Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Burden of Grace

Reposting: The Burden of Grace

Fr. Louis Chardon in his book, The Cross of Jesus, went on to point out a peculiar burden our Lord had carried during the thirty-three years of his earthly life. That burden quite simply was hiding his identity; that is, the constant restraint of not revealing his glory to his people. His divinity- in all of its majesty -was bottled up in his human appearance.

In the letter to the Hebrews it states that God is a consuming fire. As such, the full expression of Jesus’ divinity must have been forever burning and pressing up against the limits of his humanity. The prophet Jeremiah had a taste of this holy burning seeking to be released when he said: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

This is the kind of grace that hurts; the kind of grace that seeks to be fully realized. For Christ's followers, grace can cause suffering and can be a kind of holocaust that is pleasing to God. Like the prophet Jeremiah, the restraints weighed heavy on our Lord Jesus. He eagerly anticipated a transfigured universe whereby his glory, contained within human limits before his resurrection, could be fully revealed. He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Even when others were encumbered with limitations, even when their God-given potential was not realized, Christ groaned. In the Gospel of Mark, such an expression was given when he healed the deaf man. "He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (that is, 'Be opened!')."

Not only Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is said to groan within us. He too seeks to bring about our full potential in Christ. As St. Paul said, "In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." (Romans 8:26) This is the burden of grace; that burning desire of God to see his children purged from every stain of sin so that grace can be fully realized within us. In St. Louis de Montfort’s consecration prayer to Jesus through Mary, he invokes the Holy Spirit to from Jesus Christ in his soul: “O Holy Spirit, give me great devotion to Mary…so that by her You may truly form in me Jesus Christ, great and mighty, unto the fullness of His perfect age. Amen.”

For reasons only God knows, during his thirty three years on earth Jesus had to conceal his glory. It was like wearing a mask. Among doubters and critics, I am sure there was a temptation of sorts to reveal his divine identity. And even among those who were sincerely in search of God, out of the love and respect for their holy desire, the temptation to show himself as God, so as to remove any doubts, must have been a desire burning within the heart of Christ. But to those chosen few, Our Lord did take off his mask so as to confirm his Divine Sonship.

One such time was on Mt. Tabor. Jesus invited St. Peter, St. James and St. John up the mountain with him just weeks before his Passion. “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” For a moment, the three Apostles had a glimpse of his glory. But St. John the Evangelist was given yet another opportunity. Years after our Lord’s ascension into heaven he appeared to St. John, his beloved disciple. In the book of Revelation our Lord’s “mask” was to come off and stay off. The Apostle had written the following about his appearance: “The hair of his head was as white as white wool or as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished brass refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water.”

In restraining the full splendor of his glory before his resurrection, Jesus was able to identify with those whose full potential had yet to be realized. In the spiritual order, the Saints possessed the grace and burning desire to be with Christ in heaven. For those who had a vision of heaven like St. Paul and little Jacinta at Fatima, their earthly pilgrimage became a burden for them because they knew how good eternal happiness was and how good they could be in heaven. However, as long as they lived on earth, they could not be who they truly were.

And yet there are those people in the ordinary walk of life whose full potential is checked by limitations or misfortune. It may be a crippled man who wants to walk; the infertile couple who wants a baby of their own; or an unemployed person who wants to be given a chance to work. In all of these cases, there is a mystical but real affinity with our Lord’s Incarnation and the earthly limitations he took upon himself. He too did not actualize his full potential because of the mission that God the Father had given him.

There will come a day for all of us that the gifts and ability God has given us will come to light. In the meantime, however, we must peacefully and trustingly accept the Lord’s timing as to when that day will be.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Great Liberal Death Wish

Reposting for new Sky View readers:


Introduction:

Malcolm Muggeridge, renowned journalist from England, friend of Mother Theresa and convert to the Catholic Church, wrote an article entitled, “The Great Liberal Death Wish.” Originally published in Imprimis, the monthly journal at Hillsdale College in May of 1979, Muggeridge set out to tell his own story about how he came to discover that the worldview he held so dearly was nothing but a death wish. He, like so many other progressives in the early to mid-twentieth century, was of the belief that a perfect socialistic society could be created here on earth; that is, without God’s help. What escaped him at the time, and what he later came to realize was that “Unless the LORD build the house,they labor in vain who build.” (Psalm 1127:1)

Malcolm recalled his childhood years overhearing his father, who was a professed Christian, at his home in England talking to his political cronies about a kingdom of heaven on earth. Their discussions centered around how they could plan the perfect society. Of course, to carry this out, a powerful government is needed. This was his baptism, as he called it, into what he would later know as a great liberal death wish. With this worldview, he nothing but admiration for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and his League of Nations at the end of World War I. Indeed, many Westerners were brimming with optimism. To use Muggeridge’s own words, there was an “almost insane outburst of expectations.” Mankind had finally arrived and World War I was the war to end all wars. That was the prevailing thought anyway.

Malcolm Muggeridge eventually attended Cambridge University, and a Christian College in India. Upon earning his degrees, he returned home to England to teach elementary school. After acquiring some teaching experience at the elementary school level he headed off to teach at the University of Cairo in Egypt. It was at this point he said “it was there that the dreadful infection of journalism got into my system.” This is when he learned how to “group think.” He started writing articles about the Egyptian people and what they wanted (although he had never talked an Egyptian before) and how they were supposedly clamoring for democracy. It was then he was asked to join the editorial staff of the Guardian. Before he would write on any given subject, he would ask his managers and peers, “What is our line?” That is to say, what position was he expected to take. It was through that prism he would report the "news."

Eventually, he made his way back to England. The Great Depression had hit his country pretty hard. By then he was enamored with the great liberal death wish; that is, the notion that through Socialism (or Communism), paradise can be had on earth. With his progressive, unsuspecting eyes, he looked towards the Soviet Union for the answer. He was “fully prepared to see in the Soviet regime the answer to all our troubles.” To his great elation, the Guardian sent him to Moscow as a correspondent. Shortly after he arrived in Russia, the first wave of disillusionment hit him. What he found was an “appalling tyranny, in which the only thing that mattered, the only reality, was power.”

The curious thing was that Muggeridge had witnessed how so many journalists, lawyers and even clergymen from the liberal intelligentsia that were utterly na├»ve about the brutality and misery under the Soviet regime. He even asked himself “how people, in their own country ardent for equality, bitter opponents of capital punishment and all for more humane treatment of people in prison, supporters, in fact, of every good cause, should in the USSR prostrate themselves before a regime ruled over brutally and oppressively and arbitrarily by a privileged party oligarchy?”

Not much as changed. The same strain of gullibility can be found in those Americans who subscribe to secular-liberalism in 2012. They simply cannot connect the dots between the moral values politicians hold and the oppressive policies that are sure to follow. But well-formed Christians can make this connection. They have not compartmentalized the world into tiny unrelated fragments. Morality and spirituality matters! And what is more, it has a profound effect in the political and economic world. Muggeridge was beginning to see this. He continues his thought:

“The thing that impressed me, and the thing that touched off my awareness of the great liberal death wish, my sense that western man was, as it were, sleep-walking into his own ruin, was the extraordinary performance of the liberal intelligentsia, who, in those days, flocked to Moscow like pilgrims to Mecca. And they were one and all utterly delighted and excited by what they saw there. Clergymen walked serenely and happily through the anti-god museums, politicians claimed that no system of society could possibly be more equitable and just, lawyers admired Soviet justice, and economists praised the Soviet economy. They all wrote articles in this sense which we resident journalists knew were completely nonsensical.”

It wasn’t until after World War II that Malcolm Muggeridge began to see the great liberal death wish for what it really was. Finally, he rid himself of every last vestige of Socialism, Communism and every kind of Godless ideology which clung to him. He no longer believed the myth that progress can be had without God. In the place of his old beliefs, his new life in Christ was to grow over the years. More and more he would learn to appreciate Divine Providence and the purpose it assigns to every single individual.


The Great Liberal Death Wish: The Conclusion

Here, I provide what remains in his Imprimis article. It is an inspiring and insightful account of how the City of God will ultimately prevail over the great liberal death wish:

[W]hen in 1945 I found myself a civilian again, I tried to sort out my thoughts about the great wave of optimism that followed the Second World War - for me, a repeat performance. It was then that I came to realize how, in the name of progress and compassion, the most terrible things were going to be done, preparing the way for the great humane holocaust, about which I have spoken. There was, it seemed to me, a built in propensity in this liberal world-view whereby the opposite of what was intended came to pass. Take the case of education. Education was the great mumbo--jumbo of progress, the assumption being that educating people would make them grow better and better, more and more objective and intelligent. Actually, as more and more money is spent on education, illiteracy is increasing.

Now I want to try to get to grips with this strange state of affairs. Let's look again at the humane holocaust. What happened in Germany was that long before the Nazis got into power, a great propaganda was undertaken to sterilize people who were considered to be useless or a liability to society, and after that to introduce what they called "mercy killing." This happened long before the Nazis set up their extermination camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere, and was based upon the highest humanitarian considerations. You see what I'm getting at? On a basis of liberal-humanism, there is no creature in the universe greater than man, and the future of the human race rests only with human beings themselves, which leads infallibly to some sort of suicidal situation. It's to me quite clear that that is so, the evidence is on every hand. The efforts that men make to bring about their own happiness, their own ease of life, their own self-indulgence, will in due course produce the opposite, leading me to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that human beings cannot live and operate in this world without some concept of a being greater than themselves, and of a purpose which transcends their own egotistic or greedy desires.

Once you eliminate the notion of a God, a creator, once you eliminate the notion that the creator has a purpose for us, and that life consists essentially in fulfilling that purpose, then you are bound, as Pascal points out, to induce the megalomania of which we've seen so many manifestations in our time - in the crazy dictators, as in the lunacies of people who are rich, or who consider themselves to be important or celebrated in the western world. Alternatively, human beings relapse into mere carnality, into being animals. I see this process going on irresistibly, of which the holocaust is only just one example.

If you envisage men as being only men, you are bound to see human society, not in Christian terms as a family, but as a factory--farm in which the only consideration that matters is the well--being of the livestock and the prosperity or productivity of the enterprise. That's where you land yourself. And it is in that situation that western man is increasingly finding himself.

First of all, the fact that we can't work out the liberal dream in practical terms is not bad news, but good news. Because if you could work it out, life would be too banal, too tenth-rate to be worth bothering about.

This is that the most perfect and beautiful expressions of man's spiritual aspirations come, not from the liberal dream in any of its manifestations, but from people in the forced labor camps of the USSR.

He cites case after case of people who, like Solzhenitsyn, say that enlightenment came to them in the forced labor camps. They understood what freedom was when they had lost their freedom, they understood what the purpose of life was when they seemed to have no future. They say, moreover, that when it's a question of choosing whether to save your soul or your body, the man who chooses to save his soul gathers strength thereby to go on living, whereas the man who chooses to save his body at the expense of his soul loses both body and soul. In other words, fulfilling exactly what our Lord said, that he who hates his life in this world shall keep his life for all eternity, as those who love their lives in this world will assuredly lose them. Now, that's where I see the light in our darkness.

In contradistinction, this is the liberal death wish, holding out the fallacious and ultimately destructive hope that we can construct a happy, fulfilled life in terms of our physical and material needs, and in the moral and intellectual dimensions of our mortality.

I feel so strongly at the end of my life that nothing can happen to us in any circumstances that is not part of God's purpose for us. Therefore, we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, except that we should rebel against His purpose, that we should fail to detect it and fail to establish some sort of relationship with Him and His divine will. On that basis, there can be no black despair, no throwing in of our hand. We can watch the institutions and social structures of our time collapse - and I think you who are young are fated to watch them collapse - and we can reckon with what seems like an irresistibly growing power of materialism and materialist societies. But, it will not happen that that is the end of the story. As St. Augustine said - and I love to think of it when he received the news in Carthage that Rome had been sacked: Well, if that's happened, it's a great catastrophe, but we must never forget that the earthly cities that men build they destroy, but there is also the City of God which men didn't build and can't destroy. And he devoted the next seventeen years of his life to working out the relationship between the earthly city and the City of God - the earthly city where we live for a short time, and the City of God whose citizens we are for all eternity.

You know, it's a funny thing, but when you're old, as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. One of them is, you realize that history is nonsense, but I won't go into that now. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, three a.m., and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. And it seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the City of God. In this limbo between life and death, you know beyond any shadow of doubt that, as an infinitesimal particle of God's creation, you are a participant in God's purpose for His creation, and that that purpose is loving and not hating, is creative and not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular. With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy.

Nothing that happens in this world need shake that feeling; all the happenings in this world, including the most terrible disasters and suffering, will be seen in eternity as in some mysterious way a blessing, as a part of God's love. We ourselves are part of that love, we belong to that scene, and only in so far as we belong to that scene does our existence here have any reality or any worth. All the rest is fantasy - -whether the fantasy of power which we see in the authoritarian states around us, or the fantasy of the great liberal death wish in terms of affluence and self-indulgence. The essential feature, and necessity of life is to know reality, which means knowing God. Otherwise our mortal existence is, as Saint Teresa of Avila said, no more than a night in a second--class hotel.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Foregoing the Temptation of Lust in the Desert

Every first Sunday of Lent the Gospel reading at Mass tells the story of Our Lord’s temptation in the desert. Satan tried to bring down Jesus by using three tactics:

1. The temptation of breaking a fast.
2. The temptation of testing God.
3. The temptation of worshiping a creature.

Curiously, one card that the devil didn’t pull from his deck, a card that served him well for centuries, was the temptation of lust. Indeed, he has laid to waste a countless number of souls through sexual temptation; especially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But one has to wonder why the Evil One did not at least try to use this effective instrument of getting Jesus to sin. After all, Proverbs does say that “Lust indulged starves the soul.” Nevertheless, there is a good reason why Satan didn’t take this approach. And the reason speaks to the nobility of sexual purity (or chastity) and how it is the bulwark of the soul.

Satan knows that a man trained in the ways of chastity cannot be taken down with one or two swipes. After all, if Christ was disciplined enough to fast for forty days he would not be so vulnerable to the temptations of impurity. As Philo said, a first century Jewish philosopher, if you can control your stomach, then controlling the organ below your stomach is that much easier. Indeed, fasting and the practice of chastity are interrelated.

In any case, time in the desert was not on Satan’s side. He had to choose a temptation that would have an immediate impact. But for the onslaughts of lust to corrupt or seduce a man established in sexual purity, time and repeated efforts are needed. More often than not, a frontal attack is not as effective as striking at the side or periphery; that is, where one least expects to be stricken. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that instead of kicking down the front door- which would undoubtedly draw a lot attention and even resistance –the intruder is more successful by gaining entrance into the house through the side window.

In the twentieth century, for instance, promiscuity and wide spread addiction to pornography didn’t just happen overnight. It began in the 1930’s with the acceptance of birth control as being morally acceptable. Then in the early 1960’s, the pill was introduced to the market and the practice of it became widespread. In the late 1960’s all hell broke loose with the Sexual Revolution. From there divorce, homosexuality, unwed motherhood and abortions became socially acceptable. The world was no longer the same. But keep in mind that it all started with the seemingly harmless use of birth control from the 1930’s to the 1960’s that the foundation for the cultural change was quietly laid.

We can find a similar parallel with individuals. Innocence and sexual purity is not bulldozed over as it is chipped away a little at a time. Sexual images and thoughts can be wholly involuntary; indeed, they can invade the mind uninvited. But in the end it all depends on how a man responds to it that will lead him to the slavery of lust or that interior freedom that sanctified souls enjoy. Sin only enters the picture ever so subtly when such thoughts or images are held on to, delighted in or indulged to the point of fantasy. When lust is not nipped in the bud or pulled up from its root, it grows in strength. And just as drug addiction or alcoholism can be a cruel master, so too can the daily vice of lust.

Our Lord, when speaking of sexual temptation, used violent imagery. He said if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If you hand causes you sin, cut it off. Whatever be the cause of lust, a passive approach will not do. Although sexual temptation persists over time in quiet and subtle fashion, the response should immediate, resolute, reasoned through and prayed about. Too few men think through the consequences and the implications of lust and its empty promises. But thinking it through and praying it through it essential.

Every avalanche begins with a snow flake. You may have heard the saying that to sow a thought is to reap an action; to sow an action is to reap a habit; to sow a habit is to reap a character; to sow a character is to reap a destiny. As such, we cannot dismiss the importance of each individual snow flake. That is to say, each sexual image or thought can be an occasion of merit by mentally turning away from it or it can be an occasion of sin by turning towards it and taking delight in it. Indeed, each one can strengthen or erode the soul. And just as lust indulged strengthens lust, to resist it strengthens chastity.

Whatever struggle is required to better attain the virtue of chastity, it is worth it. The benefits are many. Without sexual distractions and entanglement one can better judge relationships for what they really are. Red flags in relationships, character flaws in a prospective spouse and serious incompatibilities are more easily discerned when one is sexually pure for God’s sake. Just as important, the virtue of chastity makes room for the spirit of sacrifice and a readiness to give of oneself. Such a person is in a better position to love, to serve and to resist the devil as Our Lord did.

Organ-donation Euthanasia: A growing epidemic

Originally posted in February of 2012:

Euthanasia is not such a bad word anymore. In fact, the medical practice of prematurely declaring a person as clinically dead is widespread in the West; especially when the patient is an organ-donor. Although the practice of organ donation is morally permissible and is inspired by honorable intentions, nevertheless, what should be borne in mind is that not a few hospitals, hospices and other medical institutions are heavily influenced by the culture of death.

Take Dominic Wilkinson, a physician specializing in newborn intensive care and medical ethics in the UK. In May of 2010 he wrote about organ donation euthanasia without batting an eye. As for those patients who are arbitrarily deemed “hopeless,” he wrote the following:

“We can give them the option in advance to donate their organs if they are ever going to have their treatment limited because their prognosis is deemed hopeless. If the person agreed in advance to be such an organ donor, and an independent committee confirmed that the patient’s prognosis was hopeless and treatment should be stopped, the patient could be taken to an operating theatre in controlled circumstances, given a general anaesthetic and have their organs removed. The surgical procedure would be a form of euthanasia. We could call it ‘organ-donation euthanasia’.”

The doctor is quite unapologetic about calling this procedure “euthanasia.” And it seems that it is gaining currency in the United States. I had a conversation with a doctor at my local parish and she confirmed for me that harvesting organs from patients who are supposedly dying is carried out even when there are signs of viability. In such cases, time is the enemy. In order for a patient’s organs to remain viable for a successful transplant there is a great deal of pressure to harvest them while there is still life.

Julie Grimstad, writer and editor of Euthanasia: Imposed Death and the executive director of Life is Worth Living, had issued the warning about the growing temptation of the medical community to prematurely declare a person dead. She said, “Today, death is often hastily declared, not for the patients welfare, but in order to ensure that the desired organs are alive.” Grimstad speaks to the graphic reality of current medical practices when the patient is still alive:

“In the past, a physician pronounced death when there was no breathing, no heartbeat, and no response to stimulation. Today, a person can be judged ‘brain dead’ while his heart is still beating, and his circulation and respiration are normal. In fact, a "brain dead" organ donor may react violently to the stimulation of being cut into to remove his organs. Surgeons have come to rely on a paralyzing drug to keep the donor's body from squirming and grimacing. However, even though movement is suppressed, the donor's blood pressure and heart rate increase, and his heart continues beating until the surgeon stops it just before removing it.”

The truth is that there is no rigid and uniform criterion for determining when a patient is dead. On this point, Julie Grimstad adds the following:

“There are many different sets of criteria for determining ‘brain death.’ A physician is free to use any set of criteria. Thus, a patient could be pronounced dead by one set, when use of another set would determine that he is still alive. It is also important to know that the medical community is divided about whether ‘brain death’ is actual death.”

Keep in mind that when natural death is not respected as that criterion which determines when life ends then medical intervention can fall into arbitrariness. Also, when there is an incentive, perhaps a financial one, to harvest the organs from a patient who is on the threshold of death, then the premature declaration of death will be (and is) a temptation that is difficult to resist.

I would argue that euthanasia has reached epidemic proportions in America. Once this line has been crossed- and it has –it is difficult to reverse course. Indeed, we do not have to go back too far to see where euthanasia will lead. Germany in the 1930’s is one such model. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website does us a favor by reminding us that just as abortion leads to infanticide, euthanasia leads to the murder of other people who are deemed unfavorable:

“The so-called ‘Euthanasia’ program was National Socialist Germany's first program of mass murder, predating the genocide of European Jewry, which we call the Holocaust, by approximately two years…At first, medical professionals and clinic administrators incorporated only infants and toddlers in the operation, but as the scope of the measure widened, they included juveniles up to 17 years of age. Conservative estimates suggest that at least 5,000 physically and mentally disabled German children perished as a result of the child ‘euthanasia’ program during the war years.”

America is growing old. The Baby-Boom generation is now entering the elderly age bracket. As such, when they reach the upper level of the social pyramid, the younger generations will find it difficult to support them; not just economically, but also with providing them medical care in hospitals and other medical facilities. Older patients will far outnumber the younger doctors and nurses. In fact, in many parts of the country, there is a shortage of doctors and nurses already. Because the immensity of the demand, there will be and already is considerable pressure to discharge elderly patients in order to make room for other patients. And are we naive enough to think this demographic trend will not translate into a greater use of euthanasia programs?

Catholics need to be vigilant. Again, like the legalization of abortion, it will be difficult to reverse if the light of the Gospel is not shown in this dark corner of America. Undoubtedly, the problem of euthanasia will be a prolife cause that is bound to equal that of abortion.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Life and Death

Excerpts from “Humanae Mortis.”
Originally published in Triumph magazine in 1970

By: Lorenzo Albacete. Lorenzo was a young physicist from Puerto Rico and who later found a priestly vocation.


Preface:

It is the policy of Sky View to keep the material in the posts as simple as possible. I try to mirror the simplicity of the Gospel and the writings of the Saints. Nevertheless, there are mysteries of our salvation that are complex; the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the doctrine of indulgences, just to name two. This particular piece by Fr. Albacete is a bit academic and philosophical. But if you can stomach an elevated presentation of life, love, death and sacrifice, it will make for a wonderful Lenten reflection! And if you find it difficult to read at times, I encourage you to keep reading. As such, you will understand the fundamental difference between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death.



Humanae Mortis:

“[T]o avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to its fullest…

This is the truth of life: to be a man every man must surrender his self. To be a man every man must die. Death is the ultimate obstacle to the society that has, all along, not allowed man to be a man. The flight from death is thus a hatred for life.

Death is, first of all, an intensely personal act involving the whole man. Gone are the social supports, the laws, the public myths. Alone with his self perhaps for the first time, the individual at the moment of death is poor in that poverty which all the other poverties only suggest. And taking command of his self in a way never possible to him before, the individual acts: he takes a stand. Out of the personal center of his being, terminating his own life from within, the man dies, he surrenders his self to the root of his personhood, to the Person who called him to be.

Death is also a threat to this society because it is a personal act, and personal acts are free acts, and death is the totally free act. Death, that is, is not totally passive. In its external circumstances, in its inevitability, it is indeed independent of the individual; but ironically, it is precisely in this that death provides the opportunity for an act of freedom…Free to do what? Free to accept or affirm the value of his life; or free to reject it, to judge it valueless. Free, in short, to decide. Death reveals man as a being capable of and called to make a decision. As an extremely personal event, death goes to the heart of the person to elicit the perfect act of the one who is called: a definite response. At last, after all the evasions and partial commitments of life, the individual is compelled to take a stand through which his inner existence is to attain its irrevocable form. Death is man’s highest act, in which he consummates his existence in freedom.

At bottom, every moral decision has this cast. So it is that the ultimate decision, the determining, final stand can be an impossible challenge to the man who has refused throughout life to make a moral decision, or who has seen morality as relative, situational, with no effects on his deepest being. Because the anti-life society is peopled by such men, it must avoid, postpone, and ignore death…

The paradox of death as both the ultimate misfortune and the supreme culmination of life may be clarified in two ways.

First of all, some things can be unfortunate and at the same time necessary and indispensable for us in our fallen human existence. For example, a loss can be healing, a bad experience can be good for us for the very reason that it torments us. It is in this spirit that Christians see in death a just punishment for sin.

The notion of punishment, like the notion of sin, is anathema to the society that cannot understand life. These are the requirements for true appreciation of punishment: a sense of sin, and a sense of having offended Someone. A sense of sin is essential to the understanding of punishment for without punishment appears as an arbitrary oppression, an unavoidable consequence of an unfortunate act. A sense of sin allows a man to realize that he had the capacity to turn away, in clear consciousness and on the basis of a free decision, from what he knows to be the true purpose of life; while if true and false are relative, then of course there can be no such thing as a true punishment…So the anti-life society, which knows nothing about sin, nothing about authority, must see death as a natural catastrophe, as another obstacle to the self-supremacy of man which must be overcome by man’s liberator; technology.

But herein lies the tragedy: punishment is actually liberation, as long as it is accepted freely. To the extent that it is resisted, misunderstood, rejected- to that extent punishment is enslaving. But once it is accepted out of a sense of sin and justice, then it becomes liberating. And it is precisely in the nature of death to require man to decide his attitude with respect to punishment. To the extent that it represents a separation that should not be, to that extent death can be purifying.

The healthy man (the Christian man) knows all of this. His sense of justice enables him to have a latent experience of this “unfortunate” but necessary aspect of death. A latent experience is that unspoken awareness which becomes conscious when a particular occurrence, though unexpected, does not surprise us. It is that feeling, difficult to express, that you should have known all along that things would turn out this way. So it is with death. Our own sense of sin demands it. In this way death, though a misfortune, appears as expected to the man who has tasted life; while to the man or society that has never known life, that exists in an artificial inhuman environment. death appears as a challenge to be avoided…

Man’s most personal act is a response to the call that gives him his personal identity. And the fundamental response between persons, the most central relation between persons, is love. Man’s most personal act must therefore be an act of love.

But in what does an act of love consist? Underlying every act of love is giving, a surrendering of self to the other. The most perfect and total act of love is therefore the total self-giving of one person to another. The life of love is consummated when this self-giving is reciprocated, when it is entirely mutual…The link between love and life is sacrifice. Sacrifice is self-giving, the surrender which manifests love and renders it fruitful in abundance. The Gospel confirms this: the only way for man to gain his life is to lose it, to give it up, to sacrifice it. Sacrifice is an act central to man. The personal act performed by man at the moment of death is sacrifice.

As a sacrifice which fulfills and completes life, death is central to man. And to the extent as a result of sin all sacrifices are painful and difficult and even “destructive” to fallen man so is the ultimate sacrifice, death. At the same time, death, as we have seen, is a culmination, a maturing from within. But the point is that this maturing process is a sacrificial process and therefore for fallen man it is in every one of its stages painful, difficult, “destructive.” But at all costs, the fundamental link between love and life which is this sacrifice and which accomplishes this maturing process, this loving conversation between the person and the Personal Origin of his identity- at all costs must be maintained if man is to be a man.

Here is the overall cohesiveness of the anti-life mentality: It must conquer death, it must destroy death, because the fundamental drive of the anti-life mentality is to destroy the link between love and life wherever it appears.

Before conception: denial of the sacrifice of total self-giving between husband and wife; after conception: denial of the sacrifice of surrendering the needs of the new life; through out life: denial of the sacrifice of living it on its own terms, refusal to accept the gifts of the earth which the Creator has given man, rejection of his invitation to share his life. Now, as a logical extension of this spirit, if science and technology permit, there is to be the rejection of the sacrifice of consummation in the arms of the One who called us.

But this will not succeed. For the Caller became the called, and in the one supreme Sacrifice of the Cross, he sealed permanently the link between love and life, between human love and supernatural life, between man and God.

There is a terrifying possibility. At the moment of death the person himself may choose to break the link between love and life forever, he may refuse to sacrifice. He will damn himself. To the extent that the anti-life society has broken this link, it is already damned.

Lent: A rehearsal for death

"To avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to the full.”

-Lorenzo Albacete


The great paradox of life is that death is the only sure thing; the only future event we can truly count on. The closer people get to the gates of death, the more sensible they become. Suddenly, a morally dissolute life or the missed family opportunities of a workaholic, in retrospect, is almost always regretted. Indeed, on your death bed, all the time you spent at the office doesn’t seem so important anymore.

For those who face imminent death, what immediately comes to mind as one of the most cherished of recollections is the time he or she spent with the family. During the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, there are countless phone messages left by victims whose highest priority was to say one last time, “I love you.”

Yet, what is more important than saying “I love you” to a spouse, relative or friend moments before death is the conversation we might have with God for one last time on earth. Hence, when America was in the midst of processing the loss of lives, the doors of local churches across the country were pushed open by the multitude so that they could take refuge in God within the sanctuary. To be sure, the nation’s mortality was felt for the first time in a long time. When death is a looming possibility, it awakens the soul to where it comes from and to where it is going. Petty interests and careless living quickly lose their appeal.

God is always relevant when death draws near; even to the most stubborn of atheists. After all, it is the only certain thing in life. As such, the contemplation of life’s end is the beginning of wisdom. When people assume they possess something indefinitely, they value it less. It is only by losing something that we can see it for what it is. “The Gospel confirms this; the only way for a man to gain his life is to lose it, to give it up, to sacrifice it.” This is the greatest paradox of life; yet, it is the least understood and perhaps the most ridiculed one. Nevertheless, it is the crux of the Gospel and the secret to happiness. As Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Herein lies the essence of Lent. This season of dying to self and meditating on death- especially that of our Lord's -is a rehearsal for the real thing. The more we practice it, the more we see life as it really is and the more we ensure our passage into heaven when death greets us; as we know it will.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Decline and Fall of America

By: Marvin Folkertsma

It gets worse, especially considering three additional developments. First, America’s mammoth federal government constitutes an interest group itself, which means it does all the things other public and private groups do to protect itself. Second, about half of the population receives some form of aid from the federal government, according to the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Dependence on Government, and these recipients constitute perhaps the most behemoth group of them all. Third, close to one-half of the entire population does not pay federal-income taxes, a figure that climbed from 12 percent in 1969 to 34.1 percent at the beginning of the Bush administration to its current figure as President Obama starts his second term. The question is: What does all this mean for the destiny of America?

Prepare yourself for some very bad news. As societies age, they “tend to accumulate more collusions and organizations for collective action over time,” which in normal speak means that societies become infested with interest groups just like arteries become more rigid and clogged with body gunk as you get older—a phenomenon Jonathan Rauch referred to as “Demosclerosis.” Further, groups “reduce efficiency and aggregate income in the societies in which they operate and make political life more divisive.” Example: anyone read the healthcare bill lately? And the thousands of regulations in existence and forthcoming? And consider its huge increased costs?

The keystone of this argument is a passage that is terrifying in its implications and is worth quoting in full: “The typical organization for collective action [interest group] within a society will … have little or no incentive to make any significant sacrifices in the interest of the society” and “there is ... no constraint on the social cost such an organization will find it expedient to impose on the society in the course of obtaining a larger share of the social output for itself” (italics in original). This means nothing less than it says: a group will kill its host, the American republic in this case, before relinquishing even a modicum of benefits for itself.

Nations die this way, empires collapse, societies atrophy, and countries implode (like the old USSR) or are conquered from without. In the United States, this phenomenon cannot be blamed exclusively on Democrats or Republicans; both parties represent coalitions of groups that all want something from the government. Indeed, if there is any difference between Republicans and Democrats in this regard it is that President Obama has accelerated this process over the last four years. But institutionalized selfishness was a going concern before he came along.

All of which is suicidal, right? Yes, it is. Can anything be done to arrest or reverse this process? Absent some kind of revolutionary demolishing of governmental interventions, no, there probably is not. What, then, might happen to America? Considering the current economic situation, some kind of collapse is of course possible. Most likely the United States will change into something else, into a “soft” totalitarian society envisioned by Alexis de Tocqueville, where its citizens are “cared for” but weighted down by mountains of rules and bereft of any dynamism, creativity, or imagination—subservient, socialist, and senile.

And we will have no one to blame for the fall of our country but ourselves.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Shouldn’t Be Alive & Ash Wednesday

I Shouldn’t Be Alive is a television-documentary series on the Animal Planet Channel which features true stories of people who had a brush with death. They were victims of natural disasters and accidents. Stranded out at sea, buried in an avalanche, stranded in the Outback, and having barely survived an airplane crash in the Amazon Forest, death seemed like a sure thing. In fact, many of them thought, “This is it. This is how I am going to die.”

Invariably, these survivors were tempted to believe that there was no way out. And if that wasn’t bad enough, not a few of them were teased toward the beginning of their ordeal. Quite often a plane would fly over the accident site or some search and rescue team would be spotted by one of the survivors. Thinking that their rescue was imminent, they would later discover that no help was forthcoming. Despair would then set in. But after several days- just when all hope was lost –they were rescued. And upon returning to their everyday routine, they saw their life in a whole new light. They were inspired to live life to the fullest.

No doubt, death unexpectedly confronted the survivors on I Shouldn’t Be Alive. Yet, not everyone is afforded these dramatic circumstances where life hangs in the balance. As such, few people can experience this kind of renewed appreciation of life. This where Ash Wednesday comes in!

Very few institutions celebrate or commemorate the inevitably of death. But the Catholic Church does every year on Ash Wednesday. In fact, Lent begins with the commemoration of our death and concludes with the celebration of our Lord Jesus’ death on Good Friday. To the world, this seems odd indeed. Perhaps this is why Good Friday is hardly recognized anymore by public and private institutions. For most, I’m afraid, it’s just another day.

Nevertheless, as Catholics, we know that death, once considered to mark the end of all that is good in life, is actually the beginning of all the great things God has to offer his friends. This is why Psalm 116:15 states, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” And this is why Pope Leo XIII could say: "[W]hen we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live...He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place."

To confront death, therefore, is to better judge what is really important in life. And even more important, it inspires courage to endure short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits. Chief among the benefits is living a holy life and going to heaven. This is why in the spirit of Ash Wednesday the Saints have counseled us to often meditate on death as a spiritual exercise. St. John Chrysostom once said, “Go to the grave; contemplate dust, ashes, worms; and sigh.” And St. Bonaventure said, “To guide the vessel safely, the pilot must remain at the helm; and in like manner, to lead a good life, a man should always imagine himself at the hour of death.”

This should give us food for thought. We spend a great deal of time on our bodies. So much of the day is dedicated to feeding it, washing it, and caring for it. As important as that is, the brutal fact remains that it will inevitably suffer decomposition. But the soul will remain. It will forever endure. As St. Francis of Assisi said, it is not what we receive but what we give that will accompany us into eternity. As for our material belongings, they will be left behind.

Catholics who receive the ashes of their foreheads and faithfully observe Lent will fare better than those survivors on I Shouldn’t Be Alive. Death unexpectedly confronted them. But we are given the opportunity to confront death before it confronts us. As Fr. Lorenzo Albacete once said, “[T]o avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to its fullest…” Indeed, it is only through this confrontation, which Lent affords us, that life can be lived to full. And after it has been lived to the full, it is good- very good -to know that a much fuller and better life awaits the faithful in heaven. With this hope and expectation, the natural fear of death is bound to lose its grip on souls and “free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

You, a Saint?

Excerpts from "You." Rev. M. Raymond 1957

"If you have not been called to become a great saint- a Dominic, a Bernard, an Ignatius of Loyola -you have undeniably been called to become a saint -and that is greatness enough for any man, woman or child.

Time will make you acquainted with your supernatural limitations, just as it did, and yet does, with your natural ones.

It is highly probable, that you will never be able to pray as did Teresa of Avila, as Catherine of Sienna or Gemma Galgani. Yet, so long as you have a mind and a will, you can always do your particular kind of praying- and that, indeed, is the only kind by which you can praise your God!

Perhaps it already seems quite evident to you that you will never love God as did the Poor Man of Assisi, and bear in your body the five wounds of Christ; or love him as did St. Bernard, the man of Clairvaux who loved the Crucified so ardently that one day Christ unfixed Himself from a cross in order to hug His loving monk.

Perhaps you already know that you will never be so aflame with love for God that your body, like that of St. Francis Xavier, will not be able to hold the fire. But so long as you live, you will be able to love your God exactly as He wishes to be loved by you.

Perhaps the pithiest and best advice that can be given on this point is this: Pray as you can; don't try to pray as you can't! Love your God as you can; don't try to love Him with somebody else's heart! Live with you loving God as you can.

Obviously Christ always acted under the promptings of the Holy Spirit...What keeps you from doing the same? Does not every dictate of reason and demand of decency prompt you to like docility? Since you are His member are you not obliged to follow the lead of your Head? It is the very same Spirit who worked in Christ who works in you. But He must have your cooperation!

Fear not, then, if the Spirit should lead you into the desert to be tempted. Yield yourself to His promptings and you come out of every desert as did the Christ- magnificently triumphant."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Temptation in the desert and its twentieth century parallel:

Revised and reposted for new Sky View readers:


Political and Spiritual Slavery:

In 1994, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a book called “Turning Point for Europe?” In it he maintains that immediately following the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, after spending years in slavery, God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. It was no accident, he said, that liberation from slavery under Pharaoh and the keeping God’s law were to be closely linked to one another. But sadly, as we find out in the books of Exodus and Numbers, Israel proved to be unfaithful to God during their forty year journey in the desert. And in the centuries that followed, to the extent that they were unfaithful to the Lord’s commands- to that extent –were they dominated by foreign nations. It is a sobering reminder that political slavery is but the result of the spiritual slavery to sin. In redeeming us from that slavery, therefore, Jesus Christ retraced the steps of his ancestors by spending forty days in the desert. St. Jerome said it wasn’t so much that Satan took the initiative to seek out Jesus; it is more accurate to say that Jesus went out into the desert to confront Satan. Indeed, before he would redeem the human race from sin, our Lord deemed it necessary to conquer the Architect of Sin by allowing himself to be tested through three progressive temptations.


Three Temptations:

The first temptation: Satan approached Jesus and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread." (Matt. 4:3) Here, Satan is tempting Jesus on the presumption that he is God. After all, only God can change stones into bread. Yet, if Jesus were to acquiesce to the temptation by converting stones into bread in order to eat them, worst case scenario, he would be breaking his fast with the possibility of sinning against God.

With the second temptation, Satan approached Jesus as if he were a mere holy man. For if a man could summon angels to his side he would undoubtedly be holy but he would not be God. After all, the Almighty would need no such assistance. With the second temptation the tempter said, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and 'with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" (Matt. 4:6) But in the absence of such angelic assistance, the cost of succumbing to Satan’s proposal is one of physical death. A pattern begins to emerge: As the devil downgrades the status Jesus from God to a holy man, the consequences of consenting to the second temptation- in contrast to the first temptation -becomes more perilous.

With the first temptation, Satan approaches Jesus as if he were God (this one, he got right). The second temptation our Lord is presumed to be a holy man, but only a man. And with the third temptation, Satan assumes the worst: “Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’” (Matt. 4:9) In assuming the worst, Satan’s approached Jesus as if he were a sinner; because only a sinner would worship the Devil. However, the cost of consenting to such a temptation, in the absence of repentance, would forfeit the salvation of one’s soul. And to be sure, there is no greater loss than to be forever banished from God’s presence.

Notice that the more sinful Satan believes you to be, the more gullible you are in his mind; gullible because consenting to his proposal would only spell disaster for the sinner. Indeed, sin darkens the mind. As Jesus said, whoever sins is a slave to sin. Hence, the darkness of sin leads to slavery. No one knows this better than the Satan himself.


Twentieth Century Parallels:

Interestingly, these three temptations and the design behind them, have a twentieth century parallels. With each temptation, Jesus countered with the words of God; specifically from the book of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy, as you might know, is a series of speeches given by Moses to the Hebrews at the end of their forty year journey in the desert. This took place just before they went into the Promised Land. Moses reviewed all that happened, both good and bad, and what would happen if they would obey or disobey God. The choice was clear. He said, “I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) Fidelity to God’s law would merit the former; infidelity would bring about the latter.

When we look at the twentieth century, as with previous centuries, we find that the choice between life or death is influenced by two inseparably related causes: spirituality and sexuality. That is to say, belief in God and attitudes about sex determine if one is fulfilled in life; if marriages last; if families happily stay together; if nations prosper; and most importantly, if souls are saved.

From the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution, Satan effectively undermined man’s belief in God. But if he could not completely eliminate belief in God, he would at least try to distort human sexuality! God and sex have one very important thing in common: the ability to create life. Sex furnishes the material while God infuses the soul. When these two principles of life are misunderstood or misused, a whole series of repercussions are set in motion.

To understand how Satan tempted Jesus in the desert is to understand how he tempted humanity during twentieth century. He understood that vice, as well as virtue, rarely exist in isolation. To instigate one sin or one vice with “seemingly little consequence” is to set off a sequence of other vices and sins which are of greater consequence. A chain reaction, if you will.

For instance, the use of contraception spiked considerably from 1930 to 1970. In a nutshell, the idea behind contraception is to have sex without the possibility of begetting life. In short, a couple could have sex without conceiving a child. Seemingly harmless, right? Taking it one step further, however, the Sexual Revolution gave us sex without love at the end of the 1960’s. Marriage was thought to be no longer necessary for sexual intimacy. With contraception, this was a lot easier But without the support of two married parents, when conception did occur, babies became more undesirable…more of a burden. This brings us to legalized abortion, which is life without love. The mother has a child in her womb but without the love to see him or her to full term.


Fidelity or Gullibility:

Let’s sum up the series of progressive temptations we find in twentieth century. Keep in mind that with each temptation the consequences get more ruinous:

Sex without life (contraception) leads to sex without love (fornication/adultery); this in turn, leads to life without love (abortion). The final product is the culture of death. Indeed, with each consent or nod of approval to contraception, extra-marital sex or abortion, the human mind is darkened and is made more gullible. In fact, Satan exploited this human weakness to great effect during the 20th century. However, his efforts fell short in the desert.

If anything, our Lord Jesus demonstrated- not only in the desert but throughout 33 years on earth –that fidelity to God is the surest way of preserving our freedom and happiness. But he also reveals to us that the more we consent to sin, the more gullible we become. And the more gullible we become, the more inclined we are to believe the false promises of the devil. It is only a matter of time, therefore, that slavery to sin ushers in political slavery.

Saints resign too

The key in becoming a Saint is to know your limitations. Pope St. Celestine V was one such man. He wasn’t the last pope to resign but he was the last canonized pope to take a step down from the chair of St. Peter.

Before he was elected pope in the year 1294, he was a monk on Mt. Murrone. Then, as one papal biographer noted, he withdrew to Mt. Maiella in order to avoid the crowds which flocked around him. But when the cardinals looked to him to succeed Pope Nicholas IV, he was sadly distressed and was torn between the fear of acting against God's will and of being a poor administrator as pope. As time went on, he had realized he had made a mistake. The saintly pope then had the courage to act on his convictions. On his own initiative, he stepped down during the same year he was elected pope.

On February 11, 2013 we woke up this morning to find out that Pope Benedict XVI did exactly what Pope St. Celestine did: he resigned as pope. There are not a lot politicians, not a lot of actors and not a lot successful business leaders who can walk away from the spotlight without looking over their shoulder. Resigning as pope requires a detachment and a determination to “decrease” so that another, namely, his successor, would “increase.” This is not an easy thing to do. --

Most everybody, at some point in their life, has to go through this process. At some point we have to say good-bye. Even if a person manages to avoid the painful dilemma of resigning or continuing with one’s profession, one will be at least greeted by death. Indeed, no one escapes death! And paradoxically, us mortals, at the moment of death, have a choice to either voluntarily to resign from this life was we know it or, with every last breath, cling to it.

Like all Saints, Pope St. Celestine V, was well acquainted with the spiritual exercise of meditating on death. Such an exercise involves the mental rehearsal of saying good-bye to the goods of this earth. But the strength of saying good-bye to life on earth is to see beyond it. And the strength of giving up anything- including one’s work –is to see beyond it.

Perhaps this is why Pope St. Celestine V had the courage to do something that was unconventional and even unheard of. And perhaps this is what gave Pope Benedict XVI the courage to do the same thing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Duplicity

James Hunter, public speaker for Servant Leadership, said, “Far and away the biggest gap we find in leadership skills is failing to confront people with problems and situations as they arise, and hold them accountable. We discipline (train) because we care about people, because we want them to be the best they can be.”

The failure or reluctance to legitimately confront people is not only an epidemic among managers in the business world, but it is quite common in the areas of family and social life. And because the Christian religion puts a high priority on loving one’s neighbor, it is especially prevalent among Christians. The reason for this is due to the confusion over what Christian love and compassion really means. Many mistake kindness, being positive or optimistic with the biblical precept of loving our neighbor. But as I stated in other articles, these amiable qualities, attractive as they are, can be practiced to a fault.

In fact, certain vices are introduced whenever kindness or being nice becomes “the end all and be all.” Keep in mind that vices, as well as sins, exist in groups. As such, they congregate and cluster together. Therefore, the reluctance to confront with firm but loving candor leads to yet another vice. That vice is duplicity.

Duplicity can be defined as saying one thing in private and another in public. It can also involve speaking highly of someone in their presence and yet disparaging that same person in their absence. Some call it “speaking out of both sides of your mouth.” This latter vice adversely affects good businesses, relationships and our spirituality. Perhaps, this is why our Lord and the Saints identify it, not only as a fault, but that which is evil.

Jesus said, “Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) Does our “yes” mean “yes” and our “no” mean “no?” Or have we gotten into the habit of saying what others want to hear and then, behind the scenes, we say or do something which betrays the words we once spoke?

I ask this because I see a lot pain and unnecessary inconveniences at work, in my social life and within Christian circles. Indeed, a wayward colleague at one’s work, a wayward family member or a wayward member of one’s church is often not confronted in the beginning when the problems are still manageable. Instead, they are criticized and disparaged by their peers in their absence only to be greeted with smiles and complements in their presence. Sadly, many who would exercise this kind of duplicity do it without blinking an eye.

Something else to consider: Too often, those in authority, or those who could minimize the damage, do not speak what needs to be spoken. This is due to the habit of putting people’s feelings above their welfare. As such, when the opportunity presents itself the one who is obligated to deliver a reprimand or disciplinary measure, winces and draws back. From there, things go from bad to worse until the situation gets so bad that something desperate has to be done. I can’t tell you how many times this happens at the highest levels of corporations and religious organizations. The end result is that people get hurt.

Mind you, duplicity is not just a fault or a weakness- it is a sin! It offends God because it not only hurts people, it is a human characteristic that finds no place or favor in who he is and what he does. But how do we overcome it? The answer: By practicing its opposite. The opposite of duplicity is sincerity and truthfulness. What people see in you is what they should get. To break it down a little further, if you cannot be true to how you feel about certain people in their presence, then at least try to refrain from gossiping and criticizing them in their absence. Understandably, there are exceptions; especially when important matters are shared with others in confidence. However, we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to try to be consistent in what we say in people’s presence and what we say in their absence.

The Golden Rule is quite applicable here. Our Lord says, “Do unto others as you would have them to unto you.” You wouldn’t trust a person who smiles in your presence only to tear you to pieces in your absence. Yet, the injustice of such duplicity does not register when we engage in similar behavior. The sting of guilt is rationalized away becomes it comes so natural to us. Therefore, we have to guard against it. The Catholic Catechism states: “Truth as uprightness in human action and speech is called truthfulness, sincerity, or candor. Truth or truthfulness is the virtue which consists in showing oneself true in deeds and truthful in words, and in guarding against duplicity, dissimulation, and hypocrisy.”

If you look hard enough in the Gospels, you will find that Jesus does not compliment his Apostles very often. Whatever compliments are given are few and far between. But when he first greeted Nathanael [also known as Bartholomew] in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, he said, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” People always knew where they stood with stood with St. Bartholomew. If truth be told, people knew where they stood with our Lord. He was not one to mince words. Either should we.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

To him who perseveres

St. Bernard once said, “To beginners a reward is promised, but to him who perseveres it is given.”

God often guarantees success at the onset of a noble enterprise only to permit circumstances to seemingly undermine that success. He does this for two reasons:

First, to test the genuineness of your faith. It is easy to have faith in God when circumstances are to your liking. However, faith can only be tested by its opposite, namely, when things look doubtful.

Second, trials are given to us in order that the virtue of humility fostered in us. For without humility, we cannot entirely depend upon Divine Providence. Few are those who take Christ words literally: “For without me, you can do nothing.”

Through perseverance, therefore, the presence of Christ within our souls becomes more real to us, more trustworthy, than what unfavorable conditions in the outside world might suggest. Perhaps this is why St. John the Evangelist said, “Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.”

Catholics who frequent the altar mystically participate in the greatest demonstration of perseverance that the world has ever known. From Holy Thursday to Good Friday our Lord not only persevered through his Passion, but by instituting the Last Supper into a perpetual Sacrifice and Eucharistic meal, he also allowed his followers to draw upon the strength of his perseverance.

His strength is a gift to us. We just have to use it so that the interior peace and joy-which is a foretaste of heaven -can reside in the soul even as difficulties mount.

Boy Scouts: If they fold

The Catholic News Agency reported on Feb 7 that the Boy Scouts of America signaled that it will “delay voting on the decision to reverse a ban on gay individual and troop leader participation within the organization until May.” Deron Smith, Director of Public Relations for the organization, said, “After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy."

The Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910, has always represented traditional values that made our country great. Faith, patriotism, charity, honor and a sound work ethic are just some of the values that thousands of boys over several decades benefited from. However, the fact that Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board labeled the same-sex issue as “complex” is a real disappointment. The fact that this most basic of Christian moral principles needs a vote within the organization is a sad commentary on how one institution after another is yielding to social conformity.

Social conformity is always ugly in hindsight, after the dust has settled. But when it is occurring, that is, as people clamor for it and as circumstances favor it, conforming to the moral trends of the day is ever so attractive and almost irresistible. Still, it is the easy way out. And worse yet, it is a sure sign of cowardice.

We must know that human instincts toward social conformity are stronger than our instincts to help those in need. They can overwhelm the sincere desire to do the right thing. To cite an extreme case scenario, the German people knew this firsthand during Hitler’s reign as the Jews were being openly persecuted (and then exterminated behind closed doors). Albert Einstein, in fact, complained that many good people stood by and watched the degradation of his fellow Jews. There are plenty of historic examples to this effect. But we also know this in our personal lives. Many of us have known people who stood passively and watched their children get abused by their spouse, yet did nothing about it. Whatever the case may be, when the majority of people are doing x, y and z- whether it is right or not –then such a perception has behavioral consequences.

Instead reacting to accusations of being bigoted and unfair to homosexual people, Christians are going to have to make up their mind to take pride in who they are. And who are they? The disciple of Christ is, first of all, is one who is willing to die for Him. To die for Christ means that we are at least bold enough to give voice to His teachings. And what are his teachings on human sexuality and marriage? Through the constant tradition of Church and through Scripture we, as Christians, know that marriage and consequently, sexual activity, are exclusively reserved for a man and a woman. To promote or to acquiesce to any other alternative arrangement is to do society a great disservice. What is more, it is violate the most fundamental right of a child to be conceived out love and to be reared by a mother and a father.

If the Boy Scouts of America folds and does what everyone else seems to be doing, that is, given in to social pressure- sometimes orchestrated by the gay rights movement -then they will cease to be a great organization. After all, if they cannot stand up for the most fundamental right of a boy to have a mother and a father, according to God’s design, then soon enough they will fail to stand up for other values that are essential in transforming a boy into a man.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bishop Imprisoned: "This is my cathedral!"

Reposting: Bishop Imprisoned: "This is my cathedral!"

God does not find success where the politician, celebrity or even the wealthy might find them. No, he finds them in those circumstances and situations the world considers unimportant. Failures, suffering and death are God’s chosen instruments of success and resurrection. This lesson comes through loud and clear at the beginning and end of the life of Christ. The circumstances surrounding his birth were by no means ideal; indeed, the manger was barely suitable for animals. The world would have looked upon St. Joseph as a failure for not providing a warm comfortable room for the birth of the long awaited Messiah. But what the world deemed as failure, God used to bring about the greatest of blessings for generations to come. As for Christ’s death, the Cross on which he was hoisted was an emblem of public shame; so much so that it became a stumbling block for the Jews. These two hallmarks of the life of our Lord- his birth and his death -speaks to the contradictions and setbacks in our own life.

Enter Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. His cause for canonization was recently opened in late 2010. His life and trails in a Vietnam prison speaks to "God's liberating power." What God taught him in the dark cell of solitary confinement can be applied to any arduous circumstance we might find ourselves in.

In 1967 he was ordained bishop of Nha Trang, South Vietnam. However, in 1975 after South Vietnam fell to Communist North Vietnam, he recounts, “I was invited to the Palace of Independence, the President's Palace in Saigon, only to be arrested.” He was then incarcerated for thirteen years. Nine out of those thirteen was spent in solitary confinement. One would think that the dark, stifling quarters he was confined to would have been the primary source of his torment. Not true. What tormented the bishop was that the fact he could no longer shepherd his flock in Nha Trang. Indeed, the pain of being prevented from celebrating Mass, catechizing, evangelizing and ministering to the poor in his diocese as their bishop was a sacrifice that equaled Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Not being able to shepherd his people when they needed him most was obviously beyond his control. He was called to resign himself to the new and trying circumstances that were thrusted upon him. In order to retain his sanity, he had to choose God over God's works. Either Nguyen Van Thuan would embrace God's will as it was given to him in that moment or he would grope for what he thought God's will should be. That was his choice, plain and simple.

The irony of Divine Providence is that the Lord sometimes calls us to renounce the work he has called us to. He will inspire the zeal, guarantee success and then let the floor drop out from underneath us. After the dust settles, it would seem all is lost. To be sure, God pushes us to the brink. But it is in this hour of darkness that purification reaches the depths of the soul. We are forced to answer the same question Jesus asked of St. Peter: Do you love me more than these? Being given the opportunity to love God for his own sake- and not for any delight we take in his gifts -makes us worthy servants of his. It prepares us for great achievements.

This opportunity was given to Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan. A light pierced the darkness and this light was the key to his peace and happiness even in the Vietnam prison.

This prisoner for Christ tells us the turning point from which he began to see the grim and inhospitable conditions in a new light. The following extracts were taken from an address he gave at a religious education conference in Los Angeles just before his death in 2002. The theme of his talk was Experiencing God's Liberating Power.

In his own words:

"Alone in my prison cell, I continued to be tormented by the fact that I was forty-eight years old, in the prime of my life, that I had worked for eight years as a bishop and gained so much pastoral experience and there I was isolated, inactive and far from my people.

One night, from the depths of my heart I could hear a voice advising me:

'Why torment yourself? You must discern between God and the works of God - everything you have done and desire to continue to do, pastoral visits, training seminarians, sisters and members of religious orders, building schools, evangelizing non-Christians. All of that is excellent work, the work of God but it is not God! If God wants you to give it all up and put the work into his hands, do it and trust him. God will do the work infinitely better than you; he will entrust the work to others who are more able than you. You have only to choose God and not the works of God!'

It is true. All prisoners, myself included, constantly wait to be let go. I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life. I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die. No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love.

This light totally changed my way of thinking. When the Communists put me in the hold of the boat, the Hai-Phong, along with 1500 other prisoners and moved us to the North, I said to myself, 'Here is my cathedral, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these, my despairing, miserable brothers. It is God's will that I am here. I accept his will.' And from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years."

The cross Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan carried from 1975 to 1988 was that he was unable to fulfill his regular duties as Bishop of Nha Trang in South Vietnam. Instead he was thrown into solitary confinement- Vietnamese style. While in the wine-press of suffering, he probably was tempted to blame God for the losses he had to endure. But like so many other Saints, Cardinal Van Thuan saw God's hand in the suffering he had to endure.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Holding the State Accountable: Catholicism or Islam (repost)

Reposting for new Sky View readers:

"Let the emperor hear the voice of a free priest…It is unworthy of an emperor to refuse freedom of speech and unworthy of a priest to remain silent…For priests nothing is so dangerous before God and so infamous before men as refraining from expressing their views.”

-St. Ambrose, (Fourth Century A.D.)

“The people have been awakened, as it were, from a lengthy dormancy. In face of the state and in the face of their rulers they have assumed a new attitude- questioning, critical, and distrustful. Taught by bitter experience, they oppose with increasing vehemence the monopolistic reaches of a power that is dictatorial, uncontrollable, and intangible. And they demand a
system of government that will be more in accord with the dignity and freedom of the citizenry.”

-Pope Pius XII, Radio Message Dec. 24, 1944



Introduction:

A Democratic-republic presupposes a network of relationships; starting within the family, extending into neighbors and then rippling out into society at large. Sound economies and political systems are also built upon trustworthy and solid relationships. Historically, any given network of relationships was inspired by religion. What we believe about God’s relationship with man has a profound effect on the interactions people have with each other. These ideas give birth to certain kinds of governments and economies.

In Mohammad’s time (at the beginning of the seventh century), among Eastern Christians, there were many debates about the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ. For Mohammad, these doctrinal intricacies were deemed too complicated. He wanted a simple doctrine; much like what the Jews already believed: One God who was one person. As for Jesus, he was a prophet but nevertheless just a man. To this day, the simplicity of Islam is attractive to a good many people.


Creation: Through Persons

In contrast to Allah (whose main attribute is power) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a divine family of Three Persons. You heard it said, “God is love.” He is love precisely because he a family of Three Persons in one divine nature. And these Three Persons are eternally bound in a relationship with one another. From the Father, the Son is generated. The Son was also known as the “thought” or the “wisdom” of God in the Old Testament (Proverbs 8; Sirach 24). But when the Father spoke to humanity, the Son then became known as the Word of God; the Word that would reveal the fullness of the Father. And from the Father and through the Son, the Holy Spirit proceeds- as if from two parents -only to unite the Father and the Son in love. It is not only with one another they relate, but through one another. This latter point is key in understanding how the Holy Trinity, the Christian God, interacts with the human race and how people relate to each other.

Take for instance, the creation of the first family in book of Genesis. You will notice the manner in which they were created is a microcosm of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another. After forming Adam’s body, the Lord breathed life into him. And from Adam’s side, Eve was created. But life was given to her only through Adam. And from their spousal love came forth their first born.


Redemption: Through Persons

Moving on to how God redeems humanity, it is important to note that the order of redemption reflects the order of creation. In other words, God redeems and reveals himself in much the same way as he created. In both cases, the Lord uses human instruments to achieve his goal. In Catholic theology, the Church is the oracle of God, the voice of Christ. As for the pope, he is not only the successor to St. Peter. No. The head of the Apostles, according to Catholic doctrine, continues his ministry of leading and teaching the faithful (from heaven) through each pope throughout the ages. And through the words of consecration spoken by every bishop or priest at Mass, Jesus Christ comes to us body, blood, soul and divinity. In the confessional, through the words of absolution spoken by the priest, Christ himself forgives our sins.


The Political Effect of Both:

God’s act of creating through- redeeming through –sanctifying through –and speaking through human means and even matter itself has inspired democratic principles. If political authority resides in the people, as the Catholic theology holds, then they will take ownership being that it belongs to them. Furthermore, as the custodians and the beneficiaries of political or State authority, citizens are more likely to set up a government that is accountable to them and one that will serve them with justice. Since it is impossible for everyone to govern, it is natural, therefore, that they communicate their political authority to their representative leaders. And it is through these leaders that State authority- originating from God which is then bestowed on the people –is applied.


Mohammad and Sword:

Mohammad was a political and religious leader. He, along with his followers, conquered other nations by the sword. And henceforth they grew in number. In early Christianity, on the other hand, the followers of Christ were put to the sword and as result, their numbers multiplied. Tertullian, an early Church Father, said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”


Tension between Church and State:

Unlike Mohammad, Jesus Christ never claimed to have political authority. In fact, he drew a sharp distinction between Caesar and God. His kingdom was not to be confused with the State. According to St. Augustine, the tension of City of God and the City of Man would endure until the end of time. Throughout the centuries, this tension would turn into outright conflict; a conflict between the Church and the State. For the first three hundred years of Church history, Christians were martyred by the thousands. It was even reported that out of the first thirty popes, twenty-nine died a martyr’s death. And should we be surprised? Since the beginning of his earthly life as an infant, Herod, representing the State, tried to hunt the new born Messiah down and kill him. At the end of his earthly life, it was Pilate, again, representing the State, who appeased the angry mob by sentencing our Lord to death.

Even with the hostility the State would exercise against Christ and his followers, the Catholic Church always held that political authority comes from God and as such, whatever just laws that are decreed should be obeyed. As St. Paul said, "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1)


Church Holds Goverment Accountable:

According to Catholic political theology, the authority of the State originates from God. However, this civil authority is communicated or given to the people for whom it is meant to benefit. It is then the people who decide what kind of government they wish to be subjected to. The main principle here is that State or civil authority exists for the people and it is therefore determined by the people. Like the work of creation and redemption, political authority comes from God and is entrusted to citizens of any given nation; and it is through the citizenry that political power is conferred on the ruler.

Autocracies and dictatorships violate these principles. In Islam, political authority does not reside in the people; it instead resides in the State; which is often indistinguishable from the religion of Islam. To be sure, the distinction between Church and State is, at the very least, blurred in Muslim nations. As such, the check and balance benefit, the purpose of which is keep the State in check, is weak at best. To be sure, there is no single institution possessing moral authority, similar to that of the Papacy or Holy See, to offset or challenge an aggressive Islamic State. In any case, the State- Islamic or Christian -needs to be held accountable by an institution of a higher authority. This institution, what Catholics know as the Church, ought to have the interests of the people in mind. Absent this accountability, unlimited power naturally accrues to the government. Indeed, where religion and politics converge into one or where religion is absent all together, very often what emerges is totalitarianism.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Out of the dark theater

The Second Reading for February, 3 2013

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully,
as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain,
these three; but the greatest of these is love.

-I Corinthians 13:12-13


Eben’s story:

“Imagine being a kid and going to a movie on a summer day. Maybe the movie was good, and you were entertained as you sat through it. But then the show ended, and you filed out of the theater and back into the deep, vibrant, welcoming warmth of the summer afternoon. And as the air and the sunlight hit you, you wondered why on earth you’d wasted this gorgeous day sitting in a dark theater.

Multiply that feeling a thousand times, and you will still won’t be anywhere close to what it felt like where I was.”

Where was he? Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon practiced at Children’s Hospitals and Harvard Medical School, claimed to have an afterlife experience in which he experienced what seemed to be the frontiers of heaven. In November of 2008 he came down with a severe case of bacterial meningitis. It was so severe that his brain literally shutdown.

Curiously, as a practicing neurosurgeon, he had many patients who had similar experiences. Although he politely listed to their stories, he dismissed their near death experiences as the result of some neurological activity or malfunction.

However, in his book, Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander maintained that upon death he came into contact with God and what seemed to be heaven. The experience was every bit as lucid and real (even more so) than when he is fully awake or conscious. What is more, his encounter with God conjured up thoughts and feelings that were familiar to him. He said, “It [God] knew me deeply and overflowed with qualities that all of my life I have always associated with human beings, and human beings alone: warmth, compassion, pathos...even irony and humor.” And as with many who have near death experiences, he was overwhelmed with an unconditional love and peace he never knew existed. But throughout his journey into the afterlife he was accompanied by a beautiful girl.

You see, Eben Alexander was adopted when he was very young. He later found out, after this life-changing experience, that his biological sister had died. Upon seeing her picture for the first time, he happen recognize her! Indeed, she was his companion in his journey to  heaven.

Part of his experience was that of flying over beautiful terrain. He saw children playing, happy people and even animals. But what he noticed about his female companion was her loving, deep blue eyes. He said, “She looked at me with a look that, if you saw it for a few moments, would make your whole life up to that point worth living, no matter what had happened in it so far.” And without using words, she communicated the following thoughts: “You are loved, and cherished, dearly, forever...You have nothing to fear.”


Similarities with Fatima:

Eben Alexander’s story was of particular interest to me because much of what he said is consistent with what some of the Saints said about heaven and what the seers of Marian apparitions said about the beauty of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, those who were privileged to see the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as St. Bernadette at Lourdes and the three children of Fatima, were so captivated by her beauty that wanted to go to heaven immediately. They couldn’t wait to see her again.

But when the Mother of God appeared, she also brought heaven with her. Even Jacinta, the youngest seer at Fatima, saw heaven- with ponies in the background -when Our Lady appeared to her. “Heaven was so pretty,” she said, “there were many wild ponies.”

What Eben Alexander was also privileged to receive was a kind of knowledge about himself and the universe that is difficult to put into words. In his afterlife experience, truth was immediately impressed upon his mind without the mediation of words or things. And he saw himself as he was known by God.

Again, his experience is reminiscent of what Lucia, the oldest seer of Fatima, experienced when the Blessed Virgin appeared to her. She reported that in one appearance the Lady opened her hands and shed upon the children a highly intense light. “This light penetrated us to the heart and its very recesses, and allowed us to see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in a mirror…”

One of the deepest desires of the human heart is to be loved. And for those who encounter God in an extraordinary way say that they are enveloped in a divine love that fully compensates for the suffering that occurs in the world. But another human desire is to know the truth about God, about ourselves and about the world we live in. St. Paul referred to this desire when he spoke of heaven: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”

When Eben Alexander returned to earth, so to speak, he was excited about the world he returned to. It wasn’t just a self-contained world with nothing to show for after death. But it was a world surrounded by another beautiful, unseen world. He realized that the material cosmos was only a fraction of the real thing.


Final thoughts:

Due to medical technology, and the ability of doctors to restart hearts and revive brains that temporarily stop functioning, there are bound to be more accounts of people who experience the other side. To be sure, there are many personal testimonies about both heaven and hell that have come to the surface in recent years. But we have to use caution and discernment in assessing the credibility of these stories. And what may prove to be cause for concern in the future is that people will focus only on the accounts about heaven and forget that people, as Our Lady of Fatima warned, go to hell too. We may even get the false impression that very few people go to hell.

With that said, stories like Eben Alexander’s (assuming it is true) is of value to us because it makes eternity palpable...something that is real...and something to look forward to. It also verifies what Saints have always said about eternal life; that earthly happiness pales in comparison. As Pope Leo XIII said, "...when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live...He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place."

Like Ebben, when we encounter what true life really is- a life that involves not only being fully known by God but fully knowing God -then we will ask: Why did I ever want to stay in that dark theater for so long? This is so much better!