingly frail...courtesy of our growing and aggressive Federal Government. The immorality we fear in others was only a prelude to the oppression we now fear in our government.

Democracy and liberty is a strict discipline. It unravels when morality is relaxed. Individual morality, enduring marriages and intact families are the foundations on which democracy and liberty rest. But there is another principle which underscores everything, and that is religion. Indeed, liberty, morality and religion hang together. No one made this point better than Tocqueville.

Over one hundred and seventy five years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy in America. He visited America in 1831-32 to study America’s penitential system, institutions and its form of government. His observations of American Democracy and its future trends were right on the money! Although he personally visited and studied America in the nineteenth-century, he, nevertheless, wrote about twenty-first century America. His foresights were uncanny!

Tocqueville was no prophet in the spiritual sense. However, he was well versed in history, specializing in the French Revolution. Being a native of France, he knew firsthand how freedom could be lost. And as a Catholic, he understood that religious liberty could be denied by the State in short order. Such was the case when the French Revolution broke out in 1789.

In Democracy in America there are three insightful observations of his worth noting. How relevant they are today! To be sure, every American should know them. Our freedom just may depend on it.

…those three points on the next blog.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What a Labor Camp Can Teach Us…(Part II):

What a Labor Camp Can Teach Us… continued:

Too often we associate God’s will as something yet to occur in the future. The trick is, as Fr. Walter Ciszek said so many times, is to see God’s will for us in the moment and in each day that he gives us. He writes, To predict what God’s will is going to be, to rationalize about what his will must be, is at once a work of human folly and yet the subtlest of all temptations. The plain and simple truth is that his will is what he actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people, and problems. The trick is to learn to see that- not just in theory, or not just occasionally in a flash of insight granted by God’s grace, but every day.

The book and spiritual classic, Imitation of Christ, our Lord speaks to his disciple; the disciple representing us. He reminds him that to focus too much on the future is to be a slave of his imagination. “It is a vain and unprofitable thing,” he says, “to conceive either grief or joy for future things, which perhaps will never happen.”

God inspired a dream in Fr. Ciszek: to minister to the Russian people. However, what seemed to be an eternity in solitary confinement (close to five years) contradicted that he thought anyways. There was not a soul to talk to; no Russian people to minister whereby he could use his priestly gifts. Every day in that Moscow prison he had to conquer himself and die to self. The monotony of solitary confinement and the isolation he experienced tested his faith greatly.

Was his mission to Russia all in vain? Was the inspiration to preach the Word of God to the Russian people just a product of his imagination? Those thoughts alone could have crushed him if he did not exercise his faith in Christ on a continuous basis. Yet, it was this kind of exercise, a determined and deliberate trust in God’s providence that gave him the strength to minister to his prison mates in the Siberian labor camps. The labor camp's frigid and desperate conditions called for a man of God whose hope transcended and even defied those daily circumstances which seemed to be impossible and never ending.

Regarding those desperate conditions he endured in both the prison in Moscow and the gulags in Siberia, he learned a simple but profound truth about the will of God: The temptation is to look beyond these things, precisely because they are so constant, so petty, so humdrum and routine, and to seek to discover instead some other nobler “will of God” in the abstract that better fits our notion of what his will should be… We have to accept God’s will as the will of God as God envisions it and reveals it to us each day in the created situations with which he presented it to us.

The Saints lived according to this truth and as such, it gave them a profound peace that no one could take away. But it comes with a price: we must die to ourselves, die to what we think is best, and die to what we want for ourselves. And in that void we are to replace it with a trust that Jesus Christ knows exactly what we need and what is truly in our best interests. We may not have the answers to why this or that happens- good or bad –but we know the One who does have the answer.

Fr. Walter Ciszek teaches us in the book, He Leadeth Me, that what seems to be senseless suffering just might be the very thing we need to fulfill our mission and succeed in life. We do not have to grope for God’s will. God’s will is what he gives us today. And it’s what we do with those daily occurences which will merit our eternal reward in heaven.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What a Labor Camp Can Teach Us…

What can a labor camp in Siberia teach us about God’s will? Let me count the ways! Better yet, let Father Walter Ciszek, Servant of God, count the ways.

One of the best books on knowing and accepting God’s will in everyday circumstances can be found in He Leadeth Me, by Fr. Ciszek. It is a very readable two hundred plus page book; published by Ignatius Press. Written in 1972, approximately ten years after returning from the Soviet Union, Fr. Ciszek takes the reader through his spiritual journey during the dark days of the Soviet prisons and labor camps of Siberia.

As a Jesuit priest, Father Walter had a dream: He wanted to preach and minister to the Russian people. His dream was realized in 1940. With two of his fellow Jesuits, he made it into the Russia under a pseudo-identity. However, in 1941, he was arrested under charge of being a “Vatican spy.” First, he was sentenced to four to five year in solitary confinement in a prison in Moscow. After trying to maintain his sanity in absolute solitude, he was then condemned to several years of hard labor in Siberia with barely enough food and clothing to stay alive.

In hindsight, Fr. Ciszek viewed his trials in solitary confinement as a time of preparation and purification. The time spent alone for so long- praying, rehearsing the Mass over and over again in his mind, meditating on God and waiting on Him -prepared him for the great undertaking of ministering to his prison mates in the labor camps of Siberia.

By Divine Providence he received bread and wine to celebrate Mass in secret on a fairly regular basis. He gave retreats to priests and laymen alike. He provided spiritual direction; this was especially beneficial for prison mates who were on the brink of despair. All of these priestly duties were performed at the risk of endangering his life. The penalty for such illegal activity was starvation, extra labor, torture and even death.

Like so many Christians, Father Walter Ciszek went into God’s work expecting one thing and getting something totally unexpected. Quite often, the Lord inspires in us a passion or a vision for some mission without feeling the need to communicate every last detail to us; especially those seemingly impossible circumstances we have yet to encounter. So that we can burrow our way through the obstacles, God gives us a kind of basic training; which is to allow circumstances to contradict our mission before it even begins.

With the passion to serve, the Lord tells us to wait as He did with Fr. Walter in the quiet years of solitary confinement. His quest to minister to souls in need seemed to be on hold indefinitely; or better yet, it appeared to be a lost cause.

One of the greatest contributions this book has to offer for today’s Christian is to see that our daily circumstances is the content of God's will for us. To this end, he writes: “Ultimately, we come to expect God to accept our understanding of what his will ought to be and help us to fulfill that, instead of learning to see and accept his will in the real situations in which he places us daily.”

More on the next blog.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men (Part IV)

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men continued:

The last point from Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church worth considering may surprise many twenty first-century Catholics. To be sure, when I first heard of this practice I thought it was just another attempt to make the Catholic Church more like a democracy. This ancient practice of the early Church Fathers may be confused with putting doctrine up for a vote, as if we can pick and choose between Church teachings; accepting some and rejecting others.

No. The practice that I refer to is when both the clergy and the people chose their Bishop. This indeed was a democratic process; a legitimate one endorsed by the early Church. The local community- big or small –was consulted on who would serve their spiritual needs.

Today, much is said about the principle of subsidiarity: a principle which holds “that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.” The people who would be affected the most by the selection of a Bishop, the local church or diocese, had a say in determining who that might be. When the decision of this magnitude and importance is centralized- even if the centralized authority be that of the Vatican -and when it does not involve the consent of the faithful, then the placement of the Bishop runs the risk of causing resentment or indifference. This unilateral process also runs the risk of creating mismatches between the Shepherd and the sheep.

Father Antonio Rosmini, who authored Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church, asked the following questions. In this passage, he takes it for granted that the one tier approach in deciding Bishops, and even priests, causes an indifference among the people, not just on who their pastor will be but also on the very doctrines they teach:

“When the people are required and taught to be indifferent about their own Pastors, is it not equivalent to teaching them indifference to the doctrine which may be set before them, and to the course of conduct in which they may be held? Is it not teaching them that it is no longer necessary for men to have confidence in the ministers of religion; that they may set aside the needs of their souls and repentance?”

Rosmini then goes on to write that one of the greatest popes, Pope St. Leo the Great, not only enforced this practice but even went so far as to say that when the people are not consulted about who their ministers were, they may end up being demoralized:

“The great St. Leo knew well that to force the people to accept an unwelcome Bishop was to demoralize them, and this was one reason why he persisted in upholding the ancient discipline of the Church concerning the election of Bishops, as carried out by the clergy, the people, and the provincial Bishops.”

“For instance, he writes thus to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessalonica: ‘When it is a question of electing a chief priest, let him be preferred to all others who is required by the consent of both clergy and people; and if the votes should be equal, let the Metropolitan prefer him who has obtained most affection, and is a man of great merit; only give heed that none shall be elected who are not wished or asked for; lest the people, being thwarted should despise or hate their Bishop, and lest they should become less religious than is fitting, not having obtained him they desired.’”

Another example: “Council of Paris: ‘No Bishop shall be appointed contrary to the will of the citizens, but he only whose election has been heartily and voluntarily demanded by the people and the clergy.’

If this ancient practice were implemented today, there can be no doubt that the tide of priestly scandals would have been stemmed. Unfit clergy could have been contested by the very people who would be influenced the most by the transfer of these unfit priests. And as for the Bishop(s) who did the transferring of these priests, there could have been a check and balance between his decisions and the concerns and complaints of the flock.

It was different in the early Church. Rosmini said that the Catholic Church acted as “one man." Both clergy and the people were on the same page. During the second millennium, however, there were periods when the clergy and the laity evolved into two different subcultures within the same body; speaking different languages and pursuing different ends. When these two worlds, the hierarchy of the Church and the faithful, were not acting as one, then the making of great men was harder to come by.

Spiritual fathers need to understand and relate to their spiritual sons. Spiritual sons, on the other hand, need to identify with and admire their Spiritual fathers. Was the early Church on to something when the Bishops personally discipled their seminarians and priests; when the dominant standard of choosing a priest or a Bishop was holiness; and when the people helped determine which of those great men were to shepherd them? Can it be any wonder that the supply of great men were in such abundance in those first thousand years? And can it be doubted that the abundant supply of great men led to the greatest civilization the world has ever known?

With the multiplication of great men within the Catholic Church today, that great civilization can be restored once again.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men (Part III)

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men continued:

"If it should ever be impossible to maintain the present number, it is better to have a few good priests than a multitude of bad ones."
-The Lateran Council

The second compelling point worth noting from Fr. Antonio Rosmini’s book, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church, was that the standard for choosing priests and Bishops was one of knowledge and holiness; the emphasis being on holiness. This was the criteria used in the first centuries of the Church. “It may be truly said,” Rosmini writes, “that knowledge sprang from holiness, since the former was sought solely out of love to the latter; knowledge was sought after so far as it was essential to holiness, and no other knowledge was desired.” That’s right! Knowledge was to be sought for the sake of holiness. And holiness, in return, was a source of knowing God and his will.

In a letter to St. Timothy, who himself was a young Bishop, St. Paul reminds him to aim high in choosing Bishops. He writes, “A Bishop must be irreproachable.” That is, he must be blameless or faultless. This is a high standard. And only a holy Bishop can measure up to it. Such Bishops would be responsible for reproducing great men.

After the Apostles died, saintly Bishops known as the Fathers of the Church carried on the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. They were consumed with the desire to glorify God and to proclaim Christ-crucified to as many people as possible. In discerning the right men for the priesthood, the high standard of holiness continued to be the overriding requirement for new candidates. The Fathers of the Church understood that furthering the kingdom of God depended on it! Perhaps this can explain why, out of the first 50 popes, 48 of them were Saints.

Centuries later St. Thomas Aquinas confirmed the standard of the early Fathers: “Holiness must come before Holy Orders.” Holiness is not just an absence of evil, it is something positive. Indeed, there are specific virtues, orthodox beliefs, and sound temperament to look for in a candidate. As St. Alphonsus de Liguori said, “It is not enough that the Bishop know nothing of evil of the ordained, but he must have positive evidence of his uprightness.”

So serious was this obligation of selecting the right candidate for the priesthood (and episcopate) that not a few Church Fathers claimed that the one who did the ordaining would have to answer for the sins of the ordained. In other words, choosing an unworthy priest or Bishop could not be chalked up to an administrative error, but it is something that would have spiritual consequences for the ordainer.

For instance, the fifth-century pope, St. Leo the Great, wrote the following to his bishops: “To impose hands lightly is to confer the sacerdotal dignity on persons not sufficiently approved: before maturity in age, before merit of obedience, before a time of testing, before trail of knowledge, is to be a partaker of other men’s sins and for the ordainer to become as unworthy as the unworthy man whom he ordains.” St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and Father of the Church himself, reinforces this standard in the same century: “You who have conferred the dignity upon him must take the responsibility of both his past and his future sins.”

Off and on, over the centuries, this standard of holiness was relaxed for various reasons; but at a great cost. It took courageous reforming popes like St. Gregory the Great, St. Gregory VII and St, Pius V to insist that holiness be the most important criterion in determining Bishops and priests.

We are at a time in our Church’s history which calls for the renewed emphasis on holiness for seminarians, priests and Bishops. In the last 40-50 years, the Catholic population has nearly doubled but the number of priests has decreased considerably. In an article, State of the US Catholic Church at the Beginning of 2006, Fr. John McCloskey provides statistics to this effect:

-In 1965, at the end of the Council, there were 58,000 priests. Now there are 41,000.

-In 1965, 1,575 new priests were ordained. In 2005, the number was 454, a decrease of more than two-thirds — and remember that the Catholic population in the US increased during these years from 45.6 million in 1965 to the 64.8 million of 2005, a rise of almost 50%.

-Between 1965 and 2005, the number of seminarians fell from 50,000 (some 42,000 of which were high school and college seminarians, while another 8000 or so were graduate seminarians) to today's approximate 5000, a decline of 90%.

The low number of seminarians and priests in the West is not the only indicator which calls for a new way of doing things at our seminaries and dioceses. Sadly, the priestly scandals, which were such a major source of shame for the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002, have reared their ugly head in Europe. If there is any evidence that holiness has not been the highest priority in forming seminarians and in choosing priests, it is the scandalous misuse of the office of the priesthood and the toleration of that misuse.

If I can proffer some good news it is this: The Catholic Church, unlike other institutions, has the ability to renew itself. On the other hand, every single nation and every single institution has a mortality rate. Each one will pass away. But the Catholic Church is immortal; her very nature defies death; as such, she will endure until the end of time. Quite often throughout history, the Church looked mortally wounded. Indeed, her enemies were too quick to write her obituary. But new life was infused into her.

For instance, approximately one thousand years ago (to the year) the Catholic Church was going through identical problems she is experiencing today: Priests sexually abusing boys and Bishops who did little about it. But there were great men at the time such as St. Peter Damien- a Cardinal in the eleventh-century –who helped to renew the Church; to get it back on track. His holiness inspired him to brave the consequences of standing up for the truth. At times, it required tough love and forbearance. An example of his direct, no-nonsense approach was in a letter he wrote to the clergy of his day. Notice he did not mince words:

“Listen, you do-nothing superiors of clerics and priests! Listen, and even though you feel sure of yourselves, tremble at the thought that you are the partners in the guilt of others; those, I mean, who wink at the sins of their subjects that need correction and who by ill-considered silence allow them license to sin. Listen, I say, and be shrewd enough to understand that all of you alike are deserving of death, that is, not only do such things, but also they who approve of those who practice them.”

Again, it is holy and great men such as St. Peter Damien that God raises up to renew his Church. Thankfully, today, the new generation of priests that are coming out the seminaries are seeking holiness like all the great men I quoted in this blog. They have seen the effects of a watered down Christianity and the lowering of the standards in previous decades. Many of them want nothing to do with it! They know that zeal for God's glory and salvation of souls comes with a price; and that price is the Cross.

With all the discouraging news and setbacks we have experienced, I believe, nevertheless, that God is doing a new thing: He is awakening the Catholic Church; most notably, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. However, it is only when holiness comes before Holy Orders, as St. Thoms Aquinas said it must, that great men will multiply within the Church. When that happens, the Catholic Church will be that shining city on the hill, giving light to all the nations.
My last blog on Only Great Men Can Make Great Men, will surprise many a orthodox-Catholic. An early Church practice promoted by Saints would be mistaken for being a liberal practice today. But it was a practice that yielded good results. Unfortunately we no longer do it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men (Part II)

Only Great Men Can Make Great Men continued-

Whatever can be said about the Popes of the last two millennia can be said of the Bishops and Priests as well. Like the father of a family, the Pontiff, the supreme head of the Catholic Church, quite often sets the tone for the rest of its members.

To ask the same question another way: What was it about the Popes of the second thousand years of Christianity that differed from their predecessors of the first thousand years?

A book published in 1832 titled, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church, points us in the right direction. It was written by a Catholic priest by the name of Fr. Antonio Rosmini. In his book, he unearths common pastoral practices of the early Church Fathers that had literally been forgotten. So novel (but yet so traditional) were his ideas that his book was censored by the Vatican. A year before his death, however, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church was vindicated and no longer censored. Like most men ahead of their times, his ideas were treated with suspicion. With that said- and despite the opposition he merited from his book -he managed to win the favor of Pope Pius VIII, Gregory XVI and Pius XI.

Arguably one of Fr. Rosmini’s most important points is this: “In the early ages of the Church, the Bishop’s house was the seminary of his priests and deacons.” He goes on to say the following:

• “It is to this system that we owe the eminent Pastors for whom the first six centuries of the Church were so remarkable. By means of this full and perfect system the sacred deposit of Divine and Apostolic doctrine was faithfully transmitted from one to another through informal and oral communication.”

• "They believed that the words of the Pastor, appointed by Christ to rule and teach the Church, derived a special and unique efficacy from the Divine Founder. This belief imparted supernatural life and energy to the doctrines taught, so that they made and indelible impression on men’s minds. As a result, there was a constant supply of great men…the Bishop of old diffused and reproduced himself in the young clergy, being to them teacher, pastor, and father; adding dignity to the compact body of the priesthood, and securing a healthy influence over the people."

Christ personally formed his Apostles not only by preaching and giving instruction but through informal conversations and spending time with them. During his three year public ministry Jesus did not rely on formal and systematic education. He did not send his disciples off to school. He took the responsibility upon himself to make them into his own image.

So that his Apostles and their successors could do the same, Christ conferred on them a special power. This power is none other than the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The fullness of this sacrament resided in the Apostles but was then transmitted to the Bishops. With this power, the Bishop not only to educated in the first several centuries, but he personally inspired, formed and guided his seminarians and priests. Truly, his house was the seminary!

Unfortunately, this responsibility of the Bishop ended up being delegated to other priests and professors towards the end of the first millennium. Seminaries and universities eventually took over what the Bishop used to do. Hence, the Bishop, who is endowed to form hearts and minds with the full force of Holy Orders, became less of a factor in this process of raising the next generation of priests. “The constant supply of great men” began to wane.

Other points from Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church in my next blog.