Wednesday, November 30, 2011

God's Chisel

Excerpts from the book, “Spirituality of the Old Testament,” by Paul Marie de la Croix


How does God purify his servants? How does he chisel away our imperfections? Answer: Much like a sculptor chisels away the irregularities of his sculpture. Sometimes he uses the hard medal of a chisel so as to deliver the hard blows of adversity; sometimes he employs delicate measures with the soft brush of inconvenience. Whatever the instrument, whatever method, the Father’s purpose is always to conform his servants into the image of his Son.

Spirituality of the Old Testament:

God uses “the life imposed upon his servants to bring about their profound purification. The Bible proves this very clearly.”

“The usual instrument of purification that God holds in His hand is life itself. Life, that is, the whole combination of situations that must be faced day by day, with all the consequent obligations. Nothing purifies men as well as life itself, if they are able to accept it and live it as it occurs. By nature it is unforeseeable and cannot be covered by any formula. It is real and must really be lived. It is all-inclusive and takes the whole man, shaping him on every plane. No one can ever view it as a mere spectator, for sooner or later it involves even those who have refused to commit themselves.

“Life uses and intermingles every rhythm; often a sudden event transforms it in an instant. This forces men to adopt a new pace and to overcome difficulties which show them their inner most selves and purify them to their very core. No man, however prudent and wise, can ever arrange his life just as he pleases. On the contrary, it is life which, day by day traversing strange regions, must ‘lead you where you would not go.’ And always, mysteriously, invisibly, God is the weaver of life’s fabric, the artist who places each tiny item in accord with His infinitely wise pattern. How then, can men venture to judge what is best for them or decide what they require? Only life brings the answer, moment by moment. How can we fail to see that it is a royal road, a safe road? It is the chief means God uses to purify His servants…

“Life was likewise the chisel that sculptured the prophets’ souls, as it exposed them to scorn, hostility, hatred and vengeance. It led them to persecution and to martyrdom. Thus, we have seen that God uses life as the supreme instrument of purification…

“May God help us never to belittle the often intolerable burden of suffering and illnesses, or the still heavier burden of trials that touch souls in their dearest affections, in their reputation or their honor. We should not be deaf to their cries, which are recorded in the bible and often show desperate anguish.”

Indeed, life is God's chisel which reveals our innerself in times of crisis and, at the same time, is the very instrument he uses to bring about a better version of ourselves!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

St. Joseph and the Sword of Conflict


St. Joseph and the Sword of Conflict was originally posted in March of 2011. It is a tribute to St. Joseph's character and how he endured the sword of God's test. Before this great man could be a worthy guardian of the Messiah on Christmas night, he had to first be "willing" to renounce the greatest of Spouses for God's sake. Such are the ways of God.

The Lord calls us to a mission or some great undertaking only to give us the opportunity to sacrifice it for his sake. It is the Lord's way of securing our love for him above the work he has for us or even the gifts he has given us. Yes, it sounds funny but one of the greatest temptations of a man who is called to be a husband is to love his vocation or even his wife above the Lord. The same applies for every calling in life. God must be loved above his work. And quite often, we are given the choice between the two as a test!

St. Joseph and the Sword of Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From this discord between St. Joseph and Mary, a better man would emerge. As such, he would be better prepared for even greater trials in the future. God's sword of conflict pruned and refined one of the greatest men to ever have lived. To be sure, this made him into a worthy guardian of the Messiah and a chaste companion of the Blessed Virgin.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

USCCB Concerned: Religious liberty threatened

The main point:

• Without the absolute insistence on repentance, one thing for sure is bound to happen: The distinction between virtue and vice, sin and merit, liberty and license will end up being blurred. And if these moral distinctions are confused, it is no wonder that Catholics, as a voting bloc, cannot connect the dots between values politicians hold and the policies that are sure to follow.

Daniel-Rops on the early Church: “The Church neither held her tongue nor capitulated. These voices of Christian liberty were noble and strong. There was Ossius of Cordova, the aged Spanish bishop, who wrote to the all-powerful [Emperor] Constantius: ‘You have no right to meddle in religious affairs. God has given you the authority over the Empire, but He has given us authority over the Church. In matters of faith it is you who must listen to our instructions.’”


Bishop Fulton Sheen, in his series of talks entitled, What Now America? expressed how truly exceptional the United States of America is. He said that Christians should be thankful that they do not have to worry about that "knock on the door." That "knock on the door," of course, is a reference to the political tyranny of Germany's Third Reich from 1933 too 1945. When Jews and other enemies of the State were sought out, S.S. soldiers often made their rounds in the neighborhoods, knocking on the doors of houses. Of course, if a family was hiding Jews from political authorities, "that knock on the door" was to be dreaded. Such an act of charity of hiding potential victims of the holocaust would cost the family their lives if they got caught.

To date, U.S. citizens have not had to fear that knock on the door by their government. However, recent measures taken by Federal and State authorities have the U.S. Bishops concerned that religious liberty is not a guarantee as it once was. In fact, in November of 2011 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took note of just that! The looming threat to religious liberty is a reality.

In addition to heeding the observations of the UCSSB, Catholics would do well to peer beneath the surface and examine the trends, in and outside the Church, which have contributed to the suppression of religious liberty. After all, the diagnosis of the problem determines how effective the prognosis and the cure will be. If we omit the former we will certainly err on the latter.

Bishop William Lori’s Address:

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut addressed the General Assembly of Bishops on November 16th. The topic was religious liberty. By recalling the words from Ezekiel, he called upon his brother bishops to be watchmen: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 33:7) A watchman, as Pope St. Gregory the Great said, is a preacher who always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming.

To be sure, what is coming our way may not be that far off. In fact, it is at the Church’s doorstep. In his address Bishop Lori quoted Archbishop Dolan, who said the following a few days earlier: "Never before have we faced this kind of challenge in our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider. If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave."

Bishop Lori went on to cite several examples of how State and Federal governments are encroaching upon the freedom of religious entities. He said, “...the freedom of religious entities to provide services according to their own lights, to defend publicly their teachings, and even to choose and manage their own personnel is coming under increased attack.” Here are just a few examples of how aggressive secularism, to use his own words, is mounting unprecedented challenges to the free exercise of religion:

• A county clerk in New York State faces legal action because she refuses to take part in same-sex marriages.

• The 2009 attempt of members of the Judiciary Committee in Connecticut to re-organize parishes in a manner utterly opposed to Catholic teaching and law.

• The sad reality that many diocesan Catholic Charities have had to withdraw from adoption and foster care services because of our fidelity to the Church's teaching on marriage.

• The Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations that would mandate coverage of sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients, in all private health care plans.

• Contrary to conscience protections that are already a matter of law, CRS and MRS were told that a new condition for the renewal of cooperative agreements was the provision of a full-range of so-called reproductive services.

• The Department of Justice has attacked DOMA as an act of "bias and prejudice", akin to racism, thereby implying that churches which teach that marriage is between a man and a woman are guilty of bigotry.

• The Department of Justice has also argued before the Supreme Court for the virtual elimination of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" which protects the freedom of religious denominations to choose their own ministers without state interference to say nothing of court decisions which have severely curbed the religious freedom of students to organize and maintain religiously based groups on college campuses.

Elsewhere in his address, Bishop Lori rightly stated that the right to religious liberty is prior to the state in that it comes from the hand of God. The duty of civil authority is to recognize this God-given right of the individual and religion. It further is bound to protect it from forces which might undermine it or violate it.

Appealing to the Founding Fathers, Bishop Lori went on to remind the assembly that the Establishment Clause was meant to protect the Free Exercise Clause, not the other way around. In other words, the constitutional mandate that the federal government shall not establish any particular religion was designed to protect religious freedom. The Establishment Clause, therefore, was never meant to purge the public square of religious expression. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church in America is, more than ever, defending itself against a government- both on a State and Federal level –that has become increasingly unfriendly to religious liberty. In quoting a distinguished jurist, Bishop William Lori hit on something very telling: If liberty dies in the hearts of men and women, “no constitution, no law, no court can save it.” Herein lies the problem which, in part, is to be found in our own backyard.

The Church: Past and Present

Purging a garden of weeds requires that the weeds be pulled up from their roots. The same applies to the forces which threaten religious liberty. Simply reacting to or complaining about that which endangers religious liberty is not enough. Catholics have to peer beneath the surface so that the diagnosis of the problem will bring about a cure. But first, our Lord said that any individual person seeking to remove a speck from his neighbor's eye has to take the plank out of his own eye first. What is true for the individual believer is also true for the body of believers.

Three questions should be asked about the current erosion of religious liberty at the State and Federal levels: How did we get here? How did we contribute to the problem? And how do we press forward? There are three considerations that just may help with the Church's efforts to preserve and strengthen religious liberty.

I. Tolerating Sin:

The first consideration is the sobering statistic that 54 percent of Catholics voted President Barak Obama in office in November of 2008. Without the Catholic vote, the prospects of him winning the presidential election would have been out of reach. Now, in no way do I wish to draw partisan politics into this conversation. But the glaring contradiction is this: The very politicians who are now violating religious liberties, and hence are undermining the mission of the Catholic Church in America, are the same politicians who were voted into office by scores of Catholics. In the case of President Obama, whose administration was alluded to in Bishop Lori’s address, the majority of Catholics made it possible for his policies to be enacted; chief among them are the regulations that would mandate coverage of sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients, in all private health care plans by the Department of Health and Human Services. This is a problem! Not simply a political problem, but a pastoral problem in the Church.

The truth is that the intolerance of good, i.e. religious liberty and the inalienable right to life, is always preceded by the tolerance of evil. That’s right right! Intolerance goes too far when it no longer tolerates the good. And tolerance goes too far when it admits evil. In other words, Christians tolerating evil paves the way for the dictatorial intolerance of the State. But how does the tolerance of evil manifest itself in the Church? The short answer is that the pastoral practices of the last five decades did not require nor insist upon repentance from sin (at least strongly enough) as a condition of receiving the Sacraments or being a Catholic in good standing. It needs to be said, however, that this is a departure from the pastoral teachings found in the New Testament, in the writings of the Church Fathers, and in Church tradition!

In ages past, cohabitating couples were required to repent from fornication (and the use of contraception) before the Church would even think about blessing their union; churchless parents who wanted to have their children baptized and confirmed had to first demonstrate good will by, at the very least, attending Mass every Sunday (After all, at the baptismal rite of their child, parents are required to verbally renounce Satan and all of his works. However, these are empty vows if the parents have no intention on coming to Mass the following Sunday); candidates wishing to enter into full communion with the Church were required to believe “all” that Christ taught and to live according to his precepts; and any high profile Catholic who stubbornly persisted in publicly violating basic human rights or who promoted the violation of basic human rights was, ipso facto, publicly reprimanded and if necessary- excommunicated!

Recall the words of St. Paul. He wrote to St. Timothy and said, “Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.” (I Timothy 5:20) And to the Corinthians, he went so far as to say this: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people… But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person…Purge the evil person from your midst." (I Corinthians 5:9, 11, 13)

Without the absolute insistence on repentance, one thing for sure is bound to happen: The distinction between virtue and vice, sin and merit, liberty and license end up being blurred. And if these moral distinctions are confused, it is no wonder that Catholics, as a voting bloc, cannot connect the dots between values politicians hold and the policies that are sure to follow.

When Pope St. Gregory the Great said that the tears of repentance must come before the waters of baptism, this was so that there would be, in the minds of Christians, a deep chasm between truth and error and between virtue and vice. With repentance from sin and an ongoing conversion to Christ and holiness, the distinction between good and evil is more firmly impressed upon the hearts and minds of believers! From this pastoral practice comes a far-reaching political consequence. Liberty from sin and spiritual darkness becomes the very foundation upon which liberty from political tyranny is secured. The former leads to the latter. Nevertheless, if repentance from sin and error is optional then the distinction between right and wrong will be muddled in the minds of Catholics. Liberty, then, will cease to find a firm place in our hearts. As a result, we will struggle to know who is a friend of liberty and who is not.

You see, the aggressive policies of the Obama administration were foreseeable. Well-formed Catholics knew that the cost of his election would be steep. For instance, recall the words of Cardinal Francis Stafford when, in a lecture delivered at Catholic University in November of 2008, he criticized President-elect Obama as “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic.” He went on to warn Americans that “For the next few years, Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden…” No doubt, the hastening erosion of religious liberty advanced by certain political forces was predictable and could have been prevented or at least abated. But that is water under the bridge. For now, we press forward with the lessons that we have learned.

II. Making the Argument:

The second consideration is this: The premise of the argument for religious liberty and the manner in which we communicate it is of vital importance. Traditionally, the Church has argued that human and civil rights are based on the rights of God. The premise was not just that religious liberty is rooted in the natural law, generally considered; but that the Lord has his prerogatives and that these prerogatives must be insisted upon by the authority of the Church. As Orestes Brownson, a nineteenth century Catholic author, wrote, “Man’s rights, whether social or individual, civil or political, are the rights of God in and over man and they can be maintained only by maintaining the rights of God, or, what is the same thing, the authority of the Church in the government of human affairs.” This truth is simple and easy to teach: Every human being is created by God, created for God and created in the likeness of God. As such, the individual citizen is, first and foremost, God’s possession, not the State’s! Without articulating that God’s rights over every human being is inviolable, religious liberty becomes too abstract and too obscure for the average citizen to appreciate. What is more, any other rationale is second best.

Religious liberty also hinges on the immortality of the soul. In his encyclical, On the Nature of Human Liberty, Pope Leo XIII wrote, "When, therefore, it is established that man's soul is immortal and endowed with reason and not bound up with things material, the foundation of natural liberty is at once most firmly laid." The material universe is governed by the laws of nature and animal behavior is determined by their natural instincts. However, the human soul is free to rise above both material determination and animal instincts. The doctrine on the soul’s immortality suggests that its origin, nature and destiny are of supernatural importance. To be sure, this God-given human dignity is something that the State cannot manipulate nor govern. It is there that line is drawn in the sand. And no doubt, we must draw it for all to see.

But if there is one ideology that undermines God’s rights and the dignity of the human person it is a radical, unchristian belief of equality. Here I am not referring to equality of persons; this kind of equality is biblical. The evil, egalitarian version of equality I am referring to insists upon that all religions are put on an equal plane. The problem is if they are all equal then they are equally unimportant. Again, to quote Pope Leo XIII, he warned Christians of the following: “To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice.” (On the Constitution of States) Such equality leads to universal apathy towards all religion. You cannot put Catholicism on equal par with other religions without undermining Catholicism any more than you can put the vice of lying and the virtue of honesty on the same level without the undermining honesty. One of the greatest offenses to God in the Old Testament was when his people put Him on the same level with other false gods. But this apostasy always came at a high price. What the Israelites learned is that false gods demand innocent blood (i.e. human sacrifices, barbaric warfare, and blood sports). The innocent never fared well. We, as Americans, should take note of this historic lesson.

Keep in mind that State neutrality towards Christ either does not exist for long or it does not exist at all. Christ himself said that you are either for me or against me. A government that is not for Christ will be against Him soon enough. The evidence of this is to be found in our public schools. Perhaps in the late 1960’s into 1970’s, after prayer and bible-reading were outlawed under the pretense of State-neutrality, public education was not openly hostile towards Christianity. But in recent decades, there is, undoubtedly, a strong bias against Christ, the Christian faith and the Christian roots of America.

On the other hand, the early Christians understood that the Holy Trinity, as the supreme and only God, had to be preached regardless of how offensive it was to the ancient pagans. False gods, including the cult of the State under which Roman Emperors were worshiped, were flat out rejected as demonic. In fact, it was in the second century, during the height of the persecution of Christianity, that the Gloria was inserted into the Divine Liturgy. If you recall, the Gloria exclaims to Jesus Christ with the following words:

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

“You alone!” was their cry. This message was carried from the sanctuary into the public square. There was no other way to sanctify the cruel pagan world of ancient times. Honesty was the best policy then as it is now.

III. Watchmen and Wolves

The third consideration is something Bishop William Lori said in his address to the General Assembly. He made a reference to the bishops as being "watchmen," which, as stated previously, is a reference to Ezekiel 33:7. The Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut goes on to cite a passage from a sermon given by Pope St. Gregory the Great. It reads, "Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming…" Indeed, the shepherd’s duty of being a “watchman” was a common title given to bishops in the early Church. It invokes manly qualities of courage, boldness of speech and a spirit if sacrifice. When the salvation of souls and the interests of the Church were threatened, watchmen of the flock did not hesitate to eliminate the threat; neither did they curry favor with the powerful out of fear.

Furthermore, weakness and timidity were discouraged in the formation of priests by the early Church Fathers. As Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote in his book, Pastoral Rule, “Often, indeed, incautious rulers, being afraid of losing human favor, fear to speak freely of what is right, and, in the words of the Truth, do not exercise the zeal of shepherds caring for the flock, but serve the role of mercenaries; for when the wolf appears, they flee and hide themselves in silence.”

Catholic historian, H. Daniel-Rops, characterized these watchmen in the following manner: “The Church neither held her tongue nor capitulated. These voices of Christian liberty were noble and strong. There was Ossius of Cordova, the aged Spanish bishop, who wrote to the all-powerful [Emperor] Constantius: ‘You have no right to meddle in religious affairs. God has given you the authority over the Empire, but He has given us authority over the Church. In matters of faith it is you who must listen to our instructions.’”

St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, reminded Roman Emperor Theodosius II: “Remember you are a mortal!’ And St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, said that, ‘The power of the Church surpasses that of the civil power in the same way as the heavens surpass the earth, or rather, even more so…’” Heroism needs to be inspired by heroic ideals. The Fathers of the Church provided just that. These men, as Daniel-Rops noted, neither held their tongue nor were they servile towards civil authority. They acted and spoke with the fortitude only Christ can give. To be sure, sometimes it cost them their lives. But they were celebrated as heroes for centuries to come.

As we approach the twentieth century, however, Christians settled into a comfortable routine. Of course, there were plenty of exceptions to this. But during the interim of two world wars in 1925, Pope Pius XI was well aware that Christianity had lost momentum in Western Civilization; Europe was still unsettled from the ravages of World War I; the Communistic Russian Revolution of 1917 had begun to solidify; and a powerful dictator by the name of Adolf Hitler was in the making. In short, aggressive Secularism and totalitarianism was on the rise. In his encyclical, On the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI pointed out one of the factors that made this possible. He said, “This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks.” Evil men grow strong only when good men grow weak and timid.

This is why if religious liberty is to be preserved, it is imperative that Christians, especially our watchmen, call a spade a spade and identify the agents of religious persecution. Consequently, two questions must be asked: Who is suppressing religious liberty? And where are they coming from? These are two questions that must be answered forthrightly, and yes, publicly.

By making the three considerations, as stated above, a reality- namely, (1) Insisting on repentance from sin and error within the Church, (2) Making the argument for religious liberty based on God's rights and (3) The Church's watchmen courageously pointing out the wolves for all to see -a union of minds and the uniformity of action among Catholics are sure to follow; then, and only then, will the Gospel truths of life, liberty and happiness take hold once again in America.

The New Translation & Inspired Leadership

The New Translation & Moral Leadership:
New Catholic Liturgy teaches valuable political lessons

The following post is an article featured in the June edition of the Reflections column at The Edmund Burke Institute website. It also was previously posted on Sky View on November 3rd of 2011. Being that the New Translation of the Mass debuted today, I wanted to post it for new Sky View readers who may have missed it.

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

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

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

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

But any genuine profession of one’s faith presupposes that the Christian takes personal responsibility for his sins and faults. With the New Translation there is a heightened awareness that we are flawed individuals. For instance, the Penitential Act, towards the beginning of the Liturgy, is a prayer or general confession of sins by the congregation. In its current form it states: “I have sinned through my own fault…” However, the New Translation has it say: “I have greatly sinned…through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” The frank acknowledgement of one’s faults is a not only the mark of a good Christian but a good leader as well. To be sure, each penitential act is a rehearsal for life’s greatest challenge: the conquest of oneself!

Before we conquer the world we must first conquer ourselves. Quite naturally, we look to our leaders to help us in this pursuit. The spiritual leader in each Catholic parish is the priest. He is not only an icon of Christ to the congregation but he mediates on their behalf by offering spiritual sacrifices at the altar. With that said, the priest is to be cast in a new light. He greets the congregation of the faithful by saying, “The Lord be with you.” The response by the faithful is currently worded: “And also with you.” The New Translation of the Mass, however, bids us to look at the priest from a more traditional vantage point. It recovers the Jewish and early Christian context in the following Semitic response: “And with your spirit.” “Spirit,” in this expression, does not reference the human spirit of the priest but rather the Holy Spirit who dwells in the priest.

At his ordination the Holy Spirit endows the priest with a unique spiritual leadership. His hands were consecrated to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to bless, to forgive and retain sins, and to cast out evil spirits. Here the congregation acknowledges the priest as the leader under whose leadership they will approach almighty God.

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

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

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

In secular society, however, studies are showing that younger generations and tomorrow’s political leaders are more liberal— especially on social and political issues. But as Catholics have begun the process of returning to the founding principles of Catholicism with favorable results, it suggests that the return to the founding principles of America is the key to its success. As Pope Leo XIII said, "When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang...its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being. Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery." To be sure, this is the template of renewal! Patriotic Americans can learn something here; especially if they want to meet the challenge of moral decay and a breakdown of political leadership in the coming years. Be open to every good enterprise but do not neglect the principles which led to your country's greatness!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Einstein: Standing Across the Path of Hitler

During Europe's greatest trial Albert Einstein discovered who his real friends were. Indeed, as the holocaust was getting underway the real champion of freedom and guarantor of human rights came from an unexpected source. To Einstein's dismay and disbelief, Hitler and his Third Reich mowed down every opponent who had a public voice...except one!

This quote was originally provided in the New Haven Courier in August of 1939. It was later published in the December, 1940 edition of Time magazine.

"Being a lover of freedom, when revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Then I looked to the individual writers, who, as literary guides of Germany, had written much and often concerning the place of freedom in modern life; but they, too, were mute.

Only the [Catholic] Church stood across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly."

The Modern Dilemma

Excerpt: The Modern Dilemma
By Christopher Dawson

"The only way by which our civilization can recover its balance and stability is by the restoration of the spiritual element that is no less essential to modern culture than has been to the civilization of the past…No doubt civilization is in a sense dependent on the economic process, just as a man of genius depends on his dinner. But economic causes do not create civilization, any more than good food make great men. In both cases greatness is a spiritual quality, and has its source in the intelligence and will of the individual and the society. A civilization lives by its faith and its ideals no less than by its wealth and its material organization."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Two Sides to Parenting

I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum. I see some parents trying to be their children’s friends without being a parent, that is, an authority figure who provides discipline and guidance. On other hand, I have heard good Christians say to me that they are not a friend to their children but rather, first and foremost, a mother or a father. The emphasis in the latter case is on their authority and the insistence that they ought to be obeyed without question.

There is a problem with each of these positions. As for those parents who try to be a friend to their children without being a parent, what ends up happening is that the son or daughter doesn’t listen and hardly ever obeys them. I would go so far as to say that children under such relaxed parenting styles struggle to respect their parents. As for parents who make their authority felt, and fail to be a friend to their child, the result is that the son or daughter does not come to them with their problems. These children, especially in their adolescent years, hardly ever confide in their parents. Upon discovering this, such authoritarian parents often scratch their heads and wonder why they are the last to be told about their children's affairs.

God is both Father and friend. He disciplines and punishes. Yet, he seeks us out when we are lost, consoles us when we are despondent and builds-up when we are weak. The Lord is the Almighty who is to be feared and he is a dear friend who knows the secrets of our hearts. As such, our parenting should model His parenting as much as possible. With this template, authority and intimacy are wonderfully interwoven. When mom and dad demonstrate to their children that they are special and that no one in the world can replace them, a sense of self-worth is cultivated. Yet, in order to counter or suppress the effects of Original Sin- principally that of selfishness and self-centeredness –children need to know that the world doesn’t revolve around them. In fact, life will even continue without them. This is why our Lord reminds us to take the last seat instead of the first and to defer to others out of kindness and humility.

These two seemingly opposite values- the belief that they are special and irreplaceable and knowing, at the same time, that they are not the center of the universe – strikes that balance children need. Moreover, love and authority are two effective instruments parents can use in weeding out vice and cultivating virtue in the garden of their child’s soul. When done properly, the result is a selfless, loving and responsible adult; one who God himself will be proud of.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What you may not know about Christmas

If you ever watched the History or Discover Channel you may have come across progressive theologians or historians who dismiss out of hand the historical accounts of Christ's birth as told in the Gospels. Quite often scholars look down upon tradition, the testimonies of the early Christians and their ancient writings. For some of these intellectuals, it is beneath them to give any credibility to traditions associated with piety and religious devotion. Yet, by confining their judgments within the narrow circle of contemporary scholarship, they deprive themselves of valuable insights which the traditions of the Church do provide. Perhaps, this may be one of the reasons why many people do not know the following about Christmas.

Take for instance the date of Christ's birth. Many scholars have said that it is highly unlikely that December 25th was the actual date of our Lord's birth. One principal reason was that shepherds in the Holy Land did not normally graze their pastures with their sheep during the month of December. Rather, the more likely month for such activity would be during the month of March. But, as we shall see, there are reasons to believe that the tradition of the Church got it right.

For starters, early in the fourth century (300's), St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, wrote Pope St. Julius, bishop of Rome, to inquire about the date of Christ’s birth. One might think that if anyone was qualified to answer the question it would be St. Cyril himself; primarily because he was the bishop of Jerusalem, just twelve miles away from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. Nevertheless, it just so happened that the city of Jerusalem was pillaged in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, led by General Titus, in order to repress an uprising of Jewish zealots. In the process, the Temple was destroyed and its records- along with the census documents -were brought back to Rome only to be filed among the Roman archives. Less than three hundred years later, these documents were evidently still in existence. Interestingly enough, Pope St. Julius was the acting bishop of Rome after Christianity had been legalized. As such, he had privileged access to the Roman archives. St. Julius wrote back to the Saintly Bishop of Jerusalem and assigned December 25th as the birth date of Jesus Christ. “St. John Chrysostom [Bishop and Father of the Church in the 400's] quotes the same authority of the Roman archives as the source of the date of Christmas.”

As regards to the likelihood shepherds overseeing their sheep on a cold December night, we learn the following: It just so happened that right outside the town of Bethlehem was a watch tower called the Migdal Eder. This was a special watchtower that overlooked a pasture of sheep. But these sheep were no ordinary sheep. The sheep at the Migdal Eder were specially groomed for the Temple sacrifice "throughout the year." This pasture land happened to be alongside a road leading to Jerusalem. The Migdal Eder shepherds were trained to keep these sheep unblemished, that is, with no broken bones or any other kind of infirmity. Unblemished lambs for sacrificial offerings, of course, were required by the Law of Moses. These providential circumstances, no doubt, foretold that the Christ-child would fulfill the Messianic role as the “Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.”

Interestingly, it is believed that the Angel announced the glad tidings of the Saviors birth to these special Migdal Eder shepherds on Christmas night. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after having witnessed the angelic apparition and having visited the baby Jesus in "swaddling clothes," these shepherds got to talking at the Temple when they transported the sheep there. Perhaps, this is why St. Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Luke 2) recognized the Christ-child as the long awaited Messiah when he was presented in the Temple forty days after his birth. After all, the following prophecy from Micah was well known within the Jewish community: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”

Tradition also has it that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the age of three to the time she was betrothed to St. Joseph, had lived in the Temple. Just like Hannah did with her son Samuel in the Old Testament, Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, dedicated Mary to the Temple (probably due to their old age). According to an ancient document known as the Gospel of St. James (or the Proto-evangelium ), Mary was to spend most of her childhood in the Temple precincts. As such, her holiness and even her vow of virginity could very well have been made known to the likes of St. Simeon and the prophetess Anna who also lived in the Temple (not to be confused with St. Anne, Mary’s mother). Perhaps, the reason why this holy man and holy woman immediately recognized the Christ-child is because they first recognized his Mother!

Some scholars, for their own reasons, have maintained that Christ was not born in Bethlehem but rather in Nazareth. However, the early Christians have something to say about the exact place of Christ’s birth. It was virtually unanimous among the early Christians and Fathers of the Church that Jesus was born just outside of Bethlehem in a cave, also known as a grotto. St. Justin, a Palestinian by birth and a Christian philosopher who lived about a hundred years after Christ, writes that Jesus was born in a grotto near Bethlehem. He said, “Since Joseph did not find where to lodge in the village of Bethlehem, he repaired to a certain grotto near to it; and being there, Mary brought forth Jesus and laid him in the manger, where the Magi, coming from Arabia, found him.”

About fifty years after St. Justin died (165 A.D.) Origin, a Catholic priest and well known Father of the Church, had this to say about the place of Christ's birth: "At Bethlehem is shown a grotto where Jesus was born. The fact is well known throughout the whole country. Even pagans know that in this grotto was born a certain Jesus adored by the Nazarenes." When Christianity finally had become legal in 313 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine, his mother, a canonized Saint, traveled to Bethlehem and found the grotto where our Lord was born. As an ancient Church historian in the third century, Eusebius, relates, the Emperors mother restored it. "Helena adorned the holy grotto with rich and varied decorations. Sometime later, the Emperor himself, outdoing his mother's munificence, embellished this place in truly royal fashion, lavishing on it gold, silver and sumptuous tapestries.” From that time forward, the grotto, later turned into a shrine, became a favorite holy site for pilgrims. Even the famous Saint and scholar of the fourth century, St. Jerome, had visited this hallowed grotto. However, he lamented that it did not retain its original simplicity when Christ was born a little over three hundred years prior to his visit.

In conclusion, although modern scholarship has furthered our knowledge about Christ in many ways, it is, nevertheless, comprised of fallible judgments based on many premises which may or may not be true. One thing is for sure: If we want to know the truth about Christmas and the circumstances of that wonderful night, we cannot afford to ignore the traditions that have come down to us through the Catholic Church. These traditions have a lot neat insights to offer. What is more, many of them are credible. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, as it is read to us from the pulpit at Mass on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day, really did happen the way the Gospels say it did.

A Practical Way of God Speaking to You

Many assume that the life of Christ came to a close when he ascended into heaven. Catholics understand, on the other hand, that the Eucharist is the extension of Christ’s real presence on earth. In addition to his Eucharistic presence, however, his life continues in another form: through his Saints. Although God’s public revelation is contained within the canon of the Old and New Testament writings, his wisdom continues through the teachings of his Saints. The wealth of Christ's life, as with his knowledge, overflows through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in souls of his followers. And as for those who lived this life to the full and whose thoughts were wonderfully conformed to the mind of Christ, the Catholic Church has held them up as models to be imitated.

To better understand the Life we possess and to better to live it out, reading Scripture is essential. But a fine supplement to Scripture, indeed a essential supplement, is the writings of the Saints for our spiritual growth. It is in the writings and biographies of the Saints where general principles and virtues found in Scripture are translated into specific and practical ways to be holy. If there were any spiritual exercises the Saints recommended, it was spiritual reading (i.e. mediation on Scripture and writings of the Saints). Just as our way of speaking to God is through vocal prayer, his way of speaking to us is through spiritual reading. Don't do all the talking; listen to the voice of God. It is in this spiritual exercise where you will find concrete ways of living out the life of Christ. With this, deception and error are greatly minimized. Indeed, the Lord can better teach you how to see the world and day to day relationships as they really exist.

Take for example the subject of humility: Our Lord says in the Gospel, in so many words, that the first will be last and the leader of all should be the servant of all (he did this via the washing of the feet). With that said, Jesus left it up to the Saints to give practical lessons and examples of how this might be carried out. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, does just that. He says that being silent amid criticism (i.e. biting your tongue)is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. Like St. Paul, St. Francis was known for blessing those who persecuted and maligned him.

This counsel not only leads to sanctity but it goes a long way in improving relationships; particularly marriages. Lost opportunities! There are many times a husband or wife could have abated an argument or prevented a display of anger in front of the kids by just peacefully accepting criticism. If, indeed, a correction needs to be issued to a spouse, then it is best to do so when the anger has subsided. In any case, to be a peace-maker in these situations, especially when the temptation to defend and justify yourself is strong, is a most pleasing spiritual sacrifice to the Lord; one that will be rewarded.

What is more, when married couples engage in spiritual reading and share what they have learned with one another, they better fulfill their vocation in getting their spouse to heaven. As such, both the husband and the wife can grow in virtue and in grace.

So, go out and by a book about a Saint or a book penned from a Saint. In learning their ways you will come to understand Christ himself in a deeper way. Moreover, without a doubt you will learn to think with him.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Building Better Than They Knew

Building Better Than They Knew:

The Third Plenary Council at Baltimore in 1884 was a gathering of fourteen archbishops, sixty-one bishops, and a number of priests and religious. It was presided over by Archbishop James Gibbons who, in my opinion, was another Fulton Sheen in his day. He was a man of eloquence and spiritual insight. Under his patronage the Catholic Church in America grew in number and in strength.

From this Council came the following words about America’s founding as being the “special work of Providence.” It further adds that if our freedom should ever be imperiled, it will be found that Catholics, acting as “one,” will pledge their lives to secure it.

"We consider the establishment of our country's independence, the shaping of its liberties and laws, as a work of special Providence, its framers 'building better than they knew,' the Almighty's hand guiding them.... We believe that our country's heroes were the instruments of the God of nations in establishing this home of freedom; to both the Almighty and to His instruments in the work we look with grateful reverence; and to maintain the inheritance of freedom which they have left us, should it ever—which God forbid—be imperiled, our Catholic citizens will be found to stand forward as one man, ready to pledge anew 'their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor."'

Pastoral Letter of 1919:

In 1919, thirty five years after the 1884 Pastoral Letter and Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, the same Archbishop, Cardinal James Gibbons, issues another pastoral letter to the Catholic Church in America. These words were penned after World War I. They speak to the liberty, religion and the State. The following passages are excerpts from the Pastoral Letter of 1919.

America: The Chief Role

We entered the war [World War I] with the highest of objects, proclaiming at every step that we battled for the right and pointing to our country as a model for the world's imitation. We accepted therewith the responsibility of leadership in accomplishing the task that lies before mankind. The world awaits our fulfillment. Pope Benedict himself has declared that our people, "retaining a most firm hold on the principles of reasonable liberty and of Christian civilization, are destined to have the chief role in the restoration of peace and order on the basis of those same principles, when the violence of these tempestuous days shall have passed" (, April 10, 1919).

This beyond doubt is a glorious destiny, far more in keeping with the aims of our people than the triumph of armies or the conquest of wider domain. Nor is it an impossible destiny, provided we exemplify in our own national life "the principles of reasonable liberty and of Christian civilization."

Inalienable Rights:

In the light of this central truth, we can understand and appreciate the principle on which our American liberties are founded—"that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." These are conferred by God with equal bounty upon every human being, and, therefore, in respect of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the same rights belong to all men and for the same reason. Not by mutual concession or covenant, not by warrant or grant from the State, are these rights established; they are the gift and bestowal of God. In consequence of this endowment, and therefore in obedience to the Creator's will, each of us is bound to respect the rights of his fellow men. This is the essential meaning of justice, the great law antecedent to all human enactment and contrivance, the only foundation on which may rest securely the fabric of society and the structure of our political, legal, and economic systems...

The Greatest Resource: Children's Minds

If the function of government is to protect the liberty of the citizen, and if the aim of education is to prepare the individual for the rational use of his liberty, the State cannot rightfully or consistently make education a pretext for interfering with rights and liberties which the Creator, not the State, has conferred. Any advantage that might accrue even from a perfect system of State education would be more than offset by the wrong which the violation of parental rights would involve.
In our country, government thus far has wisely refrained from placing any other than absolutely necessary restrictions upon private initiative. The result is seen in the development of our resources, the products of inventive genius, and the magnitude of our enterprises. But our most valuable resources are the minds of our children, and for their development at least the same scope should be allowed to individual effort as is secured to our undertakings in the material order.

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.

Invasion of Conscience Rights:

With great wisdom our American Constitution provides that every citizen shall be free to follow the dictates of his conscience in the matter of religious belief and observance. While the State gives no preference or advantage to any form of religion, its own best interests require that religion as well as education should flourish and exert its wholesome influence upon the lives of the people. And since education is so powerful an agency for the preservation of religion, equal freedom should be secured to both. This is the more needful where the State refuses religious instruction any place in its schools. To compel the attendance of all children at these schools would be practically equivalent to an invasion of the rights of conscience, in respect of those parents who believe that religion forms a necessary part of education. Our Catholic schools are not established and maintained with any idea of holding our children apart from the general body and spirit of American citizenship. They are simply the concrete form in which we exercise our rights as free citizens, in conformity with the dictates of conscience. Their very existence is a great moral fact in American life. For while they aim, openly and avowedly, to preserve our Catholic faith, they offer to all our people an example of the use of freedom for the advancement of morality and religion...

Ruins of History:

As we look upon the record which the past unfolds, we cannot but note that it is filled with the struggles of mankind, with their building up and tearing down, with searchings for truth which often end in illusion, with strivings after good which lead to disappointment. The very monuments which were reared to celebrate human triumph remain simply to tell of subsequent downfall. Not rarely the greatness of human achievement is learned from the vast extent of its ruins.

Jesus Christ and America:

But above it all, standing out clearly through the mists of error and the grosser darkness of evil, is One, in raiment white and glistening, who has solved the problem of life, has given to sorrow and pain a new meaning, and, by dying, has overcome death: "Jesus Christ yesterday, and today; and the same forever" (Heb. 13:8).

There are numberless paths, but the Way is one. There are many degrees of knowledge, but only one Truth. There are plans and ideals of living, but in real fulfillment there is only one Life. For none other than He could say: "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

Pray, therefore, dearly beloved, that the spirit of Jesus Christ may abide with us always, that we may walk on His footsteps in justice and charity, and that the blessing of God may descend abundantly upon the Church, our country, and the whole American people.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quiet in Tarsus: Some of St. Paul's Toughest Years


Waiting on the Lord can be one of the most difficult trials a Christian endures in his or her spiritual life. Pope St. Gregory the Great said the cross of waiting may be a punishment or purification from God for sins committed; or it may be a preparation for some greater task or mission the Lord has for you; or it may be an instrument through which God wishes to glorify himself in a special way. Whatever the reason, waiting on the Lord can be likened to a school where the greatest of lessons about life can be learned. It teaches us the humility of being that “worthless” servant Jesus refers to in his parable; the one where the servant works hard in the field only to have to serve his Master at the table at the end of the day. St. Paul had to learn this lesson over and over again in prison and in the setbacks he encountered during his mission.

This blog was originally divided into three posts in May of 2010 and then again in May of 2011. Quite in Tarsus speaks to the St. Paul’s difficult trial of waiting on the Lord before his mission even got started.

Future Trials:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saints Waited:

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

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

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

The Holy Family Waited:

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

Eyes of Faith:

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

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

Unless the Lord Builds:

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

Putting God Above Your Mission:

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

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

Willingness to Sacrifice:

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

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

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

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

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

Preface: Repost for new Sky View readers.

This article was last posted in November of 2011. It is a message I will continue to repeat because what the Church requires from her members- that is, repentance as a condition of being received into the Church, of receiving the Sacraments and of remaining in communion with the Church -is key in making the Gospel a viable alternative to Secularism. It is also key in unifying the Church. After all, Christ warned his disciples not to give holy things to dogs and pearls to swine "lest they tear you to pieces." Giving the Sacraments to obstinate sinners (unrepentant sinners who are incapable of appreciating the holiness of the Sacraments because of their sins) and allowing them into our communion and fellowship will, as it has today, divide the Church. Is it any wonder that the name "Catholic" can mean any number of things? This was not always the case.

The Wedding Banquet:

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

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

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

Repent and be Baptized:

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

The White Garment:

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

Early Catachumenate:

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

Church's Most Important Mission:

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

False Compassion:

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

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

Fruits of False Compassion:

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

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

Catholic: Only One Meaning

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

T.S. Eliot: God or Dictatorship

T.S. Eliot, the famous poet, was a Catholic who was born in America but later moved to England (1914). In 1940 he wrote a book called "Christianity and Culture." Most know T.S. Eliot as a poet. However, he was also a Catholic author who penned some uncanny insights about Catholicism, politics and culture. In fact, he was a Noble Prize winner in literature in 1948.

Take a look what he had to say! With each quote, I provide commentary below.

God or Dictators:

• T.S. Eliot: "If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin."

Sky View Comment: Yes, the choice is that simple! Whether it be the hard dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler or the soft despotism of today's European Socialism, the result is such that freedom is lost or compromised and human dignity is eclipsed. In fact, the next big pro-life cause in these United States of America will be (and is now) the growing problem of euthanasia.

More than we would like to admit, the medical community in hospitals and hospices across this nation are resorting to the cruel and unjust methods of starving and dehydrating patients who are considered not worth saving. As the Baby-boom generation enters into their 60's and 70's there will be a greater push to end human lives prematurely. Why is that? In part, because the ratio of nurses (and medical staff) per elderly patients will continue to be disproportionately top-heavy. As it stands, there is a shortage of nurses throughout the country. As our population ages there will naturally be a shortage of younger people to take care of the elderly population. In addition to abortion and the threat to religious liberty, this will be the next big battle the Church will face. Keep in mind that Germany in the 1930's initiated euthanasia programs under the auspices of the private medical profession. Hitler's regime only brought to completion what the Germany's medical community had already begun.

As for political rulers who disregard the divine law and have no use for the Christian religion, they invariably take on too much. They are often led into thinking that they can become all things to all people. When God ceases to be the supreme in society, the State takes his place. But as Pope Benedict XVI 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."

The Enemy of the State:

• T.S. Eliot: "When the Christian is treated as an enemy of the State, his course is very much harder, but it is simpler. I am concerned with the dangers to the tolerated minority; and in the modern world, it may turn out that most intolerable thing for Christians is to be tolerated."

Sky View Comment: A contemporary and a fellow countryman of Eliot, Hilaire Belloc, once said something along similar lines: "But if I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the Faith is at hand, I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning."

It is a just and worthy thing for Christians to pray that they can preach and worship in peace; that is, without any undue interference from the State. With that said, it is equally true to say that nothing makes Christianity flourish more than persecution. Tertullian, a Father of the Church from the second century, once said that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.

On one hand, I am convinced that one of the worst things to happen for the Catholic Church in America was to be accepted as mainstream. Before World War II Catholics were marginalized and held in suspicion by a good number of Americans. Catholics knew what it meant to be outsiders. As such, they could more easily identify with Christ-crucified. Pope St. Gregory the Great once said that virtue acts quietly but the reputation of virtue is stirred up by the whip. And yes, Catholics were well acquainted with what that whip symbolized.

Yet, on the other hand, I, as a Catholic, do not relish the thought of being persecuted by the State. I want religious liberty and I want it for my family.

The dilemma is as follows: Religious liberty is a good thing; but being unhindered by the State to worship as we please has, in many cases, lulled us to sleep in our comfort zones. The persecution of religion, on the flip side, stirs up Christian zeal. Like or not, such affliction helps us to better identify with our Lord and his Saints. There is something sobering about being in exile. When we feel like we, as Christians, do not belong here on earth, it bids us to move onward toward to our true heavenly homeland. To be sure, we are much less likely to be satisfied with earthly mediocrity.

The question is: What is worse, being in exile and feeling like a stranger in a foreign land or being so accepted by the world; so much so that we become like the world? No doubt, the choice is not a easy one. But the former, as opposed to the latter, is by far a safer road to travel...spiritually speaking.

Liberalism is Reactionary:

• T.S. Eliot: "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. Our point of departure is more real to us than our destination; and our destination is very likely to present a very different picture when arrived at, from the vaguer image formed in the imagination. By destroying the traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos."

Sky View Comment: This is an important contribution that T.S. Eliot has made in the understanding of Secular-liberalism. This ideology is unprincipled precisely because its thrust is a reaction to that which threatens its license or unbridled freedom. It is, as he indicates, a movement away from rather than towards something definite.

A wonderful complement to Eliot's point is by Bishop Sheen's statement regarding Communists. He said that hate is the main catalyst behind their world view: "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." Communism, Socialism and Secular-liberalism are all cut from the same fabric. Those who subscribe to such views are generally reacting to something they hate.

Sheen continues: "Because they became disillusioned with their freedom, which produced chaos in their souls, they for a Communist dictatorship outside of themselves to organize their chaos. Because they lost the power of self regulation from within, they seek a Communist-imposed regulation from without…[In] communism they can have a seeming sense of righteousness and justice by hating the wrongs of others without any obligation to better their own individual lives."

Liberal Society and Education:

• T.S. Eliot: "[N]o one could ever assume that any two [students]…had studied the same subjects or read the same books…In a negative liberal society you have no agreement as to there being any body of knowledge which any educated person should have acquired at any particular stage: the idea of wisdom disappears, and you get sporadic and unrelated experimentation. A nation’s system of education is much more important than its system of government; only of proper system of education can unify the active and the contemplative life, action and speculation, politics and the arts."

Sky View Comment: Catholics in America have yet to come to terms with this fact: "A nation’s system of education is much more important than its system of government!" Eliot was right. If this is the case, and it is, why isn't there a campaign against State-run education by the Catholic Church. The current system of public education has much more in common with an agnostic version of Socialism than it does with Christian democracy. What is more, it has delivered a huge blow to the Church in her mission to save souls in this country.

Consider the following quotes (I will repeat them on Sky View until they take hold). Our spiritual ancestors had a much clearer understanding about what a compulsory education would portend for the nation and the Church:

Cardinal James Gibbons (1919): "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."

Bishop Fulton Sheen (1943): "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."

Catholic philosopher Etienne Gilson (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."

Politics Solves All:

• T.S. Eliot: "The obvious secularist solution for muddle is to subordinate everything to political power…it offers some immediate, though perhaps illusory relief."

Sky View Comment: Secular-liberalism is essentially a protest against any restraints upon sexual or moral freedom. And from this protest is an insistence or demand that behavior inspired by such behavior should not be judged. The result is none other than the muddle T.S. Eliot referred to. But people cannot live long in muddle or chaos. People get nervous under such conditions.

Not living by the laws of God and by making earthly goods the sole object of their pursuits, anxiety and insecurity become pronounced. Notice that when the hint of an unknown illness rears its ugly head or when there is a threat of a terrorist attack, the media overreacts with sensationalizing it and the government overcompensates by adding more regulations. As the book of Wisdom states, "A distressed conscience magnifies misfortune."

This is but one of the consequences of State-run education. It inspires an appetite for political solutions. On the other hand, the two agents which are the guarantor of self-governance is the family and religion. Both of these institutions are undermined in our public schools today.

Statism and Socialism are two weeds that need to be pulled from its root if America is to recover her greatness. The root of these weeds is to be found in the public school system. I am not suggesting that if education was privatized all would be well. But it must be done if America is to be well again. Not doubt, State-run education would have to be replaced by a greater access to Catholic education and evangelization.

Pagan Advertising and De-Christianization:

• T.S. Eliot: "The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us…It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions, the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of this dilemma- and he is in the majority –he is becoming more and more de-Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space."

Sky View Comment: Christian civilization is built-up from within by Christian institutions. The Christian Faith and the Church does not thrive well without this reinforcement, namely, a Christian culture. Our Secular society has done a bang-up job on convincing Americans, including Christians, that the native soil for the Gospel is the inner sanctuary of a church...with the doors shut. With this constant message being impressed upon us, the courtroom, the newsroom and the classroom have all been vacated by Christians who publicly bear witness to Christ. The 1950's, 1960's and beyond have been decades when Christians have pretty much kept to themselves. That missionary zeal of Christians was out matched by the ambitions of Secularists. But I do believe that the New Evangelization will restore at least some of what has been lost.