Sunday, January 30, 2011

Conclusion: On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord

…Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:28-35


St. Paul once said that a woman is saved through motherhood. (I Tim. 2:15) The same can be said for Mary, the mother of Jesus. She worked out her salvation through her own motherhood. But even more than that, through her spotless maternity, she also helped to work out the salvation of the human race. By many popes she has been called the Ark of the Covenant. For nine months, she not only carried the Word of God but she also mystically carried the people of God within the tabernacle of her womb. In the book of Revelation (chapter 12), God's people would be referred to as "her offspring." And it is against Mary's offspring that the dragon would wage war.

It is fitting, therefore, that St. Simeon prophesied that the Son of Mary would be a Sign that was to be contradicted. Indeed, the Cross throughout the centuries would not only serve as an emblem of redemption for souls but it would also portend to be a sign that contradicts evil. As our Lord would tell his Apostles at the Last Supper: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first…If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18, 20)

In light of this, the vocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to prepare her Son for this Contradiction on Calvary. Like the Migdal Eder shepherds (see On the Fortieth Day II for explanation), she was commissioned with the special task of preparing the Immaculate Lamb of God for the sacrifice. Pope St. Pius X said “it was not only the prerogative of the Most Holy Mother to have furnished the material of His flesh to the Only Son of God, Who was to be born with human members of which material should be prepared the Victim for the salvation of men; but hers was also the office of tending and nourishing that Victim, and at the appointed time presenting Him for the sacrifice.” (Pius X, On the Immaculate Conception) Far from wincing from the hour of her Son's sacrifice, the Mother of God hastened the hour by asking Jesus to perform his first public miracle at the Wedding of Cana.

But first, through St. Simeon, as with St. Paul (cf. Acts 9:16), the Lord revealed to Mary the suffering she would have to endure. And although the sufferings of Christ were sufficient to save, it was preordained that Mary’s tears would be mingled with the blood of Christ for the salvation of the human race. Accordingly, St. Simeon said to her that “you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” The piercing of a mother’s heart will help reveal the thoughts of many hearts. Interestingly, “The thoughts of many hearts being revealed” is allusion to Judgment Day. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, wrote that at the appointed time Jesus Christ will “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.” Mary’s suffering, therefore, was no incidental matter. Rather, the piercing of her Immaculate Heart was a precondition for the Day of Judgment. She would be pierced "so that" the thoughts of many would be revealed. Indeed, through her, as one united to her Son, the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked punished.

It must be born in mind that Mary was not only a Lady of Sorrow; it is equally true to say that in her sorrow and from her sorrow there was an occasion of great joy. In the same encyclical, St. Pius X said that, “…beside the Cross of Jesus there stood Mary His Mother, not merely occupied in contemplating the cruel spectacle, but rejoicing that her Only Son was offered for the salvation of mankind and so entirely participating in His Passion, that if it had been possible she would have gladly borne all torments that her Son bore.” It is a truth worth contemplating that Mary's love for her spiritual children is equally generous.

Mary’s participation in the Passion of the Christ began with a ritual on the fortieth day. It was there in the Temple that she offered up to the Father the Lamb of God. And it was there in the Temple that she accepted all that it meant for her. Through his faith in God, Abraham became the father of the Jewish people. But through her faith and sacrificial love, Mary became the new Eve and the Mother of all Christians. Who can doubt, therefore, that what she did for her son Jesus she will also do for us? And what she will do is make us holy through our own trials and contradictions; and more importantly, she will prepare us for the hour of our death so that our transition into eternal life may be without contradiction. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen!"

On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord III

It all started when one of the Magi gave to the new born Messiah frankincense. If the Magi came to Bethlehem for the Jesus’ baby shower, frankincense was not your typical gift for such an occasion. It was rather fitting for funerals. To be sure, death is not the first thing a mother wants to think about when her new born comes into the world. On the fortieth day, however, St. Simeon’s prophetic words to Mary would give the gift of frankincense context. After taking the child into his arms, St. Simeon blessed his parents and addressed the following words to the Blessed Virgin: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

This innocent, endearing little baby was “destined for the fall and the rise of many.” The saving work of Jesus Christ would not only affirm the righteous and lift up the lowly; it would also usher in God’s kingdom by exorcising evil and toppling the powerful. Not even a year earlier, Mary would proclaim in her canticle, “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” Even the Mother of God knew that her Son’s saving work would involve conflict.

The Apostles and the early Church Fathers were also aware that the preaching of the Gospel and the participation of the Sacraments was a kind of exorcism in itself. Driving out the devil would be required before the Holy Spirit could make his dwelling in the soul. St. Paul reminded those who were committed to the work of evangelization that their ministry would effect people in two different ways; depending on who those people were. He said, “For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life.” (II Corinthians 2:15-16) Consciousness of this double-effect, that is, of bringing in the good and driving out evil, has faded among Christians. In a polite, liberal society, the confrontation of sin and evil is taboo. But yet it is an integral part of converting souls to Christ. Perhaps this forgetfulness is at least part of the reason why the Church has fewer conversions to account for.

As stated previously, Mary, as the Mother of the Lamb, did what father Abraham was preventing from doing. When his son Isaac came of age, Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, where the Temple stood during the time of Christ. However, at the last minute, Abraham was prevented from doing so. His willingness to do it was merit enough for God. Because of his great faith in God, he was esteemed as the father of God’s chosen people. As for Mary, her faith and act of obedience in offering her Son to the Father would merit for her the right to be called the Mother of God's people. What is more, the presentation of the Lord on the fortieth day was not only the fulfillment of a rite according to the law of Moses, it marked the beginning Mary’s spiritual sacrifice; a spiritual sacrifice which would be consummated at the foot of the Cross some thirty three years later.

It took Adam and Eve, that is, a man and a woman to bring about the ruin of the human family. Likewise, God would use a man and a woman to save what was lost.

More on the next blog-

Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord II

“…he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’ The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ (Luke 2:28-35)

Having spent eleven, twelve or thirteen years in the temple, the Blessed Virgin Mary would have been recognized by the temple officials. But only one man steps forward to pay homage to the Messiah upon his arrival; and that man was St. Simeon. Later, of course, the prophetess Anna would enter the scene and rejoice with him upon seeing Jesus Christ.

There is a second explanation as to why St. Simeon and Anna might have known that St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin and the new born Christ were special. Forty days earlier marked the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It just so happened that right outside the town of Bethlehem was a watch tower called the Migdal Eder. This was a special watch tower that overlooked a pasture of sheep. But these sheep were no ordinary sheep. The sheep at the Migdal Eder were specially groomed for the temple sacrifice throughout the year. This pasture land happened to be alongside a road leading to Jerusalem. The Migdal Eder shepherds were trained to keep these sheep unblemished, that is, with no broken bones or any other kind of infirmity. Unblemished lambs, of course, were required by the Law of Moses.

Interestingly, it is believed that the Angel announced the glad tidings of the Saviors birth to these special Migdal Eder shepherds on Christmas night. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after having witnessed the angelic apparition and having visited the Holy Family, these shepherds got to talking at the temple when they transported the sheep there. Perhaps, St. Simeon and the prophetess Anna paid close attention to what was rumored to be the arrival of the Messiah; the fulfillment of the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”

After taking the baby into his arms he prophesied that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Jesus would prove to be the Hebrew par excellence; the ideal Jew and the Israelite. As for the Gentiles, his Gospel would cast light upon them. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. “ (Isaiah 9:1) Since the days of Noah, the Gentiles would lose the Faith and fall not only into religious error but also barbaric practices such as human sacrifices. Indeed, this ungodly sacrificial rite to appease false gods would be practiced on every continent.

St. Simeon then turns his attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is in the temple that she learns of her vocation of co-redemptrix, that is, as one who would suffer with her Son. As the Mother of the new High Priest and the Lamb to be sacrificed, she would be no passive spectator on Good Friday. Rather, Mary would be called to do what Abraham was prevented from doing, namely, offering her Son as a pleasing sacrifice to God. It began with the Presentation in the Temple and was consummated on Calvary just outside of Jerusalem.

More on the next blog-

On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord I

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms…When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” (Luke 2:25-39)

On the fortieth day of our Lord’s life, the prayers and longings of St. Simeon’s soul were finally realized. In Psalm 40 seems to have reflected the thoughts of St. Simeon as he beheld the Messiah in the form of an infant for the first time: “I waited, waited for the LORD; who bent down and heard my cry… Though I am afflicted and poor, the Lord keeps me in mind.” People for centuries have wondered how he recognized the Lord. There seem to be no marks of distinction; nor any supernatural aura which illumined the little body of Jesus. However, the Gospel of Luke said he did not come to the temple alone. In fact, St. Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple.” Under the Spirit’s inspiration and with His promptings, he recognized the Messiah. To be sure, with the Holy Spirit as our guide, we are able to see big things in small places and are able to recognize God in the ordinary circumstances of life.

Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit “are those secret warnings and invitations, which from time to time are excited in our minds and hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without these there is no beginning of a good life, no progress, no arriving at eternal salvation. And since these words and admonitions are uttered in the soul in an exceedingly secret manner, they are sometimes aptly compared in Holy Writ to the breathing of a coming breeze…” (Pope Leo XIII, On the Holy Spirit) Without these secret warnings and invitations, we are apt to miss what God is doing in our life. Vigilance is required because his work may come in unexpected ways; sometimes amid failures, setbacks and what may seem uneventful. Quite often, the Lord will speak to us or reveal something important to us; sometimes when we are working or when we are still. In any case, we need to exercise a kind of monastic silence at certain times throughout the day in order to hear His voice more clearly. Silence is the language of God. Who can doubt that St. Simeon understood the importance of silence and prayer.

Again, God works through the ordinary. The first appearance of the Messiah in the temple was not flashy. His parents were doing what countless parents had done on the fortieth day of their child’s life, namely, presenting their child as a dedication to the Lord. Although it is certainly possible that St. Simeon may have received a private revelation so as to identify the Son of God, it may have been the case that he was tipped off by a few things.

First, according to apocryphal literature (books that were not included in the New Testament canon) in early Christianity, such as the Infancy Narratives of James, the Gospel of Pseudo- Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary was dedicated to the temple by her parents St. Joachim and St. Anne when she was only three years old. This is a tradition that the Catholic Church has treated with a great deal of credibility. Furthermore, according to this same tradition, when she was of age, she made known her vow of perpetual virginity to a priest or to the High Priest. Realizing how holy and special she was, the temple priest honored her wish and searched for a suitable husband for her; a man who would honor this vow of hers. Three candidates presented themselves; among them was St. Joseph. It just so happened that according to the apocryphal literature, that a dove descended on St. Joseph and at the same time, his staff miraculously bloomed. In many Catholic churches you will notice a statue of St. Joseph with a staff topped with flowers.

If this story has historical credence, which I believe it does, then upon Mary’s entrance into the temple with her infant Son in her arms, she would have been recognized by the temple priests. Remembering her holiness and her pledge of virginity, it could very well be that St. Simeon, being among the priests, recalled the passage from Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (7:14)

More on the next blog-

Friday, January 28, 2011

Preface: On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord


When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord," and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. (Luke 2:22-24)

Early in the fourth century, St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, wrote Pope St. Julius, bishop of Rome, to inquire about the date of Christ’s birth. One might think that if anyone was qualified to answer the question it would be St. Cyril himself; primarily because he was the bishop of Jerusalem, just a few miles away from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. Nevertheless, it just so happened that the city of Jerusalem was pillaged in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, led by General Titus, in order to repress an uprising of Jewish zealots. In the process, the Temple was destroyed and its records- along with the census documents -were brought back to Rome only to be filed among the Roman archives. Less than three hundred years later, these documents were evidently still in existence. Interestingly enough, St. Julius was the acting bishop of Rome after Christianity had been legalized. As such, he had privileged access to the Roman archives. St. Julius wrote back to the Saintly Bishop of Jerusalem and assigned December 25th as the birth date of Jesus Christ. “St. John Chrysostom quotes the same authority of the Roman archives as the source of the date of Christmas.”

It can therefore be determined that the day in which Jesus was presented in the Temple as an infant was February 2nd. Indeed, on the fortieth day of his earthly life, Jesus was presented to the Lord of Hosts by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. For the first time in the Temple’s five hundred plus years of existence (one thousand if you include the first Temple), the only worthy offering was made to God within its precincts. Nothing could give greater honor to God nor be more pleasing to him than the presentation of Jesus. The millions upon millions of sacrificed lambs were but a symbol and precursor to the "Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world."

In book of Leviticus the Lord prescribed that for every mother who gave birth to a child would be ritually “unclean” (not morally or spiritually) due to the release of blood during labor; that is, she was prohibited from participating in religious activities and community worship for seven days. For the next thirty-three days, she would undergo a rite of purification.

Allow me to briefly digress: In the Old Testament any kind of abnormality or anything unclean such as blood, a laceration, leprosy, and even a corpse represented sin and spiritual darkness for the people of God. The slightest contact with it would render a Jew "unclean." It can be said that unholiness was more powerful than holiness. If one were to touch that which was unclean, that person would be deemed unfit to worship according to the law of Moses. Jesus, however, would reverse this Old Testament curse or penalty during his public ministry. For instance, he touched corpses, such as the widow’s son at Nain. Furthermore, he was touched by unclean people such Bartimaeus the leper and by a woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years. Yet, these repeated contacts did not make Jesus “unclean;” it was rather the case that with his touch they were made whole. Upon our Lord's coming, therefore, holiness would be more powerful than unholiness or ritual impurity. To put it another way, when Holiness of the Lord would come into contact with unholiness, or when the divine confronted the demonic, it was unholiness and evil that gave way.

Now back to the presentation of Jesus: As for the Blessed Virgin Mary, she did not need this rite of purification; this, for two reasons: First, she was immaculately conceived both outside of Eve’s shadow and Satan’s dominion. Secondly, as one being exempt from the penalty of Eve’s sin- that being labor pains -she did not experience natural labor pains nor did she bleed from delivering her first born Son. It is revealed truth that Jesus’ birth was of a miraculous nature. Indeed, according to the early Church Fathers, Mary was a virgin before, during and after our Lord’s birth.

As Virgin and Mother, Mary brings the Christ-child to those who wait on the Lord. And St. Simeon was one of the first among many who would receive Jesus from the hands of Mary.

More on the next blog-

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Smiling Back at Death

The following blog is a re-post from August of 2010:

“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” These were the words of the Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius in the second century. What the pagan philosopher stated in theory, Christians did in practice. Death was an enigma for pagans, but for Christians, it was seen as the road to eternal life. This is why the early Christians were full of hope…even during the fall of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the finest of the early Christians- the confessors and martyrs, never looked back. Their destiny was ever impressed upon their minds. For what they sacrificed in this life would be paid back a hundred-fold in heaven. Such was the Lord’s guarantee.

This is why the early Christians displayed a serene confidence when faced with adversity and death. It was the Christians in large numbers, not pagans, who smiled back at death. This serene confidence in Christ and the eager anticipation of eternal life was exceedingly attractive to on-lookers. From it came a large number of conversions. This "smile" was captured in a letter by Tertullian, a Father of early the Church (around 200 A.D.). It was a letter addressed to a Roman Emperor who, like Marcus Aurelius, persecuted and executed Christians. He wrote the following:

“You will never destroy our sect! Mark this well: when you think you are striking it down, you are, in reality, strengthening it. The public will become restive at so much courage. It will long to know its origin. And when a man recognizes the truth- he’s ours!”

-Tertullian: The Apology (A Letter to the Emperor)

That holy and serene confidence of the early Christians is the heritage of all Christians! We just have to remember to use it, then we too can smile...even back at death.

Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church IV

Please scroll down to read the first of four blogs on Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church:

The kindred ideologies of Liberalism, Socialism, and Communism not only share similar principles but they employ similar methods. During one episode of The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968; not to be confused with Life is Worth Living), Bishop Sheen said that Communists will speak of peace and even promote co-existence but only with the intention of destroying their opposition. Communist regimes such as the former Soviet Union paid lip service to respecting the sovereignty of its neighboring nations and the religious liberty of churches. However, what followed was a policy of encroachment and desecration. Keep in mind, they always introduce their benign intentions with a smile. But when opposing parties are no longer in a position to resist, then their true colors come out.

Many U.S. politicians, political operatives and partisan media types are beginning to publicly endorse Socialism. In November of 2010, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said the following to his liberal colleagues on his show: “Unlike you, I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who’s so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to progressive. Liberals amuse me. I am a Socialist.” What Lawrence O’Donnell should have said is, “I am no longer a liberal or a progressive.” Usually there is a preliminary phase of embracing liberal principles. In any case, just ten to twenty years ago Lawrence would not have been able to admit such a thing with impunity. It probably would have cost him his job. Even actor Ed Asner, who played Santa Clause on Elf, voiced his admiration for Communism. Today political terms like “Socialism” and “Communism” are no longer taboo. The point is that Liberalism is but the embryonic form of Socialism. And depending on the political and social circumstances of a given country, Socialism is but the embryonic form of Communism.

Recall T.S. Eliot’s definition of Liberalism. He said that Liberalism “is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite.” Indeed, this movement is not aimed at principles. Its course of action is principally motivated by aversion or hatred to someone or something. As previously stated, it is animated with a spirit of protest. This is why many of its supporters can be quite discriminatory towards Christianity and without skipping a beat, turn around and exercise deference to Islam; almost to the point of servility. Bishop Fulton Sheen said the following in his book, Communism and the Western Conscience:

“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.”

He went on to say that Communists- and here we can include the proponents of Liberalism and Socialism too –became disillusioned with their freedom which only produced chaos in their souls. As such, they opted for a Communistic or authoritarian dictatorship outside of themselves to organize their chaos. Sheen added that because they lost the power of self regulation from within, they seek a Communist-imposed regulation from without. The patrons of Liberalism, Socialism or Communism can have a seeming sense of righteousness and justice by hating the wrongs of others without any obligation to better their own lives.

What is therefore a threat against freedom of speech and religious liberty in America is this hatred that Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote about. A movement driven by the emotion is neither consistent nor principled. It will say one thing and do another.

As for Christians, in the last fifty years they have not been formed by the fullness of the Gospel. Passages that have to do with sin, hell, the devil, fighting the good fight, battling evil, God’s punishment or the severity that Jesus Christ repeatedly demonstrates throughout the four Gospels have all been de-emphasized. What is more, to publicly acknowledge that the Christ or the Church has enemies is considered to be impolite. But yet these truths are in the New Testament nevertheless. What the historian Christopher Dawson said in 1935 is no conspiracy; neither is it apocalyptic. What he said is the Gospel truth:

“For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest.”

In the United States, if the Conservative media is ever silence or restricted in its freedom of speech, the Catholic Church will be the next target. The sooner Catholics realize who threatens this right and who will be threatened, the sooner they can get to work and guard against future encroachments.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church III

For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest. Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed.

And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

-Christopher Dawson, 1935

You may be surprised to know that popes like Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI used the term "liberalism" in much the same way we use it today. Between early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, liberalism was used to mean the following in many papal encyclicals:

1. Denying the existence of divine authority.
2. Each person defining their own morality and redefining liberty to mean license.
3. Advocating big government.
4. Causing social and political ruin.
5. Excluding the Church hierarchy from the State and other public institutions.

(For the reference to specific documents, please go to the archives of September, 2010 and click on “Using Liberalism in Politics and in the Church.”)

In many respects, the Catholic Church treated Liberalism in much the same way as it did Socialism and Communism. For instance, in his letter On the Nature of Human Liberty, Pope Leo XIII was critical of Liberalism in that it too often promoted an all-powerful State : "By the patrons of liberalism, however, who make the State absolute and omnipotent, and proclaim that man should live altogether independently of God..." What is to be equally reproved is the economic policy found among Socialistic governments. On Capital and Labor he writes the following: “Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.” What is more telling is that Leo XIII believes that only “Church of Christ has such power to ward off the plague of socialism.”

What is said of Socialism can be applied even more so to Communism. Just as recent as 1996, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, proposed that when the State seeks to be all things to all people, it becomes evil. In an address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said, “The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much. When they presume to do God's work, they do not become divine but diabolical.” This is precisely what is at issue with the three ideological siblings: Liberalism, Socialism and Communism. President Gerald Ford, who was no Conservative, gave a practical insight into this issue when said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” The more power it possess in order to give, the more power it will have in order to take away. And take it away it will! Once the government acquires that kind of power, citizens are, more often than not, powerless to remedy their situation. The twentieth century is replete with examples to this effect. The people of Europe, Russia, Asia, South America and Africa have not only been deprived of goods and property under Communistic regimes, but their very lives as well. It is no exaggeration to say that millions upon millions were killed at the hands of Communistic dictators.

No one else knows better than the Catholic clergy just how ominous Communism really is. Just twenty years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical entitled, On Atheistic Communism. In it he gives voice to how God sees the dignity of every human being. He said, “[Man] is a true ‘microcosm,’ as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next.” But to politicians who are not accountable to the people or to God, individual citizens are cattle to be herded; used for political ends. Pius XI continues:

“Communism, moreover, strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”

Only Christianity can give the true account for why the State exists. The Church has always taught that the purpose of the State is to serve the people. Its authority and power comes from God and as such it is to be tempered by its God-given purpose. Furthermore, it was only after the arrival of Christianity that the Church served as a check and balance against the overreaching arm of governments. In ancient pagan civilization the State had no rivals; no other institution existed to keep it in check. Starting with the fourth century, however, the Church served as a kind of mediator between civil authority and the body politic; reminding Emperors, Kings and Princes that their power was constrained by Divine Law but also exhorting citizens to obey just laws. And whatever tension existed between the Church and State throughout the centuries had benefited society. In recent times, this constraining force the Catholic Church historically imposed on the State has weakened considerably; but not to our advantage.

And so we return to the so-called problem of political rhetoric and freedom of speech in the next blog-

Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church II

For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest. Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed.

And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

-Christopher Dawson, 1935

If you want to know where American liberalism is headed and how human rights such as freedom of speech and religious liberty will fare, then it is absolutely essential to make an honest assessment of Communism in the twentieth century. I say, “make an honest assessment” because liberalism or progressivism bears much similarity to Socialism and Communism. Many in Washington and in the Church are reluctant to concede this point. The difference between them is not one of substance but of degree. Liberalism or progressivism is a prelude to the harder, more rigid forms of Socialism and Communism precisely because it is less intense. As T.S. Eliot, author of Christianity and Culture, rightly noted: “That Liberalism may be a tendency toward something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite.” That is, it doesn’t move towards a definite moral or spiritual end. In the 1960’s spirit of protest, it is rather the case that it reacts to the things that it hates.

From the outset, in its social from, liberalism began in the 1960’s by protesting parental, religious and even civil authority. By exaggerating freedom (usually sexual and “reproductive” freedom) it was forced to call upon others to tolerate behaviors and lifestyles that are morally evil. But as the representatives of this movement came of age and assumed leadership positions in the political arena, it evolved into a new species altogether. It became authoritarian. As T.S. Eliot said, liberalism is “a tendency toward something very different from itself.” What began as a social movement of indiscriminate tolerance and freedom has evolved into a political movement against freedom and tolerance. This should not surprise us because those who were not good followers and who did not know the humility of obedience will know not the methods of good leadership. Christ washed the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper precisely to show what a God-inspired leader should be; namely, the servant of all.

The comparison between today’s American liberalism and Socialism/Communism in the twentieth century is easy enough. Simply juxtapose these two sets of principles and then you will see the similarities. What they have in common is an aversion towards doctrinal Christianity; a disregard for the dignity of life and the autonomy of the family; it exercises a suspicion towards the free market; it emphasizes the collective over the individual; it puts its trust in the public sector over the private sector; and it thrives off of class and ethnic divisions. Regardless of the label, all of these similarities lead to but one thing: An all-powerful State.

To grasp its true nature and what it portends for the individual and the nation at large, then reading On the Nature of Human Liberty and On Socialism by Pope Leo XIII, On Atheistic Communism by Pope Pius XI and the Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, Communism and the Western Conscience is a must! However, a word of caution should be mentioned: When the connection is made between American liberalism and Socialism/Communism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, people on both sides of the political aisle- as well as many Catholics -get uncomfortable. After all, labels such as “Nazi’s” and “Fascist’s” have been carelessly bantered about in the media and in the political arena. In response, some have an understandable aversion to the use of such labels. Nevertheless, there are certain labels or characterizations that serve a useful purpose. As for the “liberal” or “progressive” label, it signifies a real set of principles; principles that need to be publicly identified and guarded against if freedom of speech and religious liberty are to be preserved.

The insights of Leo XIII, Pius XI and Archbishop Fulton Sheen next blog-

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church

For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest. Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed.

And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

-Christopher Dawson, 1935

Soviet politician, Vyacheslav Molotov, once said, “In Russia the Communist party is in power and all the other parties are in jail.” Totalitarian regimes do not tolerate opposition. And why should they if they are not inspired by moral truth? To understand this is to understand why double standards and inconsistencies are pronounced among many progressive politicians in the United States. As with twentieth century Communists, their political agendas and programs are advanced by an act of the will, not by reason. Vladimir Lenin, a contemporary of Molotov and leader of the Russian Revolution, did not mince words when he said, “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience.” If there are no morals, then there are no principles to adhere to. As such, debates are a waste of time. Demagoguery- the art of appealing to the prejudices, emotions and fears -becomes the chosen instrument of acquiring and expanding political power.

In order to expand political power, a crisis is needed. To nationalize banks or to expand the public sector, the 2008 housing market crash was needed. The campaign against freedom of speech also needed a crisis. On January 8, 2011, the opportunity presented itself: The Tucson shootings. Progressive politicians wasted no time in using the tragedy to condemn the political rhetoric from talk radio, Fox News and other conservative venues. U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D) from Illinois, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (D) of Pima county Arizona, and later Congressman Steve Cohen (D) from Tennessee somehow assigned blame to the Conservative media even though the shooter, Jared Loughner, was a pupil of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engel and Adolf Hitler. No doubt there are progressive politicians in the Republican Party. Nevertheless, the aggressive push to silence opposition is evidently part of the Democrat Party platform. A coordinated effort is emerging. Quite often you'll find them using not only the same talking points but the same words.

This effort to silence opposition following the Tucson shootings is certainly not the first attempt by the political Left. The FCC signaled that it intends to enforce the Fairness Doctrine with cable news, talk radio and the internet. President Obama himself expressed his reservations about people getting too much information. At a speech he delivered at Hampton’s University graduation ceremony in May of 2010, he said that a bombardment of information through the internet and ipods can serve as a diversion and distraction. The words he used were subtle, but what he alluded to is unmistakable: easy access to information is a political problem; a problem, that is, that frustrates the expansion of political power and State control.

More warnings of “too much” information and vitriolic political rhetoric are sure to come; again, probably on the heels of another crisis. When they do come, know that it will be on the pretext of ensuring the public welfare. To be sure, U.S. politicians who are interested in expanding their power base cannot afford to be as straightforward as the Soviet politicians were; this, for the simple reason that they do not enjoy the same power as they did…not yet, anyways.

If past is prologue then the emerging campaign against political freedom of speech will have great implications for religious liberty. Historically, political opponents to authoritarian governments are the first to go down; then, of course, their last, greatest obstacle is the Church. As for progressive (or liberal) politicians, Conservatism is not half as offensive to them as the counter-cultural doctrines of the Catholic Faith. For this reason, Catholic Bishops will not be unaffected by the attempts made by progressive politicians to impose federal regulations on Fox News, talk radio and the internet. Their right to preach the fullness of the Gospel is sure to be challenged soon thereafter.

Progressives, Communism and the Catholic Church in the next blog-

Friday, January 21, 2011

Temptation in the Desert and its Twentieth Century Parallel III

With each temptation Jesus countered with the words of God; specifically from the book of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy, as you might know, is a series of speeches given by Moses to the Hebrews at the end of their forty year journey in the desert; just before they went into the Promised Land. Moses reviewed all that happened, both good and bad, and what would happen if they would obey or disobey God. The choice was clear. He said, “I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) Obedience to God leads to life and as such, the people of a nation will grow numerous; and disobedience will lead to death- not just for the soul -but for the nation because a self-absorbed, ungodly people inevitably develop an intolerance for the rearing of children. Depopulation and economic decline are but the sad result.

When we look at the twentieth century, as with previous centuries, we find that life and death; prosperity and doom; happiness and misery; all stem from two related sources: spirituality and sexuality. The belief in God and attitudes about sex determine if one is fulfilled in life; if marriages last; if families happily stay together; if nations prosper; and most importantly, if souls are saved. From the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution, Satan did a number on man’s belief in God. If he could not completely eliminate it, he was content to falsify it. In the twentieth century, he fixed his eyes on the next best thing: sex! God and sex have one very important thing in common: the ability to create life. Indeed, both are needed for the creation of human life. Sex furnishes the material and God, the soul. When these two principles of life are misunderstood and misused, a whole series of repercussions are set in motion.

To understand how Satan tempted Jesus in the desert is to understand how he tempted the human race in the twentieth century. He understands that vice, as well as virtue, rarely exist in isolation; that is, apart from other vices. To inspire one sin or vice with seemingly little consequence, is to set off a sequence of other vices which are of greater consequence. For instance, contraception, which gained currency from 1930 to 1970 is sex without life. A couple could have sex without conceiving a child. The sexual revolution gave us sex without love. Marriage was no longer necessary for sexual intimacy. And finally we come to legalized abortion, which is life without love. The mother has a child in her womb but without the love to see it to full term. As Mother Theresa said, if the womb is not safe then neither will society be safe.

In short, the twentieth century temptation began with sex without life; then sex without love; only to be peak at life without love. What seemed so innocuous in the beginning has led to not only the death of millions of unborn children; but it has led to a demographic winter (declining birthrate) in Western Civilization that is only getting worse with each generation. Today in our public discourse a word is being used with more frequency; and that word is “survival.” Will America and the rest of Western Civilization survive? Perhpas we should learn the lessons that Israel had to learn through many painful experiences.

Reading the Old Testament we come to understand Israel’s defeat and subjugation as a nation began with the sins of the individual person. The greatest assault that Satan leveled against the people of God throughout bible was to convince them that sinning against the Almighty was of little consequence. The irony is that the more experience people have with sin, the less they know it and the more gullible they become with each temptation Satan proffers. Every avalanche begins with a snow flake. And that snow flake which causes avalaches for individuals and nations is the same: we used to call it sin. Our best defense against temptation and sin is something that Jesus used against the Devil in the desert; and that defense is a living fidelity to God's Word.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Temptation in the Desert and its Twentieth Century Parallel II

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a book called Turning Point for Europe? in 1994. In it he wrote that immediately following the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, after spending years in slavery, God gave Moses and his people the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. It was no accident, he continued, that liberation and the God’s law were to be closely linked to one another. During the long journey in the desert, and even after they settled in the Promised Land, the Hebrews would be constantly put to the test. Fidelity to the Lord and adhesion to his always proved to be a means of liberation; both on a personal and national level. As such, their freedom would be secure. St. Paul would confirm this centuries later by saying, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” On the other hand, when the people of God were unfaithful, this inevitably resulted in their bondage. Western Civilization has a lot to learn from this.

For each Christian, the sacrament of baptism is God’s instrument of spiritual liberation. Through the baptismal waters, we cross from the world of darkness to the world of light. However, after Jesus received the Spirit of God at his baptism he was immediately driven into the desert to be tested. Similar to the close relationship between the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and the Ten Commandments given at Mt. Sinai, there is in the Gospel, a relationship no less closer, between Christ’s baptism and the temptation in the desert. It would seem that the Holy Scripture is telling us that with the privilege of receiving God’s benediction, and consequently liberatiion, there inevitably follows a corresponding duty to conquer evil; to confront it face to face. But first, it is always beneficial to know how the Evil One goes about tempting people. It is then, as St. Paul said, we can know his designs on us.

This brings us to the first temptation: The tempter approached and said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread." (Matt. 4:3) Here, Satan is tempting Jesus on the presumption that he is God. After all, only God can change stones into bread. Yet, if Jesus were to give in to the temptation by converting stones into bread so as to consume them, worst case scenario, he would be breaking his fast with the possibility of sinning against God.

With the second temptation, Satan approaches Jesus as if he were a mere holy man; for if a man can command an angel he would undoubtedly be holy, but he would not be God because such assistance would be unnecessary. The second temptation is as follows: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and 'with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" (Matt. 4:6) In the absence of such angelic assistance, the cost of succumbing to Satan’s proposal is one of physical death. A pattern begins to emerge: As the devil assigns a lower status to the one he tempts, the hazard of consenting to such a temptation only increases.

With the first temptation, Satan approaches Jesus as if he were God (this one, he got right); the second temptation, he is presumed to be a holy man, but only a man; and the third temptation, Satan assumes the worst: “Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’” (Matt. 4:9) In assuming the worst, Satan’s approached Jesus as if he were a sinner; because only a sinner would worship the Devil. However, the cost of consenting to such a temptation, if unrepentant, would merit the loss of one’s soul. And to be sure, there is no greater loss than to be forever banished from God’s presence.

With each temptation, Satan downgrades the status of our Lord’s holiness; and with each lower status, there is a greater hazard. To put it another way, the more sinful Satan believes you to be, the more gullible you are in his mind; gullible because consent would only mean disaster for the sinner. Indeed, sin darkens the mind. As Jesus said, whoever sins is a slave to sin. Hence, the darkness of sin leads to slavery. No one knows this better than the tempter himself.

These three temptations, and the design behind them, have a twentieth century parallel. That in the next blog-

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Temptation in the Desert and its Twentieth Century Parallel

In part, this blog is a sequence to a series entitled, What You May Not Know About Sunday’s Gospel Reading: The Baptism of Christ.

On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. (Mark 1:10-13)

Pope Leo XIII once said that “Christians are born for combat.” This couldn’t be better illustrated in the Gospel of Mark, immediately following our Lord’s baptism: “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” The Spirit, which had just appeared in the form of a dove over the river Jordan, “drove” or led the Son of God to his first conflict. As St. Jerome said, it wasn’t that Satan came to confront Jesus; it is more the case that Jesus went out to the desert to confront him. Being baptized into Christ and anointed by his Spirit is not only an introduction to God’s blessings; it also a calling to resist and denounce evil.

In ancient rabbinic writings such as the Talmud, a dove did not symbolize the Holy Spirit like it does for Christians; but instead, it represented Israel. To a Jewish bystander at the river Jordan, a dove descending on Jesus would have meant that he was an ideal Israelite. As a representative of Israel, Jesus set out to do something that the Israelites failed to do during the forty years in the desert; and that is being faithful to God. And to be sure, resisting the Devil and his temptations was but one important expression of that fidelity.

We only get a few glimpses of Satan in the Old Testament. A well developed system of demonology did not exist in Judaism leading up to the time of Christ. Nevertheless, the Jews did believe in his existence. From Genesis 3 where he tempted Eve to eat the fruit we know this much: He doesn’t waste his time with weaklings; as an Angel of Pride, he only goes after the best. Satan personally had designs on Eve, Job and now Jesus. From the temptation in the Garden, we learn that he cleverly uses half truths and subtle nuances to undermine God’s authority. With precision, he exploits the weakness of his prey so as to maximize spiritual casualties. No doubt, he attempts to do the same with the Son of God.

However, there is only one problem: Many Saints have taught, such as St. Catherine of Sienna, the Tempter did not know who he was dealing with. That’s right! The mystery of the Incarnation was hidden from him. This might explain the preface for all three of his temptations: “If you are the Son of God…” He simply did not know.

In any case, in each of the three temptations Satan uses, there is a presumption or a guess as to who Jesus is. And in the Gospel of Matthew, with each guess or presumption, the cost of surrender progressively gets worse. In the first temptation, there is a presumption that Jesus was God; in the second, a holy man; and in the third, a sinner. The lower the ranking, the higher the cost of the surrender; that is, if Jesus would have succumbed or surrendered.

More on these three temptations and how he employed similar ones in the twentieth the next blog-

What You May Not Know About Sunday’s Gospel Reading: The Baptism of Christ III

Christ was “raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek” from the waters of the river Jordan. Tradition has it that the Lord was baptized where Joshua crossed the Jordan. After forty long years in the desert, Joshua and the Levitical priests led the Israelites across the river into the Promised Land. This crossing was immediately memorialized by having one man from each tribe erect a stone. In the book of Joshua chapter 4 it reads:

“…the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Choose twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and instruct them to take up twelve stones from this spot in the bed of the Jordan where the priests have been standing motionless. Carry them over with you, and place them where you are to stay tonight…these stones are to serve as a perpetual memorial to the Israelites.’”

St. John the Baptist may have referred to these stones when he said to the crowd, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” The baptism of Christ, it would seem, signified a crossing from the land of darkness to the Promised Land of Heaven; a crossing that was to be led by Jesus and his faithful priests. It was appropriate, then, that the heavens opened up above the Son of God who had received the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the river Jordan.

Melchizedek was a King-Priest of Salem (later to be Jerusalem) who blessed Abraham with bread and wine (Genesis 14). According to the ancient Rabbis, Melchizedek was none other than Shem, the eldest son of Noah who inherited his blessing. It was through Shem that God’s blessing would continue. From the Ark of Noah, which landed in the mountains of Ararat (modern day Turkey), Shem migrated to a land that would later be known as Israel. He then founded the city of Salem and consequently built a castle or a palace there.

Abraham, his great, great, great etc. grandson, inherited the blessing from Shem (who inherited the blessing from Noah, and Noah from God). And part of that blessing was the inheritance of the land that belonged to Shem. Unfortunately, Salem, as well as the surrounding land that belonged to him, was seized by the Canaanites centuires later; a pagan people who sacrificed their children to the god of Baal. Approximately four hundred years after Joshua and the Israelites migrated to the Promised Land from the desert, another king, King David, reclaimed Salem and built his palace on the ruins of Melchizedek’s palace.

Some three years after his baptism, Jesus Christ- who was a priest according to order of Melchizedek -celebrated the Last Supper by consecrating bread and wine into his body and blood in the Upper Room. It just so happened that the Upper Room was built over what was once David’s palace and tomb. It was on this historic spot that the priesthood of Jesus Christ, fashioned after the likeness of Melchizedek, put into effect the highest form of prayer- one most pleasing to God –that is, the Holy Mass. And it is from this room, on Holy Thursday, that the renewal of the world would begin.

As St. Padre Pio once said, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass." The consecration of the bread and wine into the glorified substance of the Risen Christ is but the beginning of that total transfiguration of the universe. Indeed, the Fathers of the Church taught, and without apology, that God created the world for the Church; that is, for elect who would be saved by the blood of Christ. And Jesus himself said that the meek would inherit the earth.

Today the earth seems to be under the dominion of the ungodly. But in Psalm 2, God the Father made a promise to God the Son, and that is to reclaim what has been lost. "I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, 'You are my son; today I am your father. Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth.'" (Psalm 2:7-8)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What You May Not Know About Sunday’s Gospel Reading: The Baptism of Christ II

After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

“The heavens were opened for him.” The importance of these words cannot be overstated. Just before God “baptized” the world with a global flood he assessed the sinfulness of mankind and “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.” The Lord promised to do something which would prove more fatal than the flood itself: He said, "My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh." As if to say, “Okay. You don’t want me. Fine! I will leave you at the mercy of your own devices.” So, God went up to heaven, thus taking his Spirit, and the doors of heaven were closed to man. From the days of Noah to the Incarnation of Christ, humanity did not benefit from the moral aid of divine grace. Each person was at the mercy of his weak human nature. As one peruses the pages of the Old Testament and the books of ancient history, one cannot help but notice the barbarity and cruelty of man; even among God’s chosen people. Such was the world…without the Holy Spirit.

After four hundred years of silence, God finally spoke again: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” For centuries, Israel did not hear the inspired words of any living prophet. But with the preaching of St. John the Baptist and the appearance of Christ at the river Jordan, all that changed. The doors of heaven were opened and God the Father sent out his Dove in order to find a resting place. His Spirit, which had been withdrawn from the world in Genesis 6, once again descended to earth and rested...on his Son. Perhaps, this is why St. John said, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.” In other words, the Spirit of God who had appeared in the form of a dove did not go back up to heaven; he was here to stay.

The public declaration of the Father’s love for the Son was accompanied by the anointing of the Spirit. Jesus would later say of himself in the synagogue: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.” These words from the prophet Isaiah signify a kind of consecration or priestly ordination. The words of paternal affection with which the Father spoke to his Son in the Gospel of Matthew finds its parallel from Psalm 110 in which he also says, “In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you. The LORD has sworn and will not waver: Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever."

In the river Jordan, St. John, the son of Zechariah the priest, baptized the Son of God. But this was not just a baptism of water. No. This was a kind of ordination from the eternal Father to his eternal Son. Perhaps, this is why St. John could proclaim: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Christ, as we have seen, is not only the Lamb to be sacrificed but a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

“It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.” (Hebrews 7) At the river Jordan a new priesthood was inaugurated through which “the power of life” would be communicated to the world. This priesthood is to be found in the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catholic priesthood is the hope of nations precisely because it communicates the Spirit who embodies the love and anointing from the Father to the Son.

More on the next blog-

Monday, January 17, 2011

What You May Not Know About Sunday’s Gospel Reading: The Baptism of Christ

The first two Sunday’s of Ordinary Time presents to us different Gospel readings about the Baptism of Christ. Unlike the feast of Christmas and the Epiphany, the Baptism of Christ is, more often than not, glossed over without a sufficient regard for some important historical or theological considerations. In these next few blogs, it is my hope you will walk away with a greater appreciation of what you heard during the Sunday Liturgy.


One gets the impression from reading the Gospels that St. John the Baptist was highly respected by the Jews. For that reason, among many, he made a superb forerunner of the Messiah. When St. John the Baptist spoke, people listened! Even sixty years after his death, close to the turn of the first century, Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote the following about this renowned prophet: “Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. For Herod had killed this good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, righteousness towards one another and piety towards God.” We sometimes forget that this "good man" came from a priestly family. His mission was not only to point out the person of the Messiah; but he was also to point to the new priesthood. Ironically, St. John the Baptist would not accomplished his mission in the Temple as one would expect. Instead, the river Jordan near the frontiers of the wilderness would serve as his pulpit.

First, it is important to note that the Levitical priesthood in the Old Testament was not so much a matter of personal choice or calling, like it is in the Catholic priesthood, but rather it was transmitted from the father to the son; what is more, a Jewish priest had to belong to the tribe of Levi.

It begs the question: Why is St. John the Baptist baptizing in the river Jordan and not officiating as a priest in the Temple like his father St. Zachariah did? After all, the announcement of his birth had taken place in the Temple. Perhaps, for this reason, St. John the Baptist was an enigma to the Sanhedrin of his day precisely because he was not “John the Priest” (The Sanhedrin was the “Magisterium” or hierarchy of Judaism in the first century). But when, at his circumcision, St. Elizabeth had given this prophet the name of John instead of Zechariah or some other family name, it was an indication that the ministry of St. John would somehow break with tradition.

We take it for granted that St. John the Baptist was…well…a baptizer. It is worth noting, however, that baptism was not a central or commonly practiced ritual in Judaism at the time. With that said, it was one out of three rites of initiation. If a Gentile wanted to become a member of the Jewish Church he had to get circumcised, undergo baptism and then make a sacrificial offering. Baptism, therefore, was seen as having application to outsiders. Reading between the lines, one could infer from the message of St. John the Baptist that the Pharisees and Sadducee's- who came out to hear him preach -would soon be outsiders to the New Covenant; that is, if they did not repent and undergo a new kind of baptism.

Indeed, up to the time of St. John the Baptist's first appearance, the sons and daughters of Abraham were the chosen people of God by virtue of their ethnic heritage and religious affiliation. But all that would change with the New Covenant Church. As Jesus himself would later say, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” Worshiping in Spirit and truth would necessitate repentance from sin and the practice of virtues. The message was clear: Being a descendent of Abraham but not an imitator of Abraham would make one an outsider as far as God's family is concerned.

Although the New Covenant religion would receive its life from the Spirit, it did not dispense from rituals and sacrifice. Indeed, a new priesthood and a clean sacrifice would be inaugurated with the coming of the Messiah. As the prophet Malachi foretold in the Old Testament: “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” And St. John, the son of Zechariah, and a descendant of Levi, would point out for all to see the New High Priest. In the Gospel of John, the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And upon this Lamb, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.”

The preaching of St. John the Baptist helped ushered in a new priest, a new sacrifice, and a new priesthood. Concluding thoughts in the next blog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tomorrow's Crosscurrent: The Ipod Generation and the JPII Generation (part III)

To repeat, an immoderate use of ipods, ipads, and text messaging are likely to have at least three unintended consequences; all of which will be social and spiritual in nature.

First, among adolescents and young adults, face-to-face interactions with people in the same room will be seen as less desirable than communicating with others through text-messaging or some other form. Using an ipod, and all that it offers through modern technology, has the likelihood of being perceived as more interesting than talking to a family member or friend in their presence. As these habits become more universal, I fear that an illusion will result from this. And that illusion will be that whatever is “out there” is far more interesting than whatever is “in here.” By “in here” I mean those people who are present in the same room. As the saying goes, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” This is a moral and spiritual hazard because it just may instill a kind of discontent and boredom with those very things (and people) which require our love and attention the most. Take any adolescent who has been groomed by the Ipod generation, he or she can seem far more interested in responding to a text message than responding to a comment someone made in their presence. Indeed, normal, human interactions- so necessary for building-up relationships –may lose its appeal and hence will be valued less with our younger generation.

The second unintended consequence of interacting with gadgets instead of people is that it exacerbates the already growing epidemic of narcissism. A few studies have shown that young people, for the first time in history, aspire to be famous over that of being rich. This, I am told, is a new phenomenon which is unique to the twenty-first century. In our entertainment culture, celebrities have been canonized and adulated while real heroes of American or Christian history have been put on the back burner. Shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, along with the Disney Channel, have created an appetite for stardom. With stardom, however, comes the presumption of one’s own importance. But as Christians already know, the biggest scar Original Sin has left on human nature is the illusion that the world revolves around the individual. Good parents do their utmost to rid this self-centeredness out of their children. And whatever is left over in the adulthood years- if one is a Christian -the observance of Christ's law and the daily examination of conscience helps to purge remainder away. But fame tends to intensify these vices, making the development of virtue and selflessness very difficult. Although fame is not inherently bad, Original Sin feeds off of it.

What is more, if fame or popularity is the standard of success for the celebrity; or if their happiness is dependent on people liking them (which is often the case in the entertainment profession); then the source of their contentment and joy is forever outside of their control; it no longer resides in the heart, the faculty of choosing and the chamber of God’s dwelling. Perhaps this is why many famous people are unhappy and why the gift of faith escapes so many of them. Indeed, if a rich man is only saved with difficulty- as our Lord implied -then a celebrity is saved with at least as much difficulty. Fame, of itself, is morally neutral. It is nevertheless the case that narcissism or self-absorption is easy when you’re famous.

But with regard to ipods, ipads, and text messaging, these are emblematic of the technological progress we enjoy as Americans; and to be sure, they are efficient means of communication. With that said, the Ipod generation has demonstrated, at least to my satisfaction, that the immoderate use of these gadgets can carry the human mind away from reality to the world of entertainment. Such a world is a nice place to visit but living there day in and day out can wreak havoc on our perception of reality.

The final trend that will issue from the Ipod generation is an aversion to silence and, as alluded to, a heightened boredom with the ordinary circumstances of life. In her Diary of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina said, “In order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one’s soul and to keep silence...Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle...The silent soul is capable of attaining the closest union with God. It lives almost always under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God works in a silent soul without hinderance."

Silence is the language of God; it is the condition upon which we hear his whisper. Hearing one's thoughts in the stillness of our soul is likewise important in the spiritual life. Modern technology, with television and radio, has already made noise an everyday phenomenon; indeed, we get nervous and restless without it. But with ipods, ipads and text messaging, noise will be 24/7 with little interuption. Silence and the quiet of the soul, a necessary condition for meditation and prayer, will have a hard time competing.

The JPII generation will have to evangelize through the means of modern technology in order to reach the Ipod generation, no doubt; but they also will have to resist the immoderate use of these things. And with the immoderate use of ipods, ipads and text messaging, there are spiritual and social implications to consider.

Tomorrow's Crosscurrent: The Ipod Generation and the JPII Generation (part II)

The television- and subsequently the computer –not only had a psychological impact on the individual, but they also had a social effect on local communities and neighborhoods. As early as the 1970’s, the decade of my childhood years, neighborhoods were a little social network of households. As a child I remember knowing families who lived six, seven houses down the street. Very few people in my neighborhood were strangers. And yet, today, it is a different world. Although I know the neighbors who live adjacent to my house, beyond that, I am virtual strangers with the people down the street. I am assuming my neighborhood is representative of most.

In the television and computer age, there was less and less incentive for people to go outside and mingle. With higher crime rates and having less familiarity with the people in our neighborhoods, parents do not let their children venture beyond their purview. As such, the size of the playground for each child is considerably smaller than it used to be. Neighborhoods are no longer a social network of households like they once were; instead, it is a place where families live side by side with one another. This new neighborhood phenomenon is not child-friendly. In other words, parents have to be on guard when their children play; making sure they know where they are at all times.

Historically, these conditions have, more often than not, empowered the State. When we no longer know or trust our neighbor, we are inclined to rely on government to protect us from the neighbor we no longer trust or know. As Alexis de Tocqueville once said, despots do not mind that their subjects do not love them; so long as they do not love each other. When citizens can no longer rely on their local community- for whatever reason –then the intervention of the State in the form of protection or provision will be in higher demand.

Enter the Ipod generation: What the television was for households in neighborhoods, ipods and the like will be for individuals in families and society in general. The constant use of ipods, ipads, and text messaging will compromise relationships and will even put a burden on everyday face-to-face interactions. Instead of making households into little islands like the television age has done, it will isolate and compartmentalize individuals who are in the same room. Of course, as with any good thing, these gadgets has its definite advantages. But the immoderate use of them will have a depersonalizing effect on relationships.

An even more important consideration is the challenge it portends for a person's spirituality. And this is what the JPII generation will have to be mindful of as it embarks to "make disciples of all of the nations." What I see developing among today's youth are three trends which are likely to be a big part of tomorrow's culture.

Those three considerations on the next blog-

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tomorrow's Crosscurrent: The Ipod Generation and the JPII Generation

There are two younger generations to look out for; and to be sure they will be at the forefront of tomorrow’s culture war: The Ipod generation and the JPII generation. To be fair, I should include the “Ben XVI generation” to signify the demographic of young Catholics in this blog; but for brevity sake, I will simply make reference to the “JPII generation.”

In any case, the JPII generation is comprised of young, well formed Catholics who have witnessed the disappointing aftermath of watered-down Catholicism. Empty churches and seminaries throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are the only things to show for the fifty-plus years of half measures. Having learned and experienced the fullness of the Catholic Faith, they want little to do with what the Baby Boom generation of Catholics has bequeathed to them.

It is true that in recent decades the Catholic Church has lost scores of young men and women to the world through poor catechises and lackluster sermons. To be sure, the full effect of these losses is yet to be felt. Nevertheless, the JPII generation, having benefited from the genuine fruits of the Second Vatican Council, is arguably the best formed youth the Church has had in centuries. With the advantage of hindsight, they learned key lessons from two extremes which occurred in the twentieth century: The first, having preceded Vatican II, was a mechanical-like formalism which had seeped into the spiritual life of many Catholics. The second extreme, which followed Vatican II, involved a relativistic, worldly kind of Catholicism which likewise affected many Catholics. Needless to say, the pendulum had swung from one extreme to the other within a short period of time; that is, between 1960 and 1970. This latter extreme, unfortunately, is still with us today. However, it is being challenged by the JPII generation of priests and laity who possess a balance which has yet to fully express itself in key leadership positions. Albeit, this younger generation of Catholics is only a remnant now, but in the near future they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Consider the counterpart of the JPII generation: It is interesting to note that the younger generations in society (outside the Church) are statistically more socially liberal and want less to do with organized religion than the older generations. This is something that the New Evangelization will have to factor in its mission. But within the Church, the younger generation of priests being pumped out of seminaries is more orthodox than their predecessors. What is more, they have a love and respect for the institution of the Church which was relaxed in previous generations.

The point is that there is now beginning to emerge a crosscurrent of younger generations; one being shaped by society and the other by the Church. For instance, the younger our civil leaders are, the more socially and morally liberal they are. On the other hand, the younger our Church leaders are, the more orthodox and solidly grounded they are in the moral law. Indeed, these two demographics are moving in opposite directions. With what could arguably be an ever sharpening tension between two generations, the following words from our Lord will take on greater relevance: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.”

Over the next ten to twenty years, the Ipod generation will bring a whole new set of social challenges to the culture and to the Church. The social habits they are beginning to practice today will create a new dynamic in relationships tomorrow; this will especially be the case among family members and more importantly, between the individual and God.

More on the next blog-

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sermons: The Storeroom of the New & the Old III

"...every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." (Matthew 13:52)

Sermons bring out the new from the storeroom by giving answer to peoples questions; by explaining the events which transpired during the week; and by adapting the manner of its delivery according to the common mode through which twenty-first century Americans receive information. The manner of delivery is every bit important as the content of the sermon. But our Lord also said that “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven” is bring out the “old” from the storeroom; not just the “new.” With regard to sermons, bringing out the “old” is bringing to light the historical and theological significance of the Scripture readings. And even concerning the Mass itself, priests can shed light on its biblical and historical features by making reference to them during their sermons. Indeed, the Mass is a relic which has its origin in the Old Testament and yet, it is as new as if Christ were celebrating it and offering up His Holy Sacrifice for the first time. Yet, very few people know this.

As for the Scripture readings at Mass, especially from the Old Testament, they are unintelligible to the vast majority of people who hear them. Sure, they can pick up social themes here and there. But the historical circumstances contained within the Scripture readings are an enigma to the average man, woman or child sitting in the pew. For instance, it is a safe bet that Catholics do not know if Moses lived before or after Christ; and they probably do not know if prophet Isaiah lived in the nineteenth century, in medieval times or in the eighth century B.C. Yet, the prophet’s historical situation is important in understanding his message. Even more than this, it is interesting!

The biblical message is understood best when people have some understanding or reference to biblical history. The Exodus; the Exile; the Babylonian captivity; the Dispersion of the Jews; the covenants made between God and Israel; Israel partitioning into two different countries; all of these historical episodes were of great significance to Israel before the coming of Christ. And what is more, our Lord’s birth, public ministry, death and resurrection are a kind of reenactment of Israel’s past. Jesus did what Israel failed to do! The biography of the Messiah is to be found, in large part, in the life of the Patriarchs, Prophets and the Kings of Israel and Judah. Their mission traces out the mission of Christ as a kind of preface to the Gospels.

It can be truly said that the Old Testament is a magnifying glass which elucidates the life of Christ. Unfamiliarity with its books is a loss for the Catholic; a loss that can easily translate into confusion and discouragement in an attempt to read Scripture. It follows then that the credibility and the attractiveness of the Catholic Faith rests on bringing out the old as well as the new from the storehouse. And to be sure, there is so much to bring out, so many lessons of life that are no less interesting than a movie we might see today. Indeed, there is no shortage of drama, inspiration and romance in the books of the Old Testament; if only priests can be trained to bring these stories to life.

The priest, in the 10-15 minutes that are normally allotted for sermons, does not have the luxury of a teacher in a classroom or a public speaker in an auditorium; but he can use the little time he has to give brief lessons of the Old Testament and brief insights into what is new in the world. Ironically, sermons are the most human part of the Liturgy. Unlike other liturgical prayers, each sermon proceeds from the priest as his own. His holiness, beliefs and personality is unmistakeably impressed upon it. Nevertheless, it has the power to increase Mass attendance; to make the bible come alive; to make the Faith a living reality during the week; and to galvanize Catholics to be courageous Christ-bearers in our post-Christian world.

Drawing from the storehouse of the Church, a priest's sermon, using the new and old, can be instrumental in "renewing the face of the earth." Perhaps, the clergy are the least likely to see their own shortcomings or what potential there is in giving their sermons. But a layman's opinion, if it dare be voiced, can go a long way in giving priests a perspective that only a third-party can give.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sermons: The Storeroom of the New & the Old II

"...every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." (Matthew 13:52)

There are times, it seems, as if the Catholic Church was a two-story building; the laity being on the first floor and the clergy on the second. Each story has its distinct subculture; the differences of which are profound at times. This bi-level Church we belong to- each level having its own language, interests and ways of looking at the world -is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it is about five hundred years old. Arguably, the trends which divided the clergy and the laity into separate subcultures emerged in the Middle Ages; and it never went completely away. Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, wrote that "the rise of a new lay educated class brought with it an independent ideal of lay culture. The consequent division of culture into two halves corresponded to the social division between clergy and laity." He continues: "While the clergy studied the Bible and the Fathers, the laity studied the classics; while the clergy studied the history of the Church, the laity studied the history of the State; while the clergy studied the traditional Christian philosophy, the laity studied the philosophers of pagan antiquity and the natural sciences."

Today, this dichotomy between the laity and the clergy expresses itself along similar lines. Lay people are consumers of internet news, cable news, and talk radio. They get their information with imagery, in quick sound bites, or in well crafted advertisements which speak directly to desires and needs. In any given message, relevance is critical. On the other hand, papal encyclicals and Church documents are usually long and academic. To decode some of the theological jargon, one needs a B.A. or an M.A. in theology at the very least. Moreover, these instruments of passing on information within the Church are, as I said previously, more topic-driven and abstract. The average person, however, has been groomed by the media to want current event-driven information. For this reason, Catholic documents and books penned by Church officials are not frequented by many people. It simply takes too much time to read and the language is too elevated for the average person to appreciate.

We need to remember the words of St. Paul who became disillusioned with the elevated and sophisticated language of the Greek philosophers of his day. In his second letter to Corinthians, he wrote: "For we write you nothing but what you can read and understand." (1:13) Brevity, simplicity and charisma are not only the marks of the New Testament epistles, but they are also the marks of modern communication. But as it appears, the clergy has not yet adapted to the twenty-first century consumer mentality and the way people are accustomed to receiving information. This is why sermons are all the more important! Yet, the time allotted for sermons during the liturgy are too often missed opportunities.

Western Civilization, as with most civilizations in world history, is currently on the decline from moral decay. The moral causes are easy to identify: Contraception, sex outside of marriage, divorce, cohabitation, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia etc., just to name a few. North America and Europe are literally dying because of these sins. However, due to the silence of the clergy, the world has been given the opportunity to shape our attitudes and beliefs about the most important issues of life. It is not enough that we hear or read the truth about morality from the heights of Vatican Hill. We need to hear it from our priests and bishops. In the forty plus years of my life on earth, I can count on one hand the number of times I heard words like "birth control" or "cohabitation" mentioned during a sermon. Yet, the Catholic Church is the most qualified agent to set the record straight and thus stop the social hemorrhaging. But she must begin by preaching about these issues specifically and concretely; not guised in general references. By doing this, the Church- the oracle of God -will bring the Light of Christ to these dark crevasses of society.

There is, no doubt, a price to paid for speaking the truth. This is why Christ exhorted his followers to rejoice when they are persecuted for His sake. Perhaps a disgruntled Catholic will reproach a priest after Mass; or maybe friendships and alliances will be compromised in the parish. These possibilities quite often serve as a pretext for saying little to nothing about such sins from the pulpit. Nonetheless, it is important that everyone, not just the priest, know that for every person we offend with the truth, we are apt to attract three or more souls to Christ. Yet, the offended person is much more likely to be vocal about his opposition than the person who has been won over by it. Because of this recurring dynamic, Catholics- both clergy and laity -perceiving that the offended person represents the majority, retreats and says no more about the truth. But when the clergy does not speak the truth about the above mentioned sins, then the laity and the Church at large will have to pay a much greater price.

Therefore, the reluctance of the Catholic clergy to address the specifics of the moral law, especially with regard to sexual sin, has left a void in our culture. Let there be no doubt, the silence and timidity of priests who stand behind the pulpit every week has only made room for sin, false ideologies, and destructive behaviors to flourish all the more. Sadly, these things take place in their own parishes. But as our Lord said, "A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden." A lamp is placed on a "lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house." But when the lamp is put under a bushel basket, darkness ensues. Indeed, it has never been so unclear as to what a Christian really is or what the nature of marriage really is.

The priesthood, that is, the spiritual fatherhood of society, really does set the pace for the people. The supernatural order is the cause; the natural order, the effect. When priests do not speak to the truth about specific moral behaviors which determine the quality of life and the longevity of civilizations, then the powerful and those most vocal in society will define how we shall live and how we shall die.

Jesus said that "every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." As we have seen, the "new" is necessary for the relevance of the sermon. But the "old" is necessary for understanding.

More on the "old" in the next blog-