Monday, December 30, 2013

A New Year's Resolution: Mother Theresa and Cardinal Merry de Val on Humility

"Some are displeased with the physician who cures them by reproof, and are not angry with the man who wounds them by flattery."

-St. Bernard

Blessed Mother Theresa on Humility:

If you dare, the following acts of humility, proposed by Blessed Mother Theresa, will certainly make for a good New Year's resolution. Yet, some of these virtuous acts are difficult. Quite often, they can take on the veneer of legitimacy when in fact they are just expressions- which come so natural to us -of our selfishness and egocentricity.

It could even be that when we accept the challenge and try to implement these acts of humility, they can seem so far away from how we think, speak and behave. But thankfully, we do not have to rely on our own strength to live these virtues out. We have the same grace that Blessed Mother Theresa enjoyed. In fact, if we but will to live out these saintly virtues, the desire will carry us along way...but not without effort and a death to self.

Blessed Mother Theresa's Humility List:

1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
15. Choose always the more difficult task.

Cardinal Merry de Val on the Litany of Humility:

The following has been revised from an earlier post:

The Scripture is pervaded with the theme of humility. Rafael Cardinal Merry de Val composed a prayer he would recite after every Mass he celebrated called Litany of Humility. It is an irony of Divine Providence that he was chosen as Secretary of State by our last canonized pope- St. Pius X. Every day he would pray, “From the desire of being honored and from the desire of being preferred to others…Deliver me Jesus.” Yet the Lord rewarded him with a position of being the right hand man of a saintly pope. No one can outdo the Lord in generosity.

Cardinal Merry de Val, being of stature at the Vatican, did not think it beneath him to teach the Catholic Faith in the slums of Rome; for that is what he did. Like Pope St. Pius X, he was very generous to those in need. He would often slip money underneath the doors of poor households. For him, the State dignitary deserved no more of his attention than the street sweeper.

In dealing with opponents of the Church from without or modernist theologians from within, he did not flinch from confrontation or conflict. He saw himself as a “Watchman” of the Church; jealous for the salvation of souls and the glory of God. “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” (Ez 33:7)

Upon his death in 1930, he was found wearing a hair shirt. His penitential spirituality and the Litany of Humility he composed for himself, bore him abundant fruit. He was a man of God who was unmoved by honor and at peace with humiliations.

Following the death of St. Pius X, the Cardinal wrote a book called, The Memoirs of Pope Pius X. In it, he recounts that the adulation and deference that came with being a pope was a burden to St. Pius X. Indeed, for a Saint, such special treatment is a cross to be carried. Like the Lord, they avoid human praise so that they can merit the approbation of God.

Yet, many a youth today long to become famous; and when their dreams are realized, they become disillusioned with that fame. Yesterday people looked up to heroes, today they admire celebrities. For the first time in history, surveys of young people reveal that they prefer being famous more than being rich.

As for us, when we do not get the recognition we think we deserve, we get discouraged or saddened. Or when people find fault with us, we become indignant and lose our peace. As St. Gregory the Great said,

"We have known many who, when no one accuses them, confess themselves sinners; but when they have been corrected for a fault, they endeavor with all their might to defend themselves, and to remove the imputation of guilt."

Indeed, being silent when criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. What is more paradoxical is that this same virtue, which gives strength for keeping silent when criticized, is the same virtue which gives strength for speaking the truth when no one else will.

When the grace of God's humility is given the chance work within the soul, then true joy and happiness takes root and the foretaste of heaven begins. Honors and human applause lose their value; in place of that, the desire to please God grows stronger. There is something to be said for holy obscurity and exclusion; it leads to purification. And ironically, it brings true and lasting joy to the soul. Our Lord said as much in the Beatitudes.

Pray the Litany of Humility. You will find it to be repugnant to your pride, but if you should taste the deliverance for which you pray, you will enjoy a kind of freedom few people enjoy. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (II Cor. 3:17) And where freedom is, there is humility!

Litany of Humility
Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...

From the fear of being humiliated ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...
That others may be loved more than I…Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

The Litany of Humility, frequently prayed and meditated on, not only hastens a death to self but it gives greater expression to the life of Christ that dwells within us. Indeed, every Saint has been infused with the attitude, the virtue and the spirit which this litany invokes. It inspires a holy striving which is diametrically opposed to the worst instincts in our fallen human nature! And thanks to Cardinal Merry de Val, we have this spiritual and moral compass known as the Litany of Humility. When pride and vainglory get the best of us, all we have to do is pray it. Then our feet will touch the ground once again.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own
and not necessarily reflective of
any organization I works for.

Russia Chooses Life

Russia Chooses Life
By Steven W. Mosher
Population Research Institute
Weekly Briefing: 2013 (v15)

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning abortion advertising. Some members of the Duma (the Russian state assembly), are talking about going even further and banning the procedure itself. The Russian Orthodox Church, whose numbers are swelling with converts and “reverts,” is weighing in as well.
One Orthodox prelate called abortion a “mutiny against God.
” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

This is an amazing turn about in a country which has long been known for its tragically high abortion rate. Until recently, the average woman in Russia could expect to have seven abortions over her lifetime. Even The New York Times, no bastion of pro-life sentiment, has been compelled to acknowledge that Russia's high abortion rate was damaging the health and fertility of Russian women. As the paper noted in a 2003 editorial, "Now the Russian government is attempting to slow the abortion rate. It is an admirable goal, given the toll that multiple abortions have taken on the health and fertility of Russia's women.” Not to mention the toll that abortion has taken on the unborn, and on the population as a whole.

Abortion was forced on the Russian people by the Bolsheviks (the Russian communist party under Lenin), who upon coming to power in 1920 legalized abortion up to birth without any restrictions. Their goal was to destroy the family by encouraging women to get abortions, get out of the home and into the workforce. Russia was the first country in the world to declare war on the unborn in this way. Of course, with its purges, mass executions, and Gulag it warred on the unborn in other ways as well.

In fact, it was the early Bolsheviks who developed the suction abortion machine that is still in use in abortion clinics today. They actually developed two versions. The first was the electric suction abortion machine used in abortion clinics in the U.S. and other countries. The second was the manual vacuum aspirator, a hand-held and operated abortion machine that is used in less developed countries in places where no electric power is available.

PRI has played a role in helping to turn Russia back to life. I participated in the first Demographic Summit at the Russian State Social University in Moscow in May, 2011. We talked with senior Russian leaders about the need to protect life. Not long thereafter, a law was passed banning abortion of unborn babies older than 12 weeks. It also mandated a waiting period of 2-7 days for those wanting an abortion, and required that anyone advertising abortion services include a warning to the effect that “abortion is hazardous to a woman’s health.” Now, of course, advertising of any kind has been banned.

Taken individually, each of the laws put in place by the Russian government has a fairly small demographic impact. The Russian government, for example, pays a one-time baby bonus of $13,000 to the parents of every newborn. According to Russian demographer Igor Beloborodov, however, this generous bonus has only convinced 8 percent of couples of reproductive age to consider having another child.

The cumulative effect of all of the pro-life, pro-natal policies taken to date is far more significant. While there are still, according to the Russian Health Ministry, 1.7 abortions for every live birth in the country, that ratio is shrinking as the birth rate climbs and abortion becomes gradually less common.

As a result of the adoption of enlightened policies to protect the sanctity of human life, Russia's population decline has been virtually halted, and the country has been put on a more stable demographic course.

Russia’s demographic winter is not yet over, but there are signs of a spring thaw.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own
and not necessarily reflective of
any organization I works for.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Screwtape: The road to heaven and hell

The Screwtape Letters is a book authored by C.S. Lewis. Released in 1942, Lewis incorporates his spiritual and theological insights into a correspondence between the Devil, who goes by the name of Screwtape, and his demon nephew named Wormwood. The “Enemy” Screwtape refers to time and time again is, of course, God. Although the book is technically fiction, it is, nevertheless, non-fiction in that it illustrates real spiritual principles based on a solid understanding of human nature. In fact, although C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, he drew inspiration from many Catholic sources and it is demonstrated by the uncanny tactics Screwtape advises Wormwood on.

These tactics by the Devil are adapted to the many ironies of the spiritual life. To be sure, many principles of the supernatural order, much like the natural order, defy conventional wisdom. One such principle or truth is that the road to hell is paved by sins that are subtle and socially acceptable. In tempting humans, the Devil reminds his nephew of the following truth: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,...Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

The road to hell is not paved primarily with dramatic crimes, genocide and earth-shattering events. It does include that, of course. Rather, it is more often the case that it begins with an uncontested thought or a desire that is seemingly harmless but ends up carrying us in a direction that is contrary to God’s will or what is morally wrong. As St. James wrote in his letter, “Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.”

To add to this, St. John the Apostle reminds us that there is such a thing as deadly sin; deadly because sin ruptures our relationship with Christ and hence kills the life of grace in the soul. Such a phenomenon is every bit as real as physical illness and death but unlike physical illness and death, spiritual and moral decline is ever so subtle. The reason for this is due to the fact that the effects of grace and the gifts God has given the sinner in the past can outlast the life of grace from within. But before you know it, life is not quite the same after a series of sinful choices has been committed. Although we are not quite conscious of it, the bad choices we make, the sins we commit, change us. Soon enough, we think differently, speak differently and act differently. In fact, there is a spiritual law that says that the more you sin, the less you know you are sinner.

In the book The Screwtape Letters, the Devil, Screwtape, is mindful of another spiritual principle, one that defies conventional wisdom. He advises his nephew, Wormwood, that when a believer feels abandoned by God, this is by no means a victory for hell. It could be that the Lord has withdrawn all interior spiritual consolation and exterior supports in order to test that believer and hence make him greater than he once was. He writes:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

When you strip it down to its very essence, you find that the love of God is an act of the will. If everyone is running headlong towards the cliff and hence into the abyss, it will take an act of the will- motivated by love of God –to go in the opposite direction. Indeed, running against the current of friends, family members and society is a lonely business. It often involves the loss of friendships and strained relationships. And in so doing, one can feel even abandoned by God himself. But when one rises above this- even in his confusion and sense of abandonment –by doing the right thing and remaining loyal to the Lord, he (or she) has proven himself as a sincere lover of Christ…a true friend.

Such a friend can accept all things from God, prosperity and adversity. In the book, The Dialogue, God the Father goes on to inform St. Catherine of Sienna that the faithful disciple of His Son "holds all thing in reverence, the left hand as well as the right, trouble as well as consolation, hunger and thirst as well as eating and drinking, cold and heat and nakedness as well as clothing, life as well as death, honor as well as disgrace, distress as well as comfort. In all things he remains solid, firm and stable, because his foundation is the living Rock." Such a disciple becomes quite useful to the Lord because his fidelity is not dependent on agreeable circumstances.

What we learn from The Screwtape Letters and from the writings of the Saints is that the strong currents that lead to hell is quite subtle. And those who carried by it are not, at least initially, alarmed by it. Like those passengers on the Titanic who were unphased when the ship hit the iceberg, fatal blows to the life of grace can feel like a little jolt to those who are not paying attention. Yet, their ship is in danger of sinking, nevertheless. On the other hand, the road to heaven is can come is great subtly too. We can make the most spiritual progress when all seems lost. Indeed, when we feel abandoned by God and yet love him anyways- and although we may feel lost and even backsliding -this is a sign that our feet is firmly planted on the road to heaven.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own
and not necessarily reflective of
any organization I works for.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Herod and the Holy Innocents: Why God Allowed It

Note to the reader: I renamed this a few times. Trying to find a title that captures the content.

When God summoned the Magi to Jerusalem through the star of Jacob, he triggered a series of
events. One such event was the massacre of boys- two years old and under –in the little town of Bethlehem. The Greek Liturgy numbers these innocent victims at 14,000. But most historians conclude that this improbable because the population of Bethlehem was estimated to be at 1,000 at the time of Christ’s birth. However, Josephus, a first century Jewish historian and a few of the early Church Fathers, contended that this decree by King Herod the Great was carried out during the month of March during Passover when thousands of Jewish pilgrims were required to visit the Temple. Bethlehem is only five miles away; perhaps, the last rest area for travelers. If this be the case, then perhaps the Holy Innocents could have numbered in the hundreds or thousands.

In any case, when we consult historical sources, we discover that King Herod coveted political power so much that he didn’t even spare his own family members when they got in the way. Some early accounts allege that King Herod the Great asked permission of Caesar Augustus if he could put three of his sons to death. Such measures on the local level required permission from the Roman Emperor. In response to this, Augustus is reported to have said, “It were better to be Herod’s pig than his son, because the Jews do not eat pork.” Indeed, Herod’s pigs fared much better than Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater. The former were spared while the latter, namely, his sons, were put to death. Evidently, King Herod’s sons were a threat to his power.

Moreover, it was believed that during the time his son’s were being strategically eliminated, the King Herod (who was half Jewish) decided to eliminate another threat: the new born Messiah. St. John Chrysostom offered his two cents worth in speculating why this might have been the case. He said, “Herod, being aware of this prophecy, applied the oracle to himself in order to strengthen his kingdom.” However, when the Three Kings from the Orient (i.e. the Magi), guided by the star, came looking for the Christ-child, he knew his attempts to appropriate the prophecy from the book of Micah to himself would be challenged. Even so, what could a young boy possibly do to upset King Herod’s throne?

St. Gregory gave the answer when he said this: “When the King of heaven was born, the earthly king was troubled because, indeed, terrestrial exaltation is confounded when celestial greatness is disclosed.” In other words, what King Herod intuitively anticipated, the Blessed Virgin Mary had prophesied. When she visited St. Elizabeth several months earlier, she exclaimed in her canticle that God will “throw down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.” To be sure, not by military might or political rule would Christ “throw down the rulers from their thrones,” but paradoxically, it is by lifting up the lowly!

Just a side note before proceeding any further: It just so happened that a few days after his son, Antipater, was eliminated and after his decree to massacre the Holy Innocents was issued, King Herod was said to have died a painful death. His thirty seven year reign came to an abrupt end. This is historical lesson is worth pondering: Political power is always short-lived when balanced against eternity. It is like vapor. It appears and then it is gone before you know it. Christ didn’t come to rule as Caesar Augustus or King Herod did. No, that was too insignificant for him. As Pope Leo the Great said, “Christ seizes not thy royalty, nor would the Lord of the universe be contented with thy petty scepter.”

Christ came to reign over hearts. He came to save souls. And in doing so, he raised up the human person regardless of social or political status. For this very reason, Christ’s divine authority has always been a threat to despots and power-hungry rulers! To reveal the God-given dignity of the individual and to claim ownership over every soul as God does, this puts limitations on the power of the State.

When our ultimate trust is in the Lord, dependence on the State tends to wither. Even the Psalms bids us not to put our trust in mortals and rulers: “Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in mortals. Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in princes.” And when the interests of God are tied up with the narrow ambitions of politicians, it is the latter that always suffers. Alexis de Tocqueville said it well: “When a religion founds its empire upon the desire of immortality which lives in every human heart, it may aspire to universal dominion; but when it connects itself to a government…it forfeits the hope of reigning over all.” But I digress.

Bearing witness to great truths is not just a matter of words and speeches. If it was, the cost would be too little. Rather, great truths shine the brightest when mortals have to suffer for it. Perhaps this is why the Lord drew the Magi to himself even knowing that this would result in the Bethlehem massacre. “It was prophetically declared,” St Leo argues, “that the Church of God should increase by the cruel fury of her persecutors…” In fact, Our Lord and his entourage of martyrs would bear witness to God’s heavenly kingdom with their very lives. And the early Christians were quite proud of this heritage. They would often say, “To act bravely, is the part of a Roman; to suffer bravely is the part of a Christian.”

From a distance, we Christians can recount the glories of martyrdom. And to be sure, it is inspiring. But it must be born in mind what a tragedy that must have been for the parents in Bethlehem to witness the murder of their young boys. They didn’t ask to be a part of God’s plan. And when the toll of human suffering hits close to home, as it did with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, it is exceedingly difficult for reconcile such atrocities with God’s wise counsel. Yet, it has been the instrument God has used to give evidence of reality of heaven, of the dignity of the soul and of the greatness of God himself.

From the vantage point of the world and all of those who covet political power, the feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th is a sign of weakness and defeat. But it is imperative that we know how God works. What is weak in the eyes of humans, is all-powerful in God’s hands. As St. Paul said, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something…” (I Corinthians 1:27-28)

It is those holy, innocent children from Bethlehem who sit at Christ's feet in heaven. It is they who will judge the despots of the world with our Lord. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Universal Church not only honors them, but beseeches their intercession and favor on us mortals.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own
and not necessarily reflective of
any organization I works for.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

When Children Became People

When God became a child he not only redeemed the human race, he revealed the true dignity of children. To be sure, the Christ-child in swaddling clothes did more to advance the cause of children than most historians and sociologists care to admit. By entering into human childhood with his divinity fully intact- and experiencing all of the joys and challenges of childhood –he became their advocate. And during his public ministry, when our Lord said “let the children come to me” and then bade his disciples to become like children, he, at the same time, reminded the world that children are people too; that they were admirable qualities in children that all should aspire to.

You might think this is a no-brainer: “Yea, children are people; so what?” But we forget what the coming of Christ meant to the status of children. You see, in the ancient world children were considered to be property; something to used and dispose of at will. For this reason, they lived in an atmosphere of sexual abuse and violence. Indeed, the unbaptized world, by and large, was not child-friendly at all. And if you take a look around you, you may notice that the post-Christian world is really not that different; that children are dehumanized in much the same way with the practice of abortion, the growing acceptance of infanticide, and often reported incidents of sexual abuse among minors in the media.

If we but consult the past, we can anticipate the future. And what does the past tell us? Before Christ, children were not people; at least in the eyes of the world. In his book, When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity, author O.M. Bakke draws our attention to just how callous adults were toward children. Indeed, an appalling indifference was quite prevalent in the most civilized parts of the ancient world. In fact, there were very few legal and social protections for children.

For instance, the father of the house was the arbiter of whether his children lived or died; whether they were cared for or abused; and whether they were kept or sold. Bakke adds, “Children and slaves were the father’s property, just material objects. To a very large extent, he could treat his wife, his children, and other household members as he pleased, without any fear of legal consequences.” This, of course, gave sanction to violence against children and sexual exploitation.

Lloyd de Mause, a source referenced in the same book, reminds us that what we call “abuse” in our day was mainstream phenomenon in the antiquity. He said, “[T]he child in antiquity lived his earliest years in an atmosphere of sexual abuse. Growing up in Greece and Rome often included being used sexually by older men.” In ancient Greece, home of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, man-boy sexual relationships (this was called ephobe love) were far from being taboo or considered “abusive,” rather, it was a social rite of passage in Greece.

Kenneth Dover, author of a book on homosexuality in ancient Greece, gives us four key insights about this socially accepted man-boy relationship:

(1) that most homosexual activity among free urban citizens in Greece took the form of pederastic relationships between adult men and boys aged twelve years and over; (2) that such relationships were considered normal and natural; (3) that neither ethics nor legislation forbade or penalized this form of sexual activity…(4) that this form of homosexual activity was seen as noble, as a natural part of growing into adulthood….”

This coldness towards children on the part of adults- and even parents -in the ancient world derived, at least in part, from the high mortality of rate among children. Approximately 50 percent of children in the ancient world died before the age of ten. With this probability, parents often expected at least some of children to die in the early years. Such an expectation fostered in parents a kind of detachment from their children. Sadly, in pagan antiquity there was no religious belief to offset this unfortunate development.

The fact is that children were seen as a liability because of their vulnerability and their inability to reason. As Bakke argues, “Children were not only considered to be weak in the sense that they lacked logos [i.e. the ability to reason]. The Romans held that they were physically weak, particularly vulnerable, and exposed to sickness.”

For this reason it was not uncommon for people to see children as a sacrifice, a burden and a mouth to be feed. Even the widely known Roman philosopher, Cicero, exhibited an appalling indifference towards the death of his granddaughter. He even referred to her as a “thing.”

Naturally, this indifference towards children led to the common practice of abortions, infanticide and “baby exposure” (i.e. literally, throwing babies away…taking them out to the garbage). Without blinking an eye, another Roman philosopher by the name of Seneca justified the killing of post-born babies under the guise of “reason.” He said, “We drown even children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Yet it is not anger, but reason that separates the harmful from the sound.”

Sure enough, archeologist Lawrence E. Stager and his colleagues saw evidence of this practice about two thousand years later in one of his excavations in Italy. He said they made “a gruesome discovery in the sewer that ran under the bathhouse…the sewer had been clogged with refuse sometime in the sixth century A.D. when we excavated and dry-sieved the desiccated sewage, we found [the] bones…of nearly 100 little babies apparently murdered and thrown into the sewer.”

With this historical context in mind, we can better appreciate what Jesus Christ means to the dignity of children. He took their lot in this world and retrieved it from the sewer. How often have we heard the words spoken by the angel Gabriel to the St. Zachariah (Lk 1:17) in the Temple that the Messiah will “turn the hearts of fathers toward children”?

The promise that fathers would turn their hearts toward their children upon the arrival of the Christ is taken from the book of Malachi. And have we ever asked ourselves what that passage means? It would stand to reason that father’s hearts were not turned toward their children; that somehow their hearts were not in the right place; that their hearts had grown cold toward them in the absence of grace. But when father's hearts turn away from children, society follows suit.

Unfortunately, ancient pagans chose to focus on the limitations of children, thus casting them as a liability to society when in fact they were the very opposite: the future of society and a blessing from God! What was overlooked was that the more children there were the more hands existed to assist with labor, the more minds there were to invent and the more souls there were to love.

In contrast to the ancient pagans, the early Christians revolutionized the way the world looked at children. Scripture reminded the people of God that children were heaven’s blessing; that from conception to natural death children they are, as Pope Pius XI would say, a "true microcosm, a world in miniature with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos." Just as the slave was equal to his master at the foot of the altar, so too children were endowed with equal dignity to their parents. After all, they were created by God, for God and in the likeness of God just as their parents were. This is biblical truth is the basis and surest guarantee for human rights and the dignity of life.

What is more, the early Christians saw to it that all who would aspire to follow Christ had to become like little children; this, in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, all that was noble about children, such as their innocence, unquestioning faith and simplicity, were raised high for the world to see.  And in so doing, men and women learned to see children as people; something that was quite foreign to the ancient pagans.

The crèche, or any Nativity display for that matter, takes on great symbolic value in our day. After knowing how children were treated in the unbaptized world, the following words from the prophet Isaiah will never sound the same to me: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us.”
The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own
and not necessarily reflective of
any organization I works for.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Year Later: My Little Lamb

Jennifer Hubbard is a resident of Newtown, CT, The younger of her two children, Catherine Violet, was a victim of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012.
Courtesy of the December edition of the Magnificat Pages 187-188

She Pondered These Things in Her Heart
Lamb of God
Jennifer Hubbard


It is the time during Mass where my tears flow steadily:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

It is then that the pain becomes overwhelmingly raw. The wound that I think has started to heal is suddenly ripped open.

Lambs are innocent, exposed, and vulnerable, and yet they are always protected. My lamb is Catherine. I knew her cry before it came from her lungs. I knew it was Catherine calling “Mamma” even though she was in a room full of children calling out. I knew where she was, even when I couldn’t see her. She is the lamb I knew had been called home before I truly understood what had happened. Just knowing- it is a gift God gave me when he placed her next to my heart for nine months. A gift he gave me when he allowed the quiet beating of our hearts to find rhythm next to each other’s.

It is always a lamb I see when I think of Catherine. She is the lamb that would nuzzle right beside Mary in the Nativity. She is the lamb that greets us from the pasture as we walk on a foggy spring morning. She is the lamb that I have carved into the footstone at her resting place. And now, as I tuck it into the pages when I close my Bible, it is Catherine that I see walking confidently beside Jesus on her prayer card.

“The Lord is my Shepherd there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1). It was Jesus who was waiting for her as he welcomed his flock. He led her to still waters, and she fears no evil. She is the lamb, innocent and vulnerable- naïve to what the world was capable of. She is sheltered under vigilant watch; she is whole and is resting peacefully at his feet.

And I too am his lamb. It is myself he has cradled across his shoulders. He knows my heart aches to feel the beating of hers against mine. He acknowledges my cry, even when it hasn’t yet left my lungs. He hears my quiet calling through all the voices and comes to me. I know that he will guide me as I seek his guidance, and that he will answer my voice when I call out. He continues to scoop me up and carry me when the days seem too much. He shows his unending love in the simplest things that are undeniably Catherine. In doing so he reminds me that his promise has not been broken. He reminds me that one day he will gently lift me from his shoulders and place me beside her. When that day comes, I will close my eyes and relish the quiet rhythm of our beating hearts.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

First Sunday of Advent: Better be ready!

One would think that the readings from the First Sunday of Advent were the same as Ash Wednesday’s readings. The Second and the Third Reading (Gospel) have little to do with the warm fuzzies of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Instead, it has more to do with the sobering reality of death. Just as the world will end one day and hence be judged by Christ upon his Second Coming, so too does the world of each individual come to an end with an immediate judgment to follow.

Before the time of Christ, the ancient pagans had no sense of getting ready for eternity. For them, the afterlife was hidden in the obscurity of their myths. Death for the ancient pagan, as it is for the modern person, was too often an excuse to seek as many pleasures and accumulate as many experiences as possible before time ran out. At the very least, the thought of it was something to avoid. In fact, Alexander the Great, the leader of the Greek Empire in 333 B.C., had himself convinced that he was immortal. It turned out he wasn’t. And as for the great Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and philosopher in the second century, his answer to death was one of mere resignation. He said, “Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.”

But there would come a day when a redeemed people would do more than just smile back at death. Several centuries before Christ, when the ancient world was still without hope of eternal life, the prophet Isaiah saw a day when people of faith, from all nations, would be instructed in the ways of eternal life. To be sure, they would come to know that death is not the end of life, but rather, it is the point at which it begins for the righteous. A passage from the First Reading of Mass reads as follows:

“In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”” (First reading- Isaiah 2)

Interestingly enough it was Jacob the Patriarch who had the dream of angles ascending and descending on a staircase to heaven from earth. He was given a vision that these angels were freely traveling back and forth between heaven and earth. Upon the coming of Christ, however, it would be revealed to the people of God that just as angels ascended to heaven, so too would human beings ascend to heaven on the condition that they remained faithful to God.

Indeed, preparing oneself for the hour of death each and every day by being conformed to Jesus Christ- who had already ascending into heaven -is incumbent on every Christian. As St. Paul said in the Second Readings at Mass: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep...But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:11,14) Fr. Cornelius Lapide, sixteenth century priest and scholar, added to this by cautioning his readers that the devil will try to instill complacency in us or at least the presumption that we have plenty of time left to amend our lives. He wrote, “Wherefore this idea, instigated by the devil, must be crushed. Everyone should say to himself at the beginning of each year, of each day, ‘It may be that you shall die this year or this day. Therefore so live as if you were to die to-day.’”

I have to imagine that it does make a great deal of difference whether a person is ready for his death or not. If it fared well for everyone, regardless of how they lived their life, I suppose our Lord would not be so insistent that we be ready for his arrival. After all, he did say, “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Gospel reading- Matt. 24:44) The divine mandate to be prepared implies that there are consequences for being unprepared. So that these regrettable consequences are not realized, the Lord bids us to be vigilant.

But the question can be asked: If he wants us to be prepared for his arrival, why not tell us precisely when that will be? St. John Chrysostom, an early Church Father, gives us the answer: “For, if men knew surely when they were to die, at that time only would they seek to repent.” In other words, the incentive- or at least one very powerful incentive –to live a life worthy of God’s scrutiny, throughout one’s life, would be compromised. Most people would opt for a last minute maya copa and allow their lives to be squandered in the meantime. By virtue of the fact that we know not the hour, we are, at the same time, summoned to give our best with each day God gives us.

On the other hand, our Lord’s mandate to be prepared for both the hour of our death and his Second Coming has manifold benefits, for this life and the life to come. It gives us perspective and it incentivizes virtue. Another Church Father, St. Athanasius had this to say about being modest about our presumptions:

“When we awake out of sleep, let us be in doubt whether we shall see the evening. When we lay us down to rest, let us not be confident that we shall come to the light of another day. Thus we shall not offend, nor be carried away by vain desires. Neither shall we be angry, nor covet to lay up earthly treasures. But rather by the fear of departure, from day to day we shall trample upon all transitory things.”

The season o f Advent is not only a time when the Church reflects on a past event; that is, the first coming of Christ two thousand years ago. It is also one of anticipation, of looking forward to Christ’s Second Coming. What the Church does on a macro level in preparing herself for the Second Coming and the General Judgment, the individual does on a micro level in preparing himself for his death and the immediate judgment to follow. The two go hand in hand. And as St. Athanasius suggested, a life lived in preparation for death will prevent us from being carried away by vain desires and instead will inspire us to commit ourselves that which is truly important.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily
reflective of any organization I works for.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The 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’s book, 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 always shown a special affection for the poor. Furthermore, 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.

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 very reason, the Son of God was born into humble circumstances so that we would not put our hopes in the things of this earth. 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. This is the greatest of paradoxes and it is one that the world simply doesn’t understand. Indeed, self-forgetfulness in pursuit of God and in the service of others is the way in which we are called to lose 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 meditation on the following passage:

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 what the prophet Isaiah referred to as “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. Through our Lord’s poverty, we became rich. And that holy poverty and simplicity is held out to us in a special way during the seasons of Advent and Christmas so that we can renew it in ourselves.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What you may not know about Christmas

A Sky View repost:

If you ever watched the History or Discover Channel you may have come across progressive theologians or historians who dismiss out of hand the historical accounts of Christ's birth as told in the Gospels. Quite often scholars look down upon tradition, the testimonies of the early Christians and their ancient writings. For some of these intellectuals, it is beneath them to give any credibility to traditions associated with piety and religious devotion. Yet, by confining their judgments within the narrow circle of contemporary scholarship, they deprive themselves of valuable insights which the traditions of the Church do provide. Perhaps, this may be one of the reasons why many people do not know the following about Christmas.

Take for instance the date of Christ's birth. Many scholars have said that it is highly unlikely that December 25th was the actual date of our Lord's birth. One principal reason was that shepherds in the Holy Land did not normally graze their pastures with their sheep during the month of December. Rather, the more likely month for such activity would be during the month of March. But, as we shall see, there are reasons to believe that the tradition of the Church got it right.

For starters, early in the fourth century (300's), St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, wrote Pope St. Julius, bishop of Rome, to inquire about the date of Christ’s birth. One might think that if anyone was qualified to answer the question it would be St. Cyril himself; primarily because he was the bishop of Jerusalem, just twelve miles away from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. Nevertheless, it just so happened that the city of Jerusalem was pillaged in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, led by General Titus, in order to repress an uprising of Jewish zealots. In the process, the Temple was destroyed and its records- along with the census documents -were brought back to Rome only to be filed among the Roman archives. Less than three hundred years later, these documents were evidently still in existence. Interestingly enough, Pope St. Julius was the acting bishop of Rome after Christianity had been legalized. As such, he had privileged access to the Roman archives. St. Julius wrote back to the Saintly Bishop of Jerusalem and assigned December 25th as the birth date of Jesus Christ. “St. John Chrysostom [Bishop and Father of the Church in the 400's] quotes the same authority of the Roman archives as the source of the date of Christmas.”

As regards to the likelihood shepherds overseeing their sheep on a cold December night, we learn the following: It just so happened that right outside the town of Bethlehem was a watch tower called the Migdal Eder. This was a special watchtower that overlooked a pasture of sheep. But these sheep were no ordinary sheep. The sheep at the Migdal Eder were specially groomed for the Temple sacrifice "throughout the year." This pasture land happened to be alongside a road leading to Jerusalem. The Migdal Eder shepherds were trained to keep these sheep unblemished, that is, with no broken bones or any other kind of infirmity. Unblemished lambs for sacrificial offerings, of course, were required by the Law of Moses. These providential circumstances, no doubt, foretold that the Christ-child would fulfill the Messianic role as the “Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.”

Interestingly, it is believed that the Angel announced the glad tidings of the Saviors birth to these special Migdal Eder shepherds on Christmas night. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after having witnessed the angelic apparition and having visited the baby Jesus in "swaddling clothes," these shepherds got to talking at the Temple when they transported the sheep there. Perhaps, this is why St. Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Luke 2) recognized the Christ-child as the long awaited Messiah when he was presented in the Temple forty days after his birth. After all, the following prophecy from Micah was well known within the Jewish community: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”

Tradition also has it that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the age of three to the time she was betrothed to St. Joseph, had lived in the Temple. Just like Hannah did with her son Samuel in the Old Testament, Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, dedicated Mary to the Temple (probably due to their old age). According to an ancient document known as the Gospel of St. James (or the Proto-evangelium ), Mary was to spend most of her childhood in the Temple precincts. As such, her holiness and even her vow of virginity could very well have been made known to the likes of St. Simeon and the prophetess Anna who also lived in the Temple (not to be confused with St. Anne, Mary’s mother). Perhaps, the reason why this holy man and holy woman immediately recognized the Christ-child is because they first recognized his Mother!

Some scholars, for their own reasons, have maintained that Christ was not born in Bethlehem but rather in Nazareth. However, the early Christians have something to say about the exact place of Christ’s birth. It was virtually unanimous among the early Christians and Fathers of the Church that Jesus was born just outside of Bethlehem in a cave, also known as a grotto. St. Justin, a Palestinian by birth and a Christian philosopher who lived about a hundred years after Christ, writes that Jesus was born in a grotto near Bethlehem. He said, “Since Joseph did not find where to lodge in the village of Bethlehem, he repaired to a certain grotto near to it; and being there, Mary brought forth Jesus and laid him in the manger, where the Magi, coming from Arabia, found him.”

About fifty years after St. Justin died (165 A.D.) Origin, a Catholic priest and well known Father of the Church, had this to say about the place of Christ's birth: "At Bethlehem is shown a grotto where Jesus was born. The fact is well known throughout the whole country. Even pagans know that in this grotto was born a certain Jesus adored by the Nazarenes." When Christianity finally had become legal in 313 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine, his mother, a canonized Saint, traveled to Bethlehem and found the grotto where our Lord was born. As an ancient Church historian in the third century, Eusebius, relates, the Emperors mother restored it. "Helena adorned the holy grotto with rich and varied decorations. Sometime later, the Emperor himself, outdoing his mother's munificence, embellished this place in truly royal fashion, lavishing on it gold, silver and sumptuous tapestries.” From that time forward, the grotto, later turned into a shrine, became a favorite holy site for pilgrims. Even the famous Saint and scholar of the fourth century, St. Jerome, had visited this hallowed grotto. However, he lamented that it did not retain its original simplicity when Christ was born a little over three hundred years prior to his visit.

In conclusion, although modern scholarship has furthered our knowledge about Christ in many ways, it is, nevertheless, comprised of fallible judgments based on many premises which may or may not be true. One thing is for sure: If we want to know the truth about Christmas and the circumstances of that wonderful night, we cannot afford to ignore the traditions that have come down to us through the Catholic Church. These traditions have a lot neat insights to offer. What is more, many of them are credible. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, as it is read to us from the pulpit at Mass on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day, really did happen the way the Gospels say it did.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily
reflective of any organization I works for.

Friday, November 8, 2013

ENDA: Employment Nondiscrimination Act

“Ten Republicans joined with all Democrats in a 64-32 vote to pass the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA. Ten Republicans had voted to advance the measure in an earlier procedural vote,” said Michael A. Memoli. The Senate gave it the thumbs up, now it goes to the House of Representatives.
Reporting for the L.A. Times on Thursday, November 7, 2013 in his article, “Senate passes workplace protection for gay, transgender Americans,” Memoli went to say,

On Wednesday, senators approved an amendment offered by Republicans to strengthen an exception provided in the bill for religious organizations, and to ensure that the government could not retaliate against such groups in awarding contracts and grants.”
It was partly due to this amendment that well-known conservative, Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, lent his support of ENDA.  "A person's sexual orientation,” he said, “is irrelevant to their ability to be a good doctor or engineer or athlete or a federal judge." But he was equally concerned what this might portend for religious freedom. He didn’t want businesses with religious affiliations to be forced to hire gay employees if such measures would violate the tenets of their faith. Still, with this amendment, Mr. Toomey thought that ENDA was good legislation. After all, no one should be discriminated against.

The question that immediately comes to mind is this: Why is it necessary? In fact, Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws are interpreted to mean that it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. This is plainly stated on the U.S. Equal Employment Commission website. And in more and more cases, this interpretation is being used to violate conscience rights. That is, it is compelling people to act or to provide a service that they deem contrary to their faith.

In August of 2013, for instance, the New Mexico State Supreme Court ruled against Elane Photography for their decision not to photograph a ceremony involving a same-sex couple. Elaine Hugenin, owner of the photography business, claimed that her refusal to carry out the services was due to her religious beliefs.

However, the state Supreme Court justices were not persuaded by Elaine’s position. Neither was Louis Melling, the Deputy Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union. She praised the decision saying, "Today's opinion recognizes the sincerity of those beliefs, but makes clear that no one's religious beliefs make it okay to break the law by discriminating against others."

Indeed, this view seems to be prevailing. Recall that in 2010 that “don’t ask, don’t tell” law was successfully repealed in the military. Since then, gays can be open about their sexuality. So, again, why is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act necessary? I’m afraid it will not be exclusively used to prevent unjust discrimination against employees or prospective employees who may have same-sex attractions. If past is prologue, as in the Elane photography State Supreme Court decision, it will be used to discriminate against those who oppose same-sex marriage or the homosexual lifestyle. Keep in mind: laws are of secondary importance nowadays. The interpretation of the law is where the power is. But bad laws make bad interpretations much easier.

As Congressman Paul Ryan recently stated, no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. But his concern was that ENDA might have unintended consequences. Personally, I am not convinced that the consequences will be “unintended.” When he speaks of consequences I think he means that it may be used coercive purposes, compelling the private sector and even religious organizations cooperate with the gay-rights agenda.

To repeat, the campaign to stop unjust discrimination based on sexual orientation is likely to be used, as it has been, to discriminate against those who cannot, in good conscience, cooperate with any activity that would suggest approval of same-sex unions. You see, it is not the thing itself that needs to be considered, but how that thing will be used.

Case and point: Not a few Christians were in favor of the idea of nationalized healthcare. But in 2010, when the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, it was becoming clear that healthcare was a means in carrying out other designs. The contraceptive mandate was one such design. And now, the implementation of nationalized healthcare is creating all sorts of headaches. The idea of universal healthcare is noble. But how it will be used and by whom were not sufficiently considered. Did not our Lord say: “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.” And I have to wonder if ENDA is just another “prudent” tactic by the children of this world.

Among good, believing Christians the naiveté of evil has been quite costly. We are at a crossroads in a nation when soft-despotism may begin to harden a bit. Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America (1835-40), once made the point that democratic nations are not immune despotism. He said,

If despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them…[Under such despotism] the will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting…”
Since the early 1960’s, Christians have been “prevented” from praying and the reading the bibles in public schools; “prevented” from displaying religious symbols in the public square; and “prevented” from speaking openly about the sanctity of marriage in many of our public institutions. Now, however, there is a strong movement to force us to “act” and to “obey.”  And as Jordan Lorence, a lawyer representing the Elane photography business, said, "Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Affiliating the Unaffiliated: When Catholicism Goes Churchless


By and large, Sky View posts are written for the average person. However, from time to time I like writing for the leaders in the Church. This post, Affiliating the Unaffiliated: When Catholicism Goes Churchless, has parish leaders as its target audience; especially as it pertains to adult faith formation.

The Spiritually Unaffiliated:

The Diocese of Green Bay's newspaper, The Compass, published an article, “Drop in Mass attendance a concern to diocese” in May of 2013. One insightful truth it unveiled is that 78 percent of Catholics think they can be good Catholics without going to Mass. This was confirmed by Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist and author of Bad Religion. He said “The United States remains a deeply religious country, and most Americans are still drawing some water from the Christian well. But a growing number are inventing their own versions of what Christianity means…”

Many parish leaders have already learned from Pew Research that this is a growing trend. “In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults.” The increase of the religiously unaffiliated is just another way saying that more people are seeking God outside of organized religion.

These statistical revelations are old news to many. However, they are an important reminder that there are trends which lead people away from the parish. This is most unfortunate because the parish, as Bishop David Ricken said, is the epicenter of where sacramental life of faith is to be found.

The good news is that most Americans are still deeply spiritual and as such, they put a high premium on their relationship with God and prayer. Given these considerations, there is something for parish leaders to work with. Indeed, it can be said that at least one challenge of adult faith formation in our parishes is to show how the sacramental life of faith elevates and completes the faith of the individual.

The Religiously Affiliated:


To be a religiously affiliated Catholic is to be, at the same time, an active member in parish life. And as we know, situated at the center of parish life are the lectern where the Word of God is proclaimed and the altar where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. However, church membership, by itself, is tenuous at best. Just as there are steps that should precede a marriage proposal, such as knowledge and love of the person, there are also steps- necessary steps! –in becoming an active member in the parish. Ideally, the soil on which a person’s membership rests is to be first cultivated by two things: relationship and discipleship. That is, pursuing a relationship with Christ and being his disciple. As we know, the moral obligation to attend Mass on Sundays or even the outreach of inviting people to join us at Mass is not sufficient.


A relationship with Christ presupposes a daily communication with Him in one’s own heart and in the privacy of one’s home. This working of God’s grace in the soul, sooner or later, wants to find an outlet. When a person experiences that which is meaningful as an individual, he or she wants that experience to be supported and even interpreted by others. This is when the parish becomes more relevant to the Christ-seeker. But without this one on one encounter and relationship with Christ, the parish is much less relevant.

Take, for instance, “Catholics Come Home”: The nationwide outreach of “Catholics Come Home” did a fantastic job in showing the beauty and relevance of the Catholic Church as she existed in the last 2,000 years. But the historic contribution of the Church, impressive as it is, is not always represented at the local level. To be sure, each parish has its strengths and weakness.

Fair or unfair, it may be that, at least for newcomers, the weaknesses of some parishes standout more than their strengths. And although the newcomers were impressed enough with the “Catholic Come Home” video to give Catholicism another try, the reasons that got them to Mass were not enough to keep them there. In other words, the institutional emphasis on the Church by “Catholics Come Home” could not sustain long-term membership.

Something more is needed; and that something is a personal relationship with Christ. Daily prayer and spiritual reading can help the individual overcome whatever limitations he or she experiences at local parish. They might say to themselves: “Albeit, the music is not quite to my liking; the sermons don’t always appeal to me; and the parishioners may not have welcomed me the way I would have liked, but there is something here greater than all of these imperfections. Christ is here! He is truly here! And it is this reason, above all, why I come to Mass.”


Relationship and discipleship better secures membership. Christ spent three years with the Apostles before he introduced them to the Mass, which is the center of sacramental life for the parish. He spent time forming relationships with them. By forming relationships with the Twelve Apostles, he was in the position to make disciples out of them. And what is discipleship? In a nutshell, discipleship is to think like Christ, to talk like Christ and to act like Christ. By its very witness and attractiveness, conforming ourselves to the likeness of Christ and being an active follower of his is contagious. It seeks to be intentionally communicated to others so that they too will be followers.

A relationship with Christ may begin at home, but discipleship is best carried out at the local parish. In the sacramental life of parish is where we learn to follow Christ as his disciple. But a desire to have a relationship with Christ and to be his disciple has to be awakened as a condition of being a member of the Church. Relationship and discipleship must either precede church membership or at the very least, it must be the foundation on which membership rests. As Adrian Von Spyer wrote in her commentary on the Gospel of John, “The Lord first of all forms his followers into disciples and only then baptizes them. He wants to baptize them when they have reached full awareness of the discipleship. The cleansing sacrament is not to be sprung them in surprise, but the desire for this cleansing is to be awakened first.”

Sacramental faith was never meant to be the cause of relationship and discipleship, but rather its natural outcome. Whatever adult faith formation programs we introduce in our parishes, therefore, it would seem that if we are to recover relevance of the Mass and church membership, we have to pour efforts into fostering a personal relationship with Christ and being his disciple. This, in large part, is how we affiliate the unaffiliated.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bullet Points to Sainthood

Reposted and revised for new Sky View readers:

Every November the Church celebrates All-Saints Day. The timing of these two Holy Days being celebrated in the same month may be incidental. Nevertheless, it is true to say that heroic virtue among the Saints is but the fruit of Christ’s coming into this fallen world of ours.  

The lives of the Saints are the continuation of Christ’s life throughout history. And as it regards to the times and circumstances in which we live, the invocation of the Saints, studying their writings, reflecting upon their lives and imitating their virtues will be key in renewing the Church and saving Western Civilization, if it is to be saved.

As with any demographic or society, the Saints that the Catholic Church has held up as heroines of the Faith possess certain traits. Some are obvious and yet others are not so obvious. Here are just a few bullet points to Sainthood worth considering.

• Believe that it is possible to become a Saint. You can't be a Saint if you do not believe that it is possible.

• Will to become a Saint. Your desire is half the work.

• Chief among any ambition or enterprise should be the desire to glorify God first and foremost. All great initiatives flow from this. St. Benedict never sought out to lay the foundations of a new Christian civilization, but that is what he did by desiring to glorify God. St. Ignatius of Loyola set out to magnify the Lord in his spirituality, but the unintended consequences led to the needed reforms in the Church. As our Lord said, seek the kingdom of God and everything else will be given to you.

• Believe that everything that happens to you comes from the hand of God. Every circumstance is either positively willed by God or it is permitted. As Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Notice he didn’t say that evil men or Satan has taken away, but the Lord has taken away. Everything that happens in our life- good or bad –is part of an intelligent design. All things work together for the good for those who love the Lord. This is why the Saints, when confronted with the worst of circumstances, respond with calm determination.

• As such, will what God wills. This is very difficult in times of trial but it has a purifying effect. Indeed, do God’s will with joy in both disagreeable and agreeable circumstances while accepting all things with equal reverence. St. Paul said, "I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." And in the book, The Dialogue, God tells St. Catherine of Sienna that his servants accept all things with equal reverence. Their discerning eye sees everything as being ordained by Divine Providence. God the Father goes on to say that the faithful disciple of His Son "holds all thing in reverence, the left hand as well as the right, trouble as well as consolation, hunger and thirst as well as eating and drinking, cold and heat and nakedness as well as clothing, life as well as death, honor as well as disgrace, distress as well as comfort. In all things he remains solid, firm and stable, because his foundation is the living Rock."

• The Saints see and love Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. From this Eucharistic devotion, they are inspired to also reverence him and love him in their neighbor; especially the needy and the poor. It was said that Blessed Mother Theresa bowed when being introduced to people. For her, bowing was a way of showing reverence to Christ in others. Moreover, serving poor was her way of serving the Lord. It should be noted, that every canonized Saint loved the poor!

• Avoiding detraction, slander or gossip is also a common virtue among these holy men and women. They call us to give people the benefit of the doubt. Constructive criticism or confrontation should be used, as our Lord used it, for the good of souls and the common good. And as for those in authority or those who are in a position to do something about it, sometimes the bad behavior of others needs to be discussed in private. However, we become liable to gossip or slander when we are in no position to alleviate the misdeeds that are being discussed. Then, such chatter are nothing but idle words of which. according to our Lord, we will have to give an account.

• When rejected, reprimanded or humiliated, the Saints teach us to accept it with joy knowing that this is a participation in the Passion of our Lord Jesus. This, I know, is exceedingly difficult. But to merely tolerate opposition and rejection will wear us out. We have to take it a step further and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the kind of joy the Apostles experienced in the book of Acts. We can then see ourselves being conformed to the likeness of Christ when we are treated like him. This is the reason, in part, why the Saints say that the most efficacious meditation is that on our Lord's Passion.

• Every week or every day, practice acts of self-denial for the conversion of sinners. Our Lady of Good Help told Sr. Adele Brice that to receive Communion is good, but not enough. She wanted Catholics to offer each Communion for the conversion of sinners. These spiritual sacrifices offered on behalf of souls fosters a spirit of sacrifice which, in turn, expands our capacity to love.

• Pray in solitude and in silence on a daily basis. Some confine their spirituality exclusively to communal prayers with others. Both private and communal prayers are needed but having that alone time with the Lord is a must. Indeed, prayer is the most important thing you can ever do in your life. Gathering at the altar presupposes that we have an ongoing conversation with Him.

• Lastly, engage in spiritual reading. Read Scripture and the writings of the Saints. So many Catholics omit this in their prayer time. They want to do all the talking. But wisdom comes in listening to the Lord. Through spiritual reading you will hear the voice of the Lord about those particular points of your life.  From opening our ears to God's voice comes self-knowledge. Knowing ourselves as we really are in the light of God has inestimable value. This is why an examination of our conscience is important. The Saints have found great peace and liberation knowing that they, because of their sinfulness, are nothing without God; yet, at the same time, this inspires gratitude for their dignity and purpose they have in Christ.

The bottom line is: Sainthood is for everyone! Again, the first step in becoming a Saint is to will it!! By far, this will be the most powerful instrument of the New Evangelization. And in our daily striving to become a Saint, that is, in conforming ourselves to the image of Christ, we will become what we ask God to make us at every Mass: “An everlasting gift to the Lord.” It doesn't get any better than that!

The Mystery of Iniquity

Reposting for new Sky View readers:

The Mystery of Iniquity, 1944

By: Father Paul Furfey
Former Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology
at the Catholic University of America


"Since in societies the State is best able to coerce, there follows a drift towards State regimentation with its logical culmination in the totalitarian State. Once materialism is granted as a premise, totalitarianism follows as a necessary conclusion.

Catholic social thought is dominated by the fact that man is destined for heaven. Society itself or the problems of society cannot be understood without taking this fact into account...We are to reproduce here as perfectly as we can the life of the blessed in heaven. The latter is our true life; heaven is our fatherland. On this earth we ought, like homesick exiles in a strange environment, strive to practice the type of common life by which our fatherland is characterized.

Nevertheless, the mystery of iniquity is at work. It's activities does not usually appear on the surface of events; rather, it operates through secondary causes. Therefore, when one traces the causes of social problems, one finds that the immediate reasons for these problems are quite natural and understandable by human reason. It is only by following the chain of causation back far enough that one is led to suspect the workings of the Evil One.

The Catholic approach on social problems must take both natural and the supernatural factors into account. Catholics must be concerned with natural factors underlying the evils of society and to meet these they must use natural methods suggested by experience. For this reason the Church favors social legislation, effective law enforcement, public health activities, efficient social work, and other up-to-date methods of meeting social problems. In this respect Catholic social teaching shows a strong but superficial resemblance to the thought of non-Catholic writers.

But mark this difference carefully!

Whereas these techniques are the sole solution of the unbelieving sociologist for all social problems, in the eyes of the Catholic they are only a sort of symptomatic treatment. The Catholic sees deeper and realizes that far beneath the immediate causes the mystery of iniquity is at work and that his real solution is to attack the latter. The unbelieving social scientist is like a physician who gives a sedative to a patient suffering from a brain tumor and does nothing more. The Catholic, on the other hand, is like a physician who gives the sedative indeed but then proceeds to the difficult and delicate operation which brings a permanent cure.

Only the Catholic has a fundamental remedy for social problems, for only the Catholic diagnosis the basic cause, which is the mystery of iniquity. To attack this he must use supernatural means. Therefore he must rely on such methods as prayer, the sacraments and the practice of the Christian virtues.

We Catholics have a precious possession in our doctrine of the mystery of iniquity. In it we have the key to the solution of many problems which torture our weary world. Realizing as we do that the mystery of iniquity is the basic cause of these problems, we can attack them at their source by the use of supernatural means. Herein lies the hope of victory.

On the other hand, unbelievers have the devices of human prudence on which to rely, and these are bound to fail. They might as well try to sink a battleship with spit balls as to attack the great problems of society with such puny means. When we cast to the winds all the mean counsels of of a purely worldly prudence, when we accept quite literally with childlike faith these precious revealed truths, and when we put aside all concern for the opinion of materialists, then we shall begin to make progress against the mystery of iniquity. Until that day we shall only be marking time."

Monday, October 28, 2013

I thought I toiled in vain

"Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God."

-Isaiah 49:4


The following is an excerpt from the book, Jesus King of Love, by Fr. Mateo Crawly-Boevey (1970). If you believe that your work has not been crowned with success and the lack of apparent progress in what are you are doing or in what you hoped to do is not panning out the way you anticipated, please take a few minutes and read the following excerpt:

The spirit of faith:

Opposition has always been and ever will be the divine seal upon all our works. Such contradictions come only when God wills that they should and last only as long as He permits. Such storms have never ruined a work dear to God when the thoughts of the apostle were inspired by a great spirit of faith. We must confess with sorrow that this spirit is sometimes greatly wanting. It is not our lack of money or human support that many excellent works have no real life. So the apostles of Enthronement should carefully avoid attributing an exaggerated importance to wealth and high patronage. In our work, money and influence are not all. Relegate them to the background. Jesus will provide. When the glory and the love of the Sacred Heart are at stake, I beg of you, do not weigh the cost in money only. The saints never triumphed in this way.

Our Lord said to St. Margaret Mary, “I will reign in spite of My enemies.” This “in spite of” has given courage to many inexperienced and timid apostles who [once] believed too much in the power of Satan and his followers. The power of the wicked comes from the power of the good. The issue of the fight mostly depends on fidelity of our Lord’s friends. “O you of little faith,” Jesus said to His apostles. He might well say the same to those who tremble when menaced by the enemy.

It is the lack of faith that makes us long to see our work crowned as quickly as possible with striking and brilliant success and to desire that it should be known and published abroad that these grand results are to be attributed to us.

It is a lack of faith to expect to reap at eventide what we sowed at dawn and to seek for admiration and applause whole professing purity of intention. Dear apostles, ask Jesus for a great and living faith that you may not betray his confidence, for He expects many victories from your spirit of faith.

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as failure in good works when they are undertaken and carried out by a true apostle. If by failure we mean the ruin of our own plans, however good, then there may be and even ought to be failure. God would not be what He is if He had promised to set His seal on any wild idea of ours, however honest and honorable our intentions may have been. If, however, my only purpose is the glory of God, I will not mind being disappointed in my projects. By upsetting them, God will not destroy the true spiritual results of my apostolate. The King of Love will be glorified and that is enough for me. The failure was mine and only apparent; the victory was His, a real, effective and complete one. Blessed be Jesus, the true Victor! I have come out of that combat humble and wounded. He has come out with palms and laurel wreaths. Praised be forever His Most Sacred Heart.

It is the lack of faith to be easily discouraged. Difficulties are so indispensible to divine works that if there were none we should have to invent or provoke them in order to ensure the victory. We forget that Jesus does his best work in times of tribulation provided we believe that He is faithful and all powerful. During the early persecutions, bishops, priests, and faithful were put to death by the thousands. The persecutors sought to destroy the infant Church. They might have succeeded had those early Christians reasoned as we do and taken too much thought for the morrow, saying in their dejection, “If we die who will care for souls and for the altars? God has forgotten us. Woe to us! Woe to the Church!” But they did not speak thus, they died with a hymn of victory upon their lips. If we could only believe as they did in the Savior’s affirmation, “I have overcome the world,” what miracles we should work in spite of exterior obstacles, and our own incapacity and failings. Man has changed into means of communication even the greatest of obstacles, such as the sea, the air, and the mountains. How much more should our faith invent means of turning every difficulty to the glory of God. If we have labored for many a weary day and night without making any apparent progress in our works, we must humbly acknowledge this is because of our sins, and launch out into the deep with immense faith letting down our nets in the name of our Lord…

Believe in the loyalty of the Heart of Jesus. He may well treat you as He did the woman of Canaan, making you ask and suffer many times to test you, but His Heart cannot deceive nor be deceived. Knock once again and He will open to you. God has His own times. Let us hasten the coming of the hour of grace and mercy by believing with invincible faith. Do not stand arguing like St. Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed,” for they are the only true apostles and they alone will one day experience that the word of the Lord shall not pass and that His Heart, the fountain of mercy, is divinely faithful. Say to Him humbly again and again, “Jesus, I believe, but increase my faith.”