Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bloomberg signals where civil authority is headed

New York Times, Michael M. Grynbaum, wrote an article on May 30th entitled, “New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks.” In it he reminds us of a recurring theme among those charged with civil authority. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has taken one more big step into the domain of parental authority or what used to be considered personal responsibility. He is taking it upon himself to make sure that New York City residents do not drink too much soda.

Grynbaum reported the following: “New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.” He then went on to add, “The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.”

For Mr. Bloomberg, being the mayor of New York City is not enough. Evidently, he wants to be a “loving parent.” Regulating how much coke or soda New Yorkers drink is just the latest “compassionate” intervention. You see, the private sector is, according to his actions, incapable of governing itself; especially when it comes to eating and drinking. Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg demonstrated this on three previous occasions with the following regulations:

• Bans on smoking in restaurants and parks,
• A prohibition against artificial trans fat in restaurant food and
• A requirement for health inspection grades to be posted in restaurant windows.

Unfortunately, whenever I talked to friends, colleagues and acquaintances about the ban on smoking in private restaurants (public means government owned), I discovered that most were in favor of the ban. That is to say, several people I talked to were fine with the idea that a local municipality, county or state government could legally intrude with a privately owned business and prohibit a legal activity. What they could not get past was their dislike for cigarette smoke. Their ability to reason beyond that which was unpleasant to their senses was surprising to me. I too dislike, and very much so, cigarette smoke. But I knew if civil authority was boundary-deficient enough to prohibit the legal activity of smoking because of its unpleasant odor, it would arbitrarily regulate or mandate other activities outside of its domain.

Obviously, I do not believe that Bloomberg shares the genocidal tendencies of Hitler’s Third Reich. But an interesting comparison is in order here. According to the book, Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg noted the following: “A Hitler Youth manual proclaimed, Nutrition is not a private matter.” He further wrote that, “Heinrich Himmler was a certified animal rights activist and an aggressive promoter of natural healing... Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, championed homeopathy and herbal remedies…” This is the language of dictators who promote the cult of the State. For them, nutritional and environmental matters were a public concern.

The point is that a substantive comparison can be made between secular-liberal politicians and autocrats who knew not their own limitations. Both types are boundary-deficient on the most essential issues. That is to say, neither the liberal nor the autocrat ruler recognizes moral or spiritual absolutes. And with the denial of moral or spiritual absolutes, there is a corresponding tendency to trespass lines which divide the political from the private sphere. If a mayor Bloomberg can regulate smoking or artificial trans fats in privately owned restaurants, then why can’t the Federal Health and Human Service Department mandate that religiously owned institutions provide birth control in their insurance coverage?

Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, once wrote, “Religious people are not always very clear-sighted in political matters and nothing is easier for them to mistake the real danger and waste their time attacking that form of secularism which happens to be the most unpopular in their own society, and consequently the least likely to succeed, while they close their eyes to the real source of danger.”

In our own day, the real source of political danger for the Catholic Church and for society at large is the pretext civil authority uses to expand its power. More often than not, the language of serving “the least among us” has effectively been used to tug at the heartstrings of Catholics; this, so that politicians can justify the acquisition of more power. Even if NYC Mayor Bloomberg has the sincerest of intentions of protecting citizens from obesity, the authorization and public approval to even try to resolve the problem has ushered in an era of an all-powerful State. In fact, if the State sees itself as the regulator of people’s diet, then it will, soon enough, anoint itself as the regulator of human rights.

Bottom line: As Christians, we really need to think beyond what is pleasant or unpleasant to us or even what appears to be an act of compassion by the government. To be ruled creates the illusion of security whereas freedom leaves wide open the possibility of risks and dangers. However, it is only with the latter that the right to life, religious liberty and self-determination can prosper.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Keeping the Barbarians at Bay

The decline of civilization and the rise of technology or scientific progress have certainly co-existed side by side throughout history. Today, superficial minds take the innovative genius of nooks, i-pods and i-pads, cell phones and computers for genuine progress. To a minimal extent they are correct. These things are marks of American genius. However, the wonders of technological progress are by no means a sure sign that America is going from good to great. In fact, it is arguable that we are living on the capital- or the momentum –that had been founded on the creativity and discipline of our Christian past.

In this excerpt from Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville makes a brilliant observation that Americans need to be ever mindful of. He cautions prosperous nations that productivity and the mere application of formulas are, by themselves, insufficient to sustain their own prosperity. Busybodies or even hard workers are indeed valuable for a nation’s productivity. However, people who are too busy for meditation on the deeper truths of life and hence fail to study first principles- be it spiritual, moral, social or political –cease to trace right conclusions back to their source. They also do not follow their own flawed premises to their logical conclusions. With this, what naturally follows is an arrest of progress and then decline sets in. The causes of success as well as failure escape the minds of these in such a busy climate.

This is why praying and thinking in silence is so important nowadays. A good prayer life and study of theology and philosophy lends itself to a better understanding of the deeper truths in life. It helps us to see the relationship between the seemingly unrelated facets in our day to day existence. Too often, however, in the absence of thinking and daily meditation, people become victims of appearances and superficiality. They are continually disappointed by the contents of the book because they judge the book based on its cover. To be sure, an attractive cover does not make for a good book. In part, this explains why people are growing more discontent with relationships, marriages, parenting and careers. It is easy to forget about those principles which bring about a fulfilling life. But what applies to daily living also applies to our public institutions and society at large.

Tocqueville said, “If the light by which we are guided is ever extinguished, it will dwindle by degrees, and expire of itself. By dint of close adherence to mere applications, principles would be lost sight of; and when principles were wholly forgotten, the methods derived from them would be ill-pursued.” Indeed, many in America cannot account for the reasons behind their own nation’s greatness. I would even add “fiscal conservatives” to this mix. After all, they too hold those socially liberal views that undermine the integrity of souls, marriages, the family and education. They too are at a loss to explain why John Adams, the second U.S. president of the United States, would say that the Constitution is made for a religious people or why George Washington, our first president, would say that morality cannot be maintained without religion. And the very proposition that freedom cannot be had without morality is a truth too many do not even agree with any more.

Without an adhesion to basic truths in the natural and supernatural order, traditional methods and institutions which led to our nation’s security and prosperity are ill-pursued. And to be sure, the public education system, the media and government are major accomplices of this. With that said, it is up to Christianity to recover the basic principles that made America great. Tocqueville uses China from the 1500’s as an illustration that nation's forget why they rose to prominence. The Chinese people had reached the heights of scientific progress but later had lost sight of those very principles which inspired it.

As for presumption that America will always retain its blessings, we need to recall Tocqueville’s warning: “It is then the fallacy to flatter ourselves with the reflection that the barbarians are still far from us...” We too can forget the basics.

Excerpt from Democracy in America (1835):

“Equality begets in man the desire of judging of everything for himself: it gives him, in all things, a taste for the tangible and the real, a contempt for tradition and for forms…

Nothing is more necessary to the culture of the higher sciences, or of the more elevated departments of science, than meditation; and nothing is less suited to meditation than the structure of democratic society…

Men who live in democratic communities not only seldom indulge in meditation, but they naturally entertain very little esteem for it. A democratic state of society and democratic institutions plunge the greater part of men in constant active life; and the habits of mind which are suited to an active life, are not always suited to a contemplative one. The man of action is frequently obliged to content himself with the best he can get, because he would never accomplish his purpose if he chose to carry every detail to perfection. He has perpetually occasion to rely on ideas which he has not the leisure to search to the bottom; for he is much more frequently aided by the opportunity of an idea than by its strict accuracy…

The world is not led by long or learned demonstrations; a rapid glance at particular incidents; the daily study of fleeting passions of the multitude, the accidents to the time, and the art of turning them to account, decide all of its affairs. In the ages in which active life is the condition of almost everyone, men are therefore generally led to attach an excessive value to the rapid bursts and superficial conceptions of the intellect; and on the other hand, to depreciate below their true standard its slower and deeper labors…

If the light by which we are guided is ever extinguished, it will dwindle by degrees, and expire of itself. By dint of close adherence to mere applications, principles would be lost sight of; and when principles were wholly forgotten, the methods derived from them would be ill-pursued. New methods could no longer be invented, and men would continue to apply, without intelligence, and without art, scientific processes no longer understood.

When Europeans first arrived in China, three hundred years ago [1500’s], they found that almost all the arts had reached a certain degree of perfection there; and they were surprised that a people which had attained this point should not have gone beyond it. At a later period they had discovered some traces of the higher branches of science which were lost. The nation was absorbed in productive industry: the greater part of its scientific processes had been preserved, but science itself no longer existed there. This served to explain the strangely motionless state in which they found the minds of this people. The Chinese, in following the track of their forefathers, had forgotten the reasons by which the latter had been guided. The still used the formula, without asking for its meaning: they retained the instrument, but they no longer possessed the art of altering it or renewing it.

The Chinese, then, had lost the power of change; for them to improve was impossible. They were compelled at all times and in all points, to imitate their predecessors, lest they should stray into utter darkness, by deviating for an instant from the path already laid down for them. The source of human knowledge was all but dry; and though the stream still ran on, it would neither swell its waters nor alter its channel. Notwithstanding this, China had subsisted peaceably for centuries. The invaders who had conquered the country assumed the manners of the inhabitants, and order prevailed there. A sort of physical prosperity was everywhere discernible: revolutions were rare, and war was, so to speak, unknown.

It is then the fallacy to flatter ourselves with the reflection that the barbarians are still far from us; for if there be some nations which allow civilization to be torn from their grasp, and there are others, who trample it themselves under their feet.”

Quote: Saying too much

"If we say less than we should, it is easy to add. But having said too much, it is hard to take it away."

- St. Francis de Sales

Quote: Courtesy of EWTN website faith page

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Through Her Greeting

If a Jewish rabbi in the first century were to pick up the Gospel of Luke, he would see a juxtaposition of two main characters in the first two chapters: Zachariah and Mary. Without a doubt, if he were to guess as to which of the two characters in Luke’s gospel story would carry the day, he would have pointed to Zachariah. After all, Zachariah was a man and a priest. Now, those two attributes may not set him apart in our time, but prior to the public ministry of Christ, they would have given him a clear advantage. After all, it was a man’s world. Women were completely overshadowed by the dominion of men. Indeed, the female sex was, by and large, considered to be second class citizens. Even in Judaism, their status was tainted by the memory of Eve’s sin. For instance, in the book of Sirach we read: “In woman was sin's beginning, and because of her we all die.” (25:23) To bet, therefore, that God would use Mary to give his blessing instead of Zachariah, would have been unthinkable.

You may recall that in the first chapter of Luke, Zachariah, a Jewish priest, had entered the Temple. It was the religious practice of the day that the priest, upon exiting the Temple, was to give a blessing to the people. However, Zachariah was unable to do so because he was punished for his unbelief by the angel Gabriel. Unfortunately, this priest who had been visited by an archangel could not bring himself to believe in the message that he would be the father to John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah. As such, he was punished with muteness. Hence, the blessing could not come from him.

After having been visited by the same angel, Mary, with child, sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hills of Judea. Upon arrival, she greets her cousin Elizabeth. The traditional Hebrew greeting in the first century was, “Peace to you.” But this was no ordinary greeting. An ancient Christian historian, Theophylact, said, “The voice of the Virgin was the voice of God incarnate in her.” From this voice came a blessing; the blessing that should have come from the priest, Zachariah. Indeed, priests bless; lay men and women receive their blessings. But with this visit, it was through the greeting of Mary that a blessing came to a priestly family; it was from her that Elizabeth and the preborn son of a priest received the Holy Spirit. Eventually, Zachariah himself would be healed from his speech impediment.

Through Mary’s greeting, the first graces of the New Covenant were given and inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” (Luke 1:42) Isn’t it interesting that Elizabeth did not say, “Blessed are you among all people?” This would have been a true statement. But instead, she said, “Blessed are you among women.” This is as if to say, “Blessed are you among Eve and all of her descendants; yes, among all women who were burdened under Eve’s curse.” Indeed, the Blessed Virgin was the first woman (and person for that matter) to be conceived and exist outside of Eve’s shadow. And through her subordinate mediation with Christ, the human race in general- and the female sex in particular -received the blessing of spiritual liberation; a liberation that would have social and political implications for centuries to come. God blessed Mary among all women. Not even the celebrated women in the Old Testament could rival her greatness.

Interestingly, the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, there is listed a long lineage of our Lord’s ancestors. Among all of the fathers and sons listed, the names of five women appear: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) and Mary. The four women that precede Mary all have been marked by some imperfection. Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes, Ruth was a Gentile and Bathsheba was an adulteress. Out of the five women, only the Blessed Virgin Mary was found to be “full of grace,” that is, without any mark of imperfection. Implied in Matthew’s Gospel genealogy is that through Mary there would be a new beginning. And that new beginning was none other than the “fruit of her womb.”

Also noteworthy is that St. Elizabeth added, “…and blessed is the fruit of your womb" when she could have said, “…and blessed is baby Jesus” or “…and blessed be the child in your womb.” But no, she referred to the unborn Messiah as the “fruit” of her womb. Kind of an odd thing to say! As far as I know, it is not a common expression of among the ancient Jews. The term “fruit,” however, hearkens back to the fruit Eve gave Adam. With the Incarnation, Mary offers her flesh to God so that he could become the fruit of her womb. And in a real sense, by offering this fruit to the world she reverses the curse of Eve’s sin; and her sin, as we know, was that Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, thus causing the downfall of mankind.

But the blessing that God had suspended for centuries- since the beginning –began to ripple out into the world through the greeting of a young Jewish girl from Nazareth. Therefore, instead of the Old Testament writers, such as Sirach, assigning blame to women for the curse of death, the Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus, could assign the blessing of life to a woman named Mary: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosened by Mary's obedience. The bonds fastened by the virgin Eve through disbelief were untied by the virgin Mary through faith." Yes. A woman's faith and greeting served as the new beginning, a second chance, if you will, for an old and tired world that desperately needed it.

Ancient Rome: Symptoms of Decay (repost)

Reposted: Just in case you missed it

Book: The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs (1948)
Author: Henri Daniel-Rops

Points from this excerpt:
• Centralization: demise of local authority
• State financial crisis
• Tyranny or autocracy
• Feminism and the shortage of real men
• Multiculturalism
• Depopulation
• Sexual revolution


Recently I have been posting excerpts from books by good Catholic historians whose insights are rarely considered nowadays. Hilaire Belloc, Christopher Dawson, Alexis de Tocqueville and Henri Daniel-Rops are some of my favorite. If we can learn from the causes of growth and decline in previous civilizations, perhaps the restoration of America’s greatness is still a possibility. Indeed, history bears witness that the main force of cultural birth and renewal comes from the Catholic Church.

By the time Christianity had been legalized in 313 A.D., the Roman Empire’s decline had long since started. Because the Catholic Church was suppressed for nearly three hundred years she was hardly in a position to save the public institutions of ancient Rome.

This is why the religious liberty of the Catholic Church is so important in America. If Catholics can recover the confidence that their spiritual ancestors possessed, the confidence needed to successfully carry out their mission, then America has fighting chance to retain her greatness. To put it bluntly, Europe appears to be a lost cause with its impending demographic collapse and decades of abandoning its Christian roots, but there is still hope for America.

Enter Henri Daniel-Rops on Ancient Rome:The political and social crisis:

The circumstances which the political crisis revealed in brutal fashion existed in every field of human activity. Though the word decadence cannot be applied to the Empire of the first two centuries A.D., its use begins to be justified by the third. All those cracks which the solid structure of the Imperium already possessed in the heyday of its splendor were now growing wider and deeper. Infection had triumphed over many parts of an organism which reacted more and more ineffectually against the forces of destruction…

[The] social crisis was fundamentally linked with the evolution of the State’s very principles. This evolution was a disastrous one. The Roman citizen, in fact, no longer existed. In 212 Caracalla [Roman emperor from 198-217 A.D.] had extended the right of citizenship to all free men living in urban communities or on land they owned, whatever their origin or place of residence within the Empire. What impelled the emperor to make such a splendid present in an epoch of disturbance and wretchedness? The inscription of a man’s name on the civic lists meant that it was inscribed also upon the register of new taxes! Did these raw new citizens at once acquire the traditions and virtues of ancient Rome? Increasingly, whatever classification might be used, there were no longer any citizens, only subjects, bound to obey a growing autocracy.

If the citizen was in decline the municipality was equally so. The municipal regime which had been the keystone of the early Empire, enabling immense structure to retain all of its flexibility, was showing signs of weakening. The local authorities, confronted with an increasingly serious financial situation, shirked their responsibilities. Municipal councilors could no longer be found, and it was necessary to go so far as to nominate men to the office, at the same time holding them as sureties for the fiscal collections! The almost federal system of the Golden Age was gradually replaced by centralization and bureaucracy, the typical evils of declining regimes. Only one solution could be found to the problem of supervising the cities: they were given imperial administrators. The reign of bureaucrats began. From about the year 200 decree after decree appeared, exempting the officials and the tenants of the emperor’s estates from all duties and taxes. The more time went by, the more the State intervened in all sectors of activity; the more precarious its authority became, the more it claimed the right to impose that authority everywhere…

And although during the first two centuries A.D. the Empire progressed farther and farther along the road towards centralization and state control, the Roman world did not yet know the defects inherent in these methods of government, defects of which it was subsequently to have most painful experience: incoherency of purpose and inertia, waste and ineffectualness.

Inscriptions dating from the first emperor’s reign have been found at several places in Asia Minor. On them we can read sentences like this one: "Providence sent us Augustus, as a Savior, to put an end to war and to regulate all of our affairs; the day of his birth marked the beginning of Good News for the whole world…"

The entire moral atmosphere of this epoch was permeated by a new style of feminism, which had been brought from the East by the Syrian princesses of Septimius Serverus’ [Roman emperor] family: women filled the roles of men because the men were wanting…

But there was something even worse than this landslide of society towards moral inertia; or, to put it more accurately, a second phenomenon existed alongside it, deriving from the same causes, and especially from the excessive enrichment of all sections of the population. Roman society was attacked in its most vital spot, at the source which sustains all societies; the structure of the family was shaken to its roots, and the birth-rate began to fall. The mother of the Gracchi had borne twelve children; and the beginning of the second century A.D. parents who had as many as three were to be praised as quite exceptional.

Men shirked marriage and its obligations: had not the orbitas, the bachelor, all the advantages the principal being to assure the rich man of a permanently faithful following of expectant heirs? And, after all, he was depriving himself of nothing, since slavery provided him with bed companions who were more docile than any legal wife, and who, moreover, could be exchanged whenever he wanted. Abortion and the ‘exposing’ of the new-born babies...acquiring terrifying proportions: in Trajan’s reign one inscription gives the precise information that, of 181 new-born infants, 179 were legitimate, and that the latter figure included only 35 girls. This proves how lightly people disposed of their daughters and their bastards. As for divorce, it became so common place that no one attempted to provide reasonable justification for it any more: the simple desire for change sufficed.

The substitution of the State edict for the individual conscience is always a sure sign of decadence, in every country and in every age. A nation is indeed sick at heart if in order to live decently and to produce children it needs a series of subsidies and rules to enable it to do so…It was no longer for the emperor and his jurists to attempt to restore the healthy foundations of Roman society. Nothing less than a radical change in the very bases of morality itself, and in its effects upon the individual’s mind, would now suffice [Here, Daniel-Rops was referring to the sanctity of the soul].

Was there any attempt to halt this moral disintegration? States have always shown themselves completely incapable of restoring their moral foundations once they have allowed them to weaken. The Roman rulers were far from being unaware of the peril, but their good intentions were absurdly useless, in view of the strength of the forces which were driving their society on to ruin. Augustus’s example is cogent evidence of this. He promulgated countless laws with the loftiest of moral intentions, in an effort to fight the twin scourges of adultery and divorce…


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

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Theology of the Body: Retrieving the old to compliment the new

The Theology of the Body, as it has been taught in recent years, has capitalized on the sexual dimension of the body and its spiritual significance. This, no doubt, has contributed to its widespread popularity. Within this context, the person- both body and soul –is viewed as a gift to God, as a gift to one’s spouse and even as a gift in the communion of persons at large. Also, the very anatomy of the body- in its in male and female form –symbolizes, not only the mystical marriage between Christ and his Church, but in addition, it represents who God is in himself. And no doubt, it speaks to who we are in relation to God and each other. For this and so many other reasons, the Theology of the Body is of immense value for Christians.

But as the tradition of Theology of the Body moves forward and develops, it is important that it brings along with it older theological insights. Excuse the brief digression but quite often, when the Holy Spirit inspires a new direction for his Church or bids that a new emphasis is to be added, human weakness, nevertheless, enables us to focus only on the new thing while leaving the old but valuable thing behind.

For instance, the Holy Spirit, through Vatican II, inspired the Church to enter into "a kind of dialogue” with the people of the world; to understand them better; to know their longings, hopes and struggles; to answer their questions about life and the life to come; and to use the light of the Gospel to interpret all that is meaningful to them. But in the process of carrying this mandate out, not a few Catholics have left behind their sense of mission and conversion. I can’t tell you how many members of the clergy- even in high places –have made a truce with the world and other religions. In 2002, for instance, a committee comprised of U.S. Catholic cardinals, bishops and Jewish rabbis put out a statement that converting from one religion to another is not necessary for salvation. These representatives of the Church sent a message, at least to the Jewish world, that if you are not in communion with Christ and his Church…well…not to worry…just stay where you are at. In fact, when Dr. Scott Hahn was seeking to become Catholic, he knocked on a few rectory doors to inquire how he might enter to the Catholic Church. To his surprise, at least one member of the clergy (maybe two or three) informed him that it is not necessary to convert to Catholicism; again, the message he got was, “Just stay where you are at.” However, dialogue without mission and conversion is a gross misunderstanding of what God was telling the people of God through Vatican II.

As for the Theology of the Body (TOB), the presentation of its sexual-spiritual significance is a recent development. And as indicated, new developments run the risk of leaving behind well established truths and insights to complement it. From time to time, there have been TOB specialists who have masterfully communicated the beauty of human sexuality, inspiring an appreciation of its God-given purpose and design, but sometimes omitting old cautionary measures that should attend it. Even in the context of its theological truth and even with the aid of grace, the body or the flesh is still strongly inclined towards sin. In fact, the New Testament is clear on the following point: that the flesh continues to wage war on the spirit. While the body still lives, the law of sin “within its members,” to use the words of St. Paul, still lurks. And when spiritual vigilance is relaxed, the law of sin is bound to get the upper hand. Perhaps, in part, this relaxed vigilance is the reason why so many orthodox priests have fallen from grace in recent years. In advancing Blessed John Paul’s TOB, therefore, it is important to reacquaint ourselves with St. Paul’s theology of the body.

For St. Paul, the sexual-spiritual meaning of the body is implicit in his writings, to be sure. But what stands out clearly is the liturgical meaning of the body. The body as a temple (I Corinthians 3:16), the body as a living sacrifice to be offered to God for spiritual worship (Romans 12:1), the body as a libation being poured out for other people’s faith (Philippians 2:17), the body as that which is filled up with the afflictions of Christ for the sake of the Church (Colossians 1:24), the body that must be crucified to the world (Galatians 6:14), the body that carries the dying of Christ so that life may come to others (II Corinthians 4:10; 4:12), the body that must be conquered and trained lest we be disqualified (I Corinthians 9:27), the body’s desires that must be put to death (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5); and the body that must be "dead" so that the person may be absolved (Romans 6:7).

These themes were picked up by the early Church Fathers like St. Ignatius of Antioch (107 A.D.) and were made to shed light on the relationship between the Eucharistic sacrifice and martyrdom, the ultimate offering of the human body. As a prisoner in chains who was sentenced to be thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to several churches about his impending sacrifice. He said, "I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." Interestingly, he alluded to his body as the "wheat of God" and the "pure bread of Christ;" but on the condition that it be sacrificed.

By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the body is associated with God’s house and an offering for the altar. Like the first Jewish Temple which was destined to be destroyed (586 B.C.), the body will die. But like second Jewish Temple which was rebuilt( 515 B.C.), it shall be raised up again at the resurrection of the dead. When the body is blessed with God's presence and is conceived as having liturgical value and symbolism, it serves as an instrument of communicating the grace and merit of Christ’s Passion. Infirmity, disability and suffering can be transformed from an incidental misfortune to a liturgical act with a profound meaning for oneself and far reaching consequences for others. And as for the body being the house of God, it can be a place where the peace of a monastery and the beauty of a cathedral can be found.

In the book, Confession of St. Patrick and Letter to Coroticus, John Skinner gives one of the reasons behind the Apostle of Ireland’s perseverance in his mission. It is as if he hints at this interior cathedral of beauty that the Holy Spirit builds up within the soul: “Pascal said that in difficult times you should always keep something beautiful in your heart. Patrick is able to survive these harsh and lonely territories of exile precisely because he keeps the beauty of God alive in his heart. The inner beauty of the divine intimacy transfigures outer bleakness. This inner intimacy brings his soul alive. It opens the world of divine imagination to this youth.”

And when life has taken a toll on the body, its liturgical meaning can give hope to the weary. In his Book of Morals, a commentary on the book of Job by Pope St. Gregory the Great, he said, “When Paul perceived within himself the riches of internal wisdom, yet saw the corruptibility of his own body, he was led to say: We have this treasure in earthen vessels. Now in the blessed Job the earthen vessels felt the gaping sores without, while the treasure of wisdom remained whole and intact within. For outwardly his body was in agony, but inwardly from the treasure of wisdom came forth holy thoughts: If we have received good from the Lord, why should we not endure evil? The good here refers either to the temporal or to the eternal gifts of God, and the evil to the scourges of the present time…”

Dr. Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, psychiatrist and a Jewish convert to the Catholic Faith, said that those who kept their peace and sanity during their imprisonment at Auschwitz, were able to draw from the world from within. For those people of faith especially, their interior world of cathedral beauty, monastic peace and the cherished memories of God’s blessings they enjoyed in life, served to not only sustain them, but to go beyond themselves and carry out acts of charity. Though their bodies experienced a kind of hell, their souls were in communion with the God of strength and beauty. It also worth pointing out that 1 out of 28 people survived Auschwitz.

What works for suffering and trials, also works when the pleasures of the flesh are provoked by occasions of sin. The liturgical meaning assigned to the body by St. Paul is not just one of positive affirmation- something beautiful and valuable; he also reminds us that the body is something to be sacrificed due to its strong inclinations to sexual sin. And I think this is where some TOB specialists have fallen short (I say, “some”). Indeed, sometimes there has been an unguarded approach to the topic of human sexuality and all of its theological richness; almost forgetting that the law of sin, as St. Paul said in Romans 7, is at enmity with the law of the spirit. Even St. Francis of Assisi called his body “brother ass” so as to remind himself that there is a principle at work; a principle that needs to be continually offered to God through self-denial, discipline and vigilance.

As previously mentioned, there seems to have been a wave of fallen priests within the last decade. But priests are not the only ones struggling with their own sexuality; lay men and women are too. My spiritual director, who is now a bishop, said that over half of the confessions he hears from men have to do with pornography. It would be commendable, therefore, that teachers and speakers of the Theology of the Body, in addition to explaining the God-given beauty and design of sexuality, would retrieve the liturgical meaning and significance of the human body.

The body is a gift designed for the purposes of sexual love and communion to be sure, but it always bears repeating that it is also a gift of offering that must be prepared for sacrifice through acts of self-denial and charity. As such, the body, having been sanctified by grace, will grow into a house fit for God's dwelling where peace and beauty can be found. But such a house cannot be built without our vigilance and untiring efforts.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentacost: Replacing the old order

An excerpt from The Mystical City of God, a book inspired by the visions from the venerable Mary of Agreda

-This book enjoys an imprimatur from the Church and approval from many popes

-Published in 17th century

“In the company of the great Queen of Heaven, and encouraged by Her, the twelve Apostles and the rest of the disciples and faithful joyfully waited for the fulfillment of the promise if the Savior, that He would send them the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, who should instruct them and administer unto them all that they had heard in the teaching of the Lord (John 14:26). There were so unanimous and in united in charity, that during all these days none of them had any thought, affection or inclination contrary to those of the rest…into this holy congregation no discord found entrance, because they were united in prayer, in fasting and in the expectation of the Holy Spirit, who does not seek to repose in discordant and unyielding hearts.

In order that it may be inferred , how powerful was this union in charity, not only for disposing them for the reception of the Holy Spirit, but for overcoming and dispersing the evil spirits, I will say: that the demons, who since the death of the Savior had lain prostrate in hell, felt in themselves a new kind of oppression and terror, resulting from the virtues of those assembled in the Cenacle (i.e. Upper Room). Although they could not explain it to themselves, they perceived a new terrifying force, emanating from that place, when they perceived the effects of the doctrine and example of Christ in the behavior of the disciples, they feared the ruin of their dominion…

The twelve Apostles were confirmed in this sanctifying grace and were never to lose it. In all of them, according to each one’s condition, were infused the habits of the seven gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Piety, Counsel, Fortitude and Fear…In all the rest of the disciples and the faithful who received the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle, the Most High wrought proportionately and respectively the same effects, except that they were not confirmed in grace like the Apostles. According to the disposition of each the gifts of grace were communicated in greater or lesser abundance in view of the ministry they were to hold in the holy Church. The same proportion was maintained in regard to the Apostles; yet St. Peter and St. John were more singularly favored on the account of the High Offices assigned to them: the one to govern the Church as its head, and the other to attend upon and serve the Queen and Mistress of heaven and of earth, most holy Mary…

Blessed is the soul which sighs and aspires after this blessing and seeks to participate in this divine fire, which enkindles, enlightens and consumes all that is terrestrial and carnal, which purifies and raises it up to a new existence, union and participation with God himself.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

The First Installment

Reposted for the solemnity of Pentecost:

In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul made reference to the Spirit being given to us as the first installment. In fact, he said, “But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (II Corinthians 1:21-22) It is a safe bet that the meaning of the first installment of the Spirit escapes many of us. But St. Paul mentions this installment, promise or pledge of the Spirit several times in the New Testament. As such, it must have some importance. It also begs the question: If there is a first installment, then is there a second installment or others to follow?

Quite often our relationship with Christ is characterized in marital terms (i.e. parable of the wedding banquet etc). But the suggestion throughout the New Testament is that we are only “engaged” to Christ on earth. The wedding day comes when we enter heaven.

Engagements can be dissolved, but marriages can never be. And this is where the “first” installment of the Holy Spirit comes in. It is kind of like an engagement ring. Through baptism and the Sacraments, we are given a pledge or a promise from God that he will always be faithful to us. And if we are faithful in return, a wedding is sure to follow. As St. Paul said in Ephesians, “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory.” (1:13-14)

However, before we had received the promise of the Spirit, we were married to another; that is, to the law of sin and that which it leads to, namely, death. But in order for this “marriage” to be dissolved, Jesus Christ had to give up his body in death. Interestingly enough, St. Paul uses an analogy of divorce and remarriage to drive the point home:

“Are you unaware, brothers (for I am speaking to people who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over one as long as one lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her living husband; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law in respect to her husband. Consequently, while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress if she consorts with another man. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and she is not an adulteress if she consorts with another man. In the same way, my brothers, you also were put to death to the law through the body of Christ, so that you might belong to another, to the one who was raised from the dead in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:1-4)

Just as the death of a husband’s body releases his wife to marry another, so too does the bodily death of Christ release us from the law of sin and death. Notice that immediately after giving this illustration, St. Paul continued by using the words, “In the same way…” As if to say, that just as our bodies are the sacramental material or stuff that binds ( or releases) a married couple in their indissoluble union, so too does the body of Christ and our body bind us together as one. But first Christ had to die. That was the first step. Then he gave us his Spirit as if to propose to us. And if we are to accept his proposal, the Holy Spirit is given to us as the first installment, promise or pledge. Again, even after receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit- which initiates our engagement to Christ –we have the freedom to “call off the wedding.” That is, we can always walk away. It isn’t until our bodily death that our engagement with Christ (assuming that we have been a faithful fiancĂ©) transforms into a marriage, never to be undone.

This is where penance, fasting and acts of self-denial take on a new importance. These spiritual exercises are a rehearsal for our wedding day. But they are also a reminder that we are no longer wedded to the flesh, the world and Satan. Indeed, whenever we accept physical suffering from the hand of God or whenever we initiate spiritual sacrifices such as fasting, we call to mind and prepare for that second and final installment of the Spirit when we will enjoy God’s fullness in heaven.

What the Legion and professional Catholics can learn from bare foot popes

“St. Vincent de Paul said that it was a great misfortune to be free from suffering in this life. And he added, that a congregation or an individual that does not suffer, and is applauded by all the world, is not far from a fall.”

-St. Alphonsus Liguori

Recently, Fr. Corcuera, former rector of Regina Apostolorum University and the Legion’s general director since 2005, admitted he was not as firm as he should have been in response to Fr. Thomas Williams' misconduct. In fact, he admitted being aware of it as early as 2005. Obviously, what this means is that the adequate disciplinary measure was not implemented by the Legionary leadership until 2012. Catholic News Agency even reported Fr. Corcuera as saying, “I also must admit that, in the midst of all that was happening I was not diligent in setting proper restrictions and enforcing them." The Legion’s general director went on to add that the congregation is in the process of moving away from a centralized structure.

The recent problems which beset the Legion of Christ are most unfortunate but it is by no means exclusive to the congregation. The 2002 priestly scandals revealed that this problem of pastoral reluctance and lack of decisive action is universal. But what the Fr. Marcel Maciel and the Fr. Thomas Williams case does teach us is that pastoral softness is not just a “liberal thing.” No. The weakness of pastoral discipline is a real issue among orthodox Catholic clergy who are faithful to the Church’s teachings.

With orthodoxy of belief, what is often missing is the orthodoxy of pastoral practice to compliment it. For decades, orthodox Catholics have complained about doctrinal weakness and even heresy among the clergy. But what is just as bad- but much less defined and understood –is the “heresy” of pastoral practice. Characteristic of this “heresy” is to accept people “where they are at” but then go no further by not telling them where they need to be if they are to be true followers of Christ.

This is where models of sanctity come in. For two thousand years the Catholic Church has held up the Apostles, the Church Fathers and the Saints as exemplary imitators of Christ. Recently, however, when it comes to pastoral discipline, we instead follow conventional approaches that are inspired by the world; approaches marked by non-judgmentalism and a kind of diplomacy that are exercised to a grievous fault. If parental discipline is wanting nowadays in families, it is because there is a shortage of pastoral discipline among the Catholic clergy.

If we were to cut to the chase and expose the real issue at heart, we would have to admit that Fr. Corcuera’s reluctance and lack of resolve to discipline Fr. Thomas Williams resulted from a deficit of manly formation- a real spiritual toughness –found in men like Pope St. Leo IX (1049-1054) and Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572); popes who came from a monastic background of penitential discipline, charity, prayer and a love of poverty. They even showed up to their own papal coronation in bare feet. More on them later.

In any case, in our day, masculine virtues are held in suspicion in many Catholic circles. To fight the good fight, to publicly condemn error, to renounce sin, to warn the obstinate sinners of hell, and to wage war against the flesh, the world and Satan are expressions associated with polarizing zealots; even though such expressions are readily found in the New Testament and the writings of the Saints. But because not a few Catholic men have been given over to delicacy and in some cases, effeminacy, they have become vulnerable to the worst of sins. Not only are they no match for the flesh that wages war against their own soul, they are hardly equal to the mission of defending the Church against those political demagogues who wish to compromise her religious liberty. Especially as it pertains to cleaning her own house, the Church needs men who are not burdened with concerns and anxiety over public opinion. Only then can the Gospel become a real and dominant cultural force for the good.

Thank God for divine inspiration! The Holy Spirit, since the time of the Apostles, has bestowed light to the Magisterium of the Church in order to discern, and then raise up, saintly pastors who, in many instances, were rejected by their own but whose sanctity withstood the test of time. Two such pastors previously mentioned are Pope St. Leo IX and Pope St. Pius V.

After the turning of the first Christian millennium (i.e. 1000 A.D.), the Catholic Church was rocked with problems quite similar to those of 2002. Priestly pedophilia, defiance of wayward clergy, the State meddling into the affairs of the Church and the growing menace of militant Islam were just a few of the problems plaguing the Church back then. But God raises up tough and saintly men to show the strength of His arm. Before he became pope, St. Leo IX (1049-1054) revived monasteries of Senones, Jointures, Estival, Bodonminster, Middle-Moutier, and St. Mansu or Mansuet because he knew how to discipline; and he knew how to discipline because he was tough on himself first and foremost. Butler, author of Lives of the Saints, said that upon receiving notice that he was elected pope, St. Leo IX “set out for Rome in the habit of a pilgrim; and alighting from his horse, some miles before he arrived at the city, walked to it, and entered it barefoot.” In a few short years, he set in motion needed reforms that would be continued by Pope St. Gregory VII.

Five hundred years later, when the Church was faced with yet another set of internal problems, God raised up Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572). According to Robin Anderson’s book, St. Pius V (1973), “Of his theological teaching it was said he ‘mingled the thorns of Calvary with those of learning,’ leading his pupils to the foot of the Cross.” When offered a second cloak during the chill of the winter cold air, he said, "Poor followers of the gospel ought to be content with one tunic." Like Pope St. Leo IX, Pope St. Pius V attended his papal inauguration in bare feet and would participate in the religious processions in Rome without shoes as well. This was symbolic of how he lived out his spiritual life. “He made daily two meditations on his knees before a crucifix, and called prayer the comfort and support of a pastor amidst the hurry of affairs.” Even as pope, he would visit hospitals and wash the feet of the poor. Like Leo IX, he was a true apostle of the lowly and downtrodden.

Zeal for the Lord, simplicity, and austerity enabled St. Pius V to be a reformer. And to be sure, a reformer is not one how courts human respect but sets out to do God’s will regardless of the obstacles. As Robinson said,

“Pope Pius’ spiritual reform started with the members of his own household. A model of virtue and penance himself, he gave them a rule of life, constantly exhorting them to shun ambition and vice, to cultivate virtue. He openly told them he would not tolerate any in his court who did not live according to Christian precepts and standards…He reminded the Cardinals that not least among the causes of the spreading of heresy was the lax and unedifying life led by many of the clergy and urge them all to do penance, avoid luxury and reform their style of living…The Cardinals he did create were chosen for their merit and attitude, regardless of political or national considerations…His first and chief care, after his own household, was for the reform of the clergy, since ‘It is an established fact,’ he wrote to one Bishop, ‘that bad priests are the ruin of the people…’”

What happened to the Legion of Christ is a lesson for all clergy and every professional Catholic- that is, the Catholic who evangelizes, teaches and writes. As Butler put it, “The greatest danger in a public elevated station is…the hurry of external concerns.” Those who are busy in the mission should be constantly vigilant of this potential vice lest “we should forget to give sufficient attention to those of our own souls.” Perhaps, the recent decade of fallen priests can be an instrument of calling attention to the moral obligation of God’s vineyard workers to attend, above all, to their own souls as a matter of the highest priority. Theology and even ministry is impotent if it is not built on the foundation of an ongoing interior reform the soul. Such self-imposed spiritual reform cannot be had without self-discipline and the spirit of sacrifice. Again, to use the words of Butler:

“But those who have their whole time at their own disposal, yet have their eyes always abroad, and live, as it were, without themselves, are truly foolish. Everyone's first and principal business is included within himself, in his own heart. It is so deep that we shall always find in it exercise enough, and shall never be able to sound it; only He, who tries the thoughts and reins, can thoroughly know it…But it is infinitely both our duty and our interest to take cognizance of the contests between the flesh and the spirit within our own breasts; to appease this intestine war by teaching the flesh to be in subjection, placing reason on its throne, and making God reign sovereignly in our hearts.

It is not so slight a task as men generally seem to imagine to keep our domestic kingdom in good order, and to govern wisely and holily those numerous people which are contained in this little state, that is to say, that multitude of affections, thoughts, opinions, and passions which easily raise tumults in our hearts. Those who are charged with the care of others are obliged to reserve to themselves leisure for pious meditation, prayer, and self-examination, and diligently to watch over their own souls.”

We cannot watch over other souls with great effect if we are remiss in watching over our own souls. God can hardly be glorified in the world through our witness if the weeds in the interior garden of the soul are not manfully uprooted. The subtle and sometimes subconscious love for convenience, affirmation and human applause are just a few of the weeds that choke the vine. This is what the Legion and every Catholic professional can learn from two bare foot popes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

God gives back his Spirit

Originally posted in June of 2011. Reposted for new readers and for the solemnity of Pentecost.

The first Pentecost Sunday, immediately following the Ascension of Our Lord, is when God gave back his Holy Spirit to mankind. You might wonder: when did he take it away?

Believe it or not, the Spirit of God had been missing in action- at least as we come to know it -for hundreds of years prior to the first-century.

In Genesis 6, just prior to the Flood, the Godly descendants of Seth- Seth being the righteous son of Adam and Eve -married into the ungodly race of Cain. The implication of course was that the descendants of Seth no longer valued the true Faith that was handed down to them. After all, they married into an irreligious people; a cursed race.

In response, God withdrew his Spirit. In fact, he said, “My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh.” In a word, God said “I’m out here! I am no longer wanted!”

In the absence of God’s Spirit, the rules of life changed dramatically. Immediately after the Flood in Genesis chapter 9, God spelled out these “new” rules:

-He said that dread and fear would come over the animals; they would now be afraid of man.

-Second, man would go from eating plants to eating animal meat. The harmony between man and the animal kingdom would therefore be disrupted.

-Third, God will now demand a strict accounting from man. For instance, if he kills another human being; he himself shall be killed (Genesis 9:6). An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will be the measure by which people are measured.

To be sure, from Genesis 9 to Pentecost Sunday an exacting justice will mark God’s dealings with man. Since “man is but flesh” and no longer concerned about the things of the Spirit, he will be judged by God accordingly.

Perhaps this is why God is perceived as being harsh in the Old Testament. Because of man’s rejection of him, God withdrew his Spirit and scaled back his mercy. The unfortunate side effect was that human nature was coarsened. Indeed, man’s heart was hardened. Polygamy, superstition, and human cruelty were universal. And even with his own people, the Lord tolerated (but not endorsed) the polygamous practices of Abraham, Jacob and King David.

But that all changed when, through Christ, God gave back his Holy Spirit. If you read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5-7, you will see that Jesus is not lowering but raising the moral standards.

For instance, he said that not only is adultery was wrong but even lusting after a woman was a serious sin; not only killing is wrong but even being unjustly angry at your neighbor is a moral evil.

Notice that the new law of Christ is not content in condemning bad behavior. Rather, it strikes at the root of the problem by addressing the heart of man, the inner sanctuary where his thoughts originate.

However, to his listeners, the new law that Jesus spells out seemed demanding; if not impossible. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, observing the new law would not only be possible, it would also be the conditions for a new and abundant life.

The Author of Secret Warnings and Invitations

Originally posted in June of 2011. Reposted for new readers.

"I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts." (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

Our Lord Jesus knew that the mere observance of His laws and the imitation of His virtues would not be enough for our happiness. Indeed, he knew that a copy of his life would not satisfy the human heart.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper and intimate friend so that we could share in his very life. Through the Holy Spirit, we participate in the same power, the same wisdom and the same love that animated Jesus for thirty-three years. This is why we can say with St. Paul, "For to me life is Christ."

From our Lord’s Incarnation to his Ascension, the Holy Spirit was there with Jesus- sanctifying every thought, word, and deed.

As for us, we are baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. By receiving the same Spirit at baptism, we can live the same life that Christ lived. As such, Jesus raised the moral law to new heights. He said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

In his encyclical, On the Holy Spirit, Pope Leo XIII said the Holy Spirit enters the soul and makes it like unto Himself. And he does this by exciting in our minds secret warnings and invitations. Even more, he inspires in our hearts the sweetness of paternal love. Leo XIII concludes that without the Holy Spirit’s help, there is no progress and no arriving at eternal salvation.

In the affairs of everyday life the Holy Spirit helps us to discern those values that build-up relationships. He helps us to see that sacrifice and self-denial are absolutely necessary for happiness. And He further helps us to see the world as it really is.

As for those laws of Christ that are unpopular and least understood by our culture, his Spirit generously reveals their value to us. What once seemed absurd and confounding in years past, now begins to make sense. We thus realize how important all the teachings of Christ are for our happiness.

Amidst adversity too, the Holy Spirit helps us to keep our eyes fixed on heaven; filling us with hope and putting our life in a better context. Because He is our helper and intimate friend, he can use us in ways we once thought were impossible. And remarkably, it even dawns on us that living the life of a Saint is actually within reach!

St. Cyprian, a Father of Church and a martyr in the third-century, was one such person who thought that the standards of the Christian life were impossible- something that just couldn't be done. That's right! He said that in the darkness of his life he despaired of better things. But he saw something in the lives of the Christians that drew him irresistibly to Divine Love. After he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit went to work.

In a letter to Donatus, St. Cyprian wrote:

"By the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man, then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, and what had been thought impossible, was capable of being achieved."

What God did for St. Cyprian in the third-century he can do for us in the twenty-first century. We too can live the life of Christ! We too can begin to enjoy eternal happiness; thanks to the Holy Spirit- our helper and intimate friend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leo XIII: On the Christian Constitution of States

Preface: Twenty-two years before the Soviet Union came into being in Russia, forty-eight years before the Third Reich ruled Germany, seventy-four years before Fidel Castro assumed leadership in Cuba, and a hundred and twenty-three years before the United States of America would be at a crossroads between liberty and soft-despotism, Pope Leo XIII sat down at his desk and penned his letter on the Constitution of States.

Before the era of dictatorships he reminded Western Civilization about those principles, institutions and practices that served throughout Christian history as the foundation of political liberty and social prosperity. Today, we desperately need to be reacquainted with these truths. Below is a bullet-point version of his letter.

The Church ensuring prosperity:

• The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life. And, indeed, wherever the Church has set her foot she has straightway changed the face of things, and has tempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization and with virtues before unknown.

To paralyze the Church:

• With reference to matters that are of twofold jurisdiction, they who administer the civil power lay down the law at their own will, and in matters that appertain to religion defiantly put aside the most sacred decrees of the Church. They claim jurisdiction over the marriages of Catholics, even over the bond as well as the unity and the indissolubility of matrimony. They lay hands on the goods of the clergy, contending that the Church cannot possess property. Lastly, they treat the Church with such arrogance that, rejecting entirely her title to the nature and rights of a perfect society, they hold that she differs in no respect from other societies in the State…

• Accordingly, it has become the practice and determination under this condition of public polity (now so much admired by many) either to forbid the action of the Church altogether, or to keep her in check and bondage to the State. Public enactments are in great measure framed with this design. The drawing up of laws, the administration of State affairs, the godless education of youth, the spoliation and suppression of religious orders, the overthrow of the temporal power of the Roman Pontiff, all alike aim to this one end -- to paralyze the action of Christian institutions, to cramp to the utmost the freedom of the Catholic Church, and to curtail her ever single prerogative.

Civil Authority: To rule, not as masters, but as fathers

• They who rule should rule with evenhanded justice, not as masters, but rather as fathers, for the rule of God over man is most just, and is tempered always with a father's kindness. Government should, moreover, be administered for the well-being of the citizens, because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State.

• Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual or of some few persons, inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all.

The Mighty Shall Meet the Almighty:

• But, if those who are in authority rule unjustly, if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly, and if their measures prove hurtful to the people, they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and preeminence of their dignity. "The mighty shall be mightily tormented."

• Then, truly, will the majesty of the law meet with the dutiful and willing homage of the people, when they are convinced that their rulers hold authority from God, and feel that it is a matter of justice and duty to obey them, and to show them reverence and fealty, united to a love not unlike that which children show their parents.

State cannot be well regulated without God:

• So, too, the liberty of thinking, and of publishing, whatsoever each one likes, without any hindrance, is not in itself an advantage over which society can wisely rejoice. On the contrary, it is the fountain-head and origin of many evils. Liberty is a power perfecting man, and hence should have truth and goodness for its object…Whatever, therefore, is opposed to virtue and truth may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favor and protection of the law…To exclude the Church, founded by God Himself, from life, from laws, from the education of youth, from domestic society is a grave and fatal error. A State from which religion is banished can never be well regulated…

Society and the State no less than individuals:

• As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose everbounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings.

• Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its teaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion -- it is a public crime to act as though there were no God.

There was once a time:

• There was once a time when States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society…

• Christian Europe has subdued barbarous nations, and changed them from a savage to a civilized condition, from superstition to true worship. It victoriously rolled back the tide of Mohammedan conquest; retained the headship of civilization; stood forth in the front rank as the leader and teacher of all, in every branch of national culture; bestowed on the world the gift of true and many-sided liberty; and most wisely founded very numerous institutions for the solace of human suffering.

• Ivo of Chartres wrote to Pope Paschal II: "When kingdom and priesthood are at one, in complete accord, the world is well ruled, and the Church flourishes, and brings forth abundant fruit. But when they are at variance, not only smaller interests prosper not, but even things of greatest moment fall into deplorable decay."

The wrong kind of liberty: That of self-ruin

• In the same way the Church cannot approve of that liberty which begets a contempt of the most sacred laws of God, and casts off the obedience due to lawful authority, for this is not liberty so much as license, and is most correctly styled by St. Augustine the "liberty of self-ruin," and by the Apostle St. Peter the "cloak of malice." Indeed, since it is opposed to reason, it is a true slavery, "for whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin." On the other hand, that liberty is truly genuine, and to be sought after, which in regard to the individual does not allow men to be the slaves of error and of passion, the worst of all masters…

The rejection of all religion in theory and in practice:

• To hold that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name. Men who really believe in the existence of God must, in order to be consistent with themselves and to avoid absurd conclusions, understand that differing modes of divine worship involving dissimilarity and conflict even on most important points cannot all be equally probable, equally good, and equally acceptable to God.

• The Church, indeed, deems it unlawful to place the various forms of divine worship on the same footing as the true religion, but does not, on that account, condemn those rulers who, for the sake of securing some great good or of hindering some great evil, allow patiently custom or usage to be a kind of sanction for each kind of religion having its place in the State. And, in fact, the Church is wont to take earnest heed that no one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic faith against his will, for, as St. Augustine wisely reminds us, "Man cannot believe otherwise than of his own will."

Catholics get involved:

• It is also of great moment to the public welfare to take a prudent part in the business of municipal administration, and to endeavor above all to introduce effectual measures, so that, as becomes a Christian people, public provision may be made for the instruction of youth in religion and true morality. Upon these things the well-being of every State greatly depends.

• Furthermore, it is in general fitting and salutary that Catholics should extend their efforts beyond this restricted sphere, and give their attention to national politics. We say "in general" because these Our precepts are addressed to all nations. However, it may in some places be true that, for most urgent and just reasons, it is by no means expedient for Catholics to engage in public affairs or to take an active part in politics. Nevertheless, as We have laid down, to take no share in public matters would be as wrong as to have no concern for, or to bestow no labor upon, the common good, and the more so because Catholics are admonished, by the very doctrines which they profess, to be upright and faithful in the discharge of duty, while, if they hold aloof, men whose principles offer but small guarantee for the welfare of the State will the more readily seize the reins of government.

Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the first day of November, 1885, the seventh year of Our pontificate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Childless Nation and the New Pro-life Cause

This blog, originally posted in 2010 but revised in 2012, contains one of those messages that needs to be repeated every few months.

"But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them."

-Exodus 1:7

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

-Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Strength comes with greater numbers; and greater numbers for any nation are to be had through the generosity of married couples; that is, being generous with God by their willingness to have many children. Scripture "always" makes reference to children as a blessing. Americans, however, are coming to view children as a liability and another mouth to feed. However, with every mouth to feed there are two hands to help out around the house and a mind to invent solutions for today’s societal problems.

In recent years, many couples have made the personal decision not to have children. Today, however, even more people, sold on the myth that the earth is overpopulated, have made it clear that it is a civic duty for couples to have only a few children, if any. What was once a personal decision to have a small family is now a social mandate. In the twenty-first century it has been customary for families with five or more children to either get lectured, sneered at or to be given looks of disapproval by perfect strangers at the local grocery store. Even among the most educated and wealthy, after learning that a married couple are the parents of four, five, or more children, the common response is "wow!" What immediately comes to their mind are the sacrifices children require.

It is a true marvel of human nature that many or even the majority of people can be so zealously opposed to that which is absolutely necessary for a nation’s survival and happiness. Materialism and secularism can so twist human thinking that people can hate what is positively good for them and love what is positively bad. Such is the mystery of sin and the effect it has on the soul.

I’ll leave it to Steve Mosher and The Population Research Institute to provide all the statistical data why America and Western Civilization is headed for a demographic collapse (see: The point here is that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, materialistic lifestyles set in, the appetite for sacrifice wanes and reproductive attitudes harden. It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Although some European countries have come to this point, such as France, America has yet to realize that a family with many children is, in fact, a good thing for its longevity.

Historically, declining tax revenue and the disproportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. In response to this, governments typically offered incentives to reverse the trend. But when the harm of a nation that has gone childless was felt, it was often too late for political remedies.

In the last forty years, Catholics- both clergy and laity –have been bashful about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth on contraception! As a result, very few teachings at the local and diocesan level- and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass -have even mentioned what impact contraception has had on marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda that children are a burden to society.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will undoubtedly be vindicated when the demographic winter has peaked. And we are just beginning- only just beginning -to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our bishops and priests, that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially bishops, to articulate what a childless nation portends.

What the family loses, the State gains. When families shrink and breakdown, the State only increases and becomes more powerful. History bears witness to this fact. The present day challenge of American citizens to retain their liberty and prosperity can be traced (although not exclusively) to the breakdown of the family and the unwillingness of couples to have children. On the other hand, if the American people were to value having more children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbinger of better things to come.

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

"If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago [1933], and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis. On the occasion of the fall of France in 1940, a French general gave the failure of the family to perpetuate itself as the basic reason for the nation’s debacle. In 150 B.C. Polybius, in writing about the decline of Greece, said: 'For the evil of depopulation grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting our attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion of show and money, and pleasure of an evil life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or if they did marry, refusing to rear children that were born, or at most, one or two out of the great numbers, for the sake of leaving their well-being assured, and bringing them up in extravagant luxury. The result, houses are left heirless, and like swarms of flies, little by little, the cities become sparsely inhabited and weak.'

Sheen continues: "The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline. There is no doubt the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline."

Because the Baby-Boomers are many, and the children they had are few (my generation), we are now entering into an era of a top-heavy demographic of elderly people with far fewer workers and tax payers to support them. Excessive spending and deficits on the part of Washington D.C. only accounts for only a part of the reason why Social Security will be insolvent in a few short years. What receives little media coverage, I am afraid, even from the conservative media, is that the tax payer: senior citizen ratio is starting to even out. In other words, when Social Security was first implemented in 1935, some reports have it that for each senior citizen or beneficiary drawing from the program, there were at least 15 tax payers paying into the program. Now, however, there are about two tax payers per senior citizen.

Another trend to look out for, as a result of the low birthrate, is the growing advocacy and practice for euthanasia. Even if Obamacare should be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the medical community in the private sector will continue to opt for euthanasia-like procedures for purposes of expediency. In fact, it is already being practiced on a wide scale today. This is something the Church not only has to prepare for but as it stands, our society is in great need of repeated and clear teachings as to what constitutes a natural death, and what doesn't. And to be sure, papal and ecclesiastical documents, by themselves, are insufficient. A large number of people in the lay and political world do not read them.

In addition to documents, the pulpit and the media need to be utilized for a maximum reach. After all, due to the demographic challenges that lurk just around the corner, euthanasia will rival abortion as the new pro-life cause.

It should not surprise us that for those Baby-Boomer parents who put their children in daycare- not out of financial necessity but as convenient first resort to further their career -are now, as they reach the elderly age bracket, are being put into nursing homes by their children for the same reasons. Indeed, when children are primarily associated with sacrifices and restrictions, every demographic with special needs will be burdened with the same prejudice. Can we be surprised then, that what originated in the family is now prevalent in most medical and healthcare institutions.


In 1974, Harry Chapin came out with a big hit; the song was called: Cats in the Cradle. His song has proven more prophetic than anyone could imagine at the time. Believe it or not, it has a lot to do with low birthrates, daycares and nursing homes.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today
I got a lot to do", he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me...

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Church's Answer to Socialism

To a delegation of U.S. bishops from the Eastern Catholic churches, Pope Benedict XVI said that there is an urgent need to for a renewal of female religious life. As the Catholic News Agency reported, the pope spoke to the effects a holy and vibrant religious life will have on society. “With the progressive weakening of traditional Christian values, and the threat of a season in which our fidelity to the Gospel may cost us dearly,” he warned, “the truth of Christ needs not only to be understood, articulated and defended, but to be proposed joyfully and confidently as the key to authentic human fulfillment and to the welfare of society as a whole.”

Of the course, the Holy Father was right to say that a progressive weakening of traditional Christian values will cost us dearly. Few make the connection, but part of that “cost” is the loss of freedom through the success of socialism and communism, which is Catholicism’s rival way of salvation. In fact, two cheap imitations of the religious life (i.e. monasticism) are communism and socialism. When monasticism diminishes like it has, the secularized ideology of “brotherhood and community of goods” fills that vacuum.

The religious life- for men or women -is where there is a love of poverty, brotherhood, manual labor, ongoing prayer and adoration. When these practices diminish in monastic communities, society ceases to esteem them. Indeed, they are even shunned. For instance, in America, manual labor has taken on a kind of stigma. When Americans are reluctant to get their hands dirty, immigrants take on the “dirty jobs” with greater enthusiasm. Poverty used to be the domain of the Church; now it is the business of the State. And when it becomes the business of the State, giving aid to the poor becomes politicized. In fact, President Barak Obama recently said that we are our “brother’s keeper;” an obvious reference to the book of Genesis. Earlier, in 2010, he said the following to college graduates: "It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." You see, in the absence of apostolic zeal in religious communities where riches are renounced for the sake of the kingdom, political zealots will exploit religious themes in order to justify the confiscation of wealth from the upper classes. Believe it or not, there is a connection between the two.

Pope Leo XIII, in fact, in writing about St. Francis of Assisi, maintained that his example and sanctity- and others whom he inspired –is the nemesis to socialism. He said, “[N]othing is more efficacious to extinguish utterly every vice…whether violence, injuries, desire for revolution, hatred among the different ranks of society, in all which vices the beginnings and the weapons of socialism are found.” In the days of St. Francis, there were heresies very much akin to socialism and communism. “[T]he manifold errors of the Albigenses, by stirring up the masses against the power of the Church, had disturbed society and paved the way to a certain kind of Socialism.” Then he added that religious orders returning to their “pristine state” would also roll back materialism and class warfare:

“[N]o small alleviation is to be found in the institutes of St. Francis, if only they are brought back to their pristine state; for if they only were in a flourishing condition, faith and piety, and every Christian virtue would easily flourish; the lawless desire for perishing things would be broken; nor would men refuse to have their desires ruled by virtue, though that seems to many to be a most hateful burden. Men bound together by the bonds of true fraternal concord would mutually love each other, and would give that reverence which is becoming to the poor and distressed, as bearing the image of Christ.”

We may be tempted to think that it is an exaggeration to say that the monasticism or the religious life has that profound of an effect on society. But historically, it did. It can be likened to sports. Each sport has its professional division. For football, it is the NFL; for baseball, it is the MLB; and for basketball, it is the NBA. Professional athletes do not play their respective sports occasionally or for recreational purposes. They play the game as a full time occupation. For them, football, baseball and basketball are not just a game- it is a way of life. As such, they set standards of excellence for younger players. Take away professional sports, you likewise takeaway the high standards of the game. Soon thereafter, younger players will cease to know what an ideal football, baseball or basketball player looks like. This same principle applies to the spiritual world.

The religious life are made up of those “professional” Christians who pray, fast, read Scripture, sing hymns, work, and serve the needy on a full time basis. Not only does their constant intercession pacify the justice of God and ward off demons who seek to prey on souls, but from this microcosm of intense religious activity comes forth examples of sanctity, spiritual exercises and profound insights for others to emulate. Indeed, there is considerable creativity that flows from monasteries. They were the tabernacles of society.

On the other hand, Catholic business men and women are not in much of a position to inspire love of poverty. After all, they work, generally speaking, to provide for their families. No doubt, this is a moral obligation. From this obligation there develops a legitimate pursuit to increase wealth, to buy a bigger house and to drive a better car. As such, the incentive to embrace poverty, let alone love it, does not flourish as much under these conditions. Nevertheless, as followers of Christ we are called, at the very least, to be detached from riches and earthly goods. It is only by a careless abandon of material concerns that we can truly value material things at their worth. Oreste Brownson, a Catholic convert in the 19th century, said that the key to happiness is not to increase your belongings, but to decrease your wants. This is something that the religious life is great at doing. It also happens to be one of the greatest ironies of Christian joy.

Monasticism, more than any other way of life on earth, inspires a love of poverty. But with fewer religious brothers and sisters showing the way, people are more apt to place the highest value on material things and on the economy. However, the Church has long taught that to covet material things divides and inspires envy among the classes; whereas the whole way of religious life, quite the contrary, binds souls together and inspires a generosity unknown to people outside of the Christian world.

Unfortunately, Western Civilization grew tired of Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, the spirit of charity grew cold even among Christians. Now the State does what the Church used to do. To be sure, politicians have exploited the lack of charity by appealing to religious themes. If you ever heard former vice president, Al Gore, preach at an African-American church (or even our current president), you’ll know what I am talking about.

The Catholic Church, it seems to me, needs to capitalize on the historic and social implications of monasticism. It is not just a calling that benefits the one who is called or the religious order he or she is called to, it has a profound effect on society. This effect needs to be explained to Catholics from the pulpit, in the classroom and elsewhere. It just may be a selling point with certain souls who are discerning a vocation.

There are two holy enterprises that led to the creation of Christian civilization: The preaching of the Gospel by bishops and the monastic movement. The former planted seeds of life, the latter helped the plant to grow. St. Francis of Assisi was a soul that the Lord raised up to prune and to foster growth within the Church. Pope Innocent III had a vision “wherein it seemed to him that St. Francis was supporting on his shoulders the falling walls of the Lateran Basilica.” (The Lateran Basilica was the papal church at the time) Unbeknownst to many Catholics of his day, this roughly clad beggar was pretty important to the Church; to say the least.

As with the birth of Christ, St. Francis made poverty honorable again; even though the culture in which he lived was refined and delicate. As Pope Leo XIII said, “[A]midst the effeminacy and over-fastidiousness of the time, he is seen to go about careless and roughly clad, begging his food from door to door, not only enduring what is generally deemed most hard to bear, the senseless ridicule of the crowd, but even to welcome it with a wondrous readiness and pleasure. And this because he had embraced the folly of the cross of Jesus Christ, and because he deemed it the highest wisdom. Having penetrated and understood its awful mysteries, he plainly saw that nowhere else could his glory be better placed.”