Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bearing Contempt: How the avoidance of it is leading to religious intolerance

St. Thomas More “speaks critically of certain clerics who deliberately refrain from warning a rich and powerful man of the peril his soul is in out of fear of angering him and on the false premise that admonitions will do him no good.”

-James Monti, The King’s Good Servant But God’s First

“The saints have not been made saints by applause and honor, but by injuries and insults.”

St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Spouse of Christ

Leading up to the problem:

Recently, in the news, Christians are learning, a little bit every day, that Secular-liberalism is becoming increasingly intolerant of religious expression and practice. We have learned, for instance, that New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has no intention of including clergy in the tenth anniversary ceremony of 9/11 at Ground Zero. He said, “Everybody would like to participate, and the bottom line is everybody cannot participate. There isn't room. There isn't time. And in some cases, it's just not appropriate.” It’s those last four words that are the key: “…it’s just not appropriate.” Patrick Quinn, Governor of Illinois, also considered it inappropriate to allow Catholic Charities to continue with its adoption agency. Since America’s founding, the Catholic Church has had a policy of serving heterosexual couples only. The Church is the same as it always has been, but the State of Illinois, as with New York City, is changing; or should I say hardening. And who can forget the State of New York legalizing same-sex marriage this past June? It was the sixth largest state to depart from the Christian – others might say, traditional –position that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.

These recent developments are nothing new, of course. But what is relatively new in America is that supporters of Secular-liberalism, that is, those who hold and advance values diametrically opposed to the Gospel, are more decisive, unapologetic and bold than ever before! They seem to be coming out of the closet; using less pretense and fewer excuses when they target the Christian religion. Interestingly enough, these three characteristics (i.e. decisive, unapologetic and bold) once defined Christians not too long ago. It certainly describes the early Christians who, at times, appeared to be absolutely fearless of offending the majority of pagans and powerful men who ruled over them. Indeed, they even faced the prospects of death with a smile!

Today, however, there is a spirit of timidity among Catholics. An overemphasis on harmony and being overly concerned with offending people has led to a paralysis of action among clergy and laity. If we, as Catholics, do an honest examination of conscience, perhaps we can come to terms with the following truths: We, as Catholics, have become soft; the other side, that is, the worldly or secularists, have hardened in their ways; we are indecisive, the other side is determined; we count the cost, they put everything on the line; we preach virtue with trepidation, they boast of vice unapologetically; we flinch and wince, they don’t even bat an eye! It would seem we have forgotten who we are: sons and daughters of God, Christ-bearers, the light of the world and the salt of the earth. As Pope Leo the Great said, "Christians, remember your dignity."

How is it, then, that we got to this point? The Holy Spirit does not breed cowardice among the people of God. In fact, St. Paul said, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” (II Timothy 1:7) Yet here we are! The circle of religious liberty is getting narrower by the day.

The problem:

Part of the problem is that we are unwilling to pay the price. Christians today have not sufficiently considered the words of our Lord: that the disciple is not greater than the master; that if the world hated him, the world will also hate us. The bottom line is that we are unwilling to bear the contempt of the world. We even count it a sign of God’s displeasure or consider it a setback when we anger and offend those who advance values diametrically opposed to the Gospel. On the contrary, opposition and persecution is what Christ and the Saints "promised" us. St. Alphonsus reminds Christians that, “The saints have not been made saints by applause and honor, but by injuries and insults.” Every prophet had to learn, sometimes the hard way, the following inevitability: “My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials.” (Sirach 2:1)

Festering this timidity and anxiety is a kind of selective reading of Scripture among Christians. We read, for instance, one passage from the writing of St. Paul which emphasizes gentleness and tolerance: “A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness.” (II Timothy 2:24-25) Or we talk about the teaching of our Lord about not judging or about how the meek will inherit the land or the duty to turn the other cheek. Yet, we forget that the same Apostle also said, “…exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents…It is imperative to silence them, as they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what they should not.” (Titus 1:9, 11) In his first letter to St. Timothy, St. Paul even admonished him to reprimand sinners publicly. (5:20) And as for Jesus, he was tough on his own disciples as well as the Pharisees. When St. Peter was trying to counsel him to avoid the Cross, taking the easier road, our Lord said to him: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." He also frequently called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” and “hypocrites.” These passages which call for gentleness on the one hand and severity on the other are not contradictions; rather, they complement each other and are to be applied when circumstances warrant their use.

As Christians, we are called to juggle opposites; neither gravitating to one truth at the expense of the other. God’s mercy and justice; forgiveness and judgment; clemency and severity all need to be held together- juxtapose to one another –without losing sight of either one. In the 1950’s, during one of the Life is Worth Living episodes, Bishop Sheen said that Western Civilization had gravitated towards a Christ without a Cross. It is a version of Christ that speaks little about specific sins and the real possibility of going to hell. This kind of Christianity, he went on to say, leaves men cold…without passion and without zeal! As such, we find ourselves in our country less friendly to Christianity because the enemies of Christianity have been left unchecked. We have failed to appreciate that the “good fight” St. Paul refers to is really and truly a fight; not necessarily against people- we are to love them to the end –but against the advancement of sin, error and vice.

Fighting the good fight, however, will undoubtedly merit the displeasure and even the contempt of some people. But this burden of bearing hatred is necessary if we are to convert souls and restore our nation! Christians must see through the derision and even see the value in it. Our Lord had to bear the hatred of people and even instructed us to rejoice when we are persecuted in his name. Still, we count it the worst of evils to be rejected and despised; we then avoid such inconveniences at all cost. What naturally follows is that we water down the truth or avoid speaking all together of those doctrines which might offend people. Quite often we spare the feelings of a sinner but leave his soul as it was- in mortal sin and in jeopardy of being lost. Why? Because we fear his anger and rejection! Fifty years of this fear and silence on the part of Christians only has enabled anti-religious forces to implement their agenda. As such, we find ourselves less free and less confident about our future.

The solution to the problem:

The solution to the problem can be found in the Scripture readings from Sunday’s Liturgy on August 28, 2011. Consider the following passages:

• The first reading- from the book of Jeremiah: “…the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day… I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

• The second reading- from the Letter to the Romans: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

• The Gospel reading- from the Gospel of Matthew: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…”

For the prophet Jeremiah, the burning desire to make God and his law known- a desire that was inspired by God himself –had necessarily led to, when acted upon, the derision and reproach from his people. He bitterly complained about it. Although Jeremiah was tempted to be silent as result of the persecution, the fire burning in his heart was too much for him to endure. He had to prophecy in God’s name even though it provoked anger from others. No doubt, Jeremiah's spiritual perfection depended, in part, in accepting persecution for God's sake and with a calm mind. St. Alphonsus said, “He who does not suffer contempt with a tranquil mind shall never attain the spirit of perfection.” Perhaps this is why the book of Acts states that, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." (14:22)

Bearing contempt, enduring imprisonment and being subject to floggings was also the lot of the Apostles. We may have forgotten that out of the twelve, eleven Apostles died a martyrs death. And how did they prepare for such a trial? As St. Paul admonished the Roman Christians, they daily offered their bodies as a living sacrifice to God through self-denial and self-control. As St. Ambrose would say three centuries later: "By this kind of detachment our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body." "It must soar," Ambrose continued, "above earthly lusts to a place where they cannot come near..." With this kind of sacrificial love and detachment, the Christian does not feel compelled to conform to the age or times in which he lives; especially with all the biases and fashions that accompany it. Instead he is free to "discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." What is more, he is equally free to act on it with self-abandon!

Finally, Christ told his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…” The willingness to bear the contempt of others for God's sake and risk losing our life, our job, and our good name is the only kind of dedication that will reverse the narrowing or erosion of religious liberty. It is the only way the fullness of truth will be communicated. Not only that, it is the kind of dedication that will make us Saints and worthy of the mission God has for each one of us.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Loved Ones and Lost Souls: The story of St. Monica and St. Augustine

Feast day of St. Monica: August 27th
Feast day of St. Augustine: August 28th

In honor of these two great Saints and so as to give hope to those who are praying for the salvation of a friend, family member or acquaintance, "Loved ones and Lost Souls" is being reposted.

Through the saved, God very often searches for the lost. 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 Aurelius, all the way to Milan, 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 youth, 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, Adeodatus. St. Augustine, being the wayward son that he was, would be the source of 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 wheb they failed to exorcise a man possessed with demons: "But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” St. Monica, in her mystical union with the Lord, needed to pay the price for her son Augustine. It can be said, she “carried about in her heart the dying of Jesus.” (cf. II Cor. 4:10) What was true for St.Monica is true for every Christian. And that is, "Christ's sufferings overflow to us."(I Cor 1:5) His Passion does not render our sacrifices null and void. On the contrary, Jesus suffered for sinners so that we could suffer for sinners. 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. It would seem that her prayers were heard. In the book, Confessions, St. Augustine relates the following about what would turn out to be a prophetic dream of his mother:

“She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule [a measuring rod which symbolized the rule of Faith], and coming towards her 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 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 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. He said to St. Monica 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 grew 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.

Those words of the saintly bishop would redound in her heart. "It is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” The tears of St. Monica were the anointing applied to St. Augustine's soul before his sins were wiped clean from 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.

As for St. Monica, her perseverance paid off. To make a long story short, 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 Bishop of Hippo 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.

On her deathbed, St. Monica glanced at her son and said, "Remember me at the altar." It just so happened that prayers for her soul in purgatory were unnecessary; for she did not go there. Instead, her intercession would be invoked by the Church in subsequent years.

On earth, St. Monica traveled many miles so that she could follow her son, St. Augustine, so that he might find eternal life. But in the year 430 A.D., St. Augustine followed his mother to heaven.

Throughout the centuries, these two great Saints became benefactors for those parents whose children had walked away from Christ and His Church. God counted the tears of St. Monica and they added up. What God did in the fourth century for St. Monica, He could do for twenty-first century parents who find themselves in similar circumstances.


Follow Up Commentary: Old stories do not help much if they have no relevance to today's circumstances. The story of St. Monica and St. Augustine provides a general lesson of perseverance and penance for those lost souls we care about.

I remember listening to Relevant Radio when a mother called in to express some of her concerns about her daughter. This particular mother said that her family prays the rosary everyday and attends Mass on a regular basis. However, she felt that she was losing her daughter over important moral issues like homosexuality. The woman went on to add that her daughter attended a public high school which itself was a challenge to her daughter's faith at times.

From high school to college, the social and intellectual temptations of young adults to abandon their faith only intensifies. In early 2010, a Pew Forum poll found that “nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 (18%) say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.” Younger generations are found to be more liberal on social issues and less favorable to organized religion.

Upon finding out that their son or daughter no longer goes to church on Sunday's, parents indistinctly want to push their children back through the church doors and into Mass. What these parents deem to be the solution is very often the problem. Participating in the Divine Liturgy (or the Mass), presupposes an active relationship with Christ. Daily prayer, Scripture reading, table conversations and a Christian social life are the conditions on which Mass attendance makes sense and is worth getting up in the morning for. If Catholicism is not a 24/7 lifestyle- and instead is a once a week activity -I am afraid that young adults will grow indifferent to it.

For parents who are concerned over the faith of their children, I have this suggestion: Don't worry about Mass attendance of your son or daughter right away. Instead of pushing Sunday Mass attendance from the start, talk to them about Jesus, about prayer, about heaven and hell, about your own answered prayers and your personal experience with the Lord. Cultivate their personal relationship with Jesus. If this sounds too fundamentalistic, it is not; it has been a Catholic principle since the beginning. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist is built on the interior life lived during the week. Even the reception of Communion presupposes that the person is free from mortal sin.

As Jesus said, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Before the altar, therefore, there are things that must be in order: Communication and reconciliation with God and with neighbor are paramount.

The encounter with Christ as an individual must come before encountering Christ at the altar, where the Church gathers.

Remembering Who Was Right: Cardinal Stafford or Wolf Blitzer?

Certain truths need to be repeated or they will be forgotten. "Remembering Who Was Right: Cardinal Stafford or Wolf Blitzer?" was originally posted as "Learning the Hard Way" on September 21, 2010. It recalls Cardinal Stafford's warning to America about President Obama and Wolf Blitzer's response. It also speaks to why political progress in favor of limited government and a culture of life has been, by and large, short-lived.

Cardinal James Francis Stafford gave a lecture in the fall of 2008 at the Catholic University of America, making reference to then president-elect Barak Obama, he said, “On November 4, 2008, America suffered a cultural earthquake.” “For the next few years," he continued, "Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden.” Cardinal Stafford then went on to criticize Mr. Obama for being “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic.” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer immediately criticized the Cardinal's comments as "scathing rant" and a "diatribe." Almost two years later, however, it would seem that most Americans have come to believe that the words of Cardinal Stafford are more than just a rant.

To be sure, President Obama's policies have not been realized enough to make us feel the full effects of the Garden of Gethsemane. Nevertheless, people are troubled enough about the direction of our country that they are willing to give Cardinal Stafford the benefit of the doubt. The emergence of the Tea Party, the low poll number for the President Obama, and the recent primaries are just a few indications that Wolf Blitzer just may have been too quick to dismiss Stafford's "scathing rant."

With these new developments, conservatives are optimistic over the prospects that America is now turning to conservative principles and traditional values. In eager anticipation for November's elections [2010 elections], there is a lot of rejoicing going on in conservative circles; albeit the excitement is tempered. Indeed, there is momentum building in favor of Tea Party values, no doubt. But success is never long sustained if the reasons behind that success are poorly understood. For any nation to advance, right ideas need to traced to their source and wrong ideas need to be followed to their logical conclusions.

Although most Americans would tend to side with Cardinal Stafford's assessment that President Obama is a liability to our nation, what troubles me is that the majority of voters had to learn this through experience. Learning by experience can be costly; especially when local, State and Federal governments were already growing in size and meddling in the private sector long before November of 2008.

Truth be told, a good Christian and civics education would have alerted the voter that with President Obama, and many Congressmen like him, free enterprise and civic liberties would be further compromised. The public should have anticipated the unfavorable developments that are now taking place in Washington D.C.

This is the problem at hand: In America, lessons are learned and quickly forgotten. American voters do not vote for something definite as much as they react to that which is disagreeable. Catholic theology and morality, on the other hand, is always oriented towards the purpose of things; that is, towards something definite. Marriage, for instance, has two definite goals: procreation and love. Similarly, the government exists for specific reasons; among them are to protect the citizenry from foreign threats and to establish public order for the common good. A solid Christian and civics education inspires this purpose oriented/principled based frame of mind. But the majority of Americans do not benefit from such an education. As such, democracy, the free market and religious liberty remains brittle. Indeed, people simply do not know the principles on which they rest nor do they understand their value.

Until the monopoly of the State on education is broken up and is then returned to local communities, Americans will continue to learn tough and costly lessons over and over again. State-run education, by and large, is prejudicial towards faith and patriotism. These two virtues, more than anything else, unites citizens under a common purpose. Without them, a nation will perish.

Cardinal Stafford's warning to America has been vindicated by recent political events. The Tea Party is on the rise. But in two, four, or six years, will voters remember why? Or will we have to learn the hard way again?


Epilogue: The following excerpt is from a book called Religion and the Modern State, written 75 years ago (1935). As a Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson understood political, cultural and religious trends. Because Dawson took all three of these social forces into account, he could anticipate what the "new State" would come to mean for the individual citizen. Indeed, what he details in the passage below are the very challenges America faces in 2010.

"The new State will be universal and omnipotent. It will mould the mind and guide the life of its citizens from the cradle to the grave. It will not tolerate any interference with its educational functions by any sectarian organization, even though the latter is based on religious convictions. And this is the more serious, since the introduction of psychology into education has made the schoolmaster a spiritual guide as well as the trainer of the mind. In fact it seems as though the school of the future must increasingly usurp the functions that the Church exercised in the past, and that the teaching profession will take the place of the clergy as the spiritual power of the future.

Nor will the State confine its educational activities to the training of the young. It will more and more tend to control public opinion in general by its organs of instruction and propaganda. We have already gone a long way towards the nationalization and public control broadcasting, and I believe the time is not far distant when similar methods will be applied to the control of the Press, and the Cinema. It is obvious that a Totalitarian State, whether of the Fascist or the democratic type, cannot afford to leave so great a power of influencing public opinion in private hands, and the fact that the control of the popular Press and of the film industry is often in unworthy hands gives the State a legitimate excuse to intervene. The whole tendency of modern civilization is, in fact, to concentrate the control of opinion in a few hands…

As our civilization becomes more completely mechanized it becomes easier to control, and the organs of control become more centralized. It is true that these things are not usually regarded as having much relevance to the religious issue. But we may ask ourselves- do people go to the cinema or to church? Does not the cinema take the place that was formerly occupied by church and chapel? Has not Hollywood got a distinct ethic of its own which influences the minds of its audiences?"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Making of Converts: Making America Christian Again

The reason why Conservatism alone will not renew America; the reason why an excessive reliance on lectures in RCIA programs, religious education and retreats will not produce the spiritual fruits comparable to that of early Christianity, boils down to one reason: Ideas alone, and even the naked truth, does not contain the power to make citizens good nor Christians holy.

The revolutionary character of Christianity in those early years was that it recognized that intellectual enlightenment was woefully insufficient to bring about a person's conversion to a higher, supernatural life. Indeed, Christ not only came to shed the light of truth but he also came to infuse the power of grace into souls; and the purpose of that grace was to empower the human will to do good and to live his very life.

Hence, if the life of Christ infused into souls was the basis from which Christian civilization sprang then it is to this divine life, communicated through the Sacraments, that Americans must return to. Better put was the statement by Pope Leo XIII: “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery.”

A 19th century Catholic priest and a cardinal address this very point in the two quotes below:

“To merely imitate Christ or the virtues of the Apostles was insufficient for the regeneration of mankind. On the contrary, virtue, even heroic virtue, was often an object of hatred. Without moral strength, an unattainable perfection of obedience to the commands of Christ could only aggravate the pagan’s despair of reaching it…

God’s work, through the Apostles, had to minister to the passive side of man as well as the active side; not just the intellect, but the will had to be regenerated…The doctrines which they spread abroad by preaching were not so many abstract assertions; but the practical force, the force of action, arose from that worship, whereby man could attain the grace of the Almighty.”

-Fr. Antonio Rosmini, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church 1832

“[Pagan] Philosophers ‘might’ have been able to check immorality. Some of them, indeed, guided by the light of reason, inculcated beautiful and sublime moral maxims; but many causes that rendered their influence for the good were scarcely perceptible among the people. Their audience was generally composed of a narrow circle of literary men.

They had no well-defined and uniform moral code; and they were often vague and contradictory in their ethical teaching. They suggested no adequate incentives to the practice of virtue. They never employed the greatest argument of St. Paul for morality: It is the will of God that you should be sanctified.”

-James Cardinal Gibbons, Our Christian Heritage 1889

As to Gibbons last point, it must be borne in mind that personal sanctity is the surest way of fostering both knowledge and civility. Or to put it another way: goodness must be the seat of learning. And the most effective means through which goodness is given to us is through the Sacraments! As such, we are not only to imitate the life of Christ; no, we are to do more! We are called to live out his divine life through the same Holy Spirit that abided in his soul as he existed on earth and in eternity. It is through this ongoing conversion to Christ- a lifelong series of new beginnings -and not to some vague moral code, that America will be Christian again. And once she is Christian again, she will be great again.

Everything Hinges on the Preserving Image of God

As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.

–Isaiah 62:5

The angel spoke to me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."

-Revelations 21:9

From my observations, the Catholic Church is subtly but steadily losing the younger generations as well as those who formerly subscribed to her teachings on the sanctity of marriage. It concerns me because there is a lot at stake. Those who used to be on common ground with the Church were Christians from other denominations and conservatives. However, that base is eroding. I do wonder if the Catholic clergy as well as lay evangelists and teachers are making the connection for people that the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman is inextricably linked to economic and political prosperity. If the latter is a cause for alarm for everyone then increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage should be equally alarming. As Pope Leo XIII said, within the circle of family life the destiny of the State is fostered.

For starters, same-sex marriage not only undermines the true nature of marriage but it is an affront on the image of God. In Genesis, God said let us make man in our image. Then Scripture continues: "Male and female, he created them." If we are to have a correct understanding of God, at the very least, we have to get his image right! And his image- that is, the template and blueprint of who he is -includes one man and one woman. After all, both the masculine principle and the feminine principle come from him. We can even say that these two principles are mysteriously contained within his nature. Yes, God is Father and God is Son, but the prophet Isaiah likens the Lord to a mother as well. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Therefore, if we as Christians still believe that a marriage between a man and a woman symbolizes who God is, if marriage still says something about how the Jesus, the bridegroom, his bride, then we have to get the image of God right and retain the marriage between a man and a woman as the only acceptable union. If you take away the man and woman combination and replace it with something else, the image gets distorted and the very understanding of who we are, how we relate to one another and how we relate to God is likewise distorted.

Indeed, the proper understanding of human sexuality and the distinction between the male and the female gender- at some level -is absolutely necessary for a lifelong marriage and a “family that stays together.” Moreover, a mother and a father is an image of God for the child; and it is through this image that the child understands himself, God and the world. It is not an exaggeration to say the following: the image of God (mother and father) is more powerful than a lifelong education itself! The repercussions are even more profound than that of legalized abortion. Whereas the abortion issue addresses the dignity of the child’s body- as well as his very life –the challenge of homosexuality or same-sex marriage is broader in scope; and even deeper. Tinker with this image- the primary medium through which we perceive reality and the natural channel through which God fathers us -then everything is thrown off balance. With the sanction of same-sex marriage, the incentive for couples to marry will decrease, the permanence of marriage will be increasingly seen as unrealistic and broken families will become the norm. And worse yet, God himself will cease to be known as he wishes to be known because his image- as comprising that of a man and a woman –will not be held up as the standard in society.

What can we conclude from all of this? What the family loses, the State gains. Political prosperity and democracy presupposes that the citizen is capable of exercising some measure of self-governance. And the institution that is most efficient at teaching self-governance is a strong, intact, traditional family. Every study I read about same-sex unions strongly suggests that they are inherently unstable. But we can't forget what a prosperous economy presupposes, similar to political prosperity, and that is honesty and virtue. If our word and credibility means little to our neighbor then distrust arises which in turn strains financial relations. Again, virtue is best fostered within the circle of tradition family life (religion plays a significant but different role too); and the guarantor and guardian of the family is a loving, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman united in Christ. In the absence of a nuclear family structure, as so many studies have demonstrated over the years, social disorder increases and the State is empowered to clean up the mess.

This is why same-sex matters. Political or economic remedies alone will not be sufficient to forestall America’s economic and political challenges. The image of God must be preserved for every child. Our nation depends on it; our salvation depends on it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

He Leadeth Me: A priest's story about the Soviet Union labor camps and God saw him through it

“Ultimately, we come to expect God to accept our understanding of what his will ought to be and help us to fulfill that, instead of learning to see and accept his will in the real situations in which he places us daily.”

-Fr. Walter Ciszek

Preface: The following is a repost from 2010. It is a remarkable story about a priest who survived the harshest of conditions in the Siberian labor camp under the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin. Fr. Walter Ciszek provides some of the most practical insights into understanding of God's will and even tougher yet, the carrying out of God's will. It is a must read for anyone who wants to make sense of the trials in their life.

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

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

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

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

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

Like so many Christians, Father Walter Ciszek went into God’s work expecting one thing and getting something totally different; something unexpected. Quite often, the Lord inspires in us a passion or a vision for some mission without communicating every last detail to us; especially those seemingly impossible circumstances we have yet to encounter. Quite often we underestimate the capacity of our ability to suffer. How many times do we say, "Lord I can't take it anymore" or "It can't get any worse." And yet, it does get worse and it does last longer. Yet, we survive and we eventually make it through the dark valley.

So that we can burrow our way through the obstacles, God gives us a kind of basic training; which is to allow circumstances to contradict our mission before it even begins. With the passion to serve and work on God's behalf, the Lord tells us to wait...and wait...and wait as He did with Fr. Walter in the quiet years of solitary confinement. His quest to minister to the needy seemed to be on hold indefinitely; or better yet, it appeared to be a lost cause.

One of the greatest contributions this book has to offer for today’s Christian is to see that our daily circumstances is the content of God's will for us. Quite often we search for God's will, always wondering what it implies for the future, when in fact his will is being played out in the very circumstances we want to be delivered from. “Ultimately," Fr. Ciszek says, "we come to expect God to accept our understanding of what his will ought to be and help us to fulfill that, instead of learning to see and accept his will in the real situations in which he places us daily.”

Part II:

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

In the spiritual classic, Imitation of Christ, our Lord speaks to his disciple (the disciple representing us) by reminding him that to focus on the future is to be a slave of his imagination. “It is a vain and unprofitable thing,” he says, “to conceive either grief or joy for future things, which perhaps will never happen.”

God inspired a dream in Fr. Ciszek: to minister to the Russian people. However, what seemed to be an eternity in solitary confinement (close to five years) contradicted that he thought. There was not a soul to talk to; there was no Russian people to minister to whereby he could use his priestly gifts. Every day in that Moscow prison he had to conquer himself and die to self. The monotony of solitary confinement and the isolation he experienced tested his faith greatly. This Jesuit priest could probably have identified with what the prophet Isaiah said: "Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God."

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

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

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

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

Finally, with the help of his sister who lived in America and a few U.S. diplomats, Fr. Walter Ciszek was permitted to return to the United States of America in 1963. On December 8, 1984- after twenty one years of enjoying his liberty in America -God called this good priest to yet a better life in heaven where his freedom can never be taken away.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What America can learn from Caesarea Philippi- continued

For the convenience of those readers who want to delve a little deeper into the relationship between American and Caesarea Philippi, I reposted part III and part IV below.

Part III:

In regards to religious truth, the open-mindedness and the non-committal attitude of actor Liam Neeson and President Barak Obama is reminiscent of the pre-Christian world. Yet, it is believed to be a mark of politesse and civility. Despite the fine trappings, it is a step backwards. Deference to and tolerance of all religions has value up to a point. If such a gesture is taken to mean that all religions have equal value then it is pushed too far. Apathy towards the differences between religions, in the end, leads to the rejection of all religions. As such, principles pertaining to God and his laws lose credibility and hence fail to bind the consciences of people. What is left are man-made moral codes which are invented to serve the interests of the powerful.

This brings us to Caesarea Philippi where St. Peter stepped forward to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of Living God. As stated earlier, his profession of Faith was inspired by God the Father. And it is through the office of St. Peter and his profession that God would guarantee religious certainty. St. Peter, the first of among a long list of popes, would err and falter as a man. But as the Shepherd of the Universal Church his profession of Faith and his teachings would be preserved from error. Indeed, he would be the voice of Christ for the Church and for the world. This charism that was given to him at Caesarea Philippi was a charism that would be communicated to every one of his successors. In every era, through the successors of St. Peter, God provided a standard bearer of spiritual and moral truth.

To express the permanence and reliability of God's instrument of communicating truth, Jesus used the biblical image of a Rock to name Peter. In fact, the name “Peter” itself means Rock in Aramaic. In the Old Testament, the term “rock” was originally applied to God. But it also was used by the prophet Isaiah in reference to Abraham: “Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried; Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth...” (51:1-2) Therefore, in the Old Testament, the name, “Rock” was not exclusively applied to God; it was also bequeathed to Abraham as well. It had a two-fold meaning of fatherhood and security from evil and error. As the Psalmist prayed, “LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!” Similarly, in the New Testament, St. Paul said that Christ was referred to as the spiritual rock that followed Moses in the desert. And yet, Jesus himself changed the name of Simon to Peter, meaning Rock. His ministry as the Rock of the New Testament was, like Abraham, a father of God's people and a source of religious certainty. To be sure, as the First Vatican Council taught, religious truth can be known with certainty.

In the meantime, there was the huge rock in the background at Caesarea Philippi; the hollowed cave, which was impressed into the rock, is where the multitudes from many nations worshipped false gods. But upon a new rock, a rock that would be made into a mountain, our Lord would build his Church. This rock or stone would strike down the Roman Empire with a spiritual sword as the prophet Daniel prophesied: “But the stone that struck the statue [the iron statue represented the last of the great pagan empires...the Roman Empire] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” About this mountain Isaiah said, “The LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it...” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

Part IV:

[B]y pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition.

Just as there are four regions of the world in which we live, and four universal winds, and since the Church is disseminated over all the earth, and the pillar and the mainstay of the Church is the Gospel, the breath of life, it is fitting that she have four pillars [i.e., four Gospels], breathing immortality on every side and enkindling life in men anew.

-St. Irenaeus, 180 A.D.

In the eighth century B.C., the descendants of Abraham had fallen away from the worship of Yahweh, the one true God, and turned to other gods. From amidst this religious confusion, the prophet Isaiah raised his voice and told them to return to the rock from which they were hewn; the rock being father Abraham. It was on this rock where God's lighthouse shined the light of truth. Similarly, St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr in the second century A.D., found himself surrounded by those who had succumbed to error and had fallen away from the Gospel preached by the Apostles. In order to demontrate the truth of the Gospel it wasn't enough debate his opponents using Scriptural passages; instead, he simply pointed to those churches that were founded by the Apostles. The most important among them, he said, was the church of Rome where St. Peter and St. Paul had laid its foundations. This Church, he continued, is superior in origin and all other churches must agree with it. Because from her proceeds the breath of immortality which enkindles life in men anew.

As we have said, Jesus founded his Church upon the Rock, who was St. Peter. This Rock became a mountain which covered the earth. (cf. Daniel 2:35) For centuries, the nations would stream toward this mountain to receive the knowledge of God. The ministry of St. Peter continues to this day through Pope Benedict XVI. From him comes the religious and moral certainty amid a confused world. It is the same Rock that Abraham represented; it is the same Rock upon which Christ built his Church; and this Rock is none other than God himself. As our Lord promised, the gates of hell would not prevail against it. If hell cannot prevail against it, neither can Islamic and Secular totalitarianism.

On the other hand, the ambivalence of religious pluralism and egalitarianism is no match for Islamic and Secular totalitarianism. The deference paid to other religious leaders by Liam Neeson may be the etiquette in Hollywood; disavowing the Christian identity of America by President Obama during a press conference in Turkey may have been a politically correct posture; however, this neutrality and open-mindedness, so highly esteemed now days, makes for a poor foundation for any civilization.

Western Civilization, if it is to retain the blessings of God, must return to the Rock from which it was hewn. From the ministry of St. Peter, better known as the papacy, the truth about God, life, love, sex, marriage, contraception, abortion and euthanasia can be known with certainty. From this Church comes “the breath of immortality and the enkindling of life anew.” But the further we drift from this mountain, the further we drift from Christian morality. As history bears witness, the alternative to Christ's moral law is the darkness of pagan morality. If you recall, this pagan morality is aptly represented by ancient Caeserea Philippi where the cult of the State and the worship of many gods flourished. Inseparable from this religious confusion was the prevalence of human cruelty and incivility.

There are many opinions about Christ today and what he actually taught. Nevertheless, the truth of faith and morals, so necessary for our stability and happiness, is to be found coming from the Rock upon which Christ built his Church.

What America can learn from Caesarea Philippi

Religious uncertainty is at the heart of ailing civilizations. Liam Neeson, accomplished actor and the voice behind Aslan from the movie the Chronicles of Narnia, said in an interview: “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.” Technically speaking, he is incorrect. C.S. Lewis, a Christian apologist and author of Chronicles of Narnia, created Aslan to represent Christ. But as for Neeson, his "open-mindedness" is indicative of the religious uncertainty and the moral malaise so common among celebrities.

The same can be said for political leaders. President Barak Obama, during a press conference in Turkey of April, 2009, made the claim that America is not a Christian, Jewish or Muslim nation. Admittedly, over the last several decades America has lost much of its Christian character. However, to say that it has no religious identity and then to leave it at that, is not only misleading but it is emblematic of a lack of religious and moral resolve in the political world. In short, total and exclusive dedication to one creed, to one faith, and even to one God is not a virtue highly esteemed in Western Civilization; nor was it in the first century. Indeed, our post-Christian world is beginning to look like the pre-Christian world of old.

Speaking of the pre-Christian world, ancient paganism expressed its religious uncertainty by worshipping many gods. It is no exaggeration to say that for every town there existed a different god to honor. And to proclaim any single religion as having a “monopoly on truth” or being exclusively privileged as God’s own- as Christianity did -was deemed to be the height of arrogance and worse yet, stubbornly intolerant.

It is important to remember, however, that when beliefs yield to error or vice, they rarely stand alone. It is more true to say that an error or vice exist in families. Values tend to conglomerate around kindred values. Religious uncertainty, for instance, gravitates towards moral equivalency and so-called non-judgmentalism. This extended family of values becomes a well-defined belief system with social and political implications. Today, these values marked by uncertainty are dignified with a label such as “religious pluralism.” A person who holds these values is referred to as "open-minded." But once a cluster of values solidifies and gains momentum- thus forming a belief system or a way of life -it naturally opposes contrary values. In the case of religious uncertainty, its opposition is directed against spiritual absolutes, moral obligations and well defined creeds.

Much like today, the Greco-Roman Civilization in the first century was no exception to the aversion towards religious certitude. This ancient civilization was riddled with spiritual darkness and religious confusion. As the prophet Isaiah testified: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”(9:2) This great light was none other than the religious certainty that Jesus Christ offers the world.

In order to demonstrate just how religiously uncertain the world was, our Lord brought his Apostles to Caesarea Philippi. This city was named after a Caesar Augustus and King Herod. Its population was predominantly non-Jewish, that is, Gentile and pagan. One of its main attractions was a cave embedded in a huge rock formation; or as the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, said, “a great cavity in the earth.” This was a place where many gods were worshiped. A pool of water existed in this cave, the depths of which were unknown. For the pagans, this measureless depth was to symbolize the bottomless pit of Hades. Their ritual would consist of throwing their sacrificed animals into this pool in hopes that their gods would be appeased. Later, after the Roman Empire annexed this land, Roman temples were to be built in front of this cave to honor their gods; which included a cult dedicated to Caesar Augustus. In pagan Rome, emperors were given divine status.

It was within the milieu that Jesus posed the following question to the Apostles: Who do men say that I am?

Part II:

Jesus asked his Apostles, “Who do men say that I am?” The place where this pivotal question was answered to this question is every bit as important as the answers the Apostles give.

After the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., almost forty years after this question by our Lord was posed, thousands of Jewish fugitives were caught and were forced to participate in gladiator games in Caesarea Philippi; most of whom died. If truth be told, first century Caesarea Philippi epitomized what was wrong with the world. Human cruelty was sponsored by the State and the cult of the State, through which Augustus was worshipped as a god, was prominent. Furthermore, the famous cave near the ancient city hosted the worship of Canaanite, Greek and Roman gods. From this, superstition flourished.

Religious confusion and uncertainty is never an isolated phenomenon. Invariably, it begets moral uncertainty which in turn gives birth to social disorder. Religion, morality, the social order and the political order are indivisibly linked together. What we believe about God determines how we live, how we treat others, how we understand the family and how we govern. In the case of ancient paganism, the endless number of fictional gods was symptomatic of man’s attempt to make God into his own image. When religion becomes this arbitrary, so does the moral code by which people live. And let there be no doubt, when the moral law is subject to such easy manipulation, the body politic and the State can justify any behavior. Slavery, blood sports, infanticide and even human sacrifices were all State-sanctioned practices in every part of the globe at one time.

This moral darkness was only to be dispelled when God took the initiative to reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah. And it is only through an exclusive and singular dedication to this Divine Person in human flesh that the Light of God was to disseminate throughout the world.

In Caesarea Philippi, the question posed by Jesus Christ demonstrated just how the light of religious certainty was to be established. Again, he asked: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" The Gospel of Matthew continues: “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:13-19)

As the Apostles indicated, there was no consensus as to who Jesus was. Making reference to the rumors in Palestine, the Apostles cited four different answers as to who he might be. When human beings are left to their own devices, when they rely on their own wisdom, what inevitably follows is contradiction and error. In the Gospel of John, during Jesus’ sermon on the Eucharist, there were hecklers among the crowd who protested the eating of raw human flesh. Of course, they misunderstood our Lord’s message. However, their misunderstanding was an occasion for Jesus to remind his listeners just how limited human wisdom is. He said, “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.” Not his flesh, but it is human flesh, that is, human ways of thinking that are the problem. And the problem is to be remedied by the infusion of the Holy Spirit. It is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that compensates for the limitation of human understanding. St. Paul puts it yet another way: “For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God…Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God…The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone.”

Going back to Caesarea Philippi, the Apostles gave the indication that the Jewish people were just as confused about Christ as the Gentiles were about their many gods. But St. Peter, inspired by the Father, came forth to profess Christ as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. A new day had dawned. Religious certainty would be possible, not only for St. Peter and the Apostles, but for the Church he would established better known as the Catholic Church.

For the remaining two posts on this topic, please click on What America can learn from Caesarea Philippi- continued in the right hand column under the August archive title.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Principled Opposition and the Dictatorship of Relativism: Ellen Meade says opposition to gay marriage is "unAmerican"

Ellen Meade recently wrote an article for the American Thinker entitled: Why the Right is Wrong on Gay Marriage. Her caviler “there are bigger fish to fry” approach to same-sex marriage is a growing phenomenon among conservatives, libertarians and Republicans. She said, “It saddens me that Republicans think it's okay to trample on civil liberties if it's for the right reasons: gay marriage, FISA, The Patriot Act.” Then she goes on to say, “But, there should be no room in the party for limiting liberty and freedom.” That’s right! Implied in Meade’s comments is that liberty and freedom are absolutes and ends in themselves. It doesn’t matter what you do with such liberty and freedom, as long as you are permitted to do what you want. As such, moral principles are totally arbitrary. If Meade gets her way, two things are bound to emerge with greater force: political despotism and social intolerance.

“Part of being an American,” Meade continues, “is being free to believe what you want, acknowledging that right in others, and being treated equally under the law. Opposition to gay marriage flies in the face of that.” This radical equality pushed by so many political operatives and media personalities is what Alexis de Tocqueville warned us over a hundred years ago in his book, Democracy in America. He cautioned that equality indiscriminately pushed to an extreme is but the precursor of despotism. If equality is an absolute then the nature of merit, moral values, and religions have to be neutralized! As such, achievers and non-achievers, the sacred and the profane, criminals and the law-abiding, men and women, parents and children, heterosexual and homosexual all must be reduced to one dead level.

But once society travels down this road, without any kind of spiritual, moral and social hierarchy, one thing stands supreme above the multitude: and that one thing is always the State! When people can no longer rely on each other with their different gifts, possessions and rank in society, they are forced, over time, to rely on big government for aid and protection. After all, if everyone is the same- existing on the same level with the same characteristics -then no one is in the position to help his neighbor. The only helping hand which will stand out above the rest is the State. As a “libertarian-leaning Republican,” as Meade styles herself, this unintended consequence flies in the face of what she claims to stand for, namely, limited government.

There is yet another irony to Ellen Meade’s call for tolerance. Unconditional tolerance, a tolerance without any objective moral reference, inevitably leads to an indiscriminate intolerance; an overbearing one! As Judge Robert Bork cleverly put it, “Non-judgmentalism leads to judmentalism.” Indeed, the greatest threat to those who call for tolerance at any price (regardless of morality) is a belief that certain behaviors and values are immoral. After all, with the recognition of an objective, God-given moral law there naturally follows a response by the believer which involves some form of intolerance; whether it be hatred of sin or a renunciation of evil. This is something that Christ bids every Christian to do. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”

In June of 2005, just before being elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke of the irony of unconditional tolerance; better known as relativism. In his “Dictatorship of Relativism” speech, he said, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” But for anyone who does recognize anything as for certain…well…they are deemed by the likes of Ellen Meade to be enemies of liberty and freedom. Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, went on to say that “Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism.”

Shortly afterwards, Cardinal George Pell commented on the “Dictatorship of Relativism” in a speech given to The National Press Club of Australia. He said, “Relativism is meant to serve as the operational principle that delivers tolerance, mutual respect, and a basis for civic peace, in contrast to the way religion causes war and dissension. Those who defend secularism and relativism continue to offer this rationale, but secularism and relativism can be dictatorial, intolerant of principled opposition …”

Here I caution Christians: This secular relativism, dictatorial and intolerant of principled opposition, is coming to you from all sides: from Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals and libertarians. Catholic Charities in Illinois is now feeling the heat of this intolerance. One of the largest adoption agencies and foster care providers is not being shut down by the dictatorship of relativism, courtesy of the State of Illinois. It is reported that 2200 children will now be transferred to other social welfare agencies. Never mind the quality of service it has provided for thousands of children. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that opposition to the gay-rights agenda be silenced and put out of commission.

The injustice done to Catholic Charities in Illinois is a fine example of how social intolerance led to a kind of political despotism. If fact, this movement of intolerance is to be pushed back, the New Evangelization in America has to call the gay-rights movement for what it is.

Finally, this leads me to a question I have for Ellen Meade: Are you offended that Catholic Charities, who stands opposed to same-sex marriage, is not being treated equally under the law to those social welfare agencies who do adopt to same-sex couples? Does equality under the law apply to those who oppose same-sex marriage? For many gay-rights advocates it does not! This is but one glaring inconsistency of the "Dictatorship of Relativism" so aptly described by Pope Benedict XVI. But there are many more.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Socialism and the New Evangelization: Two competing movements for the soul of America

Socialism and the New Evangelization:
Two competing movements for the soul of America

Riots in the U.K in recent weeks, global economic uncertainty and the fight to resurrect the U.S. economy, is all symptomatic of a greater conflict between the Catholic Evangelization and the propaganda of Socialism. In 1938, when the line between the City of God and the City of Man, between the Church and the World, between the Free World and Communism, was more clearly defined, a Catholic historian by the name of Christopher Dawson reminded Christians of the following:

“The conflict between Christianity and Marxism- between the Catholic Church and the Communist party –is the vital issue of our time. It is not a rival of economic systems like the systems between Socialism and Capitalism, or of rival political ideals- as with the [Parliamentary system] and Fascism. It is a conflict of rival philosophies and of rival doctrines regarding the very nature of man and society.” (Dawson, Religion and the Modern State) Dawson goes on to say that Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

Just a year before, in 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote a compelling encyclical entitled, On Atheistic Communism. In so many words he confirmed what Dawson would later claim, that Communism- and here I would include Socialism –is more than just an economic ideology; indeed, it is a philosophy of life and a way of living. Pius XI cautioned the world that Communism, “more emphatically than similar movements in the past, conceals in itself a false messianic idea…Thus the class struggle with its consequent violent hate and destruction takes on the aspects of a crusade for the progress of humanity.” From this struggle between the haves and have nots comes a political campaign to invoke an all-powerful State to remedy the alleged injustices. But in order to convince the populace that it intends to level the playing field it must acquire the power to do so. And such power can only be purchased from voters with political promises to take care of the needy or the "little guy." In a word, in order for the State to be a master it must first sell itself as a nanny and foster dependence on government programs among its citizens.

Communism, as it existed in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, that is, in its rigid political form, has yielded to a softer, nanny-like version, namely, Socialism. This friendlier version, something akin to what Alexis de Tocqueville styled in the nineteenth century as “soft despotism,” is precisely what is plaguing America today. But long before Socialism drained the U.S. treasury, it undermined its very soul.

Through State-run education the principles of Socialism have been inculcated, indirectly and directly, in the minds of American children for decades; not just in its economic form but in its philosophical and political form; not just by what it emphasizes- be it environmentalism, class warfare, anti-colonialism and statism –but what it doesn’t emphasize. And what State-run education does not emphasize is God, the Ten Commandments, moral absolutes, the dignity of the immortal soul and the true nature of marriage and the family. Absent these truths, the cult of the State is sure to be propagated as it has been with great success! As the Catholic philosopher Etienne Gilson wrote, “…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.”

What we haven’t come to grips with yet is that Socialism, affectionately embraced by many Catholics due to insufficient catechesis, is diametrically opposed to Catholicism; just as Communism is. It is not only a rival to the free market in some unrelated or compartmentalized sort of way; it is a nemesis to the Gospel itself. Instead of Christ as its Good Shepherd- he who should be the center point of society -the State thus becomes the Good Shepherd. As Cardinal James Gibbons said that it is "in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State."

During the Woodrow Wilson administration (1913-1921), many would argue that Socialism had made progress in the America. Perhaps this is why Cardinal James Gibbons cautioned his fellow Catholics in a 1919 Pastoral Letter that a State-monopoly on the economy or education would spell disaster for America. In this memorable statement he points not only to the problem facing America but the greater conflict that would ensue between Catholic Evangelization and the propaganda of Socialism in the decades to come. He said, “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.”

Postscript: Although this post is not primarily about Socialism versus Capitalism it must be stated that the Church only criticizes the excesses and the misuse of the Free Market (i.e. Capitalism) but never does it condemn it as instrinsically evil as it did with Socialism.

As recent as 1991, Pope John Paul II provides a fine distinction between the positives and negatives in Capitalism:

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
(Centesimus annus)

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Christian Criteria for Success

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

“The liberal optimism which has been so characteristic of Anglo-Saxon religious thought the last half century [i.e. second half of the 19th century] led men to believe that the days of persecution were over and that all men of good will would agree to set aside their differences of opinion and unite to combat the evils that were universally condemned- vice, squalor and ignorance.

But from the standpoint of the Christian interpretation of history there is no ground for such hopes. Christ came not to bring peace but a sword and that the Kingdom of God comes not by the elimination of conflict but through an increasing opposition and tension between the church and the world. The conflict between the two cities is as old as humanity and must endure until the end of time. And though the church may meet with ages of prosperity, and her enemies may fail and the powers of the world may submit to her sway, these things are no criterion of success. She wins not by majorities but by martyrs and the cross is her victory.

Viewing history from this standpoint, the Christian will not be confident in success or despondent in failure...She [the Church] has been the guest and the exile, the mistress and the martyr, of nations and civilizations and has survived them all.”

Christopher Dawson, The Kingdom of God and History 1938

The Masculine Expression of the Almighty: The Assumption of Mary

The “arm of God,” that masculine strength of the Almighty, is rarely given the emphasis it deserves. Bishop Fulton Sheen, in his Life is Worth Living television show, said that the problem with Christianity in Western Civilization is that it promotes Christ without a Cross; that is, Jesus is more often portrayed as an effeminate man who “pats little children on the head.” Our modern version of Christ would never drive out the sellers from the Temple; would never say anything against divorce; and would he would never stain his lips by mentioning hell. Sheen goes on to say that this sad characterization of Christ leaves men cold! without passion! and without zeal!

The softening of Jesus’ image also affected the way in which the Mother of God has been portrayed. James Cardinal Gibbons, in his 1889 book, Our Christian Heritage, saw hints of this in the nineteenth century. He said, “It seems to me that some writers are disposed to lay undue stress on the amiable and tender qualities of Mary and of holy Christian women without dwelling sufficiently on the strong and robust points of their character, valor, courage and fortitude.”
Arguably, one of the most strong and robust points of Mary’s life is that of her bodily assumption into heaven.

Just as Mary's conception was spared from Original Sin, so too at the evening of her life was her body spared from the consequence of that sin, namely, bodily corruption. Having been created outside of Satan's dominion and having lived a life of valor, courage and fortitude of the most perfect kind, Mary's body would not know the corruption of the grave. With this, she would come to be styled as the "Woman clothed with the Sun" by St. John in the book of Revelation; the one who would crush the head of the Serpent and lay to waste the Culture of Death.

This sacred and historical event is not only meant to inspire and rekindle our hope for eternal happiness; but it also contains a preview of good conquering evil in the final chapter of world history.

Our Lady, when recounting the marvels the Lord had bestowed on her in the Gospel of Luke, emphasized the masculine strength of God and what that strength would imply. She said,

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…”

Perhaps, what she had in mind was not only despotic emperors and kings of old, but dictatorships, totalitarian regimes and the cult of State that would characterize the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Could it be that the Blessed Virgin Mary who is so often depicted in art as effortlessly crushing the head of the Serpent (the greatest tyrant in world history) will have a significant role to play in restoring what we fear is being lost forever, namely, Christian civilization?

In 1904, in a spirit of nostalgia, Pope St. Pius X recalled the public devotion Europeans once rendered unto the Mother of God. There was a time when whole cities and whole nations honored this Blessed Woman. In anticipating a future day when such public devotion would be renewed, St. Pius X said, “We must not omit to say that this desire of Ours is especially stimulated by a sort of secret instinct which leads Us to regard as not far distant the fulfillment of those great hopes…” This is the same pope who predicted World War I long before the rumors of war had surfaced.

Mary’s assumption into heaven, emblematic of a much greater war- the spiritual warfare of nations -points to a hope that St. Pius X “secret instinct” will be fulfilled in the "not far distant" future. To be sure, his “instinct” will have something to do with the masculine strength of the Almighty in dispersing the proud of heart and casting down the powerful from their thrones. The irony is that God will use what appears to be a harmless little Jewish girl to defeat the greatest nemesis of mankind namely, the Prince of Darkness.

How have you fallen from the heavens, O morning star, son of the dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who mowed down the nations! You said in your heart: "I will scale the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, in the recesses of the North.

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!" Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit! When they see you they will stare, pondering over you: "Is this the man who made the earth tremble, and kingdoms quake?

-Isaiah 14:12-16

It is with honor and much affection that the Sky View blog site is dedicated to this forever-young Nazarene girl. In becoming the mother Jesus Christ, my brother, she became my mother too! And it is my hope and prayer that with every person who rests his or her eyes upon these posts, that she will be affectionately regarded as your mother too! No doubt, she will lead you to her Son in a short amount of time.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Been There! Done That! 3rd Century Rome and 21st Century America

Since Americans have short memories- at least with regard to politics -I like to post 3rd Century Rome and 21st Century America every couple of months so that we can learn the lessons from history. In many ways, 21st century America bears a striking resemblance to 3rd century Rome. Picture: Courtesy of Freedom's Phoenix website.

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

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

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

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

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


For more insights into how nations rise and how they die, here is a quote by Guglielmo Ferrero in his 1914 book entitled, Ancient Rome and Modern America.

"A civilization is not always in reality richer and stronger in times when it bears the most visible marks of so being. We are rather apt to find that when it is most dazzling and outward seeming, its decadence has already begun...

We think of how great the powerful and rich which could rear monuments so massive that all the centuries have not sweep them under the face of the earth and yet we are to look at these relics in their right light, we must remember all the great roman monuments whose remains survive to our day on a large scale belong to the third and fourth and fifth century of the Christian era, to the centuries of decadence and disillusionment. As the empire weakens, and ages, its monuments become more and more elaborate and colossal."

And another quote from the same book:

"If after 20 centuries of work and study, we find ourselves fortunate heirs of an ancient civilization in a position to live more safely and more comfortably than did our ancestors on this little globe, we are not therefore justified in altering the moral values and virtues to suite our pleasures. The vices, the faults, the depraved inclinations of 20 centuries ago remain the same today. And modern civilization would be guilty of the gravest of errors if, deaf to the great lessons preached by the ruins of Rome, she boasted of those very defects which destroyed in the ancient world one of greatest works of human energy history has to offer."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Riots, Entitlements and Education: The great domino effect

If you want to know the causes behind the global economic uncertainty and the riots transpiring in the U.K., look no further than the quotes listed below! For years, State-run education has fostered the notion that the solutions in life are chiefly political. In other words, it has inculcated in the youth a dependency on the State, otherwise known as an entitlement mentality. Sound Christian education on the other hand inspires sacrifice and a sense of duty towards others. And it is from this foundation that liberty, justice and progress emerged as a social reality. Europe may be a lost cause but there is still hope for America. Please read below:


"Leo XIII has wisely pointed out, that without proper religious and moral instruction 'every form of intellectual culture will be injurious; for young people not accustomed to respect God, will be unable to bear the restraint of a virtuous life, and never having learned to deny themselves anything. they will easily be incited to disturb the public order.'"

James Cardinal Gibbons, 1919 Pastoral Letter to the Church in America

"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, The Breakdown of Morals and Christian Education 1951

"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."

Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum 1891

The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home...And in addition to injustice, it is only too evident what an upset and disturbance there would be in all classes, and to how intolerable and hateful a slavery citizens would be subjected. The door would be thrown open to envy, to mutual invective, and to discord; the sources of wealth themselves would run dry, [bold font and italics added] for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents or his industry; and that ideal equality about which they entertain pleasant dreams would be in reality the leveling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation.

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)"

Excerpts: It's not the economy stupid!! (Part II)

Truths we never learned in school. Truths we never hear on the news:

"It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times…The basic reason for this false optimism he attributes to the fact that our civilization is mechanical rather than organic...

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

-Fulton Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West 1948