Sunday, September 30, 2012

Therese and her Interior Friend

St. Therese of Lisieux once said, "Jesus has no need of books or teachers to instruct souls; He teaches without the noise of words. Never have I heard Him speak, but I feel that He is within me at each moment; He is guiding and inspiring me with what I must say and do. I find just when I need certain lights which I had not seen until then, and it is not most frequently during my hours of prayer that these are most abundant but rather in the midst of my daily occupations.”

Christ is that Interior Friend that comes to make his home in our souls before he prepares a home in heaven for us. At the Last Supper, upon the Apostles First Communion, he reminded them:
"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be." Indeed, it is in preparing our souls for his dwelling that he prepares heaven for ours.


From this inner chamber, not the from the sky or the clouds, is where he guides and inspires his followers. It is there we must meet our Interior Friend. Surprisingly, he speaks to the soul quite often during the ordinary routine of the day when we least expect it. We hear him not, as St. Therese indicates, during prayer when we are asking all the questions. The Lord does this so that we do not treat prayer as a kind of technique where we do this or that for a specific result. Prayer is not an impersonal gadget. He speaks to us in his own time and in his own way.

And as the trials and uncertainties of life press upon us, and when the external circumstances of life appear to be less promising than our ideals, it is then that we turn to this Interior Friend. That is to say, it is when we suffer that Christ's home within our souls expands and takes on the likeness of a cathedral or monastery. After all, does not Scripture teach us that the body is the temple of God? Pascal once said that when we are undergoing trials it is good to have something beautiful inside. Think of it. The most beautiful shrines and cathedrals had its beginning in the human soul where Christ and the Holy Spirit made their home.

The same place where cathedral-beauty and monastic peace originates is the same place where martyr-like strength is to be found. St. Louis de Monfort once said, "He who is within us is stronger than the one who is in the world."

Dr. Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz and a convert to Catholicism, once said that 1 in 28 survived the holocaust in Poland. But many of these survivors, he claimed, had an inner world to draw from; a place where peace, strength and beauty resided. This inner world of faith served as a great source of moral strength during times of inhumanity and misery.

The greatest lessons in life come, not through books or in a classroom, but in the quiet of our souls. As St. Therese said, "Jesus has no need of books or teachers to instruct souls; He teaches without the noise of words." Indeed, an open ear and silence, quite often, is all that our Interior Friend needs to be heard. It is then that he can expand that inner chamber of ours and fill it with good things.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Roots of Christianity and Islam & Middle Eastern Tensions II

Roots of Christianity and Middle Eastern Tensions II: Dictatorship or Democracy

 

Christianity and Democracy:

 So, why does Christianity inspire democratic forms of government whereas Islam tends to favor totalitarian forms of government? 

It has a lot to do with how Christians and Muslims relate to God in their religious beliefs and practices. Historically, there is a reason why citizens had more to say about their government and who represents with Christians in the West than Muslims do in Islamic countries. A representative religion fosters a representative government! Just as Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, speaks on his Father’s behalf and as such, participates in his Father’s authority, so too did the Apostles speak on Jesus’ behalf therefore participating in his authority. And the Church? The ministry of the Church is the continuation of that of the Apostles.

Jesus Christ is a Judge and as such will come to judge the living and the dead. But yet, Jesus appointed the Apostles as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Church: Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)  Jesus is the Word of the Father and his Word is therefore binding.  But the preaching of the Apostles is authoritative and binding as well: Jesus also reminded them: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10: 16) And elsewhere he said to them: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 In short, the kingly, prophetic, and priestly offices Jesus fulfilled in his mission on his Father’s behalf, the Catholic Church fulfills those same offices on Jesus’ behalf.  In Psalm 2 it reads: “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.’” Indeed, what was bequeathed to the Son from the Father is further bequeathed from the Son to the Church, his Spouse.

From the very beginning God allows man to participate in authority. After the Lord had created the animals he allowed Adam to name the animals. Now, as we shall see later, Allah is the kind of God that would name the animals himself; for he is a master who allows not his slaves to participate in his authority.

This biblically based religion of Catholicism is not only one of representation, but mediation. It is sacramental in nature. The Church teaches that the pope, as St. Peter’s successor, not only represents St. Peter the Apostle, but that St. Peter continues to teach through him. What is also true is that the pope is the Vicar of Christ. In the book of Revelation chapter 3, Jesus says, “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open…” But although the Risen Lord holds the key, he nevertheless gave the keys to the kingdom to St. Peter. (Matt. 16) Therefore, as his vicar, the pope mediates the power of Christ’s authority for the benefit of the whole Church. Jesus Christ’s prerogative to rule, sanctify and save is not diminished in the least when the Church exercises those same powers.

 As the parental authority is concerned, the Catholic Church has always taught that it participates, in a mysterious way, in the heavenly Father’s authority.  In his encyclical on Socialism, Pope Leo XIII writes: “For according to Catholic teaching, the authority of our heavenly Father and Lord is imparted to parents and rulers, whose authority, therefore, not only takes its origin and force from Him, but also borrows its nature and character.” Indeed, the mother and the father is the image of God for the child. The more loving and just the parents are, the more they, not only reflect, but participate in God’s fatherly love. It also can be said that good parenting is the main instrumentation through which God fathers his children.

And finally, we come to the State as it is shaped by Christian principles. The closer the State patterns its authority after that of parental and religious authority, the more justly and effectively it will rule. Instead of a master over a subject or slave, civil authority should be inspired by the principles of justice and love.  Love without justice is anarchy. But justice without love is tyranny.  And when the State sees itself as the custodian of God’s authority, it will all-the- more likely respect the boundaries in which it is obligated to function.  When Europe was on the cusp of being menaced with Socialism and Communism, when European governments ceased to recognize the autonomy of the family and the individual, Pope Leo XIII wrote this in his encyclical, Rerum Novarum:

 “A family, no less than a State, is, as We have said, a true society, governed by an authority peculiar to itself, that is to say, by the authority of the father…The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error…Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself. ‘The child belongs to the father,’ and is, as it were, the continuation of the father's personality; and speaking strictly, the child takes its place in civil society, not of its own right, but in its quality as member of the family in which it is born. And for the very reason that ‘the child belongs to the father’ it is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘before it attains the use of free will, under the power and the charge of its parents.’ The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home.”

 
Islam and Dictatorships:

The Muslim relationship to Allah as master is much different than the Christian relationship to God as Father. This difference has profound political ramifications. It is why democracy struggles to find firm and deep roots in Islamic soil.

Without the coming of the Holy Spirit into the souls of Muslims, the words of our Lord cannot apply to them: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”  Unlike a son who shares in his father’s inheritance and authority, Allah will forever remain a master who imposes power upon his obedient subjects. His authority and power is to be received from a distance and without question. There is no representation or mediation of Allah’s power by Muslims; only obedience.

To be sure, obedience to God- even without question -is a virtue. But without the intimacy that the Holy Spirit confers on believers, the force of divine authority and power can be like that of a stern master. This kind of relationship between the Creator and the creature was characteristic of God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. This is why Islam- to this very day -in its political governance, tribal vengeance and military warfare resembles Old Testament Judaism more than New Testament Christianity.

If truth be told, the Old Testament world was a world where mercy was a sign of weakness and the strong arm of political power was a sign of strength. It was a time when freedom was the exception and an autocratic State was the rule. More than Judaism itself, Islam is the heir of Old Testament Judaism.  Indeed, Allah's relationship with Muslims today bears a striking resemblance with Yahweh's relationship with the Jews several centuries ago. And it explains why Muslim countries favor totalitarian states.

In assessing the unrest in the Middle East, therefore, these theological considerations need to be brought to the fore. No doubt, politicians and members of the media who are inspired by the ideology of secularism will dismiss them, but we cannot.  If we do, we do so at our own expense.

"An intelligent servant will rule over a worthless son, and will share the inheritence with the brothers." (Proverbs 17:2)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Roots of Christianity and Islam & Middle Eastern Tensions


Roots of Christianity and Islam & Middle Eastern Tensions:
God and individual believer
Father Abraham: Ishmael and Isaac


Preface:

One CD among the many that Lighthouse Catholic Media features consist of a talk by Dr. Scott Hahn entitled, “Abba or Allah.” The post below includes many of the biblical points he raised during his talk. But as a complement to what he had to say, I added a few considerations of my own on why the relationship between God and the individual has a profound effect on politics.


Introduction:

The current international tensions between the West and the Middle East can be better understood if we consider the differences between Islam and Christianity. After all, the unrest in several Muslim countries, the show of protests at American embassies and the threats against the nation of Israel and America by terrorist organizations are inspired, in part, by religious and theological principles. Hence, to view these events through secular lenses- without due consideration to the backgrounds Christianity and Islam -is to be handicapped by partial perspectives.

Religion does not explain everything but it does explain a lot. It explains much of what lies underneath the political tensions between the West and Middle Eastern countries like Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

The key to political wisdom is to know what lies at the root of politics. You may have heard the saying, “Politics is local.” Issues that are closest to home are not only the most meaningful to voters; they are highly influential on the national and international level in the long term. More often than not, political activity is shaped by institutions such as the family and religion. Although these two institutions often go unmentioned in the newsroom and the classroom, they are critical factors nevertheless. In the end, it all comes down to relationships of the most elementary kind.


Section I: The Relationship: God and the individual believer

To begin with, the difference between Christianity and Islam can be likened to the difference between the Old and the New Testament. Just prior to the flood- and even just as critical as the flood itself –is when God withdrew his Spirit from mankind (cf. Gen. 6:3) To make a long story short, from the time of the flood until Pentecost the human race was left to its own devices. It was under a kind of probation. Sure, the Spirit descended on the people of Israel from time to time in the Old Testament; but this was the exception, not the rule. As such, the post-flood world was governed by, not the Golden Rule, but the survival of the fittest. It was “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Slavery, human sacrifices, blood sports, polygamy, infanticide, brutal warfare and all sorts of human vices flourished.

“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

And during his public ministry, Jesus gave voice to a new moral law in anticipation of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost. He contrasts what was demanded of them under the old law and what will be demanded of them under the new law. Notice that he does not lessen the demands, but increases them. For instance, he said,

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna… You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Before the Holy Spirit would usher in the moral strength to help believers fulfill the demands of the Christ’s law, the relationship between God and man was more like a Master-slave relationship. Since the Spirit was not present in the soul to bear witness that the believer was a child of God, and since the Spirit could not cry out, “Abba, Father,” the Father-son relationship could not be fostered (cf. Romans 8:14-16). The bottom line, therefore, is that without the infusion of the Holy Spirit into the soul, the believer can only be seen as a subject, creature or property in relation to God; not as a son or a daughter.

This partly explains why Jews believed it to be a sacrilege to mention God’s name and why Muslims consider it blasphemous to refer to God as Father. They know not the love of our heavenly Father as it is communicated to the soul by the Holy Spirit.


Section II: The Relationship: Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael

This contrast between a Master-slave relationship of Islam and the Father-son relationship of Christianity could not be better traced out than in the story of Abraham, the Old Testament patriarch, and his two sons: Ishmael and Isaac (read: Genesis 16-22). As Dr. Scott maintained in his talk, Abba or Allah, no one contests that Arabs are, by race, descendants of Ishmael, the elder half-brother of Isaac. There is a general consensus on that finding. And as for Christians, who, according to St. Paul, inherited the blessing from the people of God in the Old Testament, are the spiritual descendents of Isaac. But just as Arabs are, by race, descendants of Ishmael, Muslims are believed to be his spiritual descendants.

It might be helpful to know that Abraham was married to Sarah. But Sarah was barren. As such, Sarah lent Abraham her servant (or slave), Hagar, who had been given to her in Egypt. As a kind of surrogate mother, Hagar conceived from Abraham’s seed on Sarah’s behalf. Their new born son was later called Ishmael who was circumcised at age 13. After having been overcome with jealousy, Sarah dismissed Hagar and sent her into exile. When Hagar was wandering through the desert, an angel appeared to her and said, "You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, For the LORD has heard you, God has answered you. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; In opposition to all his kin shall he encamp." (Genesis 16:11-12) Hagar was then instructed by the angel to return to Abraham and Sarah.

“He shall be a wild ass of a man,” echoed the words of the angel. Ishmael’s descendents, in other words, would consist of contentious, warring tribes. But as God would later tell Abraham, they were destined to be a great nation. Earlier, God had promised Abraham that He would make a great nation out of his posterity. The Lord said him, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Being that his wife, Sarah, was barren, it seemed as though that Ishmael would inherit the blessing. But no, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son." His name shall be Isaac.

Worried about what would happen to Ishmael if Isaac would inherit the blessing, Abraham said to God, "Let but Ishmael live on by your favor!" God responded, "Nevertheless, your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you shall call him Isaac. I will maintain my covenant with him as an everlasting pact, to be his God and the God of his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I am heeding you: I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation. But my covenant I will maintain with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you by this time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)

As time went on, Sarah grew insecure about Ishmael’s influence over Isaac. Again, Sarah, in one of her mood swings, sent Hagar and Ishmael packing; but this time, for good. Ishmael, therefore, would not remain in Abraham’s house and inherit the blessing.

Keep in mind that his relationship with Abraham, being the maternal son of Hagar, a slave from Egypt, fell within the pattern of a Master-slave relationship. The relationship between Abraham and Ishmael would give shape to the kind of relationship that Allah would have with Muslims.

What happened to Isaac after Ishmael left? He was circumcised on the eighth day (Jewish boys are circumcised on the eighth day); in contrast to Ishmael, who was circumcised in the thirteenth year (Muslim boys to this day are circumcised when they are 13 years of age).

When Isaac came of age, the Lord put Abraham to the test. He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah, where the Jewish Temple would eventually be built and where Christ would, two thousand years later, be crucified. Mind you, child-sacrifice had been practiced for centuries in this part of the world. The Israelites, after having journeyed through the desert for 40 years, would encounter this gruesome ritual as they settled in the land of Canaan. But as the story goes, the Lord spared Abraham from having to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. A ram was provided and sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.

The early Church Fathers interpreted the test of Abraham as an anticipation of God giving his only begotten Son to the world. Isaac voluntarily carrying the wood up Mt. Moriah for the burnt holocaust prefigured Christ carrying the Cross up Calvary hill. It just so happened that Isaac was old enough- and strong enough -to escape the ordeal if he so wished. After all, Abraham was about hundred years of age at the time. Therefore, it is not only true that God blessed Abraham for his faith during this time of trial; God also blessed Isaac for willingly offering himself as a sacrifice upon his command.

In any event, Isaac, as a free son of Abraham and Sarah, would inherit the blessing of his father. Indeed, it was Isaac, not Ishmael, and his relationship with Abraham that traced out the kind of relationship Christians would have with God as Father.

During the final weeks of every Lent, the Catholic Church proclaims the Gospel according to John (chapters 6-12). As this series of Gospel readings unfold, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees intensifies. Inevitably, such conflict leads to his condemnation and crucifixion. Dr. Scott Hahn points out that Jesus Christ, in his public debates with the Pharisees, uses Ishmael and Isaac as an analogy when he speaks about slavery and freedom. Under the New Covenant, however, slavery to sin is the real slavery that our Lord came to free us from. And it is only the Son of the Father’s House, not the slave who has not been freed or forgiven, that has the power to break the chains. The Lord said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free. I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you. (John 8:31-37)

This passage, evidently, is an allusion to Ishmael and Isaac. It was Isaac who was the freeman. But as a son and a freeman, Isaac was called to give more. It was he who was called to surrender his life as a holocaust for his father, Abraham. Jesus was the new Isaac in the spiritual order.

Later, at the Last Supper, the night before his sacrifice on Calvary, Jesus told the Apostles that his Eucharistic sacrifice- and subsequently his sacrifice on the Cross -would change their relationship with God. There is an unspoken assumption on Jesus’ part that they- as with the people in the Old Testament -were slaves under God; not sons or friends. He said to them, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

Upon the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, friends of God would be made into the children of God. With the infusion of the Spirit into souls- where stony hearts would be remade into natural hearts –the believer could do what Jews once believed to be impossible and what Muslims consider to be blasphemous; and that is to call God Father. Indeed, without the Third Person of the Holy Trinity being sent to the world, monotheism takes on the likeness of Islam; a master-slave relationship very similar to what we find in the Old Testament.

The next post, Roots of Christianity and Islam & Middle Eastern Tensions: Dictatorship or Democracy, will conclude with a discussion on how our relationship with God and the parent-child relationship has a profound impact the State-citizenrelationship. Why does Christianity inspire democracies whereas Islam tends to breed totalitarian states.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vincent de Paul: Bridging the divide within the Church

On September 27th the Catholic Church honors a great Saint: St. Vincent de Paul. He reminds us that although the salvation of the soul takes on the highest of priorities, relieving the needs of the human body cannot be left to others. We, as Christ-centered Catholics who seek the kingdom of God first, must combine evangelization and religious instruction “with” works of charity. As St. James wrote in his epistle: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (1:27) A world-renouncing spirituality joined to a spirit of charity is what will make the New Evangelization thrive in the West as it has in other continents.

Philip Jenkins in his book, The Next Christendom, argued that Africa is likely to be the next bastion of Catholicism in the twenty-first century. What Europe was to medieval Catholicism, Africa is now becoming to today’s Catholicism. In fact, in the year 1900 there were only 9.9 million Christians in Africa. But at the turn of the millennium, they numbered 360 million. It is estimated that at least 8 million Africans are baptized every year; which amounts to about 20,000 baptisms a day. Just when Christianity seems to be dying out in Europe, its growth in Africa continues to impress interested observers in the West. George Weigel gives a simple explanation for this rapid expansion: Christianity attracts massive numbers of converts in twenty-first century Africa- as she did in the second and third century Roman Empire -because it helped provide for those whom the rest of society preferred to ignore. He goes on to say that education, healthcare, and social services are deliberately linked to evangelization. Evidently, this joint effort of evangelization and charity underscores the progress Catholicism is making in Africa.

For the early Church, this body and soul combination in ministry was virtually inseparable and largely taken for granted. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

Wherever the Gospel was widely accepted, people who were traditionally denied social status and justice in the pagan system- such as the poor, slaves, women and children –were seen by Christians as equals to the most privileged social caste. Pope Leo XIII summed up the kind of impact the Faith had on human dignity and progress:

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

The origin of this new concept of equality and human rights originated from a heightened awareness of the dignity of the soul. After all, it was the rational and immortal soul that was created in the image of God. By association, however, the human body came to be understood as the most sacred material thing in the universe. As Pope Pius XI said, man is a microcosm- a world in miniature; as such, he has a worth far surpassing the whole universe. This understanding of the human person gave the Church Fathers, the Saints and the martyrs every incentive to not only to preach the Gospel, but to care for the infirmed at the risk of losing their own lives. In the third century, for instance, when whole towns and districts were wiped out from plagues, it was the Christians that demonstrated heroism by not only caring for their own, but also caring for pagans. Such a sacrificial love for humanity was unknown to the ancients. And it is a love that needs to be reawakened in America.

Today, in the West, there is a tendency among Catholics to partition evangelization and charity into two separate compartments. If evangelization is seen exclusively as something that serves the spiritual needs of people, then such a mission can easily be relegated to the middle and upper classes. From my personal experience, Catholic evangelists- by and large –are apt to avoid the lower class-minority demographic; not because of any racist tendencies, but rather because they simply can’t identify with that subculture. According to many of them, their calling is to relieve “spiritual poverty.”

Since the upper and middle classes are materially provided for, it is natural that the spiritual dimension be the chief concern among many Catholic evangelists. As result, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity becomes a high priority, as it should. But when the spiritual component of evangelization is disengaged from serving the poor, then a void is created. In the absence of Christ-centered, orthodox Catholics, charity-based initiatives and social services tend to take on a humanistic character in their absence. No longer seen as a single mission, evangelization and social services not only pursue different ends, but they are often inspired by different ideals. As such, those who honorably care for the poor do so without the sound moral and spiritual principles that evangelization requires for its mission. As it pertains to many Catholic organizations, what was once founded as a religious enterprise for serving the poor and ministering to the soul eventually was reduced to a secularized philanthropy.

If America is going to benefit from what Catholicism has to offer, then evangelization and charity- both native to the Catholic Faith –will have to exist side by side as one ministry for the common good of this nation. Catholicism will never compete with political demagogues and advocates of big government if minorities and the lower class are untouched by Catholic evangelization and charity. Quite often, the ministry of caring for the body (i.e., soup kitchens etc.) leads to unfamiliar and even hazardous places. Nevertheless, these are places where the Gospel can be preached too. Understandably, many Christians from the middle and upper classes are simply uncomfortable with this. So, they focus their energy on the salvation of the soul or spiritual poverty; which, again, is the most important focus of bearing witness to Christ. However, the nice thing about "spiritual poverty" is that it is found everywhere; including in our own parishes. As such, if we exclusively focus on the spiritual needs of people then there is no need to venture to the other side of town; the part of town where lifestyles are markedly different from our own.

To put it another way, the convenient thing about attending to the needs of the soul- as opposed to the needs of the body and the soul -is that you never have to leave the parish basement; our comfort zone is secured. However, there is a price to pay. The welfare State takes hold in society. False promises politicians hold out to the lower classes and minorities eventually acquires credibility and strength. And to be sure, proponents of big government will continue to have a monopoly on the underprivileged as long as Christians relegate their ministries within their own familiar environments.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his first encyclical, On Christian Love, the following:

“The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

This exercise of the Catholic Church’s three-fold responsibility was once the foundation for civilizing an unbaptized world; a world that was insensitive to human suffering. Africa is such a world: a world that is undergoing a lot of suffering but is also becoming, day by day, a sign of hope. It is true that Africa is being afflicted with the AIDS epidemic, political corruption, and high mortality rates. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is winning an impressive number of souls for Christ in that continent. And in doing so, the epidemics and the crimes against humanity will cease or at least diminish in time.

History shows that wherever the Gospel of Life is planted, civility and mutual love flourish. However, this can only happen when evangelization and charity work together for the common good. After all, people are willing to listen to the Gospel if the bearers of that Gospel relieve their hunger, loneliness and nakedness. This is what St. Vincent de Paul teaches us. By ministering to the totality of the human person- body and soul –totalitarianism is less likely to advance in our nation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Pastoral Mandate (repost)

St. Thomas More “speaks critically of certain clerics who deliberately refrain from warning a rich and powerful man of the peril his soul is in out of fear of angering him and on the false premise that admonitions will do him no good.”

-James Monti, The King’s Good Servant But God’s First 1997


"Some there are, indeed, who maintain that it is not opportune to boldly attack evil...These make it a matter of guesswork as to whether they are for the Church or against her, since on the one hand they give themselves out as professing the Catholic faith, and yet wish that the Church should allow certain opinions, at variance with her teaching, to be spread abroad with impunity."

-Pope Leo XIII, On Christians as Citizens 1890



Pastoral Practices:

On January 19th, 2011, The World Over with Raymond Arroyo’s aired an interview with New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan. To his credit Raymond Arroyo represented the concerns of many Catholics by asking the Archbishop about his pastoral position on discipline as it pertained to New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo. As most viewers know, Cuomo had long been an unapologetic advocate of abortion rights. In June of 2011, however, he took his public dissent from Catholic teaching to yet another level. The governor signed a bill making same-sex marriage legal in the state of New York. Cuomo, mind you, is a highly visible public figure who calls himself a “Catholic” and one who attends Mass from time to time. And so Raymond Arroyo asked where the governor of New York stood in relation to the Church. Archbishop Dolan answered by saying that there is quite a bit of latitude in dealing with such matters. Furthermore, the talks between him and Cuomo are on-going. But if there is any statement which summarizes Dolan's pastoral position in relation to wayward politicians, it is this: “Our job is to invite people in and try to patiently change hearts-- and not be throwing people out.” (New York Daily News June 17th 2011) I think it is fair to say that many U.S. bishops, especially in several of the archdioceses in the United States, concur with Archbishop Dolan.


Religious Liberty:

Incidentally, the next day, on January 20th , the Catholic News Agency reported that “the Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the administration would not expand a religious exemption for employers who object to its ‘preventative services’ mandate.” In other words, the Obama administration made it known that they would mandate that Catholic agencies, against their will, to provide abortifacients, contraception, sterilization etc. in their health care coverage. In fact, these Catholic agencies have until August of 2013 to comply with the Federal health care mandate. Archbishop Dolan did not mince words when he told the press what he thought of it. He said, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.” And a day earlier the Holy Father weighed in with these sobering words: “No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment.” Indeed, Pope Benedict’s “Dictatorship of Relativism”” is on the march in America.


Asking Important Questions:

The question then becomes: Is this threat to religious liberty a political problem or is it a pastoral problem? I pose this question as a son of the Church, as one who loves the Catholic Church and as a spiritual son who wants the bishops, the watchmen of the flock, to succeed in their mission. To be sure, this is not a time for venting or complaining. Rather, it is a time in our nation’s history to have a serious discussion about the relationship between their pastoral practices and the political threats to religious liberty that are daily mounting.

With a filial reverence, therefore, can we ask if the reluctance on the part of the Catholic clergy to exercise fatherly discipline towards unfaithful Catholic politicians is an effective one? Furthermore, are not the current pastoral practices a departure from the pastoral standards of the Apostles, the Church Fathers and the Saints? And if the Catholic Church holds such exemplary pastors up as models to emulate, then why are we not doing as they did?

No doubt, the current pastoral practice of bishops of reaching out to wayward politicians in order to keep the communication lines open is inspired by honorable intentions. I do not doubt that Archbishop Timothy Dolan, for instance, seeks to change the hearts of unfaithful Catholic politicians by using this method. But many faithful sons and daughters of the Church question if this ongoing conversation between bishops and politicians behind closed doors is what our Lord said should be done.


Matthew 18: The Pastoral Mandate

Take for example the Gospel of Matthew. Shortly after our Lord confers the keys to the kingdom of heaven to St. Peter and the authority to bind and loose upon the Apostles, he gives the following pastoral mandate for those sinners who refuse acknowledge their authority:

“If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 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.” (18:15-17)

To begin with, it should be noted that elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus says we should forgive those who sin against us personally 70 x 7. On a personal and individual level we should forgive those who trespass against us unconditionally and indefinitely. This is for our spiritual benefit. But when we speak of the life and the integrity of the Church, such unrepentant sins, especially mortal sins, requires a different approach by pastors. In the former case we leave to God to deal with those who sinned against us. In the latter case bishops are commissioned by Christ to act on God’s behalf for the sake of the Church’s welfare and unity. The failure to publicly discipline those brothers who poise themselves as followers of Christ while obstinately defying the Church’s divine authority undermines both the mission and the unity of the Church. When sins and errors go unchecked, such as a persistent and obstinate refusal of obedience, it causes confusion among onlookers and it further creates division within the Mystical Body of Christ.

This is precisely why our Lord draws the line in the sand as it pertains to those brothers who do not listen to the Church. Jesus wants the elders of the Church to give the benefit of the doubt to those brothers who do get it wrong. So as to eliminate the possibility that ignorance is the cause of wrong doing, Our Lord says to have one brother correct the sinner; then two brothers if necessary. If the sinner does not listen to the two brothers who bear witness to the truth of the Gospel then Our Lord said bring him before the Church. If the sinner does not listen even to the Church then they, the elders of the Church (i.e. bishops, priests etc.), are no longer dealing with a person who is merely ignorant. Instead, what the Church has before her is an obstinate sinner who refuses to recognize her God-given authority. The disease of sin and error that was once thought to be benign has now proven to be malignant. As such, it has to be removed! This is why Jesus said that such a person be treated as a Gentile or a tax collector. In first-century Judaism Gentiles and tax collectors were treated as outsiders. Keep in mind that such a mandate coming from our Lord is borne out of love for the sinner and for the good of the Church.


Reinforcing the Pastoral Mandate:

This pastoral practice of removing the sinner from the Body of Christ is promulgated several times in the New Testament. St. Paul, in his letter to Titus, said, “After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic, realizing that such a person is perverted and sinful and stands self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11) To the Corinthians he wrote at length about this pastoral necessity. Again, he said, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people…But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral…not even to eat with such a person…God will judge those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from your midst.’” (I Corinthians 5:9, 11, 13)

St. John the Apostle, who wrote about the love of God more than any other New Testament writer, issued this pastoral mandate: “Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.” (II John versus 9-11) For St. John, refusing the admission of progressives into the house of God was totally consistent with the Christian love he preached about. In fact, keeping the obstinate sinner at bay until he repented was a necessary expression of that Christian love. And as for Jesus, did he change his mind or soften his position after he rose from the dead? Evidently not! In the book of Revelation, the Risen Lord had this to say to the church in Thyatira: “Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (2:20) Jezebel was a queen of Israel who had introduced pagan practices to the religion of Yahweh. Notice that the Risen Lord took great offense to the church of Thyatira’s tolerance of such Jezebel-types.


Three Reasons:

Indeed, there are at least three reasons why the pastoral practice to exclude obstinate sinners from the communion of the Church was enjoined by our Lord and practiced by the Apostles, Church Fathers and the Saints.

First, the failure to reprove or exclude from the Church unrepentant sinners creates the public perception that mortal sin is compatible with the life of Christ. And worse yet, such failure is a disservice to the sinner himself. Politicians who publicly advocate for abortion rights and same-sex marriage with impunity naturally suffer from the mistaken belief that they are in communion with the Church and therefore in communion with God. In fact, there are many adversaries of the Gospel of Life who go to their deathbeds with this assumption. But as the parable of the wedding banquet suggests, the King has a dress code in heaven. And to be sure, those without a wedding garment will be asked to leave the table by the King. The question then becomes: When “Catholic” politicians enjoy full communion with the King’s Church, are they not made to believe that they can attend the heavenly banquet without a wedding garment? And are these current pastoral practices really preparing obstinate sinners for eternity?

The second reason for exclusion is this: Many bishops, again with good intentions, often engage in an ongoing conversation with wayward politicians behind closed doors. However, the unintended consequence is that mortal sin is perceived to be negotiable because of the high public profile politicians enjoy. It is because of unintended consequences like this that St. Paul instructed St. Timothy to reprimand the sinner publicly (cf. I Timothy 5:20). It is why Pope St. Gregory the Great said that private sins should be addressed privately and public sins should be dealt with publicly. Furthermore, it is why St. John the Apostle did not go behind closed doors to correct Diotrephes, a wayward brother. He said, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing, spreading evil nonsense about us.” (III John 9-10) “I will draw attention to what he is doing.” Today’s conventional wisdom in the Church is to avoid “drawing attention” to those who cause scandal. Again, this is yet another departure from the New Testament pastoral mandate.

The third reason is that when public sinners can sit next to faithful Catholics on your local church pew, when they can stand before the altar and receive the Eucharist, that is, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ (even after St. Paul’s warning about the dangers of receiving such a Sacred Gift unworthily) and when they enjoy the fellowship of Catholics and intermingle with them, it inevitably creates moral confusion. To say it another way, when there is no public distinction made by the bishops between obstinate sinners and repentant sinners- when there is no separation between them –then in the minds of Catholics and other onlookers, there cannot be but little distinction between error and truth, between sin and holiness, and between vice and virtue. Say what you will from the pulpit, say what you will in your pastoral letters and say what you will in the classroom, the ministry of preaching and teaching will be undermined by this indiscriminate mix of obstinate sinners and repentant sinners. And from this indiscriminate mix emerges a division within the Body of Christ, the Church. Why? Because sin and error divides! What is more, a consensus on the most important issues of life and death is much harder to come by.


The Connection to Religious Liberty:

On January 19th, Pope Benedict XVI lamented this cultural breakdown of moral consensus in America. He said, “At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good…Today that consensus has eroded…” Indeed, it has. But as the pope wrote elsewhere, the erosion of moral and spiritual consensus had its beginning in the Church which then rippled out into society. What happens to the Church, happens to America.

This is the precise point at which the failure to observe the New Testament pastoral mandate occasions or even hastens the erosion of religious liberty. The Church’s immune system in any given region begins to break down when it is flooded with the virus of error and the bateria of sin. When this happens such a system can no longer mount a sustainable defense against those very things which lend themselves to the decay of our culture and to the erosion of religious liberty. When the very politicians who advance the “Dictatorship of Relativism” and who aggressively deny religious liberty to the very Church they claim to love are allowed to walk through our church doors, then can we really expect to them to hearken to the complaints of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy? If our spiritual fathers do not discipline them as God the Father disciplines his children and as fathers of families are known to do, then can we expect these so-called Catholic politicians to reconsider their hostile actions? If some 54 percent of the Catholic voting bloc voted for President Obama in 2008- the very administration that reaffirmed on January 20th that we have a year to “figure out how to violate our conscience” –can we not admit that we have a pastoral problem on our hands and not just a political one?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it must be remembered by the Catholic laity that to carry out the New Testament pastoral mandate as the Apostles, Church Fathers and Saints did requires courage. But it also requires our support. As sons and daughters of the Church, our prayers, spiritual sacrifices and verbal support are most necessary. And when we notice a reluctance or trepidation on the part of our bishops, it is important to remember that they may face challenges that we can never fully appreciate or understand. The important thing is to lovingly hold out this pastoral mandate to them as a standard towards which we need to aspire once again. And once it is universally practiced by the watchmen of the Lord's House, it will soon be morning again.

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Postscript:

Church Fathers on correction and exclusion

1. 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. And when his guilt has thus been proved he must submit to such punishment as the superior, whose office it is to inflict penalties, may think fit to impose. 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.” (The Rule of St. Augustine)

2. Pope St. Leo the Great told the bishops in the fifth century that "those who refuse to share in our discipline cannot share in our communion." (Letter IV)

3. Pope St. Gregory the Great said, “[T]he pastor who does not eradicate the evil which he observes, comes to that state which his negligence deserves, namely, not even to recognize the sins of his subjects.” (Pastoral Rule)


4. The following is a Benedictine motto: "Pruned...and it grows again!"

Monday, September 24, 2012

Same-sex Marriage: Why Conservatives can’t save the Republic

Originally entitled, “Conservatives on Same-sex Marriage” the following post was published on The Edmund Burke Institute website in the May of 2011 edition of the Reflections column and then revised.


Relaxing the Standard:

There is a disturbing trend among conservatives both in politics and in the media. Not an insignificant number of them are softening up on same-sex marriage. Some deny the importance altogether like Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and others affirm the importance of it but do not believe it to be a higher priority than the economy like 2008 presidential candidate Michael Huckabee. Gretchen Carlson, host of Fox and Friends, has said that homosexuality is not immoral. Sean Hannity insists that he doesn’t care what couples- heterosexual or homosexual –do in the privacy of their bedrooms. There is, of course, Bill O’Reilly who wavers on the subject but nevertheless maintains that it is permissible that same-sex couples have the right to adopt. And in recent years, Rush Limbaugh has been more subdued on the subject.


A Shift in Attitude:

A Fox News article, confirmed that there is a cultural shift in favor of same-sex marriage. The article cited a Pew Research Center Poll which found that “Americans were opposed to gay marriage by nearly 2-1 a decade ago, while the latest poll showed 45 percent in support of it, with 46 percent in opposition.” The point is that Americans are not the only ones relaxing their moral standards on this issue. Conservatives are also being influenced by socially liberal values. I’m afraid that fewer of them see the close relationship between the Christian meaning of marriage and the freedoms they seek to defend.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century most Westerners instinctively understood that the sanctity of marriage and the nuclear family were the bedrock of civilization. Pope Leo XIII gave voice to this fundamental truth when he said the following:

“The family may be regarded as the cradle of civil society, and it is in great measure within the circle of family life that the destiny of the States is fostered…If in their early years they find within the walls of their homes the rule of an upright life and the discipline of Christian virtues, the future welfare of society will in great measure be guaranteed.” (On Christians as Citizens, 1890)

This truth of civil society is not apparent as it once was. In the political world where not only the commitment to a party’s agenda is expected but loyalty to fellow party members is a sacred duty, it is a predictable occurrence that religious and moral principles get compromised for the sake of fellowship. This is especially the case when so many politicians have family members, friends or colleagues who are practicing homosexuals. Under these circumstances promoting Gospel values as it pertains to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage comes across to many as being judgmental. As such, many conservatives take what they imagine to be the high road by being “non-judgmental.” Indeed, if some fellow party members are practicing homosexuals then there is a temptation to withhold judgment on the lifestyle itself. Nevertheless, any position or strategy based on whether a minority or majority of colleagues favors the same-sex lifestyle makes for a poor moral foundation. As St. Paul said, “[W]hen they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (II Corinthians 10:12)


Freedom, Religion and Morality:

Conservatives put a high premium on free enterprise, liberty, progress and national security as I do. But they undermine their attempt to save these things by compromising on social values; most especially with regard to marriage between a man and a woman. In centuries past, the relationship between the institution of marriage as defined between a man and a woman and the welfare of the State was a self-evident truth. This is not the case anymore; even among those conservatives who want to safeguard the founding principles of this nation. However, the Constitutional principles which have occasioned free enterprise, liberty and progress in America rest upon Christian morality. The famous passage from George Washington’s farewell address in 1796 makes an indirect but unmistakable reference to Christian morality’s ties to political prosperity. He said, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

Approximately forty years later Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, said that the surest pledge of liberty is morality. There should be no doubt that the sanctity of marriage was understood by the Christian churches in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as being between a man and a woman. Furthermore, its relationship with the welfare of the State was taken for granted by the people of this time period. Due to their Christian education, they more easily perceived the big picture of life; that is, the unity of religion, morality and politics. Twenty-first century conservatives, however, are compartmentalizing Christian morality apart from political prosperity; that is, fewer of them appreciate that “Religion and Morality are indispensible supports” for civil liberties, balanced budgets and national security.


Divine, Parental and Civil Authority

Suffice it to say that a wise and loving governance of children by two parents in the home is but the precursor for a wise and just governance of citizens by the State. Those who rule and those who are ruled come from one kind of family or another. Children who become citizens, who then become politicians, learn their philosophy of governance primarily at home and secondarily at school. In many respects, the family is the laboratory for government. Under the parental authority of a mother and father, love and justice work together for the welfare of the child. As a rule, the parental power to rule is never divorced from the love and the best interests of the child. Although the right of civil authority to rule comes from God and is delegated by the people, it is true nevertheless that civil authority borrows its force and character from parental authority. To be sure, parental authority is the tutor of civil authority. A child who knows not the affection of a mother and the discipline of a father will struggle to find the right balance in governing as a representative of the State.

All this presupposes one fact: same-sex couples cannot provide the balance of mercy and justice, love and authority, stability and longevity that a heterosexual couple can provide. If you doubt this presupposition there is not short supply of studies which have demonstrated the inherent instability of same-sex unions. There is overwhelming evidence that promiscuity, violence and short-lived relationships are common traits in this demographic.

We need not content ourselves with mere studies and statistics; Scripture is today, as any time in the past, a reliable source of truth. Man and woman were created in the image of God to complement each other; to become as one. The union of male and female not only benefits the two spouses but the child as well. The child comes to know him or herself, the world and God himself through this image. It is the lens through which reality is grasped. If this image is distorted then the child’s perception of reality will be distorted. Every person should know that the clarity or distortion of this image has political implications. When parental governance is unnatural or inherently dysfunctional as is the case with same-sex unions, then this translates into an unnatural or oppressive governance by the State

If conservatives want political prosperity, as I know they do, then they must begin by safeguarding the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman. After all, nations are won or lost not so much at the ballot box or in the political arena; rather, their national longevity and prosperity are determined by orthodoxy of faith and the purity of sexual behavior. Without the latter, the family will be too unstable of an institution to foster self-governance; and without the cultivation of self-governance by a mother and a father, freedom is impossible! Keep in mind that early Christianity tamed the strong arm of the pagan State principally through the virtues of faith, chastity and charity. Change came to politics from outside of the political world, not inside! Indeed, the Church took it for granted that if the social and political order were to be redeemed, false gods and sexual sin had to be shunned, reproved and supplanted by Christian living.

The truth is that there is no saving the American Republic without saving the soul, marriage and sexuality. If conservatives presume that they retrieve America from a downward trend by exclusively focusing on fiscal policies and national security, they are in for a big surprise.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Someone is Coming


Reposted and revised. Originally entitled, “Soloviev: Why Christianity Needs the State.”

Just two months before his death in 1900 and 17 years before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Vladimir Soloviev, a convert to Catholicism, wrote the following to a friend; this, during a time when the general sentiment among the people was one of optimism and great expectation:
"Chaos reigns. Sleep is no longer the same. Something is happening. Someone is coming...You may guess that by this 'Someone', I mean the Antichrist himself. The end of the world is coming and I feel it blowing in my face, clear but elusive, just as the traveler, nearing the sea, senses the sea air before he actually sees the surging waves...”

Unlike his peers, Soloviev anticipated new and unprecedented challenges were awaiting Christians in Russia. He continues: “The current state of the Church leads me to expect a terrible disappointment. I would be surprised even to see the liturgy remaining safe and triumphant. I sense the coming of a time when Christians will have to meet for prayer in the catacombs. Everywhere the faith will be persecuted, perhaps less brutally than in the days of Nero, but more subtly and cruelly: through lies, deception and misrepresentation. And that is hardly an overstatement. Can you not see what is afoot? I see it clearly and have done so for a long while now."


Soloviev's premonition was accurate. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, in advancing the Russian Revolution, sought to eliminate the Russian Orthodox Church. And to be sure, they enjoyed a great deal of success. For instance, the Russian Church in 1917 had 66,140 clergy members. By 1940, that number dwindled to 6,376. And as for the churches, there were 39,530 of them in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. In 1940, however, only 950 of them remained functional.

In an essay, Soloviev wrote about how Christianity revolutionized politics. In ancient times, he said, the pagan State existed for itself just as socialistic and secular regimes do in modern times. In a word, paganism turned the very purpose of government upside down to mean that citizens exist to serve the State. But with the revelation of Jesus Christ, the purpose of the State was also revealed to mankind. Indeed, political truth was made known because the truth and dignity of the immortal the soul was revealed.

"Christianity,” Soloviev said, “coming into the world in order to save the world, also served the supreme manifestation of the world- the State -having revealed to the State the true goal and meaning of its existence.” He then added, “A Christian state acknowledges over itself a higher goal, which is given by religion and is represented by the Church, and a Christian State finds its higher meaning and purpose in voluntary service to this goal, that is to say, the kingdom of God."


For this reason, the State- by the virtue of its revealed purpose -has limited power. And those who govern under the influence of Christianity are tempered by the divine and natural law. The Russian philosopher then goes on to caution his readers about the absence of Christian belief in politics: "The difference between a Christian and a pagan State consists in the latter thinking it had a purpose in itself, and therefore it turned out to be aimless and meaningless."

It cannot be emphasized enough that if political power is not seen as coming from God and hence used for the welfare of the citizenry, it will be used for the personal advantage of political rulers. As Vladimir Soloviev warned, the political attitude of "mine" creates the conditions for an all-powerful State. He said, "Once the supremacy of one's own interest is recognized and legalized in politics only as mine, then it becomes absolutely impossible to point out boundaries of this mine..."
But what about America? Does she not face similar challenges as Russia did a century ago?
In recent decades the U.S. government has grown by leaps and bounds in part because political authority is believed to be the personal possession of politicians; a divine right, if you will. But what has enabled this presumption to go unchecked in Washington D.C. is a morally unformed and uneducated citizenry.
Keep in mind that if the average American depends on the State for his education- an education without reference to God –he will all more likely forgo self-reliance and continue to rely on the State for his welfare. Indeed, what has replaced an attitude of self-sufficiency in the private sector is an entitlement mentality. “About 17 million people received food stamps back in 2000. Some 30 million received them in 2008. Roughly 46 million people receive them today. From 1 in 50 Americans on food stamps at the program’s national inception in the 1970s, 1 in 7 Americans are on them now.”

The bottom line is this: There is a direct relationship between the entitlement mentality of Americans fostered by our public institutions and the religious liberty denied Christians by those same institutions. The State that giveth too much also has the power to taketh too much away. This kind of power is borne from and is further strengthened by the absence of Christian influence upon the State. Without the light of Gospel, the dignity and liberty of the human soul fails to express itself in the public square, thus limiting the jurisdiction of the State over human affairs.
What Vladimir Soloviev was for Russia, Bishop Fulton Sheen was for America. In 1948, about 20 years before the Sexual Revolution and 60 years before the H.H.S. mandate era, Sheen warned America about that “someone” who is to come if her faith in God should ever weaken. That “someone,” of course, is a totalitarian state that will undoubtedly be an enemy of Christ. He said, "If a time ever comes when the religious Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have to suffer under a totalitarian state denying them the right to worship God according to the light of their conscience, it will be because for years they thought it no difference what kind of people represented them in Congress, and because they never opposed the materialistic lie with spiritual truth."

America: Someone is coming! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Matthew

There are some people who are anxiously waiting to hear the undiluted version of the Gospel. They just want the straight truth about God no matter how unpopular certain doctrines are or how difficult being a follower of Christ may seem.

They are fully aware of their limitations and as such they suffer no illusions about the false promises this world holds out to them. These God-seekers may be full of wrong ideas about religion and morality but when they are confronted with the truth, they commit to it promptly and with all of their strength. One such man was St. Matthew.

In many ways, St. Matthew was a male counterpart to St. Mary Magdalene. Both sinners fell out of favor with society and with the inner-religious circles at the time of Christ. Not only did they know what it meant to be a sinner but they experienced being labeled as such by a good number of people.

St. Matthew was tax collector at the customs post before he was called upon by Christ to follow him. Indeed, he was a man who worked on behalf of the Roman administration to collect taxes. Quite often such an occupation lent itself to usury and personal profit. Hence, the mere association with such greed was enough to have him banished from religious and social circles.

Nevertheless, when Jesus Christ, the great lover of souls, came walking past him, St. Matthew immediately saw that that he was different from the other rabbis. Evidently, our Lord’s words, “Follow me!” resounded deeply within the heart of this tax collector. Without skipping a heartbeat, St. Matthew went from collecting taxes on behalf of the Romans to harvesting souls on behalf of God.

Several centuries later, when St. Bridget prayed at St. Matthew’s tomb at Malphi, she heard these words from the Apostle himself:

“It was my desire at the time I was a publican to defraud no man, and I wished to find out a way by which I might abandon that employment, and cleave to God alone with my whole heart. When therefore He who loved me, even Jesus Christ was preaching, His call was a flame of fire in my heart; and so sweet were His words unto my taste, that I thought no more of riches than of straws: yea, it was delightful to me to weep for joy, that my God had deigned to call one of such small account, and so great a sinner as I to His grace. And as I clung unto my Lord, His burning words became fixed in my heart, and day and night I fed upon them by meditation, as upon sweetest food.” (Lapide’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew)

Like St. Mary Magdalene, who was deemed to be a “sinful woman,” St. Matthew was despised by the religious establishment of his day and counted the least of all. Our Lord Jesus had to remind his critics that "those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." He then said, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Yes, fulfilling our religious obligations is absolutely necessary. But if mercy towards our neighbor and the needy does not flow from the observance of rituals i.e. attending Mass, tithing etc., then our good works will be wanting.

Notice that our Lord was not constantly surrounded by his religious peers or with only those who were held in high esteem by the people. Without compromising his relationship with his heavenly Father and without conforming to the ways of sinners, he ventured into those social circles that were condemned by society. By doing this, he made his religious cohorts angry. The result was such that he fell out of their favor. But he did it anyways! He stooped down and gave a helping hand to those who had fallen from grace. But Jesus could only do this because he wasn’t overly concerned with what his religious peers thought of him.

In the 19th century, Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore wrote a book entitled, The Ambassador of Christ. He wrote it for seminarians and priests. The good Cardinal knew that if anything hinders the mission to save souls it is the vice of human respect; that is, being too concerned with what others may think of you. The following passage from his book is eloquent and to the point:

"The vice opposed to self respect is human respect. Human respect is a base condescension by which, from the fear of offending others, or from the desire of acquiring their esteem, a man says or does what his conscience conceives to be unlawful. It is not easy to exaggerate the baneful influence which this moral cowardice exerts on mankind, especially on impressionable youth, under the alluring guise of friendship and love of applause...God has established in your breast the sacred tribunal of conscience by whose dictates you are bound to decide. But in yielding to human respect, you act the part of a temporizing judge like Pilate, who pronounced sentence, not in accordance with the evidence before Him, but in obedience to the clamors of the multitude. You sacrifice principle to expediency, you subordinate the voice of God to the voice of man, you surrender your Christian liberty and manly independence, and you become the slave of a fellow creature."

There is at least one man who is eternally grateful that Jesus Christ did not yield to human respect. And that man is St. Matthew. When his number was called, St. Matthew was willing and ready; willing to follow Jesus and ready to endure adversity for the sake of his Gospel.

Pio Pays the Price for a Soul

Every September 23rd, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Padre Pio. This holy Capuchin priest from Pietrelcina, Italy was widely known for his supernatural gifts of bi-location, reading souls and the bodily marks of Christ, better known as stigmata’s. What may be less known, however, was the debt he willing to pay in order to save souls.

As one being baptized in Christ’s death, he willingly suffered as a victim priest for sinners. Indeed, Jesus did not die on the Cross to exempt us from redemptive suffering; on the contrary, His Passion enabled us to participate in it. This truth is confirmed by St. Peter who wrote: “Love covers a multitude of sins” and that “for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin.” (I Peter 4:1,8) It was this kind of love and sacrifice that made St. Pio’s ministry so fruitful. His biography contains a long litany of stories which convey profound lessons for life’s spiritual journey.

One such story took place before St. Pio became a priest in 1905. At the time he was a divinity student at Sant’ Elia a Piansi. While in a choir at church, at 11:00pm at night, he was mystically transported to an enormous house looking much like a mansion. In this house was Giovanni Battista Rizzani, a man who was on his deathbed. His wife, Leonilde Rizzani, who was eight months pregnant, was at his bedside but was unaware that she was about to give birth prematurely to a baby girl. As a committed Mason and opponent of Christianity, Giovanni had his friends stationed outside his house so as to prevent any priest from coming in. He knew that his wife, a devout Catholic, wanted him to receive Last Rites. Sure enough, a priest soon arrived at the house but was unable to get in thanks to the efforts of Giovanni’s friends. Matters went from bad to worse when Leonilde went into labor and gave birth to a baby girl named, Giovanna.

It was during this time the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Padre Pio (miles away from the mansion) in order to brief him about his mission in this regard. She said: “I am entrusting this child to you. Now she is a diamond in the rough, but I want you to work with her, polish her, and make her as shinning as possible, because one day I wish to adorn myself with her.”

St. Pio simply asked, “How is this possible?” He reasoned that he was not a priest yet (out of his humility, he did not presume he would be a priest). Also, at the time, the Rizzani family lived some 350 miles away. Needless to say, the young Pio couldn’t see how he could possibly carry out this mission. Nevertheless, the Madonna simply replied, “Do not doubt. She will come to you at St. Peter’s Basilica.”

"Do not doubt!" St. Pio would have to learn this lesson time and time again- as we all do. The circumstances which daily press upon us and the difficult circumstances which demand recognition may seem meaningless and even an obstacle to what God has called us to. Still, heaven bids us “not to doubt.” We are to trust that Divine Providence brings order out of disorder, meaning from what seems meaningless and interior joy out of painful circumstances. St. Padre Pio would later say we are like little children who, while sitting on the floor, look up at the bottom of the embroider our mother is working on. From the bottom view, the embroider is full of uneven threads and knots. But from the top view, however, a beautiful design is emerging; one that is pleasing to the eye.

Back to the mansion: The priest waiting outside managed to convince Giovanni’s friends that he should at least be able to baptize the newly born Giovanna. As the priest entered the home, Giovanni, the unbelieving Mason, was breathing his last. But before he died he asked God for forgiveness. Several years later, St. Pio would tell Giovanna that her father’s soul was saved through the intercession of Mary.

Fast forward to 1922. Leonilde had moved to Rome with her children. Giovanna was seventeen or eighteen at the time. In high school, Giovanna’s teachers had sown some seeds of doubt in her mind about the Holy Trinity. She was troubled by this, so she went to confession at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. However, confessions had just ended and the security personnel were trying to usher the people out of the basilica. Giovanna was told to go home. Nonetheless, a voice from within one of the confessional's said that he would hear her confession. She then confessed her sins and the doubts she entertained about the Trinity were dispelled by the confessor.

Giovanna, inspired by the good counsel she received, wanted to wait for the priest who, she throught, was still in the confessional so she could have a word with him. At this point, the security personnel were growing more irritated with Giovanni because she had not left yet. After expressing her wish to talk with the confessor, one of the guards opened the confessional curtain and said to her, “See, no one is there.” Indeed, it was true. The confessional was empty.

A year later in 1923, Giovanna, her aunt, and several friends of hers wanted to go see St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. At this point, Giovanna did not know much about the holy priest. The following account is taken from the book, "Padre Pio: The
True Story" by C. Bernard Ruffin:

It was late afternoon when, standing in the crowd of people in the sacristy of the church, Giovanna caught her first glimpse of Padre Pio. To her amazement, he came right up to her and extended his hand for her to kiss, exclaiming, “Why, Giovanna! I know you! You were born the day your father died.” She did not know what to say. The next day, after hearing her confession, Padre Pio said to her, "At last you have come to me, my dear child. I have been waiting for you for so many years." Giovanna replied, "Perhaps you’re mistaken and have confused me with some other girl.”

Padre Pio assured her by saying, “No, I am not mistaken. I knew you before…Last summer, one summer afternoon, you went with a friend to St. Peter’s Basilica and you made your confession before a Capuchin priest. Do you remember?”

“Yes, Father I do.” “Well," Padre Pio replied, "I was that Capuchin!”

Padre Pio went on to explain, “Dear child, listen to me. When you were about to come into the world, the Madonna carried me away to Udine to your mansion. She had me assist at the death of your father, telling me: ‘See, in this very room a man is dying. He is the head of a family. He is saved through the tears and prayers [italics added] of his wife and through my intercession. The wife of the dying man is about to give birth to a child. I entrust this child to you.’ Padre Pio concluded my insisting, ‘And now let me take care of your soul, as the heavenly Lady desires.’”

Giovanna burst into tears and asked Padre Pio, “Tell me, what I must do? Shall I become a nun?” “By no means,” he said. “You will come often to San Giovanni Rotondo. I will take charge of your soul, and you will know the will of God.” (The end of quote from the book, "Padre Pio: The True Story")

This story is important because it says a lot about how indispensible we are in carrying out the mission that God has given us. The Blessed Virgin could have ministered to Giovanna herself; the young girl was a diamond the Blessed Virgin easily could have shined herself. Nevertheless, Divine Providence had preordained from all eternity that St. Pio should take under his wing his spiritual daughter who was about to be born. At the time, St. Pio couldn’t even imagine how such a thing could be done, given the distance and all the imagined obstacles. But the crosses he carried and the sufferings he offered up was precisely the thing Jesus Christ wanted to use to ransom the soul of Giovanna. We cannot forget her father either. Giovanni, a penitent at death but a Mason during his life, was rescued from eternal darkness through the tears of his wife, Leonilde, and the intercession of the Madonna.

Another point to consider is this: The story of Giovanni and St. Pio reveals at what lengths the Lord and the Blessed Virgin will go to save a soul. As for us, the sheer number of people in this world overwhelms the human mind. As such, we see ourselves as one soul out of six or seven billion. But for God- as well as for the Angels and the Saints in heaven (which is beyond time and space) -gazing upon the multitude in no way subtracts from the love and knowledge they have of each and every individual.

A dying father and a fatherless girl needed help. Heaven took notice and sent St. Padre Pio. We too are called to provide the kind of help to people no one else can provide. God may even send you in what seems like an impossible situation. Nonetheless, we should have faith and be resolved to help carry our neighbor's cross, to offer spiritual sacrifices and to pay their debts. To every soul who owes a moral and spiritual debt, our Lord says, "I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny." (Lk 12:59) The life of St. Padre Pio teaches us that we can free our neighbors from their spiritual and moral prisons by helping them pay back those pennies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

God's Two Different Moods: Old and New Testament (repost)

God's Two Different Moods: Old and New Testament

Why God behaves different before and after the coming of his Son



Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.

He began to teach them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”

-Matthew 5: 1-12, 17-18



Preface:

Have you ever wondered why the moral law in the Old Testament differs from the moral law in the New Testament? The Sermon on the Mount, that is, Christ’s teaching on the Beatitudes, is different in its delivery and its emphasis. Many Christians over the years have been quite perplexed over God’s severe actions towards his people and sinners alike as opposed to the clemency he exhibits in the New Testament. Marcion, a second century heretic, even taught that the God of the Old Testament was different than the God of the New Testament.


To Fulfill Not Abolish:

To begin with, Jesus made it clear that the Old and the New Law are not opposed to each other. In fact, the former is fulfilled by the latter. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” Jesus fulfilled the law because he lived out his life in the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the Spirit of God dwelling within him, inspired every one of his thoughts, words and deeds. Our Lord perfectly conformed to the will of his Father by means of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Isaiah foretold this when he said, “The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.” However, prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the human race, as a rule, was devoid of these divine gifts.. Indeed, man was at the mercy of his own human frailty.


The Spirit Withdrawals: Everything Changes

Before God flooded the earth- even after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit -his Spirit had abided with mankind. But the descendants of Seth (God's faithful) had relations with women who belonged to the tribe of Cain (the unfaithful), known as the “Daughters of Men,” (Gen. 6:4). It was this act of infidelity on the part of Seth's tribe that moved the Lord to punish humanity and baptize the world, as it were, with forty days and forty nights of rain. As the story goes, God’s favor fell upon Noah and his family; and the rest is history. But even more important than the flood itself was the withdrawal of his Spirit. He said, “My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh.” Upon the departure of his Spirit, knowledge of God, the spiritual gifts, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and that mark of civility which characterized Christian civilization centuries later would be scarce in the Old Testament world.

After exiting the ark, the Lord established a covenant with Noah. But the world would not be the same as when the Lord had walked side by side with Enoch. No. The new rules that were to govern mankind resembled what Charles Darwin coined as “the survival of the fittest.” Indeed, God inaugurated an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” policy; murder would be met with the death penalty; instead of living on plants alone, man would eat animal flesh; and in the post-flood world animals would become ill-disposed towards humans through fear.

The main point to keep in mind is that from the flood onward, the standard of morality lowered considerably. For instance, God never approved but nevertheless condoned polygamy and concubinage among his servants such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David. Warfare was brutal, capital punishment merciless, and divine punishment was severe and even dramatic at times. Human beings without God's Spirit were like little children who did not understand a well-reasoned argument as to why certain things were morally good or evil. Like a spoiled and unruly child, they were only able to appreciate the impact of God's heavy hand against their backside.


New Religion: Harsh and Exact

The Hebrew religion with all the prescribed rituals would have to appeal to the senses, that is, it was physical in nature and its observances had to be exact. All this was to symbolize man's lot in relation to God. To be sure, the Lord had not abandoned mankind completely but his fellowship with him was strained. In many ways, God assumed the role of a master instead of a Father. All this because the Sons of God (Seth's descendants) chose to marry the Daughters of Men (Cain's descendants); in so doing they signaled that their faith was secondary thereby taking a fateful step away from their Creator and Friend.

If, after reading the Old Testament, God seems severe and even caustic at times, it was because man had created this relationship. But God, who is a loving Father, did not let man wander too far off the path.

Some time had passed when the descendants of Noah and his three sons wanted to make a name for themselves by building the famous tower of Babel. This enterprise, however, was displeasing to the Lord. He subsequently intervened and divided humanity along ethnic lines into seventy-two nations. Confusing their language, God has prevented this enterprise from going forward.

It wasn't until Pentecost that the Holy Spirit once again descended upon humanity to restore both its moral power and fraternal unity. This would be realized only through Jesus' relationship with the Father; and this divine relationship would not only be revealed by the Spirit who binds them together but men, women and children alike would be invited to partake of this relationship.


Raising the Moral Standard:

With this backdrop in mind, the significance of the Sermon on the Mount can be better understood. Jesus fulfilled his Father's will with perfection; and he did this in the Spirit. Knowing that his followers would possess the same Holy Spirit he possessed, he would then elevate the demands of the moral law. In other words, he raised the bar and demanded more than what was previously demanded by God in the Old Testament. For instance, he said, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.'” Our Lord continued: “You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

As opposed to the Mosaic Law, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, puts the emphasis first and foremost on a person's interior; that is, on his thoughts and desires. As the saying goes: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” But in the absence of God's presence in the soul, the Mosaic Law was powerless to restore morality. It was an exterior system of rituals which had more symbolic value than anything else. But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, a new spiritual order would be forthcoming.


Beyond Mere Obedience and Imitation:

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied the following: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.” Jesus came to fulfill this passage from the prophet Ezekiel through his public ministry, his death, his resurrection and the sending of his Spirit from heaven. In the Sermon on the Mount, he raises the moral aim of his followers. With the impending infusion of the Holy Spirit into willing souls, Christians would be given a new moral power; as such, the demands of the moral law would be elevated.

It is important to understand that the new family of God- the New Israel -would not only be given a new law but would also have a divine model in which to imitate. Nevertheless, the observance of the moral law and the imitation of our Lord's example would prove to be insufficient. In the New Covenant, the people of God would be called to live the very life of Christ. The interior life of God- which is none other than the Holy Spirit -is communicated through the Sacraments. From this union with God, we can think with Christ and live as he did.