Friday, December 28, 2012

Two approaches to Christmas

You may have heard the saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But during the days that immediately follow December 25th, we should probably keep another saying in mind: “Keep Christmas in the Christmas season.”

The world has a tendency to build up anticipation for something only to get bored of it and quickly drop it. As soon as December 26th arrives every year, Christmas songs cease. And as far as the world is concerned, there is nothing more to celebrate. But the Church believes that Christmas is so important, that one day is simply not enough time to properly observe it. Yes, the Advent season is a kind of anticipation for Christmas. However, once the Christ-child is given to us on December 25th, the celebration of thanksgiving has just begun. In fact, the commemoration of Christ’s birth in the Catholic Church continues until the feast of our Lord’s baptism.

In observing the way the world celebrates and how the Church celebrates, we can learn a thing or two about or own lives.

Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that worldly people will feast first only to be forced to fast later. In other words, there are many people who immediately gravitate to the pleasures of the flesh without any thought of its consequences in time or in eternity. The attitude, “If it feels good, do it!” is borne out of living in the moment. What is more, it is an attitude that values the mere enjoyment of experience over what is truly important in life. To be sure, the worldly person is always coveting the next thing or the next experience. But once it is obtained, he moves on and seeks the next series of exciting experiences. Unfortunately, this pursuit of accumulating experiences is always at the expense of his long-term happiness and even of his own salvation.

Christians, on the other hand, are called to fast then feast. This is to say, the Lord wants us to sacrifice for his sake so that he could bless us for our sake. We store up our riches by denying ourselves in the quest to do the right thing. The reward will come, in part, in this life. But it will also come in full measure when our earthly life ends. This is what Christian morality requires of us: to see through short-term sacrifices for long-term gain. As Christ said, we are to lose our life for his sake in order that we might repossess it in abundance.

Returning to the celebration of Christmas: Our secular society bids both children and adults to eagerly anticipate Christmas day. But once the presents are opened early that morning, the same society says, in so many words, that there really is nothing else to look forward to. The magic or better yet, the mystic, of Christmas gives way to the anticipation of a new year. With this, the celebration of Christmas is dropped abruptly. Members of our society “feast” on Christmas morning but “fast” (i.e. abstaining from the Christmas celebration) in the days to follow.

However, the Catholic Church approaches Christmas differently. She has designated about a two week period for the feast of Christmas. Like the season of Lent, a one day celebration is simply too short for such an important event. It takes time for Christians to take in and reflect just how important Christ’s coming into the world is. Christians, especially, need to remember that the unbaptized world in the first century was barbaric and cruel in many ways. There was no exaggerating when the prophet Isaiah wrote about a people in “darkness” in the land of “gloom” or when St. Zachariah referred to a people who “sit in darkness and death's shadow” in his canticle. We need to know that a world without Christ was indeed an inhospitable world. But we return to that world, little by little, as people cease to adore the Christ-child in the arms of Mary.

In short, the Advent season is an anticipation of Christ’s first and Second Coming. It is a season of longing for deliverance. It is a period of time with an emphasis on the theological virtue of hope. But the Christmas season is time to thank God that he has sent his Messiah…a time of gratitude.

As difficult as it is, therefore, let the Christmas songs such as “Silent Night” or “Come All Ye Faithful” continue. And let the images of those songs conjure up the Nativity scene of our Lord and what his coming means to us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The hidden life: It's where it all begins

To Glorify God: In Silence

St. Louis de Montfort made the interesting observation that Jesus glorified God more during the thirty years of his hidden life at home obeying his mother than he would have if he were to travel the world preaching the Gospel. After all, if preaching the Gospel as a child, adolescent or young adult would have glorified God more, he certainly would have done it. But instead, he stayed at home, preparing for his three years of public ministry. For every year our Lord proclaimed the coming of the kingdom, he spent ten years praying.

To be sure, it was within the sanctuary of his home at Nazareth where silence, prayer and penance were daily observed. And it was during his hidden life with his Blessed Mother when the real power for saving souls would increase. Fr. Thomas Philippe, in his book, "The Mystical Rose: Mary, the Paradigm of Religious Life", reminds us of the necessary ground work that needs to be laid before a great enterprise can be launched:

“The Word of Jesus needs silence to give it a divine efficacy and a supernatural cutting edge. Silence is the fountainhead out of which it rises; and in order to have genuine maturity, it needs to be enveloped and borne by silence.”


Hidden Life: The Goal

The monastic-like existence of our Lord in Nazareth was not only the preparation for his mission and sacrifice, but it was also the foretaste of its goal; namely, heaven. To repose in God’s eternal happiness is the reward of a life marked by love and sacrifice. And among Christ’s disciples, this blessed repose would belong chiefly to Mary. As Fr. Thomas Philippe said,

“The public life of Jesus, or more exactly the public and apostolic activities of his life, remained enveloped by the hidden life. The latter inspired them and could even called their goal, as we have already said. This hidden life, however, was a privileged domain, reserved to Mary.”

This is where the secrets of God were revealed and the most intimate of conversations were had between Jesus and his Blessed Mother.


Hidden Life: The Continuation

This ongoing repose in God’s presence would be continued even after Christ’s ascension into heaven. At the foot of the Cross, our Lord looked to his Blessed Mother and St. John for its continuation. Fr. Thomas continues:

 “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26-27)

In a word, Mary would resume the hidden life she once had with St. Joseph and her Son. And from her time with the apostle St. John, she would have this life perpetuated by lay brothers, sisters and priests in the life of the Church. “In the hidden life of the Church,’ Fr. Thomas said, “Mary needs both humble lay brothers like Joseph and priests like John. She sees Jesus imaged in both of them.”

It should be noted that the life of Christ continues in time but not just through the formality of teaching the Faith and administering the Sacraments. His blessed life continues in the intimacy of prayer and meditation. God’s communication to the inner chamber of the soul is sometimes quite difficult to express in writing or to even convey in words. Fr. Thomas Philippe even posited that the most profound truths of God’s are reserved for the heart alone. He said,

“Jesus gave John to Mary so that she would treat him as a son, as another Jesus, as Jesus continuing his hidden life in the Church. John became a pupil of Mary to learn the secrets of this hidden life under her maternal instruction. She taught him, not by public statements meant to be preserved in writing, but in the intimate language that is meant to be kept in the heart and shared only with the closest friends.”

This divine friendship, enveloped in a hidden life, prospered first within the house in Nazareth where the Holy Family lived; then in the house at Ephesus where St. John and the Blessed Virgin eventually moved to. From there, where the friendship of Christ was earnestly sought, a life dedicated to prayer would spread to monasteries and convents throughout the world. It just so happened that these communities of prayer were modeled after Mary’s hidden life. To be sure, they would be a place of refuge from the noise and distractions of the world.

It bears repeating that this environment, where the friendship with Christ is daily fostered, was the initiative and mission of Mary. After all, it was a life of prayer that was asked of her:

 “Her mission was to establish in the world a poor and humble home where the hidden life could be led, a common life of silence and sacrifice. In the midst of this world of sin and sinner, it would be a privileged terrain where the Holy Spirit could abide and give us Jesus.”


Where the Power Is:


Many of us give credit to the ministers, evangelists, authors, and teachers who are out in the mission fields advancing the kingdom of Christ. And no doubt, they are God’s instruments for such an undertaking. But the storehouse of the Church’s trophies that give God the greatest glory, and the ammo that most effectively wards off the evils of society, is to be in her own maternal hidden life.

“In the Church’s mystical motherhood,” Fr. Thomas Philippe reminds us, “precisely because it is so profound, extends far beyond the direct range of preaching, teaching, and the entire apostolate. This motherhood goes farther than the Church’s jurisdiction: it reaches all mankind.” To be sure, the life of prayer and sacrifice is unseen. Nevertheless, it is where spiritual and moral power is to be found.

In the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, when abbeys, convents and monasteries were plundered of religious vocations by a secular wind that was blowing through the West, it wasn’t just the Catholic Church that took a hit; it was also civilization. Few consider the importance of prayers and spiritual sacrifices and how they appease God’s anger and ward off evils. Historically, the monastic/religious life was a font of cultural renewal; not only because it spawned new institutions that served the needy, but because it daily invoked God’s mercy in saving souls. And once souls were sanctified, people could then be civilized.


Hidden Life Undermined:

However, in recent years the hidden life of the Church has suffered a setback. The consequence is that the spirit of the world influenced people in thinking that they can do without God; especially with the recent progress of technology and entertainment. But in reality, we feel less secure and less trusting of our neighbor than we ever have in the past. It is even true to say that the average neighborhood used to be the playground for children. But today parents need to supervise their children 24/7 out of fear of the unknown predators.

This same fear has limited our social freedoms considerably over the last several decades. Indeed, there used to be a number of things we were free to do but can no longer do. Leaving our doors unlocked and leaving our children unattended are two such examples. This, no doubt, is indicative that the social order is closing itself off to the Lord’s grace of moral goodness and unity.


Hidden Life Returns:

With that said, we cannot forget that although the hidden life of Jesus and Mary has been subdued in religious communities, it is making a comeback. And this hidden life will be the essential movement that will roll back the Culture of Death. As Fr. Thomas Philippe put it so well:

“This movement [ i.e. the love of two hearts: Jesus and Mary] grows more intense as the world’s own movement accelerates and becomes more likely to draw souls away from God…The more the world gets involved in action and progress, thinking to find happiness therein, the more the Holy Spirit seems to ask his little ones to have recourse to the essential means, the so-called ‘vertical’ means: loving prayer and sacrifice, in union with Jesus our Redeemer and with the compassionate heart of Mary.”

The hidden life of the Holy Family glorified God in Nazareth some two thousand years ago. The same intimate conversations between Jesus and his Blessed Mother continues to this very day. Throughout the Church's history, consecrated souls who have dedicated themselves to a life of love, silence, prayer and sacrifice have joined and perpetuated this conversation. And, no doubt, by doing so, they have occasioned many of God's blessings for the Church and society.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

St. Joseph and the Sword of Conflict

A Sky View repost:

It is not uncommon for God to frontload missions and great enterprises with adversity. St. Joseph was certainly no exception.

In the book of Sirach, it reads: “My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity.” (Sirach 2:1-2) To expect anything less is to run the risk of being scandalized by the Cross when it is imposed upon our shoulders. What we sometimes take for failure can often be the very thing needed to bring about the success God wills.

The Lord Jesus gave his disciples sufficient indication of this through parables, instruction, and personal example. Just before taking our sins to the Cross, our Lord told the Apostles, “He [the Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” The Benedictines has a saying for this: “Pruned, and it grows again.”

Have you ever wondered why, after appearing to the Blessed Virgin to announce the coming of Christ, the angel Gabriel did not immediately appear to St. Joseph in order to inform him that the Messiah would be conceived of the Holy Spirit; that God would make it possible for Mary to be both virgin and mother?

Instead, there was an interim period of misunderstanding and anguish on the part of St. Joseph. God could have prevented this misunderstanding but he chose not to. And the reason he chose not to was due to some moral and spiritual benefit St. Joseph would gain. Certainly, a lot of tears could have been spared; but often tears can be every bit as redemptive as the blood of martyrs which, as the early Christian adage goes, is the “seed of the Church.”

In his temporary emotional estrangement, St. Joseph, when having the wrong impression about his betrothed, had to rely on God. Indeed, during this short period of time not even the Mother of God could help him because, after all, she was the object of his suspicion and doubt. Alone he stood, confounded over God’s plan.

Little did St. Joseph know that the first moment of our Lord’s conception was not accompanied with peace but a sword; a sword that would test the holiest of relationships; namely, his parents. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This refining sword would even fall between Jesus and his parents some twelve years later in the Temple. Even then, Jesus could have prevented the three days of agony his parents were to endure in searching for him; nevertheless, he permitted the trial knowing full well that his holy Mother would not appreciate it. Our Lord shows us that the very mission we are called to carry out sometimes is the cause of pain to those we love.

It is conventional wisdom or should I say, “prudence of the flesh,” which makes harmony and peace an absolute. In our day, even among Christians, truth and fidelity to God’s law is sacrificed at the altar of “keeping the peace.” The absence of conflict is the kind of peace the world claims to give; but it is not the peace Christ offers us.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” But we know this peace is not without a sword because he also said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Indeed, doing God’s will is often an occasion of unwanted conflict. As much as we try to minimize it, people we care about the most will sometimes be offended by the witness we give. Nevertheless, we press forward and do the will of God anyways!

Although it was for a short period of time, St. Joseph had to learn the discipline of putting God first; even before the Blessed Virgin- his friend and spouse. The irony is that the sword of trial and purification came between him and the woman he was called to serve and protect. Before he could benefit from the most blessed of friendships under heaven, St. Joseph- like Abraham who was called to sacrifice his son, Isaac -was given the opportunity to renounce, out of love for God’s justice, the person he loved and respected.

From this discord between St. Joseph and Mary, a better man would emerge. As such, he would be better prepared for even greater trials in the future. God's sword of conflict pruned and refined one of the greatest men to ever have lived.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pastors: A word of reproach

The Pastoral Guide
By Pope St Gregory the Great

"Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears. The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: They are dumb dogs that cannot bark.

On another occasion he complains: You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord. To advance against the foe involves a bold resistance to the powers of this world in defense of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right.

When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel…The word of reproach is a key that unlocks a door, because reproach reveals a fault of which the evildoer is himself often unaware."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Church in exile

"I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile."

-Pope St. Gregory VII


The Criterion for Success:

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

He may, in fact, be right. Whenever the people of God throughout biblical history became too mainstream, or too assimilated by the world, their fidelity to God was compromised. On the other hand, when the Church of God suffered as castaways in exile, her mission prospered all the more. She was in a better position to fulfill what God required of her.

Take for instance a more recent example: The Catholic Church in America. Between 1940 and 1960, the Church doubled in size. A remarkable growth spurt to be sure. Construction for church buildings, bible sales, Mass attendance, priest and religious vocations were through the roof. Archbishop Cushing of Boston was reported as saying in the 1950’s that he expected to have 100 ordinations in one year. And why not? An Bishop Fulton Sheen hosted an Emmy award-winning television show, Life is Worth Living, in that same decade. And in 1960 the first Catholic won his bid for the presidency. Even Pope John XXIII, two years later, in his opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, predicted, “Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era.” Indeed, things looked promising.

Yet, not even a decade later, in 1970, Joseph Ratzinger, future pope, said that “the City of Man is striking terror in our hearts.” And in 1971, Sister Lucia, the only surviving seer of Fatima, wrote to her nephew warning him about the diabolical wave that would produce innumerable casualties. In the early 1970's, it became apparent that the Church’s influence on culture would come to an abrupt end. In fact, it was more true to say that the world’s influence poured into the Church in unprecedented fashion. And the result is that the Church is relearning what it is like to be a persecuted Church.

Not a few Catholics forgot that the Church is a Church in exile; never at home in any nation or civilization. As with each individual soul in search of a better place, the Church, as a body of believers, is a pilgrim and a foreigner in a strange land…away from her true home.

Decades ago, when the future of the Catholic Church looked promising, it would have done us well to remember the words of the Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, who said the following:

“Christ came not to bring peace but a sword and that the Kingdom of God comes not by the elimination of conflict but through an increasing opposition and tension between the church and the world. The conflict between the two cities is as old as humanity and must endure until the end of time.

And though the church may meet with ages of prosperity, and her enemies may fail and the powers of the world may submit to her sway, these things are no criterion of success. She wins not by majorities but by martyrs and the cross is her victory.” (The Kingdom of God and History 1938)


A Church in Exile:

As if to build upon the truth that Dawson voiced decades earlier, the Second Vatican Council, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminded the Church where she stands in relation to the world. In one of the Council's document's, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church, it reads: “Israel according to the flesh, which wandered as an exile in the desert, was already called the Church of God. So likewise the new Israel which while living in this present age goes in search of a future and abiding city is called the Church of Christ." And to drive the point home, the document adds: "The Church, while on earth it journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord, is like in exile...”

In the bible, to be in exile was both a sign of divine punishment and an instrument of liberation. Most importantly, as Pope Leo XIII once said, “[God] has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place.” Hence, suffering and persecution are meant to serve as reminders that our hopes ought to be placed elsewhere. After all, it is when we die, the same pope said, that we really begin to live.

But exile began with Adam and Eve. When they yielded to the Serpent’s temptations, they were sent out of the Garden of Eden, also known as Paradise. Although sinners, the First Couple were still friends of God. Yet, they were the first to be sent into exile; away from home, if you will. And their sin left a mark on every soul that would descend from them; a kind of emptiness and void in the human heart. That void would only be satisfied when the soul sees God face to face in heaven.

Curiously, God too was compelled to go into exile, away from the world he created. In the liturgy we pray to him, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” But the shadow of death loomed over the world because of sin. And just before God decided to flood the earth in Genesis 6, he also decided to withdraw his Spirit because of the sins of mankind. Only from a distance would God lead his people. And it wasn’t until Pentecost, that his Spirit would come back into the hearts of his people. God too, from the great Flood to Pentecost, was in exile…away from the world he created.

It would seem, then, that the people of God would follow the same course. When Abraham was called by God to be the father of nations- the father of a promise –he was living in the land of Ur (close to where Baghdad is today). But in order to inherit the promise from God, he was summoned to the land of Canaan (where Israel is today). And in order to survive, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, took his family to Egypt from the land of Canaan during a famine. About 400 years later, Moses would be sent into exile for killing an Egyptian soldier. He would return decades later to retrieve the Israelites. That was the beginning of a forty year journey in the desert. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Catholic Church is like the Israelites in the desert, searching for a better home.

When the nation of Israel settled into the land of Canaan, she prospered into a powerful kingdom under King David. As with most prosperous kingdoms, the people of God grew complacent and eventually turned to idolatry. About five centuries after the reign of David, the Jews were conquered by the Babylonian Empire. In the year 586 B.C., Jerusalem, along with the Temple built by Solomon, was destroyed. The Jews were then transported to Babylon. Strangers in a foreign land, they would come to recognize the inspired writings of the prophets who warned them of their sins and the chastening of God that would follow. Indeed, it was in their exile and plight that awoken them to their own infidelity and the veracity of God’s Word.

In the fullness of time when Christ was born, the holy pilgrimage of exile would be repeated yet again. King Herod, in order to eliminate any rivals to his throne, sought the life of the Christ-child. In order to escape his wrath, the angel warned St. Joseph in a dream to take the mother and her child to Egypt. In flight, therefore, Christ, as a young child and then as a man, would twice retrace the steps of his people:

First, by taking flight to Egypt as a child with Joseph and Mary. Second, by returning to the desert for the duration of forty days at age 30 in order to conquer the Evil One. Through his fidelity in fasting and a resolute rejection of Satan’s temptations, he atoned for Israel's infidelity. But it was only through the painful experience of exile that this blessing could come about.

Interestingly, the Gospel of Luke characterizes the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord as a kind of “exodus.” During his transfiguration on Mount Tabor, St. Luke wrote that Moses and Elijah (both sent into exile in their own day), spoke to Jesus about his exodus. In fact, the Ascension of Our Lord is considered as a kind an exile from this world. But as Moses returned to Egypt to liberate his people after a prolonged absence, so too our Lord will return in order to fulfill his Father's promise in Psalm 2: “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.”

In the meantime, the Catholic Church can only consider herself as one in exile; never completely at home in any given country. In the early years of the Christianity, the Church understood this well. For the first 300 years, she was hated and persecuted by the Romans. Indeed, a great number of martyrs were produced. In fact, one historical source reports that out of the 30 popes, 29 died a martyr’s death. Yet, conversions to the Catholic Faith abounded. Through it all, there was something very attractive about an other-worldly society.

A famous letter, supposedly written in the second century during the height of Christian persecution, captures how the early Christians saw themselves. A Letter from Mathetes to Diognetus speaks of a Church in exile; one that is not defined by any ethnicity or nationality. He writes, “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity…”

Even as the Roman Empire was beginning to fall and even as the Church seemed to be in retreat, Mathetes gives the reason why the early Christians were full of hope: “As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers…They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven…They love all men, and are persecuted by all…”

Even with the fierce persecution of Christians and being cast out of Roman society time and time again, the Catholic Church was full of confidence in her mission. She knew that in order to save the world, she had to be set apart from the world. Mathetes summarizes this mission as follows:

“To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world…”

The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.”


Conclusion:

During the height of the Church’s growth in 1948, just when it looked as though Catholicism was to win over Western Civilization, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his book, Communism and the Western Conscience, what it means to be a Church in exile; the kind of Church the early Christians were well acquainted with. He said,

“The value of a trial will be to set us apart. Evil must come to reject us, to despise us, to hate us, to persecute us, and then shall we define our loyalties, affirm our fidelities and state on whose side we stand.” He then said, “Our quantity will indeed decrease, but our quality will increase. Then shall be verified the words of our Master: ‘He that gathers not with me scatters.’” (Matthew 12:30)

It is only through the age-old pilgrimage of an exile as outsiders, strangers and victims that the Church can recover her native strength. Only under this banner can she be a symbol of that future happiness that awaits us in heaven. Perhaps, this is why another Catholic historian, Hilaire Belloc, wrote about that peculiar sign for which we are to look when the Catholic Faith is on the precipice of rising again:

“But if I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the Faith is at hand, I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning.”

The Only Person Ever Pre-Announced

The Only Person Ever Pre-Announced, 1958
By Fulton Sheen


HISTORY IS FULL OF MEN who have claimed that they came from God, or that they were gods, or that they bore messages from God — Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Christ, Lao-tze, and thousands of others, right down to the person who founded a new religion this very day. Each of them has a right to be heard and considered. But as a yardstick external to and outside of whatever is to be measured is needed, so there must be some permanent tests available to all men, all civilizations, and all ages, by which they can decide whether any one of these claimants, or all of them, are justified in their claims. These tests are of two kinds: reason and history. Reason, because everyone has it, even those without faith; history, because everyone lives in it and should know something about it.

Reason dictates that if any one of these men actually came from God, the least thing that God could do to support His claim would be to pre-announce His coming. Automobile manufacturers tell their customers when to expect a new model. If God sent anyone from Himself, or if He came Himself with a vitally important message for all men, it would seem reasonable that He would first let men know when His messenger was coming, where He would be born, where He would live, the doctrine He would teach, the enemies He would make, the program He would adopt for the future, and the manner of His death. By the extent to which the messenger conformed with these announcements, one could judge the validity of his claims.

Reason further assures us that if God did not do this, then there would be nothing to prevent any impostor from appearing in history and saying, “I come from God,” or “An angel appeared to me in the desert and gave me this message.” In such cases there would be no objective, historical way of testing the messenger. We would have only his word for it, and of course he could be wrong.

If a visitor came from a foreign country to Washington and said he was a diplomat, the government would ask him for his passport and other documents testifying that he represented a certain government. His papers would have to antedate his coming. If such proofs of identity are asked from delegates of other countries, reason certainly ought to do so with messengers who claim to have come from God. To each claimant reason says, “What record was there before you were born that you were coming?”

With this test one can evaluate the claimants. (And at this preliminary stage, Christ is no greater than the others.) Socrates had no one to foretell his birth. Buddha had no one to pre-announce him and his message or tell the day when he would sit under the tree. Confucius did not have the name of his mother and his birthplace recorded, nor were they given to men centuries before he arrived so that when he did come, men would know he was a messenger from God. But, with Christ it was different. Because of the Old Testament prophecies, His coming was not unexpected. There were no predictions about Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tze, Mohammed, or anyone else; but there were predictions about Christ. Others just came and said, “Here I am, believe me.” They were, therefore, only men among men and not the Divine in the human. Christ alone stepped out of that line saying, “Search the writings of the Jewish people and the related history of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.” (For the moment, pagan writings and even the Old Testament may be regarded only as historical documents, not as inspired works.)

It is true that the prophecies of the Old Testament can be best understood in the light of their fulfillment. The language of prophecy does not have the exactness of mathematics. Yet if one searches out the various Messianic currents in the Old Testament, and compares the resulting picture with the life and work of Christ, can one doubt that the ancient predictions point to Jesus and the kingdom which he established? God’s promise to the patriarchs that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed; the prediction that the tribe of Judah would be supreme among the other Hebrew tribes until the coming of Him Whom all nations would obey; the strange yet undeniable fact that in the Bible of the Alexandrian Jews, the Septuagint, one finds clearly predicted the virgin birth of the Messiahs; the prophecy of Isaiah’s 53 about the patient sufferer, the Servant of the Lord, who will lay down his life as a guilt-offering for his people’s offenses; the perspectives of the glorious, everlasting kingdom of the House of David—in whom but Christ have these prophecies found their fulfillment? From an historical point of view alone, here is uniqueness which sets Christ apart from all other founders of world religions. And once the fulfillment of these prophecies did historically take place in the person of Christ, not only did all prophecies cease in Israel, but there was discontinuance of sacrifices when the true Paschal Lamb was sacrificed...

What separates Christ from all men is that first He was expected; even the Gentiles had a longing for a deliverer, or redeemer. This fact alone distinguishes Him from all other religious leaders.

Mary's Womb: The Temple of the Christ-child

A Sky View repost:

Excerpts from the writings of Archbishop William Ullathorne (1806-1889), first Catholic bishop of Birmingham, England (in the post-Reformation era).

From the moment of His conception He had already made His oblation, for as St. Paul says: ‘Coming into the world, He said, A body you have fitted to me. Holocausts for sin did not please you. Behold I come. In the head of the book it stands written of me: that I should do your will, O God’ (Heb 10:5-7).

Mary was the most pure temple in which the great High Priest made His offering. There He had first offered up that blood, there He first offered up that flesh, of which He said at a later time: ‘If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall have life. As the Father lives in me, and I live by the Father, so he who eats me, the same shall live by me’ (John 6:55-58).

But now it is in a far more intimate and constant way that Jesus lives by Mary, and Mary lives by Jesus. Oh, who can tell that mystery of life? Who can comprehend that union between the two hearts of Jesus and Mary? Everyone can understand how much He has been enriched through the heart of His mother, and how His noblest sentiments have been derived from her. But who can understand how Jesus enriched the heart of Mary in that incomparable union? For, next to that union by which Jesus is God and man in one person, there is no union so intimate as that of a mother with a child.

The Saints are his brethren by adoption, but Mary is His mother by nature. They have affinity with Him, but she holds with Him the first degree of a relationship through blood. Her graces, then, are quite another order than that which sanctified the very holiest of Saints…

Mary is a summary of all the truths of the Gospel, displays all the graces of her Son, strikes down countless errors, and puts sin, and the author of sin, beneath her stainless feet.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Universal Fault: Detraction

A Sky View repost:

You shall not go about spreading slander among your kinsmen; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake. I am the LORD.”

-Leviticus 19:16

“Some appear to suffer the pangs of death until they have disclosed the secrets communicated to them; as if these secrets were so many thorns that wound their very heart until they are drawn out.”

-St. Alphonsus Liguori, The True Spouse of Christ





Detraction:

The sin of detraction is universal in that most are guilty of it in one way or another. Gossip is the tastiest of vices because it can be done under the pretense of “concern” for the welfare of others. It may be just a subtle way of making us feel better about ourselves. But if you were to identify one characteristic which was universal among the Saints, it would be that they were careful not to indulge in useless talk about other people’s faults.

Venerable Louis of Granada once said, “Speak of the virtues of your neighbor, but be silent as to his faults.” If, in the future, you happen to be faced with a conversation which involves detraction, then consider what else this venerable man of God said: “Prudently endeavor to turn the conversation, or show by the severity of your countenance that this conversation is not pleasing to you. Beware of hearing the detractor with smiling attention, for you thus encourage him, and consequently share in his guilt.” This, no doubt, is tough to do precisely because disparaging remarks about our neighbor can be spontaneous and frequent.

Nevertheless, here are a couple of guiding principles that are hard to practice but severve as a good standard toward which we can aspire.

1. One Saint said, “Do not say something about someone in their absence that you would not say in their presence.” There are so many pious Christians who are superb with their devotions but are quick to tear down others in their absence. But as St. James wrote, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.” (James 1:26) Our Lord also said that we will have to account for every idle word and pay back every last penny.

At the very least, gossip is comprised of idle words. Quite often it involves a secret delight in others people's shortcomings. Not only that, but even when someone's virtues are considered, the person guilty of detraction will be quick to find some imperfection in it.  St. Alphonsus speaks to this when he said, “The sin of detraction is committed, not only by imputing to others what is not true, by exaggerating their defects, or by making known their hidden faults, but by also representing their virtuous actions as defective, or by ascribing them to bad motives.” Then, for our benefit, he adds the following advise: “Let if be your care always to speak well of all. Speak of others as you would wish to be spoken of by others.”

2. There are also many Christians who are confused over what gossip really is. There are legitimate conversations people must have about the misdeeds of others. In one's profession, for instance, evaluating an employee job performance can, and sometimes must, involve constructive criticism. With that said, if a person is behaving in such a way so as to undermine the common good of a family, organization or community, then those in leadership positions should address such matters to those who absolutely need to know about it. This, to be sure, is not gossip but rather a moral obligation.

There is a lot of confusion in this area by Christians who sincerely want to avoid the guilt of detraction but in doing so, they become derelict in their duty to correct others. Time and time again I see some Christians balking on their moral obligations, especially when it involves alerting rightful authorities about the misdeeds of others. Such a duty is often- but unnecessarily -accompanied by a scruple that they are gossiping.

With that said, there is always going to be shades of gray when the shortcoming of another person needs to be communicated to the appropriate party. Just ask yourself: Does this person really have to know about the faults or sins of the person I am inclined to discuss. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. Furthermore, do such sins or faults cause me joy or sadness? If they cause you sadness because the sins of others is a grievance against God, then chances are you are on the right track. These leads us to the third consideration.

3. The Saints possessed an exceptional quality in that when the sins or faults of others were made known to them, they, more often than not, were sad to hear about such things. And when they could, they would try to identify some good trait- some silver lining -in those who are deemed to be unlovable. When people were disparaging the sinner, the Saints were inspired to mention something good about the person. Even if your worst enemy were to fall from grace, just keep in mind how it saddens our Lord. Such considerations were always on the forefront of saintly minds.

4. Finally, our generation- especially among Christians -struggle mightily to correct to people face-to-face. Some consider it a virtue not to say anything impolite to the offender's face- sparing him the hurt feelings -while allowing the situation to go from bad to worse. How often does the "polite Christian" spare his neighbor the discomfort of hearing constructive criticism only to criticize that same neighbor behind his back? Furthermore, by not being upfront with with a person who stands in need of correction, we deprive them the opportunity to amend themselves or even to defend themselves.

If at all possible, instead of complaining to a third party, take your grievance to the person who is the object of your displeasure. You would think that in Catholic apostolates, parishes and dioceses this virtue of "saying what you mean, and mean what you say" is practiced to a higher degree. But the fact is, detraction can be just as bad within the walls of the Church than in the secular world.

In and outside of the Church, people in the twenty-first century are extremely sensitive. They do not like to be criticized. As such, they are reluctant to be constructively critical in a face-to-face meeting with others. Instead, what often happens is that they express their discontent to people who can do little or nothing about it. This is where the sin of detraction is most clearly identified.

Detraction is a difficult vice to overcome…for nearly everyone. It requires going back to drawing board by saying to oneself: “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I did more harm than good.” And just as important, unnecessarily speaking about the faults of others should be brought to the confessional so that the Lord could give us the wisdom and the strength to avoid detraction. Indeed, whenever you find yourself tempted to speak of your neighbor's faults, keep the following caution from our Lord in mind: "Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known." (Matthew 10:26) Sooner or later, what we say behind closed doors will be made known. This consideration can go a long way in curbing our tongue!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Singles and the Sacrament of the Moment

A Sky View repost:

Although the married life and the family has preoccupied most of my time, nevertheless, through pastoral ministry and friendships I interact with a lot of singles. Curiously, more than any other demographic that I have encountered, it is Christian single who seems to be the most anxious about their vocation. In short, they fear that they will not find that right person. On the other side of the spectrum, it is increasingly the case that non-religious or sub-religious singles deliberately choose not to get married. For them, shacking-up suffices to meet their needs. In fact, Pew Research has found that the number of people getting married since 1960 had dropped by 20 percentage points. More recently, from 2009 to 2010, in just one year, the marriage rate dropped by 5 percent. That's a lot!

But as for Christian singles who want to get married, whose main ambition it is to get married, many of them have, it seems, a very difficult time reconciling their current status with God’s will. Not a few of them lose their peace believing that somewhere along the line they messed up and made the wrong decision; thus, putting themselves outside of Divine Providence. On the flipside, their non-religious counterparts are found to go with the flow, almost with indifference. If they get married, they get married; if not, no big deal! That is their attitude, anyways. To an extent, there are some understandable reasons for this discrepancy between the two demographics of singles.

Christian singles are called by Christ to live chastely. As far as their options are concerned, “shacking-up," or just "sleeping around," just to relieve sexual tension, is off the table. Whereas for non-religious or secular singles, they are more likely to be taken away by these pleasurable diversions. Under these circumstances, to wait for the right person isn't as urgent for them.

Also, Christians, by and large, put a high premium on the institution of marriage; their counterparts, by and large, do not…at least not as much. In short, this accounts for some of the anxiety suffered by Christian singles. They want to get busy, so to speak. They want to get on with their life with a companion. But there is another factor at play which takes us to the very heart of God’s will and His providence: This factor is what may be called the “Sacrament of the Moment.” Let me explain.

Many Christian singles rack themselves with anxiety over the thought they did something to “mess up” God’s plan for their vocation. They maintain that perhaps the right person came along and he or she did not recognize “their time of visitation;” that is, they missed that one and only opportunity to get married. Their anxiety also has them wonder if they broke up with a person "they should have never broken up with." Or it could be that- given their bad luck –they think that they’ll never find that right person at all. In their reasoning, it is as if their belief in random chance- circumstances which lie outside of God’s control –is stronger than their faith in God’s all-powerful wise counsel.

Whatever the crisis, one has to believe in one of two things: 1) Either every single circumstance is within God’s control or 2) it is not. Strangely, many people choose to believe the latter. And in choosing the latter they struggle to reconcile God’s love (or God’s will) not only with missed opportunities but suffering and misfortune as well. So they chalk up bad things to chance; something that is outside of God’s domain. This belief, no doubt, is inspired by noble motives. After all, they do not wish to criticize the Lord when they find themselves in a crisis. In order to spare God of criticism they conclude that suffering and setbacks are not God’s doing.

The downside to this belief system is that if we press its premise to its logical conclusion, it means that adversity is meaningless; that is, the trials that we encounter were never meant to be. Yet, if we see that the circumstances of each day, good or bad, are but the manifestation of God’s plan for us, then we can also understand that what appears to be a senseless drought of romance and marital love is every bit as meaningful as if we were to find ourselves in a happy marriage. No doubt, we may not like it. But because God willed it positively (preferred it) or allowed it (with His passive will), we can rest assured that the situation we find ourselves in is good for us nevertheless!

In fact, it is God’s will that husbands and wives can find fulfillment in the vocation of matrimony to begin with. In other words, if God had not willed it, the married life would not be fulfilling to anyone; even to the Christian single who hungers for a companion to share his life with! Indeed, the same God who created the institution of marriage and made it appealing, is the same God who has strategically called certain Christians to be single, either for the short term or the long term. Or, to put it another way, the same God who created marriage and instilled the human desire for it, is the same God who withholds the calling of marriage for the good of the single person.

And what about those mistakes we fret over? What about the “what if’s?” Now, certainly every sinner is capable of forfeiting plan A for plan B. For instance, a man who commits adultery and then seeks to file a divorce with his present wife is, by no means, carrying God’s plan (A) for him or for the family. But even in this case (where we find immoral decisions having been made in a given situation), God, from all eternity, allowed such a moral evil to take place and in allowing it to happen, He allowed for it to contribute to His overall perfect plan for the family and even for the adulterer. In so doing, plan B- being less ideal than plan A –can be comparably effective to plan A for God's purposes. If Christ can take the sins of humanity and bring out of it many blessings, then surely He can do it for one individual. This applies even more so to mistakes.

And this leads us to the following question: Can God’s will be thwarted by mistakes? The Saints tell us, “no!” Every apparent fluke and all “senseless” suffering is either deliberately willed by God or permitted for some higher good. It is all a part of His intelligent designed. No doubt, the more painful the circumstances, the harder it is to reconcile such circumstances to God’s wise and loving counsel. For this reason, the mystery of the Cross is a stumbling block to many of us; especially when we are blindsided by a crisis.

But here is the real crux: We know that God is everything for us; we lack nothing with Him. If, then, He dwells within our souls and is firmly within our possession, why is it, then, that we suffer so much in the absence of a spouse or a loved one? The answer: It takes a lifetime of faith, hope, love and suffering to have this interior spiritual reality translated into what we can feel, perceive and even act on. It is through the mystery of the Cross (i.e. the trials of life) that hasten this translation. This is how the peace of God is attained. It has a lot to do with what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…[F]or I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Philippians 4:6,7,11-13)

The peace of God results, at least in part, from the knowledge that all things work together for the good. This most especially applies to Christians.

Believe or not, free will is such a small part of the overall picture. What Christians do not think about often enough is all the evil and mishaps the Lord does prevent from happening. Even mathematicians who specialize in probabilities say that it is a wonder that we can get from point A to point B without some accident occurring. In this unstable world of ours, so many things can go wrong. I guess that is why we have guardian angles. And for whatever reason, the man or woman who has just turned 30 or 40 years of age and hence sees the clock ticking away, may be prevented by Divine Providence from marrying the wrong person or marrying too soon or even entering into a marriage when there are so many unresolved problems that the single person needs to work through. Whatever the case may be, being married or single is not the most important thing. What is the most important consideration for any Christian is to embrace God’s will as it is revealed to him in the moment. Yes. We do well when we resign to God’s plan as it unfolds in the sacrament of the moment.

But to be a Saint, conformity to God’s will is not enough. No. We have to will what God will's. And to will what God will’s, even if it means being single for an extended period of time, we have to will being single "in the moment." That’s right. The secret to sanctity and peace of soul is to will what God gives us in the circumstances of each day. This is no small feat. In fact, it can be quite grueling. It can wear us down. But it is the most mysterious and yet most liberating ambition anyone could have!

Think about it: If we thank God for only those things that suit our pleasures- and for that which is agreeable to us -can we not thank Him for all the deprivations and setbacks that run counter to our will as well? And are they not just as good for us in the long run? If we have the faith of a Saint we would answer in the affirmative. At the very least, let us be thankful that the Lord does not give us what we want all the time! After all, how many times have we begged God for things that, in hindsight, proved not to be in our best interest.

Even more so, let us be thankful for the Sacrament of the Moment. After all, this is where the greatest of treasures is to be found: God’s all-wise and loving will.

Finding that right person

A Sky View repost:

Introduction:

As far as credentials are concerned, I cannot claim any expertise in marriage counseling or sociology. The only experience I have in finding the right person outside of my own marriage is that I have been a speaker at diocesan engagement encounters, taught at catechetical conferences on human sexuality, led Cana programs for local parishes and have worked closely with children who were sexually abused. As one who used to work at a Catholic talk radio network, I had conversations with people who called in and needed help. Among the callers were wives who found out, some years after getting married, that their husbands had sexually molested a son or daughter. Other cases involved a spouse who was addicted to pornography. In my own mind, I wondered why they missed the red flags early on. After all, vices never exist in isolation. Put another way, if a person is in entangled in sexual sin then he or she invariably has other vices or character flaws. These vices should have indicated to the fiancé that the person they are about to marry has problems to resolve.

Probably just as important as being a participant in these Church forums is speaking to countless couples in my own social life who have buyer’s remorse when it comes to their own marriage. As such, I read, study, observe, pray, reflect and try to put two and two together in order to make sense of this epidemic.

Although it is no consolation to singles that have yet to find the right person, it can nevertheless be argued that it is better to be an unhappy single than be an unhappy married person. After all, being unhappy as an individual is bad enough. However, when you add another unhappy spouse to the mix, it can be hell. But some people cannot stand the thought of being single, so they settle for a man or woman who turns out to be their biggest cross in life.

The point of this post is to remind the reader that although it is more difficult to look for a spouse today than it was in previous decades, there are helpful principles to keep in mind as you search. Keep in mind that what was once a matter of instinct in discerning red flags is much less so now days. Because our culture has drifted away from the wisdom of Christ and because there are many broken families, there is something lost with each younger generation in the field of dating, marriage and parenting. We do not realize that the moral and social strength of previous generations enjoyed the spiritual capital of a once Christian society. The less we pray, practice moral virtues and attend church, the less that spiritual capital can provide healthy sexual and marital instincts.

As each generation fails to draw from the well of Christian wisdom, they experience more difficulty in finding the right person for marriage. Indeed, you will be surprised how shortsighted materialism and sensuality can make us. Too often, attraction is confused with love and love with attraction. Moreover, people can easily fall in love with the idea of marrying a particular person without really loving the actual person. Practicing Catholics are by no means exempt from this! More than anyone else, they want to get married and get on with their life. But in the process of doing so, they can overlook danger signs.

Here are principles and tips that may help you find that right person. You may find that some of these basic principles may seem like high and unrealistic ideals; attainable goals, if you will. But remember, with God everything is possible. It is He who will lead you to that right person if you are meant to get married. However, He needs your cooperation. And that cooperation may require a great deal of self-denial in some cases:


Love’s priority:

Your prospective spouse should love God more than you and you more than their parents. Christianity brings a right order in the priority of love. A person who does not put God first in their life will likely put others, including their own parents, before you. The right order is this: God first, spouse second, children third and everybody else fourth. Too many wives and husbands will not defend their spouse when their mother, father, brother or sister meddles into their affairs. This causes problems. And more importantly, a person who loves God more than their wife or husband is much more likely to be faithful when no one is looking. More often than not, their priorities will be what they should be.


Christian identity:

If a person claims to be Catholic or goes to church, do not assume that he or she is follower of Christ through and through. So many prospective spouses are fooled by this. Keep in mind that each soul is like a mansion or building. As you enter it, you will find that the first floor may be tidy and may even have Christian décor so as to express their religiosity. But as you proceed to the second or third floor, what you may find are things wholly contrary to that Christian expression. In other words, church pews are filled with sinners; sometimes of the worst kind. Do not take someone’s word that they are Christian nor should you consider their church-going practice as proof their faith is authentic. Indeed, there has never been a time when people are confused as to what a Christian really is at today. Pastors, parents and teachers are partly (if not, mostly) to blame for this. Just remember that the garb of religious devotion can mask many a sin. Some may pray the rosary or even do other pious acts and yet, they may have no qualms about backstabbing or doing things that will betray a relationship. The real test of Christian identity, therefore, is not so much in devotion but in virtue; especially when their will is contradicted. Ask: How do they respond when others contradict them?


Character and Contradictions:

Before you get married, make sure you know how your prospective spouse responds to adversity and contractions; especially when you are the source of that contradiction. Ask yourself: What is my boyfriend, girlfriend or fiancé like when I disappoint them, when I contradict their will and when I am a burden to them? When they have nothing to lose, how will they treat you when you have a chronic illness, when your family becomes a burden to them or if you should be employed for several months causing them financial inconveniences? In other words, know how they carry their crosses; especially when you are likely to be one of them! If you get married and still believe that your fiance can do no wrong, you do not know him or her enough!! Love is not only an act of the will but it is based on knowledge. You cannot really love a person you do not know.


Mom and Dad:

Another very important consideration is how they relate to their own parents. If there is any discord between your prospective spouse and their parent, know that it just may carry over into your marriage. For instance, when a man does not get along with his mother, he may have difficulties, in some form or another, with his wife. There may be a tendency to be too rough or too insecure on his part. And if a woman is not secure in her father’s love for her, she may develop codependency habits in the marriage. Sometimes the slightest disapproval will cause a great deal of insecurity for her. On a very important note: If you were sexually abused, get help, talk things out and make sure the counseling you receive is coupled with good Catholic spirituality. A key to a happy marriage after having had your innocence violated is to forgive your offender.


Vices:

Remember that vices rarely exist in isolation. Rather, they exist in families. The same applies to virtues. For instance, if a man is into porn, he may have problems with lying or fidelity. If gambling or alcoholism is a problem, again, dishonesty, intemperance and covetousness are probably vices that lurk near by. Also, how someone treats a previous romance will most likely an index as to how a you will be treated. I can never understand why a man and woman can marry an adulterer without realizing that they too are likely to be a victim of the same sin.


Sex and Cohabitation:

Sexual activity is not only a distraction before marriage, it is not only a rehearsal for divorce, but most importantly, it is a serious sin against a loving God. A man or woman who says “I love you” or has sex on the first date is a person who will leave a relationship just as quickly as they committed to it. They are not to be trusted because they know not the value of love. For this and other reasons, when there are sexual attachments involved, it is exceedingly difficult to properly discern the right person for you. Christ elevated marriage into a sacrament because married couples need his grace. Sexual sin forfeits that grace. Exercise the virtue of chastity before marriage; deny yourself in that area and open yourself to God’s grace. As such, you will lay the foundation for a long and enduring marriage.


Spirit of Sacrifice:

Try to look for the greatest of qualities in your future spouse: the spirit of sacrifice. John Gray, author of “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus,” stated that God gives every marriage about 3-5 years of a strong dose of attraction or hormones. After that expires, love as an act of the will must carry you the rest of the way. This is not to say the romance ends after five years. In fact, I believe that the biggest mistake that husbands and wives make is that they stop courting one another. And this is the point: Marital love is accompanied with sweetness and romance in those first years of marriage but when children come along, that marital love matures and moves beyond the romance. Instead of frequenting restaurants and going for walks in the park during their free time, the couple now has to change diapers, take the children to the doctor and the like. Believe it or not, some people take this to mean that their love has lost its sparkle when it could be that it has matured into a more selfless love. And always remember that love is an act of the will. It is a decision. Feelings come and go and for that reason they can never be fully trusted.

For some readers, all this might be water under a bridge. You may in fact be in a difficult marriage. If you are, I encourage you to google: “Fulton Sheen, Life is Worth Living audio series.” There should be a list of mp-3 talks. One of them is “Bad Marriages.” Listen to it. It will help you process the difficulty you might find in a bad marriage.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Stumbling Block of the Crib

The Land of Gloom:

A passage often cited during the season of Advent is from the book of Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (9:1)

This passage from Isaiah resonated with the early Christians in a special way. They knew what they were being saved from. Their surroundings were a blatant reminder that human beings, left to their own devices, were capable of creating a world of darkness and gloom.

When Christ, the Apostles and the early Christians walked the earth, gladiator games were a source of entertainment for an idle mob, infanticide was socially acceptable in the most civilized parts of the world, and slavery was a universal institution. And in every continent, the human race (at least at certain times) had plunged itself into the barbaric ritual of human sacrifice.

The ancient world didn’t know it, but it was lost. What it also did not realize was that it could not save itself. Indeed, the source of its salvation had to come from outside of itself. Happily, God provided the Answer: His Son. That Answer not only had to be supernatural in essence in order that the human race be lifted out its darkness and gloom. It also had to be unworldly. That is to say, the Son of God had to be world-renouncing.

It’s not that our Lord came to reject the world. Rather, he had to be a living symbol of a happiness that existed elsewhere. In fact, Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of his Apostles, saying, “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”

In the ages to come, the best of our Lord’s followers knew that in order to save the world, one had to die to the world. Christians, whose love of Christ was most contagious in history, lived in the world but were not of the world. The beginning of Christ’s earthly life, as well as his end, was punctuated with this paradox! This is why the Crib and the Cross has great significance in today’s world. The Crib and the Cross were two unworldly trademarks of Christ’s mission. The first is emblematic of poverty and the second one, of defeat.


Stumbling Block of the Crib:

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola has us meditate on the Crib of Christ during Advent. And to help explain these spiritual exercises is Fr. Bertrand de Margerie, author of Theological Retreat (1976). He said, “The ‘stumbling block of the crib’ places us face to face with the mystery of a poor God. The infinitely rich is presented to us in the swaddling clothes of poverty.” The Crib of Christ was every bit as an enigma and stumbling block to the world as the Cross of Christ. Unlike the royalty of earthly kings, our Lord’s Crib suggests that the poor, the lame, the social outcasts and sinners are invited to be his friends.

More than this, the birth of Christ outside of Bethlehem also tells us that happiness and fulfillment is not to be found in wealth or material belongings. Poverty and simplicity are reminders that we are creatures in need. And the greatest need we have is the need for God. For this reason, the Catholic Church has a special affection for the poor. Indeed, every canonized Saint has had a special love and predilection for them. The poor are living symbols of that great spiritual need that resides in each and every soul.

In fact, Fr. Bertrand de Margerie suggested that the rich need the poor than the poor need the rich. “In his Church,” he said, “the privileged will be, not the rich, but the poor. The salvation of the rich depends on the poor, and on the acceptance, by them, of the alms the rich offer them. It is then, not so much the rich who do a favor to the poor by offering them alms, but rather the poor who become benefactors of the rich by accepting such alms.” This is confirmed when our Lord is quoted by St. Paul as saying , “It is better to give than to receive.” To be sure, when we die, we take with us what we gave, not what we received.

As stated, before the birth of Christ the unbaptized world was morally and spiritually impoverished. The human race had lowered itself to such degradation because it sought joy and happiness in the wrong places. Very much like ancient world, the modern world pines after fame, sex and material pleasures. For this reason, the Son of God was born into humble circumstances so that we would not put our hopes in what this world has to offer. Whatever satisfaction the flesh and the world provides, it is not only short-lived but it will eventually disappoint and leave a void that is impossible to fill.

Jesus Christ teaches us that in order to find ourselves it is necessary to first lose ourselves in him. Self-forgetfulness in pursuit of God and in serving others is one such way of losing ourselves. Similarly, in order to save the world, Christians have to die to the world. They have to die to its group-think ways, its conventional wisdom, its priorities and its values. And right from the start, at the moment of his birth, our Lord defies conventional wisdom in that he, as King, was not born in a palace but rather in some abandoned grotto. Just as with his death, what seems of little account to observers is, in fact, God’s instrument of bringing about new life and great achievements.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola has us pray along these lines:

“You could have come into this world through the richness of the flesh, in the midst of wealth. It has pleased you to make yourself a part of the great human family through the poverty of the virginity, not in the bosom of need and misery, but in a stable of a poverty momentarily needy as a consequence of inhospitality of the hearts you came to save. Your poverty and your celibacy are not the condemnation, but the salvation of marriage and ownership, restored by purity of heart and poverty of spirit. Today, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, in the wealth of divine glorification, wish to introduce in their holy family countless poor and chaste men and women...

I will make myself a poor little unworthy slave, and as though present, look upon them, contemplate them, and serve them in their needs with all possible homage and reverence.

Infant Jesus, my Lord and my God, I thank you for having become poor to expiate my avarice. Today, too, you are cold in so many hearts and in so many bodies. I adore your right to be warmed by the fire our loving poverty. In offering it to you for the evangelization and for the salvation of your poor, I renew my resolve to associate myself with your poverty and enrich myself with it.”

This is what the Crib of Christ has meant to a world in darkness and gloom. Its light emanated from an unlikely corner of the world. And from that quiet and humble corner came forth God’s Answer to a world that needed saving...not from material poverty, but from the greatest poverty of all- spiritual poverty!

The First and the Last Day: Separating the Light from the Darkness


This is a Sky View repost:


--“God then separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:4)

--“If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. ~ I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people…” (Matthew 18:17 / I Corinthians 5:9)

--"And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." (Matthew 25:32 )



Introduction:

Study after study has demonstrated that the behavior of those who identify themselves as Catholic are really not that much different than non-Catholics. For instance, a poll taken in 2005 by Harris Interactive found that 90 percent of Catholics practice contraception. And according to Reuters, Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church. These figures may be slightly exaggerated but they do demonstrate one indisputable truth: The distinction between believers and unbelievers has been blotted out. This has not always been the case. Historically, not only the religious beliefs and practices of Christians set them apart from those of the world, but it was their sexual virtues of chastity and purity that bore witness to Christ’s holiness. There used to exist- at least with more clarity –a line of division and a mark of distinction which set the people of God apart from the world.

The Church’s mission of division:

The Church’s mission is to preach the Gospel and prepare souls for eternity. An important part of the ministry of preparation is that the Catholic Church symbolize and anticipate the society of heaven; better known as the kingdom of heaven or the communion of Saints. Salvation, however, is not forced on anyone. In this life each soul has two eternal destinations from which to choose: one with God (heaven) and one without him (hell). It is by no means true that heaven exclusively belongs to card-carrying members of the Church; neither is it true that hell is the inevitable destiny of non-Catholics of the world. Nevertheless, for two thousand years the Church has symbolized our heavenly country. The world, if we are to use its biblical meaning, prefigures hell; that is, a world without God. St. Augustine referred to these two communities as the City of God and the City of Man. To the degree that the Church inspires her leaders and members to possess a world-renouncing holiness- to that degree -will the Church symbolize the Communion of Saints in heaven in contradistinction to the world of spiritual darkness.

The line between the City of God and the City of Man has not been as self-evident in recent decades as it once was. When the line is blurred humanity suffers all the more because of it. And although highlighting this division between these two cities runs counter to what is considered to be socially appropriate, the necessity of this division is, nevertheless, a vital one. St. James said, “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (4:4) The Apostle echoed what our Lord himself said just years earlier: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

Every person who is baptized into the mysteries of Christ is chosen “out of the world” because Satan, as far as our Lord is concerned, is its ruler. A true follower of Christ, therefore, possesses a two-fold mission. He bears witness to God’s kingdom and in doing so becomes a “sign of contradiction” to the ways of the world. As St. Paul said in no uncertain terms: “For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life.” (II Corinthians 2:15-16)


Division in Scripture:

This division between the Church and the world did not start with the public ministry of Jesus. To be sure, the first day of creation prophetically anticipated the last day of the world when the sheep (the saved) are to be separated from the goats (unsaved). In the book of Genesis it says that in the beginning God created light. “God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness.” St. Augustine said that this light refers to the angels and the darkness, to the fallen angels. It was on that day that the angels in heaven and the fallen angels were separated. It was also on that day that God drew the line in the sand separating those spirits who loved him apart from those who did not.

Throughout world history the knowledge between God and the devil, between good and evil, between happiness and misery, would prevail as long as that line of division between the faithful and the unfaithful was clearly established.

Immediately following the disobedience of Adam and Eve, they were immediately banished from the Garden of Eden. It was there, in the garden, where their perfect communion and happiness with God was enjoyed. Upon incurring guilt through sin, the Lord separated the first man and the first woman from Paradise. What began with the division of angels from the fallen angels on the first day (that is, when God separated light from darkness) eventually found its way into the human race. Indeed, this divine mandate of separation would press forward through the ages.


Unity: Not all is good

Even with this biblical precedent, the prevailing tendency among many Christians today is to pursue unity and harmony at all costs. Anything which contradicts or undermines this pursuit is deemed to be "unchristian." However, the Catholic Church never set this up as an end in itself. Unity, as taught by the Church, is consequence of our communion with Christ under the Fatherhood of God. Without this communion, real unity- the kind that benefits mankind –is impossible. What is too often overlooked is that unity is dependent upon Christ’s mission to divide; that is, separate the unfaithful from the faithful. He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Matthew 10:34) The ultimate purpose of his sword is to divide and separate the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful (Matthew 25). Jesus even warned that this line of division will run right through the family itself. To the extent the sheep are set apart from the goats, to this extent, will the unity among the sheep be strengthened and made visible.

In the end, every soul will either belong to heaven or hell. The path to these two eternal destinations finds its beginning in our earthly lives. Indeed, when the people of God are distinct and set apart from the people of world, these two paths are more clearly discerned. To repeat what our Lord said to his disciples: “I have chosen you out of the world.” This divine calling of being set apart is traced out in the Old Testament but is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.


More biblical background:

Throughout biblical history, God frowned upon the indiscriminate unity of good and evil. The reason for this was due to the fact that goodness and truth always suffered loss when intermingled with evil and falsehood. After Adam and Eve disobeyed the divine command in Paradise, as we've said, the Lord cast them out signifying the separation between his holiness and sinful humanity. And this disobedience, from within the human family, would pit brother against brother and tribe against tribe.

The first-born son Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was the patriarch of the unfaithful- of those people who turned their back on God. And Seth, the God-fearing man and the third-born son who replaced Abel, was the one who inherited God’s blessing. The descendants of Cain were known as the “Daughters of Men” and the descendants of Seth were known as the “Sons of God.” In Genesis 6, the Sons of God, the Lord’s chosen, married into the godless race of Cain. This intermarriage and indiscriminate mingling of the faithful and unfaithful was an occasion for widespread moral corruption. With this, the Lord punished the human race by not only flooding the earth but by also withdrawing his Spirit.

Then in Genesis chapter 11, the human race- speaking one language -decided to initiate a great enterprise by constructing the Tower of Babel. Noteworthy, however, was the command given to Noah’s family immediately after exiting the ark to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth; that is, to disperse and migrate. Instead, the descendants of Noah united in one central location in order to make a name for themselves by building the tower. Evidently, God did not look kindly on this enterprise. In fact, he intervened so as to undermine it. Perhaps the following passage from the Canticle of Mary in the Gospel of Luke was a reference to this historic intervention by God: “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.” (1:51) The Tower of Babel was one story out of many in the bible that illustrated God’s displeasure with an indiscriminate unity of the good and the bad, the faithful and the unfaithful.

After the calling of Abraham and the founding of the nation of Israel by Moses, the people of God would have to learn this lesson over and over again. In fact, the fall of King Solomon and the impending collapse of the Kingdom of Israel was due to him marrying hundreds of wives from foreign nations; most of whom worshiped pagan gods. To accommodate them, he ended up building temples to these gods. Throughout the centuries up to the time of Christ the kings of Judah and Israel (originally one nation) struggled mightily with the sin of that wrong kind of unity- the unity of the believers in Yahweh with the people of pagan religions. When the Jews and their leaders failed to set themselves apart from their pagan neighbors they invariably fell into idolatry. The world was steeped further into the shadow of death because of it.


The cause of unity:

Although the New Covenant Church under Christ, that is, the Catholic Church, is universal in nature- although it is international in that it excludes no nation, race or class of people, her unity and oneness -nevertheless, this unity is best expressed when the fidelity to all of Christ’s teachings is required to be a Catholic in good standing. The insistence by the Catholic hierarchy that all Catholics be totally faithful to Jesus Christ has been the general standard in the last two thousand years.

If this fidelity is absent and if infidelity and error is tolerated, then St. Paul’s mandate to be one body and one Spirit through one baptism under one Father is all but impossible. This can only be achieved by a unity of faithful believers in belief, word and deed. To repeat, the knowledge between God and the devil, between good and evil, between happiness and misery, will prevail as long as that line which distinguishes the faithful from the unfaithful is clearly established. This pastoral practice, no doubt a difficult one now days, is the best rehearsal for that Day when the Judge of Nations will separate the sheep from the goats.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Herod, the Holy Innocents and Suffering Bravely

“To act bravely is the part of a Roman; to suffer bravely is the part of a Christian.”

-An early Christian saying


The Church and the State are like two brothers who come from the same Father. Both happen to be creations of God. And when they work together for the common good, society prospers. St. Ivo, bishop of Chartres, confirmed this to Pope Paschal II in a letter:

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

But like Cain, who, out of jealousy, killed his brother Abel, the State over the centuries has sought to repress the Church. Just as God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, the same God favors his own kingdom above any political empire that be. After all, Christ founded a Church, not a government or political party. To be sure, the mission of the Church and the duties of the State are to be respected in their own right. Nevertheless, the Gospel makes it clear that God's kingdom does not belong to this world.

Still, political rulers like King Herod have taken great offense to the superiority of God’s kingdom. As St. John Chrysostom said, “Unquenchable is the anger which jealousy of the rival of a crown enkindles. Like a wounded wild beast, it tears in pieces whatever meets the eye, as if the cause of his wounds.” In fact, the aggressive actions taken by Herod against the newborn Messiah traced out the increasing opposition and tension between the church and the world that would unfold for centuries to come. From the beginning of Jesus' life on earth, the first one to seek his destruction was an ambitious political ruler.

Yet, what is curious is that God could have killed King Herod if he wanted to. After all, in the book of Acts, Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck down by the Lord.  This was because they had lied to the Apostles about their possessions. Now, if the Lord would have done the same thing with Herod- who was certainly guilty of a greater sin -the Holy Family would have been spared at least 2 to 7 years of exile in Egypt. Furthermore, the mothers of the slain babies in Bethlehem would have been spared their great sorrow and grief.

Again, the important thing to note is that God "could have" prevented Herod’s evil design of mass infanticide. He could have spared much heartache the Holy Family encountered by taking refuge in a foreign land. He could have spared the heart wrenching experience of parents witnessing the slaughter of their infants and toddlers.

Yet, the Lord who is all good and all powerful permitted this evil. As siuch, the people of Bethlehem had to come to terms with two seemingly contrary attributes of God: His goodness and his power. If the God of Hosts is all good and all powerful then how can he allow this terrible tragedy to happen? This is something every believer must come to terms with when a loved one dies...especially at such a young age.

It is sometimes asked, “Why couldn’t God save my beloved from death? He could have done so, why didn’t he?”  This is where the mystery of the Cross enters into the picture. This is where the faith of every follower of Christ is put to the ultimate test. But ultimately, this test and trial by fire is the very instrument God uses in saving souls.

Pope St. Leo the Great said that through the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents “it was prophetically declared that the Church of God should increase by the cruel fury of her persecutors; since by the punishments and deaths of the blessed martyrs, whilst Christians were supposed to be diminished in numbers, they were augmented by example.” This same pontiff went on to quote an earlier Church Father, Tertullian: “And the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

In short, therer are different types of martyrs. Sixteenth century priest and scholar, Cornelius Lapide, wrote the following: “Hence Doctors teach that there are three classes of martyrs. To the first belong those who, in deed as well as will, are martyrs. Such are adults who voluntarily accept death from a tyrant for the sake of Christ. The second class are those who are martyrs only in deed; such as infants who are slain for Christ. The third are those who are martyrs only in will—who desire martyrdom as St. Francis desired it.”

To paraphrase an early Christian saying: To act bravely is the part of a soldier; to suffer bravely is the part of a Christian. It is also part of the Christian to know that an all-powerful God could prevent evil from happening but chooses not to for a purpose of saving; especially when such evil descends upon his Church. And when that evil happens to be perpetrated by the powerful of this world, especially political rulers, we should be confident that the persecuted Church, like her founder, will prevail.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The narrative underlying the Newtown tragedy

People want answers. When a young man walked into a first grade class at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, only to shoot every single child in cold blood, people want to know why. Of course, the gunman took other lives outside of that classroom; but the elimination of a whole first grade class impresses a heartrending image in our minds. One that is most difficult to fathom.

When parents hear about these tragedies their thoughts immediately shift to their own children. Just the thought alone that our children could have suffered the same fate as the poor first-graders whose lives ended so abruptly is enough to make tears flow. But for the parents, colleagues and friends of those victims in Newtown, they have to process the reality of it all.

At Sandy Hook elementary school, evil clashed with innocence in the most unimaginable fashion. Again, when death pounds on our door so abruptly and so early in the lives its victims, people look beyond the grave for answers and ask why. Even when religion has been marginalized in a person’s life or in the life of a community, faith in the unseen world takes on a great deal of significance under these circumstances.

When our Lord walked the earth, people were asking the same question: why do the innocent suffer at the hands of evil? Jesus reminded his audience that the eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them were no more guilty than other Jews who lived in Jerusalem in his day. Yet, God allowed it. Jesus was innocent, yet God allowed his cruxifiction.

Natural disasters and man-made acts of evil fall on the guilty and innocent alike. When St. Paul first converted, our Lord showed this new Apostle all that he would have to suffer. And indeed, he suffered terribly. He recounted just a few of his hardships in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.” (II Corinthians 11:24-27)

In the Catholic tradition the Church honors martyrs who fell victim to the injustices of evil men. For instance, the Saints taught that underneath the appearance of tragedy there was something else to consider, something else behold. Keep in mind that the distinct class of Catholic martyrs is composed of men, women and children alike. And the circumstances that accompanied their martyrdom were every bit as horrific as Sandy Hook’s mass murder. In fact, some were killed in barbaric fashion and tortured over a long period of time.

Still, underneath the horror, and integral to the Catholic Faith itself, lies the Mystery of the Cross. It gives life even when all else seems to be lost and even dead. It is the greatest of paradoxes but it is also the source of our hope as Christians. The Cross is a stumbling block to the world but not for followers of Christ. For us, "senseless" suffering and an untimely death is invested with meaning because God permits it for a greater good.

In fact, the narrative of the Cross can be summed up with the following words: Evil, death, and sadness may be a part of the story of life but it is far from being the end of the story. With God, there really are happy endings. Loved ones separated by death really do reunite beyond in a better life. And even more important, it is only through the painful reality of death that the purpose of our existence can be fulfilled. Eternal happiness is there for the taking, but it can only be had after having gone through the passage of death.

To be sure, an untimely death, especially one as heart-wrenching as the fatalities in Newtown, Connecticut, provokes all of the human emotions of shock, disbelief and sadness among the friends of God. It invariably triggers a series of “why” questions. But one thing human tragedy cannot bring about is despair; that is, to despair of God’s goodness and wisdom.  To repeat, death is not a stumbling block for Christians; even in its most dramatic and disturbing form. We have been trained, if you will, as followers of Christ even amid our grief, to acknowledge that there is glory beyond tragedy. This belief may not mitigate the unimaginable pain but it does put it in context.

On December 14, 2012 many young and beautiful souls were hugged by God in that Sandy Hook kindergarten classrlolom only to be taken to heaven in His arms. This blissful image juxtaposed to the tragic images that invade our minds is part of that narrative of the Cross. It is the narrative that underlies the Newtown tragedy. May it be a source of hope and strength for those who mourn the loss of those who died at Sandy Hook elementary school.