Friday, March 30, 2012

The Silence of God


Originally entitled, "Lamentations: Out of darkness comes a brighter light," this post mainly addresses the silence of God; the silence that every Saint had to endure. And no doubt, if you have walked with the Lord long enough, you too probably have experienced or are experiencing the silence of God. Regardless of its difficulty, it is designed to purify and bring about a better "you." At its heart, this post is a reflection on a few verses from the third chapter of Lamentations.

These verses probably depict, in some way, the thoughts of Christ when his Apostles abandoned Him, when His own people turned on Him and when He hung on the Cross and cried out, "My God! My God! Why have you foresaken me?!" And finally, the silence of God gives the soul a taste- just a taste -of the loneliness of hell and what it means to be forever deprived of His fellowship. As Psalm 51 reads, "Cast me not for your presence nor take from me your Holy Spirit." It is in this valley that we can experience the void of Christ that other souls experience. Many there are who fly but have no nest. As St. Augustine aptly put it, "We are restless, Lord, until our hearts rest in Thee."

The Silence of God:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence is the language of God. And in silence we wait for Him so that when he speaks we may listen and then act. But we must wait patiently even though the wait can be unbearable at times.

The bible is full of lamentations and human suffering. It was the Almighty himself who inspired the sacred authors of the Old and New Testament to express their grief, their anger and even their doubts. The Lord then took up these feelings of loss and these pains in order to sanctify and redeem them. And I hazard to guess the reason why He did this is due to the fact that He has the answer to our lamentations. One that will completely satisfy our human curiosity as to why bad things happen to good people. Indeed, it is through the darkest of times that a brighter light shines.

As long as uncertainty and darkness endures, we have to remember that the Hand that disciplines and tears down is the same Hand that heals and builds-up again. This is the Mystery of the Cross! When it is accepted for the love of God and neighbor, then our lamentations will undoubtedly turn into joy. Rest assured that at the appointed time the Lord will clear away the fog. He will break His silence. Then we can at least see the value in the suffering we had to endure. More often than not, it is in hindsight that the Cross begins to make sense. It is then that we can begin to see signs of new life.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

No Sexual Temptation in the Desert...but why?

Reposted for new Sky View readers:

Every first Sunday of Lent the Gospel reading at Mass tells the story of Our Lord’s temptation in the desert. Satan tried to bring down Jesus by using three tactics:

1. The temptation of breaking a fast.
2. The temptation of testing God.
3. The temptation of worshiping a creature.

Curiously, one card that the devil didn’t pull from his deck, a card that served him well for centuries, was the temptation of lust. Indeed, he has laid to waste a countless number of souls through sexual temptation; especially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But one has to wonder why the Evil One did not at least try to use this effective instrument of getting Jesus to sin. After all, Proverbs does say that “Lust indulged starves the soul.” Nevertheless, there is a good reason why Satan didn’t take this approach. And the reason speaks to the nobility of sexual purity (or chastity) and how it is the bulwark of the soul.

Satan knows that a man trained in the ways of chastity cannot be taken down with one or two swipes. After all, if Christ was disciplined enough to fast for forty days he would not be so vulnerable to the temptations of impurity. As Philo said, a first century Jewish philosopher, if you can control your stomach, then controlling the organ below your stomach is that much easier. Indeed, fasting and the practice of chastity are interrelated.

In any case, time in the desert was not on Satan’s side. He had to choose a temptation that would have an immediate impact. But for the onslaughts of lust to corrupt or seduce a man established in sexual purity, time and repeated efforts are needed. More often than not, a frontal attack is not as effective as striking at the side or periphery; that is, where one least expects to be stricken. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that instead of kicking down the front door- which would undoubtedly draw a lot attention and even resistance –the intruder is more successful by gaining entrance into the house through the side window.

In the twentieth century, for instance, promiscuity and wide spread addiction to pornography didn’t just happen overnight. It began in the 1930’s with the acceptance of birth control as being morally acceptable. Then in the early 1960’s, the pill was introduced to the market and the practice of it became widespread. In the late 1960’s all hell broke loose with the Sexual Revolution. From there divorce, homosexuality, unwed motherhood and abortions became socially acceptable. The world was no longer the same. But keep in mind that it all started with the seemingly harmless use of birth control from the 1930’s to the 1960’s that the foundation for the cultural change was quietly laid.

We can find a similar parallel with individuals. Innocence and sexual purity is not bulldozed over as it is chipped away a little at a time. Sexual images and thoughts can be wholly involuntary; indeed, they can invade the mind uninvited. But in the end it all depends on how a man responds to it that will lead him to the slavery of lust or that interior freedom that sanctified souls enjoy. Sin only enters the picture ever so subtly when such thoughts or images are held on to, delighted in or indulged to the point of fantasy. When lust is not nipped in the bud or pulled up from its root, it grows in strength. And just as drug addiction or alcoholism can be a cruel master, so too can the daily vice of lust.

Our Lord, when speaking of sexual temptation, used violent imagery. He said if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If you hand causes you sin, cut it off. Whatever be the cause of lust, a passive approach will not do. Although sexual temptation persists over time in quiet and subtle fashion, the response should immediate, resolute, reasoned through and prayed about. Too few men think through the consequences and the implications of lust and its empty promises. But thinking it through and praying it through it essential.

Every avalanche begins with a snow flake. You may have heard the saying that to sow a thought is to reap an action; to sow an action is to reap a habit; to sow a habit is to reap a character; to sow a character is to reap a destiny. As such, we cannot dismiss the importance of each individual snow flake. That is to say, each sexual image or thought can be an occasion of merit by mentally turning away from it or it can be an occasion of sin by turning towards it and taking delight in it. Indeed, each one can strengthen or erode the soul. And just as lust indulged strengthens lust, to resist it strengthens chastity.

Whatever struggle is required to better attain the virtue of chastity, it is worth it. The benefits are many. Without sexual distractions and entanglement one can better judge relationships for what they really are. Red flags in relationships, character flaws in a prospective spouse and serious incompatibilities are more easily discerned when one is sexually pure for God’s sake. Just as important, the virtue of chastity makes room for the spirit of sacrifice and a readiness to give of oneself. Such a person is in a better position to love, to serve and to resist the devil as Our Lord did.

Half of Men's Confessions

Half of Men’s Confessions:

Fulton Sheen once said that a man must pray and reason to purity. Grace is the anecdote but human cooperation is required. Without God’s help sexual pleasure can easily be isolated and pursued for its own sake. But when it is sought as an end in itself, lust can turn on him and enslave him.

A local bishop once told me that over half of the confessions he hears has something to do with pornography. The consumption of porn and the indulgence of lust are widespread but yet it is hardly ever discussed in many Catholic parishes. Some refer to it as the “silent sin.” Although this sin is silent, in so far as it is done in secret and rarely talked about, it does destroy marriages. Worse yet, it destroys souls as well.

Man’s Greatest Strength:

Man’s greatest strength is his greatest weakness. He can relentlessly pursue a goal with a tunnel-like vision regardless of the hazards. For instance, discovering the New World in the 1400’s and 1500’s and flying to the moon in 1969 were great enterprises conceived and carried out by men. The loss of lives was a distinct possibility in each venture but the ambition of the explorers and astronauts remained. But what can be used to achieve noble ends can also be leveraged against man’s greatest good; namely, his own soul. Women sometimes have a hard time understanding that men are visual. He can lock into an image. One glance of a woman immodestly dressed can cast an image in his mind, an image that may linger in the company of his thoughts for a long time if it goes unchallenged.

Love Chastity: Hate Lust

Proverbs 13:19 states: “Lust indulged starves the soul, but fools hate to turn from evil.” Why does lust starve the soul? Because this particular vice thrives on self-satisfaction. It compels men to get and not to give. Lust can be so strong in a man that he his capable, in a worst case scenario, of having sex with a woman he hates and enjoy it. And in ordinary circumstances, it can insinuate itself in subtle ways. Men do not realize that they can cease to value other attributes of a woman because of lust. Her personality and her needs as a person may fall outside his radar screen. If a man can depersonalize a woman in sexual pleasure, he is much more likely to do so in anger. A woman may please a porn addict or lustful man in bed but if she becomes disagreeable to him elsewhere in the house, she may get hurt. This is why porn stars and prostitutes have a high mortality rate. Often, they are exploited and then dispensed with. Indeed, the so-called sexual liberation of the 1960’s is really a kind of slavery for many men and women.

Due to the power of sexual sin, Jesus speaks in such aggressive terms when teaching about lust and adultery. He said that it wasn’t enough to abstain from adultery. Men are to refrain from deliberately thinking about it and desiring it. With this, Our Lord went on to mandate a kind of spiritual and moral violence against oneself. He said if an eye causes you to sin- pluck it out! If a hand causes you to sin- cut it off! Here, he uses graphic imagery to convey the need to hate sin, particularly lust. It is not enough to love virtue and moral purity. One must hate lust, hate premarital sex, and hate adultery; so much so that the follower of Christ must be willing to sacrifice even those good things in his life that may occasion sin.

Practical Considerations:

1. First, there must be an incentive to make hate sin and make the necessary sacrifices to attain sexual purity. A man must come to reflect on the benefit and value of fidelity and chastity. He must furthermore trace out in his mind the logical conclusion or outcome of his capitulation to lust. Whether it be an immodest image of a woman or a woman in real life that has become a source of temptation, thinking things through and considering the impact of one’s infidelity or lust is a must. Too often men do not ponder enough that sexual sin is a dead-end road, a road that involves much pain for other family members too; the damage of which can take years to undo.

2. Secondly, and even more important, men seldom consider how offensive sexual infidelity can be to God. With every lustful thought or sexual indulgence outside of marriage, his soul is blemished and stained. And if he wishes to enter into God’s kingdom, that sin must be purged. Such purgation always involves suffering. St. Paul even reminds the Corinthians not to deceive themselves, no fornicator will inherit the kingdom of God. Or as St. Bonaventure said, to commit mortal sin is to make your soul God's grave. We can forfeit eternal life if we so choose. We must think about this.

3. This leads to our third consideration: During the temptation, be severe with yourself. As stated above, remind yourself of the cost of lust and its false promises. Keep in mind that lust or sexual temptation promises more than it can deliver. Other than female slaves and prostitutes, there is not a respectable woman in the world who is willing to cooperate with every sexual desire or whim a man might have. For most men- even married men, easy access to sex is forever out of reach. The appetite of hunger, on the other hand, can be much more easily satisfied. When a McDonald’s commercial stimulates hunger, a man can drive down to the nearest McDonald’s and buy some cheap food. But when sexually explicit images awaken a man’s libido, it cannot be readily satisfied. This is why discipline is needed. With that said, if you fall from grace by giving into lust- in whatever way –do not berate yourself. Peacefully pick yourself up, confess your sins and make the proper amends not to do it again. Remember God’s mercy is greater than your sin.

4. Fourth, frequent the Sacrament of Confession a few times a month. God’s strength is to be found there. And if you should know the priest in the confessional booth, and you have to face him time and time again, such humiliations are good for the soul.

5. Fifth, remember you are a priest of God. When tempted, offer that sexual inclination on the altar of your heart. There must be a context to the pain of self-denial. Either unite yourself mystically to the Mass or assist with the Mass in person so that Christ can absorb it in His Holy Sacrifice. Sexual thoughts cannot be wished away. They have to be crowded out with something to replace them. Use your priestly calling. Slay the lamb and offer it up!

6. Sixth, and related to the previous consideration, meditate on the Passion of Christ. This is a great source of strength and it will help you “crucify” your own flesh, so to speak. Remember what St. Paul said: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) Unite yourself to Christ’s Passion in your daily meditation. Your self-denial can be a pleasing form of worship to the Lord. Again, to quote St. Paul: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”

7. Lastly, invoke the Blessed Virgin who exudes purity even from heaven. Ask her to share her virginal purity with you. She will be more than happy to help a son or daughter overcome a sin that snatches so many souls from her Son. Ask her to guard your purity. In fact, I would argue she is the shortcut to sexual purity. With her on your side, the devil will be put to flight.

T.S. Eliot: God or Dictatorship

Reposted from November of 2011 for new Sky View readers:

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

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

God or Dictators:

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

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

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

As for political rulers who disregard the divine law and have no use for the Christian religion, they invariably take on too much. They are often led into thinking that they can become all things to all people. When God ceases to be the supreme in society, the State takes his place. But as Pope Benedict XVI said, "The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much. When they presume to do God's work, they do not become divine but diabolical."

The Enemy of the State:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberalism is Reactionary:

• T.S. Eliot: "That Liberalism may be a tendency toward something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite. Our point of departure is more real to us than our destination; and our destination is very likely to present a very different picture when arrived at, from the vaguer image formed in the imagination. By destroying the traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos."

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

A wonderful complement to Eliot's point is by Bishop Sheen's statement regarding Communists. He said that hate is the main catalyst behind their world view: "Many follow communism not because they are convinced that it is right, but because they have a hidden hate against something or somebody. Those who feel individually impotent to vent their hate upon a person or a class or an institution feel that if they joined communism they could find a corporate expression for their pent-up animosities and their dammed-up hate." Communism, Socialism and Secular-liberalism are all cut from the same fabric. Those who subscribe to such views are generally reacting to something they hate.

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

Liberal Society and Education:

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

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

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

Cardinal James Gibbons (1919): "The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation."

Bishop Fulton Sheen (1943): "We do not yet realize this truth, but it is an indisputable fact that a nation's education is far more important than a nation's government. Given one generation educated on the principle that there is no absolute Truth or Justice and our next generation will be a government of power."

Catholic philosopher Etienne Gilson (1951): "To the full extent that it educates, the State educates in view of itself…The only conceivable end of a State-owned education is the State itself. States themselves may not know it. They may sincerely believe that nothing is more foreign to their honest intentions; yet, to put it bluntly, the only reason why a State may not want children to be educated in view of God is that it wants them to be educated in view of itself. Totalitarian education does nothing more than go the whole way along the same line. The result is what we know: political, economic, intellectual and spiritual slavery."

Politics Solves All:

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

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

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

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

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

Pagan Advertising and De-Christianization:

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

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Leo on Liberty versus License

Excerpt from On the Nature of Human Liberty, 1888:

"We must now consider briefly liberty of speech, and liberty of the press. It is hardly necessary to say that there can be no such right as this, if it be not used in moderation, and if it pass beyond the bounds and end of all true liberty. For right is a moral power which -- as We have before said and must again and again repeat -- it is absurd to suppose that nature has accorded indifferently to truth and falsehood, to justice and injustice. Men have a right freely and prudently to propagate throughout the State what things soever are true and honorable, so that as many as possible may possess them; but lying opinions, than which no mental plague is greater, and vices which corrupt the heart and moral life should be diligently repressed by public authority, lest they insidiously work the ruin of the State…

If unbridled license of speech and of writing be granted to all, nothing will remain sacred and inviolate; even the highest and truest mandates of natures, justly held to be the common and noblest heritage of the human race, will not be spared. Thus, truth being gradually obscured by darkness, pernicious and manifold error, as too often happens, will easily prevail. Thus, too, license will gain what liberty loses; for liberty will ever be more free and secure in proportion as license is kept in fuller restraint [bold font and italics added].

For this reason it is plainly the duty of all who teach to banish error from the mind, and by sure safeguards to close the entry to all false convictions.

From all this may be understood the nature and character of that liberty which the followers of liberalism so eagerly advocate and proclaim. On the one hand, they demand for themselves and for the State a license which opens the way to every perversity of opinion; and on the other, they hamper the Church in divers ways, restricting her liberty within narrowest limits, although from her teaching not only is there nothing to be feared, but in every respect very much to be gained.

But, in spite of all this show of tolerance, it very often happens that, while they profess themselves ready to lavish liberty on all in the greatest profusion, they are utterly intolerant toward the Catholic Church, by refusing to allow her the liberty of being herself free.

[A]ny liberty, except that which consists in submission to God and in subjection to His will, is unintelligible. To deny the existence of this authority in God, or to refuse to submit to it, means to act, not as a free man, but as one who treasonably abuses his liberty; and in such a disposition of mind the chief and deadly vice of liberalism essentially consists."

Cheney's New Heart: Who Decides?

Walter Payton, a former running back for the Chicago Bears, did not receive the liver he needed to survive his liver disease in 1999. Sadly, in November of that year he died. On the other hand, Dick Cheney, former vice president of the United States, waited twenty months for a compatible heart in order to undergo a transplant and is now living as a result.

As opposed to 1999 when Payton died, today some people are asking if it was fair that Dick Cheney, 71 years of age, was eligible for a heart transplant. For instance, on Monday’s NBC’s Today show, Matt Lauer and co-host Ann Curry said that some are questioning whether someone that old should be getting a donor’s heart. NBC's medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman went on to confirm the narrative that "...this has raised a lot of ethical questions, moral questions, about whether the Vice President, in fact, should have received his heart against – ahead of other people. And, raises the question, how old is too old to receive such a precious transplant?"

NBC’s Today show is a familiar morning forum for many Americans. Most would not suspect that evil lurks there. However, on Monday, March 26th, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry advanced a narrative that is eerily similar to that of Germany’s culture of death. But it was done in the name of fairness. Their commentary and questions about Dick Cheney’s heart transplant is symptomatic of a larger societal issue.

No longer are the legitimate and legal exchanges of goods in the private sector between a supplier and a consumer respected. To be sure, the domain of the private sector and the privacy of the home are no longer deemed to be sacred and inviolable by many in society. Proponents of secular-liberalism such as Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, and politicians like them, are showing themselves to be incapable of respecting boundaries and moral principles. When conception and natural death no longer determines who lives and who dies, then the chosen criteria to replace it will be arbitrary and subject to personal preferences. In the larger scheme of things, when a secular-liberal ideology replaces Christian morality, compassion for the needy can justify the worst of evils.

Malcom Muggerridge, a journalist who was once every bit as liberal as Lauer and Curry, had observed that humanitarian motives and good intentions can unleash human misery reminiscent of the holocaust. But this is only made possible when such motives and intentions are not guided by the laws of God. After he converted to Catholicism, he wrote in his 1979 piece, The Great Liberal Death Wish, the following about Germany prior to the Nazi’s assuming power in 1933:

“I came to realize how, in the name of progress and compassion, the most terrible things were going to be done, preparing the way for the great humane holocaust, about which I have spoken…What happened in Germany was that long before the Nazis got into power, a great propaganda was undertaken to sterilize people who were considered to be useless or a liability to society, and after that to introduce what they called ‘mercy killing.’ This happened long before the Nazis set up their extermination camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere, and was based upon the highest humanitarian considerations. You see what I'm getting at? On a basis of liberal-humanism, there is no creature in the universe greater than man, and the future of the human race rests only with human beings themselves, which leads infallibly to some sort of suicidal situation.”

As we consider the comments by Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, we have to remind ourselves that no one has a right to someone else’s heart, kidney, or liver when one’s organ fails him. Such a donation is an act of gratuity on the part of the donor. When matters that concern charity are confused with justice, then the State is invoked to guarantee "fairness." But the problem is- fairness or equality is hardly ever the result.

This is at the very heart of Socialism and Communism. It promises fairness but in seeking to enforce fairness, it must take that which rightfully belongs to others. In Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor, 1891) Pope Leo XIII notes that giving the surplus of one’s wealth is a “duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity—a duty not enforced by human law.” Again, when the giving of wealth and even the donation of an organ is deemed to be a matter of justice, then two factors must enter the picture:

First, as already alluded to, a radical version of equality will be enforced by the State. After all, the scales of justice are used to measure inequalities. Not only will government regulations be used to create equal opportunities but political bureaucrats will claim to guarantee equal outcomes as well. But such measures will be in vain. In fact, the natural result of such an attempt is to make every person equally miserable. As Leo XIII warned,

“[I]t is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain…No matter what changes may occur in forms of government, there will ever be differences and inequalities of condition in the State. Society cannot exist or be conceived of without them.”

Secondly, the criteria to determine equality will be arbitrary influenced by biases. To the extent that the State intervenes to guarentee equal outcomes, such interventions will undoubtedly be politicized. For instance, are we really supposed to believe that if former President, Bill Clinton, or former Vice President, Al Gore, were to receive a heart transplant that NBC’s Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Nancy Snyderman would raise the same “ethical” questions about them? They wouldn't dare!

The questions we have to ask is: Were there younger patients who could have used the heart that Dick Cheney is now benefiting from? Certainly! But did Dick Cheney abide by all the legal and medical procedures to obtain that heart? Yes he did. Finally, we have to ask that if a third party (i.e. the State) were to deny the 71 year old Cheney a heart so that a younger patient would live longer, would our world be better off? The answer is: Absolutely not!

Whenever evil is done to bring about some perceived good, then everyone loses. Robbing Peter to pay Paul in the name of compassion and equality is to set a precedent whereby every citizen is vulnerable to robbery. Justice itself would be subverted. What the Today show on March 26th demonstrated is just how vulnerable we are to death panels through healthcare rationing.

Keep in mind this one historical truth that Muggeridge alluded to: The people will lay the groundwork by triggering sin and vice, but the State will finish the job by perfecting it! This is the culture of death in a nutshell. And this is the reason why the New Evangelization must infuse our public institutions with Christian morality. After all, justice presupposes the recognition of moral absolutes, i.e. that which is inherently right and that which is inherently wrong. Without this recognition we will have the likes of Matt Lauer and Ann Curry deciding who lives and who dies. God help us if we are not liberal.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Building Better Than They Knew

Preface: As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in favor of and in opposition to Obamacare, the wisdom of the US Constitution, with its checks and balances, seems to be paying off thus far. "Building Better Than They Knew" is a phrase in reference to the Framers of the Constitution by the Catholic bishops gathered at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884.

The Fathers of the Catholic Church in America- both from the 19th and early 20th centuries -saw the Hand of God in the framing of this Constitution. They were furthermore gifted with a keen insight into just how exceptional and yet fragile liberty can be in the life of any nation- including America. Indeed, human rights and free enterprise are both stern disciplines that rest on certain theological principles. Chief among these principles are the rights of God. If in fact the American people lose sight of the revealed truth that every individual is created by God, for God and in the likeness of God, then freedom and limited government will eventually be intelligible. Like with ancient paganism, arbitrary power- not justice or the impartiality of law -will be the principle of governance for the foreseeable future.

1884 Council of Baltimore:

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

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

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

Pastoral Letter of 1919:

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

"With great wisdom our American Constitution provides that every citizen shall be free to follow the dictates of his conscience in the matter of religious belief and observance. While the State gives no preference or advantage to any form of religion, its own best interests require that religion as well as education should flourish and exert its wholesome influence upon the lives of the people.

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

In our country, government thus far has wisely refrained from placing any other than absolutely necessary restrictions upon private initiative. The result is seen in the development of our resources, the products of inventive genius, and the magnitude of our enterprises. But our most valuable resources are the minds of our children, and for their development at least the same scope should be allowed to individual effort as is secured to our undertakings in the material order.

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

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

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

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

Miter and Scepter: Let them meet!

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.

When the Catholic Church speaks with one voice and with moral clarity, she is a force to be reckoned with. And when her oneness in love and truth is visible for all to see she is a font of spiritual and cultural renewal. In periods of the Church's strength and confidence, clergy and laity alike have spoken with moral conviction; 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 and converted it from a cruel master to a servant; a servant to its citizens 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, a professed Christian, 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. In this dream, the emperor arrived at the cathedral in Milan, but the Lord had forbidden the saintly bishop to offer the Sacrifice at the altar. St. Ambrose took this to mean one thing: If the Theodosius does not heed his warning, he was willing, if need be, to publicly confront the unrepentant head of State.

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. However, this heroic bishop physically prevented him from entering. St. 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 and the souls of onlookers to let his sin go uncensored.

The inevitably confrontation was not only an act of courage but it was the highest kind of pastoral love a spiritual father could give to a son. Amazingly, Theodosius II did public penance. A clean heart and a steadfast spirit were renewed within him (cf. Psalm 51). Furthermore, it was a precedent that the great shepherds of the Church aspired to in the centuries that followed. And that precedent- the standard that was held high throughout the Church’s history –was that repentance from sin was to be an indispensable condition of our communion with the Lord Jesus and His Church.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen this standard held up or enforced in the last five to six decades. But with bishops like His Excellency, Ambrose of Milan, the miter and the scepter will meet again. The golden standard of pastoring will be restored and a stronger Church will emerge. The fruit of this is that the State will not only be held to account by a higher, divine law, but it will further profess Christ as Lord and Savior just as every individual is bound to do.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tim Tebow: A Christ-bearer in word

"And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

-Colossians 3:17

Shortly after 12 p.m. Tim Tebow met the New York City press. Next to the city of Philadelphia, they are probably the most brutal in the country. Certainly, any sports celebrity in the Big Apple has to have thick skin. But Tim Tebow, the young aspirant to the starting quarterback position for the New York Jets, has more than just thick skin- he has a big heart! A big heart for God!

A reporter from the Times questioned Tim Tebow about his faith and why he didn’t address the “hot-button social issues discussed by religious and political leaders.” In response, Tebow said, "We're at a press conference for the football team, so it's not exactly the platform to give and share everything you believe." But even when Tebow is not particularly ready to share his faith in Christ, he is ready to share his faith. He is always willing to talk about Our Lord; even in those venues where religious beliefs are rarely voiced. Tebow, undaunted by the question, went on to say this:

"But I have no problems ever sharing what I believe. I'm a Christian. I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. And that is first and foremost the most important thing in my life. For me it is about having a relationship with Christ. That's pretty much it. That is the basis of what I believe, and it is exciting for me to get opportunities to share that. But at the same time this is a press conference for the New York Jets football team, so I feel like it is an opportunity to answer questions about my opportunity to be here as a Jet. I'm excited about that. Any time you get an opportunity I am always going to talk about Jesus Christ and what he has done in my life. But I'm also here to talk about the Jets."

This is admirable. He is the new kid on the block and is surrounded by NY press that is mostly unfriendly to the Christian cause. Nevertheless, Tim Tebow shares his faith in Christ. He is a follower of Christ when the camera is off and when it is on. In today’s world, it can be a challenge to be at ease with your faith when society tells you that faith is a private matter. I think Tebow is trying to challenge that assumption. Our faith in Christ is not just a private matter, it also demands a public expression.

Usually personality traits and temperaments determine how open a Christian is about drawing attention to his or her faith. If you happen to be outgoing and are not bothered by attracting notice to yourself, then you, as a Christian, can be that much more open about your love for Jesus Christ. By no means is an introverted Christian obligated to speak us much or as loudly about their faith as one who is extroverted. However, every Christian is called to bear witness to Christ in accordance with the ability God has given him. And to be worthy Christ-bearers we must be willing to use both words and deeds.

In recent years the following quote from St. Francis of Assisi as enjoyed currency among Christians: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” This was spoken in medieval times when culture was visibly Catholic. As such, there was predominant tendency at the time to talk the talk but not walk the talk. In other words, religious discourse was in vogue but the virtue of charity to back it up was wanting. In the twenty-first century, we tend to do the opposite. We stress the deeds but not the words. And to be sure, many of us refer to the quote from St. Francis in order to relieve ourselves of the obligation to talk about Christ. But talk about Christ, we must; especially when American culture is becoming more secularized and religious expression more suppressed.

Talking openly about Christ by Catholics can sometimes be particularly uncomfortable. After all, the Catholic religion is very structured and pre-planned. Travel anywhere in the world and you will find that Mass is essentially the same. Worship, in other words, is already familiar, predictable and prepared. As such, we can participate in the Mass anywhere in the world. This, no doubt, is a great blessing! But the weakness to any structured system is that it can become impersonal and a matter of routine. We Catholics are conscious that we belong to a universal, two-thousand year old Church. Our tradition and heritage is rich and varied. The need to make our Church bigger doesn’t press upon us in the same way it does for other Christians.

With the exception of Mega-churches, many Protestant churches are much smaller in size. Protestant Christians see themselves as a small church that is often unconnected, in any formal way, to Christianity at large. Indeed, many are ever mindful that their churches need expanding. There is always room for one more Christian. With this awareness, missionary zeal is more intensely felt and the need to express that zeal in words is equally felt.

I, as a Catholic, know that Tim Tebow’s willingness to talk openly about Christ is native to the Catholic Faith. The Apostles did it. The Church Fathers did it. The Martyrs did it. The Saints did it. This is why I like Tim Tebow. What he is doing in and out of season, sharing his faith and his love for Christ, is a Catholic thing! We have a rich tradition of men and women who not only did it but paid the price for it. As such, we can learn a thing or two from Tim Tebow.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Protests, Tolerance and Silence

Recently, there has been a lot protesting in several different cities. Certainly, protesting against the injustice of H.H.S. mandate by Catholics is a good thing. In the long term it has limited value but it does raise public awareness of the issue at hand. No doubt, the Catholic Church in America ought to exhaust every political and social strategy there is in opposing this overreach by the government. But while we are doing that, it is important not to lose sight of that which lies underneath the surface. Not a few protest leaders- some clergy, some laity –have voiced their opinion that it is not about birth control but about freedom. I would have to part company with these Catholics who make such a claim. In reality, it is about both freedom and birth control.

I know what I am about to say sounds impractical and perhaps too remote to have any real bearing on the problem, but the real fix is to be found in how worthy custodians we are of God’s revealed truths. Over the last five decades it is fair to say that we, as Catholics, have been pretty ashamed of Our Lord’s teaching on contraception. If we do not inspire people to be open to life with each and every sexual act between husband and wife- if we do not tell people how to behave in this regard -then is it any wonder that the world, i.e. the State, is telling us how to behave with regard to contraception?

I have written about this just recently but I will continue to repeat it: When Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, confirmed in January of 2012 that Catholic institutions have until August of 2013 to comply with the HHS mandate, it just so happened that it was on the tenth anniversary of when the priestly scandals broke out and made the headlines. By and large, it was the secular media that exposed this and forced the Church to reform.

But here is what many of us may have missed: The Church’s failure to protect children from sexual predators was but a symptom of a deeper problem. And that problem was the failure on the part of Catholics to protect souls from sin. For years there has been barely any mention from the pulpit (and diocesan and parish ministries) about the sin of contraception and why it undermines marriages and our salvation. Because we have failed to liberate souls from this sin out of fear of displeasing them, we are now tasting what it might mean to lose our liberties. In response to the election of President Obama, Cardinal Francis Stafford indicated that somehow or someway, Catholics would suffer. In a speech to Catholic University students in November of 2008, he said, “The Garden of Gethsemane will not be marginal; we will know that Garden!” Indeed, we are becoming acquainted with it.

Catholic doctrine on contraception does not originate with Pope Paul VI when he penned his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae. It is Christ’s teaching! As such, I am afraid that as a body of Catholic believers we have been too ashamed of this truth taught to us by Christ. In fact, we barely mention it in public and we dare not require that married couples repent from it. I am told that there would be no Catholics left in our churches if we required couples to repent from contraception, cohabitation and pre-marital sex. It is almost as if we have given up and surrendered to the world.

Again, bringing it back to the protests and what the mantra is: both Catholic clergy and laity are out there saying that the injustice about the H.H.S. mandate is not about contraception but rather it is about liberty. The problem with that position is that it is a half-truth. It is much more true to say that it is about both!

Maybe if the world heard- from our own lips –why the distribution of contraception violates our conscience and offends Our Lord (we need to say that contraception does offend God too) then people would be more likely to oppose the contraceptive mandate with us. But the fact is that we do not even talk about it amongst ourselves (with few exceptions); not from the pulpit at Mass, not from marriage preparation classes, not from RCIA classes and not from several other Catholic venues. Even with the demographic challenges Europe is facing and America is beginning to face, we still do not hear about why the widespread use of contraception leads to the downfall of civilizations.

Protesting is a legitimate form of publicly expressing your disagreement with the government. I do hope some good comes from it. But protesting is what the world does; it is what they rely on most when they express their grievances. Yet, the Catholic Church has a much more powerful arsenal. Her weapons are spiritual. Her spiritual weapons are the proclamation of Gospel truths, binding and loosing, and forgiving and retaining sins. If we explained, without being embarrassed, why contraception is a sin and followed up by pastorally enforcing repentance, then, sooner or later, society would benefit from this. So many couples carry this baggage in their marriage because they have never been told the truth. Too many have not experienced the liberty and joy that comes with being open to the Creator with each and every sexual act. Now, if most Catholic couples who attend Mass practice contraception, how worse off is the world going to be? How will the world ever know about sexual openness to life if we do not talk about it and hold souls to account on it?

For many reasons Catholics have been silent about Christ’s teaching on contraception. But Our Lord said that to sin is to be a slave of sin; this includes the sin of contraception. By the Church tolerating this sin, it also tolerated the slavery that comes with it. Unfortunately, history shows that when God’s people tolerated evil, the world becomes intolerant of good. As we know, in recent years the State has been intolerant of the right to life of the unborn, of religious expression in the public square and it is now demonstrating its intolerance of religious liberty.

The HHS mandate is not just a political problem. Consequently, protesting cannot be the whole solution. What we have is a moral and spiritual problem on our hands. As such, the solution will be moral and spiritual in essence. The bottom line is that the challenge to religious liberty is the effect of our tolerance and silence. It all begins with us- the House of God (cf. I Peter 4:17). It always has and it always will.

Friday, March 23, 2012

In every sinner awaits a St. Mary Magdalene

Reposting for Lent and for new Sky View readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, “out there,” in the streets, is where we find the Mary Magdalenes. And in every prostitute, drug dealer or atheist is where we need to see a potential St. Mary Magdalene.

Good Friday: Optimistic Enemies & Pessimistic Friends

Lenten Inspirations by Fulton Sheen

Good Friday: Enemies too optimistic

The enemies of Our Blessed Lord were too optimistic on Good Friday. Thanks to mass propaganda and organized demonstrations before a Governor’s palace, they convinced a time-saving politician that “we shall not have this man rule over us.” When finally, they reduced Him to a common criminal, they hurled four taunts at him on the Cross, boasts about every victory and His defeat. First, He said that He would “destroy the Temple, and then rebuild it;” but the Temple was still standing as a reproach to His boastfulness. Second, “He saved others, but now could not save Himself.” Third, He said He was a King, but He was proven to be a mock King with a crown of thorns for a diadem, a nail for a scepter, blood for royal purple, a crucifixion for a coronation. Finally, the claim that He was the Son of God was now a stupid lie, for if He was, why did not God deliver Him?

When He was taken down from the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea boldly goes to Pilate to ask for the body of Our Lord. The Greek word which the Gospel says Joseph used was Soma, which is the word of respect for a body. Pilate was too optimistic that power of Caesar would no longer be challenged, and he told Joseph that he would give him not the soma, but the proma, which means cadaver or rubbish. The final optimism of the enemies was the setting of the guards, not to prevent the Resurrection, but to prevent the apostles from stealing the body and saying He had risen from the dead. Finally, they rolled a great stone in front of His tomb. This was the final victory! He who had called Himself “the Rock,” is now rockbound in a tomb- never to rise again. Even before Neizche wrote his blasphemous lines, the enemies had scored their apparent victory; for God is dead.

Good Friday: Friends too pessimistic

On the other hand, the friends of the Our Lord were too pessimistic and despairing. Though they had heard Our Lord say that He would rise from the dead after being in the belly of the earth for three days, they still did not believe. The women go to the grave on Easter morning with spices they had prepared, not to greet a Risen Lord, but to anoint a dead body. Not in the least expecting the Resurrection, they ask: “Who will roll us back to the stone from the door of the sepulcher?” Mary Magdalene herself, who had risen from the deadness of sin into the newness of Divine Life, and who had heard Our Lord say that He was the Resurrection and the Life, came also with spices and weeping, not with joy in anticipation of a Resurrection, but with sorrow, for the Beloved was dead.

When Magdalene finds the tomb empty, instead of believing that He has risen, she says to the Angel who asks her why she weeps: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they laid Him.” When Our Lord finally appears before her in the garden, she does not even look up. Seeing a figure whom she mistakes for a gardener, she calls Our Lord “sir,” and asks: “If you have taken Him, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” She is not prepared to face one who conquers death, but rather to find the corpse and re-bury it. Finally, Our Lord speaks to her, and she recognized Him saying now, not “sir” but Rabboni- Master! She runs to tell Peter and John saying: “I have seen the Lord.” But they, hearing it, do not believe it, saying it is a woman’s tale.

Despair of Disciples

Apparently the one thing that the apostles and lovers of Our Blessed Lord were not expecting was His Resurrection from the dead, and when He appeared in their midst, He said to rebuke their fears: “Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

Well indeed may Our Lord say the same to us: Why are you troubled in heart, despairing and cast down? Are you seeking security, rather than the happiness of the Resurrection? Shall we believe that God reserves all the mourning for His sons and all the joys for His enemies? Are we condemned to hang our harps upon willows, and sing nothing but doleful dirges, while the children of Satan are to laugh with gladness of heart? No, rather we have received not the spirit of bondage to fear, but the spirit of adoption where we cry out: “Father.” Fear not! Realize that He who went into the grave is Truth Itself, and Truth crushed to earth will rise again…

If there is no Resurrection, but Christ is dead, one cannot believe either in the Goodness of God, or the goodness of man. But if He Who took the worst the world had to offer and conquered it, then evil shall never be victorious again.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Intolerance: The Foundation of All Stability

"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.”

-Fulton Sheen, 1931

Reposted for new Sky View readers:

Intolerance of evil is the best preventative measure for the intolerance of good. Riots, narcissism and dictatorships arise from decades of tolerating too much evil. But the problem in our society is that we do not know what to tolerate and what not to tolerate.

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.

Jacques Maritain, a convert from Atheism to the Catholic Faith, 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 transfers 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. As such, 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 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 opposite extremes. 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.

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 Psychiatric Association). At that time it was removed from the DSM-R III and no longer diagnosed as a disorder. Nearly forty years later, however, to publicly disapprove of homosexuality or same-sex marriage is to run the risk of being censured by the media or likelihood of paying a price corporately by losing one's job. To be sure, many political powers that be are on the threshold of legislating that criticism of homosexuality is a hate crime.

This kind of tolerance is nothing less than confusing license (the freedom to do what we want to do) with 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 immoral acts are tolerated, we lose the liberty to pursue justice and goodness. But why is that? Because license is an indiscriminate or imprudent form of tolerance. In accepting immoral values, it ceases to acknowledge proper standards and boundaries.

However, this can work the other way too. The flipside of acceptance is rejection. And if license goes too far in accepting that which is evil, it will go too far in rejecting the good. The violation of human rights, private property rights and religious liberty proceeds from the spirit of license. Indeed, a liberal tolerance of any value or lifestyle is but the groundwork for a dictatorial intolerance.

Pope Benedict XVI called this kind of intolerance "The Dictatorship of Relativism." It is a kind of dictatorship that masquerades as being principled. But nothing could be further from the truth! It's coercive and repressive measures are subjective in that they are based on likes, dislikes and expediency. Vladimir Solovyov, an 19th century Russian philosopher and convert to the Catholic Faith, reminded his fellow countrymen that when government is inspired by the instinct of “Mine!” then there are no limits to political power. All boundaries are erased. Unfortunately, the Russian people learned the hard way in the twentieth century. And it may be that Americans will have to learn from experience in the twenty-first century. We shall see.

In any case, in 1931 Fulton Sheen raised his prophetic voice and warned Americans, including Catholics, about the sin of tolerance:

“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 secularists will become intolerant of us. The latter has already manifested itself and as for the former, it is never too late to try.

The God Religious vs. the Social Religious

The coming conflict is not one between religion and secular civilization but rather ‘between the God-religious and the social-religious,’—in other words between the worship of God and the cult of the State

-Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Modern State 1938

Gospel Reading for March 22nd, 2012 John 5:31-47

"If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you.

I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"


The God-religious vs. the Social-religious:

Yes, even church-goers can miss the point entirely. Matters of secondary importance can take precedence over that which is primary. Even half-truths can be preferred to the truth itself. For some in the Catholic Church, the social aspects of the Church can take priority over God; the Body of Christ as a social community can take priority over the Eucharist; and yes, the local newspaper and the opinions of the world can be more highly esteemed than the writings of the Saints, the Church Fathers and even Scripture itself.

It is an unfortunate result that some Catholic parishes and institutions have little in common with the Saint they are named after. There can be a chasm between the namesake of their ministry and the beliefs they pass on to others. Indeed, many in the Church profess the Faith and enjoy some aspect of it, but when pressed on many points of doctrine, they side with the world. The Old and New Testament is full of examples to this effect.

As we approach Holy Week, the Universal Church will have us remember certain accounts from the Gospel of John. In these Gospel readings the tension between the God-religious and social-religious will build up until the social-religious can tolerate no more. Rather than be saved from the half-truths of their social religiosity, they will instead have our Lord put to death.

The social-religious, that is, those who prefer their man-made religion over God's can be found in the book of Exodus when the golden calf was worshiped by those who should have known better. One has to wonder why the Hebrews- who were just delivered from slavery in Egypt in a miraculous fashion -would want to worship a man-made golden calf. Why would they substitute the living God for a phony? The reason is simple: The Hebrews could not do without religion because they were endowed with an immortal soul. Yet, in their sinful humanity, some of them grew to dislike the God who told them what to do. Evidently, they didn’t want to wait around for the Ten Commandments. So they built themselves a golden calf…and worshiped it.

Similarly, the elders of the Jewish religion in the first century didn’t particularly like what their Messiah had to say. As our Jesus indicated, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes were leaders of the House of God for all the wrong reasons. He even accuses them with a question: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Indeed, they covet, not the glory that comes from God, but the “glory” that they give to one another. It is all too common that in the professional world peer-approval is sought after more so than the welfare of the people they are supposed to serve. Members of the clergy both in the Old and New Testament were certainly not exempt from this misplaced priority; nor are the members of our Church exempt from it either.

Although the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes claim to be followers of Moses, Jesus points out to them that they, in fact, do not believe what the prophet wrote nor did they behave as he did. Our Lord said, “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” He even goes on to emphatically state in no uncertain terms that Moses, who they claim to honor, would oppose them. “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope.” They may have worn the garment of religion, but their hearts, according to Christ, was far from being religious. Our Lord very well could have summoned Moses to his side to prove this very point, but for the sake of humility, he chose not to.

Today the “God-religious,” that is, faithful Catholics who observe all that Christ commanded, have to sit side by side with the “social-religious” on the church pews. Due to a lack of pastoral discipline and proper spiritual formation these two subcultures exist side by side in the Catholic Church at large. But there is a problem: They have little in common with one another. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves these two types of Catholicism represent a larger culture war that rages in society. To be sure, if we but peel back the social, economic and political layers, there exists, at the heart of this war, the City of God in conflict with the City of Man. If the former is to prevail over that latter, it must first prevail in the Church. Then, and only then, will the City of God take root in the world.

At his First Coming, Jesus demonstrated, in the presence of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, that the God-religious would enter the kingdom of God before the social-religious. On the precipice of his Second Coming, in the presence of his Church and all the world, he will undoubtedly confirm it for one last time!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Your Progress in Mental Prayer

Reposting for Lent:

St. Bernard on Meditation:

"Meditation purifies the source from which it comes, the mind. It controls affections, guides our acts, corrects excesses, rules our conduct, introduces order and dignity into our lives; it bestows understanding of things divine and human.

It brings clarity where there is confusion, binds what is torn apart, gathers what is scattered, investigates what is hidden, seeks out the truth, weighs what has the appearance of truth, and shows up what is pretense and falsehood.

It plans future action and reviews the past, so that nothing remains in the mind that has not been corrected or that stands in need of correction.

When affairs are prospering it anticipates the onset of adversity, and when adversity comes it seems not to feel it, in this it displays in turn prudence and fortitude.”

Introduction: Getting the Big Picture

Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that vocal prayer is like approaching God on foot, mediation or mental prayer is like going to God on horseback and contemplation is like flying to God on a jet! For all intense and purposes, contemplation, as taught by the Saints, is a mystical union with God that he initiates on the supernatural level. It is a kind of spiritual ecstasy that not even all of the Saints enjoyed. To put it yet another way: Meditation is like watching a Passion play; witnessing the scenes as they unfold...from a distance. However, contemplation is like being in the play whereby the mystic has an affective union with our Lord's sufferings. This is why St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Padre Pio bore the stigmatas of Christ in their own flesh. It is a calling from God and not something a Christian can willfully choose for oneself.

This particular post is not concerned with contemplation in the mystical sense, that which is reserved for a few, but rather on meditation (interchangeable with mental prayer); a spiritual exercise in which every Christian can practice in order to draw closer to God. In spiritual terms, it is like summiting a mountain, the heights from which we see the big picture of life and God’s plan for us.

In 1919, James Cardinal Gibbons, in pastoral letter to Catholics in America, wrote the following: “Instructed by His example [Jesus Christ], the Church deals with men as they really are, recognizing both the capacities for good—and the inclinations to evil that are in every human being. Exaggeration in either direction is an error.” Those who practice meditation on a daily basis have a much better chance of enjoying a moral and spiritual 20/20 vision. Indeed, in drawing closer to Christ through this spiritual exercise we come to know the nature of life and death, good and evil, happiness and misery for what they really are. To think with Christ and to live his life is the goal of meditation. No doubt, without exaggeration, prayer well-done is the most important thing in life. It will have a ripple effect as big as eternity itself. And as for those who deliberately neglect it, they will struggle to enter through that narrow gate.

Mental Prayer: Mission and Vocation:

God has assigned to every person a purpose and a mission to fulfill. It can even be said that life on earth is our way of working out how we will spend eternity. In other words, our days on earth are a kind of probation. Every day is precious; every moment has infinite value. To make the best of it, to live life to the full and to possess it more abundantly, we have to know the Source behind it all. We have to talk to the Lord on daily a basis.

With that said, listening to God is every bit as important in prayer as speaking to him, perhaps even more important. In the book of Isaiah the prophet says, “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear.” And to be sure, in order to advance along the path of life we have to have open our ears. We have to listen to his voice in silence. After all, silence is the language of God. The prophet Elijah was told to look for God at Mount Sinai. He looked but didn’t find the Lord in the drama of the earthquake or in the blazing fire, rather, he found his Divine Friend in the quiet breeze- the quiet breeze symbolizing the whisper of God.

Pope Benedict XVI once said that no great mission can fully ripen without meditation, tranquility, and self-denial. It can also be said that one’s vocation in life cannot reach its full potential without mental prayer or meditation. Psalm 127 says it best: "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build."

What Mental Prayer is Not:

Unlike yoga or other Eastern spiritual practices, meditation, in a Catholic context, cannot be reduced to a technique. It is not like a gadget in which certain buttons are pushed so as to get a result. Neither can it be said that mental prayer is simply a methodology in which certain steps are carried out in order to produce a certain effect. No. Christian meditation is deeply personal in that it largely depends on the spiritual and moral disposition of the Christian towards God. For instance, the person who is addicted to pornography or practicing contraception will not draw the same fruit from mental prayer as one who is faithful to the moral law. Holy desire, a repentant heart, the capacity to love and a virtuous life determines how much we get out of mental prayer. Having said that, there are common principles of mental prayer which guide us along the way. The ones we will consider have been practiced among the Saints throughout the centuries. Faithfully and consistently applied, these principles of mental prayer will, as Fr. Edward Leen said, “prepare the soul for the action of the Blessed Eucharist.” The union between the soul and Christ is but the happy result.

Three Important Principles:

Meditation is nothing other than thinking about Christ, an aspect of his life or some spiritual truth. When a diamond specialist examines a diamond, he looks at all of its facets and sides. Shimmering different colors from each angle, the diamond reveals something new about itself as it is manually rotated under the light. Mental prayer essentially does the same thing. It considers some aspect of Christ's life or spiritual truth by looking at it and studying it. It then submits the many aspects of our life as we know it- with all of its disappointments and promises –to the Light of Christ so that the good and the bad may be seen for what they really are.

Nevertheless, the starting point or even the primary reason to meditate is not focus on the self but rather to immerse oneself in the life of Christ. It is only after his words and actions are considered do I move on to the contents of my own life. As such, the Christian who meditates accordingly has, within his possession, an unshakable standard by which to measure his life by. Incidentally, this leads us to the three principles or signposts of mental prayer:

a) Considerations: A consideration is a mental act in which the subject matter is “considered,” thought about or meditated on. The subject matter can be any part of Christ’s life, a Scripture passage or a spiritual truth taken up by a Saint. Of course, the most common expression of these spiritual considerations is when the rosary is prayed or when one reads Scripture. Again, like a diamond specialist, the one who meditates on the life of Christ should use the imagination by placing oneself in the scene or by asking questions or by drawing parallels to previously read Scripture passages. Don't just think about it and move on. Study the mystery or spiritual truth at hand. Probe it! Delve into it! Ask God questions! Whatever you do, do not be passive.

As it pertains to spiritual reading, the content should be relatively short. One reads not only to learn but to assimilate and retain the truths at hand.

b) Admiration: Meditation or spiritual reading has love for its purpose; not just knowledge. This is why it is important that the content of our meditation should lead us to admire Christ in a new and an inspiring way. This point cannot be overstated. Too many theologians or intellectual types within the Church become satisfied with mere knowledge. The more they know, the better off they are…so they think. No. As the spiritual classic. Imitation of Christ, reminds us: "It is better to love the Holy Trinity than to know how to define it." Although meditation is a vehicle of learning- aided by the Spirit’s gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom –still, the greatest of all virtues is love.

c) Resolution: The inspiration to love God and neighbor must have some concrete application or else it will not take hold in our lives. Resolutions must accompany my meditation or spiritual reading. The question we should ask ourselves is this: In practical terms, how can I act on these spiritual considerations today? Meditation without a resolution is like a soul without a body. It is nothing but a good thought or intention. Therefore, resolutions are the means through which spiritual truths become incarnate in our actions.

Meditation: Its Historical Importance

The three principles mentioned above are general guidelines on how to have a productive meditation. Of course, there are other factors to consider such as the preparation phase. Nevertheless, if the Christian can manage to get the basics down, he or she will make progress in the spiritual life.

The Desert Fathers (early Christians who went out into the desert to pray) said that meditation accommodates each of the three faculties of the soul. And the three faculties or parts of the soul are the following: the intellect- for seeing or perceiving God’s truth and goodness; the will- for obeying God’s will and carrying out his plan; and the memory- for remembering God’s truth and goodness. But with each purpose there is a corresponding vice. Due to our fallen human nature, the intellect can be burdened with ignorance; the will, with laziness; and the memory, with forgetfulness. Meditation, according to the Desert Fathers, shores-up the three parts of the soul by allowing the intellect to soak in the truth of God, the will to be inspired by and to act on God’s love and the memory to recall the goodness God has bestowed on the individual. With this, the Christian possesses a lasting awareness that God is near and ready to act on his behalf. Indeed, the real and living truth is more deeply impressed on the mind that God is a real person! The Deity is not just an impersonal divine presence or energy source.

One of the setbacks of today’s entertainment culture and technological society is that it is easy to lose the awareness of God’s presence. This is the key to becoming a Saint. Part of the reason why monasteries were storehouses of renewal, learning and progress in the Middle Ages was because the monk’s had exercised a constant awareness of God’s presence. To better understand the Word of God, and therefore to be enlightened by Him, is to better understand how the universe was created and ordered through Him. From this holy quietude was borne many of Western Civilization’s greatest institutions. This is why St. Benedict in Italy, St. Patrick in Ireland and St. Boniface in Germany were responsible for civilizing barbaric tribes known for their cruelty and human sacrifices. More than their pagan predecessors, Christians also understood human nature. Due to their efforts, human dignity was resurrected from the mire of pagan barbarism. Human rights and charities for every known infirmity became a social reality.

Personal Benefits of Meditation:

As stated previously, the goal of mental prayer is to think with the mind of Christ. Fr. Edward Leen wrote about this spiritual benefit by saying, "The final end of prayer, considered as a potent means for the development of God's life in the soul, is to emancipate us from natural habits or thought and affection and elevate us to a supernatural manner of thinking and willing, to change our natural outlook on life and things and to make it supernatural. The function of prayer aims at bridging over this infinite gulf; it aims at enabling us to enter into the mind of God and from that point of vantage to contemplate all created things and the mysteries of Faith."

With the mind of Christ, therefore, we can more easily detect our own sinfulness and the ulterior motives which often accompany our good deeds. Self-knowledge is intensified so that self-love can be brought to the fore. The words of Christ are then palpably felt: "Without me, you can do nothing." Far from feeling denigrated, the Christian, distrusting his himself completely, is now in the position to put total trust in Christ. To be sure, a deep sense of peace and a feeling of liberation is but the happy result of acquiring this supernatural way of thinking. But first, the disease of self-love, as Fr. Leen puts it, needs to be weeded out of the garden. "Prayer," he continues, "properly carried out, will have as its effect the gradual revelation to the soul of this disease of self-love which so intimately penetrates the very fibers of its being as to pass unobserved by the person that does not lead an interior life."

One Benedictine said this about meditating on Scripture: "First comes the Word of God that addresses me, strikes me, challenges me, wounds me, and judges me, but also heals and frees me." Oh! It is a common mistake to think that the meeting with God in His Word is only one of consolation and inspiration. What the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah with regard to his mission can also be applied to what he does with each soul: "This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant." As the Benedictine motto goes: "Pruned...and it grows again." The more self-love is diminished, the more Christ can act in the soul.

Meditation also ushers in sacrifice and self-denial which is but the substance of every virtue. It not only eradicates selfish motives but it increases our capacity to love. Again, to borrow from the wisdom of Fr. Edward Leen, an Irish priest whose writings flourished during the 1930's: "Prayer is a means to the acquisition and cultivation of the spirit of sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Now, when God finds this disposition in the soul, He hastens to communicate to it a participation more and more abundant of that Divine life of which the soul of Jesus is a limitless ocean."

All of the benefits of mental prayer lend themselves towards a greater awareness of God's presence in our daily lives. It enables us to live life to the full. And probably the most important fruit of mental prayer is that it prepares us, or should I say- "acclimates" us, to what we hope to enjoy as the beatific vision in heaven. As Fr. Leen said, "Anything 'unsaintly' is forever excluded from the presence of God, and it could no more exist there than could a dry twig in a blazing furnace." Hence, the life of glory in heaven is but the continuation of the life of grace on earth. Meditation is one very important instrument which secures this transition!