Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Greatest Class

So Different: Yet the Same

The Saints of the Catholic Church are a diverse class of people who lived in different eras and are from different cultures. They are composed of men, women and children who possessed a wide variety of personalities; some were extraverted while others were introverted; some were known as being humorous and yet others were serious. Their stations in life ranged from that of royalty to peasantry; from the heights of the papacy to the disgrace of the excommunicated; from the rich to the very poor; from the intellectually gifted to those who suffered from learning disabilities; and from those who lived a long life to those who were called to martyrdom at a young age.

Yet, given this diverse array of personality traits, status and background, they were still of the same mind and heart. After all, they all shared one thing in common with Jesus Christ: the Holy Spirit. It was this same Spirit that breathed into each Saint a real ambition for God’s honor, a strong desire for heaven, and a similar, if not, the same disposition towards virtue and vice. Remarkably, they were all uncompromising on the essentials- the things that really mattered -and indifferent towards the trivial and marginal circumstances of the day.

Falling in Love:

Chief among their virtues was that they not only loved Jesus Christ, but as Spouses of the Bridegroom, they were “in-love with him.” They truly courted him in solitude, prayer and meditation as often as they could. And among their favorite meditations was the Passion of Christ. For them, our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross was the very essence of divine love. But they also understood that the fullness of Christ was to be found in life of the Church. This is why they drew close to the Mass and to the Sacraments where the life of God within their souls was daily nourished and built-up.

God is Everywhere:

To frequently experience Christ within the sanctuary of the Church is to better discern his presence in the world. The Saints were constantly aware of the presence of God, no matter where they were. For instance, St. John Bosco (1815-1888), a priest who cared for orphans, one day came across three of his boys who were playing soccer. He asked them, “If you were told that you had three weeks to live, what would you do?” The first boy said, “I would immediately go to the chapel so I could prepare for my death.” The second boy echoed the same sentiments. But the third boy said, “I would continue playing soccer.” That third boy happened to be St. Dominic Savio who died not too long after that discussion. What St. Dominic saw that the other boys failed to see is that playing soccer was very much consistent with their salvation. It wasn’t that St. Dominic downplayed spending time in the sanctuary. In fact, he frequently attended Mass and also spent quite a bit of time before the Blessed Sacrament. Rather, he offered everything he did, including recreational activities, to God. As such, his path to heaven ran right through the soccer field.

Unconventional Wisdom:

Just as the Saints saw the presence of God in all places, they likewise saw each human being as they really were. Social status, class status or political status meant nothing to them. If the Saints were willing to reach out to outcasts and sinners- those of whom society tended to ignore or disdain -they were equally willing to rebuke powerful rulers and highly esteemed celebrities if circumstances required it. St. Padre Pio, who had founded a hospital for the sick and suffering, was also known to chase out unrepentant sinners from his confessionals. St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, inspired St. Augustine’s conversion with his sermons but he refused to allow the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, who had killed 6,000 Thessalonians in an uprising, to enter his cathedral.

These great men and women did not succumb to “group-think” habits and conventional wisdom of their times. If the good of the soul was being compromised, they could be outspoken and mercilessly rude. Neither kindness nor severity- neither turning a cheek nor opposing an offender- neither silence nor making a scene was off limits for them. When the interests of God were stake, they were uncompromising. Even if the Devil himself would appear to them, they would hardly flinch because knew that He who was within their souls was the stronger of the two.

Beside Themselves:

The Saints did not take themselves seriously at all. With a cheerful abandon, they did little to hide their own faults. When they could, they agreed with their critics and laughed with those who ridiculed them. In the mid-nineteenth century there were some elitist priests in France who were determined to have St. John Vianney ousted from the priesthood because of his learning disabilities. They got a petition going and it eventually made its way to Ars, where the saintly priest was stationed. What did St. John do when it was presented to him? He asked if he could sign it.

The law of holiness is that the holier a person is, the more he or she realizes that they are a sinner. When the bright light of God is allowed to shine in the soul, imperfections show themselves. With this, the sinner sees himself as he really is: nothing before God’s holiness. For instance, upon having a vision of the Lord of Hosts, the prophet Isaiah said, “Woe is me.” Centuries later Christ told his Apostles, “Without Me, you can do nothing.” Indeed, the Saints took his words quite literally. They were perfectly content knowing that they were the source of their own sins and shortcomings. Yet, whenever the Saints were commended for their exceptional virtues, they immediately gave the credit to God. Such humility gave them a levity that few people enjoyed.

Outsiders and Foreigners:

Many Saints knew what it meant to be outsiders, marginalized by the world. As with our Lord, not a few of them were even rejected by their own. St. Patrick was criticized by his brother bishops for preaching throughout Ireland. St. Joan of Arc was falsely accused and put to death by the Church officials of her day. St. Mary MacKillop, an Australian nun, was excommunicated by her own archbishop. And St. Alphonsus was kicked out of the Redemptorist order he had founded. In fact, he once said, “The saints have not been made saints by applause and honor, but by injuries and insults.”

Knowing what it means to be an outcast- and at least in some sense, foreigners to this world -every single canonized Saint loved the poor and the needy. They felt as though they were one with them. Because of their own crosses, they learned to be at home with suffering humanity; that is, in mental institutions, prisons, orphanages, soup kitchens, the slums and in nursing homes. And although salvation and the needs of the soul took priority over the needs of the body, they never exclusively focused on one ministry at the expense of the other. Each individual, no matter how seemingly insignificant, was given special attention. Many said that when they spoke with Blessed Mother Theresa, she would zero in on them as if they were the only one in the room; the same with Venerable Fulton Sheen. One day Bishop Sheen was visiting the church of his childhood years in Peoria. He was surrounded by the press, the clergy and many attendees outside of St. Mary’s. And in the distance, he noticed a woman who looked distressed. Her appearance suggested to him that she needed a friend to talk to. The good bishop excused himself, approached the lady and asked her to follow him. Apart from the crowd, she revealed to Bishop Sheen that she was in a “bad place” in her life. She confessed her sins to him, and then he resumed with the festivities.

To Accept All Things:

Arguably, one of their most remarkable virtues among the Saints was that they accepted everything as coming from the hand of God. St. Paul once said, “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.” (Philippians 4:12) The Apostle understood that Christ joined humanity in its suffering by dying on the Cross. But he did this not to spare people from suffering. Rather, he did it so that people could suffer in union with him. Through this mystical union, every Christian could be assured that their suffering had meaning and redemptive value. God told St. Catherine of Sienna that his servants accept all things with equal reverence. Perhaps, this is why complaints rarely escaped the lips of the Saints. In setbacks, persecution and hardship, the loving hand of God was discerned. With the prophet Job they would say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The Greatest Saint: A Saint-maker

The greatest class of people the world has ever known, without a doubt, are the Saints of God. Yet among these exceptional disciples of Christ, one stands out above rest- the Blessed Virgin Mary. As St. Louis de Montfort said, God was glorified more by the 30 years Jesus spent with his mother in Nazareth than if he had preached the Gospel to the world at a young age. Indeed, before the Lord entered into public life, his private life was shaped and influenced by his Mother. What she did for Jesus she does for every Saint.

Just a few things are necessary in order to become a Saint: First, we have to believe it is possible. Second, we have to will it! Third, the life of Christ does not end with the last chapter of the Gospel of John. The life of Christ continues in the lives of the Saints. As such, studying the life of Christ in the Saints will go a long way in spurring us on to the goal.

You might be surprised to learn that when these holy men and women sought to glorify God first and foremost, great things were achieved. It was from this quest that Christian civilization- the only free civilization to ever have existed -was brought into being. And it was from this holy ambition that the Catholic Church was renewed in times of languor. These are just a few of the blessed but unintended consequences that resulted from "seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." To be sure, countless people- Christians and non-Christians alike -benefited from the holiness of the Saints. And if we carefully look at annals of history, we will see that Our Lord kept his promise when said that "all these things will be given you besides." When his interests were the number one priority of Christians, blessings abounded.

Vatican exorcist Amorth speaks on Satan's smoke

Reposting for October 31st, 2012:

In preparing for an upcoming radio program, I came across an intervew with the world's leading expert on exorcism, Father Gabriel Amorth. He is Vatican's chief excorcist. A common theme that runs through many Sky View posts is the need among the followers of Christ to be "wise as serpents." This suggests that we are called to not only affirm and build upon the good, but also be vigilant against evil itself; and even denounce it when we see it.

Teachers of the Faith as well as evangelists have much to learn from exorcists. In fact, since the 1960's the Catholic Church from the highest levels down to the lowest levels have been influenced, at least in part, by the secular mentality which breeds a skepticism about Satan and hell. With this skepticism came a relaxing of our defenses against evil. You will learn by reading this interview by Stefano Maria Paci with Fr. Gabriel Amorth that exorcists were, at times, an endangered species. But lately they have made a come-back because the demand for exorcisms has increased.

Spero News publishes "The Smoke of Satan in the House of the Lord...and deliver us from the evil one," an interview with the Vatican's chief excorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth.

By Stefano Maria Paci

Twenty-nine years have passed since that day, June 29 1972. It was the Feast of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles. It was the Feast of Saint Paul who brought the Gospel of Christ to the extreme corners of the West. On that day, June 29, Feast of the Patron Saints of Rome, Peter’s successor who had taken the name of Paul issued a dramatic warning. Paul VI spoke of God’s enemy supreme, that enemy of man called Satan, enemy of the Church. “The smoke of Satan”, warned Paul VI, “has found its way into the Church through the fissures”. It was an anguished warning that caused great shock and scandal, even within the Catholic world.

And what of today, 29 years later? Has that smoke been dispersed or has it continued to drift? 30DAYS went to see the man who has to do with Satan and his cunning every day. It’s his job, almost. He is the world’s most famous exorcist – Father Gabriele Amorth, founder and honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists.

We also went to him because a few weeks ago, on May 15, the Italian Episcopal Conference approved the Italian translation of the new Rite of Exorcism. All it needs now for it to be used is the placet of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Is this a new weapon in the Church’s battle with the Enemy? Will it dispel, if it still hasn’t been dispelled, that smoke which has drifted into the temple of the Lord? Nothing of the kind, according to Father Amorth. He will tell us that the war being waged for millennia rages on more angrily than ever. That the battlefront has now moved inside the house of the Lord. That the smoke … the smoke has drifted in the most unsuspected directions. At long last, the

PACI: Italian translation of the new Rite of Exorcism is ready …

GABRIELE AMORTH: Yes, it is. Last year, the Italian Episcopal Conference could not approve it because there were errors in the translation from the Latin. We exorcists who would have to use it took advantage of this to point out yet again that we were not in agreement with the new Rite on many points. The original Latin text is unchanged in this translation. A Rite so long-awaited has turned out to be a joke, an incredible cord that is tying us in knots in our work against the Devil.

PACI: That’s a serious allegation. What, exactly, are you referring to?

AMORTH: I can give you two examples, two blatant examples. At Point 15, it talks of evil in the sense of the ‘evil eye’ and how we should conduct ourselves. The ‘evil eye’ is an evil directed at a person through the Devil. This can be done in various ways, in the form of spells, curses, by voodoo and macumba. The Roman Rite explained how this had to be addressed. The new Rite, by contrast, categorically states that it is prohibited to perform exorcisms in these cases. That is just absurd. This evildoing is by far the most frequent cause of demonic possession and other evils procured by the Devil – no fewer than 90 per cent. It’s like telling exorcists to retire. Then, Point 16 solemnly states that exorcisms must not be carried out unless the presence of the Devil is ascertained. This is a masterpiece of incompetence because we can only ascertain if the Devil is possessing a person by performing an exorcism. Moreover, the editors did not realize that, on both points, they were contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church which advises exorcism both in the case of demonic possession and of evils caused by the Devil. It also says this should be done in regard both to people and things. The Devil is never present in things, just his influence. The statements contained in the new Rite are very grave indeed and very harmful. They are the fruit of ignorance and inexperience.

PACI: But wasn’t it compiled by experts?

AMORTH: By no means, no. In these past ten years, two commissions have worked on the Rite – the Commission of Cardinals who edited the Prenotanda, or the initial dispositions, and the Commission in charge of the prayers. I can say with certainty that no member of either commission has ever performed an exorcism or witnessed one. No member has even the faintest idea of what an exorcism is. There lies the error, the original sin of this Rite. No one who assisted with it was an expert on exorcism.

PACI: How can that be?

AMORTH: Don’t ask me. During the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, every commission was assisted by a group of experts who worked alongside the bishops. This custom continued even after the Council every time parts of the Rite were reworked. But not in this case. And if ever there was an area where experts were needed it was this one.

PACI: So what happened then?

AMORTH: What happened was that we exorcists were never consulted. Furthermore, the suggestions we gave were received with a certain irritation on the part of the commissions. The whole thing really was paradoxical. Would you like me to tell you about it?

PACI: Certainly …

AMORTH: As the various parts of the Roman Rite were gradually being reviewed in keeping with the requests of the Second Vatican Council, we exorcists waited for Title XII to come up, the Rite of Exorcism. But it was evidently not considered a thing of relevance because years passed and nothing happened. Then suddenly, on June 4 1990, the ad interim Rite appeared to be tried out. It was a real surprise to us that we had not been consulted beforehand even though we had our requests all prepared well in advance of the revision of the Rite. We asked, for example, that the prayers be reviewed to include invocations to Our Lady that were completely lacking, and we asked for more specific prayers for exorcism. But we had been completely cut out. We were given no possibility of making any kind of contribution.

But we were not discouraged. After all, the text had been produced for us. And we got down to work; this also considering that in his letter of presentation the then Pre- fect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, asked Episcopal Conferences to let him have, within two years, their ‘advice and suggestions from the priests who will be using the Rite’. I convened 18 exorcists from among the world’s most expert. We scrupulously examined the text and used it. We immediately praised the first part reassuming the Gospel foundations for exorcism. That was the biblicaltheological area certainly not lacking in experts.

It was a new addition to the 1614 Rite, which had been composed under Pope Paul V. At that time, after all, it was not necessary to remind people of these principles. Everyone was familiar with them and accepted them. Today, this addition is vital. But when we got to the practical part in our scrutiny, the part that requires specific expertise, it was blatantly obvious that the editors had no experience at all. We made copious observations, article by article, and we submitted them to all parties concerned – the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Episcopal Conferences, A copy was also delivered directly into the hands of the Pope.

PACI: How were your observations received?

AMORTH: The reception was very cool indeed, and their effect null. We had drawn our inspiration from the Lumen gentium, which describes the Church as ‘People of God’. At Number 28, it speaks of the collaboration between priests and bishops and, at Number 37, it explicitly says – in relation to the laity, moreover – that ‘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’. That was our case exactly. But we had been ingenuously laboring under the illusion that the dispositions of Vatican II had reached the Roman Congregations. Instead, we found ourselves in front of a brick wall of rejection and scorn.

The secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship said in a report to the Commission of Cardinal s that their only interlocutors had been bishops, not priests or exorcists. And he added in reference to our humble attempt to help as experts expressing their opinion: ‘We had to take account of the phenomenon of a group of exorcists and so-called demonologists who subsequently formed an international association and who orchestrated a campaign against the Rite’. This was an indecent accusation. We have never orchestrated any campaign. The Rite was designed for us and yet no competent person had been invited to join the commissions. Surely it was logical that we would have had a contribution to make.

PACI: Are you saying that the new Rite is useless in the struggle against the Devil ?

AMORTH: Yes. Their intention was to arm us with a blunt sword. Some effective prayers were cancelled, prayers with 12 centuries of history. New ineffective prayers were written in. But, luckily at the last minute, they threw us a lifeline.

PACI: What was that?

AMORTH: Cardinal Jorge Medina, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, accompanied the Rite with a Notification. It states that exorcists are obliged to use this Rite but may still use the old one if they wish, on lodging a prior request with the bishop. Bishops must then ask the Congregation for authorization, which the Congregation will ‘gladly provide’, the Cardinal writes.

PACI: Gladly provide? That’s a rather strange concession …

AMORTH: Want to know how that came about? From an attempt by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and again by Cardinal Medina to introduce an article to the Rite – Number 38 at the time – authorizing exorcists to use the previous Rite. This was an undoubted maneuver in extremis to insure us against the great errors contained in this definitive Rite. But this attempt by the two cardinals was thrown out. At that point Cardinal Medina, who had grasped what was at stake, decided to give us this lifeline in any event in the form of a separate notification.

PACI: What consideration does the Church have of you exorcists?

AMORTH: We are very badly treated. Our fellow priests who are given this highly problematical task are seen as crazed fanatics. In general, they are only just tolerated by the very bishops who appointed them.

PACI: What has been the most blatant manifestation of this hostility?

AMORTH: We held an international convention of exorcists near Rome and we asked to be received by the Pope. In order not to add yet another audience to his already long list, we asked if we might simply be received in the public audience on the Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square. We did not even ask to be mentioned in his special greetings. We made our request in the regular way, as Monsignor Paolo De Nicolò of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household will well remember. He welcomed our request with open arms. But the day before the audience, the same Mon- signor De Nicolò told us – and I have to say with such embarrassment that it was obviously not his decision – that we could not go, that we had not been admitted. It was incredibile.

Here were 150 exorcists from the five continents, all priests appointed by their bishops in conformity with the norms of Canon Law which state that these priests must be prayerful, knowledgeable and of good reputation, the cream of the clergy, in short … here they were asking to take part in a public Papal Audience and being thrown out. Monsignor De Nicolò told me that he would ‘of course’ explain the reasons in a letter to me. That was five years ago and I’m still waiting for the letter. It was certainly not John Paul II who excluded us. But, that 150 priests are barred from taking part in a public Papal Audience in Saint Peter’s Square says much of how the exorcists of their Church are obstructed in their ministry, how much they are frowned upon by so many of the ecclesiastical authorities.

PACI: You are locked in daily battle with the Devil . What do you see as Satan’s greatest success?

AMORTH: The fact that he has managed to convince people that he does not exist. He has almost managed it, even within the Church. We have a clergy and an Episcopate who no longer believe in the Devil , in exorcism, in the exceptional evil the Devil can instill, or even in the power that Jesus bestowed to cast out demons. For three centuries the Latin Church – in contrast to the Orthodox Church and the various Protestant professions – has almost totally abandoned the ministry of exorcism. So because they no longer perform exorcisms, or study them, and never having seen them, the clergy no longer believe in them. And they no longer believe in the Devil . We have entire Episcopates trying to counter exorcism. We have countries completely devoid of exorcists, such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. This is a shameful shortfall.

PACI: You haven’t mentioned France so is the situation there any different?

AMORTH: The most famous French exorcist, Isidore Froc, wrote a book entitled ‘Exorcists. Who they are and what they do’. It was translated into Italian by the Piemme publishing house and had been commissioned by the French Episcopal Conference. This book never once says that exorcisms are performed in certain cases and the author has said on French television on several occasions that he has never performed an exorcism and never will. Out of about 100 French exorcists, only five of them believe in the Devil and perform exorcisms. All the others send people who come to them to psychiatrists. The bishops are the first victims of this situation in the Catholic Church, whose belief that the Devil exists is fading. Before this new Rite came out, the German Episcopate wrote in a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger that there was no point in a new Rite in that exorcisms should no longer be performed.

PACI: So, it’s up to bishops to appoint exorcists?

AMORTH: Yes, when a priest is named a bishop, he finds that an article of the Code of Canon Law gives him authority absolute in the appointment of exorcists. The minimum one can ask of any bishop is that he at least witness an exorcism, given that he has to make such an important decision. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. But if a bishop finds himself having to address a serious request for exorcism – one, that is, that does not involve a mental case – and he does not provide for it, he is committing a mortal sin. And he is responsible for all the terrible suffering that the person endures, suffering that sometimes lasts for years or all his or her life and which the bishop could have prevented.

PACI: Are you saying that most of the bishops of the Catholic Church are in a state of mortal sin?

AMORTH: When I was a child, my old parish priest taught me that there were eight Sacraments, the eighth being ignorance. And the eighth sacrament saves more people than the other seven put together. To commit mortal sin implies grave matter but also full and deliberate consent. This failure by many bishops to help is grave matter. However, the bishops are ignorant of this so there is no full and deliberate consent.

PACI: But is a person’s faith still intact, which is to say, is a person’s faith still Catholic even if he or she does not believe that the Devil exists?

AMORTH: No. Let me tell you a story. The first time I met Father Pellegrino Ernetti, a famous exorcist who served for 40 years in Venice, I said to him: ‘If I could meet the Pope, I would tell him that I encounter too many bishops who do not believe in the Devil ’. The next afternoon, Father Ernetti came back to me to tell me that, that morning, he had been received by John Paul II. ‘Your Holiness’, he said, ‘there is an exorcist here in Rome, Father Amorth, who would tell you if he met you that he knows too many bishops who do not believe in the Devil ’. The Pope replied bluntly: ‘Anyone who does not believe in the Devil does not believe in the Gospel’. That was what the Pope said and I say it again.

PACI: Again, are you saying that many bishops and priests are not, consequently, Catholic?

AMORTH: Let us just say that they do not believe a Gospel truth. So, if anything, I would stop them propagating a heresy. But, to be clear about this, a person is officially a heretic if he or she is accused of something and persists in the error. No one today, given the situation in the Church, is accusing a bishop of not believing in the Devil , or in demonic possession or of failing to appoint exorcists because he does not believe. And yet I could give you the names of so many bishops and cardinals who, on their appointment to a diocese, stripped exorcists of their faculty to perform the rite. Or there are bishops who openly say they don’t believe, that these are things of the past. Why is that? Unfortunately, we have had the insidious influence of certain biblists and I could mention some illustrious names. We who are in daily physical contact with the ‘other world’ know that this influence is evident in numerous liturgical reforms.

PACI: For example?

AMORTH: The Second Vatican Council asked that some texts be revised. Disobeying this command, they set about re-writing them completely with no thought for the danger of making things worse instead of better. So many rites came off badly from this mania to throw out the old and start from scratch, as if the Church to date had always conned us and as if only now the time had at last come of the great geniuses, the supertheologians, the super-biblists and the super-liturgists who know what the right thing is for the Church. This is a lie: the last Council simply asked that the texts be revised, not destroyed.

The Rite of Exorcism, for example, should have been corrected, not re-written. It contained prayers born of 12 centuries of experience. Before cancelling prayers which are so old and which proved for centuries to be so effective, we should think long and hard. But they did not. All of us exorcists in trying out the prayers of the new ad interim Rite have proved that they are totally ineffective. But then again, the Rite of Baptism of children came off worse, too. It was totally re-worked so that exorcism against Satan has been all but eliminated. Yet, this always had such great importance for the Church that it was called the exorcism minor.

Paul VI also publicly protested against this new Rite. The new Rite of Benediction is not as good now. I read every line of it, all of its 1,200 pages and every reference has been removed to the fact that the Lord must protect us from Satan and the angels must protect us from attack by the Devil . They removed all the prayers for the benediction of homes and schools. Everything used to be blessed and protected but, today, we have no further protection from the Devil . We no longer have any defenses or even prayers against him. Jesus himself taught us a prayer of deliverance in the Our Father: ‘Deliver us from the Evil One’, ‘Deliver us from Satan’. This has been erroneously translated so that we pray: ‘Deliver us from evil’. The inference is generic evil whose origin we know nothing about. Yet, the evil we were taught how to fight by Our Lord Jesus Christ is a real person – Satan.

PACI: You speak from a vantage point. Do you feel that Satanism is on the rise?

AMORTH: Yes, very much so. When faith falls away, superstition increases. To use biblical language, I would say that one abandons God and turns to idolatry. In modern terms I would say that one abandons God and turns to the occult. The fearsome decline of the faith throughout Catholic Europe implies that the people turn to occultists and clairvoyants and, meanwhile, the Satanic sects prosper. The cult of the Devil is proclaimed to entire peoples through the Satanic rock music of individuals like Marilyn Manson. Even children are not immune from this assault – their comics teach them magic and Satanism.

Seances are very common, in which the dead are summoned in search of answers. Today, people can hold seances by computer, telephone, television and recorders. Spiritist writing is popular. They don’t even need mediums any more. This is ‘do-it-yourself’ spiritism. Surveys have found that 37 per cent of students have played with a ouija board at least once. This is a seance proper. At a school where I was invited to speak, the pupils told me that they even did this during their religious instruction period with the teacher’s encouragement.

PACI: Do these things work?

AMORTH: There is no distinction between white and black magic. When magic works, it is al- ways the work of the Devil . All the forms of occultism, such as mass recourse to Eastern religious with all their esoteric connotations, are an open door for the Devil . And so he comes in. Immediately. I had no hesitation in saying that there was direct intervention by the Devil in the case of the nun murdered in Chiavenna (for which three teenage girls have been charged) and in the case of Erika and Omar, the teenagers of Novi Ligure, North Italy (Erika, 16, is currently being held in a Milan detention center on suspicion of murdering her mother and 10-year-old brother, with the complicity of her boyfriend, Omar, 17). Those kids were devoted to Satanism. Police in their enquiries found that, in both these cases, these youngsters were followers of Satan. They had Satanic books.

PACI: How does the Devil go about seducing men and women?

AMORTH: His strategy is monotonous. I have told him so and he admits it … He convinces people that there is no hell, that there is no sin, just one more experience to live. Lust, success and power are the three great passions on which the Devil insists.

PACI: How many cases of demonic possession have you come across?

AMORTH: After the first hundred, I stopped counting them.

PACI: A hundred? But that’s a lot. In your books you say that cases of possession are rare …

AMORTH: And they are. Many exorcists have come across cases of diabolical evil only. I, however, inherited the ‘clientele’ of the famous exorcist, Father Candido, the cases he had not yet resolved. Moreover, the other exorcists send the most resistant cases to me.

PACI: And the most difficult case you have come across?

AMORTH: I’m dealing with it now and have been for two years. It is the case of that girl who was blessed – though it was not a proper exorcism – by the Pope last October in the Vatican and which made headlines. She is under attack around-the-clock. Her torments are indescribable. Doctors and psychiatrists are baffled by this case. The girl herself is completely lucid and very intelligent. It is a very difficult case.

PACI: How does one fall victim to the Devil ?

AMORTH: We can fall foul of the exceptional evils sent by the Devil for four reasons: if it works to the good of the person (in the case of many saints); persisting irreversibly in sin; because of a curse via the Devil ; or by practising occultism.

PACI: What kind of phenomena are manifest during exorcisms?

AMORTH: I remember one illiterate farmer who spoke to me only in English. I had to have an interpreter. Some manifest superhuman strength. Some elevate so that even several people cannot hold them down on a chair. But we refer to demonic presence only in certain contexts.

PACI: Has the Devil ever hurt you?

AMORTH: When Cardinal Poletti asked me to become an exorcist I prayed to Our Lady: ‘Wrap me in your mantel and I will be safe’. I have had numerous threats from the Devil but he has never done me any harm.

PACI: Are you ever afraid of the Devil ?

AMORTH: Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.

PACI: Satanism is spreading more and more. The new Rite makes it difficult to perform an exorcism. Exorcists are prohibited from participating in a Papal Audience in Saint Peter’s Square. What exactly is happening here?

AMORTH: The smoke of Satan gets in everywhere, everywhere. Perhaps we were kept out of the Papal audience because they were afraid that all those exorcists might have cast out the legions of demons that have installed themselves in the Vatican.

PACI: You’re joking, aren’t you?

AMORTH: It might sound like it but I don’t think it is a joke. I have no doubt whatever that the Devil is tempting the upper levels of the Church, above all, just as he tempts every upper level – political and industrial.

PACI: Are you saying that here, too, as in every war, Satan’s aim is to capture the enemy leaders?

AMORTH: That’s the best strategy. It has always been so and especially when the defences of the enemy are down. Satan tries to apply this, too. But thank heaven the Church is upheld by the Holy Spirit: ‘The gates of hell will not stand’; this, despite the defections and despite the betrayals which should come as no surprise to us. The first traitor was one of the apostles closest to Jesus – Judas Iscariot. In spite of it all, the Church presses along its path. It is upheld by the Holy Spirit and so all of the battles Satan wages can only bring partial results. The Devil may, of course, win the battles, even important battles, but he will never win the war.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Offensive Mercy

Offensive Mercy is being reposted for Monday's Gospel reading:
Gospel Reading for Monday, October 29th
Gospel Luke 13:10-17   

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, "Woman, you are set free of your infirmity." He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.  

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, "There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day." The Lord said to him in reply, "Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?" When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him.

Offensive Mercy:

Some people treat animals better than their own kind. Sin has a way of making certain people loathe their own country, their own religion and even their own species. Only people are capable of hating themselves in this fashion.

The Pharisees in the first century professed to have love for their nation of Israel and Judaism, their own religion. But by putting so much emphasis on their own religious laws, many of them man-made, they lost sight of the dignity of the human person. Quite often, enforcing such laws came at the expense of the lowly. Our Lord reminded the religious elders of his day that religion and its laws were made for man and not the other way around. There can be a temptation with the leaders of any institution- especially the Church or the State -to view their subjects as their own servants. Hence, the high office they assume ends up being used as an instrument of power instead of an opportunity to serve. Today, this mentality among the upper echelon is referred to as the "ruling class" or the "establishment."

The impressive thing to consider with the Gospel passage is that Jesus healed "a woman...who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit." In doing so, he had to anticipate the opposition and hostility of the Pharisees that would inevitably result. It would be just one more excuse for the enemies of our Lord to find fault with him. With each humiliation and insult, the religious elders would eventually make their case to Pilate that Jesus of Nazareth had to go! But our Lord healed the woman anyways! He pitied this lowly daughter of Abraham and lifted her up. And to be sure, she was never the same. What gratitude this infirmed and oppressed woman would have for Jesus! And what admiration she would have for his courage to defy some man-made rule that forbade her healing on the Sabbath; and to top it off, to take the heat by the Pharisees because of it.

Jesus shows that doing an act of mercy- even when the benefits are obvious -will, on occasion, anger important people. When conformity to the establishment norms are not forthcoming, there might be hell to pay by those in authority! Nevertheless, our Lord illustrates that there is a difference between obedience to just laws and conformity to norms which are contrary to God's law. As to the latter, every pope who has written on the subject bids the Christian to practice non-conformity; even if it comes at a high price.

No one knows this better than St. Mary MacKillop who was canonized in 2010. She is "Australia's first native saint and co-founder of its first congregation of women religious. She also was briefly excommunicated." "At the urging of some clergy," The Compass Newspaper reports, "Bishop Sheil excommunicated Mary and dispensed 47 sisters from their vows. The priests were annoyed both by the sisters' independence and their allegation of child abuse by Fr. Patrick Keating, who was sent back to Ireland." The excommunication lasted five months. However, upon Bishop Sheil's deathbed, he lifted the excommunication. Saint Mary MacKillop did not conform to the silence that was expected of her. An injustice was being done and as a consequence she was inspired to do something about it. Like our Lord, she did just that and paid the price. Indeed, her merciful act in protecting children from abuse was offensive to some. But she was vindicated and is now celebrated by the Church Universal as a hero.


Sympathy for the Devil: What is confusing you is the nature of my game

GOSPEL MK 1:21-28
Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;  he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are? The Holy One of God!"
Jesus rebuked him and said,
"Quiet! Come out of him!"
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority.  He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Sympathy for the Devil:

Have you ever noticed how our Lord behaves towards evil spirits? By worldly standards he is rude, curt and commanding. In no way is he sympathetic towards the devil. This is exactly what exorcists are trained to do when it is discerned that a person is possessed by one or more evil spirits. In fact, the 1952 rite of exorcism gives the following instructions:

Let the priest pronounce the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice, and at the same time with great confidence, humility, and fervor…with his intention fixed on God, whom he should entreat with firm faith and in all humility. And if he is all the more grievously tormented, he ought to bear this patiently, never doubting the divine assistance.

Every exorcist knows that the demons or the evil spirits will not willingly vacate. That is why the rite prescribes the following: “He [the priest] will pay attention as to what words in particular cause the evil spirits to tremble, repeating them the more frequently.” Repeating them frequently! If victory over the devil is to be had, such “unkindness” is necessary! Any kind of sympathy or letting up could spell disaster. Therefore, the disposition of Our Lord and church-appointed exorcist’s, as it pertains to the evil, the devil and even sin itself should be that of the clergy, the evangelist, the teacher and parents as well. Mercy and sympathy does not apply to sin and evil. Mercy and sympathy only applies only applies to sinners, to people, to the soul itself.

Over the last fifty years or so, many of us who follow Christ have lost sight what it means to be relentless against sin and evil while at the same time forgiving and loving the sinner. We have been pretty good with the latter but as with the former, not so good.

The bigot struggles with the opposite problem that Christians struggle with today. The bigot takes his hatred for the sin and transfers them to the sinner. He ends up hating both. Not good! But we, who are refined and polite, take our affections and love for the sinner and then transfer them to the sin. As result, we end up having sympathy for both. This too is not good! With this sympathy for evil and the devil we are left ourselves defenseless. In fact, in 1972 Pope Paul VI had complained that the smoke of Satan had entered into the Church. With this smoke came moral and spiritual confusion.

Just four years earlier in 1968- right at the height of the Sexual Revolution–the Rolling Stones came out with a song called Sympathy for the Devil. You may be surprised to know that the lyrics to this song makes for a good theological piece on how the Devil thinks. But this is an understatement. I should say it is masterful in its portrayal of the devil’s tactics and how scores of Christians have been "puzzled over the nature of his game." The reason for this is due to Devil's methods of speaking half-truths here and speaking a little truth there.

As we examine the shrewd nature of this song, keep in mind that in order to perform a successful exorcism, the exorcist must force the evil spirit to reveal its name. Knowing the name of the demon gives the exorcist authority to cast it out of the victim. Also note that the refrain for Sympathy for the Devil, is“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.” Satan knows that to know his name and the nature of his game is a means of power over him.

In this excerpt, I provided “most” of the lyrics to Sympathy for the Devil. It reveals, in part, what has happened during these last fifty years and why evil has advanced with great success:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith
And I was round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a generals rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank…

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's confusing you
Is just the nature of my game

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste, um yeah

Tell me baby, what's my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what's my name
I tell you one time, you're to blame

Satan is a master at boasting and bluffs. His success results from skillfully employing half-truths. For instance, the Serpent tempted Eve by asking her,“Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden?’”But God did not command, “You shall not eat from ‘any’ of the trees in the garden.” Instead, the Lord forbade Adam and Eve to eat from only one tree- the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when Eve reminded the Serpent that God had promised that death would follow if she ate of the forbidden fruit, again, he retorted: “You certainly will not die!” Indeed, to an extent he was right, but only to a certain extent. The first couple would not die immediately upon eating the forbidden fruit. But death and suffering would enter into the world through their sin of disobedience.

Later, when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, again, he employed half-truths. Knowing, at the very least, that Jesus was a holy man, Satan cited Scripture in order to make a case that God protects his chosen servants. That, again, is true. But it certainly does not mean that we are to test God by jumping off of the side of a building or, in our Lord’s case, the side of the Temple. Furthermore, the Devil promised Jesus if he were to worship him, he would give him all the kingdoms of the world. But the kingdoms of the world were not the Devil’s to give. Besides, the Devil was only mimicking a promise God the Father made to His Son in the Psalms: "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) Satan was bluffing. The Lord knew it and displayed his usual rudeness to the Evil One by saying, "Get away Satan!"

Back to the song, Sympathy for the Devil: Whether or not this song was inspired by a sinister motive or some spiritual principle, I do not know. All I know is that Lucifer or the Devil, as portrayed in the song, boasts about and bluffs about the very things that are unfolding today.

To begin with, notice that, in the song, the Devil claims that Jesus had his moment of doubt and pain. Again, Christ did have his pain but as a Divine Person he never had a doubt about his sacrifice. But, did the devil seal his fate? Yes, to an extent, but only with God’s permission. Christ’s death was“sealed” only because he had first determined to lay down his life to ransom souls. Christ was a willing Victim of Sacrifice.

The Sympathy for the Devil references recent historical events in the 20th century. For instance, in 1917 Our Lady of Fatima had warned about Russia spreading her errors throughout the world. In St. Petersburg, the capitol of Russia, during that same year, the Bolshevik Revolution which championed communism broke out. The Tsar, who was Nicholas II, and his family, eventually were murdered in cold blood by revolutionaries. Anastasia, as many know, was the daughter of the Tsar and was believed to have survived this massacre. It is questionable if that indeed was the case. In any case, what happened in St. Petersburg had global significance. Millions upon millions would suffer and die from the aftermath of this godless, communistic uprising.

And what about the Blitzkrieg? This, of course, is a reference to Germany’s invasions into countries like Poland and Russia during World War II. This ruthless military campaign took place during the holocaust “while the bodies stank.” The stories that came out of the labor camps in Siberia, and the death camps in Auschwitz and Dachau simply horrified the world. With the end of World War II people said, “Never again!” Unfortunately, too many people believed that the evil of inhumanity and despotism were a thing of the past, water under the bridge, if you will.

As two decades passed, Christianity seemed to be getting stronger. With a kind of optimism lingering in the air in the early 1960’s, Catholics were not prepared for what would be a reawakening of the culture of death in Western pop-culture; the same culture that was manifested so strongly in the Russian gulags and Germany’s concentration camps. It overflowed, as if beneath the surface, only to manifest itself in the Sexual Revolution. As such, the world would never be the same again.

And now we come to the most important consideration of Sympathy for the Devil: If, out of politeness or being refined, Christians do not call out the Devil by name, say that he exists or specify with clarity what his works are, then we can hardly cast him out of society. Unfortunately, it is considered to be bad manners for pastors, evangelists and teachers to denounce the Devil and all his works. To specifically mention sins such as fornication, cohabitation, divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality- either from the pulpit on Sundays or in the public square –is a social form of impoliteness. Yet, the bluff the Devil boasts about in the refrain of this song is the very thing that has confused us. Christians fear to speak the truth even if doing so means saving their soul; this, all because we wish not to offend. Sparing feelings is more important than saving souls among confused Christians. “But what is puzzling you is the nature of my game.”

But what is the bluff and what is nature of his game? Answer: To get us to feel sorry for him and, of course, for evil itself. Now, to be sure, people in general are not feeling sorry for the Devil as such, but they are quite sympathetic to evil men, sin and vice. Our government, our legal system, the entertainment industry, the news media, our public schools and even Christians hold up undeserving people in the highest esteem all in the name of love and not being judgmental.

Almost a year ago, for instance, with the death of Kim Jong-il, dictator of North Korea, the news media and politicians lauded his intelligence and political genius. This is just one of countless examples. And on the flipside of this sympathy for evil men is the hatred shown for the good and the virtuous. A politician who is pro-life and an advocate for the sanctity of marriage will be more vilified by the media than the likes of Kim Jong-il himself.

“Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints, as heads is tails, just call me Lucifer because I'm in need of some restraint.”

Masterfully, the Devil has helped us to turn things upside down. As stated, this inversion of morality and spirituality has even affected the people of God. Very few of us have escaped from his smoke of confusion. And reason why he is in need of some restraint has a lot to do with him being busy; busier than he has ever been.

Finally, we’ve come to the grand finale at the end of the song. Just as the Devil bluffed Eve in the Garden of Eden and just as he tried to bluff Jesus Christ in the desert, he continues to bluff the human race. In Sympathy for the Devil he pleads the following: “So if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste. Use all your well-learned politesse [i.e. polite manners] or I'll lay your soul to waste, um yeah!”

Again, a very good use of half-truths. The fact is “if” we show the Devil courtesy, sympathy and taste he will lay our soul to waste!! He has bluffed many of us with this and we have fallen for it. Ask yourself this question: When we hear Jesus ordering the evil spirit with the words, "Quiet! Come out of him!" and when we hear that this evil spirit caused the man in the synagogue to convulse and cry out as the result of his command, can we not see ourselves doing the same thing as it regards to evil in our world? Or are we so refined and so well-learned in our polite manners that we are incapable of confronting evil and enduring its protest? If we are, then we need to make rudeness into a virtue again. After all, our Lord certainly wasn’t polite all the time, especially when it came to evil men, obstinate sinners and the Devil himself. With the Pharisees and even with the Apostles themselves he could be stern and commanding as well.

If, by chance, you’re interested in who the Devil will blame when we meet our Maker, Lucifer (at least in this song) tells us at the end of Sympathy for the Devil.

Tell me baby, what's my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what's my name
I tell you one time, you're to blame!

We’re to blame. On this point he is correct. The only one who can send a person’s soul to hell is the person himself. God does not send us. Not even the Devil sends.

Every soul is the object of a great contest between God and the Devil. We choose- and no else –who we will spend eternity with. So yes, for those people who choose hell, they are to blame. This is why Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 urged Catholics to make spiritual sacrifices for their conversion.

To conclude, the Devil has puzzled many in the world with his game. There is no shortage of sympathy for him, to be sure. However, it was reported that on October 13th, 1884 (33 years before the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima), Pope Leo XIII had a revelation of Satan challenging God that he would destroy his Church. To make a long story short, God gave Satan about a hundred years to accomplish this. At the end of this mystical experience, Leo XIII had a vision of St. Michael conquering the Evil One. In fact, when all is said and done, the two instruments Christ will use to conquer the Dragon will be the Woman Clothed with the Sun and Saint Michael (cf. Rev. 12). Indeed, every game comes to an end. Even Lucifer’s.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

An Important Moment: by Bishop David Ricken

An Important Moment
Bishop David Ricken of the Green Bay Diocese

It is almost time to vote and to make our choices for president and other political offices both local and national. You have often heard it said that this is a turning point in our country's history and I could not agree more.

The church is not a political organism, but as you hopefully have learned in the U.S. bishops' Faithful Citizenship material (which we have made widely available to you in the parishes, in The Compass and online), the church has the responsibility to speak out regarding moral issues, especially on those issues that impact the "common good" and the "dignity of the human person."

I would like to review some of the principles to keep in mind as you approach the voting booth to complete your ballot. The first is the set of non-negotiables. These are areas that are "intrinsically evil" and cannot be supported by anyone who is a believer in God or the common good or the dignity of the human person. They are:

1. abortion
2. euthanasia
3. embryonic stem-cell research
4. human cloning
5. homosexual "marriage."

These are intrinsically evil. "A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program that contradicts fundamental contents of faith and morals." Intrinsically evil actions are those which have an evil object. In other words, an act is evil by its very nature and to choose an action of this type puts one in grave moral danger.

But what does this have to do with the election? Some candidates and one party have even chosen some of these as their party's or their personal political platform. To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally "complicit" with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.

The other position to keep in mind is the protection of religious liberty. The recent aggressive moves by the government to impose the HHS mandate, especially the move to redefine religion so that religion is confined more and more to the four walls of the church, is a dangerous precedent. This will certainly hurt the many health care services given by our Catholic hospitals to the poor. Our Catholic hospitals in the diocese give millions of dollars per year in donated services to the poor. In the new plan, only Catholic people can be treated by Catholic institutions.

It has never been our mission to be exclusive of those who are not of our faith. This mandate also places Catholic business owners in a very precarious position in that they, too, will have to pay for those medical "services" which violate Catholic teaching. This has never been the American way and now these moves and others by the present government, will significantly alter and marginalize the role of religious institutions in our society.

These positions are indicators of a broader societal disposition to remove God from the public square and from any relation to society whatever. It is precisely religion and the free exercise thereof which has made this country great in the past.

Many people in our diocese are presently without work. Our Catholic Charities is serving more and more people who are unemployed or underemployed and can barely keep up with the demands. Work is so critical to the family and to the sense of human dignity. An economy which does the most for the common good is an economy that works and provides people gainful employment for the country's citizens. A government that works pays its bills and models for citizens what it means to be responsible and contributive.

Let us pray for the electorate and let's take action, that we may vote for good and moral leaders for this great country, which will only remain great if she continues to be and to do the good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Church: From partner to surrogate

The Catholic Church has always taught that the parents are the primary educator of children. In the Declaration of Christian Education, a document from the Second Vatican Council, it says, “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” (1965).

When parents send their children to Catholic schools full-time or even to a religion class once a week, there is a very important agreement, sometimes unspoken, that the Church enters into a partnership with the parents in educating and spiritually forming the child. Decades ago, the local pastor or the parish formed a partnership with the parents only on the condition that the parents were practicing Catholics. If this condition was not met, the Church refused to process the child through the education system and the sacramental initiation program.

Today, however, even when parents are wholly derelict in their religious duties (i.e. by not attending Mass every Sunday), most Catholic dioceses and parishes have adopted the policy to go ahead and partner-up with them in educating and spiritually forming their children. But studies have shown (and pastors in previous centuries instinctively knew this to be true) that when the parents do not observe God’s law and hence become active followers of Christ, the child will, 90 percent of the time, eventually follow the same path as their parents and hence fall away from the Faith.

This creates an impossible situation because the Church ends up becoming a surrogate educator instead of a partner with the parents. In too many cases, when the child comes of age and goes away to college, the religious formation that was provided by the Church- while having no support at home -goes to the wayside. Is it not true that the apple rarely falls far from the tree?

In an earlier version of canon law, it reads: "Parents are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children…” Yet, the kind of pastoral compassion that is practiced today- one that requires so little from the parents –enables parents to omit their grave obligation to educate children; this, when the Church provides religious instruction to children without the parents doing their part. The child who lives in a home where a living, practical faith is absent and who then is sent to the local parish on how to live a life of faith, is child who is riddled with mixed signals. He or she may not know how to articulate it, but the child intuitively knows this process is a contradiction!

The immediate effect this has upon the child is one of confusion; then, over time, indifference towards the Catholic Faith sets in. Although the intention on the part of the pastor is one of compassion, the aggregate effect is counterproductive. In the long run, fewer souls are attracted to Christ. And even fewer sustain their relationship with Christ into their adulthood.

To repeat, this system in which the Church acts like a surrogate educator has bred a kind of indifference among youth, putting a drag on faith formation programs. And with indifference comes a lower level of participation by the student body.

At least in a good number of parishes, the general feeling one gets is that few students want to be in these faith formation programs. I have seen a lot kids sitting in chairs with their arms folded while having the look of utter boredom on their faces. Yet, when interest and participation wanes, a common response among parishes is to lower the educational and pastoral standards so that the child can go on to the next level; regardless of his or her productivity. Consequently, a kind of social promotion- simililar to that of a public school -is practiced in which the child is processed to the next phase of catechesis without being spiritually and morally formed.

The answer to this contradiction between the local parish and parents is for the former to insist that latter do their part. After all, when the Church and parents are not on the same page, the child loses!

To therefore require that parents be practicing Catholics as a condition upon which the Church educates and sanctifies their children, not only works but it has been done throughout most of the Church history. Some say this standard, once a universal practice in the Church, lacks compassion. I say that allowing the parish to teach the children one thing while the parents are teaching them another, is far from being compassionate. I would even say it has proven to be harmful.

The Great Cathedral of Chartres: The original Notre Dame Cathedral

On October 24, 1260 Cathedral of Chartres (better known as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris) is dedicated in the presence of King St. Louis IX of France.

Excerpts from this article by Zsolt Aradi (1954) gives a brief description of The Cathedral of Chartres. Courtesy of

“In a single century between 1170 and 1270, the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly five hundred churches of the cathedral category. By way of a modern yardstick, these edifices if built today would cost around three billion dollars. There was no material return expected from this capital investment; in a sense the age that built the cathedrals invested even its money in the supernatural.

The vital force then that brought these shrines into being was nothing other than the Christian faith with its far-reaching traditions. To the artists and the people who built the cathedral, it was the House of God, the Bible in images, and a canticle to praise. The least of its stones bears witness to this faith in a God who became man, who died and rose again. The Virgin was the compassionate mother who, every toiler was sure, would plead for him too, since he felt himself unworthy to approach the feet of her Son.

So all-pervasive was this feeling that Henry Adams could write: ‘Nearly every great church of the 12th and 13th centuries belonged to Mary, until in France one asks for the Church of Notre Dame as though it meant cathedral; but not satisfied with this, she contracted the habit of requiring in all churches a chapel of her own, called in English the Lady Chapel, which was apt to be as large as the church was, but was always meant to be handsomer; and there behind the high altar, in her own private apartment, Mary sat receiving her innumerable suppliants.’

Among those cathedrals dedicated to Our Lady and among the shrines of France, the Cathedral of Chartres stands out in unparalleled significance, both as one of the most venerable sanctuaries in Christendom, and as the most perfect and intact example of the Gothic style. In a unique way, it was the expression of the age that gave it birth, the daughter of the spiritual climate and the collective conscience of the theocentric Middle Ages. Chartres did not spring spontaneously from the earth; rather its roots plunged deep into the centuries that preceded it, back through the Dark Ages to Roman times and perhaps even beyond…

It is said that the early Christians of the place found there a grotto enclosing the statue of a seated woman with her child upon her knees; there the Druids paid honor to the Virgini Pariturae, the Virgin who would give birth to a Divine Child. In the early fourth century a Christian church was built over the grotto, but this church was damaged by fire several times. About 1020, Bishop Fulbert invited all the sovereigns of Europe to continue the building of the cathedral, but three more fires interfered with the progress of the work. The rebuilding of the present edifice was begun around 1195 and by 1250 it had been entirely rebuilt in dressed stone and, it was said at the time, 'needed to fear nothing further from temporal fire until the Day of Judgment.' Its overall appearance at the time of the cathedral's consecration in 1260 was much as we see it today: its magnificent vault, its luminous interior, its beautiful rose- and other stained-glass windows with their nearly four thousand figures, are the finest in the world; its porches and windows represent in magnificent picture and symbolism the life and attributes of Mary.

How was it built? We can again leave this description to Henry Adams: ‘When it was started, everybody in the region, in the nobility and the court of France, participated in the common effort. The people who at that time lived in a unity of purpose, when called by the Queen of Heaven to create this new home for her, immediately were caught by passion. And passion can be stilled only when satisfied. Every piece of stone was carried there by human, not mechanical, effort. And it was not built by slaves or serfs as the Pyramids or other monuments of the ancient non-Christian worship. Peasant and king, queen and bourgeois maiden believed in the importance and necessity of putting his or her physical, material and spiritual effort into the cathedral.’

After the completion of Chartres, the Virgin as Queen and Mother was gracious with those who built her home. For some hundred years, Chartres has seen many miracles and millions of pilgrims. And although there have been some periods in which the Virgin has looked down ‘upon an empty church on a dead faith’ she has never deserted Chartres. In modern times there have been few years that have not brought in addition to sightseers and art lovers, hordes of suppliants to her feet…

At Chartres, the Virgin continues to accept the instinctive love, faith and devotion of mankind. And few who come for whatever reason can fail to agree with the words of Henry Adams, great grandson, and grandson of two American presidents, a man of the world and product of the almost faithless nineteenth century, who standing in this cathedral avowed:

‘If you are to get the full enjoyment of Chartres, you must for the time believe in Mary . . . and feel her presence as the architects did, in every stone they placed, and every touch they chiseled. . . . One would admit anything that she would require; if you had only the soul of a shrimp, you would crawl to kiss her feet.’”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Good to Great: The Culture of Discipline


The book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins is a study of several companies and their successes over a 15 year period. What I discovered as I read the book is that the principles and virtues that made great CEOs and great companies are very consistent with what made for successful missions and apostolates in Church history. In other words, Good to Great principles are Christian in essence. They are a subtle reflection of those principles and virtues that made the Apostles, the Church Fathers, martyrs, confessors, and Saints great. Although Collins does not intentionally correlate business success with ministerial or missionary success, the correlation is there nevertheless.

The value of Good to Great can serve a purpose for all Catholics who aspire to lead, not just a small business, but any mission that advances the kingdom of God. No doubt, we can learn from what Collins discovered.


Introduction to Chapter 6: The Culture of Discipline

St. Paul wrote St. Titus with this admonition: Be open to every good enterprise! The findings of the private sector success can, with proper distinctions in mind, bring light to the mission of saving souls; especially as it pertains to Catholic dioceses and apostolates. Too often such organizations completely stray from a system that allows for initiative, creativity and risk-taking because they can, in some cases, lack the culture of discipline. Without disciplined people the task of venturing into uncharted waters can be hazardous. But without the ability to venture and expand horizons, missions rarely ever become truly great.

Did not our Lord characterize his followers being unconventional and outside of the box when he told Nicodemus the following: “The wind  blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Now, this, to be sure, would make any bureaucrat nervous. No doubt, obedience to God is one of order and subordination to higher spiritual authorities. And unlike a healthy egalitarian atmosphere in good-to-great companies, the Church does involve a chain of command or a hierarchy, if you will. Nevertheless, the Gospels, the Book of Acts and even Epistles in the New Testament make it clear that a great deal of room must be left to individual initiatives through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. After all, He moves where He wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where He comes from or where He goes.

The Saints respected procedures, routine and conventions but they were not, and refused to be, bound by them if the God willed otherwise or if circumstances warranted it. Whenever monasteries, missions, religious orders and apostolates throughout Church history were populated with men and women who were acquainted with the spirituality of self-denial and self-discipline, these institutions and endeavors flourished and hence became a font of renewal for the Church. Although Jim Collins book, Good-to Great, immerses itself into the business of the world, it can offer a number of insights for Catholics and their quest to glorify God.

Chapter 6: The Culture of Discipline

“Few successful start-ups become great companies, in large part because they respond to growth and success in the wrong way. Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal. As a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success- too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products. What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff. Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring constraints create friction. Problems surface- with customers, with cash flow, with schedules.

In response, someone (often a board member) says, ‘It’s time to grow up. This place needs some professional management.’ The company begins to hire MBA’s and seasoned executives from blue-chip companies. Processes, procedures, checklists, and all the rest begin to sprout like weeds. What was once an egalitarian environment gets replaced with a hierarchy. Chains of command appear for the first time. Reporting relationships become clear, and an executive class with special perks begins to appear. ‘We’ and ‘they’ segmentations appear- just like in a real company.

The professional managers finally rein in the mess. They create order out of chaos, but they also kill the entrepreneurial spirit. Members of the founding team begin to grumble, ‘This isn’t fun anymore. I used to be able to just get things done. Now I have to fill out these stupid forms and follow these stupid rules. Worst of all, I have to spend a horrendous amount of time in these useless meetings.’  The creative magic begins to wane as some of the most innovative people leave, disgusted by the burgeoning bureaucracy and hierarchy.  The exciting start-up transforms into just another company, with nothing special to recommend it. The cancer of mediocrity begins to grow in earnest.

George Rathmann [cofounder of Amgen, a biotechnology company] avoided this entrepreneurial death spiral. He understood that the purpose of a bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline- a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place. Most companies build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of wrong people on the bus, which in turn drives away the right people on the bus, which then increases the percentage of wrong people on the bus, which increases the need for bureaucracy to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which then further drives the right people away, and so forth. Rathmann also understood that an alternative exists: Avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline. When you put these two complimentary forces together- a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship- you get a magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results…”

With this, “You’ve got to have management and people who believe in the system and who do whatever is necessary to make the system work. But within the boundaries of that system, store managers had a lot of leeway, to coincide with their responsibility…”

“It all starts with disciplined people. The transition starts not by trying to discipline the wrong people into the right behaviors, but getting self-disciplined on the bus in the first place. Next we have disciplined thought. You need discipline to confront the brutal facts of reality, while retaining resolute faith that you can and will create a path to greatness. Most importantly, you need the discipline to persist…Finally, we have disciplined action, the primary subject of this chapter. This order is important. The comparison companies [other not-so-successful companies] often tried to jump into disciplined action. But the disciplined action without self-disciplined people is impossible to sustain, and disciplined action without disciplined thought is a recipe for disaster.”

No mere spectator but a real actor

Book: The True Vine and its Branches
Author: Fr. Edward Leen
Chapter: The Mother of the Redeemer
Year: 1938

No mere spectator but a real actor:
“Now it is a difficult thing for the soul to have a childlike disposition unless it lives in the abiding sense of being under a mother’s care and tenderness. To achieve the gracious perfection of the child spirit, there is required, in addition to the strong protecting influence of the father, the unwavering affection and solicitude of the mother. The perfect home demands the presence of the one and of the other…

God, being the author of nature, is not indifferent to any of its characteristics and normal tendencies…God draws us to Him, by the ‘cords of Adam.’ To supernaturalize us, He plays on all the legitimate affections of the human heart. By His divine law, He has bidden men to be children. The supernatural life will follow closely the analogy of the natural life, transfiguring it. It is impossible to have the spirit and instincts and dispositions of a child unless one is conscious of being enfolded in a mother’s care and love…

Mary is the seedling from which grew the Vine: hence too is the seed whence issue the branches that adhere to and adorn the Vine. Undoubtedly the divine grace by reason of which Mary was chosen to give birth to the Vine was not her own: it was God’s gift. It is, therefore, ultimately, to God that branches owe the life that is in them. But after God it is from Mary that Christians derive their life; for the divine life that is theirs comes from the living stock that sprang from her Immaculate body. It is, for this reason that from the earliest years of the Church she has been called the ‘Mother of the Living.’ Saint Epiphanius writing in the fourth century says: ‘Externally it would appear as though it were from Eve that issued from the human race, but in reality it is by Mary that Life Itself has been introduced into the world…Mary in giving birth to the Savior Jesus gives birth to Christians…

[S]he consented to being intimately bound up with the scheme of salvation and to taking her place by the side of her child in the great conflict which was to break the power of Satan. Her fiat [yes to God] implied the acceptance of the formation, through her, not only the individual Christ according to His human nature, but also the Mystical Christ…Now the Blessed Virgin has conceived the Son of God not only that He should become man, but that through the nature received from her, he might become the Savior of men. Hence in the chaste womb of the Virgin Mary, when Jesus took human form, He has also taken to Himself a spiritual body formed of all those who were to believe in Him: so that it can be said that Mary, bearing Jesus in her womb, bore also those whose life is contained in the life of the Savior…

Mary is the Mother of regenerated mankind because she freely cooperated with the Holy Spirit in bringing about the rebirth of humanity…The formation of the Sacred Humanity in Mary, and the mystical formation of the living members of that Sacred Humanity, are the work of the Holy Spirit. To this work Mary gave her free cooperation. She played an intimate part in it…

By the willful act of Eve, mankind was still-born, supernaturally. Through her disobedience and the confidence she placed in the lying words of the false angel, Eve became the source of death for all men. On the other hand, Mary, by her humble docility to God and the faith she put in the message of the holy Archangel, became, through the fruit of her womb, the source of life for all mankind…

The sanctification of John the Baptist was the attestation of the spiritual maternity of men that was henceforth to be Mary’s prerogative. It is clear that it is only God that can breathe life into the dead bones of humanity. But it is Mary’s freely acquired virtues and be her free consent to the Incarnation that the vivifying principle was brought in contact with the dead members of humanity…

It has been already pointed out that she was not merely a passive channel through which God made His entry into the world. God had too much regard for her to assign to her but this impersonal part in the Incarnation…He willed that she should be a voluntary instrument of this great work, contributing to it not only by the excellence of her disposition but also by a movement of her will.  God, knowing what was involved in His proposal to her, would not, unless she was perfectly willing, make her a party to the Incarnation. This would not have been so necessary were Mary simply called upon to give of her flesh and blood for the formation of the Sacred Humanity, and then to remain a simple spectator of the drama of Calvary and a happy recipient of its blessed fruits.
She was destined to be not a mere spectator but a real actor in that terrible drama. She was invited to enter with the Son born of her into the dread struggle with the forces of sin, which was to issue in the regeneration of mankind. Being asked to become the Mother of the Savior she was asked to share in the task of salvation. Jesus was not to be alone in the decisive combat with sin. This is the reason why the Almighty treated her with such deference, with such a divine respect for her liberty and did not move until she gave her consent. The destiny of mankind hung on the consent of hers…A Son was offered to her, whose destiny was that he should be torn from her. In that tearing, her heart was to be riven with grief…

She was not for a moment misled as were her countrymen by the gorgeous visions in which the reign of the Messiah was presented to the great prophets. She knew well that certain of the psalms, and especially the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah more closely foreshadowed the reality that was to be. She never overlooked the suffering role of the Servant of Yahweh as depicted by the prophet. As she pondered the words of the Angel her mind reverted to the earliest prophecy of all, that which styled the ‘Proto-evangelium’ or the primitive Gospel. ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel.’ She grasped the significance of these words. It is not the ‘seed’ alone that was to trample down Satan and regenerate mankind. It was she and her seed. The two were to be indissolubly linked in that combat…

Her child was born a victim for sacrifice. His destiny was to be a victim. In consenting to the Incarnation, she consented to that victimhood. There was not to be for her a single day in which she could give herself up unrestrainedly, to the gladness of having Him, without having the gladness clouded by the shadow of the [Cross]…Hence too it was at Golgotha, at the foot of the Cross, that Mary’s Motherhood of men attained to its final consummation and perfection…Being impelled by the urging of the Holy Spirit to Calvary, it was decreed that she should not assist as a mere broken hearted and sympathetic onlooker. Neither was it granted to her to indulge, free and unrestrained, her mother’s grief. It was demanded of her that she should, herself, take an intimate part in the Sacrifice that was being offered on the altar of the Cross.”