Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The End of the American Era: The basis for hope and despair II

“Everywhere today the ruling forces in civilization seem to be converging against the Christian tradition. Modern civilization is not only ceasing to be Christian; it is setting itself up as an anti-religion which will tolerate no rival, and which claims to be sole master of the world. Never, perhaps, in the whole of its history has the People of God seemed to be weaker and more scattered, and more at the mercy of its enemies than it is today.

Yet this is no reason for us to despair. Christianity began with a startling failure, and the sign in which it conquered was the Cross on which its Founder was executed. The Christian law of progress is the very reverse of that of the world. When the Church possesses all the marks of external power and success, then is its hour of danger; and when it seems that no human power can save it, the time of its deliverance is at hand.”

However, if the light of Christ is hidden, “we cannot blame the world outside of ignoring it. It is, of course, possible that men may know Christianity and still reject it, but in the great majority of cases the men who follow the new Secularist ideals of life and regard Christianity as discredited are men who have never known it as a living reality, but have been acquainted with it only at secondhand or in distorted forms.”

-Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Modern State 1935


The value of reading salvation history in the Old and New Testament as well as the history of the Church is that real success in God’s hands is to be found in quiet and unexpected places. And what appears to be a failure to the world may, in fact, be his instrument of some great enterprise. In the year 1 A.D., for instance, most people looked to Rome for the exciting news. “That’s where it’s at.” So they thought. However, the place to be was Bethlehem in Palestine where the Messiah was born. It was there in the stable where the future was to be found. Near the end of the Gospel story we learn that the unassuming man on the donkey on Palm Sunday would have a much bigger impact in the world than Caesar Augustus who sat on his imperial throne in Rome.

Similarly in our time, many people look to Capitol Hill or Hollywood for answers or inspiration. Quite often short-term gains are sought after while long-term solutions go unnoticed because the latter lacks prestige. Allow me to propose just a few things that served as building blocks for Christian civilization in the past. Not a lot of people in our day- including Christians –have seriously considered these ideas as practicable or effective. Nevertheless, what led to the greatest civilization are the very things that will save this same civilization.

1. The preaching ministry of Catholic bishops: According to the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council, the highest and most important duty of a bishop is to preach the Gospel. Starting with the Apostles, Catholic bishops were called by Christ to make disciples of all nations. The Gospel was not to be preached to believers alone but to unbelievers as well. With the help of monks and religious orders, proclaiming God’s Word by the successors of the Apostles, namely, the bishops, laid the foundation of Christian civilization. Enjoying the fullness of Holy Orders, their words, by the power of God, is spoken with great effect. Indeed, the graces of Holy Orders- as opposed to other sacraments -confers a special anointing upon their words when they consecrate bread and wine, when they forgive sins, when they bless people and things and especially when they preach. More than priests, deacons and lay people, the charism of preaching belongs to the bishop. As such, let us pray and encourage our bishops in the United States that they will not limit their preaching and teaching to Catholics only. “Making disciples of all the nations” presupposes that the Word also be communicated to non-believers outside of cathedrals, shrines and basilicas.

No doubt, laity play a special role in sanctifying society. After all, they can reach people at the office, in the public square and in other frequented venues. But by no means did the Church in her two thousand year history exclusively rely on the laity to advance the Gospel. The leaders of the "Original" or Apostolic evangelization were, for the most part, bishops. It was principally through their preaching that Christian civilization was born. And it is through their preaching that our civilization will be saved.

2. Unity and Uniformity: To the degree that Christians are united in their message and uniform in their ministry- to that degree! -the truth will be more deeply impressed upon the minds of the people. Just as a mother and father need to be on the same page in parenting and disciplining their children, so too does the Catholic Church need to think with one mind, speak with one voice and act as one in her mission. When bishops, priests, and laity contradict one another not only is the truth compromised but skepticism among outsiders only festers all the more. A nineteenth century German priest, Fr. Johann Adam Mohler, said that “The battle of division will last longer, the more sin and error flowing from sin is found in the Church. The result is always like its cause: the more error there is among a greater number inside the Church, the more numerous will be the opposing errors in the separated parties and the longer will be the battle.”

Traditionally there have been two ways in which the unity of the Church is preserved: The pastoral exercise of disciplining those who willfully dissent and making sure that candidates who wish to enter the Church believe all that Christ taught and are resolved to live accordingly. For instance, St. Augustine, who was a bishop of Hippo, examined those who knew the candidate in order to learn of his or her worthiness to enter the Catholic Church. From this, the unity of Christians was apparent for all to see.

3. The early Christians made it a habit of going to the sinners; wherever that might have been. They ventured into foreign lands and into pagan institutions in order to bear witness that Christ alone was to be worshiped and followed. To repeat: They ventured into hostile territories and held out their Creed to be exclusively from God.

It’s unfortunate but true that we, today’s Christians, expect unbelievers and sinners to come to us. We hold bible studies in church basements and conferences under tents on church property. But how many of us venture into bars, adult book stores, universities and other venues where God is not honored. I believe many of us are coming to the conclusion that for too long we have retreated from ungodly places for fear of being contaminated. This retreat has cost us. Now our public institutions belong to those who aggressively advance Secular-liberalism; all this because we kept to ourselves.

4. State-run education: In the twentieth century the State took over what the Church used to do; and that is, educate our nation’s citizens. State-run education, especially as it exists today, has for its goal the interests of the State. That is to say, the purpose of public education is the State itself. Instead of creating a citizenry of self-governing individuals, it inspires dependents who look to the State for its solutions. The religion of politics or the cult of State is forever strengthened under this system. Therefore, so that religious liberty, human dignity and free enterprise be secured, the noble profession of educating our nation’s children has to be returned to the private sector; and it is in the private sector of choices that the Church can attract more souls under her tutelage.

5. Decentralized government: Ralph Martin Novak, author of Christianity and the Roman Empire, provides a sobering statistic of third century Rome which serves as a warning to our U.S. government. He said, "It is estimated that whereas at the start of the third century A.D. the Roman emperors employed only about 300 to 350 full-time individuals in administering the Empire; by 300 A.D. this number had grown to some 30,000 or 35,000 people. The expense of this vastly increased administrative and military structure was an enormous burden on the people of the Empire, and the burden only grew more oppressive over the course of the fourth century A.D....Rome's efforts to collect the taxes necessary to pay for defense and administration exacerbated the already deep social and economic divisions within the Roman empire."

With State-run education, America is sure to repeat these errors. Christianity’s contribution to the world is that it held up the individual as supreme. Man, according to the Gospel, is a microcosm, a world in miniature. One person is worth more than the whole universe because he is made in God’s image. With this, the authority which held the highest esteem in Church’s eyes was not some bureaucratic institution far removed from the individual but God and the parents. After all, divine and parental authority is inspired by the love of the individual child; the State is inspired by justice in the best case scenario and in the worst, its own interests. This is why a decentralized government is most compatible with Christian doctrine; it empowers the individual because he or she is endowed with an immortal soul destined for heaven. The State has no jurisdiction over this spiritual reality.


For related posts:

Reclaiming Education from the State (March 2011 archives)
The Emnity Between Catholicism and Totalitarianism (Febrauary 2011 archives)
Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech (January 2011 archives)
What a Childless Nation Portends (December 2010 archives)
Airport Screening: A New Low for Civil Liberties (November 2010 archives)
God's Answer to World Revolution (October 2010 archives)
Catholic Fiction: Separation of Church and State (October 2010 archives)
A Nation of Traitors (October 2010 archives)
Philosophy at War: Democracy in Education (October 2010 archives)
Conservatism is Not Enough (September 2010 archives)
Democracy in America: Soft Despotism (April 2010 archives)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The End of the American Era: The basis for hope and despair

“[A]s there is nothing good in nature which is not to be referred to the Divine goodness, every human society which does its utmost to exclude God from its laws and its constitution, rejects the help of this Divine beneficence, and deserve, also, that help should be denied it. Rich, therefore, and powerful as it appears, that society bears within itself the seeds of death, and cannot hope for a lengthy existence.” Pope Leo XIII, On the Religious Question in France 1884

Recent economic indicators such as the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) prediction that that the U.S. economy will be surpassed by China in 2016, the growing US Federal debt and the uncertainty of oil prices, suggest that things need to change in America. Sound political, economic, and energy policies are essential for America's longevity. However, we have to remember that in the context of history these things derive from and are sustained by a robust spiritual foundation.

If you accept the premise that the spiritual order is the cause and the temporal order (i.e. politics, economics, education etc.) is the effect; or that the actions of God comes first and everything else follows; then you will more easily understand that what happens within the Catholic Church sets the pace for the rest of society. The Fathers of the Church referred to her as a “Mother” of Christians; not only of Christians but of all people (Pope Benedict XV said in the early twentieth-century that he is the father of all people whether they know it or not). As such, the Church's moral and spiritual health affects even those estranged children of hers who do not even accept her divine authority.

With that said, it is no exaggeration to say that the Church is the hope and despair of mankind. When her members become worldly, society falls into immorality and fragments; on other hand, when Catholics are zealous for the things of God with a world-renouncing spirituality, society is well ordered and free from tyranny. In a word, when the Catholic Church speaks and behaves according to what she is called to be by Jesus Christ then civilization prospers. As such, nations benefit from her light. It is a light emitted by that “city on the hill” which is none other than the Church herself.

What resurrected the fallen Roman Empire- later turning into the Holy Roman Empire or Christendom (the latter two being a civilization comprised of many Catholic nations before the Reformation 800 A.D. to 1500 A.D.) –are the very principles that can save America and Western Civilization at large. As Pope Leo XIII said, “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery.” What are those principles of recovery and what is the disease?

To begin with, as most Christians know, the disease is the decline in faith and breakdown of marriage and family in America. However, when these pillars of civilization suffer decline something else must replace it. That something is invariably the State. In his 1919 pastoral letter to the Church in America, Cardinal James Gibbons said, “It lies in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs; its will is the last word of justice, its welfare the determinant of moral values, its service the final aim of man's existence and action.” (Gibbons, Pastoral Letter 1919)

The perceived need for an all-powerful State increases in proportion to the failure of both the Church and families to fulfill their God-given vocation. Therefore, in the attempt to save America the supernatural order (i.e. God/Church/faith) as well as the natural order (i.e. society/politics/economics etc) both have to be considered. To repeat, the former is the cause, the latter the effect. Until we come to appreciate this cause and effect relationship between the spiritual order and society, we are likely to get bogged down in treating symptoms instead of causes.

Leo XIII said if we want to recover or renew something, we have to return to those principles which brought that something about. Ideas alone (be they conservative, constitutional or traditional etc) are insufficient.

What brought about the greatest civilization ever to have existed in history was the infusion of new life through the preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Sacraments and the Divine Liturgy (i.e. Mass). And what resulted from the prophetic ministry was a keen awareness of human dignity in society. From there institutions and humanitarian enterprises were born such as charities, hospitals, orphanages, capitalism, a just legal system, democracy, science, and education for the common folk. Ideas or truth alone cannot not account for this revolution of progress. Not only did Jesus come to give the light of truth to world but he came to infuse new life into humanity with his grace! Revealed truth and divine grace will lead to America's recovery. But Christians must first be unabashed in pointing this out to the public.

As I said, sound political, economic, and energy policies are essential for America's longevity. But they need to be bolstered and sustained by a solid religious and moral foundation. The exclusion of God from a nations institutions has within it the seeds of death. Under these conditions we cannot hope for America's lengthy existence. On the other hand, a bold and speedy return to God will hasten our nation's recovery.

Next blog- just a few words on those principles of recovery.

For related posts:

Reclaiming Education from the State (March 2011 archives)
The Emnity Between Catholicism and Totalitarianism (Febrauary 2011 archives)
Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech (January 2011 archives)
What a Childless Nation Portends (December 2010 archives)
Airport Screening: A New Low for Civil Liberties (November 2010 archives)
God's Answer to World Revolution (October 2010 archives)
Catholic Fiction: Separation of Church and State (October 2010 archives)
A Nation of Traitors (October 2010 archives)
Philosophy at War: Democracy in Education (October 2010 archives)
Conservatism is Not Enough (September 2010 archives)
Democracy in America: Soft Despotism (April 2010 archives)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Creation's Triduum: How nature rehearses death and resurrection

For one week he shall make a firm compact with the many; half the week he shall abolish sacrifice and oblation…” (Daniel 9:27)

The traditional interpretation of “one week” in the prophet Daniel's writing points to Holy Week and the “half the week” an allusion to the Triduum of the Lord. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday of the first century is when Jesus established his New Covenant "with the many." It was the last three days of this holy week which are considered to be the holiest three days of the liturgical calendar when the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Lord are celebrated by the Catholic Church.

After passing through the Gates of Death, the Holy Trinity raised up the body of Jesus so that he could give testimony that the fullness of life is to be had after we pass through those same gates.

A significant expression of that liberating power Christ offers to each of us is the elimination of the fear of death. “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” (Hebrews 2: 14-15) As one priest said, “To avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to the full.” Indeed our view of death determines how we live life. If we are burdened with the handicap of unbelief then this life and all of its goods will be slavishly sought after or clung to.

Bishop Sheen once said that if you tell a boy that he is to be given one ball and one ball only, then he will be afraid to play with it. But if the little boy knows he is getting another ball, he will play with the ball with a carefree spirit. He will not be so fearful of losing it; he might even be inspired to give it to another boy or girl. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” If this is the only life we have such generosity and love is unintelligible. And worse yet, life becomes a prison. Worldly people constantly give witness to their anxiety when they hurry to accumulate as much experience and as many material goods as possible. They are always in a hurry. Furthermore, their anxiety magnifies misfortune. When misfortune occurs, they overcompensate by creating layers of laws and regulations to protect themselves. Perhaps, this is what the Letter to the Hebrews was referring to when it stated that "those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”

Christ revealed to us in the Holy Triduum that not only does death follow life, but that life- a higher and fuller life -follows death. However, for centuries since the beginning of time, God has been tutoring us about these Mysteries of the Triduum through analogies of his creation. “The great truth,” Pope Leo XIII said, “which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation - that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live.”

Perhaps this is why the sun sets only to rise again; or why a person sleeps at night taking on the semblance of death only to wake up the next morning; or why a preborn baby knows only darkness until it is born to a world of light and color. Father Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, gave a wonderful sermon to Pope Benedict XVI called, The Christian Response to Secularism. In it he said, “Between the life of faith in time and eternal life there is a relationship similar to that which exists between the life of the embryo in the maternal womb and that of the baby, once he has come to the light.”

The pontifical preacher goes on to elaborate on this illustration with a story. Father Cantalamessa related the following to the pope and the faithful gathered at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome:

There were two twins, a boy and a girl, so intelligent and precocious that, still in the mother's womb, already spoke to one another. The girl asked her brother: "According to you, will there be a life after birth?" He answered: "Don't be ridiculous. What makes you think that there is something outside of this narrow and dark space in which we find ourselves?" The girl, gaining courage, insisted: "Perhaps a mother exists, someone who has put us here, and who will take care of us." And he answered: "Do you, perhaps, see a mother anywhere? What you see is all that is." She replied: "But don't you feel at times a pressure on the chest that increases day by day and pushes us forward?" "To tell the truth," he answered, "it's true: I feel it all the time." "See," concluded his sister triumphantly, "this pain cannot be for nothing. I think it is preparing us for something greater than this small space."

The dark womb is an analogy of our life here on earth. In 1917 when Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, she brought heaven to this “small space” of ours; that is, to a world that was growing darker by the decade. After each visit from the Mother of God the children were supremely happy and could not wait to see her again. Even little Lucia caught a glimpse of heaven while gazing upon the beautiful Lady from Heaven. She told her parents, “Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies.” Lucia would later say that “before the Divine Presence we felt exaltation and joy.” One lasting fruit of the Blessed Virgin's visitations was that the three seers lost their natural fear of death. Indeed, they eagerly looked forward to heaven. For them- as with the twins in the mother's womb -death was no longer deemed to be the end of life but the labor pains through which they attain eternal happiness.

Such supernatural interventions are rare for most people. And during the Catholic liturgical calendar the Church only celebrates the Triduum once a year. However, the Lord, in his goodness, gives us many reminders of death and resurrection through his creation. As St. Paul said, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20) Not only is God's existence understood and perceived in what he has made; his creation is also a harbinger that life not only precedes death but follows it! To be sure, we learn from the Church's celebration of the Triduum and nature itself that for those who love God death is the incident, life the permanent reality.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Intensification of Christ's Presence in the Liturgy

As we proceed from the outdoors to the sanctuary, from the business of the week to the Sacred Liturgy on Sunday, the presence of Christ gradually intensifies until we greet him at the altar. We know, as Christians, that God is everywhere in the universe. Psalm 139 reads, “Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too.” The might of the Lord sustains all things. Indeed, no part of the universe can exist without his presence.

But as soon as we walk through the doors of the church building and into the sanctuary for the Sacred Liturgy, what we encounter is the gradual intensification of Christ’s presence. In the assembly, where the faithful gather, the presence of Christ is manifest in a special way. We are no longer considering the God’s presence as he exists in creation but rather as he dwells in the hearts of his people. This presence is described as the Church or the Body of Christ by St. Paul. Our Lord himself said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The early Christians had a lively sense of this divine presence where the totality of God is to be found and where the fullness of his gifts resides. Around the year 180 A.D., St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr wrote: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace."

From there we proceed to the Liturgy of the Word when the Word of God is proclaimed. When the Scripture readings are read aloud, the presence of God is taken to yet another level. Ancient Christians always made it a point to read Scripture out loud. When spoken, the Word of God becomes present and active. Here again, this is yet another special manifestation of his presence. “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Now we draw close to the culmination of the Mass when, in Persona Christi, Jesus Christ the High Priest mystically enters into his minister as the words of consecration of pronounced over the bread and wine. Here is yet another presence of Christ which is transmitted through the sacrament of Holy Orders. From the Persona Christi ordinary bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ come into our midst. As St. Irenaeus said, “Just as bread from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, made up of two elements, one earthly and one heavenly, so also our bodies, in receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, for they have the hope of resurrection.” The Eucharist, therefore, is given to the Christian on the altar as Manna was given to the Israelites in the desert. Upon this altar- and only at the altar –is the bread of God is served. As St. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of St. John the Apostle and Bishop of Antioch, said, “Let no man deceive himself: if anyone be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.”

Before the altar, the communicant receives the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. By virtue of our sacramental communion with Christ, we are made into walking tabernacles, Christ-bearers if you will, and then are sent out into the world to sanctify it.

As Pope Benedict XVI taught in 2005 at World Youth Day, the transformation of bread and wine into Jesus Christ prefigures the kind of change that God will bring about in our resurrected bodies. Indeed, through the glorification of our Risen Lord and through our resurrected bodies the universe itself will be transfigured. The first pope of the Catholic Church, St. Peter makes reference to this when he writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought (you) to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3:10-13)

This is where the intensification of Christ’s presence leads; to a new heaven and a new earth. But it first must pass through the sanctuary of the Church.

Bigots, Liberals and Christians: Knowing what to love and what to hate

It is a sad reality of fallen human nature to have an “either-or” approach to life; that is, to embrace something at the expense of something else. We forget that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to juggle opposites; to keep love and hate in their proper tension without totally doing away with one or the other. This is one of the benefits of being Christian and one of the advantages of a Christian society.

Jacque Maritain, a convert from Atheism to the Catholic Faith and one who ended up being one of the greatest philosophers in the twentieth century, had an interesting insight to how people love and hate wrongly.

Take for instance the bigot. Maritain said that the bigot gets off to a good start by hating the sin. So far so good! However, the bigot errs by taking his hatred for the sin and then transferring it to the sinner. He thus ends up hating both. This is not good because it is a sin not to love our neighbor!

The liberal, he continued to say, has the opposite problem. The liberal gets off to a good start by loving the sinner. So far so good! However, he takes his love for the sinner and ends up embracing or loving the sin. He ends up loving both. This is not good because loving the sin (or accepting it in the name of compassion) is contrary to the love our neighbor. After all, sin enslaves and then completely undermines our neighbor’s happiness. In the former case, people suffer from the wrong kind of intolerance; in the latter, the wrong kind of tolerance.

The world is riddled with these two problems. But Christ teaches us a different way: We are to love the sinner and hate the sin. In our culture, we forget that the genuineness and intensity of love is dependent upon our willingness to hate sin. A parent who is overly tolerant of his or her child’s unruly or dangerous behavior is lacking in the fundamental duty of parental and Christian love. In society, this can be expressed in “accepting people for who they are.” What this often translates into is tolerating sinful behaviors and lifestyles. This kind of tolerance is nothing less than confusing license (the freedom to do what we want to do) and liberty (the freedom to do what we ought to do). As Pope Leo XIII said over a century ago, what license gains, liberty loses; that is, to the degree we tolerate immoral acts, we lose the liberty to pursue justice and goodness. Why is that? Well, one thing leads to another. The social and politcal toleration of immoral behavior leads to its acceptance which then leads to its promotion. Homosexuality, for instance, began to be tolerated in society in 1973 with the DSM-R III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Pyschiatric Association). In 1973 it was removed from the DSM-R III and no longer diagnosed as a disorder. Nearly forty years later, however, to publicly disapprove of same-sex marrige is to run the risk of being censured by the media or corporately; that is, by losing one's job.

As long ago as 1931, then-Monsignor Fulton Sheen, spoke about “A Plea for Intolerance.” What he addressed just 30 to 40 years before the widespread outbreak of relativism is the blind spot of our age. According to Sheen, in 1931 the world suffered from undue tolerance. Indeed, he saw the beginnings of it. Unfortunately Christians were beginning to identify love with being tolerant of sin. This is what he said:

“America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance - it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded…

Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil ... a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons ... never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error...

Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.”

Recovering this balance between loving the sinner and hating the sin is, in part, the task that the New Evangelization will have to undergo if it is to effectively reverse the tide of Secularism. Either we passionately love souls by becoming unapologetically intolerant of sin, error and the prejudices of our century, or Secular minded people will become intolerant of us. The latter has already manifested itself and as for the former, it is never too late to try. Christ did it! The Apostles did it! The Fathers, Doctors and Martyrs of the Church did it! And the Saints did it! Therefore, we should do it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Smiling Back at Death

A re-post from 2010: How the Cross of Jesus Christ gladdened the souls of Martyrs

“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” These were the words of the Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius in the second century. What the pagan philosopher stated in theory, Christians did in practice. Death was an enigma for pagans, but for Christians, it was seen as the road to eternal life. This is why the early Christians were full of hope, even during the fall of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the finest of the early Christians, that is, the confessors and martyrs, never looked back. Their eternal destiny was ever impressed upon their minds. For what they sacrificed in this life would be paid back a hundred-fold in heaven. Such was the Lord’s guarantee.

This is why the early Christians displayed a serene confidence when faced with adversity and death. It was the Christians in large numbers, not pagans, who smiled back at death. This serene confidence in Christ and the eager anticipation of eternal life was exceedingly attractive to on-lookers. From it came a large number of conversions. This "smile" was captured in a letter by Tertullian, a Father of early the Church (around 200 A.D.). It was a letter addressed to a Roman emperor who, like Marcus Aurelius, persecuted and executed Christians. He wrote the following:
“You will never destroy our sect! Mark this well: when you think you are striking it down, you are, in reality, strengthening it. The public will become restive at so much courage. It will long to know its origin. And when a man recognizes the truth- he’s ours!”

That holy and serene confidence of the early Christians is the heritage of all Christians! We just have to remember to use it, then we too can smile...even back at death.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Monastery: A Lighthouse for Civilization and the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Burden of Grace II

"For blest is the wood through which justice comes about." (Wisdom 14:7)

Fr. Louis Chardon in his book, The Cross of Jesus, went on to point out a peculiar burden our Lord had carried during the thirty-three years of his earthly life. That burden quite simply was hiding his identity; that is, the constant restraint of not revealing his glory to his people. His divinity- in all of its majesty -was bottled up in his human appearance.

In the Letter to the Hebrews it states that God is a consuming fire. The full expression of Jesus’ divinity must have been forever burning and pressing up against the limits of his humanity. The prophet Jeremiah had a taste of this burning desire seeking to be released when he said: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

This is the kind of grace that hurts; the kind of grace that seeks to be fully realized. For Christ's followers, the suffering that this grace causes can be a kind of holocaust that is pleasing to God. Like the prophet Jeremiah, the restraints weighed heavy on our Lord Jesus. He eagerly anticipated a transfigured universe whereby his glory, contained within human limits before his resurrection, could be fully revealed. He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” In the meantime, however, he continued to empty himself, thus “taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance.” (Philippians 2)

Consider the following from another vantage point: Imagine a scenario in which the whole world knows you or at least has heard about you. For several years you go missing only to return to your native land with this difference: In the company of your loved ones- those whom you know perfectly well -you are required to wear a disguise. People everywhere are wondering about you; longing to see you face to face. At the same time, critics are accusing you- in your hidden identity -of being a charlatan. Nevertheless, the mask is not to be taken off. You can demonstrate who you are; you can allude to who you are; but as far as communicating your full identity, you simply have to rely on others to do that. And it is only in front of a few choice friends that the mask could be taken off.

One such time was on Mt. Tabor. Jesus invited Peter, James and John up the mountain with him just weeks before his Passion. “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” For a moment, the three Apostles had a glimpse of his glory. But St. John the Evangelist was given yet another opportunity. Years after our Lord’s ascension into heaven he appeared to St. John, his beloved disciple. In the book of Revelation our Lord’s “mask” had come off and the Apostle had written the following about his appearance: “The hair of his head was as white as white wool or as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished brass refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water.”

In restraining the full splendor of his glory before his resurrection, Jesus was able to identify with those whose full potential had yet to be realized. In the spiritual order, the Saints possessed the grace and burning desire to be with Christ in heaven. For those who had a vision of heaven like St. Paul and little Jacinta at Fatima, their earthly pilgrimage became a burden for them because they knew- as if by experience –that eternal happiness began at the threshold of death.

And yet there are those people in the ordinary walk of life whose full potential is checked by limitations or misfortune. It may be a crippled man who wants to walk; the infertile couple who wants a baby of their own; or an unemployed person who wants to be given a chance to work. In all of these cases, there is a mystical but real affinity with our Lord’s Incarnation and the earthly limitations he took upon himself. He too did not actualize his full potential because of the mission that God the Father had given him.

There will come a day for all of us that the gifts and ability God has given us will come to light. In the meantime, however, we must peacefully and trustingly accept the Lord’s timing as to when that day will be.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Burden of Grace

"It is in the struggles against difficulties that all that is best in man is nurtured into vigor and preserved from decay. Through labor we live, in enjoyment we die." -The Rambler, 1854

I never quite considered grace to be a burden until I read a book called The Cross of Jesus, originally published in 1647. The author is Louis Chardon, seventeenth century Dominican priest. His work brings to light that grace, special or ordinary, can be a burden to the soul. Your own personal experience may confirm this. God may have inspired a desire in you and yet, at the same time, he may have permitted circumstances in your life that temporarily made it impossible for that desire to be realized. Perhaps you were inspired to carry out a project but have met with failure; or maybe God has put a strong desire in your heart for children but you are infertile; or perhaps the spouse you vowed to love until death has walked away from your marriage. Whatever the case, God's will for us- as far as the circumstances he places in our lives -can seem to be a blatant contradiction to what he has called us to do. Jesus and his mother, Mary, exemplified how the cross beams of God's will intersect with each other; thus causing them suffering on one hand and yet affording them great opportunities to glorify God on the other.

As for the Blessed Virgin, she is the Mother of Jesus, her son, and the mother of all Christians; that is, all of those saved by her Son. Generally speaking, maternal instincts are such that they seek to preserve the well-being of the child. As it relates to Jesus, Mary was like every other mother who wanted very best for her first born: happiness, good health and a life longer than her own. However, she had a supernatural calling to be both the Mother of God and the Mother of the saved. In order that the latter could enjoy eternal happiness she was called upon to prepare her Son for the Sacrifice on Calvary. Pope St. Pius X said “it was not only the prerogative of the Most Holy Mother to have furnished the material of His flesh to the Only Son of God, Who was to be born with human members of which material should be prepared the Victim for the salvation of men; but hers was also the office of tending and nourishing that Victim, and at the appointed time presenting Him for the sacrifice.” (Pius X, On the Immaculate Conception)

The more I read the writings of the popes and the Saints the more I realize that at every turn Mary hastened the hour of Christ's death despite her natural maternal instincts. To begin with, she made it possible for him to suffer by merely clothing him with her flesh at the moment of his of conception. From that moment on, Jesus was able to feel pain; even within Mary's womb. When it came time to present Jesus in the Temple, she received confirmation that a sword would pierce her heart so that the “thoughts of many would be revealed” (a reference to Judgment Day). In other words, God would add her tears to the blood of his only begotten Son to bring about the salvation of the world.

One would think that Mary would be dreading the day that Jesus' public ministry would begin. After all, his mission was destined for a cruel death. Although a natural dread might have afflicted her spirit, the Blessed Virgin took the initiative to ask Jesus to perform his first public miracle. His divine intervention only revealed the identity of his Messianic mission but to hasten that mission to its culmination on Calvary. Therefore, at the wedding of Cana when the Blessed Virgin informed Jesus that the host was out of wine, he responded by making reference to his hour; indicating that a miracle of turning water into wine would usher in that “hour” when he would turn wine into his own blood at the Last Supper only to be followed by the spilling of his own blood on the Cross.

It was there on Calvary that the Blessed Virgin became the Mother of elect. Jesus said to her, “Woman, behold thy son,” and to St. John, “Behold, thy mother.” St. John, who by nature was the son of mother Zebedee, became the son of Mary in the supernatural order. This is why the book of Revelation makes reference to the offspring of Mary. Indeed, as Abraham was father of God's chosen people in the Old Testament, the Blessed Virgin became the mother of all of God's children in the New Testament.

It was only by accepting God's calling to be the mother of the faithful that she found the strength to nurture the Lamb for his Sacrifice. The Blessed Virgin had two cross beams running counter to each other in her life: The first cross beam was her natural, maternal instinct to protect her Son Jesus from harm or anything that would threaten him. The second cross beam was her vocation to help bring about the salvation of souls. It was the latter that had to take precedence in her life. This grace to be the mother and nurturer of the Victim, although necessary and a cause for joy, was also a burden and sacrifice for her. Like other mothers, her instincts as a mother were keenly sensitive to the pains of her Son; as such, they demanded recognition.

As the first disciple of Jesus Christ she would set the example. She would show the world that trials and suffering were not incidental to being a Christian. In fact, to suffer with Christ would be every bit as necessary as preaching the Gospel. With St. Paul we can say to others, "So death is at work in us, but life in you." Or on behalf on the Church we can even dare to say: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church..." As for Mary her pain had to be offered to God on the altar of her heart whenever she witnessed Jesus suffer. These two beams- the love for her Son and the desire to see her spiritual children saved -ran counter to each other in Mary's soul and became for her a Cross she had to carry...all the way to Calvary.

With that said, what seemed like a contradiction in Mary's life turned out to be the greatest blessing for the world. It can be also said that she too benefited from uncertainties and contradictions of God's plan. Under Christ himself she is blessed- not only among all women -but all men too.

Next blog: A peculiar Cross our Lord had to carry and what we can garner from it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Excerpts: The Mystery of Iniquity and Social Problems

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

Since in societies the State is best able to coerce, there follows a drift towards State regimentation with its logical culmination in the totalitarian State. Once materialism is granted as a premise, totalitarianism follows as a necessary conclusion.

Catholic social thought is dominated by the fact that man is destined for heaven. Society itself or the problems of society cannot be understood without taking this fact into account...We are to reproduce here as perfectly as we can the life of the blessed in heaven. The latter is our true life; heaven is our fatherland. On this earth we ought, like homesick exiles in a strange environment, strive to practice the type of common life by which our fatherland is characterized.

Nevertheless, the mystery of iniquity is at work. It's activities does not usually appear on the surface of events; rather, it operates through secondary causes. Therefore, when one traces the causes of social problems, one finds that the immediate reasons for these problems are quite natural and understandable by human reason. It is only by following the chain of causation back far enough that one is led to suspect the workings of the Evil One.

The Catholic approach on social problems must take both natural and the supernatural factors into account. Catholics must be concerned with natural factors underlying the evils of society and to meet these they must use natural methods suggested by experience. For this reason the Church favors social legislation, effective law enforcement, public health activities, efficient social work, and other up-to-date methods of meeting social problems. In this respect Catholic social teaching shows a strong but superficial resemblance to the thought of non-Catholic writers.

But mark this difference carefully!

Whereas these techniques are the sole solution of the unbelieving sociologist for all social problems, in the eyes of the Catholic they are only a sort of symptomatic treatment. The Catholic sees deeper and realizes that far beneath the immediate causes the mystery of iniquity is at work and that his real solution is to attack the latter. The unbelieving social scientist is like a physician who gives a sedative to a patient suffering from a brain tumor and does nothing more. The Catholic, on the other hand, is like a physician who gives the sedative indeed but then proceeds to the difficult and delicate operation which brings a permanent cure.

Only the Catholic has a fundamental remedy for social problems, for only the Catholic diagnosis the basic cause, which is the mystery of iniquity. To attack this he must use supernatural means. Therefore he must rely on such methods as prayer, the sacraments and the practice of the Christian virtues.

We Catholics have a precious possession in our doctrine of the mystery of iniquity. In it we have the key to the solution of many problems which torture our weary world. Realizing as we do that the mystery of iniquity is the basic cause of these problems, we can attack them at their source by the use of supernatural means. Herein lies the hope of victory.

On the other hand, unbelievers have the devices of human prudence on which to rely, and these are bound to fail. They might as well try to sink a battleship with spit balls as to attack the great problems of society with such puny means. When we cast to the winds all the mean counsels of of a purely worldly prudence, when we accept quite literally with childlike faith these precious revealed truths, and when we put aside all concern for the opinion of materialists, then we shall begin to make progress against the mystery of iniquity. Until that day we shall only be marking time.

-By Father Paul Furfey, The Mystery of Iniquity, 1944
Former Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University of America

Friday, April 15, 2011

Terri Schiavo's Premature Death: A Defining Moment for America

Recap: Elian’s Plight and the Immigration Crisis

From the previous blog it was proffered that a defining moment for America was when the Clinton administration returned Elian Gonzalez to Cuba's dictator, Fidel Castro. If this young little immigrant- this one individual -was the victim of gross injustice by the government while others in power did little to stop it, can it be said that we really value immigrants? that every immigrant's quest for a better life is intrinsically valuable even when it is politically inexpedient? The Elian story revealed something about America. It represented where our priorities really are; particularly among the political Left. Because of the indifference towards the injustice done to one immigrant by politicians, the members of the media and many Americans, it is no wonder that our country has been riddled and divided by an immigration crisis. As was stated earlier, God uses, as his instruments of justice, those things through which we sin. This brings us to another fork in the road; another defining moment for this nation.

Saving Terri Schiavo: Minimal Efforts

I take for granted that the reader knows most of the details surrounding the premature death of Terri Schiavo in 2005. The evil committed against this woman is evident enough to Christians. What has not been fully explored, in my opinion, is that those in positions of authority- both civil and religious –did not go far enough to protect her. If you scroll down you’ll see a picture of Elian and being seized by force. It reminds us of how diplomacy was skirted and force was used to retrieve Elian so that he could once again be under the jurisdiction of Castro. US Attorney General, Janet Reno, spared no effort to carry out this injustice. Our Lord cautioned us about how the unjust goes all out to achieve their end: “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” That is, they go to great lengths and employ innovative methods to achieve their unrighteous ends. As for the God-fearing, they often limit themselves to conventional and safe methods.

On the other hand, those supporting Terri Schiavo and her will to live, played it safe and stayed within the conventional means of warding off Michael Schiavo’s (Terri’s ex-husband) attempts to euthanize her. Florida Governor Jed Bush could have pulled a Janet Reno to have Terri whisked away like Elian. And I’m disappointed that, according to Catholic Answers, Bishop Robert Lynch of the St. Petersburg diocese was more interested in reconciling Michael Schiavo with the Schindler’s, Terri’s family, than he was in saving Terri’s life. Sadly, he was missing in action.
I refer you to the picture of Christ reaching over the cliff in order to save one sheep (scroll down two blogs). The vultures had their eyes fixed on this endangered sheep but Christ, so characteristic of his pastoral love, put himself at risk to retrieve a helpless creature. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord said, “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly.” (Ezekiel 34) To “seek out” and “to bring back” implies that a good shepherd may have to venture where wolves roam; to risk an attack from predators; and to snatch the innocent from the jaws of carnivores. This is the kind of model that leaders should aspire to. This is what God bids us to do.
The Schindler’s, as you know, were more than willing to take care of Terri. But a court order had her feeding tube removed and she starved to death. The will to kill trumped the right to life. From a corrupt legal process that ignored the natural law, evil prevailed; all this while good men and women watched. And in end, we can say that Terri Schiavo was a victim of selective healthcare rationing. Fast forward to 2010-2011.

Healthcare Rationing: First Terri Then America

At congressional town hall meetings across the nation there were a flurry of protests from the elderly and the public at large. There was a lively sense that under the vast bureaucratic machine of Obamacare political expediency would trump the best interests of the patient. This speculation is not unwarranted. There are other countries such as Canada and the UK that are more advanced in terms of nationalizing their healthcare. To be sure, there are countless testimonies of patients being treated more like a number than a person with dignity.

And of course the Conservative media caught wind of the Veterans Administration’s end-of-life counseling to its veterans in a program called “Your Life, Your Choices.” This highly immoral and unethical push for euthanasia was discontinued by the Bush administration only to be reinstated by the Obama administration. The various comments from our president gave indication that he favored euthanasia programs and healthcare rationing. In advancing the programs like “Your Life, Your Choice,” euthanasia will merely be accelerating an already existing widespread phenomenon. After all, starving and dehydrating patients to death is a nationwide epidemic today in hospitals and hospices; and I might add, it is becoming more socially acceptable. As the Baby Boom generation (a generation that had much fewer children than their parent’s generation) moves into the elderly age bracket, as the nurse to patient ratio and the doctor to patient ratio becomes disproportionate, the temptation to resort to euthanizing will be considerable. To be sure, the push for a more systematic euthanasia program will come to light and will be publicly justified as abortion is today.

Healthcare rationing by an unchecked Obamacare is- as it stands today –against the will of the majority of Americans. The feeling of helplessness by this majority was deeply felt as the 2000-plus page healthcare bill passed in March of 2010; just five years after (almost to the day) of Terri Schiavo’s death. The American public vicariously got a glimpse as to what many euthanasia patients feel when their life is being snuffed out against their will.

What It All Means:

These two episodes of Elian Gonzalez and Terri Schiavo are representative of so many other cases like it. As for Elian, it revealed how government is capable of treating, not just the citizen, but the immigrant it so often claims to champion. Force was used for an unjust purpose, risking a whole lot of bad PR. However, you rarely see this bold approach from Christians and those who hold traditional values. This latter point applies especially in Terri’s case. Intervention from civil and religious authority could have been more assertive and creative. Like Jesus reaching for the sheep, they too could have stood in front of the door to Terri’s hospice; the National Guard could have been called in; and the Bishop of St. Petersburg could have physically guarded her bed.

Radical! Undignified and unprofessional! You might say. If we saw every American- particularly our family members and our very selves –in Elian and Terri, we would have done more; our leaders would have done more!

As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, the worst thing is not sin, but the refusal to admit we have sinned. The Book of Wisdom says God punishes a little bit at a time so that we can repent as a people. With Egypt, the Lord didn’t just incinerate the whole nation in an instant. When the Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses, when the Egyptians did not take heed in his warnings, God sent the first plague, then the second plague, then the third etc. He is giving America time. Mary, the Mother of God, has appeared and has exhorted her children to repent in America as well as all over the world.

As St. Peter said, judgment begins with the Household of God. Both initiative and leadership in terms of heroism has to come from Christ’s followers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Return of Elian to Cuba: A Defining moment for America

This blog is a continuation of Defining Moments in a Nation's History: How do the innocent fare?

Heroic Sacrifice for Freedom:

Some will risk everything for freedom. That is what Elizabet Rodríguez and her son, Elian Gonzalez did. In a desperate attempt to get away from the harsh conditions of Cuba, Elizabet and Elian, along with twelve other Cubans, precariously set sail into the Caribbean sea in hopes to live a better life in America. Tragically, however, all but two died during the long journey. On Thanksgiving Day in 1999, Elian was found (with another person) on a raft just 90 miles north of Miami. Soon thereafter, the INS then released Elian to his paternal great uncle. Indeed, this attempt to escape the dictatorship of Fidel Castro and the miserable conditions in Cuba was at a great cost. However, this young refugee would only enjoy the blessings of America for a short time.

Castro Wins, Elian Loses:

To make a long story short, due to the political pressures placed on the Clinton administration from Castro himself, the death of Elizabat, Elian’s mother, and eleven of her companions, amounted to naught. In June of 2000, Elian was returned to Cuba under the pretext that Elian’s father (living in Cuba) had paternal jurisdiction over Elian and as such, deserved to have him returned. Of course, we all know how important the rights of parents are to Fidel Castro; it had nothing to do with terrible image Cuba was saddled with after so many refugees had fled the country one year after another.

Injustice Met With Lukewarm Response:

At any rate, the significance of the Elian Gonzalez story is that here was a young migrant who miraculously found his way to America. His relatives in Florida were more than willing to take care of him. Yet, the dictator from Cuba publicly protested and as a result, the Clinton administration sends little Elian back to Fidel Castro. That was bad enough but the protest that came from the House Republican Whip, Tom Delay, was that the Republicans would have an investigation. Opposition, as least from what I remember, was minimal. Of course, nothing came from that “investigation.” It was a failure of leadership on all sides; most notably the Clinton administration who acquiesced to Castro. Keep in mind that Castro was known by Cuban exiles as a murderer; a repeated violator of human dignity.

This saga was a betrayal of who we Americans claim to be. And it contradicts the very principles upheld in the Statue of Liberty poem, otherwise known as The New Colossus: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Elian the Immigrant, Immigration and God's Justice:

In recent years, as you well know, America has been riddled with an immigration crisis. It has been a cause for division; especially with the Obama administration suing the State of Arizona and Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, returning the favor. If I am not mistaken, some of these Federal and State feuds are unprecedented. Our political leaders have yet to balance the compassion for the plight of immigrants who want nothing more than to eat and find work in America with its U.S. citizens wanting their legal rights protected and their institutions not to be overburdened. Humanitarian considerations in the former instance and the legitimate rights of a sovereign nation in latter should, in times of moral clarity, make its way into law. However, when moral principles are confused and virtues wanting, then what we have is internal division and crisis.

I pose a similar question that was previously asked: Could it be that Elian stood for something bigger than himself? Could it be that the failure to protect a young immigrant from a dictator has, as a matter of divine justice, occasioned great difficulties for America in terms of managing its immigrants? No one can divine the intent of God. Nevertheless, we know from Scripture and Church history that there are defining moments for nations as with individuals. We come upon a fork in the road: One that leads to life, the other to death. The former road is paved with justice, sacrifice and charity. The latter is paved with expediency, self-interests and cowardice. As for the return of Elian to Cuba, I think the political leaders and even religious leaders of our nation were too passive while an injustice was being done in public view. After it ceased to be a news item the American public moved on to something else. However, I don’t think God forgot about little Elian. I wonder if we forfeited some of his blessings by of the sin of omission in June of 2000. I wonder if we were too passive.

I hope you will come back and read about Terri Schiavo and the hope that still remains for America in the next and last blog of this series.

Defining Moments in a Nation's History: How do the innocent fare?

Two Defining Moments: Elian and Terri:

There are certain historical events which are defining moments for a nation. Quite often the event might receive some publicity but its impact and ripple effect goes unnoticed. Americans naturally move on to the next news flash but fail to consider the depth and significance of what just happened. However, with a working knowledge of bible and Church history, we know that what the world deems to be insignificant can be, in fact, a critical event; one that shapes a nation’s future.

Last March we celebrated the sixth anniversary of the premature death of Terri Schiavo (2005) and this June will be the eleventh anniversary of returning a young refugee, Elian Gonzalez, to the dictator Fidel Castro (2000). The circumstances surrounding Elian Gonzales and Terry Schiavo enjoyed plenty of publicity at the time; but I would argue that the majority of journalists and historians do not consider these events to have any historic significance. Certainly they are not deemed to be as important as 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the 2008 housing crisis by many. Nevertheless, I caution the reader not to subscribe to a journalistic or historical template that minimizes the national importance of an event just because an injustice was done to only one or two individuals. It is sometimes the case when a victim suffers in view of a passive multitude- when only a few come to the aid of the innocent -the wrong done to that one person may be a preview of things to come for the public at large. Under certain circumstances it would seem that the injustice afflicting the victim is an index of what the people themselves will endure in the future.

Historical Considerations:

We know this to be true in the case of our Lord’s crucifixion. He said to the religious elders, “Destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” On Good Friday that is exactly what they did. However, Jesus also predicted the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place some forty years later. In 70 A.D., the Roman general Titus, in order to suppress an insurrection, surrounded the city and proceeded to destroy it along with the Jewish Temple. According to our Lord, these tragic events took place because the his people did not recognize the time of their visitation. To be sure, the crucifixion of Christ was a portent of things to come for the citizens of Jerusalem.

With that said, God in his mercy gives us time to repent: “Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!” (Wisdom 12:2) Within the last ten or eleven years there may have been signals from Divine Providence that its protection and benedictions, once enjoyed by America, may be receding. Just to name a few indications that there are cracks in the foundation: We had a significant divide in our country over the 2000 Presidential election between Bush and Gore; we had an unprecedented terrorists’ attack on our homeland on September 11th 2001; in 2008 our nation was jolted by the Housing Market Crash; and we’re are still looking at an impending financial crisis with Federal and State budgets.

Very seldom does a nation or civilization decline precipitously into ruin. A decline is, more often than not, characterized by a few steps forward and several steps back; a little progress here and a significant regression there. Close-up it is difficult to see but if one takes a step back what we find is a general decline in the graph. As Bishop Sheen said in 1948: "It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times…The basic reason for this false optimism is that he [the citizen] attributes to the fact that our civilization is mechanical rather than organic."

Elian and Terri: Two Steps Backwards for America

The sacred author of the book of Wisdom goes on to say that the Lord’s justice is exercised through those things by which we sin. America’s response to the highly publicized stories of Elian Gonzales and Terri Schiavo happened to be, in my estimation, those significant steps backwards or sins of omission whereby good men and women in positions of power did not put everything on the line to protect these two victims of injustice. Moreover, they served as a portent of things to come for this nation. Could it be that the immigration crisis in the border States, especially Arizona (in relation to Elian), and the threat of rationing healthcare for the elderly under Obama-care (in relation to Terri) is not only the natural consequence of wrongs committed but the effect of offending God? Could it be that divine justice is at wrok here?

More on Elian Gonzalez in the next blog.

"Bridging the Gap" is a blog that recaptures how, in part, the Roman empire fell in much the same way America is falling. When the innocent are assailed without the intervention of good men and women, then evil is to prevail. To read it, please scroll down.

God's Way of 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 exercise where you will find concrete ways in 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 exists.

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 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. This counsel not only leads to sanctity but it goes a long way in improving relationships; particularly marriages. 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.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In a Word: Judging Others

In a Word is a feature of Sky View which provides a short commentary or reflection on life, on a current event or a particular book.

People judge others based on who, or rather, what they are. If a politician, for instance, is accustomed to lying and cheating others for short term gain, then when there is a question of someone else’s motive or character he will frequently judge others as he sees himself. This goes for the unjust, narcissistic and bad people in general. Because they are guided only by their own lights and refuse to conform themselves to God's law- a higher standard outside of themselves -it is difficult for them to consider other ways of thinking. And so they project their own ways of thinking and doing unto others.

The gift of faith, on the other hand, trains the mind to see morality and the world from a perspective other than our own. After all, our Lord bids us to take the plank out of our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye. This requires that we take a second look at ourselves; especially from someone else’s vantage point.

With that said, those who are innocent like doves can make the same mistake as people with tainted motives. Those with a well-formed conscience sometimes get into the habit of assigning pure and innocent motives to those who do not merit it. For these who are pure of heart, it is difficult to imagine that someone can deliberately do something we consider to be evil. Perhaps, this is why Jesus said, “Be as simple as doves and wise as serpents.” Simple in that we should do good deeds with honorable motives; wise in that we realize, often painfully, that many in world do not aspire to high moral standards.

The Saints often assumed the best in others and the worst in themselves. Yes, they assume the best in others...until proven otherwise. When evil or immorality can no longer be denied and when trust has been broken, they more than anyone, took strong measures deal with the evil at hand. They were wise as serpents in that they spared no sacrifice to eliminate and purge the evil in their midst (cf. I Corinthians 5:13). Three motives inpsired such moral habits: 1. Love for the sinner. 2. Love for those who would be harmed by the sin 3. And out of love for God and his good will.

Christ calls each of his followers to spiritual and moral vigilance. To think with him is to think big. And to think big brings us to the realization that human beings can achieve the heights of sanctity, and, sadly, they can fall to the depths of great evil.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ecce Homo: Behold the Man!

“Ecce Homo!” Pilate said to the crowd. That is, “Behold the man!” Behold the man, the Christ, who stands alone and rejected by his people.

To be an outsider and misunderstood is the lot of God’s closest friends. As far as I know, there is not a single canonized Saint who was not rejected by their own in some way and hence felt alone at some critical juncture in their life. Jesus warned as much when he said he came to bring not peace but the sword.

The Lord’s chosen instrument of pruning and purification is quite often being excluded by those closest to us. By far, the worst pain is to be endured during spiritual desolation; that is, when the soul feels totally abandoned by God himself. In this stance, the soul can be so deprived of the “sense” of grace that she deems itself to be denied of God’s mercy. Not a few Saints were tempted with despair; the feeling of being totally left behind by their Best Friend.

Consider the patriarch Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. For twenty long years it seemed as if God abandoned him. But he was later elevated to prime minister of Egypt.

Moses, the great legislator of God’s law, was driven out of Egypt by Ramesses II for forty years. But he too would rise up and lead several thousand Hebrews out of slavery.

Before his anointing as King of Israel, David did not fit in with the rest of brothers and as a result would shepherd the sheep by himself. Again, it was not his brothers that Samuel anointed the second king of Israel, but David, who was overlooked by his own father and siblings.

The prophet Elijah, for his part, was not welcomed in band of the so-called band of prophets. The only real companion he had was his disciple Elisha.

As for the minor prophet Hosea, he was instructed by God to marry a prostitute named Gomer (she was to symbolize the infidelity of Israel) only to be rejected by her later on.

Indeed, the character and greatness of these patriarchs, legislators, kings and prophets of the Old Testament came about precisely because they were rejected by their own.  Rejection and banishment was no less the chosen instrument used by Christ in fashioning his Saints. Just to name only a few, there was his own family- the Holy Family –who had to flee Israel in order to take refuge in Egypt so as to escape the wrath of King Herod.

And centuries later there was St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher who were rejected and martyred by their English countrymen. And we cannot forget Pope St. Gregory VII, a champion of Church reforem. He managed to get the State off of the Church’s back, but was eventually driven out of Rome by King Henry IV only to die in exile. About seven hundred years later, St. Alphonsus Liguori was kicked out of the Redemptorist order; the religious order he himself founded.

In modern times the Lord continued to set men and women apart for his work through the bitter trials of rejection. St. Edith Stein, for instance, was a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. As such, she was estranged from her own people because of her faith in Christ. St. Padre Pio was forbidden by the Vatican to publicly exercise his ministry for ten years. Unable to minister to his people, he became a prisoner of his friary. And there is Bishop Fulton Sheen, arguably the most gifted evangelist of the twentieth century. According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Bishop Sheen was an outsider with regard to his brother bishops. He never quite belonged.

After becoming familiar with God’s friends in Scripture and the biographies of the Saints, this recurring phenomenon of being excluded should not surprise us. Our Lord himself said that no servant is above his master. And what did the Master say as he was dying on the Cross? He uttered the memorable words of Psalm 22: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Quite often the friends of God find themselvles in solitude because of their faith. From a wonderful book which captures this feeling of being alone in the desert, The Spirituality of the Old Testament, we discover that by no means are we singled out as if something unusual was happening to us. Instead, we are reminded that is the path many prophets and Saints traveled. The author, Paul Marie de la Croix, writes as follows:

“[S]ouls cease to understand the reason for the trials that afflict them and believe they are separated from God forever...divine conduct seems utterly incomprehensible, even extremely arbitrary and unjust. Everything bewilders them, causing uneasiness, anguish, obscurity. They more they seek God, the more deeply hidden He remains; the more they desire Him, the more he rejects them...they experience a reversal of God’s relationship to them. They seem to be permanently abandoned or even rejected, though divine favor and friendship had been theirs before.”

But as St. Francis de Sales once said, "an ounce of desolation is worth more than a pound of desolation." Through rejection and humiliations, we are given the opportunity to possess God for his own sake; to love the God of gifts over the gifts of God. To be sure, through the wine-press of suffering, we come to better understand our own sinfulness and unworthiness to have our prayers answered. Entitlement to his gifts and favors- the most common of faults–gives way to reality.

This is why we must never wince, never draw back when faced with the possibility of offending people by speaking the truth and doing God's work. Indeed, we may be rejected and excluded; we may have to eat lunch by ourselves in the cafeteria; we may risk losing a job; we may lose friendships and disappoint colleagues; and though it pains us very much, we may be ostracized from our family. Our Lord did not say to merely tolerate these trying circumstances, but to rejoice in them! As hard as it may seem, we have to ask Jesu the man that stood condemned before the crowd -for the grace to rejoice and see through short-term sacrifces to lay hold of long-term gains. It is only then we can stand with our Lord through thick and thin.

On Good Friday our Lord stood alone before his people as a rejected King. From the Thursday night to three o’clock Friday afternoon, God the Father, as if to side with the angry crowd, had seemed to reject his only begotten Son. Alone our Lord Jesus stood before Pilate and his people. A true outsider!

He was born outside of Bethlehem in a cave and he died a condemned man outside of the walls of Jerusalem. In the Sacred Heart of Jesus there is a special place for the ostracized and the rejected. They have not been forgotten by he who knows what it feels like to be forgotten.

Have you been forgotten or excluded from those closest to you? Well, please know you have a friend in Christ!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Miter and the Scepter

The picture to the right is a painting by Anthony Van Dyck of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, physically preventing the Roman emperor Theodosius from enter into the cathedral. It so happened, that the emperor, in order to suppress an uprising in Thessalonica, killed 7,000 of its citizens. St. Ambrose demanded that he do several months worth of public penance; and penance the Roman emperor did. This was a crucial turning point in world history. The era of the all-powerful State was coming to an end.

The third and final post of this series: The Miter and the Scepter: Let Them Meet. Aquila's words leads us to St. Ambrose

Bishop Aquila posed the question: “[H]ow many times and years may a Catholic politician vote for the so called ‘right to abortion’ … and still be able to receive Holy Communion?” This, of course, is a rhetorical question. The bishop is simply stating a fact: It has gone on too long. He also posited that the easy access to the Eucharist by those who publicly contradict the truth of human dignity by promoting grave evil is a scandal to onlookers. It further undermines the teaching and governing authority of the Church when there is no discrimination between a faithful communicant and one who blatantly dissents from the Gospel of Life. Regardless of what the intention of the Eucharistic minister may be, giving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ to those politicians who publicly oppose our Lord’s teachings is a pastoral action that speaks louder than words. It essentially says that the Eucharist- the greatest gift of the Church –is not that important. It also ignores St. Paul’s admonition that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.”

“If we honestly pray with the Gospel we can see that hesitancy and non-accountability is not the way of Jesus Christ, but rather it is a failure in the exercise of governance,” says the bishop. He goes on to imply that if the hierarchy of the Church took a stronger stand against those priests who publicly dissented from Church teaching against contraception in 1968 in Washington DC, perhaps the Church would not be dealing with the problem of abortion, same-sex unions, and other problems in the Church.

From 1968 to the present day, Catholics in “name only” have been groomed and fed right along with faithful Catholics. To be sure, the wolf and sheep were given equal status and in some cases the wolf was given preferential treatment. When no distinction is made between the friends and foes of Christ, and when the shepherd does not separate the two, the wolves quite often devour the sheep. This is why St. Paul gave the following pastoral directives to the Christians at Corinth: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.” And he then added with an exclamation point: “Purge the evil person from your midst!" (I Corinthians 5)

However, the parable of the wheat and the tares seems to contradict these measures, some might say. After all, in this parable Jesus says that to pull out the tare is to jeopardize the wheat. Some take this to mean that public dissidents should retain their communion with the Church lest its members be scared away. Christian love bids us to just leave them be...right? Wrong! This modern interpretation is contradicted, not only by I Corinthians 5 (cited above), but by several passages in the New Testament. Chief among the passages is Matthew 18 where our Lord says, “If he [the sinner] refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Mind you, a Gentiles and tax collectors in a Jewish context were excluded as outsiders. Our Lord seems to be suggesting that tolerance has its limitations and mercy is conditional. There comes a point when diplomacy can be exercised to a fault.

As for St. Paul, wayward or unrepentant Christians were to be publicly reprimanded (I Tim. 5:20); the names of heretics were to be published (I Tim. 1:20) and as cited above, the unrepentant sinner was to be expelled from the Church (I Cor. 5). Therefore, the "wheat" and the "tares" that are to be separated on Judgment Day symbolizes the saved and the damned, or, if you will, sinners and Saints. After all, the Church is not endowed with the ability to determine the eternal destiny of souls; nor was she called to separate these two classes of people before the Day of our Lord. But what the Catholic Church does have the ability to do- what she is duty bound to do -is to separate the unfaithful from the faithful, the dissident from the disciple, or the disobedient from the obedient. And this she has done not only for the protection of the faithful and for the integrity of the Faith, but for the medicinal purpose of saving the obstinate sinner. From Pentecost to the 1960’s this ecclesiastical discipline has been applied. It is only recently that this act of fatherly love has been called into question and dismissed altogether.

The importance of Bishop Aquila's address to his seminarians cannot be overstated. It is an attempt to dust off the model of leadership left to us by our Lord, the Apostles and the Church Fathers. When the Church does not draw a fine line between the sheep and wolves; when she fails to make the bold distinction between good and evil, then spiritual and moral confusion in society is but the natural result. And more often than not, what we are left with is a powerful State which attempts to organize the social disorder remaining from such a confusion.

On the other hand, when the Church speaks with one voice and with moral clarity, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is a font of spiritual and cultural renewal. In periods of the Catholic Church's strength and confidence, clergy and laity alike have spoken with moral clarity; sometimes at a great cost. Indeed, the Catholic Church has a legacy of protecting the citizen and the lowly from the tyranny of the State. And one of her greatest accomplishments was that she tamed the overbearing dominance of the State to a kind of governance which understood itself to be the servant of its citizens; a servant who had to answer to a higher divine law.

One man who helped changed the way people looked at the State is St. Ambrose. In 392 A.D. the Roman Emperor Theodosius II killed 7.000 Thessalonians in an uprising. Having been informed of this while the emperor was still miles away, St. Ambrose, a bishop of Milan, wrote him a letter. In this letter he said, “I urge, I beg, I exhort, I warn, for it is a grief to me, that you who were an example of unusual piety, who were conspicuous for clemency, who would not suffer single offenders to be put in peril, should not mourn that so many have perished.” In no uncertain terms, the saintly bishop cautioned Theodosius that “sin is not done away but by tears and penitence. Neither angel can do it, nor archangel. The Lord Himself, Who alone can say, ‘I am with you,’ if we have sinned, does not forgive any but those who repent.” St. Ambrose then recounted a dream he had of the emperor coming into the Church. Upon his arrival, the Lord had forbidden the saintly bishop to offer the Sacrifice at the altar. St. Ambrose took this to mean one thing: confrontation if need be.

Inspired by these convictions, St. Ambrose was determined to publicly call the Roman emperor to public penance. There came a day when Theodosius presumptuously attempted to enter the cathedral where St. Ambrose was presiding at. However, this heroic bishop physically prevented him from entering. Ambrose demanded that this powerful head of State repent from killing so many people before partaking of the Holy Sacrifice of the Liturgy. This Saint and Father of the Church was too concerned for Theodosius’ soul to let his sin go uncensored. It was not only an act of courage but the highest kind of pastoral love a spiritual father could give to a son. It was furthermore a precedent that the great shepherds of the Church aspired to in the centuries that followed. It’s just that we haven’t seen it in the last five to six decades. But with bishops like His Excellency, Samuel Aquila, the miter and the scepter will meet again. The golden standard of pastoring will be restored; a stronger Church will emerge; and civilization will once again give public honor to Jesus Christ.