Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rising Above Adversity: St. Alphonsus Liguori's "unruffled peace"

Have you ever heard of a person starting an organization only to be kicked out of it? Well, this is what happened to St. Alphonsus Liguori; whose memory is celebrated by the Catholic Church on August 1st. One of the testaments to his outstanding character is that adversity could not hold this man down!

In 1839 he was canonized a Saint and in 1871 was declared to be a Doctor of the Church. Yet, he was a man who experienced many defeats in his life. One such defeat came in 1723 when, as a lawyer, he suffered a humiliating loss in the courtroom. It was said that he did not eat for three days. But that setback would prove to be quite useful in God’s plan.

That same year, as he was visiting the sick in the hospital, he experienced the presence of God in such a way that would change his life forever. According to Benjamin Mann, “he saw a mysterious light, felt the building shake, and heard the voice of God asking him to ‘leave the world’ and place himself totally in his service.” (EWTN News/CNA) This transforming experience inspired his vocation to the priesthood. Later, in 1762, he would be ordained a bishop of Naples, Italy.

As indicated, St. Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (The Redemptorists). From its beginning in 1732 the Redemptorist order struggled with division from within. It even was met with hostility from the State. Indeed, the Prime Minister of Naples, Bernardo Tanucci, tried to strip the religious order of its privileges. And towards the end of his life, “at the hands of the Pope who would later declare him venerable, Alphonsus was cast out of the order he founded.”

Nevertheless, whatever confronted him- good or bad –St. Alphonsus took it in stride.
Oh! How many Saints encountered what seemed to be hopeless situations?! Failures in the eyes of the world, they were men and women whose life was used by God to bring about great accomplishments. It just so happens that sometimes the Lord needs what appears to be a misfortune to work some greater and lasting good.

This great man learned to accept the peace of God through the various trials of life; not to mention the many infirmities he had to endure. He believed that whatever situation or condition God allowed to transpire in his life- good or evil; health or sickness; honor or disgrace –was part of an intelligent design no less wonderful than the creation of the universe.

As Pope Pius XI wrote in his letter against Atheistic Communism, “Man has a spiritual and immortal soul. He is a person, marvelously endowed by his Creator with gifts of body and mind. He is a true ‘microcosm,’ as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next.” Even in concentration and labor camps under totalitarian regimes during the twentieth century, many heroic Christians found meaning in what seemed to others as senseless suffering. That's right. Even from the horrors of concentration camps the Almighty, from the vantage point of eternity, can compensate for such unimaginable pain.

Returning to St. Alphonsus: Although his prolific writing career did not begin until he was fifty years old, he would write one hundred and eleven books. According to R. J. Miller, “St. Alphonsus had published 7,000 more editions of his works than Shakespeare by 1961 even though Shakespeare had over a century and a half head start.”

Arguably one of his greatest writings was Uniformity with God’s Will. In it he wrote, “Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their beloved Lord.”

This is an important part of knowing God’s peace and his joy. God Almighty either positively wills something to happen; such as loving him above everything else and serving the poor. But he also allows evil to take place so that some greater good may come of it. Such is his passive will. Therefore, the belief of St. Alphonsus- as well with every canonized Saint –is that whatever happens is either willed or permitted by God. As such, whatever circumstances unfold in our lives is part of a great design whose author is none other than the Lord himself.

But as for those whose happiness depends on favorable circumstances, he writes the following: “Because his peace of mind depends on the prosperity or the adversity he meets; he changes with the changes in the things that happen to him.” “The just man,” on the other hand, “is like the sun, constant in his serenity, no matter what betides him. His calmness of soul is founded on his union with the will of God; hence he enjoys unruffled peace.”

This is the key to St. Alphonsus "unruffled peace." And it is the secret to the happiness the Saints enjoyed while they were on earth.

Note: St. Alphonsus Liguori's "Uniformity with God's Will" is posted in its entirety under the Spirituality, Social and Church column on the righthand side of the page.

Quotes to remember as we approach another school year

Quotes to remember as we near another school year. One of the greatest nemesis to the renewal of America and its Christianization is the monopoly the State has on education. The political malaise of our country is but the effect of its education.

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

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

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

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

Bishop Fulton Sheen, Philosophies at War 1943

"We are at the crossroads of our national history. In the field of education we will either believe or we will obey. He who will not believe in the Truth must submit to Power. Which will it be? Will we retain a set of beliefs in which we are all agreed, and on which we were all agreed when this country was founded, or, scrapping all beliefs shall be and thus extinguish all freedom?

Let no one who hates religion falsely think that we can do without religion or that it can be banished from the earth. That is false assumption under which modern pagans work...The choice is not between religion and no religion, but between two religions: a religion from God or a State religion...

We do not yet realize this truth, but it is an indisputable fact that a nation's education is far more important than a nation's government. Given one generation educated on the principle that there is no absolute Truth or Justice and our next generation will be a government of power.

There is no such thing as neutral education; that is, education without morality and religion. Religion and morality are not related to education like raisins to a cake, but as a soul to a body. There can be cake without raisins, but there cannot be man without a soul. If education does not inculcate a moral outlook, it will inculcate a materialist or a Communist or a Nazi outlook. Neutrality is absolutely impossible in education. By the mere fact that religious and moral training is neglected, a non-religious, non-morality and by consequence an anti-religious and anti-moral ideology will be developed. 'He that is not with me is against me.' (Matt. 12:30)"

Friday, July 29, 2011

Loved Ones and Lost Souls

Loved ones and lost souls:
An abridged version of an early post

Through the saved, God very often searches for the lost. Quite often, loved ones of lost souls are the means by which the Good Shepherd finds his lost sheep.

This couldn't be truer for St. Monica who, in the fourth century, followed her son Augustine all the way to Italy from her home in northern Africa. At the time, St. Augustine was pursuing a career in teaching rhetoric. He didn’t particularly like her tagging along, so he tried to find ways to lose her. However, she was determined to track her oldest son down so that he could be won over to Christ.

In his younger years, St. Augustine was an intellectual who was given over to false beliefs about God and the world. He was also a worldly and sensual man; as such, he did not have any scruples about “shacking up” with his lover. Living the wild life, he presumed the Lord’s patience by praying, “God, make me chaste…but not yet.” As one might expect, a baby came from this out-of-wedlock union. The boy was given the name of Adeodatus. St. Augustine, being the wayward son that he was, would be the source of much sorrow for his saintly mother.

Mother Theresa once told a friend of mine that for those souls who need to be saved from moral and spiritual darkness- such as prostitution and drug addiction -a price needs to be paid. Jesus said as much to the disciples who failed to exorcise a man possessed with demons: "But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” St. Monica, in a mystical union with our Lord, needed to pay the price for her son Augustine. She carried about in her maternal heart the dying of Jesus. (cf. II Corinthians 4:10) Indeed, her heart was broken that Augustine did not know Jesus Christ as his savior.

What was true for St. Monica is true for every Christian. And that is, "Christ's sufferings overflow to us."(I Corinthians 1:5) His Passion does not make our sacrifices unnecessary. On the contrary, Jesus suffered for sinners so that we too could suffer for sinners. St. Augustine’s soul was purchased with his mother’s tears; and those tears were mingled with the blood of Christ.

St. Monica, however, was given some relief through a dream she had. This was an indication her prayers were heard. In the book, Confessions, St. Augustine relates the following about what would turn out to be a prophetic dream by St. Monica:

“She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule [a measuring rod which symbolized the rule of Faith], and coming towards her was a young man, splendid, joyful and smiling upon her, although she grieved and was crushed with grief. When he asked her the reason for her sorrow and her daily tears- he asked, as is the custom, not for the sake of learning but for the sake of teaching –she replied that she lamented for my [St. Augustine] perdition. Then he bade her to rest secure and instructed her that she should attend and see that where she was, there was I also. And when she looked there she saw me standing on the same rule.”

Soon thereafter, St. Monica arrived in Milan , Italy, only to join the company of a great bishop- St. Ambrose. She sought his counsel and how she might save her son from the erroneous sect called Manichaeism. In response, Bishop Ambrose said to her, “Only pray to the Lord on his behalf. He will find out by reading what the character of that error is and how great is its impiety.” She then implored the saintly bishop to talk to Augustine. But St. Ambrose refused by saying that her son needed to be willing to talk to him; that a conversation about the Faith should not be imposed or forced.

Nevertheless, she persisted, with tears flowing, in asking the same favor over and over again. Finally, St. Ambrose got annoyed and said, “Go away from me now! As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” (That’s right. Saints get annoyed too). In any case, instead of getting offended, St. Monica took it as a sign from heaven that her prayers and sacrifices would pay off.

The tears of St. Monica, in a real sense, washed St. Augustine's soul before his sins were sacramentally wiped clean in the waters of baptism. When a son or daughter strays from Christ, sometimes the tears of a mother make up for the lack of tears we ought to have for our own sins.

St. Monica's perseverance paid off. St. Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, entered the Catholic Church in the year 387 A.D. After being initiated into his new life with Christ, he became the Bishop of Hippo, located in northern Africa. He would go on to lay the cornerstone of Western Civilization with his sanctity and theology. To be sure, St. Augustine is considered one of the most important Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church. All this was made possible by a mother who did not give up.

A Cardinal Speaks: "The Crisis of Young People"

The Catholic News Agency reported on July 25th, 2011, that Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela expressed his concerns, in anticipation for World Youth Day, that “Spain and Europe are suffering from a ‘crisis of young people’ because of the country’s low birth rate.” According to the CNA report, Cardinal Varela went on to say that the percentage of the population between 0-22 years of age is “low” and is one of the reasons why there are few vocations, not only in the Church “but in many other areas.”

Bishop Fulton Sheen gave a prophet utterance about this very crisis 63 years ago when he said, “If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago [1933], and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis…The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline.”

“There is no doubt,” he continues, “the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and a bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline.”

As for the United States, in recent years many Americans have made the personal decision not to have children. Today, however, even more people, sold on the myth that the earth is overpopulated, have made it clear that it is a civic duty for couples to have only a few children, if any. What was once a personal decision to have a small family is now a social mandate to discourage couples from having many children. In the twenty-first century, it has been customary for families with five or more children to either get lectured, sneered at or to be given looks of disapproval by perfect strangers at the local grocery store.

It is a true marvel of human nature that many or even the majority of people can be so zealously opposed to that which is absolutely necessary for survival and happiness. Materialism and secularism can so twist human thinking that people can hate what is positively good for them and love what is positively bad. Such is the mystery of sin and the effect it has on the soul.

I’ll leave it to Steve Mosher and The Population Research Institute to provide all the statistical data why America and Western Civilization is headed for a demographic collapse (see: The point here is that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, three trends usually follow: First, materialistic lifestyles set in. Second, the appetite for sacrifice decreases. And third, a child becomes to be seen as a mouth to feed instead of one more person to love and two more hands to help out around the house.

It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Historically, declining tax revenue and the disproportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. Secular institutions such as the military and hospitals are the first to feel its effect. But even the Catholic Church, in terms of her priestly and religious vocations, is feeling the pinch too. One priest who teaches at a seminary in the Mid-west told me that in ten years the average priest will have to oversee two parishes.

In response to this demographic pyramid (a top-heavy one at that) where elderly people out number the young workers and tax payers at the bottom, governments have typically offered incentives to reverse these trends; but by the time the harm of a childless nation was felt by the State it was often too late for political remedies.

Not only has the State been slow to respond to this crisis but I regret to say that the Church has been slow to speak about this as well. In the last forty years, Catholics- both clergy and laity –have been embarrassed about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth of contraception. As a result, very few teachings at the diocesan level- and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass -have been quiet about the impact contraception has had on souls, marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda that children are a burden to society. And it is most unfortunate that many, perhaps even most, have bought into this myth.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will undoubtedly be vindicated when the demographic winter has peaked. And we are just beginning- only just beginning -to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our bishops, priests, and all of those whose duty it is to communicate Faith that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God; that is, in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially the Fathers of our Faith, to articulate what a childless nation portends.

What the family loses, the State gains. When families shrink and breakdown, the State only increases and becomes more powerful. History bears witness to this fact. Just when the deterioration of the family had reached an all time low in the 3rd century A.D., the political administration of the Roman Empire went from 350 public employees in 200 A.D. to a WHOPPING 35,000 in 300 A.D!! The present day challenge of American citizens to retain their liberty and prosperity can be traced (although not exclusively) to the breakdown of the family and the unwillingness of couples to have children. On the other hand, if the American people were to value an abundance of children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbinger of better things to come.

I will conclude with this list of just a few nations (w/birthrate) that are facing a demographic crisis:

US 2.06
Ireland 2.02
France 1.96
UK 1.91
Australia 1.78
Norway 1.77
Denmark 1.74
Finland 1.73
Sweden 1.67
Belgium 1.65
Canada 1.58
China 1.54
Spain 1.47
Switzerland 1.46
Georgia 1.45
Russia 1.42
Georgia 1.45
Germany 1.41
Austria 1.40
Italy 1.39
Greece 1.38
Poland 1.30
Lithuania 1.25
Japan 1.21

Can it be said of any Christian nation today what the Word of God said about Israel? "But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them." (Ex 1:7) And is the Church exercising her prophetic office and using every means possible so as to draw the attention of the world to this crisis of young people?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Good-bye for now Rob

Preface: It is a pleasure to mention as a preface to this post that after just two days "Good-bye for now Rob" is the most read post in Sky View's history. This is a testament to Rob Koger's character and how much he was loved around the nation. I thank the hundreds of visitors who took the time to read about Rob and the hope we have in seeing him once again in God's presence.

Death greets us all. On July 25th, in my extended family, death greeted a young gentleman by the name of Rob Koger after a severe brain injury. Totally unexpected was his death. As his life was sustained by life support, prayers poured in on his behalf that God might work a miracle. As for myself, I prayed in earnest that he would recover.

However, as difficult it was to accept God's answer and say good-bye to such a promising young man, my faith in His Divine Providence inspires me to believe that He had bigger plans for Rob. No doubt, God's plans involved Rob's eternal happiness with Him in heaven. This place called heaven, seldom talked about or even thought about, is where life and happiness really begins. As Pope Leo XIII said, "...when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live...He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place."

The drawback to this journey is that we enter into that abiding place, namely heaven, one soul at a time. That is, as each relative or friend is called home there are sad good-byes and a time of waiting before we are reunited with loved ones once again.

Saying good-bye to Rob as he crossed over the threshold of death and into eternity is a painful reminder that this earth, as good as it is, can only give us passing joys...good things in life that are impossible to hold on to. In a sense, Catholics rehearse saying good-bye to loved ones and the good things of this earth when we pray the Salve Regina at the end of each rosary. Addressed to the Blessed Virgin, it reads: "To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears...Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus."

The beautiful part about being Catholic is that we believe in second chances; indeed, our good-byes to loved ones through death are only temporary. But the sad part about being human is that these good-byes are so painful that our deceased loved one takes a part of us with them. We are never quite the same after a loved one's death because his or her life contributed to who we are. And even more importantly, each human being reveals something about God that no one else can reveal. As such, when we mourn the death of someone, we, at the same time, mourn the loss of that small portion of God we enjoyed in our friend or relative while on earth.

From everything I know about Rob, he sure gave us a lot of God to love. For that, many will shed tears over his death; especially his parents and siblings. The pain is incalculable but the hope of seeing him again will grow, God willing, over the years. At least that is my prayer for those who love him dearly. As for me, it is the only way I know how to find meaning in Rob's death.

And this brings me to my last point: A hospice nurse once told me that one would think that serving dying patients would be depressing. For her the contrary was true! Time and time again she had witnessed her patients speaking to deceased loved ones; at least, that is what her patients claimed. Quite often they would express how beautiful these people "on the other side" were. What is even more inspiring, the nurse said, is the joyful anticipation of these patients. Some died smiling and others passed-on with their arms stretched out to heaven. It was as if Something was being held out to them- something only they could see; something that was full of promise.

Although Rob was unconscious during the last hours of his life, I am confident that the good Lord offered something to him that was too good to resist. If I live a life of faith, love, and sacrifice, I am equally confident that I too will know and experience exactly what that "Something" is. Therefore, when death greets me, I believe that Rob will be there to greet me too.

Good-bye for now Rob! I hope to see you again under much happier circumstances when "good-byes" will no longer be necessary.


Please scroll down to read a touching letter from a major in the Civil War to his wife Sarah.

To My Very Dear Sarah: By Sullivan Ballou

Just before the Civil War broke out, a man by the name of Sullivan Ballou wrote a very moving letter to his wife, Sarah. He left what appeared to be a promising political career and volunteered for military service with the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. In addition to his combat duties, he served as the Rhode Island militia's judge advocate. The war began one week later [after the letter was written] on the plains of Manassas, Virginia. Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry died there at the battle of Bull Run.

Sullivan Ballou
to: My very dear Sarah

14 July 1861
Camp Clark, Washington [D.C.]

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days -- perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more....
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing -- perfectly willing -- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt....

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me -- perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my litle Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness....

But, O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath[;] as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again....

Sources: website: Excerpted and reprinted in Geoffrey C. Ward, et al., The Civil War: An Illustrated History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), pages 82-83. And Wikipedia website.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In every sinner awaits a St. Mary Magdalene

The Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene: July 22nd

St. Mary Magdalene is sometimes referred to as the thirteenth Apostle. Tradition has it that she was a prostitute but then, after having been touched by divine grace, was inspired to follow Jesus Christ. Out of all the disciples- not including the Blessed Virgin –the Risen Lord had appeared to her first on that beautiful Easter morning.

The honor of being one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection hearkens back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31) She was one of those early Christians who understood just what the forgiveness of sin costs. After all, she was one of the few who courageously stood at the foot of the Cross when our Lord breathed his last.

St. Mary Magdalene also knew just what it meant to be in spiritual darkness and moral confusion. She was a restless soul who was a victim of men’s lust. What St. Paul predicted about exploited women in the end days could arguably be said of St. Mary: “For some of these [i.e. “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God] slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:6-7).

Indeed, the saintly woman from Magdala, near Tiberius, can teach us a thing or two about looking for love in all the wrong places. But alas! She found a Man who gave her the love of a Father and a Brother. In her search for peace, our Lord saw a Saint in the making and he seized the opportunity! Jesus not only took her sins to the Cross but he paid a social price for reaching out to her. Unfortunately, the Savior had to choose between not offending the Pharisees (who were His religious peers and the religious authorities of first century Judaism) and as such, possibly lose the opportunity to save her soul- or -offend the Pharisees by defending her and by making her one of his disciples. He chose the latter. But make no mistake about it- he had to choose!

You see if Jesus winced at offending people- especially His religious peers who disapproved of having anything to do with her –Mary would have never become a Saint. St. Mary Magdalene or even Zachaeus, the short man who climbed the tree to see Jesus, would have never benefited from His divine friendship if, in fact, he avoided the hatred of men at all cost. Unlike many of us today, Jesus ventured off of his religious turf and went out to seek sinners. To be sure, all sorts of sinners traveled many miles to see our Lord. But it can be also said that as the Good Shepherd, he went out looking for his lost sheep too.

Perhaps this is where we, as Catholics, have played it too safe. We wait for the Mary Magdalenes to come to our parish, to our bible studies and to our retreats. Perhaps this is why the twentieth century teachers, evangelists and pastors of the Faith did not enjoy the robust harvest the early Christians enjoyed.

St. Mary Magdalene challenges us to venture into uncharted waters; to get out of our comfort zones and to visit those places that may appear to be unseemly to our tastes.

In the twentieth century many good Catholics have developed the habit of retreating to those places that are familiar to them. The apostolic zeal which once carried us to foreign lands to hazard risks and even dangers, does not burn quite as intensely for us in comparison. As Fulton Sheen said in the 1950’s, during prosperous times Christian pastors tend to visit their own. Staying within the confines of the church building they settle down into a comfortable routine of administrative duties. But in the throes of adversity, it often happens that pastors become shepherds by being "out there" where the people are; tending to their spiritual needs and taking risks they would not have taken during times of prosperity.

America may be at a time when adversity is becoming more pronounced than prosperity; when our challenges are more apparent to us than the promise of a problem-free tomorrow. As such, the people on the streets and those in public square need to see their shepherds, teachers and evangelists.

After all, “out there,” in the streets, is where we find the Mary Magdalenes. And in every prostitute, adulterer, criminal, atheist and anti-Christian bigot is where we need to see a potential St. Mary Magdalene.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St. Benedict's Answer: What Was, Still Is

“Like a star in the darkness of night, Benedict of Nursia brilliantly shines, a glory not only to Italy but of the whole Church.”

-Pope Pius XII, Fulgens Radiatur (On St. Benedict)


What was, still is. What was effective for individual holiness in the fifth century, what was effective in making the Church strong and what was effective in creating a Christian civilization, is still a viable option for Christians today in restoring all that is good about America.

From the depths of St. Benedict's solitude, meditation and prayer came forth the answer to the problem of wide spread immorality among the people and the decline of the once great Roman Empire. The answer was not to be found in Rome's public institutions, nor in any policy or political program; rather, it was to be found in the quiet of God's presence. As Pope Pius XII said, “Hidden with Christ in God, he there strove for three years with great fruit to acquire the perfection and holiness of the Gospels to which he seemed to be called by divine instinct.” The pope went on to say that during these three years St. Benedict shunned all earthy things so as to seek heavenly things; talking to the Lord day and night; and learning to hear his voice.

With his eyes fixed on Christ as his model, he practiced penitential acts of self-denial. “In this way of life,” Pius added, “he found such sweetness of soul that all the former delights he had experienced from his wealth and ease now appeared distasteful to him and in a way forgotten.” Indeed, the answers to life’s greatest problems are to be found in prayer. In prayer, hope, strength, and new ideas are born. What is more, the dead end roads of worldly pleasures are seen for what they are and the sacrifices which the love of God and neighbor requires of us shows forth a value once overlooked.

Although the dark clouds had gathered in the fifth century with the Roman Empire having just fallen, the early Christians were full of hope; and it was from this Christian virtue of hope that the old Roman society of the pagans gave way to the new civilization of the Christian era. Indeed, the dust kicked up from the collapse of the Empire had just begun to settle when St. Benedict forged this a new life for the people in Italy. His followers developed new agricultural methods, a new cash economy, and a way of governing which was modeled on the father's authority in the family (later to be copied by civil authorities). The twelve monasteries that he founded also inspired principles of democracy whereby the monks were consulted before a rule or decree was enjoined. Also, we cannot forget the institutions of that served the lowly and unlearned such as hospitals, orphanages and schools. All of these Christian enterprises had emerged from the ruins of Rome.

Pius XII reminds us, “The Empire like all earthly institutions had crumbled. Weakened and corrupt from within, it lay in mighty ruins in the West, shattered by the invasions of the northern tribes.” Then, as if by a prophetic utterance, Pope Pius XII asked a question many Americans are asking today: “In such a mighty storm and universal upheaval, from where did hope shine? Where did help and protection arise in order to save humanity and what was left of its treasures from shipwreck?”

Without missing a heartbeat, the pope gives an answer you might expect but certainly one that many today would not agree with: “It came from the Catholic Church.” The only institution or “nation,” as St. Peter would have it, gifted with immortality is the Catholic Church. Without sounding too triumphal, Pius XII goes on to remind the world that nations or institutions that are man-made are destined to perish. As such, we cannot put too much hope in them. But for those nations and institutions that cling to Christ in his Church, they can at least hope for a lengthy existence.

The pope went on to say, “All earthly institutions begun and built solely on human wisdom and human power, in the course of time succeed one another, flourish and then quite naturally fail, weaken and crumble away; but the organization which Our Redeemer established has received from its divine Founder unfailing life and abiding strength from on high.” “Amid their ruins and failures,” he continues, the Church “is capable of molding a new and happier age and with Christian doctrine and spirit she can build and erect a new society of citizens, peoples and nations.”

St. Benedict did just that. He helped mold a new and happier age. And he did so with the same spiritual means that are available today. No doubt, within the fullness of Christ's life, a life that resides within the Catholic Church, the answer is to be found for America's challenges.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beyond Economic Decline: The Hope of St. Benedict

“…the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.”

-Arnold Toynbee

There may be hope for the United States. In 1948 Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy.” However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with many Americans today. Many are talking about the decline of America on cable television, the radio and on the blogosphere. This growing awareness is a good thing. However, as the historian Arnold Toynbee said, “…the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.” The ultimate economic, political and cultural fix does not lie in economics, politics or the culture. The solution is the above and beyond these disciplines or areas, so to speak.

Take for instance your average economist. He is likely to propose economic solutions because he specializes in economic problems. To be sure, the economic problems are for real and alarming. For instance, 24 Signs of Economic Decline In America was an article that was published by The Economic Collapse Blog in May of 2011. Below are just seven of those signs that America just may be suffering from an economic decline:

• 59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another.
• U.S. households are now receiving more income from the U.S. government than they are paying to the government in taxes.
• Approximately one out of every four dollars that the U.S. government borrows goes to pay the interest on the national debt.
• Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.
• Total credit card debt in the United States is now more than 8 times larger than it was just 30 years ago.
• Average household debt in the United States has now reached a level of 136% of average household income. In China, average household debt is only 17% of average household income.
• According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average length of unemployment in the U.S. is now an all-time record 39 weeks.

Yet, as useful as these statistics are- and they are informative –they are mere symptoms of a deeper problem in society. And that problem is the crisis of faith and morals; two domains which are fundamental to the human spirit. I am well aware that most people are not used to reading issues touching upon economic distress with religious or theological content.

Indeed, the road to recovery for a nation or any institution is often paved with ironies. Sources of renewal come from expected places. For instance, Jesus said to lose one’s life, for his sake, is to save it. The most productive and creative men and women to ever have walked the planet are those who sought out, as their personal goal, to glorify God and become Saints. From this spiritual ambition issued forth great undertakings and enterprises which served humanity.

The invention of capitalism, for instance, takes its origin from fifth century to nineth century monasticism. Later capitalism was practiced on a wider scale during Renaissance Italy. Rodney Stark, author of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, said that capitalism was developed by "Catholic monks who, despite having put aside worldly things, were seeking to ensure the economic security of their monastic estates..." With that said, economic advancement was just one fruitfull offshoot of this great spiritual quest.

One monk who spearheaded the long prolific heritage of monasticism was St. Benedict. Every July 11th the Catholic Church celebrates the memory of this great man and the historic contribution to, not only the Church, but to Western Civilization.

In 1947, seeing that Western Civilization was weighed down by a long and exhausting world war, Pope Pius XII penned a wonderful encyclical on St. Benedict. Contained within this letter to the Church are shafts of light that have the potential, if we just lay hold of it, to illuminate the moral and spiritual darkness which envelopes our public institutions. Using St. Benedict's as an example, he recounts what it means to forsake all for Christ only to "receive a hundred times more now in this present age." (Mark 10:30)

What was accomplished in the fifth century can be revived and brought to bear upon the trying circumstances which challenge America's future. "St. Benedict," as Pius XII reminds us, "reclaimed the uncultured tribes from their wild life to civic and Christian culture; directing them to the practice of virtue, industry and the peaceful arts and literature, he united them in the bonds of fraternal affection and charity." And the Church herself, always needing an infusion of Christ's eternal youth, also benefited from St. Benedict's sanctity and teachings.

Pope Pius XII continues: "[W]hen the fateful barque of Peter is tossed about more violently and when everything seems to be tottering with no hope of human support, it is then that Christ is present, bondsman, comforter, source of supernatural power, and raises up fresh champions to protect Catholicism, to restore it to its former vigor, and give it even greater increase under the inspiration and help of heavenly grace."

Next blog: Summary on Pius XII's encyclical

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Attitudes of Yesterday’s Spiritual Leaders: Featuring James Cardinal Gibbons and Pope St. Gregory VII

In the nineteenth century priestly formation was inspired by a manliness which anticipated spiritual combat. As a result, bishops and priests were not only well formed, but they developed the habit of telling Catholics what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. For example, in 1896 James Cardinal Gibbons wrote a book for his priests and seminarians with the title- The Ambassador of Christ. In his book, Cardinal Gibbons addressed the reason why some clergy and teachers of the Faith tend to void addressing difficult truths of the Gospel. And the reason for this avoidance was the love of human respect and the dread of incurring disfavor. On human respect, he wrote:

"The vice opposed to self respect is human respect. Human respect is a base condescension by which, from the fear of offending others, or from the desire of acquiring their esteem, a man says or does what his conscience conceives to be unlawful. It is not easy to exaggerate the baneful influence which this moral cowardice exerts on mankind, especially on impressionable youth, under the alluring guise of friendship and love of applause...

God has established in your breast the sacred tribunal of conscience by whose dictates you are bound to decide. But in yielding to human respect, you act the part of a temporizing judge like Pilate, who pronounced sentence, not in accordance with the evidence before Him, but in obedience to the clamors of the multitude. You sacrifice principle to expediency, you subordinate the voice of God to the voice of man, you surrender your Christian liberty and manly independence, and you become the slave of a fellow creature."

Several hundred years earlier, Pope St. Gregory VII wrote in the eleventh century about the love of human respect and the aversion to hatred so common among Christian leaders during his time. The subtle temptation to curry favor with the people is no small obstacle in calling people to repentance; but the call to repentance is a must if pastors are to save souls. The same can be said whenever the courageous attempt was made to reform the Church.

It should be expected, then, that whenever Christians shine the light of Christ in dark corners, people will put up a fight and as such, there is a price to be paid. For this saintly pope, he was driven out of Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. As you might expect, this Henry IV favored State-control over the Church. But because St. Gregory VII stood up to the emperor- and even excommunicated him at one point – he eventually died in exile; that is, outside of Rome.

Nevertheless, due to St. Gregory VII initiatives a movement of reform was generated among the clergy; a reform which led to the liberation of the Church from the domination of the State.

You might be surprised to learn that the Church around 1000 A.D. experienced much of the same problems that the struggled with just recently in 2002 A.D. Internationally, the uprising of Islam posed a problem for Christianity and internally within the Church, the clergy was riddled with sexual scandals, including pedophilia. But St. Gregory VII did not tolerate the widespread problem of sexual abuse; rather, he clamped down on it! This, no doubt, made some his brother bishops mad and many priests who had backslid into this immoral activity. Still, the pope persisted and ended up infusing the Church with his monastic spirituality and vigor.

It must be mentioned that the most painful part of his ministry as St. Peter's successor was being opposed by his own; that is, by bishops, priests and lay people. He was only human. As such, his zeal for God's glory led him to feel alone and abandoned at times.

Pope St. Gregory VII said, "The only reason why the leaders of the nations and the leaders of the priests have armed themselves and come together against Christ and His Vicar is this- that we would not keep silent as to the dangers which threaten the Holy Church, nor yield to those who would reduce the Bride of Christ to slavery...There are those in the world thousands of men who risk death every day at the summons of their lords. Yet, when the interests of the King of Heaven, our Redeemer, are at stake, how many Christians shrink, not from death only but even from the hatred of men. And the few- thanks be to God for those few -who dare to resist the wicked openly, and to face death, are not only unsupported by their brethren, but are accused by them of imprudence, and indiscretion, and are treated as fools..."

Jesus Christ died outside the walls of Jerusalem. Our Lord said that a servant is not greater than his master. As the leader of all Christians, Jesus led by example and allowed himself to be ostracized by his own and hated by the world. He told His disciples to expect no different. Pope St. Gregory VII did just that: he expected to be treated like his Master. And in doing so, St. Gregory VII led the Church to its restoration which it so desperately needed.

The last words of this great pope was the following: "I have loved justice and hated inequity; therefore I die in exile."

-Pope St. Gregory VII

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Our Lady of Good Help and the New Education

"You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more..."

Our Lady of Good Help, 1859


The New Education? You may have heard of the New Evangelization which was inspired by Pope John Paul II but not the New Education. However, there can’t be a New Evangelization without a New Education. Both evangelization and education are two halves that make up one whole; that is, two essential components of one mission. You may not have heard that the Blessed Virgin, in the first approved apparition in the United States of America, gave us a general blue print of the New Education. Although not unknown to our spiritual ancestors, it has become unknown to us precisely because it has not been given emphasis in recent years.

Catholic Education: From 1859 to the present

In 1859, when Our Lady of Good Help- otherwise known as the Mother of God -appeared to a young girl by the name of Adele Brise in Champion, Wisconsin, she instructed her on how to win souls to Christ through conversion and education. The directive given by Our Lady of Good Help on how to carry this out had been relied upon by the Catholic Church for centuries; but especially during the first millennium.

However, a little over a century following her appearance to Adele- in the mid to the latter part the twentieth century -much of Catholic education began to rely heavily on conventional practices such as lectures and using text books. Such instruments of education are no doubt necessary but woefully insufficient if we consider the purpose of Christian education. And the ultimate purpose of Christian education is not only to prepare the youth for their careers and duties as citizens; it is, more importantly, to prepare them to see God face to face in heaven. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved! We are just beginning to see what happens in our culture when conversion and repentance are not the foundation of education.

The Cost: Conversion and Holiness

You heard the saying: “What is old is new!” Our Lady’s message and directive to Adele is new precisely because it is so old and forgotten. It bears striking similarity to the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima. Like St. Bernadette and the three children at Fatima, Adele (later known as Sister Adele) was unlearned and simple. Nevertheless, in her simplicity she possessed the willingness to obey the Blessed Virgin Mary at any cost. And let there be no doubt, there is a cost when we ransom souls from the world and the Evil One. Our Lady of Good Help tells Adele what that price is. It is not just preparing lesson plans for children; nor is it just giving lectures and having the students read text books; it is much more than that! What the Blessed Virgin said must be done is simple and achievable for everyone…even for those who do not have a theology degree.

A Queen Who Prays for Conversions: Foundation of Christian Education

The Lady from heaven said to Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” Conversion is a series of beginnings; a process that involves repeated efforts of getting back up from the ground, dusting ourselves off and continuing our journey to heaven. And if this journey of seeking God’s will and turning away from sin is not the very foundation and essence of Catholic education, then the Church’s mission will be largely ineffective.

Book Knowledge and the Doing

The problem of Catholic education, as I see it, in the latter part of the twentieth century and in the twenty-first century is that it puts the primary emphasis on the knowing; knowledge of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Sacraments and other articles of Faith. Nevertheless, what is equally or even more important than book knowledge is the doing; that is, doing God's will in daily life. In short, the doing is faith and love in action.

Our Lord, whenever making a reference to the salvation, said that his criteria would be based on how much one loved God and how much one loved his neighbor. Indeed, our reward in heaven is based on an active life of faith and love. The criteria of our salvation at the hour of our death, therefore, is not so much a test of one’s knowledge of the Catholic Faith as it is a test of how much a person’s faith in Christ in put into action.

Here, I am referring to emphasis and priority. Learning the Catholic Faith is absolutely essential but what is more important than this is learning how to use it. A useful analogy might be driving a car. No doubt, classroom instruction on how to drive a car is a necessary tool in learning how to drive any vehicle. However, the actual skill in driving comes when a person gets behind the steering wheel and begins driving the car. A person can never be a good driver until he or she actually drives the car. In the Christian life as with driving, experience is an important and indispensable source of knowledge. And the best kind of Christian experience is holiness.

But You Must Do More: Spiritual Sacrifices

Back to Our Lady of Good Help. She had more to say to Adele: “You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” It wasn’t enough that young Adele participated in the Sacraments herself. No. She was called upon to do more- to make spiritual sacrifices for sinners. Gathering them so as to give them instructions was the next step.

Therefore, before teaching the Faith to the people of North East Wisconsin, praying for the conversion of sinners and making reparation for them had to be an established practice. Why? Because holiness is not only the best means by which we get to know God, holiness is instrumental in teaching others about God as well. The more we pray, practice spiritual sacrifices (otherwise known as penance) and engage in spiritual reading, the closer we draw to Jesus Christ. And the more we draw closer to Christ, the more we can take with us for the journey. With holiness, the Holy Spirit enjoys considerably more freedom to do his work; namely, to instruct us in the interiority of our souls about the mysteries of the Christian Faith.

Our Lady of Good Help and the Early Christians

The early Christians understood this well. If we turn the pages back to the early the third century (or 200’s), we will find that hearing lectures and reading books was an instrument of learning but holiness was considered far more important. Clement of Alexandria, a Father of the Church and a teacher at one of the first Christian schools located in Alexandria, Egypt, said the following: “We do not assert that knowledge consists in merely in concepts, but it is a divine science and a light that has arisen in the soul through obedience to God; it reveals everything to humanity, teaching human beings to know themselves and God.”

The Little Way

When we come to the nineteenth century, we find an unexpected master of this “divine science.” Her name was St. Therese of Lisieux. She was recently declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II but yet, at the same time, she was a young cloistered nun who was not known for her theological expertise. Her “Little Way” of loving and serving God in the Carmelite convent was a source of profound insights into Scripture and Christian living. Her favorite book was not a scholarly theological book but a simple book on how to live out the life of Christ. The book is entitled, The Imitation of Christ. This classic is not just about the life of Jesus as it is illustrated in the Gospels. Thomas a Kempis, the author, pays particular attention on how the Christian is to live out the life of Christ from day to day. As he said, it is better to personally know the Holy Trinity than to know how to define it. With that said, to do both is the ideal.

What We Can't Assume Anymore

Today, the best Catholic colleges, seminaries and high schools make it the highest of priorities to offer courses such as Catholicism 101, Christology, Eschatology, Biblical and Theological Foundations. This is good. After all, Our Lady of Good help told Adele to teach people their catechism, how to sign themselves and how to approach the Sacraments. But many of these curriculums, rich in theological and catechetical content, assume that the student knows the spiritual exercises that are necessary for spiritual progress. The truth is that many do not.

Exercises such as mediation, adoration, spiritual reading, fasting, doing penances and spiritual acts of reparation for sinners are left to the students to work out on their own. Also, knowing how to live out the Christian virtues as the Saints lived them is a non-essential in most Catholic schools.

Take for instance, St. Francis of Assisi. He said that being silent when you are criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. This kind of humility goes a long way in building-up relationships. But how many people know about the value of humility in the circumstance just given?

We forget that the life of Christ is not only illustrated in the Gospels but that it continues throughout the ages in the lives and writings of the Saints. What can’t be gleaned or gathered from Scripture, can be in the lives of holy men and women who found themselves in similar circumstances that we find ourselves in. As such, the proposal that every Catholic curriculum or faith formation program ought to have, for its foundation, the study of the Saints and learning how to be holy is a reasonable one that the early Christians took for granted. Such a foundation ought not be expressed in the form of abstract theological truths but as they are illustrated in the biography and writings of the Saints.

And this is where I would like to conclude: Implicit in the message of Our Lady of Good Help is that education and evangelization is two-fold: First, it must begin with conversion and all of those spiritual practices that bring it about. Second, with conversion or holiness firmly laid as the foundation, catechetical or theological learning can prosper all the more. With this, the New Evangelization and Education can have results similar to those of early Christianity. The Church will once again possess, as she once did in her early years, well formed and educated Catholics who will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Temptations of a Catholic Celebrity

The scandal and uncertainty surrounding the once highly acclaimed preacher, Fr. John Corapi, still lingers in cyberspace and among casual conversations around kitchen tables.

As Catholics recall Corapi’s teachings that regularly aired on Catholic radio and EWTN, they often ask: How can a world-renouncing priest, faithful to Christ, devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and obedient to the Magisterium of the Church, leave the priesthood? Especially with so many unanswered questions about his character and fidelity! Whatever the truth may be, the circumstances surrounding the investigation, the reports and Corapi’s response to it all, does not look good.

As God only allows evil- be it sin or misfortune -to exist for some greater good, it would be to our advantage to try to learn what that greater “good” might be for those of us who have been inspired by the message and witness of John Corapi (absent the title- Father), as he is now called. As a matter of fact, the lesson to be learned has a lot to do with becoming the victim of our own success; that is, the victim of a successful mission which God uses to fulfill the spiritual needs of many souls. With public recognition and human applause, we sometimes believe ourselves to be better than we really are. As such, we might be inclined to let down our guard and relax our spiritual defenses. But when a member of the clergy succumbs to this illusion, the consequences can be damaging.

To begin with, as a result of John Corapi leaving the priesthood under such dubious conditions, the temptation may arise among many to think that holiness is either unattainable or not real. People might wonder: When the teachings of then-Father Corapi inspired me to consider the priesthood or religious life, or when his sermons led me into the Catholic Church, was this inspiration for real? After all, if it was for real then why didn’t he live up to the same inspiration and grace that I received? If what he taught was true, then why did he leave the priesthood?

Herein lies the tragedy of scandal and the reason why our Lord spoke of it in the severest of terms. For instance, he said, “Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7) And the word of warning to those who do commit scandal is justified because of the doubts and questions it provokes among onlookers. People may even ask themselves: Do holy men even exist?

The short answer is: Yes, there are many holy men and women in this world. However, these unsung heroes, more often than not, are better appreciated in hindsight; especially after their departure from this earth. Pope St. Gregory the Great said that virtue acts quietly but it is the whip (i.e. trials) that stirs up the reputation of virtue. In other words, greatness is often revealed by adversity. And the appreciation of that greatness among the people comes only after the passage of time. According to the wisdom of the Saints, no one should be crowned before having carried the Cross all the way to Calvary. But quite often Catholics have prematurely canonized gifted leaders and preachers in the Church before they have died or before they have been tested by trial.

Keep in mind that many Saints have been tested by the same temptations as John Corapi and other highly esteemed men who have left the priesthood within the last decade. And one such temptation among high profile Catholic speakers (or even gifted homilists at the local parish) is the constant attention, praise and adulation they receive from their admirers. No doubt, the side effects of being a celebrity in the Catholic world can be just as seductive as they are in Hollywood or in the entertainment industry at large.

This brings us back to the greater good that can come from all of this: With every peak there must be a valley and with every rose, a thorn. This truth is beautifully expressed in a nineteenth century Catholic periodical called “The Rambler." It reads as follows: “It is in the struggles against difficulties that all that is best in man is nurtured into vigor and preserved from decay. Through labor we live, in enjoyment we die."

This is not to say that enjoyment and the pleasures of life are to be avoided all together. Rather, it is quite often the case that difficulties, trials and yes, even suffering, makes us better human beings precisely because it keeps us humble and it keeps the need for God alive.

Well loved priests who have the aura of sanctity and are gifted preachers naturally attract admiration and followers. With this kind of celebrity status the temptation to feel entitled to special treatment from others and even to presume God's mercy is a temptation that can be overwhelming. To be sure, its snare can be subtle and virtually undetectable. But as we already mentioned, there is a remedy for this.

For St. Paul, while laying the foundation of Christianity, he was constantly beaten down, not just by trying circumstances, but by a demon. He said, “…because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.” (II Corinthians 12:7) In his human weakness he implored God for help in the following passage: “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’" (II Corinthians 12:8-9)

The method of perfecting St. Padre Pio was the same as St. Paul’s. Because he was gifted with spiritual ecstasies and levitations, he was also physically beaten up by demons immediately afterwards so as to keep him humble. And it was precisely because so many people came to him in search of God that he suffered the stigmata of Christ on his hands and feet. No doubt, this was a form of spiritual sacrifice for sinners. Nevertheless, who can doubt that this holy priest benefited from these graces too? The wounds of Christ on his own body kept him grounded in the reality that he was but a slave of Christ and a servant of the people.

This holy priest, therefore, understood the dangers of presuming God’s mercy without the accompanying gift of the Holy Spirit, namely, the fear of the Lord. In the year 1913 one of his friends wrote to him about a woman who had backslid in her Christian life. His friend was dumbfounded as to how this could have happened. St. Padre Pio replied:

“This is how that soul was snared in the devil’s net. When she saw that she was so favored by God…she began to wonder at all the good that God sent her and she clearly discerned the difference between the goods of heaven and those of earth. At this point she was proceeding well.

But the Enemy, who is always alert, seeing such affection, convinced her that such great confidence and certainty could never decline…Furthermore, he put into her heart a clear vision of the heavenly prize, so that it seemed impossible for her to renounce so great a felicity for things so base and vile as earthly pleasures.

The devil used this immoderate confidence to make her lose that holy distrust in herself, a diffidence that must never leave the soul, not matter how privileged it is by God…”

This holy distrust of self that St. Padre Pio writes about is strengthened by God’s grace through adversity. Indeed, the good things in life such as success, public recognition and even the heights of the spiritual life need to be tempered by the abrasive texture of the Cross. And to be sure, the Cross of Christ is a reminder that power is made perfect in weakness!

Appreciating this truth more deeply just may be the reason why the Lord permitted the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the departure of John Corapi from the priesthood. In the meantime, let us pray for those who have been inspired by his sermons who do not yet have the spiritual maturity to make the distinction between God’s grace and the instruments (i.e. human beings) he uses to communicate that grace. The former is always trustworthy to the end but the latter is imperfect and can sometimes disappoint.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Excerpts: The Secret to Peace by St. Doretheus, the Abbot

By the Abbot, St. Dorotheus:

"The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man.

But perhaps you will offer me this objection: “Suppose my brother injures me, and on examining myself I find that I have not given him any cause. Why should I blame myself?”

Certainly if someone examines himself carefully and with fear of God, he will never find himself completely innocent. He will see that he has given some provocation by an action, a word or by his manner. If he does find that he is not guilty in any of these ways, certainly he must have injured that brother somehow at some other time. Or perhaps he has been a source of annoyance to some other brother. For this reason he deserves to endure the injury because of many other sins that he has committed on other occasions.

Someone else asks why he should accuse himself when he was sitting peacefully and quietly when a brother came upon him with an unkind or insulting word. He cannot tolerate it, and so he thinks that his anger is justified. If that brother had not approached him and said those words and upset him, he never would have sinned.

This kind of thinking is surely ridiculous and has no rational basis. For the fact that he has said anything at all in this situation breaks the cover on the passionate anger within him, which is all the more exposed by his excessive anxiety. If he wished, he would do penance. He has become like a clean, shiny grain of wheat that, when broken, is full of dirt inside.

The man who thinks that he is quiet and peaceful has within him a passion that he does not see. A brother comes up, utters some unkind word and immediately all the venom and mire that lie hidden within him are spewed out. If he wishes mercy, he must do penance, purify himself and strive to become perfect. He will see that he should have returned thanks to his brother instead of returning the injury, because his brother has proven to be an occasion of profit to him. It will not be long before he will no longer be bothered by these temptations. The more perfect he grows, the less these temptations will affect him. For the more the soul advances, the stronger and more powerful it becomes in bearing the difficulties that it meets.

My brethren, let us consider how it can happen so often that someone hears something unpleasant and goes away untroubled, as if he had not heard it; and yet sometimes he is disturbed and troubled as soon as he hears such words. What is the cause of this inconsistency? Is there one reason for it or many? I recognize several, but one in particular is the source of all the others. As someone has put it: it all comes from the person’s state of mind at the time.

If someone is engaged in prayer or contemplation, he can easily take a rebuke from his brother and be unmoved by it. Or again, his affection toward a brother may be a strong reason; love bears all things with the utmost patience. Yet another reason may be contempt: if a person despises the one who is trying to trouble him, and acts as if he is the vilest of all creatures and considers it beneath his dignity even to look at him, or to answer him, or to mention the affront and insults to anyone else, he will not be moved by his words.

All in all, then, no-one is disturbed or troubled if he scorns and disregards what is said. But on the other hand, it is also possible for someone to be disturbed and troubled by his brother’s words, either because he is not in a good frame of mind, or because he hates his brother. There are a great number of other reasons as well.

Yet the reason for all disturbance, if we look to its roots, it that no one finds fault with himself. This is the reason why we become angry and upset, why we sometimes have no peace in our soul. We should not be surprised, since holy men have taught us that there is no other path to peace but this.

We see that this is true in so many other people; and yet we hope, in our laziness and desire for peace, we hope or even believe that we are on the right path even when we are irritated by everything and cannot bear to accept any blame ourselves.

This is the way things are. However many virtues a man may have – they could be innumerable, they could be infinite – if he has left the path of self-accusation he will never have peace: he will be afflicted by others or he will be an affliction to them, and all his efforts will be wasted."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Apologetics of Mary’s Mediation: Getting in the Way or Getting the Job Done

An article written in 2006 by Joe Tremblay


It has been my observation that Mary’s role in our salvation is not only a point of contention with Protestant Christians, but it is a paradox that many Catholics have to resolve in their relationship with Christ. It is quite common that in the course of our spiritual growth that we find a kind of tension between wanting to give all to Christ and yet maintaining a devotion to Our Lady. A kind of false duality arises in the mind between Christ and Mary. It is this “either-or” approach that predicates much of Protestant theology: It’s God or the Saints, faith or works, the Church or Scripture, spirit or matter. From the beginning, a balance has been maintained in Catholic theology by using a “both-and” principle. That is, God communicates His saving grace through matter and through human beings. As St. John Damascene said, God, the Creator of matter, became man through matter so He could communicate his salvation through matter. Just as God used matter to reveal spiritual truths, He used Mary to reveal Christ to the world.

From the Gospels we read that Mary plays a key role in giving Jesus to the world, making Him better known, and mediating His grace. This occurs at four critical points in Christ’s life: 1. The Incarnation. 2. The sanctification of Elizabeth and John the Baptist. 3. The commencement of Christ’s public ministry. 4. The Presentation and the Crucifixion. Far from being in the way of the work of salvation, I propose that Mary was the main channel through which Christ got his job done.

Mary and the Incarnation

The Incarnation: In the first joyful mystery we find Gabriel proposing the unthinkable to Mary: that she would conceive a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. With a deep abiding faith in God, Mary said “yes.” But by saying “yes” to Gabriel she, at the same time, said yes for all of us- yes to our salvation. As St. Bernard said to her, the world is waiting for your answer O Mary. As a woman endowed with free will, she could have declined the offer. Many of us take this suspenseful moment for granted. Perhaps in the back of our minds we concede that Mary had no other choice but to yes. Keep in mind that Eve was created in the state of perfection; as such, she did not have any predispositions to evil as we do. Nonetheless, Eve chose to comply with the serpent’s request. Through her, death entered the world. But, thankfully, Mary didn’t say no to the archangel. For this reason we can apply these words of the book of Wisdom to her: Yes, blessed is she who, childless and undefiled, knew not transgression of the marriage bed; she shall bear fruit at the visitation of souls. (3:13) In the first mystery, Mary bore fruit for mankind by saying “yes” to an unprecedented request.

The teaching that Mary had a central role in our redemption goes back to the Fathers of the Church in the first centuries of Christianity. In the second century, St. Irenaeus, who was both a Father of the Church and a bishop of Lyon, went so far as to say that Mary was the “cause” of our salvation just as Eve was the cause of our death. What he meant was that she was a secondary cause- a subordinate cause to Christ’s sole mediation – but a real cause nonetheless. Mary as a cause of our salvation was confirmed by another second century Father of the Church, St. Justin Martyr. He wrote: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosened by Mary's obedience. The bonds fastened by the virgin Eve through disbelief were untied by the virgin Mary through faith." (Dialogue with Trypho) Implied here is the supposition that Mary played a principal and indispensable role in our salvation. Since the early years of Christianity, the Father’s of the Church understood this and developed it to mean that Christ not only came to us through His Mother, but that we go to Christ through her. In a word, it works both ways.

The First Graces of the New Covenant

The Sanctification of Elizabeth and John the Baptist: When we read the Gospel of Luke, we find the author comparing two people: Zachariah and Mary. Reading it, an Old Testament Jew or Scribe would have thought that Zachariah- a man of status -would have been the one who “carried the day.” As a priest of the temple, Zachariah was supposed to offer incense inside the sanctuary and then exit the temple to bless the people outside. However, as we read Luke, he was punished by the Angel Gabriel for his unbelief that God would give his barren wife a child. The punishment was severe for a priest. He was muted! Keep in mind that a priest without a voice is a priest without a job. Therefore, being mute, he could not give the priestly blessing to the people. Rather, Luke has the blessing coming from an usual source: a young teenage Jewish girl; a Jewish girl supposedly not even from the tribe of Levi- the tribe where priests come from.

Being with Child, Mary hastened to Zachariah’s house to help Elizabeth, her cousin. Through her greeting- that is, through her words -both Elizabeth and baby John were sanctified and filled with the Holy Spirit. It may be interpreted that Jesus could hardly wait to bestow the blessings of His Incarnation. Therefore, He inspired Mary to visit Elizabeth and John so that He- through the words of Mary –could bless His relatives. Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches that St. John the Baptist has the singular privilege of being the only mortal man born without sin. Hence, whereas the first mystery of the Annunciation Mary wins for the world God’s grace in general, in the second mystery of the visitation, Christ applies that grace to two individuals- but only through Mary. With a filial pride for our Heavenly Mother, then, Catholics can say that it was through Mary that the first Christians were sanctified.

Mary Hastens the “Hour”

The Commencement of Christ’s Public Ministry: The Incarnation and the Visitation are not the only mysteries or Scriptural passages that speak to Mary’s initiative and mediation; she was also responsible for inaugurating Jesus’ public ministry by interceding on the behalf of a married couple. It appears that before the wedding of Cana that Jesus and His Mother had a mutual understanding about the “hour” in which he would suffer. I’m sure that the myrrh given to the Holy Family at the Epiphany by the Magi and Simeon’s prophecy in the temple certainly made an impression on Mary. In all probability that generated a few table discussions. In any event, when it came time for wedding at Cana, it appears that Mary precipitated her Son’s public mission thus bringing him all the more closer to the day of his death. Mary simply says, “They have no wine.” Jesus’ response almost seems to assume that the Mary’s redemptive obligation had not yet arrived, for the “hour” of his suffering was not at hand. This might explain why he says, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come?” In other words, your intervention here on this occasion will inaugurate my mission, for it will be the beginning of my signs which will reveal my glory. (cf. John 2:11) From Our Lord’s response, it almost appears as if Mary’s “next move” was supposed to be on Good Friday. But just as Mary said yes to His Incarnation, and just as she had been preordained to accompany our Lord to his death, she also was there to initiate His public ministry.

A Pierced Heart and Christ Crucified

The Presentation and the Crucifixion: It is an irony that the presentation of Jesus in the temple as an infant is a joyful mystery on one hand, and yet on the other, it is one of the seven dolors of Mary. Seeing Jesus for the first time was a cause of great joy for Simeon; for he had been promised by God that he would see the Messiah before his death. For Mary, however, this visit to the temple was different. Through Simeon, God had told Mary that her Son would be a Sign of Contradiction and that He would be the cause for the rise and fall of many in Israel. As His mother, she would be contradicted too. A sword would pierce her heart (or soul). This prophecy didn’t just refer to a natural maternal suffering of a mother who was grieving over her Son. No. This maternal suffering would help bring about the judgment of nations. Simeon told Mary that her heart would be pierced so that the hearts of many would be revealed.

Now, if we read in I Corinthians 4:5, it is clear that the unveiling of hearts is an act of God reserved for judgment day. It reads: "Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God." However, according to Luke 2, Simeon points to Mary’s participation in this manifestation of hearts. This manifestation of hearts is another way of saying “Judgment Day.” Mary, therefore, will help bring about eternal life for the righteous and eternal death for the wicked.

From a certain vantage point, one can interpret the presentation of Jesus as Mary’s formal offering of her Son to the Father. What Abraham could not do for the good of mankind in offering his son Isaac, Mary could do in offering hers. Notice Simeon’s prophecy was directed to Mary and not Joseph. Just as the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity required Mary’s own flesh and blood, similarly, the ultimate price of dying on the cross by Jesus of Nazareth would exact her soul. Assisting her Son at the foot of the cross in the fifth sorrowful mystery is the fulfillment of what was prophesied in the fourth joyful mystery. By so doing, Mary would merited, by virtue of joining her sufferings to her Crucified Son, universal motherhood.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (Jn. 19:26-27) This disciple is none other than John of Zebedee; not John of Mary and Joseph. Mary is declared “mother” not because of her blood relations to John, but by the divine grace she just merited by offering her Son to the Father. Just as Abraham became father of the Hebrews through his willingness to offer his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, Mary became mother of all Christians by actually offering her son on the same hill. Therefore, Mary not only mediated God into His earthly existence- she not only mediated the first graces of the New Covenant for Elizabeth and John -but through her pierced heart, she became mother of John and all of mankind.

The four episodes of the Gospel illustrate not only what Mary meant for mankind at large, but what she meant for specific individuals who were awaiting the graces and the promise of their salvation. In these instances, her maternal solicitude did not divert divine grace or detract from the intimacy Christ wanted to establish in the soul of the believer. If anything, Mary hastened the action of grace and brought it to fruition. Being a most worthy Mother, she does the same for us by binding our hearts with Christ. As St. Louis de Monfort said:

If then we are establishing sound devotion to Our Blessed Lady, it is only in order to establish devotion to our Lord more perfectly, by providing a smooth but certain way of reaching Jesus Christ. If devotion to our Lady distracted us from our Lord, we would have to reject it as the illusion of the devil.

-St. Louis de Monfort, True Devotion. Monfort Publications, page 28.

Tough Love and Heroes

Boys and Hero’s

Boys grow up wanting to be superhero’s who love good and hate evil. They look up to men who stand up to the bad guys and who bravely defend the little guy. However, when they grow up, they begin to realize that Spiderman, Batman and Superman are no where to be found in real life. As these superhero’s fade into the background of the imagination, boys begin to look elsewhere for men to imitate.

Regardless of where they look, there is a virtue that merits the admiration of every boy; a virtue that most boys want to emulate. And that virtue is tough love. This kind of love takes the blows of the “bad” guy with patience and kindness but it is also one that strikes down evil out of love for God and neighbor! It can be severe, it can be confrontational and it can be intense. This expression of love is every bit as Christian as a love that turns the other cheek. We know this because Jesus, the Apostles, and the Saints exercised it. To be sure, tough love inspires the young, protects the weak and glorifies God. But, like every good thing, it does have its counterfeit.

Two Extremes

When it comes to love and hate, there are two counterfeits: The first is what may be called bigotry. The bigot begins by hating the sin (so far so good) but ends up transferring his hatred to the sinner (not good). The other extreme is what some call liberalism. The liberal begins by loving the sinner (so far so good) but ends up loving the sin along with the sinner (not good). Christ gives us something better: he teaches us to love the sinner but hate the sin. The problem is we end up loving or hating the wrong thing. Especially today, many have forgotten that hating sin is a true expression of love. And if sin is not hated, then we fail in our spiritual growth and we fail to win souls for Christ.

Absence of Tough Love

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to this when he addressed the Austrian and German bishops in 2005. Repeating the concern of his predecessor Pope Benedict XV , he said that those entrusted with preaching are shying away from addressing the demands of the Gospel and avoiding those doctrines that are countercultural. Conventional wisdom is that this accommodating approach attracts people. But he went on to say that the exact opposite is true: When the fullness of the Gospel is preached- even the difficult sayings of the New Testament –then, and only then, are people turned on! To be sure, people love a challenge!!

In the absence of tough love, Christianity softens and it becomes lukewarm; it ceases to attract the young. Pope Benedict XVI went on to recount that Germany and Austria have become missionary countries. In other words, priestly vocations are so low they have to import foreign priests to serve the people. And as for church attendance, the beautiful cathedrals and shrines have become more like museums for people to look at rather than houses of prayer to worship in.

Part II: The Two Sides of Love

Tough Love Exemplified

Bishop Fulton Sheen described tough love in the following passage: “Christian love bears evil, but it does not tolerate it. It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin. Real love involves real hatred: whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the buyers and sellers from the temples has also lost a living, fervent love of Truth.”

To be sure, Christ taught us about a kind of love that requires us to absorb evil; to take the blows and to bless those who persecute us. This sacrificial and merciful love is ultimately what saved us on Calvary. It is characterized by what Christ said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the same spirit, many martyrs went to their death forgiving their executors. Who can forget St. Maximillian Kolbe or St. Thomas Moore?

But there is another side to love which appeals to the superhero imagination of boys. It is exemplified in St. John the Baptist when he told Herod that marrying his brother’s wife was unlawful. St. John was too concerned about Herod’s moral health to let it slide. Out of love for the king, he told him a difficult truth; a truth that he needed to hear. Ironically, Herod respected him for this and was reluctant to kill him as a result.

St. Paul exemplified tough love by debating his critics in the synagogue and the public square. Furthermore, when writing to the Christian communities which he himself established, there were times when he had to admonish, to threaten with punishment and to express his displeasure. For instance, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying that “We punish every disobedience.” He told St. Timothy to publicly reprimand so that others would be afraid to sin. He published the names of blasphemers. He handed over a man who was guilty of “sleeping with his father’s wife” to Satan for the “destruction of his own flesh.” He used combative language in saying that “we are capable of destroying fortresses and arguments.” All of these things are manifestations of tough love.

As for Jesus, he knew that in order to form his disciples into his own image and make them “fishers of men,” he had to love them by repeatedly contradicting their will. When his apostles talked about being the greatest, Jesus talked about being the last. When a man wanted to bury his dad, Jesus said “let the dead bury the dead.” To the rich man, he said go and sell everything. To the comfortable, he said he would come like a thief in the night. When Peter bade him to avoid the cross, Jesus said “Satan, get behind me!” And when he witnessed his Father’s temple being desecrated by the greedy merchants, he over turned the tables. Afterwards his disciples recalled the words of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house consumes me.” Zeal is also a manifestation of tough love.

At times Jesus avoided confrontation. At other times, however, he provoked it. In Mark 2, when the paralytic was being lowered through the roof, Jesus was well aware that the Scribes were hypersensitive to the slightest infraction of the Sabbath law; which included healing the infirmed. Moreover, Jesus knew that any reference to his divinity would provoke indignation. Despite this, Jesus healed the paralytic and forgave his sins. He did this, not for the sake of offending his critics, but for the sake of doing good to a man in need. Indeed, healing the paralytic offended the Scribes; but he healed him anyways!

This deed was “tough” because this kind of provocation eventually led to his death. But it was also an act of “love” because the paralytic and those present witnessed the mercy of God. Truly, in the person of Christ, toughness and love were perfectly blended. As such, thousands, including boys and young men, were inspired to follow him even to their death.

Characteristics of Tough Love

Tough love is born from recognizing that if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved. Jesus asked what good would it do if you would gain the whole world but lose your own soul. Our spiritual welfare, then, takes top priority. And as for those things that undermine our spiritual welfare, a firm but charitable correction is entirely appropriate.

Tough love takes into consideration ones feelings. But tough love also recognizes that in speaking the truth, feelings may get hurt. Conventional wisdom has it that error and sin should be borne in silence. “Thou shall not judge” is usually taken to mean that we should not admonish or correct our neighbor. But Jesus did not say, “Never mind the speck in your brother’s eye.” Rather, he said that “before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye, first take the plank out of your own.”
Through out the New Testament, correcting our neighbor with prudence is seen as an act of charity. Sometimes, silence can be a disservice to our neighbor; especially when we know he can benefit from the spoken truth.

Tough love also recognizes that to have one’s will contradicted is an essential part of becoming good or becoming a saint. Desires of the flesh want what they want. But a soul aspiring to serve God must not confuse pleasure with what is morally right and confuse pain with what is morally wrong. If so, this kind of materialism will prevent us from seeing the value of short term sacrifices for long term gains. We sometimes forget that great things are only achieved through sacrifice. When people cease acting on sound moral principles- which many times require sacrifice -and instead rely on impulses, it is then that the common good is compromised.

Boys may outgrow their fascination with animated superheros, but they never outgrow their need for heroes. And real heroes are those who imitate Christ and his Saints. To be holy requires that we do tough things. Perhaps, it is speaking the truth when nobody in the room agrees with you; or saying what needs to be said or doing what needs to be done for the good of another even when opposition is anticipated. One pope said that “Christians are born for combat.” Many times Christians do well to avoid conflict, but when the honor of God and the salvation of souls are at stake, then it is our duty to act. This is what St. Paul calls the “good fight.” And when engaged courageously and lovingly, boys will find that the Christian heroes of today are far better than the animated superheroes of yesterday.