Monday, May 30, 2011

Quiet in Tarsus: the boot camp of waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord can be one of the most difficult trials a Christian endures in his or her spiritual life. Pope St. Gregory the Great said the Cross of Waiting may be a punishment or purification from God for sins committed; or it may be a preparation for some greater task or mission the Lord has for you; or it may be an instrument through which God wishes to glorify himself in a special way. Whatever the reason, waiting on the Lord can be likened to a school where the greatest of lessons about life can be learned. It teaches us the humility of being that “worthless” servant Jesus refers to in his parable; the one where the servant works hard in the field only to have to serve his Master at the table at the end of the day. However, let’s not forget this one fact: Waiting for the Lord is never in vain. Whatever is the cause of sadness in the moment will be instrumental in bringing about your joy and happiness in the long term. The closing prayer in the Divine Mercy chaplet refers to God’s will as “love and mercy itself.”

St. Paul had to learn this lesson over and over again throughout his difficult mission. God's will for us- with all of its trying circumstances -is exactly what we need. No doubt, we, like St. Paul, will have to learn this in the most difficult of ways.

This blog was originally divided into three posts in May of 2010. Quite in Tarsus speaks to the St. Paul’s difficult trial of waiting on the Lord before his mission got started.


Very few Saints have been privileged with a clear foresight of what trials lay ahead. Usually we are made aware of the challenges of life, the trials of a mission or the difficulties of some undertaking as they happen. For St. Paul, however, just after he saw the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus, he was granted a vision of the sufferings which awaited him. After his conversion, he recounted some of what he suffered in his second letter to the Corinthians:

"Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure." (II Corinthians 11:24-27)

Somehow, the Lord had to prepare St. Paul to endure these trials. Without this preparation, the temptation of giving into despair would have been too overwhelming. Indeed, this new Apostle, teeming with enthusiasm and fervor, had to be trained to see through short term sacrifices in order to lay hold of the long term gain of saving souls.

It is important to keep in mind that enthusiasm and fervor alone is never enough for perseverance. Such feeling and inner conviction are no match for the uncertainties, opposition, or even the dangers in carrying out God's work. Surprisingly, the preparation which God uses for such a work is often uneventful and quiet. Here, I refer to the simple but painful act of waiting on the Lord. It is in this that faith, hope and love are perfected. It is in this that great Saints are made. And to be sure, St. Paul was no exception.

Before the torrent of St. Paul's preaching was to be released into the ancient world, this newly ordained minister of the Word had to wait in silence. Shortly after his baptism, St. Paul had visited the Church in Jerusalem only to have become the source of commotion and a object of hatred. The Hellenists (those who adapted to Greek culture) wanted to kill him and worse yet, the Christians in Jerusalem did not trust him yet. As a result, a short time after he began his mission, the Apostles sent him home, back to Tarsus. Few people know that St. Paul had to wait a long four to five years until St. Barnabas came looking for him.

For a zealous man like St. Paul, waiting on the Lord was no easy feat. "But God is a great King, and kings often expect others to wait for them."

Second post:

Scripture is full of waiting: "I waited, waited for the LORD; who bent down and heard my cry." (Psalm 40:2) "Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14)

St. Padre Pio once said that waiting on the Lord is like being in an interior room of a ship out at sea. You can feel the ship rocking from side to side; but because the room does not have any windows, it seems the ship is far from its destination. Indeed, the ship seems to be going nowhere. In reality, however, the ship is traveling many miles a day. Likewise, waiting on the Lord can feel like you are losing ground, but in reality the soul makes much progress during this time. The Lord has been known to do his greatest work when things look dormant or when all seems lost. Beneath the surface, Divine Providence is merely getting things ready: "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds." (Sirach 35:17-18) Just as important, as we wait and trust in the Lord on a day to day basis, he builds-up the soul from within.

For St. Paul, it is probable that the Apostles did not give any indication as to when they would commission him to preach the Gospel. In obedience to them, St. Paul had to wait for their permission to resume his ministry. God leaves us in periods uncertainty for his divine purposes. Perhaps, this is part of what makes the Dark Night of the Soul so difficult.

Recall another familiar story: the exile of the Holy Family into Egypt. In order to escape the wrath of Herod, St. Joseph was told by an angel of the Lord to flee with the baby Jesus and his mother to Egypt. St. Joseph was simply told by the angel to stay there until he was told to leave. There was no indication as to how long they would have to stay. A short meditation of this episode will bring to our attention how difficult that must have been! Taking refuge in a foreign land amidst a foreign people for safety is one thing; but to do so without knowing how for how long is a real test of faith. The same could be said of St. Paul. He was told to wait in Tarsus until the Apostles said otherwise. That could have been interpreted to mean one week, a month or several years.

It was during these years of apparent inactivity that the fortitude, spirituality, and theology of St. Paul were developed. Receiving the vision of the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus was a miraculous, supernatural intervention. Although it was enough to convert him, it did not serve to prepare him for his apostolate. Evidently, God chose a more ordinary means of getting St. Paul ready for his mission; and that was to wait on the Lord in silence, fasting, and prayer.

Through solitude and stillness, the Lord trained St. Paul to rely less on his senses and more on his faith. In order to live in hope when things look hopeless or to even press forward in difficult conditions, the believer, like St. Paul, must grow accustomed to seeing the world differently. He must peer beneath the surface with the eyes of faith, trusting that what appears to be fruitless or evil, can be beneficial for God's purposes. If there is a law that runs through great enterprises, achievements and missions it is that they are more often than not marked by contradictions and suffering. Too many people are quick to dismiss failures and setbacks as having little to no value when in fact it just may be what Christ had willed.

Third post:

Waiting on the Lord provides yet another lesson; and that is to teach the believer that true and lasting good comes from God himself. It is not so much what we say or what we do that makes this world a better place, it is what God does with what we say and what we do which really counts. For St. Paul, it was but a natural impulse to want to immediately share the "good news" he had received from the Risen Lord. But before the Apostle did act, the Lord wanted to impress upon this new convert a critical lesson: "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build." (Psalm 127) No matter how good or how eloquent the Ambassador of Christ would prove to be in proclaiming Christ-crucified, such gifts would be useless if the Lord did not use them.

Lastly, waiting on the Lord served to purge the Apostle of a subtle temptation all too common among the workers of the Vineyard: the temptation to love the work of God more than God Himself. How many followers of Christ- Christians who sincerely want to advance the kingdom of God -end up becoming too preoccupied with the mission while our personal spirituality suffers neglect? We may get too busy for prayer; we may enjoy the success of a mission with the result of becoming complacent; or the disciple of Christ may attribute the fruits of his labor to himself. To help us avoid these pitfalls and illusions so fatal to the work of God, Jesus allows us to wait on him while some petition seemingly goes unanswered. While we endure the "silence of God," the opportunity to affirm and reaffirm our love for the Lord is invaluable! It not only strengthens and validates our relationship with Christ, but it gives the Christian credibility. We know that God listens to those who are willing to forsake all for him, including the very work he has called us to.

That's right! It is the ironies of ironies that the Lord calls his servants to renounce (that is, the willingness to give up some work for his glory if necessary) the very mission he calls us to. This is what makes the period of waiting exceedingly difficult. God first provides the inspiration for a mission but then he permits delays and setbacks. From the days of Noah to the Christian era, this means of testing was frequently used.

For St. Paul, the Risen Lord provided him the inspiration to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. After his baptism, he was able to act on that inspiration...but just for a short period of time. Unexpectedly, just when St. Paul was ready to join the Apostles to begin a new vocation, he was told to sit down and wait. In other words, he had to die to the very mission God had called him to fulfill just as Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the male heir God had promised from whose loins the nation of Israel would proceed).

After each day that passed in Tarsus, the Lord seemed to be asking St. Paul the very question he asked St. Peter: "Do you love me more than these?" That is, do you love me more than the mission I have called you to? With the fervor to proclaim the Good News burning in his soul, St. Paul had to reaffirm his love for the Lord as the highest and the most unrivaled of his loves.

For every Christian who seeks to work on God's behalf, there are two competing loves: The love for God versus the love for God's work. To be a channel of God's grace and an Apostle of his Good News, the latter must be totally subordinated to the former. This right ordering of the two loves can be a painful process. But it is one that is absolutely necessary to glorify God.

Waiting on the Lord in Tarsus played no small role in preparing St. Paul for his mission. More importantly, it prepared his soul for heaven. As such, he could say at the end of his life, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Return to Moral Leadership

Return to Moral Leadership:
New Catholic Liturgy teaches valuable political lessons

The following post is an article featured in the June edition of the Reflections column at The Edmund Burke Institute website:

In recent years, Americans have become increasingly disillusioned with their political leaders. In April 2011, a CBS/New York Times poll showed a 16 percent approval rating and 75 percent disapproval rating for Congress. President Barack Obama's ratings are not faring much better; at least for a sitting U.S. President at this juncture. It is news to no one in America that moral leadership is in short supply today; but how is it to be restored?

The truth may be surprising. After several decades of our society relegating religion to the private sphere, the average person would be hard pressed to see that the Catholic Liturgy (or Mass) has any relevance to political leadership. But it does; albeit indirectly.

The new translation of the Catholic Mass is due to be implemented in Catholic churches throughout the world this Advent in 2011. In short, it is an attempt to reflect more accurately the founding principles of Christianity. Indeed, more expressions from Scripture and the writings of the early Christians will be used. Pope Benedict XVI said that the Church stands and falls with the liturgy. Moreover, “when the faith no longer appears in its fullness in the Liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, then faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells.” Unfortunately, in the late 1960s going into the 1970s, that fullness of faith had diminished somewhat with the translation of the Mass from Latin into the vernacular. The new translation, due to be published in late 2011, is a return to that fullness of faith which the Liturgy has traditionally expressed.

For example, during the Mass when Catholics make a profession of faith by reciting the Nicene Creed, instead of professing “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” etc., the new translation has them saying, “I believer in one God, the Father of Almighty…” This suggests that salvation is not so much a “collective” obligation of the community, as some proponents of socialism might have us believe, as it is an obligation of the individual believer.

The priest, the spiritual leader of the parish, is also cast in a new light. He first greets those who are assembled by saying, “The Lord be with you.” The response by the faithful is currently worded: “And also with you.” The new translation of the Mass, however, bids us to look at the priest from a more traditional vantage point. It recovers the Jewish and early Christian context in the following Semitic response: “And with your spirit.” “Spirit,” in this expression, does not reference the human spirit of the priest but rather the Holy Spirit who dwells in the priest. At his ordination, the Holy Spirit endows the priest with spiritual leadership. Here the congregation acknowledges the priest as the speaker under whose leadership they will approach almighty God.

From participating in the Liturgy where faith is strengthened, the Christian is then sent into the world by the priest with the words from the new translation: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” After having been enlightened by the Word and fed at the altar, Catholics are called to make their faith publicly known; to inform the social and political order with the Gospel of Life.

Christianity’s founding principles of the Apostolic and Patristic era inspired great leaders over the centuries. In recent years, there has been a movement to unearth and apply these principles more fully due to their perennial value. And to be sure, it has paid off.

New priests coming out of seminaries are more traditional and socially-conservative than their older counterparts. In a survey that was conducted in 2011 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, it was found that 70 percent of new priests prayed the Rosary and 65 percent took part in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary. More of the younger priests agree with all that the Church teaches as opposed to their predecessors, according to a report by the National Institute for the Renewal of Younger Priests, also featured in the Los Angeles Times by staff writer Teresa Watanbe. And finally, another survey found that more priests are coming from traditional backgrounds. “Seventy-seven percent of the new priests come from families with three or more children. In fact, 37% come from families with five or more children,” according to the report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University-based research center. Therefore, with each younger generation, the Catholic Church is harvesting solid leaders who are inspired by principles and are driven by purpose. The new translation of the Liturgy for Catholics as a whole is but a continuation of what has already begun in seminaries for the Church’s leaders.

In secular society, however, studies are showing that younger generations or tomorrow’s political leaders are more liberal—especially on the social and political issues. If the recent development within the Catholic Church is a template of renewal, it suggests that returning to the founding principles of any institution or nation is the key to its success. Conservative America can learn something here; especially if they want to meet the challenge of moral decay and insipid leadership in the coming years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Church and the Cinema: What used to be

Reposting for new Sky View readers. This is the most read Sky View post to date.

A people who, in time of repose, give themselves to diversions which violate decency, honor, or morality, to recreations which, especially to the young, constitute occasions of sin, are in grave danger of losing their greatness and even their national power…

…there does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema…[it] teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning…

Pope Pius XI, On the Cinema 1936

But we may ask ourselves- do people go to the cinema or to church? Does not the cinema take the place that was formerly occupied by church and chapel? Has not Hollywood got a distinct ethic of its own which influences the minds of its audiences? Is this ethic in any sense Christian?

Christopher Dawson, Religion and Modern State 1935

Legion of Decency:

The historic role the Catholic Church has played over the centuries in favor of freedom was that she mediated between the State and the citizen. By her moral influence, she restrained the overreaching power of civil authority from encroaching on the rights of citizens and those who could not defend themselves. With the same moral authority, the Church exercised a commanding influence on Hollywood during the twentieth century. The Legion of Decency, founded in 1933 by Archbishop of Cincinnati John T. McNicholas, was an organization behind this influence by opposing immoral or irreverent content.

Pius XI: On the Cinema:

In fact, Pope Pius XI in 1936, in his encyclical On the Cinema, commended the U.S. Bishops for holding, not only Hollywood, but Catholics to account with regard to watching objectionable movies. He wrote, “Your leadership called forth the prompt and devoted loyalty of your faithful people, and millions of American Catholics signed the pledge of the ‘Legion of Decency’ binding themselves not to attend any motion picture which was offensive to Catholic moral principles or proper standards of living.” It was even requested by the U.S. Bishops on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1938 that the pledge be taken by the faithful. The pledge was administered on an annual basis for several years.

The Pledge of Catholics:

It reads as follows: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. I condemn all indecent and immoral motion pictures, and those which glorify crime or criminals. I promise to do all that I can to strengthen public opinion against the production of indecent and immoral films, and to unite with all who protest against them. I acknowledge my obligation to form a right conscience about pictures that are dangerous to my moral life. I pledge myself to remain away from them. I promise, further, to stay away altogether from places of amusement which show them as a matter of policy.”

A Sign of Contradiction:

Pope Pius XI went on to say in his encyclical that it is the duty of the Bishops of the entire Catholic world “to unite in vigilance over this universal and potent form of entertainment and instruction…combating whatever contributes to the lessening of the people's sense of decency and of honor.” Standing as a “sign of contradiction,” the Church was instrumental in tempering the lewd and violent content which would characterize movies in the latter part of the twentieth century. The leaders of the Church, including the pope, found it necessary to take Hollywood to task when circumstances required it.

The hierarchy of the Church understood well the powerful influence of the cinema. As Pius XI said, “There does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema…[it] teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning…” In other words, more than education itself, movies and eventually television could, with great success, form minds and hearts; as such, it played a decisive role in shaping a nation’s character.

Pius XI argued why this was the case. He said, “The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue. In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures.” Indeed, the pope probably understood what many in Hollywood had yet to discover: Like universal education, the cinema, and later television, had the potential to inspire virtue and noble ideals among the people or it could promote sin and immorality. It's influence would be profound!

It Worked:

What might surprise many today is that this vigilance exercised by the Legion of Decency and their willingness to hold film makers to account actually worked! From the late 1930’s to the mid 1960’s, Hollywood produced many films favorable to the Catholic Faith. What is more, the glorification of sexual promiscuity, alternative families and violence were kept to a minimum. But with the dissolution of the Legion in the mid-sixties (officially ending in the 1970’s), and without the check and balance it provided, Hollywood’s departure from Christian values was rapid and decisive. Movies began to promote, like never before, the values of the Sexual Revolution. To make a long story short, it followed that the culture of Hollywood helped advance, to a great extent, the Culture of Death. In the meantime, the Church’s influence over society had begun decline.

Rethinking Pastoral Practices:

No doubt, the Catholic approach to modern day problems needs to involve a positive and affirmative approach when warranted. But to rely exclusively on a positive and affirmative approach not only has failed to produce favorable results, but more importantly, it is a significant departure from the example set by Christ, the Apostles, the Church Fathers and the Saints. The effective proclamation of the Gospel for centuries affirmed the good and opposed evil. As for the latter, St. Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a “Sign of Contradiction,” causing many to rise and many to fall. Our Lord would later say that his disciples are not above their Master. Indeed, if the world hated him for opposing its ways then they would hate his disciples for doing the same.

Just when Hollywood needed the guidance and reproof the most (beginning in the late 1960’s), Catholics deemed it necessary to drop their traditional safeguards against the forces of evil; two of which were the vigilance and scrutiny the U.S. Bishops exercised with film-making and the pledge against immoral movies recited by Catholics. There is an important lesson in this for the Church: The preaching of the Gospel and saving souls involves a kind of exorcism of evil. We cannot bring about the former without the latter. As St. Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, we are an aroma of Christ for those who are being saved and an odor of death for those who are perishing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

St. Joseph and God's Sword of Conflict

The following blog is a re-post from March of 2011. Being that it still receives several hits a week, I wanted to re-post it for new readers.

It is not uncommon for God to frontload missions and great enterprises with adversity. St. Joseph was certainly no exception.

In the book of Sirach, it reads: “My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity.” (Sirach 2:1-2) To expect anything less is to run the risk of being scandalized by the Cross when it is imposed upon our shoulders. What we sometimes take for failure can often be the very thing needed to bring about the success God wills.

The Lord Jesus gave his disciples sufficient indication of this through parables, instruction, and personal example. Just before taking our sins to the Cross, our Lord told the Apostles, “He [the Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” The Benedictines has a saying for this: “Pruned, and it grows again.”

Have you ever wondered why, after appearing to the Blessed Virgin to announce the coming of Christ, the angel Gabriel did not immediately appear to St. Joseph in order to inform him that the Messiah would be conceived of the Holy Spirit; that God would make it possible for Mary to be both virgin and mother?

Instead, there was an interim period of misunderstanding and anguish on the part of St. Joseph. God could have prevented this misunderstanding but he chose not to. And the reason he chose not to was due to some moral and spiritual benefit St. Joseph would gain. Certainly, a lot of tears could have been spared; but often tears can be every bit as redemptive as the blood of martyrs which, as the early Christian adage goes, is the “seed of the Church.”

In his temporary emotional estrangement, St. Joseph, when having the wrong impression about his betrothed, had to rely on God. Indeed, during this short period of time not even the Mother of God could help him because, after all, she was the object of his suspicion and doubt. Alone he stood, confounded over God’s plan.

Little did St. Joseph know that the first moment of our Lord’s conception was not accompanied with peace but a sword; a sword that would test the holiest of relationships; namely, his parents. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This refining sword would even fall between Jesus and his parents some twelve years later in the Temple. Even then, Jesus could have prevented the three days of agony his parents were to endure in searching for him; nevertheless, he permitted the trial knowing full well that his holy Mother would not appreciate it. Our Lord shows us that the very mission we are called to carry out sometimes is the cause of pain to those we love.

It is conventional wisdom or should I say, “prudence of the flesh,” which makes harmony and peace an absolute. In our day, even among Christians, truth and fidelity to God’s law is sacrificed at the altar of “keeping the peace.” The absence of conflict is the kind of peace the world claims to give; but it is not the peace Christ offers us.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” But we know this peace is not without a sword because he also said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Indeed, doing God’s will is often an occasion of unwanted conflict. As much as we try to minimize it, people we care about the most will sometimes be offended by the witness we give. Nevertheless, we press forward and do the will of God anyways!

Although it was for a short period of time, St. Joseph had to learn the discipline of putting God first; even before the Blessed Virgin- his friend and spouse. The irony is that the sword of trial and purification came between him and the woman he was called to serve and protect. Before he could benefit from the most blessed of friendships under heaven, St. Joseph- like Abraham who was called to sacrifice his son, Isaac -was given the opportunity to renounce, out of love for God’s justice, the person he loved and respected.

From this discord between St. Joseph and Mary, a better man would emerge. As such, he would be better prepared for even greater trials in the future. God's sword of conflict pruned and refined one of the greatest men to ever have lived.

The Monastery: A Lighthouse for Civilization and the Church

Oh! Many may think this is a boring topic; one that may interest historians and theologians only. But before you dismiss that which concerns academia only, the history of monasticism has everything to do with Christian society and the vitality of the Catholic Church.

You see, throughout the two-thousand years of the Church’s history, great missions and great achievements came from monasteries. That’s right. From the quiet of spiritual solitude, the contemplation of God’s Word, the practice of self denial and the quest to glorify God, emerged a great spiritual and cultural creativity and productivity. The result was a public recognition of human dignity and a better understanding of the universe.

When holy men and women set out to lose their lives in the depth of Christ’s mysteries, they ended up finding it in a much better condition than when they first lost it. The fruit of monasticism does not only benefit the monsastics themselves but for society at large. Contrary to what Marx and Lenin propagated throughout the modern world, to be heavenly minded is to maximize the fruits of this earth. Indeed, the fruits of this quest were expressed in educating the illiterate, developing new agricultural methods which yielded more crops, the making of representative government whereby individual liberty and the common good were balanced. Moreover, free enterprise, charities and humanitarian enterprises emerged to serve the needy. Finally, we cannot forget the scientific progress which was sparked during the monastic period.

Pope Leo XIII put it this way: "The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life."

Something to consider: Under ancient paganism, God’s creation was unfortunately an object of pagan worship. As St. Paul said, they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.” Therefore, to study and scrutinize those things that were worshipped constituted a sacrilege. As a result, science for thousands of years had stagnated; it was not even deemed possible. Parallel to this ancient phenomenon is modern day environmentalism and socialism. I’m afraid if Western civilization is not Christianized with a sense of urgency- if the soul is not saved -we will continue to witness cultural stagnation and even regression. After all, it was Christianity that invented the very idea of “progress” under the auspices of monasticism.

Time and time again the Catholic Church herself had benefited from monastics such as St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony the Great, St. Benedict, St. Patrick, Pope St. Gregory the Great, Pope St. Gregory VII, St. Boniface, St. Francis, St. Clare, Pope St. Pius V, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese the Little Flower. From the mountain of spiritual solitude came forth rivers of life, renewal and innovation. The monastery, convent and friary were lighthouses of society and spiritual vigor for the Church. When Christians were spiritually lethargic, when the pastoral practices of bishops and priests needed reform, and when the Mystical Body of Christ was not showing forth the fullness of her splendor, saintly men and women from monastic backgrounds- those who knew the discipline of prayer –stepped up and pointed everyone in the right direction; that is, towards Christ and towards heaven.

With that said, when their chants of continual praise to the Lord are quieted as they have been during the twentieth and the early part of the twenty-first century, then the noise of the world takes precedence. God’s voice does not echo as vibrantly throughout the land.

For instance, St. Francis of Assisi recounted a story to his brother friars one day. He said while walking through town he saw a demon here and a demon there. But when he visited a monastery, he saw a multitude of demons gathering around these monks; concentrating all their efforts on the very thing that breaks up their company and sends them back to hell. And what is that, precisely? Their ongoing prayers, adoration, meditations, asceticism, the practice of virtues, study, fellowship and the Sacrifice of the Altar. This monastic quest for Christ is the biggest nemesis of hell and the culture of death. Indeed, in times past, monasteries can be likened to the infusion of new life in the Church and they further served as tabernacles for society at large. To be sure, it obstructed the Evil One's designs every bit as much as it glorified God.

Let’s pray for its resurgence and hold the religious life in high esteem by promoting it to youth so that our civilization will belong more fully to Christ. And remember, what the tabernacle is to the sanctuary of a church, monasteries are to society. They really are that important!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Separating the Faithful from the Unfaithful II

Mediocrity and compromise characterize the lives of many Christians. Many read the same novels as modern pagans, educate their children in the same godless way, listen to the same commentators who have no other standard than judging today by yesterday and tomorrow by today, allow pagan practices such as divorce and remarriage to creep into the family…

There is no longer any conflict and opposition which is supposed to characterize us. We are influencing the world less than the world is influencing us.

Bishop Fulton Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West


Not all unity is good:

The prevailing tendency among many Christians today is pursue unity and harmony at all costs. Anything which contradicts or undermines this pursuit is deemed to be unchristian. However, the Catholic Church never set this up as an end in itself. Unity, as taught by the Church, is consequence of our communion with Christ under the Fatherhood of God. Without this communion, real unity- the kind that benefits mankind –is impossible. What is too often overlooked is that unity is dependent upon Christ’s mission to divide; that is, separate the dividers (worldly Christians who dissent) from those who unite (faithful Christians who obey). He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Matthew 10:34) The ultimate purpose of his sword is to divide and separate the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful. (Matthew 25) To the extent the sheep are set apart from the goats the unity among the sheep is strengthened and made visible.

In the end, every soul will either belong to heaven or hell. The path to these two eternal destinations finds its beginning in our earthly lives. Indeed, when the people of God are distinct and set apart from the people of world, these two paths are more clearly discerned. To repeat what our Lord said to his disciples: “I have chosen you out of the world.” This divine calling of being set apart is traced out in the Old Testament but is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Biblical background of separating good from evil:

Throughout biblical history, God frowned upon the indiscriminate unity of good and evil. The reason for this was due to the fact that goodness and truth always suffered loss when intermingled with evil and falsehood.

In the previous post we started with the separation of light (angels) and darkness (fallen angels) on the first day of creation. This separation was to anticipate the last day of the world when the children of light and the children of darkness were to be separated on Judgment Day. This sword of division was not only put to the angels; no, its divisive effect was also applied to humanity. After Adam and Eve disobeyed the divine command in Paradise, the Lord cast them out signifying the separation between his holiness and sinful humanity. And this disobedience, from within the human family, would pit brother against brother and tribe against tribe.

Still, the rupture between God and man was not yet complete. The first-born son Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was the patriarch of the unfaithful- of those people who turned their back on God. And Seth, the God-fearing man and the third-born son who replaced Abel, was the one who inherited God’s blessing. The descendants of Cain were known as the “Daughters of Men” and the descendants of Seth were known as the “Sons of God.” In Genesis 6, the Sons of God, the Lord’s chosen, married into the godless race of Cain. This intermarriage and indiscriminate mingling of the good and the evil was an occasion for widespread moral corruption. With this, the Lord punished the human race by not only flooding the earth but by withdrawing his Spirit.

Then in Genesis chapter 11, the human race, speaking one language at the time, decided to initiate a great enterprise by constructing the Tower of Babel. Noteworthy, however, was the command given to Noah’s family immediately after exiting the ark to be fruitful and multiply and to “fill the earth.” Instead, the descendants of Noah united in one central location in order to make a name for themselves by building the tower. Evidently, God did not look kindly on this enterprise. In fact, he intervened so as to disperse it. Perhaps the following passage from the Canticle of Mary in the Gospel of Luke was a reference to this historic intervention by God: “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.” (1:51) The Tower of Babel was one story out of many in the bible that illustrated God’s displeasure with an indiscriminate unity of the good and the bad, the faithful and the unfaithful.

After the calling of Abraham and the founding of the nation of Israel by Moses, the people of God would have to learn this lesson over and over again. In fact, the fall of King Solomon and the impending collapse of the Kingdom of Israel was due to him marrying hundreds of wives from foreign nations; most of whom worshiped pagan gods. To accommodate them, he ended up building temples to these gods. Throughout the centuries up to the time of Christ the kings of Judah and Israel (originally one nation) struggled mightily with the sin of that wrong kind of unity- the unity of the believers in Yahweh with the people of pagan religions. When the Jews and their leaders failed to set themselves apart from their pagan neighbors they invariably fell into idolatry. The world was all the more under the shadow of death.

The cause of unity: separating the faithful from the unfaithful

Although the New Covenant Church under Christ, that is, the Catholic Church, is universal in nature; although it is international in that it excludes no nation, race or class of people, her unity and oneness, nevertheless, is best expressed when the fidelity to all of Christ’s teachings is a condition of belonging to the Church. The insistence by the Catholic hierarchy of the Church that all Catholics be totally faithful to Jesus Christ has been the general standard in the last two millennia. If this fidelity is absent and if infidelity is tolerated, then St. Paul’s mandate to be “one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” is all but impossible. This can only be achieved by a unity of faithful believers in Creed and observers of divine law. To repeat, the knowledge between God and the devil, between good and evil, between happiness and misery, will prevail as long as that line which distinguished the faithful from the unfaithful was clearly established.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Separating the Faithful from the Unfaithful

Our Lord intended that His followers should be different in spirit from those who were not His followers. ‘I have taken you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.’ (John 15:19) Though this is the Divine Intent, it is unfortunately true that the line of demarcation between the followers of Christ and those who are not is often blotted out. Instead of black and white, there is only a blur.

-Bishop Fulton Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West


Study after study has demonstrated that the behavior of those who identify themselves as Catholic are really not that much different than non-Catholics. For instance, a poll taken in 2005 by Harris Interactive found that 90 percent of Catholics practice contraception. And according to Reuters, Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church. These statistics may be a little on the high side but they do demonstrate one indisputable truth: The distinction between believers and unbelievers has been blotted out. This has not always been the case. Historically, not only the religious beliefs and practices of Christians set them apart from those of the world, but it was their sexual virtues of chastity and purity that bore witness to Christ’s holiness. There used to exist- at least with more clarity –a line of division and a mark of distinction which set the people of God apart from the world.

The Church’s Mission of Division:

The Church’s mission is to preach the Gospel and prepare souls for eternity. An important part of the ministry of preparation is that the Catholic Church symbolize and anticipate the society of heaven; better known as the kingdom of heaven or the communion of Saints. Salvation, however, is not forced on anyone. In this life each soul has two eternal destinations from which to choose: one with God (heaven) and one without him (hell). It is by no means true that heaven exclusively belongs to card carrying members of the Church; neither is it true that hell exclusively the destiny of non-Catholics of the world. Nevertheless, for two thousand years the Church has symbolized for Christians their heavenly country and the world, taken from its biblical context, prefigured hell; a world without God. St. Augustine referred to these two communities as the City of God and the City of Man. To the degree that the Church inspires her leaders and members to possess a world-renouncing holiness, to that degree will the Church symbolize the Communion of Saints in heaven in contradistinction to the world of spiritual darkness.

The line between the City of God and the City of Man has not been as self-evident in recent decades as it used to. When the line is blurred humanity suffers all the more because of it. And although highlighting this division between these two cities runs counter to what is considered to be socially appropriate discourse among Christians, the necessity of this division remains. St. James said, “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (4:4) The Apostle echoed what our Lord himself said just years earlier: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

Every person baptized into the mysteries of Christ is chosen “out of the world” because Satan, as far as our Lord is concerned, is its ruler. A true follower of Christ, therefore, possesses a two-fold mission. He bears witness to God’s kingdom and in doing so becomes a “sign of contradiction” to the ways of the world. As St. Paul said in no uncertain terms: “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)

God’s Mission of Division in Scripture:

This division between the Church and the world did not start with the public ministry of Jesus. To be sure, the first day of creation prophetically anticipated the last day of the world when the sheep (the saved) are to be separated from the goats (unsaved). In the book of Genesis it says that in the beginning God created light. “God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness.” St. Augustine said that this light refers to the angels and darkness, the fallen angels. It was on that day that the angels in heaven and the fallen angels in hell were separated. It was on that day that God drew the line in the sand separating those spirits who loved him apart from those who did not.

Throughout world history the knowledge between God and the devil, between good and evil, between happiness and misery, would prevail as long as that line which distinguished the faithful from the unfaithful was clearly established.

Immediately following their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden where their perfect communion and happiness with God was enjoyed. Upon incurring guilt through sin, the Lord separated the first man and the first woman from Paradise. What began with the division of angels from the fallen angels on the first day, that is, when God separated “light” from “darkness," eventually found its way into the human race. This divine mandate of separation would press forward through the ages.

More on this divine mandate of separation on the next post.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Conservatives and Same-Sex Marriage

The following post was published on The Edmund Burke Institute website in the June edition of the Reflections column.

There is a disturbing trend among conservatives both in politics and in the media. Not an insignificant number of them are softening up on same-sex marriage. Some deny the importance altogether like Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and others affirm the importance of it but do not believe it to be a higher priority than the economy like 2008 presidential candidate Michael Huckabee. Gretchen Carlson, host of Fox and Friends, has said that homosexuality is not immoral. Sean Hannity insists that he doesn’t care what couples- heterosexual or homosexual –do in the privacy of their bedrooms. There is, of course, Bill O’Reilly who wavers on the subject but nevertheless maintains that it is permissible that same-sex couples have the right to adopt. And in recent years, Rush Limbaugh has been more subdued on the subject.

A Fox News article, confirmed that there is a cultural shift in favor of same-sex marriage. The article cited a Pew Research Center Poll which found that “Americans were opposed to gay marriage by nearly 2-1 a decade ago, while the latest poll showed 45 percent in support of it, with 46 percent in opposition.” The point is that Americans are not the only ones relaxing their moral standards on this issue. Conservatives are also being influenced by socially liberal values. I’m afraid that fewer of them see the close relationship between the Christian meaning of marriage and the freedoms they seek to defend.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century most Westerners instinctively understood that the sanctity of marriage and the nuclear family were the bedrock of civilization. Pope Leo XIII gave voice to this fundamental truth when he said the following:

“The family may be regarded as the cradle of civil society, and it is in great measure within the circle of family life that the destiny of the States is fostered…If in their early years they find within the walls of their homes the rule of an upright life and the discipline of Christian virtues, the future welfare of society will in great measure be guaranteed.” (On Christians as Citizens, 1890)

This truth of civil society is not apparent as it once was. In the political world where not only the commitment to a party’s agenda is expected but loyalty to fellow party members is a sacred duty, it is a predictable occurrence that religious and moral principles get compromised for the sake of fellowship. This is especially the case when so many politicians have family members, friends or colleagues who are practicing homosexuals. Under these circumstances promoting Gospel values as it pertains to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage comes across to many as being judgmental. As such, many conservatives take what they imagine to be the high road by being “non-judgmental.” Indeed, if some fellow party members are practicing homosexuals then there is a temptation to withhold judgment on the lifestyle itself. Nevertheless, any position or strategy based on whether a minority or majority of colleagues favors the same-sex lifestyle makes for a poor moral foundation. As St. Paul said, “[W]hen they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (II Corinthians 10:12)

Section II of post:

Conservatives put a high premium on free enterprise, liberty, progress and national security as I do. But they undermine their attempt to save these things by compromising on social values; most especially with regard to marriage between a man and a woman. In centuries past, the relationship between the institution of marriage as defined between a man and a woman and the welfare of the State was a self-evident truth. This is not the case anymore; even among those conservatives who want to safeguard the founding principles of this nation. However, the Constitutional principles which have occasioned free enterprise, liberty and progress in America rest upon Christian morality. The famous passage from George Washington’s farewell address in 1796 makes an indirect but unmistakable reference to Christian morality’s ties to political prosperity. He said, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

Approximately forty years later Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, said that the surest pledge of liberty is morality. There should be no doubt that the sanctity of marriage was understood by the Christian churches in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as being between a man and a woman. Furthermore, its relationship with the welfare of the State was taken for granted by the people of this time period. Due to their Christian education, they more easily perceived the big picture of life; that is, the unity of religion, morality and politics. Twenty-first century conservatives, however, are compartmentalizing Christian morality apart from political prosperity; that is, fewer of them appreciate that “Religion and Morality are indispensible supports” for civil liberties, balanced budgets and national security.

Suffice it to say that a wise and loving governance of children by two parents in the home is but the precursor for a wise and just governance of citizens by the State. Those who rule and those who are ruled come from one kind of family or another. Children who become citizens, who then become politicians, learn their philosophy of governance primarily at home and secondarily at school. In many respects, the family is the laboratory for government. Under the parental authority of a mother and father, love and justice work together for the welfare of the child. As a rule, the parental power to rule is never divorced from the love and the best interests of the child. Although the right of civil authority to rule comes from God and is delegated by the people, it is true nevertheless that civil authority borrows its force and character from parental authority. To be sure, parental authority is the tutor of civil authority. A child who knows not the affection of a mother and the discipline of a father will struggle to find the right balance in governing as a representative of the State.

All this presupposes one fact: same-sex couples cannot provide the balance of mercy and justice, love and authority, stability and longevity that a heterosexual couple can provide. If you doubt this presupposition there is not short supply of studies which have demonstrated the inherent instability of same-sex unions. There is overwhelming evidence that promiscuity, violence and short-lived relationships are common traits in this demographic.

We need not content ourselves with mere studies and statistics; Scripture is today, as any time in the past, a reliable source of truth. Man and woman were created in the image of God to complement each other; to become as one. The union of male and female not only benefits the two spouses but the child as well. The child comes to know him or herself, the world and God himself through this image. It is the lens through which reality is grasped. If this image is distorted then the child’s perception of reality will be distorted. Every person should know that the clarity or distortion of this image has political implications. When parental governance is unnatural or inherently dysfunctional as is often the case with same-sex unions, then this translates into an unnatural or oppressive governance by the State

If conservatives want political prosperity, as I know they do, then they must begin by safeguarding the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Political endeavors to retain and advance Constitutional principles in our country will prove futile if parental authority, second only to divine authority, is not publicly acknowledged in its biblical context.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting the Politicians We Deserve

Bishop Fulton Sheen, author of Communism and the Conscience of the West, once wrote, “A nation always gets the kind of politicians it deserves. When our moral standards are different, our legislation will be different.” He goes on to say that as long as the citizenry fails to appreciate the significance of morality in every sphere of human activity, including the political, they will not meet the challenge of Marxism. But today in U.S. politics there is a failure to appreciate a profound connection between the social values politicians embrace and their competence to govern. The city of Detroit, for example, is a paragon of failed leadership resulting from a disconnect between the moral values of the politician and the policies he legislates.

In one decade the city of Detroit has lost 25 percent of its population. Detroit residents dropped from 951,270 in 2000 to 713,777 in 2010. And according to the Associated Press, “Nearly 60 schools have been closed, and 30 more face the same fate this year.” And classrooms are projected to average around 60 students. During the same decade, studies show the graduate rate at 42 percent. Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan referred to Detroit schools as “ground zero” for education.

To repeat, the city of Detroit is a paragon of failed leadership. To be sure, the political and educational crisis in Detroit results from a disconnect between the morality of politicians and the policies they implement. When Christian morality is weak among civil leaders, the principles of Marxism and big government programs are advanced all the more. Until the gap is closed between Christian morality and policy-making, Detroit’s problems will continue.

This is worth repeating because the city of Detroit is a sample of what America may be tomorrow. On the national level, fewer and fewer U.S. politicians are representing Gospel values and the founding principle that small and local government is preferable to an all-powerful State.

There is an increasing concern and frustration among Christians that key issues for our nation’s survival are not being dealt with in a forthright and expedient manner. There is a firm resolve to advance a secular-liberal agenda among many U.S. congressmen on Capitol Hill . But those politicians representing Christian values are- more often than not -burdened with trepidation and second-guessing. Indeed, for whatever reason, these elected officials are deferential to the media and their political opponents; many times showing a lack of courage.

The reason for the disconnect between the moral values of politicians and the policies they legislate can found in the hearts and minds of American citizens. In most public schools, sad to say, there is an absence of religious and civic education where the connection is made between moral standards and politics. Certainly, we cannot expect State-run schools to make this connection. After all, the source where this connection is be learned, namely, the contents of Divine Relevation, is prohibited in public education. Therefore, the Catholic Church must take up this task and somehow compensate for this lack of Christian education. No doubt, the Church has to demonstrate this connection for the public or, as Bishop Sheen indicated, America will continue get the kind of politicians it deserves. As such, meeting the challenge of Marxism will be exceedingly difficult.

Monday, May 9, 2011

God's Answer to World Revolution

God's Answer to World Revolution was originally posted in May of 2010. If you wish to read the second and the third blog, go to the pages section in the righthand column (at the bottom) and click on God's Answer to World Revolution II.

In 1917, when our Lady paid three children a visit in Fatima, Portugal, she brought eternity with her. Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco were privileged to experience, in a profound way, heaven and hell. The children’s foretaste of heaven and the glimpse of hell has a great deal of historical significance, considering that Western Civilization had already begun to close in on itself. Indeed, modern man had ceased to see his life within the backdrop of eternity. In part, this was due to great technological achievements and its consequent prosperity. Of course, when conditions are comfortable it is harder to see life as a pilgrimage to heaven.

Just one month after Our Lady appeared in Fatima on May 13th, 1917 Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical entitled, On the Preaching the Word. In this encyclical he made the following observation: If people honestly considered “the state of public and private morals, the constitutions and laws of nations, we shall find that there is a general disregard and forgetfulness of the supernatural, a gradual falling away from the strict standard of Christian virtue, and that men are slipping back more and more into the shameful practices of paganism.” Indeed, in 1917 there was a lot of soul searching among Christians and Westerners. After all, World War I was still raging and the Russian Revolution was just getting underway.

What led up to this new chapter in world history? For one, Christian civilization had gradually been chipped away over four centuries. The Protestant Reformation in 1517, the French Revolution in 1789, and the revolt of many European States against the Catholic Church, i.e. the annexation of the Papal States (territory belonging to the Holy See) by Italian nationalism, were just a few historic turning points in which the Western world declared its independence from God. This movement away from the Christian religion then culminated in the twentieth-century with World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the Holocaust, and the Sexual Revolution.

At the onset of these unfortunate events in the twentieth-century, we find Pope Benedict XV, in so many words, asking Catholics to do an examination of conscience. He proposed the following question to them in his encyclical: “Has the Word of God then ceased to be what it was described by the Apostle, living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword? Has long-continued use blunted the edge of that sword?” He then answers his own question: “If that weapon does not everywhere produce its effect, the blame certainly must be laid on those ministers of the Gospel who do not handle it as they should. For no one can maintain that the Apostles were living in better times than ours, that they found minds more readily disposed towards the Gospel or that they met with less opposition to the law of God.”

Therefore, with regard to the ever increasing movement of mankind away from God and the world revolutions which followed, the blame- at least in part -must be attributed to the dereliction of Catholics. What were twentieth-century Catholics lacking as compared to their spiritual ancestors of the early Church? Why did they not, up to this point, enjoy the same success of converting the world to Christ like the early Fathers of the Church? This is where Our Lady of Fatima comes in. Her appearance to three Portuguese children in Fatima gives a profound and yet subtle answer to these questions.

Next two blogs- righthand column in the Spirituality, Social and Church section.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Road to Emmaus: Conventional Wisdom Reproved

This is a re-post from April of 2011. Sunday's Gospel readings on May 8th recounts The Road to Emmaus story.

Human beings have a strong tendency towards social conformity, that is, they are inclined to do what others are doing. This tendency is even stronger than our instinct to help others in need. An overwhelming temptation is to associate truth with what the greater number of people believe.

After centuries of oppression by empires and foreign nations, political liberation (i.e. getting rid of this oppression) became increasingly important for the Jewish people. With that, the common hope for a political Messiah emerged; one who had the political and military power to ward off Israel's enemies. It just so happen that this hope colored the interpretation of Scripture by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes. As more and more Jewish leaders bought into this politicized version of the Messiah, it naturally followed that the average Jew of the first century believed as they did. Therefore, during our Lord's public ministry, even with miraculous signs and wonders being performed, the Jewish people had a hard time accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

Nevertheless, the preaching of the Gospel was to usher in, not an earthly kingdom as was expected, but a spiritual kingdom. This spiritual kingdom- a new people of God -was the real source of liberation. Sin and Satan had to be taken down and done away with before Caesar could be dealt with. As Christ himself said, “How can anyone enter a strong man's house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” Christ would first have to tie up Satan and cast him out. After all, it was Satan who was the "ruler of the world," the one who patrolled the earth according to the prophet Job. Indeed, it was he who proved to be more of a nemesis to mankind than Caesar himself.

Enter Cleopas and "the other disciple." Cleopas was one of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who decided to call it quits and head home. Unfortunately for him, he was no exception to the conventional wisdom of his day. Feeling let down, he had come to the conclusion that the crucifixion of Christ marked the end of a good thing. The biblical idea that the Messiah would be the sacrificial Lamb of God "who takes away the sins of the world" could not be further away from Cleopas’ mind. Good Friday for Cleopas was the end, not the beginning of the work of Christ. Nevertheless, what he considered to be a failure on Calvary, God would use to save and bless mankind.

This pattern of the unexpected repeats itself over and over in God’s plan for his people. This is why we can never be sure that setbacks and detours are failures in the eyes of God. In fact, it could be just what Divine Providence required for his purpose.

I digress here, but ccording to St. Jerome, Cleopas was the brother of St. Joseph and one of the seventy disciples; the other disciple was thought be a man by the name of Simeon. Tradition has it that Cleopas was martyred for his Christian faith in a castle located in Emmaus, which was his hometown. What was originally a scandal to him, namely, the crucifixion of his Nephew, foretold the manner in which he would die. Indeed, it was in Emmaus where his death would glorify God.

Back to the road to Emmaus: When the two disciples embarked upon the seven mile walk to Emmaus, they were also walking away from something. With a downtrodden spirit, they were walking away from Jerusalem, away from where Christ had risen from the dead and away from the place where the Apostles had begun to fellowship with their Risen Lord. To be sure, they were about to walk away from the most important events that were yet to unfold.

Cleopas and Simeon (if we accept St. Jerome's account) were conversing about their dashed hopes when Jesus entered the picture. Notice that Jesus, who was originally taken as a mysterious foreigner, did not initiate a new discussion with these gentlemen. That is, he did not ask them to talk about what they were not already talking about. Instead, he joined the conversation and took it to another level. From their discouraged stupor, Jesus transformed their misunderstanding of the Messiah into one which accorded with God's intent. Making reference to Scripture, he enlightened their minds and inflamed their hearts as to who and what the Messiah actually was. With that, the two disciples were filled with hope and new strength.

But first it is important to note that this approach- joining the conversation and taking it to a more enlightened level -serves as a good model for the New Evangelization. Catholic evangelists, both clergy and laity, need not take people off of their own turf. We too can enter into their conversations, interests and concerns. From there we can use the Light of Gospel to interpret and give meaning to their daily affairs; demonstrating that whatever good they possess or desire can be perfected and given its rightful context. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, grace perfects nature; it does not replace it.

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit anticipated this need, that is, the need to join other people’s conversation when he spoke through the Second Vatican Council. With regard to effectively communicating God’s Word to the world, the Council taught the following: “To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics…” (Art.4 Guadium et Spes)

I think we as Catholics make a mistake when we expect unbelievers to join our conversation without making any effort to join theirs; or when we answer- not the questions people are asking –but our own questions. It seems to me that through the Emmaus story and the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Spirit is biding the twenty-first century Catholic to enter into the talks around the kitchen table, enter into the discussion about the issues in the community and even to enter into our national debates. But if this is to bear fruit we cannot leave the discussion where we find it. We have to be “fools for Christ” and speak of him crucified, as St. Paul would say. We cannot be afraid to introduce the reality of the supernatural or speak of Christ’s laws which do not find favor with society. Like Christ did with the disciples walking to Emmaus, Catholics are called to put the daily affairs of life and current events in a biblical context. It is only in Christ that we can see the world as it really is.

Second Post:

When Jesus joined the conversation of the two disciples, he took it to a whole new level. But he first rebuked their willingness to go along with the conventional wisdom that the Messiah should be an earthly king like Caesar, Pharaoh, or Herod. The Old Testament, read in its proper context, suggests that his dominion would be both spiritual and universal. His work would go well beyond restoring Israel as a nation. Not through political or military means would Jesus Christ establish God’s reign but through the infusion of his Spirit in souls. It is there he wished to establish the Kingdom of God. As such, everything else would fall into place; including the restoration of Israel.

The chosen instruments through which God would bring this about was predicted by the prophets. However, they were not what the average person expected. Even today they continue to be a stumbling block for most. Displayed on the Cross for everyone to see were love, sacrifice and humiliation. By explaining the true mission of the Messiah and the shame it would involve, Jesus inspired a new hope in these two disciples. Indeed, he provided an alternative interpretation of Scripture and a better understanding of his death on Good Friday. In all probability, as he recounted the Old Testament prophecies, he made reference to the passage from prophet Isaiah: “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” Or he may have cited the passage from the book of Zechariah which reads: “…they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first-born.” Or even Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

As Jesus was talking to Cleopas, his uncle (cf. previous blog), and the other disciple, their hearts were burning with zeal. Not only was their understanding of the Messiah corrected but their human knowledge of love and sacrifice was given a whole new meaning. Nevertheless, the words of our Lord were not enough. It wasn’t until they reached Emmaus where Jesus “broke bread” that the identity of this Mysterious Stranger was revealed. In the New Testament and in the writings of the early Church Fathers “breaking bread” was a reference to the celebration and the sacrifice of the Eucharist. It wasn’t until they arrived in Emmaus that it all came together for them. Through the Eucharistic sacrifice, the scandal of Cross and the incredible reports about the empty tomb was made clear. Through the breaking of the bread his sacrifice on the Cross and his resurrection were brought into their midst and made present to them. Noteworthy is the fact that both God’s Word and the Eucharist were necessary to bring this about. For them and for us the Word and the Eucharist reveal who God is and what his will is for each individual.

Yet as powerful as this event was, it was not complete. After all, Jesus disappeared from their midst. Indeed, he did not stay with them indefinitely for a reason. Cleopas and the other disciple were immediately inspired to return to Jerusalem; the place they originally retreated from in a downtrodden spirit. The Spirit of God inspired them to rejoin the Apostles, that is, the Church, so that their knowledge and communion with the Lord would be complete. It is in the totality of believers who make up the Body of Christ, the Church, where the totality of God’s gifts can be found. As St. Irenaeus said in the second century, ““Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace."

It is there where conventional wisdom loses its hold on us and where we discover what is really important in life. It is there where the gifts and wisdom of Christians compliment ours. It is there from the lectern where God's Word sheds its light and it is on the altar where love and sacrifice are renewed on a daily basis so that we have food for the journey.

The Church's Dress Code: Getting Souls Ready for Eternity

This post was originally posted in May of 2010 under the title, The King's Dress Code. It is a message I will continue to repeat because what the Church requires from her members- and the insistence that those requirements be observed -is key in making the Gospel a viable alternative to Secularism. The Church's Dress Codeis divided into two posts.

First Post:

The parable of the Wedding Banquet happens to hold the key as to the reason why the Catholic Church has suffered great declines in Mass attendance, decline in priestly and religious vocations, and an increase of secularization in the world. An excerpt of that reading is taken from the Gospel of Matthew 22:

"The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment

The Church, in many parts of the world, but especially in the West, does not require repentance in order to join the Church or to receive the sacraments. Parents who show little resolve to live the life of Christ by, let's say, observing the Lord's Day every week are permitted to have their infants baptized; teenagers are not required to confirm their baptismal vows by demonstrating that they intend to live out the Gospel before they receive the sacrament of Confirmation; engaged couples are not required to repent and abstain from living together before entering into the sacred bonds of Matrimony and worse yet politicians who have a proven record of supporting abortion rights are not told to publicly renounce their sin against the dignity of life before approaching the altar. Of course, there are exceptions with each of these examples. But the point is that in the last fifty years repentance has become as option instead of an absolute necessity. And therein lies the problem to the Church's woes.

In the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2) the people asked St. Peter: What must we do to be saved? He replied, "Repent and be baptized." That is, repent first and then be baptized! And St. Peter could have gone on to say: Repent first and then receive the Body and Blood of Christ! Repent first and then receive the sacrament of Confirmation! Repent first and then receive the sacrament of Matrimony! Our Lord said, “Do not give pearls to swine and holy things to dogs lest they tear you to pieces.” He cautioned the Apostles and future Shepherds of His flock not to give the sacraments, the mysteries of the Faith, and even the name “Catholic” to those who would not respect holy things or be a worthy recipients of them. Jesus warned that to ignore this injunction would result in being “torn to pieces.” Perhaps the current day division within the Church, the conflicting messages coming from the Church hierarchy and the contradictions among Catholics on important moral issues is what our Lord meant when he said “lest they tear you to pieces.”

Repentance, which leads to holiness, is that white garment the Lord was referring to in the parable of the banquet. Repentance is a sincere effort to renounce sin and turn towards the Lord and the new way of life he has for us. Pope St. Gregory the Great said that the tears of repentance must come before the waters of baptism. Traditionally, repentance was the condition and the prerequisite of being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. If this repentance was wanting, then the candidate wishing to join the Church would simply be denied. By and large, this was the pastoral practice of the Catholic Church up until the 1960's.

For instance, in early Christianity (here I refer to the first millennium) a candidate wishing to enter the Catholic Church had to demonstrate to the Bishop over three years that he or she willing to observe "all that Christ commanded." And as late as the 1940's it was common practice in the Church's RCIA to ascertain that candidates believed all of the Church's teachings before being initiated into the Body of Christ, the Church. Unlike the servants in the parable who allowed the guest to sit down at the banquet without the proper attire, the Catholic Church was a jealous mother who made sure her children were properly dressed. I would argue that her dress code in centuries past bore a striking resemblance to the dress code the King enforces in heaven.

Second Post:

The most important mission given to the Church by Christ comes down to this: She is to prepare souls for eternity. That is, the Catholic Church's main duty is to prepare souls to meet God face to face. Throughout the centuries, she made sure that each soul given to her care was wearing the white garment. If the person refused to wear this garment by not repenting from mortal sin and false beliefs, with sorrow but with a firm resolve, she did not hesitate to exclude the unrepentant sinner from her communion. Pope St. Leo the Great told his bishops in the fifth century that "those who refuse to share in our discipline cannot share in our communion." And it is this discipline that strengthens the unity of the Church; the unity that is so necessary if the truth is to be accepted by the world.

The Church considered it false compassion- a kind of cruel mercy -to allow the sinner to delude himself into believing that he was in God's good graces when in fact that was not the case. How many nominal Catholics have gone to their deathbeds without feeling the compunction of heart or the contrition for their sins because those within the Church- both clergy and lay -were afraid to tell them what their sins were? Indeed, they were permitted to attend the banquet at the altar here below without having to wear the white garment. But at the altar in heaven, what did the King say to them? Was their communion with the Church on earth consistent with their communion with the Church in heaven? Or did the King, immediately following their death, have to ask them to leave the banquet because they were not wearing the garment of repentance?

If repentance is an option then Jesus himself is an option. When repentance from sins such as promiscuity, cohabitation, contraception, and homosexuality (to name a few) is not insisted upon when proclaiming the Gospel, preparing souls for the sacraments or admitting candidates into the Church, then Jesus as Savior and Redeemer is out of a job. Frankly, there is no need for him if repentance from sin is up to the sinner. No sin, no Savior. And if there are no sins to repent from then why bother with Christianity at all?

Should we be surprised that people have responded accordingly by not coming to Mass? Should we be surprised that younger generations are having little to do with organized religion; even less so than older generations? The priesthood, the altar and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is utterly unintelligible without the need to repent from sin; that is, from "specific" sins, not just sin in general. Shepherds and teachers of the Faith need to "name that sin" or else Christians will simply make up their own short list of sins; and a short list it will be.

In recent years, the relaxed dress code of not having to wear the white garment has led to moral confusion in and outside the Church. The reason behind the small splash the Church seems to be making in Western Civilization is due to the churches being over-crowded with people who do not wear the shiny bright garment the King requires his followers to wear. As such, the Church does not shine as brightly; she is not as attractive; and her influence is not as transformative as it once was...and as it could be.

We need to reinstate the Lord's dress code so that the name "Catholic" can only mean one thing: An active follower of Christ who believes in the fullness of who He is and in the fullness of what He has taught us!

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." -Matthew 28

Friday, May 6, 2011

Excerpts: Catholicism and Democracy

“Excerpts” is a feature of Sky View which takes passages from old and dusty books because of some insight they offer or light they shed on current events.

The following is an excerpt from Democracy in America, written by Alexis de Tocqueville from 1835-40. Here, he proposes that the Catholic religion creates the most favorable conditions for a democracy. He predicts that, in the end, Christianity in democratic nations will “tend more and more to a single division in two parts- some relinquishing Christianity entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church.”

“Amongst the various sects of Christianity, Catholicism seems to me to be one of those which are most favorable to the equality of conditions. In the Catholic Church, the religious community is composed of only two elements, the priests and the people. The priest alone rises above the rank of his flock, all below him are equal. On doctrinal points the Catholic faith places all human capacities upon the same level; it subjects the wise and the ignorant, the man of genius and the vulgar crowd, to the details of the same creed; it imposes the same observances upon the rich and needy, it inflicts the same austerities upon the strong and the weak, it listens to no compromise with mortal man, but, reducing all the human race to one standard, it confounds all the distinctions of society at the foot of the same altar, even as they are confounded in the sight of God. If Catholicism predisposes the faithful to obedience, it certainly does not prepare them for inequality; but the contrary may be said of Protestantism, which generally tends to make men independent, more than to render them equal…

America is the most democratic country in the world and at the same time it is the country in which the Roman Catholic religion makes the most progress. Men living in democratic ages are very prone to shake off all religious authority; but if they consent to subject to themselves to any authority of this kind, they choose that it should be single and uniform. Religious powers not radiating from a common center are naturally repugnant to their minds…The men of our day are naturally disposed to believe; but as soon as they any religion, they immediately find in themselves a latent desire which urges them unconsciously towards Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church astonish them; but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline, its great unity attracts them…our posterity will tend more and more to a single division in two parts- some relinquishing Christianity entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Recognizing Red Flags: A Good Method of Divorce Prevention

General Considerations:

For a number of reasons, looking for a wife or husband is more complicated today than it used to be. For one, there are more broken families today than fifty years ago. A person carries whatever dysfunction or baggage comes from that broken family into what is hoped to be a lifelong marriage.

Second, although it is better now than it was before, Catholics (at least in America) have not done the best job of defining what a Christian or disciple of Christ really is. Frankly, from the late 1960’s up until this last decade, the definition of a Christian has been pretty watered down. Couples who cohabitate, who use contraception and who regularly miss Mass, refer to themselves as “Catholics.” Unfortunately, many practicing Catholics go along this custom and give nominal Catholics who live by their own rules the courtesy of calling them what they are not, namely, a "Catholic." This makes the discerning process all the more difficult. As a result, when someone says that he or she is "Catholic," we can no longer take it at face value. Unfortunately, the title of being a "Catholic" no longer means what it once did. We have to look beyond the cover of the book, so to speak.

To use a book as an analogy, when it comes to dating and finding a spouse, it might happen that the title of a book suggest that it is a Christian book. It might even happen that the first few chapters are Christian in every sense of the word. But as you continue to read- especially towards the end of the book –the material begins to show inconsistencies with what the book claims to be. Upon discovering this, instead of ignoring it, you have to ask yourself: “Is this book really a Christian book? And should I buy it?”

The point of this analogy is that it is of the utmost importance to get to know the person, with all of his or her dark corners, as much as possible, before committing yourself to a lifelong relationship. It just may be that their more enduring attitudes and habits- not apparent in the initial phases of dating -are inconsistent with their claim to be a Christian. If you think that “your new found love can do no wrong,” then you do not know him or her enough!! Remember, love is based on knowledge. You cannot love someone you do not know. And if you think do love someone you do not know, then, in reality, you are only attracted to him; love has yet to enter the picture.

There is no better test of finding out a person's character as when he is under the crucible of trials and contradictions. It is true that adversity builds character! However, it is equally true that adversity reveals character; that is, you often get to know the deeper, more hidden attributes of a person when his will is contradicted. Indeed, it is always good to know how your husband-to-be or wife-to-be responds when you are the cause of that contradiction. I cannot say it enough, virtue acts quietly but the disagreeable circumstances of life show forth just how many virtues a person possesses.

One more consideration before we venture into the third point: Christians can often make the mistake of spiritualizing their problems and woundedness. That is, some are led to believe that because they found Christ or participate in a prayer group or even attend daily Mass that their problems automatically go away. Keep in mind that grace builds on human nature, it does not replace human nature. Therefore, even though you or your significant other is praying more, reading Scripture more or attending religious events, this does not absolve them from working through their problems.

There can be a temptation, after having a profound experience with God, to presume that we are instantaneously healed when in fact we have some work ahead of us; the work of dealing with bad habits of thinking, feeling and doing. No doubt, self-conquest is the hardest conquest in the world.

This leads me to the third about why looking for a husband or wife is difficult these days: we do not readily see that vices and virtues exist in groups or families. I am amazed at how many people overlook the most blatant of red flags during their period of courtship; the time when they are supposed to be vigilant and actively discerning the suitability of their lifelong mate. This general principle might help in the discernment:

Both virtues and vices do not exist alone or in isolation; they exist in families. If you read the Catholic Catechism or a good book on Catholic moral theology, you will find that the cardinal virtues, the theological virtues and the seven deadly sins are grouped together. And the reason why they are grouped together is due to the similarity and affinity they have with one another. As such, they tend to reproduce other virtues and vices very similar to themselves. And when they are reproduced, they to hang around one another. Like individuals, they do not like to be alone.

If a man, for instance, is addicted to pornography, chances are he struggles with bearing false witness. After all, who wants to tell his wife or mom what he was just doing (i.e. viewing immodest pictures of women). Also, any man who depersonalizes women through the pleasure of viewing porn will also depersonalize a woman in his anger; that is, in many but not all cases, pornography and spouse abuse are related to one another.

Another example is that if a man does not get along with his mother, treats her with disrespect, he will undoubtedly carry this over into his marriage. Quite often, the parent-child relationship serves as a template for future relationships. That's right! If a man loves and respects his mother, he has a solid foundation from which to love and respect his wife.

And as for a man discerning the suitability of a woman, it is always good to know that the quicker she gives of herself both emotionally in saying “I love you” and sexually in terms of giving too much of herself physically, she will be just as quick to leave the relationship when sacrifice and perseverance are required. I would be remiss if I didn’t add this: In a worst case scenario, we instinctively know that porn stars and prostitutes do not make good mothers. Any woman who sexualizes herself or puts a great deal of emphasis on her sexual appeal will be deficient in those virtues that make for a good mother. After all, a virtuous mother is a vocation of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. In such a vocation, the accent is on the giving! But a woman who focuses too much on her sexual appeal to men, is groomed to covet attention; that is, in receiving.

Men have to realize their attraction to pretty women is often immediate and superficial. He is visual and as such he can be drawn towards a woman’s beauty in an instant. However, such as attraction can go just as quickly as it came, especially when her personality begins to impose demands on him. If feminine beauty were sufficient to guarantee a man’s unconditional love for a woman, then there is something to be said about so many of Hollywood’s beautiful actresses whose boyfriends or husbands bail out on them so often.

Part II: More Specific Considerations:

If you wish to continue reading the following are some specific considerations in recognizing red flags in the dating process.

1. Dysfunctional Families:

Coming from a dysfunctional background or suffering from a strained relationship with one or both parents will definitely have its effect in a future marriage. I currently work with the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled. Among this population sexual abuse is very high. I also used to work at a Catholic orphanage which took in children that were physically and sexually abused. Having seen the effects, I can tell you that physical abuse is bad enough; but sexual abuse cuts to the soul and turns it inside out. If sex was just another recreational activity, as Secular-liberals seem to suggest, then having it imposed on unwilling souls should not cause the trauma and damage that it does. Many who have yet to marry have had some experience with sexual abuse or were deprived of a healthy relationship with a parent. But few appreciate the impact it will have on their future marriage.

God gives us two chances, so to speak: The family we are born into and the one we make for ourselves once when we come of age. As for the former, we have no choice; the family is just given to us. In the latter case, when it comes to choosing a spouse and making a family, we have the choice to repeat what was given to us in our childhood or to pursue a better path. As Dr. Scott Hahn said, if you come from a dysfunctional background and you want to continue the dysfunction, all you have to do is…well…nothing. Just go with the flow.

And this leads me to my point: If you come from such a background, I would highly recommend you pray and search for a spiritual director, solid in his or her Catholic faith. Ideally, the spiritual director should be a priest or a consecrated in the religious life. The advantage of having a priest as a director is that you can go to him for confession on a regular basis. A lot of the healing that needs to take place is not only psychological or emotional in nature, but spiritual as well. Exposing your wounds and scars through talking things out is a must!! Usually people choose to do this with a counselor; and, to be sure, that is just fine. But if counseling is not grounded in solid moral and spiritual principles it will undoubtedly overlook critical aspects which need attention. As such, the root cause of the problem will persist.

For instance, one important contribution Catholic spirituality makes towards the healing of wounds is the insistence that forgiveness is absolutely necessary. Indeed, forgiving the offender is the first step in the healing process. On the other hand, harboring a grudge or hatred towards a family member will adversely affect your relationship with God and with your future spouse.

Another contribution towards healing and making oneself a better candidate for marriage is the knowledge that other people’s sins or misconduct towards you does not define you. Let me repeat it: Mistreatment, neglect or abuse should not be allowed to define you. To grasp this truth through spiritual direction can make all the difference in the world. It can be refreshingly liberating!

Catholic theology is full of distinctions. And here many fail to make the distinction between the ill treatment they received growing up and their own dignity as a son or daughter of God. It is quite common to assimilate the mistreatment, lack of love or abuse and make it apart of one’s identity. Through good spiritual direction and an active prayer life, Jesus can salvage what was lost through the sins of others. And through the meditation of the mysteries of Christ, principally that of his suffering and death, a person can discover meaning in his or her suffering. For those coming from an abusive or dysfunctional background, it is natural to have felt abandoned by God. But again, through spiritual direction, spiritual reading and a Christian social life, each person can come to learn that God’s will for his or her life (even with all of the trying circumstances) is "love and mercy itself." (cf. Divine Mercy prayer) The most painful of circumstances can be seen as having a purpose for our greater good.

2. Not Knowing What a Christian Is:

Unfortunately the definition of what a Christian or follower of Christ really is has not been sufficiently explained from the pulpit in church or from the catechists in the classroom for several decades; nor has it been enforced with the Church’s pastoral practices or disciplinary actions. With this in mind, it is understandable, but yet regrettable, that it has become difficult to find a good Catholic husband or wife. People do not even know what is truly consistent or inconsistent with an authentic Catholic identity.

Reading the Catholic catechism or sound Catholic theology books is always helpful. But even these sources can present principles of sexuality and marriage in the abstract. What you need is something concrete and practical. And as far as acquiring the necessary knowledge of what a Christian really is, there is no better source than the lives or writings of the Saints.

As mentioned earlier, this kind of spiritual reading will not only help decipher what a Christian thinks and how he talks and behaves, but in their writings you will find virtues and attitudes that make for a good and long marriage. For instance, St. Francis of Assisi once said that being silent when criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. As difficult as it is, this virtue goes a long way in making peace in one’s marriage. There are so many of gems worth reading about. Truly, the Saints are the continuation of Christ’s life on earth. They shed light on specific and practical things in life that may be difficult to garner from the bible.

3. Virtues and Vices Exist in Families:

This third obstacle in recognizing red flags has been addressed in the previous post. In it I explained that virtues and vices do not live alone or in isolation but rather live in groups. This is to say that one red flag will usually lead to another. But as we draw closer to Christ, we compartmentalize life less and less. We begin to see values in a larger context; as part of a vast tapestry, if you will. In writing about the soul’s conversion to Christ, Bishop Sheen wrote the following:

“Things which before seemed precious are now considered trivial, and things which before seemed inconsequential, have now become the essence of real life. Without the Divine sense of values, which conversion brings, the soul is like a department store where the wrong price tags are on everything hairpins sell for a thousand dollars, and diamond rings for a nickel. Conversion hangs the right price tags on the right things and restores a true sense of values. That is why the outlook of a convert is entirely changed on subjects such as marriage, death, education, wealth, pain and suffering...He now sees why religious education is essential– for unless the soul is saved, nothing is saved.”

I hoped that this has help you. God bless you! Draw close to Christ, his Mother and the Saints. To be sure, you will find your way through the thick of the dark forest.