Friday, September 30, 2011

Excerpts: A Strange Lover

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

The following excerpt is taken from the book, “My Changeless Friend” written by Francis P. LeBuffe, S.J. 1949 The title of the chapter is called: Strange Lover.

For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. (Hebrews 12:6)

“God will have some reward for all that. Perhaps he will ask you to suffer a bit more.” Thus wrote a priest to his friend- quite prophetically. A good work had been undertaken for another, quite unselfishly, with never the least possibility that any one but God might reward. Yet, scarcely had the deed been done, yes, even before the prophecy was penned, God did repay- and with his own coin; for he asked for a bit of suffering and that, too, of the hardest kind- misunderstanding and steel-like hardness from one who should have been the first to read all things aright.

“Perhaps he will ask you to suffer a bit more.” What a reward! What strange ways- to reward with pain! Yet, that is what God has done to many men and women down through the long centuries. He loved Abraham and rewarded his faith by testing it right up to the altar of Isaac’s sacrifice; he loved his Apostles, and gave them martyrdom; he loved the saintly men and women in each generation of the Church, and always is the story of suffering- physical, mental and spiritual –written large across their lives.

And what did he give his own Mother? Surely to her he would give the choicest of all rewards. And what was it? “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce”; and Mary, God’s Mother, is the Mother of Sorrows and the Queen of Martyrs.

Physical pain is hard to bear and wounds of the heart still harder. Hard they are even when we have sinned, though then we can scarcely expect special favors from God; but very, very hard when we have been really trying to keep God’s law and walk aright where many slip, all the while reaching a helping hand to some other stumbling wayfarer. Then is that cry of rebellion stands quivering on our lips: “Is this the reward?!”

Yes, strange though it be, it is often God’s way. Anyone can reward with pleasures; God alone dares to reward with pain. And he knows best. When I have lightened others burdens, he may place an extra cross on me; when I have brought calm to other minds, he may have my own grow anxious; when I have brought joy to other hearts, he may darken mine- just to show he loves me.

Jesus, my God, you are a strange Lover and strangely do you reward your lovers. I know well that you have asked sacrifice of those who were closest to you; that the penalty of being near you was always pain. Yet, when you act thus with me, I am very prone to wonder why and even to rebel. Yet, you know what is best for me and I must accept it all as a token of your love. Just give me strength to accept all pain from you gracefully.

Angels: Interior Voices on 9/11

I remember watching 9/11 videos on the tenth anniversary of that fateful Tuesday in 2001. Amidst the tragedy, horror and the drama, there were many testimonies about hearing an interior voice instructing certain people on what to do. These instructive inspirations were short and to the point. Certain witnesses would hear interior voices saying things like, "keep running" or "get out here...through this door." One lady, as she was trapped in the debris of the Pentagon could not speak because she inhaled too much smoke. But she was trying to get the attention of rescuers from a distance. She then said that a voice told her to clap her hands. She did just that and was rescued.

Interestingly enough, when people recounted this phenomenon, they did not say, " I said to myself such and such..." But rather they referred to an interior voice that seemed to be independent from their own mind. Something distinct and authoritative!

Could it be that these directives, given amidst such horrible circumstances, were the inspirations from Angels? And why not? I think God's messengers were hard work on that day when life and death hung in the balance for so many people.

The Catholic Church celebrated the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael on September 29th. And on October 2nd Catholics will celebrate and give thanks to God for their Guardian Angels. After all, there are probably more times than we know that these divine messengers bailed us out of trouble; perhaps even saving our lives.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lamentations: Out of darkness comes a brighter light

If God were to stop listening to our prayers, it would be justice; our sins against him would be sufficient to merit such a response. On the other hand, when he does deign to answer our petitions, his mercy at work. It is important to remember that his helping hand, which reaches down from the heights of heaven, is not compelled by justice nor is it merited by what we deserve. No. His Fatherly love and his aid are totally gratuitous.

But even when our prayers seemed to be ignored, it is to our benefit. Sometimes we ask for things that are not good for us or if they are good for us, the Lord has something better in mind. As he said in book of Isaiah, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Still, when we experience the silence of God or when we petition the Lord for some favor and it goes unanswered, a kind of desolation sets in. Feelings of abandonment from Him whom we relied on the most can lead a soul to the brink of despair. All incentives to be thankful, all reasons to hope and all of those circumstances which formerly lent themselves to happiness appear to be suspended and beyond our reach. With this, we become acquainted with what seems to be divine justice. In a kind of solidarity with our crucified Lord, nearly all canonized Saints have experienced this kind of anguish of spirit. Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles were forced to become acquainted with it. Indeed, through this kind of holy abandonment their love for God was put to the test. This could not be better illustrated with the following passage from Lamentations:

“I am one who has known affliction under the rod of God’s anger, one whom he has driven and forced to walk in darkness, not in light; with poverty and hardship…He has left me to dwell in dark places like those long dead. He has hemmed me in with no escape, weighed me down with chains; even when I cry for help, he stops my prayer… He has made me eat gravel, trampled me into the dust; My life is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; My enduring hope, I said, has perished before the LORD.”

It is as if the Lord was the accuser or the tormentor of this prophet. The complaint about how God is treating the author of Lamentations closely parallels the Phoenician woman who persistently pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter from a demon. Initially, she was met with what seemed like a rude stiff arm from our Lord. But she refused to back down. Finally, Jesus rewarded her faith and perseverance. Her daughter was healed.

God will often “stiff-arm” his closest friends for a period of time so that our love for him may be purified from self-seeking motives. Yes, He may leave us destitute; he may allow us to fail or he may send us trials so that we do not become spoiled sons or daughters. No doubt, he stirs the waters of our soul so that we will yearn for him and even look forward to a better, more fulfilled existence in heaven.

You may have heard the saying: It is darkest before dawn. Forest fires quite often lay everything to waste. After such natural disasters, all color, all beauty, all life seems to disappear. Nothing but ash and death remain. But from this loss comes new life and vegetation. It is as if the forest was purged so that its trees, flowers and plants could grow more abundantly.

The same applies to human suffering. I have heard many accounts that speak to this phenomenon where life in abundance emerges from desolation and even from a kind of death to self. In the midst of the crisis or loss, God’s answer presents itself. Peace and joy, even in extreme pain, are mysteriously offered by God for the taking! And that light of heaven and hope, once believed to be gone forever, pierces through the darkest of times. The irony is that what appears to be a total loss, what appears to be a total failure and what appears to be the gates of death closing in are but the instruments God uses to bring about new life and a new found happiness.

From despair to hope: The author of Lamentations, as bad as it seemed for him, was inspired to recall God’s goodness and mercy.

“But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness…It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance… For the Lord does not reject forever; though he brings grief, he takes pity, according to the abundance of his mercy; He does not willingly afflict or bring grief to human beings.”

Silence is the language of God. And in silence we wait for Him so that when he speaks we may listen and then act.

The bible is full of lamentations and human suffering. It was the Almighty himself who inspired the sacred authors of the Old and New Testament to express their grief, their anger and even their doubts. The Lord then took up these feelings of loss and these pains in order to sanctify and redeem them. And I hazard to guess the reason why He did this is due to the fact that He has the answer to our lamentations. One that will completely satisfy our human curiosity as to why bad things happen to good people. Indeed, it is through the darkest of times that a brighter light shines. But until that light is revealed to you, remember that the Hand that disciplines and tears down is the same Hand that heals and builds-up again. This is the Mystery of the Cross. When it is accepted for the love of God and neighbor, then lamentations will undoubtedly turn into joy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Mission Torn Asunder

Introduction: The Model of Charity

Every single canonized Saint possessed a great love for the poor. I have read a great many of biographies of the Saints and several of their writings, there is not one among them that was not generous with their material goods and more importantly, generous with their time in their quest to serve the poor. St. Vincent de Paul was one such man.

Every September 27th the Catholic Church celebrates the sanctity of this seventeenth century Saint. St. Vincent de Paul was zealous for the salvation of souls but he was also, to use his own words, “stirred by his neighbor’s worries and distress.” He embodied that Christian love so prevalent in early Christianity which touched both body and soul. Even to this day he is held up as the model for Christian charity. His witness is a reminder for us Catholic’s who want to win souls to Christ that he, like all the Saints, gave the highest priority to spiritual and moral needs of the person. Nevertheless, he never neglected the sick, the mentally ill and galley slaves. Under his inspiration hospitals in France were reformed, prisoners given hope and mental institutions infused with humane treatment. Such venues of charity were the means through which the love of Christ came in contact with would-be criminals and potential outsiders of the Church. Like the early Church, the number of conversions under St. Vincent was legion.

Catholicism Torn Asunder:

Yet, among today’s faithful Catholics there is a tendency to focus their ministry and their efforts almost exclusively on faith and morals; or, as some say, on “spiritual poverty.” Whereas, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the infirmed is left largely to social workers, philanthropists and even the government. One unfortunate side effect of this void- left behind by orthodox Catholics -is that it created an opening for political demagogues to enjoy a monopoly over the lower classes and some minority groups. More on this later.

The point is that there exists within the Church two subcultures: Catholics who rightly put the highest priority on the salvation of souls but are ambivalent about spending time with the poor, the mentally ill or the needy. On the other hand, there are those in Catholic circles who care little for people’s spiritual needs and are instead exclusively concerned about material poverty or the disadvantaged. But this split within Catholicism, one side caring for the soul and the other caring for the body, did not exist in those early years of the Church. The Father’s of the Church, for instance, put the highest priority on faith and morals in terms of evangelization and education. Still, they found the time to associate with the lowly as St. Paul instructed the Christians in Rome.

Early Christianity: Oneness in Mission

Many of us forget that the early Church was a powerhouse for making converts precisely because her mission appealed to the totality of man, both body and soul. Although the salvation of the immortal soul was her highest aim through evangelization and education, it was never divorced or compartmentalized apart from serving the needy. Indeed, Catholics exercised a kind of charity that was unprecedented and unheard of in the pagan world. In the letter to the Hebrews, the author could say the following about the charity of those early Christians: “You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.” (10:34) Acts of Christian kindness impressed even those Roman emperors such as Julian II who disdained Christianity. And it further gave credibility to the ministry of preaching. After all, if Catholics were willing to sacrifice themselves by feeding the hungry, caring for the infirmed and visiting prisoners in chains, the pagan people were willing to listen to what they had to say.

This body and soul combination in ministry was virtually inseparable and largely taken for granted. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

I would argue this is one important reason why Christianity appealed to so many people in those early years. On-lookers listened. Conversions were in abundance.

Christian Credibility: A Modern Day Example

In our day, this credibility was exemplified when Mother Theresa gave a talk at Harvard’s Class Day Exercises on June 9, 1982. She condemned abortion outright and extolled the virtue of chastity. As regards to abortion, she said, “And today, today [it is] unbelievable that the mother herself murders her own child, afraid of having to feed one more child, afraid to educate one more child. The child must die. This is one of the greatest poverties.” And about sexual purity she admonished students of Harvard University with the following words. “The most beautiful thing is to give a virgin heart, a virgin body, a virgin soul. That's the greatest gift that the young man can give the young woman, and that the young can give the man.” Yet, she received a standing ovation at the end of her address. Why? Because she loved the poor and the needy much like St. Vincent de Paul and the early Christians! Mother Theresa, in speaking about these counter-cultural doctrines, was able to do what few evangelists were able to do; and that was to speak the truth about abortion and chastity at Harvard University and get a standing ovation in response.

St. Vincent and Orthodox Catholics

Many who work on behalf of the Catholic Church, especially in the human service field, presume they can provide services to others without Christ. That is, they put little emphasis on prayer, on attending Mass and on obedience to the teachings of Christ. To be sure, many within Catholic circles who are more humanitarian than they are Christian. They would find it difficult to see the real presence of Christ in Eucharist. In word, their efforts lend themselves to saving the body while leaving the soul devoid of grace.

But something can be said about orthodox Catholics too. Although the spiritual needs of the immortal soul assume a higher priority than that of bodily needs, this truth has often been used by many orthodox Catholics to concern themselves exclusively with spiritual formation. Some have never seen the inside of a soup kitchen, a mental institution, or a hospice. I have often heard from others at men's conferences, retreats and other venues of spiritual renewal that it is their calling to relieve "spiritual poverty" or that it is not their calling to serve the poor. Although there is truth and legitimacy to these comments, the faithful of the Church have virtually left it to those less spiritual and less concerned about salvation to take care of the needy.

Those of us who put a high premium on orthodoxy and spirituality are not as strong as we can be on seeing the presence of Christ in the poor. St. Vincent de Paul reminds us, "[I]f you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor... his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause."

In fact, all the Saints speak of poverty as something holy and special to our Lord. He even required that his disciples renounce everything in order to follow him. Now, the spirit of renunciation can be manifested through giving one's belongings to the poor or by a spirit of detachment. The willingness and readiness to give up all things for Christ is equally pleasing to him. In any case, our Lord sought out men and women who were poor in spirit. Again, St. Vincent said the following: "Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself."

Few of us realize that the very act of serving the needy is a prayer- a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. Such charity is far from being a diversion from enjoying the presence of God. St. Vincent reminds us: "If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor."

St. Vincent de Paul teachers us, like the early Christians, we have to evangelize with charity. "With renewed devotion," he said, "we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons." Indeed, if our witness appeals to both the soul and the body in all that it implies, then twenty-first century Catholics will enjoy the same results of converting a pagan and godless world as our spiritual ancestors enjoyed in those early centuries of the Christian era. Our credibility depends on it.

Conclusion: The Social and Political Implications

For the last hundred years or so, the all-powerful State and its political demagogues have enjoyed a monopoly over the hearts and minds of the poor and needy. Their false promises of making life better them still have a strong an appeal among senior citizens, the lower classes and the minorities. The problem, however, is not only political in nature; it is principally a religious one. Perhaps we who love Christ and love the Church have left it to others to serve the poor. And without realizing it, we have paid a big price for it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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

For new Sky View readers: The following blog (originally a series of posts) is a revised edition of Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church from early 2011. As the political campaigns heat up for the 2012 election, it offers historical lessons to inform the mind and Catholic principles to form the conscience.

The principles raised in this post applies to recent Federal Healthcare mandate as well as the controversy over Army chaplains not being allowed to read a letter from Archbishop Broglio about the encroachments of such a mandate. Archbishop Broglio wrote that "The federal government, which claims to be 'of, by, and for the people,' has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people — the Catholic population — and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faith."

Christropher Dawson quote:

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

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

-Christopher Dawson, 1935

Section I:

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

U.S. politicians who are interested in expanding their power base cannot afford to be as straightforward as the Soviet politicians were; this, for the simple reason that they do not enjoy the same power as they did…not yet, anyways.

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

Section II:

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

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

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

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

Section III:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What a Childless Nation Portends

This blog, originally posted in 2010, contains one of those messages that needs to be repeated every four or five months. Strength comes with greater numbers and greater numbers for any nation is to be had through the generosity of married couples; generosity with God in being open to conceiving new life and generous with their willingness to have many children. Scripture always speaks of children in terms of a blessing…always! Americans, however, are coming to view children as a liability and another mouth to feed. Keep in mind that with every mouth there are two hands to help out around the house and a mind to invent solutions for today’s societal problems.s

"But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them." (Ex 1:7)

"History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis." -Archbishop Fulton Sheen


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 children at all. 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 a nation’s 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, materialistic lifestyles set in, the appetite for sacrifice wanes and reproductive attitudes harden. It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Although some European countries have come to this point, such as France, America has yet to realize that a family with many children is in her best interests. Historically, declining tax revenue and the disproportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. In response to this, governments typically offered incentives to reverse the trend. But when the harm of a nation gone childless was felt, it was often too late for political remedies.

In the last forty years, Catholics- both clergy and laity –have been bashful about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth on contraception. As a result, very few teachings at the local and diocesan level and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass have even mentioned what impact contraception has had on marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda that children are a burden to society. 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 and priests; that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially Bishops, 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. 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 a great number of children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbinger of better things to come.

Long before the birthrate of the West became an issue, Bishop Sheen issued the following warning in 1948 with the publication of his book, Communism and the Western Conscience:

"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. On the occasion of the fall of France in 1940, a French general gave the failure of the family to perpetuate itself as the basic reason for the nation’s debacle.

In 150 B.C. Polybius, in writing about the decline of Greece, said: “For the evil of depopulation grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting our attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion of show and money, and pleasure of an evil life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or if they did marry, refusing to rear children that were born, or at most, one or two out of the great numbers, for the sake of leaving their well-being assured, and bringing them up in extravagant luxury. The result, houses are left heirless, and like swarms of flies, little by little, the cities become sparsely inhabited and weak.”

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 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 bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

St. Matthew: Willing and Ready

Feast Day of St. Matthew: September 21st

There are some people who are just anxiously waiting to hear the undiluted version of the Gospel. They just want the straight truth about God no matter how unpopular certain doctrines are or how difficult being a follower of Christ may seem. They are fully aware of their limitations and as such they suffer no illusions about the false promises this world holds out to them. These God-seekers may be full of wrong ideas about religion and morality but when they are confronted with the truth, they commit to it promptly and with all of their strength. One such man was St. Matthew.

In many ways, St. Matthew was a male counterpart to St. Mary Magdalene. Both fell out of favor with society and with the inner-religious circles at the time of Christ. Not only did they know what it meant to be a sinner but they experienced being labeled as such by a good number of people.

Before Christ called St. Matthew to follow him at the customs post, he was a publican; that is, a man who worked on behalf of the Roman administration to collect taxes. Quite often such an occupation lent itself to usury and personal profit. Hence, the mere association with such greed was enough to have him banished from religious and social circles.

Nevertheless, when Jesus Christ, the great lover of souls and the hound of heaven, came walking past him, St. Matthew immediately saw that that he was different from the rest. Our Lord’s words resounded in this unhappy man's heart. Christ then said, "Follow me!" Without skipping a heartbeat, St. Matthew went from collecting taxes on behalf of the Romans to harvesting souls on behalf of God. Cornelius Lapide, priest and scholar from the 16th century, wrote the following: “It is indeed a sign of true conversion to be anxious that others also should be converted from their sins. For good is self-diffusive, and charity instigates men to seek the salvation of other lost sinners.”

When St. Bridget prayed at St. Matthew’s tomb at Malphi, she heard these words from the Apostle himself: “It was my desire at the time I was a publican to defraud no man, and I wished to find out a way by which I might abandon that employment, and cleave to God alone with my whole heart. When therefore He who loved me, even Jesus Christ was preaching, His call was a flame of fire in my heart; and so sweet were His words unto my taste, that I thought no more of riches than of straws: yea, it was delightful to me to weep for joy, that my God had deigned to call one of such small account, and so great a sinner as I to His grace. And as I clung unto my Lord, His burning words became fixed in my heart, and day and night I fed upon them by meditation, as upon sweetest food.” (Lapide’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew)

Like St. Mary Magdalene, once prostitute, St. Matthew was despised by the religious establishment of his day and counted the least of all. Our Lord Jesus had to remind his critics that "those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." He then said, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Yes, fulfilling our religious obligations is absolutely necessary. But if mercy towards our neighbor and the needy does not flow from the observance of rituals i.e. attending Mass, tithing etc., then our good works will be wanting.

Notice that our Lord was not constantly surrounded by his religious peers or with only those who were held in high esteem by the people. No. Without compromising his relationship with his heavenly Father and without conforming to the ways of sinners, he ventured into those social circles that were condemned by society. By doing this, he made his religious cohorts angry; the result was such that he fell out of their favor. But he did it anyways! He stooped down and gave a helping hand to those who had fallen from grace. But Jesus could only do this because he wasn’t overly concerned with what his religious peers thought of him.

In the 19th century Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore once wrote to his priests about the false love of human respect and how it hinders the mission of Christian leaders:

"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."

There is at least one man who is eternally grateful that Jesus Christ did not flinch from offending others. And that man is St. Matthew. When his number was called, St. Matthew was willing and ready! Willing to follow Jesus and ready to endure adversity for the sake of the Gospel.

The Church, the Lower Classes and Minorities

This post includes three blogs that were previously posted in 2010. It is addressed to orthodox or traditional Catholics who quite often have exclusively focused on “spiritual poverty” at the expense of material poverty.

The early Christians knew no such distinctions. They did not compartmentalize spiritual needs apart from the physical or material needs. Indeed, their ministry was both a body and soul combination, giving emphasis to the soul but never at the expense of the body. The reason why Mother Theresa can get away with walking into Harvard University (enemy territory, so to speak), give a talk on chastity and get a standing ovation is because she had a proven record of caring for the needy; not just talking about it. Evangelization will be more effectively communicated if we as faithful Catholics return to the body and soul love & sacrifice that the early Christians demonstrated so powerfully.

The Church, the Lower Classes and Minorities:

Philip Jenkins in his book, The Next Christendom, argued that Africa is likely to be the next bastion of Catholicism in the twenty-first century. What Europe was to medieval Catholicism, Africa is now becoming to today’s Catholicism. In fact, in the year 1900 there were only 9.9 million Christians in Africa. But at the turn of the millennium, they numbered 360 million. It is estimated that at least 8 million Africans are baptized every year; which amounts to about 20,000 baptisms a day. Just when Christianity seems to be dying out in Europe, its growth in Africa continues to impress interested observers in the West. George Weigel gives a simple explanation for this rapid expansion: Christianity attracts massive numbers of converts in twenty-first century Africa, as she did in the second and third century Roman Empire, because it helped provide for those whom the rest of society preferred to ignore. He goes on to say that education, health care, and social service is deliberately linked to evangelization. Evidently, this joint effort of evangelization and charity underscores the progress Catholicism is making in Africa.

For the early Church, this body and soul combination in ministry was virtually inseparable and largely taken for granted. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

Wherever the Gospel was widely accepted, people who were traditionally denied social status and justice- such as the poor, slaves, women and children –were seen as equals to the most privileged social caste. Pope Leo XIII summed up the kind of impact the Faith had on human dignity and progress: "The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life. And, indeed, wherever the Church has set her foot she has straightway changed the face of things, and has tempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization and with virtues before unknown."

The origin of this new concept of equality and human rights originated from a heightened awareness of the dignity of the soul. After all, it was the rational and immortal soul that was created in the image of God. By association, however, the human body came to be understood as the most sacred material thing in the universe. As Pope Pius XI said, man is a microcosm- a world in miniature; as such, he has a worth far surpassing the whole universe. This understanding of the human person gave the Church Fathers, Saints and Martyrs every incentive to not only to preach the Gospel, but to care for the infirmed at the risk of losing their own lives. In the third century, for instance, when whole towns and districts were wiped out from plagues, it was the Christians that demonstrated heroism by not only caring for their own, but also caring for pagans. Such a sacrificial love for humanity was unknown to the ancients. And it is a love that needs to be reawakened in America.

Today, in the West, there is a tendency among Catholics to partition evangelization and charity into two separate compartments. If evangelization is seen exclusively as something that serves spiritual needs, then such a mission can easily be relegated to the middle and upper classes. From my personal observation and experience, Catholic evangelists- by and large –are apt to avoid the lower class-minority demographic; not because of any racist tendencies, but rather because they simply can’t identify with that subculture. This may explain why many African-Americans refer to Catholicism as a “white man’s” religion.

Since the upper and middle classes are materially provided for, it is natural that the spiritual dimension be the chief concern among Catholic evangelists. As result, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity becomes a high priority, as it should. But when the spiritual component of evangelization is disengaged from serving the poor, then a void is created. In the absence of Christ-centered personnel, charity-based initiatives and social services tend to take on a humanistic character. No longer seen as a single reality, evangelization and social services not only pursue different ends, but they are often inspired by different ideals. As such, those who honorably care for the poor do so without the sound moral and spiritual principles that evangelization requires for its mission. In many cases, what was once founded as a religious enterprise for serving the poor ends up becoming a secularized philanthropy.

If America is going to benefit from what Catholicism has to offer then evangelization and charity- both native to the Catholic Faith –will have to exist side by side, as one ministry, for the common good of this nation. Catholicism will never compete with political demagogues and advocates of big government if minorities and the lower class are untouched by Catholic evangelization and charity. Quite often, the ministry of caring for the body (i.e., soup kitchens etc.) leads to unfamiliar subcultures where the Gospel can be preached. Understandably, many Christians from the middle and upper classes are simply uncomfortable with this. So, they focus their energy on "spiritual poverty." The nice thing about "spiritual poverty" is that it is everywhere; including in our own parishes. As such, there is no need to venture to the other side of town; the part of town where lifestyles are markedly different from our own.

To put it another way, the convenient thing about attending to the needs of the soul- as opposed to the needs of the body and the soul -is that you never have to leave the parish basement; our comfort zone is secured. However, there is a price to pay. The false promises politicians hold out to the lower classes and minorities eventually acquires credibility and strength in our absence. And to be sure, proponents of big government will continue to have a monopoly on the underprivileged as long as Christians relegate their ministries within their own familiar environments.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his first encyclical, On Christian Love, that “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

This exercise of the Catholic Church’s three-fold responsibility was once the foundation for civilizing an unbaptized and cruel world; a world that was insensitive to human suffering. Africa is such a world: a world that is undergoing a lot of suffering but is also becoming, day by day, a sign of hope. It is true that Africa is being afflicted with the AIDS epidemic, political corruption, and high mortality rates. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is winning an impressive number of souls for Christ. And in doing so, the epidemics and the crimes against humanity will cease or at least diminish in time.

History shows that wherever the Gospel of Life is planted, civility and mutual love flourish. However, this can only happen when evangelization and charity work together for the common good. After all, people are willing to listen to the Gospel if the bearers of that Gospel relieve their hunger, loneliness and nakedness.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Constitutional Fiction and the Theology of Government

The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Feast day of St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church: September 17th

Few Americans understand that the wording and the modern usage of “separation of Church and State” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The prohibition of the Federal government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is a far cry from separating and excluding the Christian religion from the State all together. After all, at least 6 States of the original 13 States of the Union had government sponsored churches up to 1830.

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Roy Moore wrote a compelling article called, Putting God Back into the Public Square in August of 1999. In it he provided at least five historical precedents which effectively refute the secular idea that the First Amendment requires the exclusion of religion from the public square:

• Every president of the United States (with only one possible exception) has been administered the oath of office with his hand on the Bible, ending with the words “so help me God.”

• The Supreme Court begins every proceeding with the ringing proclamation, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”

• Throughout our history, the executive and legislative branches have decreed national days of fasting and prayer.

• Public offices and public schools close in observance of religious holidays.

• United States currency bears our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

With that said, Americans have been conditioned to believe that the State ought to be neutral with regard to Christianity. This opinion, albeit a common one, is a relatively recent development. But what is the longstanding Catholic teaching on the separation of the Church and State? If we were to make reference to centuries of papal writings one would have to conclude that the progressive position does not agree with the position of the Catholic Church.

It might scandalize Catholics who subscribe to the secular worldview that as recent as 1862, Pope Pius IX denounced the following proposition: “In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” One might be tempted to chalk this up to some kind of an anomaly; that is, an isolated incident. But Pope Leo XIII confirmed this principle twenty-six years later in his encyclical, On the Nature of Human Liberty. He wrote that the separation between Church and State, that is, according to the commonly held secular interpretation, is a “fatal theory.”

To be sure, State neutrality with regard to Christianity as somehow being mandated by the Constitution is legal fiction! It finds little, if no, precedent among the Founding Fathers. For instance, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay said, “Providence has given our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Nevertheless, this view is downright offensive to advocates of Secular-liberalism.

Moreover, the separation between the Church and the State as it is commonly conceived today finds no sanction in Catholic doctrine; especially as it pertains to the two thousand years of papal writings. I would even argue that the statements of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII represent the vast majority of the popes who had anything to say about the relationship between Church and State.

The fruits of a long held secular understanding of the separation between Church and State are before us. The deeply held concerns over jobs and the economy among the voters can be traced to the banishment of the Christian religion from our public institutions. As Tocqueville said, religion is the guarantor of morality, and morality, in turn, is the guarantor of freedom. Is it any wonder that the “free” market has come under assault in recent years? Freedom, even as it applies to the economy, is simply unintelligible without Christianity.

We forget that throughout world history freedom has been the exception, not the rule. Liberty is precarious and for that reason it requires grace, discipline and prudence among the citizenry. However, with all the focus on jobs and the economy- a legitimate concern, no doubt -I am afraid that the public is missing the bigger picture. Indeed, the question of America’s survival goes beyond job security, the economy and freedom; all of which are shaped by how we approach Church and State relations. The question about God and man, Church and State goes to the heart of the matter: Does God have a role in our public institutions? The answer to this question, in itself, holds the key to the future of America.

Allow me to propose that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution and Catholic theology on separation of Church and State bear much resemblance. Suffice it to say there are differences. Nevertheless, the theological principles which underscore the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution have been articulated by Popes, Bishops and Councils of the Church long before the American Revolution.

One excellent source representing the Catholic position on Church and State relations is a treatise St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine written in the seventeenth century entitled, On Civil Government. Not only is this treatise a reliable summary of Catholic doctrine pertaining to the purpose of the State, but it can be argued that St. Bellarmine’s writings had influenced the Framers of the Constitution such as Thomas Jefferson.

The following is an excerpt from the article “St. Robert Bellarmine's Influence on the Writing of the Declaration of Independence & the Virginia Declaration of Rights” by Karl Maurer.

On the Source of Political Power:

Bellarmine: "Political power emanates from God. Government was introduced by divine law but the divine law has given this power to no particular man." De Laicis (On Civil Government), Ch. VI.

Virginia Declaration of Rights (VDR): ". . . That power is by GOD and NATURE vested in the people."

Declaration of Independence (DOI): "They (the people) are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

On the Origin of Government:

Bellarmine: "Men must be governed by someone, lest they be willing to perish. It is impossible for men to live together without someone to care for the common good. Society must have power to protect and preserve itself." De Laicis, Ch. VI.

VDR: "Government is or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community."

DOI: "To secure these rights (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness) governments are instituted among men."

On the Power of the People:

Bellarmine: "This power is immediately as in its subject, in the whole multitude." De Laicis, Ch. VI. "The people themselves, immediately and directly, hold political power so long as they have not transferred this power to a king or ruler." De Clericis, Ch. VII. "The commonwealth cannot exercise this power itself, therefore, it is helped to transfer it in some way to one man or some few." De Laicis, Ch. VI.

VDR: "All power belongs to the people."

DOI: " Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed."

On All Men Born Free and Equal:

Bellarmine: "In the commonwealth, all men are born naturally free and equal." De Clericis, Ch. VII. "There is no reason why amongst equals one should rule rather than another." De Laicis, Ch. VI.

VDR: "All men are born equally free and independent" was originally written, but changed by the convention to read "All men are by nature equally free and independent."

DOI: "All men are created equal."

Part II: Constitutional Fiction and the Theology of Government:

Below, are four basic principles from the treatise on On Civil Government by St. Robert Bellarmine which provides us a Catholic (and American) understanding of the State/government:

• Human nature was created by God in such as way as to require civil authority its well-being, order and protection. As such, the authority of the State originates from the wise counsel of God. Human beings cannot co-exist without these higher principles of civil authority.

• Although civil authority finds its origin in God, it is not directly communicated to any one particular individual as we find when a Bishop or priest is ordained; in the latter case, the sacramental grace of Holy Orders is communicated to particular individuals directly from the “hands of God.”

• Rather, the authority of the State resides in human nature, that is, in the people because it is for them that this authority exists to begin with.

• Since the people or the citizens of a nation are the purpose or end for which civil authority is ordained, it follows that it is the people’s prerogative to choose not only the form of government they see fit but the system through which their leaders are determined or chosen.

Now, from this Catholic perspective, if the State exists for the citizen then the citizen can be also considered to be the customer of the State. A customer chooses what kind of services it wishes to receive and from whom it wishes to receive it. According to Catholic political theology, people have the inherent right to choose what form of government they wish to be subject to. Furthermore, depending how they want to be ruled, they also have the right to elect who those political rulers might be.

By virtue of this right of choice, the citizen can elect to create a government that invokes God and one that observes the principles of his Catholic Faith. After all, he is the customer of the State and the very purpose of the State is to serve his needs. Just as important, every man has spiritual needs that cannot be compartmentalized apart from his civic life. If the authority of the State comes from God- which the Catholic Church affirms that it does -then like the individual, the State is obligated to pay homage to its Creator. Yes, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. What is commonly overlooked, however, is that Caesar belongs to God!

Human nature is composed of both body and soul. And in the end, the common good of society must be of a material and spiritual nature. The Catholic Church does hold to a kind of separation of Church and State in that they are distinct from one another. However, these two entities, like the body and soul, are to collaborate and interact with each other so that the common good of society may be brought about. The proposition that there should be a radical separation between these two institutions is what Pope Leo XIII referred to as a "fatal theory." Such a dichotomy leads to the death of the commonwealth.

Now, if civil authority is a mere invention of man without any inherent God-given purpose, then it can be defined by the powerful or the rich as they see fit. Instead of the authority of the State having the welfare of its citizens as its goal, the State can turn into an end in itself. Indeed, the purpose of government can be defined to mean that the people exist for the State; that the multitude ought to serve the interests of the few. As Pius XI said, “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”

This perversion of power- so common in world history -explains why the twentieth-century was riddled with atheistic or Communistic dictators who killed more of its own people than all the wars put together during that same century. In the absence of God then, the State becomes supreme and rules according to its own whim. Cardinal James Gibbons, in his pastoral letter to the US Bishops in 1919, issued the following warning about the State taking the place of God:

“It lies 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. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs.”

From this state of affairs, joblessness, a down trodden economy, and serfdom are but the sad result. This is where the Catholic Church has historically played a vital role. In centuries past, she has mediated between the State and the citizen; reminding the State it is a servant to the citizen and reminding the citizen that it owes both loyalty and obedience to civil authority for the common good. The Church has also assumed a prophetic role in holding the State accountable; accountable to the divine and natural law. As such, St. Thomas Aquinas’ saying is wonderfully fulfilled: A government which governs least, governs best. But a government can only govern least if the laws of God are daily impressed upon it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

“IT’S YOUR FAULT!” The wisdom of the Saints on marital disputes

“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.”

-St. Dorotheus

Honey-do List:

The “honey-do list” is the gift that keeps on giving. On any given Saturday the husband does a chore here and a little work there. He says to himself, “It is good.” Satisfied by the work he has done, he sits down to watch a little college football or to engage in some leisure activity only to find out that his household chores are far from over. To his chagrin, his wife gives him a list of chores, better known as the “honey-do list.” Now, the husband, who would like to think of himself as the “head of the house,” has a choice: He can put the remote down, get up from the comfortable recliner and proceed to comply with his wife’s demands or he can continue to enjoy the football game knowing full well that he is going to pay a price later on. You may have heard the saying: “When the wife (or mother) is not happy, no one else in the family is happy.”

But there is another list that both husbands and wives give to each other, one that has more serious implications; and that is the “honey you did me wrong list.” Using the provocative words “you always” or “you never,” the wife or husband typically verbalizes a litany of faults to the spouse. Then the one on the receiving end of the long list of wrongs is given a choice to react in kind or to maintain a calm demeanor. No doubt, this give-and-take dynamic will help shape the marriage for better or for worse.

Silence Amid Criticism:

This is where the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi in; as well as the wisdom of many other Saints. He said that being silent while you are being criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. The reason why this virtue holds such high value in God’s eyes is due to the fact that it is a sacrifice and is very difficult to do. After all, our human instincts are quick and strong when we are accused of some fault. The first thing we want to do is defend ourselves and quickly deflect blame. But the fact is- restraining this retaliatory instinct goes a long way in marriages. If St. Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” with regard to those who persecute our faith, then at the very least we can apply this to marital arguments. (Romans 12:14)

Silence: When it can be a sin

An important distinction has to be made for the outset. If being silent when being blamed or accused for some fault does not compromise the well-being of another person or affect the common good of the family, then such silence is a virtue. On the other hand, if the foreseeable consequences of being silent does indeed harm other people then we are duty-bound to speak up and defend the principle at hand. Indeed, silence, under these circumstances, can be a serious sin. This distinction is important. Spouses who are victims of verbal or physical abuse can often misinterpret Christian virtues. They can take them to mean that we are required by God to be passive and servile under such mistreatment. Some even go so far as to say that the Christian obligation to forgive somehow implies that we cannot demand change from the offender or impose punitive measures on the culprit. Such as view grossly misinterprets the words of our Lord when he admonished his disciples to turn the other cheek. After all, when a temple guard struck him on the face during his trial before the high priest he demanded an accounting. “Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’" (John 18:23)

Saying Sorry: There is always something

Aside from the more serious issues of abuse, most marital arguments are based on personal or even petty grievances. If we were to be honest, as a husband or a wife we choose to die in ditches that are not worth dying in. We either defend the indefensible or argue over the non-essentials. But you might ask: What if I am blamed for something I didn’t do or I am unfairly accused in some manner? St. Dorotheus, an abbot from the 17th century said the following:

“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.”

That’s right! Even if we happen to be in the right, there is always something to apologize for. Perhaps your tone of voice was stronger than it should have been; or you have been guilty in the past for the action you are being blamed for in the present; or you have been inconsistent on this particular matter. We are rarely completely innocent. But the point is that the words “I am sorry” are every bit as important as saying “I love you.” Be the first to apologize. It takes a great deal more virtue to do so. In so doing, you will be adding just one more jewel to your spiritual garment.

False Humility:

It’s one thing to confess your fault on your own terms and on your own initiative. Anybody can do that. St. Gregory the Great said, “We have known many who, when no one accuses them, confess themselves sinners; but when they have been corrected for a fault, they endeavor with all of their might to defend themselves and to remove the imputation of guilt.” But it is quite another to accept an unexpected reprimand or criticism with a calm and peaceful disposition; most especially from our spouse. This is a mark of sanctity and greatness.

Not When Emotions Run High:

Furthermore, if your spouse needs to be corrected because of the content of their accusations or the way they are going about criticizing you, chose another time to address it when emotions are subdued. In the meantime, it is incumbent on us, those of us who are being blamed for some fault, to diffuse the anger and the tension. This is most beneficial to children who are watching and learning from their parents behavior. No child likes to see his or her parents argue. As much as possible, therefore, disagreements should be behind closed doors. It is important to remember that the merit, at least in God’s eyes, is not earned by winning the argument and getting the last word in. Divine favor, rather, is won by maintaining the peace or striving for it. If marital tension is brought about by winning an argument then winning arguments are no great accomplishments at all.

Finding Fault With Ourselves:

The best way to prepare to “accept all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity,” as St. Dorotheus would say, is to engage in prayer, spiritual reading and a daily examination of conscience. Reading and meditating on Scripture and the writings of the Saints is vitally important. You learn just how the Saints saw themselves. They regarded themselves as the greatest of sinners. They knew that they were nothing before God and their sins were never far from their minds. As such, they were the first to accuse themselves of faults and sins in the presence of God. They did what our Lord said to do: Take the plank out of your own eye. This makes for a very good spiritual exercise before going to bed each night. As such, when criticism from other people came their way, they received it cheerfully. To be sure, before their neighbor, relative or spouse accused them of some fault, they were already pointing the finger at themselves.

Sometimes we fail to consider that we can be just as bothersome to other people as they are to us. We are even the most critical about that which we are guilty of ourselves. Hence, a daily examination of our thoughts, words and deeds in light of the Word of God and the wisdom of the Saints can go a long way in making a marriage last a lifetime. To repeat, if we point the finger at ourselves in our spiritual exercises we will be less moved to anger when our spouse points their own finger at us. We might even thank them for it!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Federal Challenge to Religious Liberty

A letter from Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, regarding the new health care reform law.

Dear Friends,

Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a regulation that presents an unprecedented challenge to religious liberty. The public comment period on this rule ends September 30, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging Catholics to send an e-mail message to HHS urging our government leaders to ensure that such federal regulations do not violate Americans’ moral and religious convictions.

In implementing the new health care reform law, HHS issued a rule that would require private health care plans nationwide to cover contraception and sterilization as “preventive services” for women. The mandate includes abortificients, which have the capacity to terminate a pregnancy in its early weeks. Never before has the federal government required private health plans to include such coverage.

The exception for religious institutions is so narrow that it covers almost no one. The proposed religious exemption would apply only to those institutions that primarily serve members of their faith community, exclude those of other faiths from their employment and focus solely on the inculcation of their religious beliefs.

For Catholic institutions this would mean that religious liberty is applicable only if a Catholic school, hospital or social service program hires primarily Catholics, serves primarily Catholics, and attempts to convert to Catholicism anyone who seeks these services. Yet through our schools, our hospitals and our vast array of social service programs, the Catholic Church, like most other religious organizations, serves all those who come to us in need and welcomes people of all faiths to our employment whenever possible. This new mandate would severely impede our ability to freely practice our religious beliefs in service to our neighbors. Most Catholic charitable institutions that serve the public would be ineligible for the exemption, in which case they either would be forced to provide health care coverage of drugs and procedures to which they have a moral objection or decline to offer health benefits to their employees.

I hope you will send your comments to HHS by the September 30 deadline to discourage this onerous infringement on religious freedom.

Thank you for your kind consideration of this request.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout

Auxiliary Bishop of Washington

The Mistakes Married Couples Make: Not standing up for number one!

As one who has given talks at diocesan Engagement Encounters, led Cana marriage programs at the local parish and personally (not professionally) counseled spouses from distressed and broken marriages, I have come to learn over the years that fewer people are being prepared for the demands of marriage. What used to be common sense and good instincts, as far as making relationships work, are fewer and far between nowdays. After all, Hollywood and the entertainment industry at large so emphasizes and even glorifies the first phases of romantic and sexual love that it completely ignores the self-denial and virtues that are required for a life-long marriage. Perhaps, this is why so many television programs are centered around unmarried or divorced/remarried couples. Hollywood produces these kind of television shows and movies precisely because this is all they know! Indeed, their lifestyle and values lead to a total disillusionment of that "forever kind of love." The kind of love Christianity upholds as the ideal.

It is unfortunate, but true, that the air people breathe is not that of Christianity. Rather, it is the secular air of the entertainment subculture. To be sure, the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in this respect. Catholics- both clergy and laity -have failed, in many ways, to maintain a world-renouncing, counter cultural posture towards sex, marriage and divorce. This is why the divorce rate among Catholics in the United States does not fare much better than the rest of society.

Okay! You might ask: And what about the mistakes married couples make? And what about the in-law factor? Well, one of the advantages of having Christ-crucified, as St. Paul would say, as the standard by which we live our lives is that we are more disposed to make sacrifices for loved ones. Even more, we better understand what ditches are worth dying in. The question we often have to ask ourselves is: Second to God, who comes first in my life? Who comes second? And so on.

I am amazed how many married spouses want to please, as their highest priority, their own mother, father, brother or sister; even against the wishes or well-being of their own spouse. Also common among married couples is the mistake of making the children the highest priority; even above that of their own spouse. I'll never forget a picture I saw in someone's kitchen. It reads something like this: "The best thing a father (or mother) can do for his children is to love their mother." How true! And yet, for a good number of married couples this maxim is not etched in stone.

How many times have I heard a husband (or wife), for the sake of "peace," not get involved when his sposue is being verbally abused or infringed upon by his immediate family? How many times have husbands or wives failed to mediate the concerns of their spouses to their own flesh-blood family? And when I say mediate, I mean defend the legitimate concerns and the best interests of the spouse.

Marriage implies that a man and a woman leaves or graduates, if you will, the family he or she grew up in order to become "one" with their spouse. This oneness is an indissoluble union- composed of two distinct personalities -that God himself has fused into one thing! Indeed, this union, according to two thousand years of Catholic teaching, becomes- second only to God -the highest priority for the married couple. Anything that threatens that unity is suspect; including a disgruntled a "mother, father, brother or sister in-law."

I am especially critical towards men because I believe in Western Civilzation they have become soft and even feminized. They should be the first to sacrifice, the first to take the lead and the first to take action. But quite often they do not. Too many husbands fail to be men because they are still mamma's boy or are beholden to their siblings. They refuse to defend their wife for fear of displeasing their own relatives. However, the momma's boy syndrome can put a lot of stress on a marriage. I have to say women can be equally guilty of this dereliction. In any case, not standing up for number one, namely, one's spouse, is symptomatic that we have lost sight of the proper order of things. Moreover, we are not accustomed to make the proper sacrifices needed in order to keep marriages intact.

Being a disciple of Christ means that doing God's will or doing the right thing just might upset those closest to us; especially family members. Perhaps, this is why Jesus said, "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (Luke 12:51-53)

Notice Jesus did not draw the line of division between husband and wife. There is a reason for that! He will not divide what he has united. Again, second to God spouses come first in a marriage; even if it means clashing with other family members! So, stand up for the number one person in your life and let everyone else adapt accordingly.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On Pastors: The Necessity of Enduring Evil

That which separates great leaders from good leaders is that great leaders are willing to endure evil, or shall I say, opposition and contradictions from others. According to St. Augustine, it is not enough to just do good works. No. The man of God must also be willing to endure evil so that great things can be accomplished for God's sake. It is only when Christians- both clergy and laity -are willing to be ostracized, ridiculed, or derided for Christ's sake that we will begin to see things turn around in our culture and even in our Church.

The picture by Sir Anthony van Dyck to the right is a painting of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, physically preventing the Roman Emperor Theodosius II from entering into the Cathedral. It just so happened that the Emperor had his army kill 6,000 Thessalonians in an uprising. After St. Ambrose heard about this unnecessary slaughter of so many people, the holy bishop had a dream he was forbidden by God to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass because the Theodosius was in attendance. St. Ambrose took this to mean that he had to call the Emperor to public penance. And that is precisely what he did. You may be surprised to know that Theodosius complied.

Divine Office Reading: September 18th, 2011:
On Pastors: By St. Augustine

"There are men who want to live a good life and have already decided to do so, but are not capable of bearing sufferings even though they are ready to do good.

Now it is a part of the Christian’s strength not only to do good works but also to endure evil.

Weak men are those who appear to be zealous in doing good works but are unwilling or unable to endure the sufferings that threaten.

Lovers of the world, however, who are kept from good works by some evil desire, lie sick and listless, and it is this sickness that deprives them of any strength to accomplish good works..."

Augustine then gave the following admonition to Pastors: "Reveal therefore what is hidden, and thus you will open the roof and lower the paralytic to the feet of Christ. As for those who fail to do this and those who are negligent, you have heard what was said to them: You have failed to heal the sick; you have failed to bind up what was broken."