Friday, August 31, 2012

Christus Imperat or the Progressive Rule


To anticipate the future, you must first understand the present. To understand the present, you must learn about the past. And the best way to learn about the past is through the lens of a Catholic historian well-grounded in the Faith. Hilaire Belloc is one such historian. In the 1930's he wrote a piece entitled, "The Modern Phase." In it, he traces out the epic ideas and the historic forces that would be at play in 2012.

Although most concerned Americans are placing a great deal of attention on the presidential campaigns and the election in November (as they should), it is good to keep in mind that politics is but the consequence of factors closer to home. To be sure, religion and the family determines the social forces that invariably pave the way for political developments. Until Americans come to grips with this historical truth, the threat of an all-powerful State will continue to loom as a menace with every election.

By cutting and pasting excerpts from Belloc's "Modern Phase", I spared the reader of having to read sections that are long and complicated. I believe the selected passages below will give the reader sufficient appreciation of his insights. It also happens to read smoothly.

After having read this, I am confident that America's crossroads will be better understood.

Excerpts from the Modern Phase:

Let us examine the Modern Attack (the anti-Christian advance) and distinguish its special nature. We find, to begin with, that it is at once materialist and superstitious.

There is here a contradiction in reason, but the modern phase, the anti-Christian advance, has abandoned reason. It is concerned with the destruction of the Catholic Church and the civilization preceding therefrom. It is not troubled by apparent contradictions within its own body so long as the general alliance is one for the ending of all that by which we have lived until now.

The modern attack is materialistic because in its philosophy it considers only material causes...Being atheistic, it is characteristic of the advancing wave that it repudiates the human reason. Such an attitude would seem again to be a contradiction in terms; for if you deny the value of human reason, if you say that we cannot- through our reason -arrive at any truth, then not even the affirmation so made can be true. Nothing can be true, and nothing is worth saying.

But that great Modern Attack (which is more than a heresy) is indifferent to self-contradiction. It merely affirms. It advances like an animal, counting on strength alone. Indeed, it may be remarked in passing that this may well be the cause of its final defeat; for reason has always overcome its opponents; and man is the master of the beast through reason.

Anyhow, there you have the Modern Attack in its main character, materialist, and atheist; and, being atheist, it is necessarily indifferent to truth. For God is Truth.

But there is (as the greatest of the ancient Greeks discovered) a certain indissoluble Trinity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. You cannot deny or attack one of these three without at the same time denying or attacking both the others. Therefore with the advance of this new and terrible enemy against the Faith and all that civilization which the Faith produces, there is coming not only a contempt for beauty but a hatred of it; and immediately upon the heels of this there appears a contempt and hatred for virtue.

The better dupes, the less vicious converts to the enemy, talk vaguely of a "readjustment, a new world, a new order"; but they do not begin by telling us, as in common reason they should, upon what principles this new order is to be raised. They do not define the end they have in view.

Communism...professes to be directed towards a certain good, to wit, the abolition of poverty. But it does not tell you why this should be a good; it does not admit that its scheme is also to destroy other things which are also by the common consent of mankind good; the family, property (which is the guarantee of individual freedom and individual dignity), humor, mercy, and every form of what we consider right living.

Well, give it what name you like, call it as I do here "The Modern Attack," or as I think men will soon have to call it, "Anti-Christ," or call it by the temporary borrowed term of [progressivism] but it is not the revolt of the oppressed; it is not the rising of the proletariat against capitalist injustice and cruelty; it is something from without, some evil spirit taking advantage of men's distress and of their anger against unjust conditions.

Now that thing is at our gates. Ultimately, of course, it is the fruit of the original break-up of Christendom at the Reformation. It began in the denial of a central authority [i.e. the papacy], it has ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshipped as gods.

The Catholic observer would deny the possibility of the Church's complete extinction. But he must also follow historical parallels; he also must accept the general laws governing the growth and decay of organisms, and he must tend, in view of all the change that has passed in the mind of man, to draw the tragic conclusion that our civilization, which has already largely ceased to be Christian, will lose its general Christian tone altogether.

[With that said], the Church will not disappear, for the Church is not of mortal stuff; it is the only institution among men not subject to the universal law of mortality. Therefore we say, not that the Church may be wiped out, but that it may be reduced to a small band almost forgotten amid the vast numbers of its opponents and their contempt of the defeated thing.

Thus are we now in the presence of the most momentous question that has yet been presented to the mind of man. Thus are we placed at a dividing of the ways, upon which the whole future of our race will turn... The modern attack on the Faith (the latest and most formidable of all) has advanced so far that we can already affirm one all-important point quite clearly:

Of two things one must happen, one of two results must become definite throughout the modern world. Either the Catholic Church (now rapidly becoming the only place wherein the traditions of civilization are understood and defended) will be reduced by her modern enemies to political impotence, to numerical insignificance, and, so far as public appreciation goes, to silence; or the Catholic Church will, in this case as throughout the past, react more strongly against her enemies than her enemies have been able to react against her; she will recover and extend her authority, and will rise once more to the leadership of civilization which she made, and thus recover and restore the world.

In a word, either we of the Faith shall become a small persecuted neglected island amid mankind, or we shall be able to lift at the end of the struggle the old battle-cry, "Christus Imperat!" [translated: Christ rules!]

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tough Love to a King: And the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

Reposting for the feast day of St. John the Baptist's martyrdom:

Honoring a Decapitated Man:

August 29 marks the feast day of the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Not many institutions celebrate the beheading of men. And for many, this celebration carried out by the Catholic Church may seem morbid. Obviously, what Catholics are called to commemorate is not the beheading of a man, per say, but the moral courage which led to it. It is a testimony that there are more important things in life than even life itself. And if the more important things in life such as the sanctity of marriage are compromised, then social decorum and diplomacy must be set aside to make things right. Indeed, there are times when the hardcore truth in all of its rudeness and abrasiveness must be applied; and in public, if necessary.

Recall that St. John the Baptist publicly confronted King Herod, not on national policy, but on the importance of something which escapes many politicians. This rustic prophet of the desert gave voice to the unlawfulness of a marriage that King Herod contracted with his brother’s wife. But as Bishop Fulton Sheen said, this prophet loved Herod too much to let the matter drop. Indeed, he loved his king too much to leave the sin of adultery unprobed and undiagnosed. And he certainly knew that the consequences could very well be life threatening. It was no surprise to St. John the Baptist, it's safe to assume, that Kind Herod and Herodias didn’t like being criticized.

Weakness of a King:

Interestingly, however, the adulterous king was impressed with the outspoken Saint. There was something about St. John that appealed to him. But as one who was attached to his political power, the righteousness of St. John the Baptist was not enough to make Herod a good man. Worse yet, it was not enough to make him repent. But, unlike his father who killed scores of babies in Bethlehem when his throne was threatened by the prophecy of the new born Messiah, "Herod junior" was ambivalent; he didn’t want to act in haste like his father did. Rather, like all weak men, he hovered in the middle; hoping that the voice of his conscience would be muted.

Still, the king's wife, Herodias, knew how to harbor a grudge. When she took offense at what the Baptist said to her husband- which implied that she too was an in an unlawful marriage -her grudge turned into vengeance. And when her husband, King Herod, promised to give her daughter anything she wanted after having danced for him and his court, Herodias seized the opportunity! Unlike her husband, she acted decisively. She told her daughter to request the head of the Baptist. Like Pilate who knew that Christ was innocent when charged with treason, King Herod too knew that St. John the Baptist did not deserve the execution. Nevertheless, he carried out his daughter’s wish.

St. John the Baptist would be the first among many Saints under the New Covenant to die for having told the truth. Yet, just as the Holy Spirit filled him and sanctified him in his mother's womb, that same Spirit inspired a premonition as to his imminent imprisonment and martyrdom.

To Decrease and Fade:

One day on the shores of the river Jordan, St. John the Baptist had gazed upon the long awaited Messiah. Israel had waited centuries for this moment. To be sure, things were about to get exciting; at least for the Apostles and the disciples who would accompany Jesus Christ for the next three and a half years! But as for the Baptist, he was called to fade into the step aside. Pointing to Jesus, he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Soon thereafter, the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah would be imprisoned. And within the dark dungeon of his cell, he would hear all of the stories about Jesus: the miracles, the teachings and so much more. Yet, probably more painful than being beheaded was the fact that he could not accompany the Lord during his public ministry; the very Messiah that he worked so hard to "prepare the way" for. But God had preordained that the Baptist would sit on the sidelines, so to speak. This dying to self- this submission to "decrease" while Jesus increased -would prepare St. John for his martyrdom. It was probably a very hard thing to do.

The Impoliteness of Love:

The Catholic Church not only honors St. John the Baptist the man, but she holds up his witness for all to see. Yet, not only is his martyrdom recalled by the Church on August 29, but what is especially meaningful to us today is what led to his martyrdom. Out love for King Herod and the countless souls who would be influenced by the sin of adultery, the Baptist spoke up! He drew attention to the very thing that undermines kingdoms and nations; and that something is the breakdown of marriage. Out of love for souls, this prophet from the desert didn't spare the feelings of a king. He had to speak the truth. But in order to do this, he had to be willing to decrease- to die to his self. And in dying to himself, he gained that which gave him strength during the long days in the imprisonment, namely, a foretaste of heaven! For pious souls, even prisons can be a kind of retreat house where Christ can be encountered.

The Church holds his example up for all to see because it is worthy of imitation. Hopefully, it still has the power to inspire members of the Catholic Church- both clergy and laity alike -to give this kind of witness before state leaders, the rich, and even celebrities. For St. John the Baptist,  the circumstances required a public confrontation. To whisper a warning to the king behind closed doors was not an option.

Today, we might call this "tough love" but it was the kind of love King Herod needed at the time. And it is the kind of love that many Catholics and non-Catholics need in the twenty-first century need.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Knowing Your Bad

Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that part of the reason why some kids are cute is because they do not know they are cute. But once they do know that they are cute, they become brats!

There is a spiritual law that bears much similarity to the cuteness factor of children. It goes something like this: The more one sins, the less one knows that he is a sinner. Try correcting a narcissist; you'll see. On the other hand, the holier one becomes, the less he knows it. It's the easiest thing in the world to correct a Saint.

It’s funny. The Saints believed themselves to be the biggest sinners, but yet, they were good men and women...really good! From the sound of some of them one might get the impression that they were insincere when they said how bad they were. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, would often declare himself the greatest of sinners to his friars. Perhaps, he took his cue from St. Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15) How is it that the Saints came to these this conclusion?

At the very least, there seems to be an air of false humility with these self-deprecating statements. After all, they had to know that they were good; especially when so many people flocked around them because of their holiness. The question is: Did they not know that they possessed some goodness or some virtue? Answer: Certainly they did! They were quite capable of seeing God’s goodness even in themselves.

But here is the crux of the spiritual law: When a soul opens itself to God, His light shines upon the good and the bad with greater intensity. As for the former, the Saint, no doubt, sees the good but does not take credit for it. Whether it be a virtue, skill or knowledge attained, it ultimately can be traced back to God’s goodness. They see it as a gift from their Creator.

Perhaps, this is why celebrities have such a hard time being happy. How many casualties has Hollywood produced? As one documentary put it, Hollywood has created just as many casualties (i.e. celebrities who either burned out or lost their lives prematurely) as stars. Why is this? Because “stars” are surrounded by yes-men; that is, they have an entourage of people telling them how great they are. And to add insult to injury, the celebrities end up believing it. They take credit for too much.

As for the bad in us, one of the greatest gifts of drawing closer towards Christ- in addition to getting to know Him better –is self-knowledge. With grace, there is light; and with light, the brutal facts about the self are exposed. Once exposed, however, the Lord gives us the strength to struggle against ourselves; to take on those shortcomings and vices that make us imperfect and unhappy. Indeed, to conquer self is the greatest of all conquests. Still, with divine grace flowing through the soul, the sinner knows that he has not yet arrived. He has more work to do.

In prayer, therefore, finding fault with the self in the presence of God is liberating! This way, when others find fault with us or accuse us of some misdeed (justly or unjustly), we are that much "less" likely to lose our peace and be defensive. As the abbot, St. Dorotheus, once said:

“The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man…[T]he reason for all disturbance, if we look to its roots, it that no one finds fault with himself. This is the reason why we become angry and upset, why we sometimes have no peace in our soul. We should not be surprised, since holy men have taught us that there is no other path to peace but this.”

Skillful Strokes from the Craftsman

"To desire God's glory is excellent, but to desire and pray for it without resolving to suffer all things is both foolish and extravagant...Be careful that you do not cause the hammer to recoil when it strikes you; respect the chisel that is carving you and the hand that is shaping you.

It may be that this skillful and loving Craftsman wants you to have an important place in his eternal edifice, or to be one of the most beautiful works of art in his heavenly kingdom.

So let him do what he pleases; he loves you, he knows what he is doing, he has had experience. His strokes are skillful and directed by love; not one will miscarry unless your impatience makes it do so."

St. Louis de Monfort, A letter to the Friends of the Cross

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Movie 2016: Which Dreams Will We Pursue?


The aim of Sky View is to put into practice what has been traced out by the Second Vatican Council. In the pastoral constitution, “On the Church in the Modern World,” her mission was restated: “The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other.” Questions about this present life inevitably touch upon politics. And the signs the Church is duty bound to interpret (to interpret in a non-partisan but not necessarily non-political manner) involve those issues that are bound up with the State. Although the importance of politics is often exaggerated, nevertheless, it does affect the spiritual welfare of souls and the nation itself.

2016: Obama’s America

Enter the movie, "2016: Obama’s America." This is a story about the background, the career, the beliefs and the presidency of Barack Obama. It happens to be presented through the eyes of the best-selling author of “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” Dinesh D’Souza. He provides an unconventional look at the 44th president of the United States. His insights are, by no means, typically partisan. Incidentally, D’Souza’s bears some similarity to Barack Obama’s upbringing. Although president Obama’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was a native of Kenya in Africa and Dinesh D’Souza’s father was a native of India, both dads had anti-colonial views.

Now, many people do not know much about colonialism. In short, it is typically defined as the system or policy by which a Western nation such as Britain or America maintains control or influence over a third world country. The bulk of colonial expansion took place during the 20th century in Africa, Asia, the Middle and the Far East. To be sure, there are legitimate grievances against colonialism and its abuses. But on the converse, many blessings came with colonialism such as the preaching of the Gospel.

For instance, in his book, "What’s So Great About Christianity," Dinesh D’Souza writes the following about the Christianization of Africa: “A century ago, less than 10 percent of Africa was Christian. Today, it is nearly 50 percent. That is an increase from 10 million people in 1900 to more than 350 million today.” As for myself, having become friends with Catholics from Nigeria and Burundi, I do know that the Catholic Faith has greatly increased their standard of living. More importantly, the missionary efforts of the 20th century by the Church led scores of Africans to Christ. A man by the name of Egide, who had fled to America during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, said this about his new beginning:

“Not only the Bible and the New Life in Christ were introduced, but access to modern life was offered. On a personal level, the Catholic Education (both in elementary and secondary) meant experiencing a new life with a path to prosperity. It meant the only way that guarantied the breaking the vicious cycle of poverty in my family. Suddenly, the world view changed in many ways. The hills of the sunrise and the sunset were no longer the limits of the world.”

Nevertheless, to anti-colonialists, the benefit Christianity had brought to Africa is immaterial. Missionaries who spread the Gospel were guilty by association...association to the Western political powers that dominated unwilling African subjects. Perhaps, this association of Catholic missionaries (or Catholicism itself) to colonialism in Africa is why the Obama administration is acting aggressively towards the Catholic Church in 2012. Although the movie 2016 did not give a lot of attention to this, still, it could be that the anti-colonial cause is inspired the HHS mandate.

In any event, the president’s father, Barack Sr., was a Kenyan senior governmental economist who sought to reset the balance of political power and prosperity by embracing communism (more on that later). To complicate matters, Stanley Ann Dunham, young Barak’s mother, painted a rosy picture of Barack Sr. in his absence (keep in mind that Barak Jr. only saw his father once when he was 10 years of age). But the problem with this mythic rosy picture of his father was that it had inspired in our future president a love for what his father stood for. Still, even up to the time of his father’s death in 1982, Barack Obama had only a vague notion of what his father was really like. He would later say, “At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me, both more and less than a man.”

The difference between Dinesh and President Obama is that the former was able to make distinctions between the rule and the exception to the rule; whereas the latter did not. For Dinesh D’Souza, the rule was that the Christian West introduced morally superior standards into third world countries; including his beloved India where he grew up. In another book he authored, "What’s So Great About America," D’Souza speaks to the blight of America’s history of slavery and the positive side that rarely gets mentioned in political discourse. Indeed, he puts America's practice of slavery into perspective for his anti-colonialist’s readers. He said, “Never in the history of the world, outside of the West, has a group of people eligible to be slave owners mobilized against the institution of slavery...descendants of African slaves owe their freedom to the exertions of white strangers, not to the people of Africa who betrayed them and sold them.”

Yes, colonialism had many sins to answer for. But there was a bigger context to consider. And unlike his own father and grandfather, Dinesh was able to work past their grievances and see that the good outweighed the bad. But President Obama comes to a different conclusion about colonialism in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father." Burdened with a kind of identity crisis, he had come to sympathize and even embrace his father’s anti-colonial cause. He writes,

“I saw that my life in America — the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago — all of it was connected with this small plot of earth [his father's burial ground in Kenya] an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain I felt was my father's pain. My questions were my brothers' questions. Their struggle, my birthright.”

The question is: What was his father’s pain? In a 1965, Obama Sr. wrote an article in the East Africa Journal called "Problems Facing Our Socialism." One can infer from this article that he sees “state appropriation of wealth as a necessary means to achieve the anti-colonial objective of taking resources away from the foreign looters and restoring them to the people of Africa.”

The movie 2016 does a good job of informing the viewer that this "pain" the president was referring to has something to do with his father’s quest to restore the resources to the people of Africa and to other third world nations. To use Obama Sr. own words: "We need to eliminate power structures that have been built through excessive accumulation so that not only a few individuals shall control a vast magnitude of resources as is the case now… theoretically there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100% of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed."

And this is precisely where we can ask the second question. What "struggle" was the president’s birthright? And how might this be carried out? D’Souza concludes that it is the anti-colonialist struggle. This, no doubt, requires a mandate to make things right through the power of the State. Like father, like son. This is why it is a mistake to say that President Obama is fashioned in the likeness of a soft, benevolent European socialist. He is not. Obama is not inspired by the self-loathing of European secularism and socialism. Rather, his views are more closely akin to Latin American socialism, which is more heavy-handed and driven by a strong animus towards the West. In fact, one could say that he has been shaped and formed by the Marxism of Black Liberation Theology. Rev. Jeremiah Wright and theologian James Cone were two of his strongest influences.

What is easy to miss is that the drive that inspires this struggle is not propelled by a love for something as it is an aversion towards someone or some people. In this case, it would seem the aversion is directed towards the foreign “looters” of the West. And what better way to make necessary restitutions than through the instrumentation of political power. This is where socialism and communism come in. These ideologies are borne from both hatred and envy. It may explain the underlying motive of many of the Obama administration’s policy decisions. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said in his book, "Communism and the Conscience of the West:"

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

Probably the most important contribution of the movie, "2016: Obama’s America" is that it zeroes in on what many conservative commentators fail to mention; and that is, the importance the family has on our future leaders. Indeed, D'Souza's analysis transcends conventional political views by drawing attention to global and historic considerations (something that many Americans are not interested in) as well as the importance of a healthy father-son relationship.

The author of "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville, was quite familiar with the French Revolution and the godless revolutionary spirit which inspired it. With all of the wealth of insights he provides about democracy in his book, he, nevertheless, takes time to write about the importance of the family. He maintains that for any given individual, instability at home will inevitably overflow into society. He writes,

“To despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasures of home, is to contract a taste for excesses, and the evil of fluctuating desires. Agitated by the tumultuous passions which frequently disturb his dwelling, the European is galled by the obedience which the legislative powers of the State exact...While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order he afterwards carries with him into public affairs.”

Barack Obama Jr., the current president of these United States, not only suffered from having to endure an absentee father, but his mother, at an early age, sent him away, forcing him to live with his grandmother. As indicated, Mr. Obama had to cope with feelings of anger and abandonment. To add insult to injury, his parents were greatly influenced by anti-colonial and communistic views. As such, it can be said that even before being left out in the cold by his parents, our president was exposed to their ideological hatred and anger against the so-called oppressors from the West. The apple does not fall far from the tree. In his childhood confusion, President Barack Obama failed to see the errors of his father. Instead, he had pledged to take up his cause. And if he should be re-elected, his father's cause will be more fully implemented.

The ultimate question, therefore, that the Dinesh D'Souza leaves us at the end of the movie "2016: Obama's America," is this: Which dreams will we pursue, the dreams of Obama's father or the dreams of our Founding Fathers? The choice is ours. But let there be no doubt: The two dreams that are held out before us could not be more diametrically opposite to one another!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Loved ones and lost souls

Feast day of St. Monica: August 27th
Feast day of St. Augustine: August 28th

In honor of these two great Saints and so as to give hope to those who are praying for the salvation of a friend, family member or acquaintance, "Loved ones and Lost Souls" is being reposted.

Through the saved, God very often searches for the lost. Loved ones of lost souls are the means by which the Good Shepherd finds his lost sheep.

This couldn't be truer for St. Monica who, in the fourth century, followed her son, Augustine Aurelius, all the way to Milan, Italy from her home in northern Africa. At the time, St. Augustine was pursuing a career in teaching rhetoric. He didn’t particularly like her tagging along, so he tried to find ways to lose her. However, she was determined to track her oldest son down so that he could be won over to Christ.

In his youth, St. Augustine was an intellectual who was given over to false beliefs about God and the world. He was also a worldly and sensual man; as such, he did not have any scruples about “shacking up” with his lover. Living the wild life, he presumed the Lord’s patience by praying, “God, make me chaste…but not yet.” As one might expect, a baby came from this out-of-wedlock union. The boy was given the name, Adeodatus. St. Augustine, being the wayward son that he was, would be the source of sorrow for his saintly mother.

Mother Theresa once told a friend of mine that for those souls who need to be saved from moral and spiritual darkness- such as prostitution and drug addiction -a price needs to be paid. Jesus said as much to the disciples wheb they failed to exorcise a man possessed with demons: "But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” St. Monica, in her mystical union with the Lord, needed to pay the price for her son Augustine. It can be said, she “carried about in her heart the dying of Jesus.” (cf. II Cor. 4:10) What was true for St.Monica is true for every Christian. And that is, "Christ's sufferings overflow to us."(I Cor 1:5) His Passion does not render our sacrifices null and void. On the contrary, Jesus suffered for sinners so that we could suffer for sinners. Augustine’s soul was purchased with his mother’s tears; and those tears were mingled with the blood of Christ.

St. Monica, however, was given some relief through a dream she had. It would seem that her prayers were heard. In the book, Confessions, St. Augustine relates the following about what would turn out to be a prophetic dream of his mother:

“She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule [a measuring rod which symbolized the rule of Faith], and coming towards her a young man, splendid, joyful and smiling upon her, although she grieved and was crushed with grief. When he asked her the reason for her sorrow and her daily tears- he asked, as is the custom, not for the sake of learning but for the sake of teaching –she replied that she lamented for my perdition. Then he bade her to rest secure and instructed her that she should attend and see that where she was, there was I also. And when she looked there she saw me standing on the same rule.”

Soon thereafter, St. Monica arrived in Milan only to join the company of a great bishop, St. Ambrose. She sought his counsel and how she might save her son from the erroneous sect called Manichaeism. In response, Bishop Ambrose said to her, “Only pray to the Lord on his behalf. He will find out by reading what the character of that error is and how great is its impiety.” She then implored the saintly bishop to talk to Augustine. But St. Ambrose refused. He said to St. Monica that her son needed to be willing to talk to him; that a conversation about the Faith should not be imposed or forced. Nevertheless, she persisted, with tears flowing, in asking the same favor over and over again. Finally, St. Ambrose grew annoyed and said, “Go away from me now! As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” (That’s right. Saints get annoyed too). In any case, instead of getting offended, St. Monica took it as a sign from heaven that her prayers and sacrifices would pay off.

Those words of the saintly bishop would redound in her heart. "It is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” The tears of St. Monica were the anointing applied to St. Augustine's soul before his sins were wiped clean from the waters of baptism. When a son or daughter strays from Christ, sometimes the tears of a mother make up for the lack of tears we ought to have for our own sins.

As for St. Monica, her perseverance paid off. To make a long story short, St. Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, entered the Catholic Church in the year 387 A.D. After being initiated into his new life with Christ, he became Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa. He would go on to lay the cornerstone of Western Civilization with his sanctity and theology. To be sure, St. Augustine is considered one of the most important Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church. All this was made possible by a mother who did not give up.

On her deathbed, St. Monica glanced at her son and said, "Remember me at the altar." It just so happened that prayers for her soul in purgatory were unnecessary; for she did not go there. Instead, her intercession would be invoked by the Church in subsequent years.

On earth, St. Monica traveled many miles so that she could follow her son, St. Augustine, so that he might find eternal life. But in the year 430 A.D., St. Augustine followed his mother to heaven.

Throughout the centuries, these two great Saints became benefactors for those parents whose children had walked away from Christ and His Church. God counted the tears of St. Monica and they added up. What God did in the fourth century for St. Monica, He could do for twenty-first century parents who find themselves in similar circumstances.

Getting great names in the ballot-box

A Buss and Shackelford study claimed that 30 to 60 percent of all married individuals have, at one time, engaged in infidelity. As with celebrities, politicians are the cream of the crop when it comes to relaxing moral standards. Some members of the media would have us believe that the adultery rate is even higher than 60 percent among U.S. congressman. Perhaps this is why term limits are so unpopular on Capitol Hill. Going to Washington D.C. is like going to college.

Unfortunately, the moral integrity of politicians rarely rises above the citizenry. Indeed, men and women who occupy the offices of civil authority are but a mirror of the people who put them there. However, every now and then a political ruler does rise up above the popular tone of character and virtue. This happens especially during times of national distress or even danger. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, after having visited America, that people have a knack for finding men who might save them when their nation’s survival is at stake. He said,

“When a State is threatened by serious dangers, the people frequently succeeds in selecting its citizens who are the most able to save it. It has been observed that man rarely retains his customary level in the presence of very critical circumstances; he rises above or sinks below his usual condition, and the same thing occurs in nations at large…At those dangerous times genius no longer abstains from presenting itself in the arena; and the people, alarmed at the perils its situation, buries its envious passions in short oblivion. Great names may be then drawn from the ballot-box.”

In 1831-32, when Tocqueville visited America, he noted that the political leaders of that time period hardly compared to the Founder Fathers of 1776. After all, fifty years prior to his visit, the nation’s independence was at stake. As of 2012, however, the American people have yet to arrive at the critical realization Tocqueville refers to. That is to say, even though the United States of America is at a critical juncture in her history, we have yet to “rise above our usual condition.” Although Americans have selected some men and women of genius and of character, more great names are needed in the ballot-box.

Yet, this is where the Catholic Church comes in...or can come in. As it stands, she can begin by teaching her own- churchgoers in the pew -about how socially liberally values (especially when embraced by their leaders), such as the practice of adultery, inevitably leads to public policies that are hostile to liberty and prosperity. There is a great need for the ministry of teaching about the relationship between religion, morality and freedom. Tocqueville said, “Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all of its battles and triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.” If the American people are not comfortable with electing leaders who openly favor the virtue of chastity, who oppose same-sex marriage and who condemn, unequivocally, the practice of abortion, then our nation will conform itself to the likeness of Detroit.

Given the clear situation of Detroit, it is a true marvel that its people put into office- over and over and over again –political leaders who run that city into the ground. It is even more curious that citizens of Detroit have not understood that those very politicians who would undermine marriages and families with their socially liberal values also chip away at the city’s prosperity with their public policies. Moral or social values cannot be separated from the dismal political policies that are sure to follow. Detroit is America’s future if the Church does not assume an active role in teaching about the relationship between religion, morality and freedom. Only by doing this can "great names can be drawn from the ballot-box."

I'll leave the reader with these sobering statistics. According to Mike Brownfield at The Foundry, “The once-great city lost 237,493 residents over the last decade according to the 2010 Census, bringing it to 713,777 – a population plunge of 25%. That’s its lowest population since 1910, and it marks the city’s fall from a 1950s peak of two million, over 60%. And that’s just the people who can afford to leave.” William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal writes: “Michigan today is not a struggling state like California or New Jersey or even Wisconsin. It is a basket case, with worse to come if things do not change quickly—especially in the relation of the public to the private sector.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making the faith stick through social ties

One day, as I was listening to the radio, a concerned mother called in to a Catholic radio show with a concern. She said that although her family prays the rosary on a regular basis, her high school daughter was being “lost” to some very important issues such as same-sex marriage. In other words, her daughter had begun to drift to a more secular understanding of marriage. Her little girl just could not bring herself to accept the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. It also happened that the high school the caller’s daughter attended was a public school. Moreover, by the sound of the call, it seemed as though the family did not have the support of a Catholic social life. Like many Catholics, the caller’s family was without that needed social reinforcement.

Over the last fifty years or so there has been developing, ever so slowly, a Catholic subculture amid the larger secular society we live in. Catholics are becoming increasingly aware that simply attending Mass on Sundays, or even children attending Catholic schools, is insufficient in transmitting the Faith from one generation to the next. This awareness has been brought about, in part, through some imbalances that have yielded unfavorable results in the life of the Church.

For instance, in the first half of the 20th century the prevailing attitude was that children were to be seen and not heard. There were some advantages to this, especially when it came to discipline and order. However, this kind of authoritarianism was unable to withstand the cultural upsurge of Rock & Roll in the 1950’s coupled with the Sexual Revolution that followed a decade later. These two movements- very much intertwined –appealed to the imagination of the youth. In many respects, the young Baby Boom generation at the time- shaped by the entertainment industry -became a rival subculture of Christianity with its own beliefs and language. Unlike today, the Catholic Church did not have an answer for it. She could not offer an alternative culture for youth. None existed.

Although Catholic education was good in terms of doctrinal memorization, religious practice had become perfunctory in many quarters of the Church. For many families, Catholicism has been an institutional affair; a commitment of one hour a week, if that. It is no wonder, then, that when the children came of age and went away to college, they lost their faith. It was as if the youth had rebelled against a religion which demanded so much of them in terms of morality but required so little of their time in terms of prayer, worship and spiritual exercises. The incentive and strength simply wasn’t there to live out the life of Christ. Indeed, when Catholicism is reduced to a once a week ritual and thus ceases to be a 24/7 lifestyle, it is rejected by people of all ages.

Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, imbalances have shown themselves in religiously active families too. For instance, there are parents who, active in parish life, make the mistake of neglecting to spend time with their children; thus failing to develop friendships with them through the ordinary activities. Parents who are constantly engaged in parish life and are always away from home quite often cause resentment in their children. It is important to remember that a non-religious activity such as fishing or playing soccer is every bit as important as bible studies and youth group events. Both are advantageous for a child’s spiritual development. Indeed, God is in the soccer field too.

To illustrate this point, a Catholic priest by the name of St. John Bosco (1800’s) once asked a question of three boys who were playing soccer. He stopped them to engage them in a conversation. He then asked, “If you knew that you were going to die in three weeks, what would you do?” The first boy said, “I would go immediately to the chapel and pray.” The second boy echoed the same sentiments. But the third boy said, “I would continue playing soccer.” It just so happened that the third boy was St. Dominic Savio. As a young Saint, he understood that playing soccer was consistent with his salvation; this, because he “saw” God on the soccer field. A Catholic social life helps us to do this very thing.

The Faith is best transmitted from one generation to the next, not only through education and the initiation into the Sacraments, but through a Catholic social life as well. This latter component is vital. Indeed, friends that are rooted in a mutual love for Christ are one of the greatest gifts the Lord can bestow upon us. They run deep and can last forever. The more Christian friends we have, the more likely we are to remain firmly rooted in the Faith.

In his book, The Triumph of Christianity, Rodney Starks studied the growth of early Christianity. Although there is certainly more to it than what he says here, he concludes that conversions are multiplied through the channels of social ties. To this end, Starks said, “[C]onversion is primarily an act of conformity. But then, so is nonconversion. In the end it is a matter of the relative strength of social ties pulling the individual toward or away from a group.” And then he adds, “People tend to convert to a religious group when their social ties to members outweigh their ties to outsiders who might oppose the conversion, and this often occurs before a convert knows much about what the group believes.” As for the early Christians, the Church “spread as ordinary people accepted it and then shared it with their families and friends, and the faith was carried from one community to another in this same way- probably most often as regular travelers as merchants.” By the year 250 A.D., there were at least one million Christians. From there, the growth of Christianity hastened.

What Rodney Starks calls to our attention is a great challenge for the Catholic Church in the 21st century; at least in the West. When a Catholic culture, subculture or social environment is weak, transmission of the Faith is weak and is likely to flounder. A Catholic subculture or a Catholic social life helps us to see that God is involved in every aspect of life. However, seeing God in this way does not necessitate that all of our activities be “religious” per say. Obviously, there are a lot of religiously neutral occupations worth pursuing. To be sure, they offer opportunities of contact between believers and nonbelievers. Although Christian themes are not absolutely necessary, they are very important nevertheless.

A Catholic social life can include, but is not limited to, going to movies, listening to songs, reading literature, attending social events and engaging in discussions that have Christian themes. With this, St. Paul’s exhortation can truly have a practical effect in our lives: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) A Catholic social life, in turn, is best reinforced by a Catholic family life. The latter can be carried out by simply saying grace before meals (even in restaurants), praying the rosary before bedtime, discussing Sunday’s Scripture readings and just as important, watching the news and other secular television programs with a Christian eye, discussing what is consistent with Gospel values.

All of this, if taken out of context, can seem overwhelming to a Catholic who is used to keeping his faith to himself. Some consider that anything more than nightly prayers and Sunday Mass attendance is cultish. But the bottom line is this: The transmission of the Catholic Faith is very difficult without a Catholic social life. With that said, the best reason to be Catholic is to know, love and follow Christ. A personal relationship with Christ is the most important relationship to have. But when this relationship is surrounded by other social relationships that are Christ-centered, so much the better. The Faith is more likely "to stick" and even prosper. This is why our Lord founded a Church. After all, we are more than just individuals; we are social beings!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Half of Mens Confessions: The struggle to live chastely

Reposting for souls who need a word of encouragement in their struggle against lust and porn addiction.

Half of Men’s Confessions:

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

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

Man’s Greatest Strength:

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

Love Chastity: Hate Lust

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

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

Practical Considerations:

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

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

3. This leads to our third consideration: During the temptation, be severe with yourself. As stated above, remind yourself of the cost of lust and its false promises. Keep in mind that lust or sexual temptation promises more than it can deliver. Other than female slaves and prostitutes, there is not a respectable woman in the world who is willing to cooperate with every sexual desire or whim a man might have. For most men- even married men, easy access to sex is forever out of reach. The appetite of hunger, on the other hand, can be much more easily satisfied. When a McDonald’s commercial stimulates hunger, a man can drive down to the nearest McDonald’s and buy some cheap food. But when sexually explicit images awaken a man’s libido, it cannot be readily satisfied. This is why discipline is needed.

Just as important as being severe with yourself before the act or misdeed, it is equally important to be mindful of God's mercy and His peace after the act or misdeed has been committed. If you fall from grace by giving into lust- in whatever way –do not berate yourself. Peacefully pick yourself up, confess your sins and make the proper amends not to do it again. Remember God’s mercy is greater than your sin.

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

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

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

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

The Queen of Hearts

When the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph presented the child Jesus in the Temple, St. Simeon, evidently a Jewish priest, joyfully received this long awaited Messiah into his hands. But from his joy, a prophetic utterance came forth from his mouth. It was a message for Mary, the Mother of God. If you read Luke chapter 2, you should notice that St. Simeon does not address this prophecy to St. Joseph. After all, by the time Jesus would begin his public ministry St. Joseph is believed to have already passed away.

In any case, this prophecy concerning Mary does not only pertain to her suffering and grief as the Mother of Sorrows, but it also speaks to the redemptive effects which followed. St. Simeon prophesied, in addition to the Christ being a "sign of contradiction," that the Mother of the Christ will have something to do with hearts being revealed. Christ the King, that is, the Son of God who will inherit the nations (cf. Psalm 2), will judge the living and the dead. But His judgment will not take place without the participation of Mary, Queen of heaven and earth.

Interestingly, the phrase “many hearts being revealed” in Scripture has something to do with Judgment Day. St. Paul makes reference to this when he wrote the Corinthians: "Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God." (I Corinthians 4:5) Elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke our Lord speaks of this grand exposure of thoughts, words, and deeds. He said, "There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3) Adding to this, St. Hilary, an early Father of the Church, understood the word “sword” as God’s Word on Judgment Day. He argued that the sword that pierced Mary shall dissect and lay open the hearts of men. This is the force of the words from the book of Revelation about Christ, “And from His mouth there went forth a sharp two-edged sword.”

This prophecy of St. Simeon concerning the Blessed Virgin, therefore, tells us that by Christ's redemptive sacrifice on the Cross- and through the piercing of her soul -the children of light and children of darkness will be separated for all eternity. The former will be given their reward whereas the latter will be punished. Indeed, from this passage of Luke 2:33-35, we can infer that Mary will be very much a part of Christ's Second Coming when God's mercy and justice will be meted out for one last time.

Down through the ages the Saints have taught that a fervent devotion to Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, is a sign of predestination! As such, hearts that are favorably disposed to her will undoubtedly be hearts acceptable to the King.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Al Smith Dinner and the Big Dinner

Diplomacy and civility have its place in public discourse to be sure. More than any other institution on earth, the Catholic Church prefers peaceful negotiations over conflict. Nevertheless, this same Church holds up Saints and Pastors as models of virtue and heroism, models worthy of imitation. Chief among them are the Apostles, the Church Fathers and the martyrs who, down through the ages, bore witness to the Gospel. And if their sanctity tells us anything, it is that the means of diplomacy and civility are to be exercised up to a point. But by no means are they to be made an absolute. Indeed, under certain circumstances they cease to be virtues. The pastors of old knew that the Church was not only an agent of peace and brotherhood, but, as with her Founder, was a “sign of contradiction” as well.

On August 14, 2012 Cardinal Timothy Dolan issued a response to critics across the nation who were troubled over the President Obama’s invitation to the Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner; due to be celebrated this year on October 18, just two weeks before the presidential election. Cardinal Dolan made the case that this invitation can be justified on four fronts. In short, they are the following:

First, the Al Smith Dinner is an occasion for a non-partisan conversation. Second, the purpose of the Al Smith Dinner is to show the best of our country and our Church in an evening of “friendship, civility and patriotism.” Third, this occasion demonstrates the Church’s willingness to engage and dialogue with those who disagree with her. And finally, contrary to what some critics have expressed, giving an invitation to President Obama is not a slackening in the U.S. Bishops vigorous promotion of values; rather, it is a gesture of solidarity in which both Church and political leaders “assemble on behalf of poor women and their babies, born and unborn, in a spirit of civility and respect.”

Before moving forward, it is worth mentioning from the outset that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as the president of the USCCB, is in the unenviable position of having to respond to political leaders who are exercising coercive measures against the Church, as in the case of the H.H.S. mandate. Having to balance the interests of the Church and, at the same time, being attentive to the spiritual welfare of souls is a daunting task. On the other hand, members of the Catholic media have to weigh, on a daily basis, the pros and cons of being a diligent observer and an honest commentator along with the responsibility of being reverential and obedient to their spiritual fathers. This too can be difficult.

It is helpful, therefore, to know that the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church issues the following directive as it pertains to the laity: “By reason of the knowledge, competence or pre-eminence which they have the laity are empowered- indeed sometimes obliged –to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church.” But just as important, “Nor should they fail to commend to God in their prayers those who have been placed over them…”

The Catholic Church is at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. The responsibilities weigh heavy on both the clergy and laity. With great cause for concern, the lay faithful are not only praying for their spiritual leaders but have insisted that they emulate those saintly pastors the Church holds up as models; models such as the Apostles and the Church Fathers. As she increasingly becomes the target of discrimination and coercion by the government, her leaders still assume the role of diplomats over that of watchmen. Or to put it another way, many U.S Bishops favor dialogue, almost exclusively so, over the traditional missionary approach of pastoral discipline.

It is interesting to note, however, that the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults teaches that evangelization through dialogue is just one way to preach the Gospel. It reads: “The Church has received from Christ the mandate to make him known to all people. She does this in many ways. Dialogue is one way, but another way is the missionary activity of the Church.” Still, one would think that from observing the pastoral practices of the last fifty years or so, dialogue is the only way!

With that said, there are some who are suggesting that a change is in order. For instance, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, then-bishop Bridgeport, Connecticut, addressed the General Assembly of Bishops on November 16, 2011. The topic was religious liberty. By recalling the words from Ezekiel, he called upon his brother bishops to be watchmen: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 33:7) A watchman, as Pope St. Gregory the Great said, is a preacher who always stands on a height so that he can see from afar to see if there are any predators looming; not to invite them into the pasture, but to chase them out! After all, did not St. Paul say, “Do not be led astray: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’" (I Corinthians 15:33)

This is why the Lord admonishes the watchman in the book of Ezekiel to go above and beyond the norms of diplomacy: “If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” (33:8) If we but thumb through the pages of the bible and make our way into the New Testament, we should observe that the Apostles saw themselves as watchmen when faced with obstinate sinners. They too warned, with outspokenness, that to presume God’s mercy is to provoke His justice!

In fact, St. Paul instructed St. Timothy to “reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.” (I Timothy 5:20) He further published names of sinners; namely, Hymenaeus and Alexander. (I Timothy 1:20) And, if that weren’t stern enough, he wrote to the Corinthians to not associate with immoral people, telling the elders of the church to purge such people from their midst. (cf. I Corinthians 5:9-13)

Now, at first sight, St. Paul’s admonition seems to conflict with the Lord’s practice of dinning with sinners. This example, reaching out to sinners, was cited by Cardinal Dolan as his rationale for inviting President Obama to the Al Smith Dinner. Jesus did indeed eat with sinners. But He did so with the clear purpose of calling them to repentance.

For instance, when Jesus did reach out to the tax collector, Zacchaeus, he- the tax collector -demonstrated a willingness to make amends for his past practices of extortion. And when the sinful woman anointed His feet at Simon’s house, our Lord did not hesitate to candidly reprove Simon for his self-righteous attitude. Publicly calling sinners to repentance, sometimes by name, was our Lord’s way of inviting souls to the most important dinner of all- the heavenly banquet! Recall the parable of the heavenly banquet. Jesus was brutally candid about the guest who attended the heavenly banquet without the white wedding garment. When the King entered the banquet hall and noticed that one guest was improperly dressed, He summarily dismissed the guest.

This is the point. Our Lord Jesus gave clear directives to the Apostles in His pastoral mandate (Matthew, chapter 18) of calling sinners to repentance so that they will be prepared for eternity. In so many words, He instructed the future bishops of the Church to dialogue with a brother who goes astray; warning him once or twice; if necessary, in the presence of one or two witnesses. To be sure, they are to begin with diplomacy. But there comes a point when dialogue and diplomacy runs its course.

That's right. There comes a point when an ongoing and indefinite conversation with obstinate sinners becomes a liability. This is why Jesus went to say this: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:17) That is, you, as a shepherd, are no longer dealing with an ignorant or even a repentant sinner; rather, you are dealing with an obstinate sinner who refuses to recognize the divine authority of the Church. As such, you are to treat him as an outsider!

The Fathers of the Church understood this well. Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, said, “[I]f he [the sinner] should still deny the charge he must be confronted publicly with the other witnesses so as to be convicted not by one mouth alone, but by many… Should he refuse to perform his penance, and has not departed of his own accord, he must be cast out of your society. Nor is such treatment cruel, but merciful, for many must not be suffered to perish by the pestilent example of one.”

Let us also learn from St. Ambrose of Milan, bishop of Milan and the spiritual mentor of St. Augustine. He publicly withstood Roman emperor Theodosius II at the cathedral door. It just so happened that the emperor had not yet repented from a serious sin. But after the saintly bishop pushed him away…away from the entrance, the Roman emperor yielded and did public penance.
This, I think, answers Cardinal Dolans question. In his response to his critics, he asked, “What message would I send if I refused to meet with the President?” Answer: The message he and others need to hear! That he is no friend of the Church if he coerces it to distribute contraception through her health insurances. And if he is no friend of the Church- and if he does not repent from his aggressive pro-choice and ant-Christian policies -the chances are good that he forfeits the privilege of wearing the white wedding garment for the biggest dinner of all- the heavenly banquet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mary and the arm of God

The “arm of God,” that masculine strength of the Almighty, is rarely given the emphasis it deserves. Bishop Fulton Sheen, in his Life is Worth Living television show, said that the problem with Christianity in Western Civilization is that it promotes Christ without a Cross; that is, Jesus is more often portrayed as an effeminate man who “pats little children on the head.” Our modern version of Christ would never drive out the sellers from the Temple; would never say anything against divorce; and would he would never stain his lips by mentioning hell. Sheen goes on to say that this sad characterization of Christ leaves men cold! without passion! and without zeal!

The softening of Jesus’ image also affected the way in which the Mother of God has been portrayed. James Cardinal Gibbons, in his 1889 book, Our Christian Heritage, saw the beginnings of this in the nineteenth century. He said, “It seems to me that some writers are disposed to lay undue stress on the amiable and tender qualities of Mary and of holy Christian women without dwelling sufficiently on the strong and robust points of their character, valor, courage and fortitude.”

Arguably, one of the most strong and robust points of Mary’s life is that of her bodily assumption into heaven. Just as Mary's conception was spared from Original Sin, so too at the evening of her life was her body spared from the consequence of that sin, namely, bodily corruption. Having been created outside of Satan's dominion and having lived a life of valor, courage and fortitude of the most perfect kind, Mary's body would not know the corruption of the grave. With this, she would come to be styled as the "Woman clothed with the Sun" by St. John in the book of Revelation; the one who would crush the head of the Serpent and lay to waste the Culture of Death.

This sacred and historical event is not only meant to inspire and rekindle our hope for eternal happiness; but it also contains a preview of good conquering evil in the final chapter of world history.

Our Lady, when recounting the marvels the Lord had bestowed on her in the Gospel of Luke, emphasized the masculine strength of God and what that strength would imply. She said,

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…”

Perhaps, what she had in mind was not only despotic emperors and kings of old, but dictatorships, totalitarian regimes and the cult of State that would characterize the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Could it be that the Blessed Virgin Mary who is so often depicted in art as effortlessly crushing the head of the Serpent will have a significant role to play in restoring what we fear is being lost forever, namely, Christian civilization?

In 1904, in a spirit of nostalgia, Pope St. Pius X recalled the public devotion Europeans once rendered unto the Mother of God. There was a time when whole cities and whole nations honored this Blessed Woman. In anticipating a future day when such public devotion would be renewed, St. Pius X said, “We must not omit to say that this desire of Ours is especially stimulated by a sort of secret instinct which leads Us to regard as not far distant the fulfillment of those great hopes…” This is the same pope who predicted World War I long before the rumors of war had surfaced.

Mary’s assumption into heaven points to a hope that St. Pius X “secret instinct” will be fulfilled in the "not far distant" future. To be sure, his “instinct” will have something to do with the masculine strength of the Lord in dispersing the proud of heart and casting down the powerful from their thrones. The irony is that God will use what appears to be a harmless little Jewish girl to provoke the Evil One; also referred in the New Testament as the "dragon."

In the book of Revelations, we are given a preview of that conflict: "[T]he dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus." (12:17) But it is Isaiah who wrote as if he had spoken to the dragon himself. In a derisive, triumphant tone, his monologue tips us off as to how the story will end:

"How have you fallen from the heavens, O morning star, son of the dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who mowed down the nations! You said in your heart: 'I will scale the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, in the recesses of the North. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!' Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit! When they see you they will stare, pondering over you: 'Is this the man who made the earth tremble, and kingdoms quake?'" (Isaiah 14:12-16)

Spiritual Combat Revisited

“The danger is not that adversities will overtake us, but that prosperity and comfort will.”

-Fr. Jonathan Robinson, Spiritual Combat Revisited

Spiritual Combat Revisited is a summary of the classic book The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli (1530-1610). The original, The Spiritual Combat, is an uncompromising account of the ascetical life. The book presupposes a moral and theological outlook that has largely faded into the background. This is why Fr. Jonathan Robinson has taken up the task of writing Spiritual Combat Revisited. It is an attempt to communicate spiritual wisdom and put it into contemporary language while retaining the substance and integrity of what Scupoli sought to advance.

Both books, The Spiritual Combat and Spiritual Combat Revisited, presuppose a basic spiritual law that has been largely forgotten: That our union with Christ and our road to heaven involves real combat- a real tension –a real conflict.

It began when Lucifer, an angel of light, waged war against God and then was cast down. The combat continued when Adam and Eve rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit. No longer securely under God’s reign, all of humankind became vulnerable to the influences of evil. Through this combat and tension, each soul belongs either to God or Satan. In the middle he or she stands.

Spiritual Combat Revisited is not designed to dramatize the spiritual life. It merely lays out forgotten fundamental truths. Among these truths is what is known as “first principles.” For instance, knowing the truth about God and ourselves is essential for spiritual progress. That God is all-powerful and holy, and that we are finite, sinful and helpless creatures in comparison, is an awareness that needs to permeate our consciousness. Without it, we fall into pride. Furthermore, it is impossible to arrive at true humility if we are ignorant of this first principle.

From here, we learn to completely trust in God. But even before this, given our human condition, is to distrust self. “Scupoli believes if we begin with confidence in God, we are all too liable to leave out the unpleasant part of the equation.” This is where humility is fostered. Too often we fail to consider the self-seeking motives of our behavior. To assuage this tendency, consecrated religious brothers and sisters renounce their will through obedience to their superior. For them, there is that check and balance. But as for us lay people, we have to find other ways to renounce our will, to be held accountable so as to make our will conform to faith and reason. This way, we avoid being subject to the fleeting nature of emotions and passions.

Fr. Robinson adds, “Buried deep within ourselves is a conviction that we are really not that bad.” For many, especially at first sight, this realization can seem at odds in all that we cherish in self esteem and optimism. However, this form of self abandonment is quite liberating. When we fall and do wrong we are at peace knowing that such imperfections are totally consistent with what we are. Far from being discouraged (which is not of God), we are given more reason to totally trust in God and his grace to make us better. It is easier, therefore, for the “self-conscious sinner” to apologize, to be the peacemaker and to move on after having floundered. And when applauded for virtue or some great achievement, he knows all too well that the Lord is the author of such goodness. Amid success, he can avoid an exaggerated sense of self. More than anyone else, he is at peace with himself. His hope is in the Lord.

This disposition of soul does not come automatically. St. Paul speaks of a kind of training that is useful for the good fight; one that requires work. He said, “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:27) Spiritual Combat Revisited puts the necessity of spiritual exercises and training in the following context:

“This is not so much an effort to build up a series of virtues; no doubt spiritual exercises should have that effect; but even more so, progress in spirituality is intensely personal; it means growing in a more intimate union with Christ.” Fr. Robinson goes on to say: “The element of struggle with self, then, is not restricted to trying to deny ourselves things bad in themselves; it also concerns self-denial about anything that tends to make us spiritually soft…The desire for comfort is the great obstacle to physical well-being, and the desire for comfort is one of the most dangerous enemies of spiritual health.”

Even in the drama of everyday life, sacrifices and even suffering are necessary for happiness. A successful career, for instance, is impossible without them. But as it pertains to spiritual growth and moral development, they are even more important. Indeed, to take on sacrifices and to endure suffering introduces into the soul a foretaste of eternal happiness; a kind of peace and joy that physical pleasures are incapable of producing. Towards this end- the purpose of life which is heaven –God will allow inconveniences in our life and even painful contradictions. As John Henry Newman said:

“And be sure of this: that if he has any love for you, if he sees a lack of good in your soul, he will afflict you, if you will not afflict yourselves. He will not let you escape. He has ten thousand ways of purging those whom he has chosen, from the dross and alloy with which the fine gold is defaced...Let us judge ourselves, that we may not be judged. Let us afflict ourselves that God may not afflict us.”

Too often, we want to have it both ways. We want to swing back and forth between the demands of the flesh and those of the spirit. This is a kind of false conciliation. It is an attempt to have the best of both worlds. If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that we do not want to give ourselves completely to one or the other. However, the struggle to give up our will for the sake of the kingdom teaches us the appeal and the power of the flesh. Without this struggle, we cannot attain to the kind of perfection Christ bids us to.

And finally, this spiritual struggle enables us to see God’s hand in the events which unfold in our lives. Herein lies the secret to happiness. To be sure, it may even take a life time to sound its depths. It has a lot to do with what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” (4:11-12)

The friend of God, therefore, with the eyes of faith, learns to see the value and purpose in misfortune. He not only thanks the Lord for that which is agreeable to him, but he musters up the courage and the faith to thank Him even for things that hurt and confounds him. He reasoning is as such: “If God is good and governs all things, it follows that whatever happens to those who trust in him must be for their good. Experience, though, often suggests a very different conclusion, it requires a deep faith in providence and in the goodness of God, not only to accept, but also to will what his providence ordains for us in the actual course of our lives.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's not what you do...

Reposted and revised:

It is not so much what you say or what you do that changes people's hearts for the better, it is what God does with what you say and what you do that really counts. No doubt, the content of our words and actions should, at all times, be morally good. But the mystery of good and lasting change is brought about through the love that we put into them. The Lord can get the most mileage out of our love and sacrifice. As Blessed Mother Theresa said- and here I paraphrase -it is not what we do so much that is pleasing to God, it is how much love we put into what we do. Even the smallest of things can become infinite in God hands.

But there are times when a highly publicized achievement will benefit only a few while small and seemingly unimportant deeds- with God's help -will bring about great changes for many. Psalm 127 says it best: "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build." Indeed, virtue acts quietly. And quite often, its benefits are felt long after the virtue has been exercised.

The Catholic monks of old, known for their prayers and sacrifices before embarking on a great mission, were on to something. They taught us before acting or embarking on some project, make time for prayer and spiritual sacrifices. As such, we will not be the only ones acting but God will also act on our behalf. With this, we can leave the rest to Him!


Just imagine! “Imagine there's no heaven…no hell below us…no countries…no religion…and no possessions. A brotherhood of man…Imagine all the people sharing all the world.”

You might recognize these lyrics from one of the songs played at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. The song is called, you got it- “Imagine,” by John Lennon. It was released in 1971.

The old ideas behind the song were borrowed from a secular-liberal worldview; the likes of which ended up inspiring the Sexual Revolution and political movements such as socialism and communism. Incidentally, this one world dream- that is, a world without God, without a heaven or hell and without division –is the foundation upon which the United Nations has based its policies. Also noteworthy is that the world of John Lennon’s imagination has been realized in many of America’s public institutions; most notably public education.

In a nutshell, Lennon's world is a world devoid of differences; a world of equal results.

This begs the question: Why is that godless, atheistic and secular people have an aversion to human differences? Why is it that they feverishly try to erase the differences between religions, moral codes, countries, races, genders, economic classes, age, and sexual preferences? Indeed, nothing offends adherents to secular-liberalism more than drawing attention to human differences; especially when the results of those differences are categorized as right or wrong, guilty or innocent, superior or inferior, and success or failure.

If John Lennon lived long enough to see a world conformed to his “Imagine” song, would he really be happy without having any possessions? Would he want his native country, Great Britain, to lose all of its peculiar English traits? There is a lot he wouldn’t like about the world he imagines. To live as one in brotherhood without religion, without possessions and without a country sounds nice...but only in theory! Given the reality of human nature, the world he imagines would undoubtedly be bland and gray. This dreary existence is but the result of a human spirit that no longer sees anything worth dying for. It is a kind of hell; a world without Christ.

If there is no heaven above us, there is ultimately nothing that is good enough to die for. But it can be also said that if there is nothing good enough to die for, there is nothing good enough to live for either. On the flipside, if there is no hell below us- that is, if the denial of hell is pressed to its logical conclusion -then there is no evil worth avoiding. You see, when the two destinations of eternity are erased from our imaginations, then all we have is a series of severed moments without rhyme and without reason. “Imagine all the people living for today,” Lennon sings. Yesterday is but a memory, perhaps a memory of the wrong choices we made, and tomorrow is where consequences are realized. So why not focus on today? Just today!!

The bottom line is that a protest against human differences is a protest against God. Differences are the most dramatic when we compare God and creature, heaven and hell, and good and evil. In fact, when God created the world, he separated the things he created (i.e. land & sea, earth and sky, day and night etc). But he started off separating the light from darkness (a symbolic gesture of the fallen angels being separated from the angles of Light) which is but an anticipation of the Last Day when the children of darkness are separated from the children of Light. And when Adam and Eve sinned, they were separated from the Garden of Eden. Then again, when Cain murdered Abel, his punishment was such that he was separated from God’s presence. This act of divine separation continues to this day as it plays out between the City of Man and the City of God.

Through these separations and tensions, the most important differences in life are pronounced. Yet, these differences find no place in Lennon's imaginary world or in the world of secular-liberalism. To imagine there's no heaven…no hell below us…no countries…no religion…no possessions and nothing to die for, is a refusal to believe that we live in a spiritual and moral universe. It is also a refusal to believe in the final result of having to give an account for our thoughts, words and deeds before God.

Curiously, the denial of spiritual and moral differences has led to the denial of so many other differences too. But as Pope Pius XII said in his 1944 Christmas message, Democracy and Lasting Peace, a world without differences is a mechanical and colorless world. He said, "Equality degenerates to a mechanical level, a colorless uniformity the sense of true honor, of personal activity, or respect for tradition, of dignity -- in a word all that gives life its worth-gradually fades away and disappears."

John Lennon’s song is more than just a song. It really is a worldview that has become mainstream. It is a refutation of ultimate winners and losers in life. It is curious, then, that after having witnessed many winners and losers at the Olympic Games, that this song was used to bid farewell to the world in the closing ceremony.

As for us, the world of John Lennon's imagination is a world worth resisting. And for sure, it couldn't be more at odds with the world that Christ will inherit.“I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and, as your possession, the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 2:7-8)

Imagine: The world of John Lennon

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Sermons: Seizing the opportunity!

This is a post that has been revised and abridged. It is due to be published in the Catholic News Agency column section this Friday, August 17 2012.

Experience can work to our advantage. Most people see it as such. However, what people miss sometimes is that experience can be a liability; a handicap of sorts. For instance, when a couple experiences troubles within their own marriage, it is often the case that they are the least qualified to see the troubles as they really are. Quite often, the culpability of the husband escapes the husband and the culpability of the wife escapes the wife. Hence, a third party is invoked; usually a friend or a marriage counselor who can make an evaluation and then offer guidance with some degree of objectivity about the problems at hand.

This is why two celibate bishops like Fulton Sheen, author of “Three to Get Married” and Pope John Paul II, author of “Love and Responsibility,” were able to provide deep and practical insights into love and marriage. Their contribution to the topic derived from the countless couples they counseled. And having been the "third party," these two bishops were able to arrive at helpful solutions to the common problems of romance, sexuality and marriage; this, precisely because they were free from certain blind spots which naturally sprang from these problems.

It is to be expected, therefore, that the clergy have their own blind spots as well. Like any married couple, they can become too close to their own problems. Chief among them are the sermons they deliver to their parishioners. A lay perspective, which can serve as a third party perspective, if you will, can be of great service to the priesthood. After all, lay Catholics are the "customers" or the intended beneficiaries of sermons delivered during the Liturgy of the Word. As with any service people receive, Catholics have formed opinions about the sermons they have had heard over the last fifty years or so. Dissatisfaction among parishioners with sermons is rarely communicated to a parish priest for the simple reason that he or she does not want to offend him.

With that said, for decades there have been a general consensus among the laity that the preaching from the pulpit has struggled to be relevant; this, by not appealing to the day to day circumstances of the lay world. I include those sermons given by orthodox, Christ-centered priests. In many Catholic parishes across the country, Catholics hear few references to everyday problems and current events. For instance, I remember attending Mass on the Sunday after September 11, 2001. However, not a word was spoken about it during the sermon even though America was still feeling the traumatic effects of the terrorist attacks. Although this may have not been the case in every parish that Sunday, my experience on the Sunday after 9/11 seems to be emblematic of what regularly occurs at Mass.

Lay people read and hear about pressing issues during the work week all the time but yet very few words, if any, are spoken about it from many pulpits. It is no exaggeration to say that what is talked about at the kitchen table, or what is discussed around the water cooler outside the office, or even those issues make the front page of the newspaper, are rarely given a Catholic interpretation from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

Americans are consumers of current event-driven news. They take interest, not so much in topics, but in what is happening today. The Second Vatican Council- as if prompted by the Holy Spirit -gave an exhortation that the preaching of the Gospel should illuminate and interpret the circumstances of daily life and the current events which surround it:

"To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics."(Guadiem et Spes, article 4)

Still, sermons from pulpits (and even church documents) are primarily topic-driven. To be fair, it is not practical nor is it desirable to get away from topics altogether. No doubt, spiritual and moral topics provide a depth that is rarely addressed in current event-driven news. After all, the Catholic Catechism is topically arranged and for good reason. However, what the Holy Spirit seemed to have been saying through the Second Vatican Council is that in an event-driven, media-driven society, the preaching of the Gospel must involve explaining people's experiences and interpreting the events they encounter; this includes the news they hear and read about during the week.

Western Civilization, as with most civilizations in world history, is currently on the decline from moral decay. The moral causes are easy to identify:

•Sex outside of marriage
•And supporting politicians, institutions and programs that advance the abovementioned sins.

Indeed, the decline of our civilization can be traced to these sins. Yet, these sins, as with current events, are rarely mentioned during Sunday sermons. As such, the world has been given the opportunity to shape people’s attitudes and beliefs about the most important issues of life. It is not enough that we read the truth about morality from papal encyclicals, pastoral letters or even parish bulletins. We need to hear it from our priests and bishops “in person.” And as a son of the Church, it is my prayer that they begin, with greater urgency, to seize the opportunities that are given to them. After all, if the Church does not expose specific sins by name and those sins that lead to our spiritual death and cultural demise, no one will.