Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sacred Space and Multipurpose Rooms

Have you noticed that many of our Catholic sanctuaries are being transformed into multipurpose rooms? Today we have projector screens being installed, plays and musicals being performed, and all sorts of mundane activity occurring in places of worship. As our Catholic churches have given more importance to expedience and utility over preserving the sacredness of the sanctuary, people have acted accordingly. They have taken our cue. People are now talking before and after Mass, chewing gum and texting. These are the unintended consequences of having our cake and eating it too.

The sense that the Holy Eucharist deserves even more reverence and awe than Moses’ burning bush has, regrettably, become foreign to many people in the pew. And if they do not give our Eucharistic Lord the solemnity he deserves then I can’t say I blame them. After all, do we not send them mixed signals when we have concerts, show movies and present documentaries in the very same place where the Holy Sacrifice just took place?

The average person does not make the same distinctions that a Catholic who works on behalf of the local parish will make. Those who are active participants in their church know liturgical etiquette. They know that even though a play is being performed in front of the altar or a movie is being projected onto a big screen just above the lectern, it does not give them the license to engage in other mundane activities such as chewing gum. But again, the average person is apt not to make these distinctions. They do not see the same nuances that a well formed Catholic will take note of.

Consecrated places such as the sanctuary in any given church are vitally important for our faith journey. In fact, the mystique of churches should serve as a reminder and foretaste of heaven. Beauty, silence and wonder used to pervade the atmosphere of most, if not all, sanctuaries. Even in rural or inner-city churches, one could not help but sense the God’s presence upon entering.

A return to preserving the otherworldliness of sacred space is in our best interest. Why? Because not only will it remind us of heaven, but it will better prepare us for when the whole universe will be consecrated upon our Lord’s Second Coming. Indeed, earth itself will someday be sacred space. Perhaps this is why transforming consecrated and sacred spaces into multipurpose venues is not such a good idea.

A New Form of Dating

The entertainment industry does exceptionally well in highlighting the advantages and thrills of falling in love. What it doesn’t do so well is to give people clues as to how to stay in love. This shouldn’t surprise us because falling in love is a lot of fun and it doesn’t take a lot of work. But this one-sided emphasis on the hormonal and emotional phase of love- while overlooking the sacrifices and graces necessary to sustain a relationship -is a recipe for disaster; both for couples and society at large. Perhaps, this is why more people in recent years are giving up on marriage altogether.

Anne-Marie Ambert, in her article “Cohabitation and Marriage: How are they related?” reviewed several Canadian and American studies on cohabitation and marriage rates. She wrote, “While cohabitation rates have shot up in the past decade or so, marriage rates have come down substantially.” “More recent trends,” she continues, “indicate that perhaps a higher proportion of cohabitors than in the past simply drift into cohabitation because it is more convenient than dating. That is, it makes it easier to be with each other sexually than when living separately.” Surprisingly, cohabitation is not only becoming an attractive alternative to marriage, but it is slowly becoming a form of dating.

 This shouldn’t surprise us because Hollywood and public education- two very powerful forces in America –do not hold up, for imitation, those virtues and beliefs that make for a lifelong marriage. Yet, it is undeniably true that people who are married and are in it for the long haul, are much happier than cohabitators who transition from partner to partner. The latter party is like a bird in flight without a nest. They accumulate many falling-in-love experiences, but they never reach the purpose for which the phenomenon of falling-in-love exists. For many, the falling-in-love experience and the sexual thrills that accompany it, exists for its own sake. That is why they feel the need to reproduce as many of these experiences as possible. But this is nothing new.

In the first century, the Samaritan woman at the well was a cohabitator. St. Paul, too, spoke about those restless souls who never settle down in marriage. He even cautioned St. Timothy about narcissists and lovers of the flesh and explained that in the latter days women will be especially vulnerable to the sexual exploits of men. Specifically, he said, “For some of these slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:6-7) The truth about what, you might ask: the truth about how relationships and sexuality can build us up or tear us down.

Cohabitation plays right into the Hollywood narrative that the only thing worth pursuing is the experience or the falling-in-love process, not the person. It fosters an entitlement mentality because, by its very nature, shacking-up seeks to obtain the perks or the fruits of marriage (i.e. living together and sex) without the labor. Not too long ago, the man was expected to court the woman; to earn her affection and self-disclosure. He was to “put in his time” before she rewarded him with herself. And it wasn’t until he made a public and sacred commitment to her before God and the community that he would enjoy her intimacy.

However, with cohabitation, no such chivalry is warranted. In fact, earning the love of the beloved is discouraged. It is like saying the wage-earner no longer has to earn his wages; or the med student being permitted to practice medicine before he graduates from med school; or it is like an NFL franchise conducting try-outs for their football team after the season is over. To put it simply, cohabitation turns the natural order of love and marriage on its head.

What is more, just when a man and a woman ought to be discerning if they are compatible with one another, they cloud their own judgment by strengthening their sexual ties. In order to detect red flags or problem spots in the relationship there has to be a sense of detachment and objectivity. It just so happens that sexual purity occasions the needed clarity and objectivity. As such, the prospective spouse is much more likely to be seen for what he or she really is. It is for this reason that sexual purity or chastity better serves the purpose of dating than does cohabitation.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dawson: Predicting the future of marriage

Question: How did they know? How can Catholic historians predict future trends with such accuracy? Alexis de Tocqueville predicted that America would be subjected to a kind of “soft-despotism” about 140 years before it ever became a reality. Hilaire Belloc predicted the re-emergence of Islam in 1938 when Islam was politically at its all time low. In 1933 Christopher Dawson predicted the lowering of marriage rates when the institution of marriage appeared to be invulnerable:

As in the decline of the ancient world, the family is steadily losing its form and its social significance, and the State absorbs more and more of the life of its members. The home is no longer a center of social activity; it has become merely a sleeping place for a number of independent wage-earners.

The functions which were formerly fulfilled by the head of the family are now being taken over by the State, which educates the children and takes the responsibility for their maintenance and health. Consequently, the father no longer holds a vital position in the family...

The use of contraceptives has made sexual intercourse independent of parenthood, and the marriage of the future will be confined to those who seek parenthood for its own sake rather than as the natural fulfillment of sexual love. But under these circumstances, who will trouble to marry?

Marriage will lose all attractions for the young and the pleasure-loving and the poor and the ambitious. The energy of youth will be devoted to contraceptive love and only when men and women have become prosperous and middle-aged will they think seriously of settling down to rear a strictly limited family.”

In the ancient world, the family suffered decline for much of the same reasons as it does today. It begs the question, therefore, how did the Catholic Church restore marriage and the family? Answer: Preaching sexual purity and pastorally enforcing that sexual sin is wholly incompatible with the life of Christ. This had a great effect on the family. It bound the father to his wife and children; this, through fidelity and sacrificial love. Hence, with strong families there were fewer social ills; and fewer social ills meant that the intervention of the State in private affairs was less necessary.

If society was to benefit from the healing ointment of sexual purity, Catholics would have to be the first to live it. And that, they did! But in order for this ointment to have its full effect, repenting from sexual sin could not be an option in the early Church. And indeed, it wasn't. Furthermore, if we are to enjoy similar results as the early Church, we must put into effect similar practices. I would go so far as to say that without insisting on repentance from sexual sin as a condition of being a Catholic in good standing, it will be impossible to restore the institutions of marriage and the family.

Again, we return to the question: How did these reputable Catholic historians predict future trends? Answer: With sound theological principles to guide them, they paid close attention to the lessons of history. From this, they better understood human nature and how it would react under certain conditions.

Therefore- and here is the point -if we want to restore marriage, the family, society and even the Church, we should pay close attention to what these historians said. In particular, we should heed Dawson's warning about contraceptive love and what it does to the incentive of getting married among the younger generations.

One thing for sure: If Catholics in the pew hear nothing from their spiritual fathers about sexual purity and the joys of being open to life, then that healing ointment that was once used to restore marriage and the family in the ancient world can never take full effect in our day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shacking-up breaks-up

Reposting for new Sky View readers:

An Irresistible Opportunity:

About fifteen years ago, I used to teach Christian morality at an all-boys Catholic high school in the Chicago area. As is the case now days, many of the students were more influenced by worldly standards than they were of Gospel values. As such, they were convinced by conventional thinking that “shacking-up” with a girl friend or prospective wife would be a good method of determining whether or not a life-long marriage would work out. With that said, I challenged them with an unprecedented and irresistible opportunity: I told them if they could find a study which supported their opinion that living together with a girl friend lends itself to a longer marriage that they would receive so much extra credit that they would not have to another homework assignment for the rest of the year. As soon as my students heard my proposal, there were shouts of “all right!” In no uncertain terms did they express their confidence that the extra credit was theirs for the taking.

Two or three weeks later, one by one, my students approached me in private. They asked, “Mr. Tremblay, could I still have the extra credit if I show that cohabitation increases the chances for divorce.” I did give them some extra credit on the condition that they (especially the most vocal of my opponents) get up in front of the class and present their findings.

A Few Statistics:

It is said, “Living together is not a trial of marriage, but rather a training for divorce.” Here are some statistics from the book, Marriage Savers. They can be verified in just about any study on how cohabitation adversely affects the longevity of marriage:

• More than eight out of ten couples who live together will break up either before the wedding or afterwards in divorce.

• Couples who do marry after living together are 50% more likely to divorce than those who did not.

• The number of unmarried couples living together soared 12-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 5.4 million in 2005.

As to this latter point, the data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey and 2010 Current Population Survey confirmed that marriage is going out of style. This is what they found:

• Between 2000 and 2009, the share of young adults ages 25 to 34 who are married dropped 10 percentage points, from 55 percent to 45 percent.

• Among the total population ages 18 and older, the proportion married dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009.

Trying Them Out:

Supporters of cohabitation reason that a lifelong mate needs to be “tried out.” You know, kind of like a product. Before you buy shoes, you try them on. Before you buy a car, you take it for a test drive. And before you get married, you live together with the prospective spouse without any commitment, see what his or her habits are and, most important, you find out whether or not your partner is “sexually compatible” with you.

However, there is a problem with that reasoning. Human beings are not products. To "try them out" assumes that if the couple’s sex life is good then the relationship too will be good. This cannot be further from the truth. The enjoyment of sex can be experienced between virtual strangers or even between two people who are in no way compatible with one another. Sexual partners are always replaceable; at least as far as a worldly man is concerned. A woman’s appeal, based on mere looks, is never enough incentive for a man to stay committed to the relationship. There can always be another woman that comes along who has an appealing body or a pretty face. Just as important, a man’s attraction to a woman can go just as quickly as it came. All his female partner has to do is become an annoyance, an embarrassment or a burden to him and presto! the magic she once worked on him is gone. Beauty is not only skin deep, with the wrong person it can be like a vapor: here one second, gone the next.

The Bedroom:

What couples also fail to consider- but especially men –is that the bedroom is only one room in the house. A good deal of one’s marriage will be in the kitchen, living room, family room, dining room and yes, sometimes the bathroom. As such, the bedroom is hardly a good laboratory for evaluating the compatibility of one’s relationship. In fact, I would argue that activity in the bedroom before marriage is a significant distraction. After all, the sexual intimacy that is shared- be it real or superficial –can be mistaken for the kind of intimacy needed for a permanent commitment in marriage. And when red flags go up, this part of the relationship can blind a person’s objectivity. Indeed, they may not see each other as they really are because of their attachment to that one aspect of the relationship.

Consider this passage from St. Paul’s letter to St. Timothy. In it he refers to men who sexually exploit women. And from all that I have learned from couples who cohabitate, women are the least happy with this arrangement because it lacks the commitment which would normally make her feel secure in her partner's love. This is what the Apostle wrote:

“For some of these slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3: 6-7)

"Always trying to learn but never able to reach the knowledge of the truth." I find this passage very interesting because it speaks to inability of people nowdays to see problem spots in relationships before the big wedding day. I also find it interesting because with the increase of cohabitation comes with it a decrease in understanding...understanding of what real love is.

Never have I heard a couple who was truly in love and compatible with one another come to find out that the sex was not good. So many people have it backwards. A good sex life, by itself, never produces a good and enduring relationship. But a good and loving relationship, based on shared values and commitments, always leads to a good sex life.

The thing to remember is that bed partners are dispensable. But personalities are not. No one can replace a man or a woman who loves certain people and certain things; who possesses certain virtues and certain vices; who has certain habits; who has certain expectations; who comes from a certain family; and who has a certain love God. These features of one's personality makes that special person wholly unique. In discerning a prospective husband or wife, therefore, the real determination should be on the basis of personality not sexual performance.

The Most Important Thing:

Christ thought that romantic and sexual love was so important that He elevated its status from a mere institution to a Sacrament. From the sacramental grace of matrimony comes the strength that is needed to fulfill the dream and aspiration of that “forever kind of love” couples experience. It is in the act of “falling in love” that the couples comes in contact with the eternal love that the Lord has to offer. That is why married love requires three: God, man and woman. And out of this holy union comes forth the miracle of new life.

Therefore, the relationship between a man and a woman is not a trivial thing. It can make or break a person’s life, it determines the welfare of society and it impacts the salvation of souls. This is why when a man and a woman who set out to make a life with each other benefits immensely from a wedding ceremony. Vows before God and the community elicit the support that is needed to ensure a lifelong marriage. Indeed, the Church takes them at their word and blesses their moral determination to love one another forever.

This leads to the most important thing: Cohabitation, because it involves sexual activity outside of wedlock, is a sin against God. It offends him and his goodness. Unfortunately, many dioceses and parishes throughout America routinely fall short in teaching this truth. Often, they do not require the repentance and the practice of virtue which are necessary for the subsequent demands of marriage. Nevertheless, Catholics cannot be afraid to mention the word “sin.” To know its reality is to be one step closer to being liberated from it. Without its mention, Jesus Christ as Savior becomes totally unintelligible. But not only is it a sin to live together, it is a mortal sin; one that compromises the salvation of one’s soul. St. Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth of this sobering reality:

“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

This needs to be mentioned. Couples need to know about this sin because they need God’s blessing. It is precisely because living together before marriage is a sin before God that it breaks up the holiest of unions.
*For the Church’s role in marriage and cohabitation trends, please read the post below.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The First Forty Days of Easter

Our Lord’s public ministry was preceded by a forty day period of testing and self-denial. This, as we know, is celebrated annually by the Church with the season of Lent. St. Augustine teaches us that the number forty, in connection with fasting, signifies the whole period of this present life. During these forty days our Lord overcame the temptations of the Devil in the desolate and austere conditions of the wilderness. He experienced firsthand the pangs of hunger and human weakness. But it was through that weakness that he prevailed over evil and infidelity. St. Paul experienced the power of God in the Cross in much of the same way. It was precisely in what the world calls “failure” and “defeat” that the Lord worked his wonders through the Apostle. This is why St. Paul could say: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:10)

The forty days in desert by our Lord and the Church’s Lenten journey with him calls to mind that our life here on earth is not our abiding home. Our home is elsewhere. Pope Leo XIII made this very point just when Western Civilization was on the cusp of technological progress and prosperity. This, he anticipated, would give humanity a false sense of independence from God; a kind of false sense of security. In fact, he cautioned against those who would promise paradise on earth. He said,

“To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently - who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment - they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present. Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere, as We have said, for the solace to its troubles.”

Christ told his Apostles that our treasure is where our heart is. And if our heart is with Christ in heaven, it is there where the solace of our troubles is to be found. As if to drive this point home, our Lord added forty day period in which we, his followers, are to commemorate. After his resurrection, he spent forty days with his friends. He walked among them and ate with them. He gave them the power to carry out all that he commanded of them.

In contrast to the forty days that preceded his public ministry, the Risen Lord, in his glorified existence, was not subject to pain and deprivation. His human soul and his human body were no longer subject to the elements of the universe. Prior to his resurrection his body and soul were made vulnerable to the forces of nature and the cruelty of men. But in the days following his resurrection, his glorified body transcended these things. For instance, he was able to appear in many places in a short period of time; he was able to walk through walls; and he was able to disappear from sight of others at a moment’s notice. These forty days in which our Lord fellowshipped with his closest relatives and friends is every bit as important as his forty days in the desert. In some respects, it is a snapshot of heaven.

To be sure, the joys of the Risen Lord during these forty days- that is, the first Easter Season –is that which he intends to share with his friends in heaven. It is a preview. And as indicated, it was during that time that he celebrated the Eucharist with his disciples in Emmaus, when he communicated his Spirit to the Apostles by breathing on them, when invited St. Thomas to touch his wounds and when he ate breakfast (i.e. fish at the fire) with them. These were the joys that followed his Passion and Death on the Cross. According to his critics, the story was supposed to end with Good Friday. But in reality, the Easter Season marked the beginning of our Lord’s triumph over death.

In a world that is becoming more burdened with sorrows, it is important that we, his followers, show signs of that Easter joy. The early Church had a way of celebrating the Easter Season in a peculiar way. At the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea, the bishops gathered there gave the directive that Christians were not to kneel during the Easter-Pentecost Season. In Canon XX, it reads: “Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this holy synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one's prayers to the Lord standing.”

The posture of standing up at Mass was symbolize the Risen Lord and the victory he had over death. For this reason, kneeling was forbidden during the Easter Season. Around the year 200 A.D., Tertullian, a Father of the Church, went so far as to suggest that penitential practices were inappropriate during the Easter Season. He said, "We consider it unlawful, to fast, or to pray kneeling, upon the Lord's day; we enjoy the same liberty from Easter-day to that of Pentecost."

As it should, the season of Lent ceremoniously draws our attention to our mortality, contrition and penance. But what about the season of Easter? How do we summon before us the reality of heaven?

The early Christians were a people of hope just when the Roman Empire was falling apart. They looked forward to the coming of the kingdom while pagans were looking backwards. Unable to see that the mustard seed Christ planted in Jerusalem was one of promise, the pagans thought their best days had passed. Indeed, their minds took them back to the glory days of Rome. Little did they know that the once persecuted society of believers, namely, the Catholic Church, held the keys to the future. Why? Because they seized the Easter Season and put into effect spiritual exercises that called to mind the kingdom of heaven. And by seeking first the kingdom of heaven as our Lord instructed, the early Christians were in a position to raise from the ruins of the Roman Empire a new and better civilization. Happier days were yet to come.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Working parents: Some unintended consequences

The following post is written for those working parents who have the option of having one parent stay home with their children.  There are, however, countless parents who do not enjoy this luxury. Due to financial necessity, there are many households where both parents need to work in order to pay the bills. Yet, there is a real temptation nowadays to define luxuries as “needs” in order to justify two incomes. Whether or not married couples have to finance real or perceived needs, there are unintended consequences of having both parents work full time. Theses consequences, unfortunately, escape most people because they unfold years later.

First, let’s take a look at a trend among today’s parents: In March of 2013 Kim Parker and Wendy from Pew Research wrote an article titled, “Modern Parenthood.” It was based on a study of working parents which shows that there is a trend which favors the office over being at home with the kids. For instance, Pew Research found that in just five years mothers who wanted to work full time have increased by 17 percent. “Among mothers with children under age 18, the share saying they would prefer to work full time has increased from 20% in 2007 to 32% in 2012.”

Even among fathers, the ideal of having a parent stay at home with the children is on the wane. “In 2009,” for instance, “54% of fathers with children under age 17 said the ideal situation for young children was to have a mother who did not work at all outside the home; today only 37% of fathers say that—a drop of 17 percentage points.”

Although the preference for a mother to stay home with the children is on the decline among both mothers and fathers, the difficulty of having both parents work is inescapable. Again, Pew Research found that “56% of mothers and 50% of fathers say juggling work and family life is difficult for them.” This reminded me of Dr. John Gray, author of book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. He once cited a study that shows that working-married women, more than ever before, are unhappy. Indeed, when the demands of the children greet them upon returning home from a long day at work, their stress is only intensified. This affects the working mother in a peculiar way because, according to Dr. Gray, they are more wired to fulfill the needs of the family. Fathers, on the other hand, are more inclined to fulfill his own needs before they get around to meeting their children’s needs. In other words, a man’s self-preservation skills are better because he is less empathetic to the needs of others.

Be that as it may, what escapes most working parents- especially those who have little time for their children –are the unintended consequences which unfold years after the childhood years. Invariably, when children are young, there needs are many. With this, the sacrifices required of parents are many. This is why the assertion can be made that being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) is the hardest job in the world. Unlike the office, a house of children is an uncontrolled environment.  

All of this is to say that the temperament, the behaviors and the needs of children are much more unpredictable than what we find in a work environment. In many cases, there is a predictable routine at work. Employees are incentivized to listen and cooperate with their supervisors. If they do not, they compromise their employment status. But stay-at-home moms enjoy no such perks. What is more, raising children full time is a thankless job. There are no promotions, no raises and no paid-leave. And to add insult to injury, the reward and the fruits of investing time with their children are not immediately felt. That comes much later. But the fall out of absentee parenting comes much later too. And for this reason, the dots between childhood upbringing and their behavior in the adulthood years are rarely connected.

In a 2006 study in Great Britain, the average time working parents spent with their children was 19 minutes. When a child grows up without seeing their parents throughout most of the day, they get accustomed to it. Sure, they’ll cry in those earlier years when mommy or daddy drives away from the daycare center. But eventually, they learn to cope with their parent’s absence. Soon enough, not being around mommy and daddy feels normal. And what feels normal as a child continues to feel normal when they reach adulthood.

However, as children get older and become less of a sacrifice, it often happens that parents want to spend more time around them. The parent-child relationship in the later years is, after all, more rewarding, more reciprocal and less demanding. And what is more, parents in their older age begin to see that those to whom they can rely on the most for help are their children; their own flesh and blood. It gradually dawns on them a closer relationship with their children is not just desirable, but it is a matter of necessity. But sadly, their children- now adults -are still used to what is normal. They have been trained to adapt to a life that did not involve a lot of time with their parents. Hence, just as their parents are reaching out to them more and more- in an attempt to make up for lost time -they find it exceedingly difficult to reciprocate. Too often, I am afraid, they don’t.

I used to work part time for a senior care service. What I found was that many senior citizens (either in nursing homes or living in their own homes) did not have a lot family members visiting them. And in many cases, the elderly were placed in nursing homes because their children were just too busy to take care of them. I often wondered if the generation of parents who put their children in daycare out of convenience were now being put in nursing homes for the same reason. What goes around, comes around.

Allow me to conclude on a personal note: My wife was given the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom for several years before our family needed her to work. When that time came there were a few years when we had to rely on daycare services for two of our children. It was a less-than-ideal situation. But the circumstances warranted a second income. We needed the money to keep our older kids in Catholic schools; which was a top priority for us. Still, even given the situation we were in, we knew that having one of us stay at home during the day with our kids was the ideal. However, we did our best to better the situation and accepted the results as God’s will. When the ideal could not be realized due to circumstances beyond our control, we learned that Divine Providence made up for what was lacking. Indeed, when plan A was out of reach, we believed that the Lord could do his work through plan B.

Unfortunately, parents are losing sight of the ideal. They are opting for plan B over plan A. But for those increasing number of parents who prefer to spend more time at the office rather than at home with their children- for those parents who believe this is the ideal –they should know what they are preparing their children for. There may come a time when they, in their time of need, will much rather be cared for by their own children in the warmth of a home than by paid staff at some nursing home. To be sure, nursing homes serve a noble purpose. Quite often, they do good work. But rarely do senior citizens want to live there as their first choice; especially when their children have the capability to care for them.

In any event, it must always be borne in mind that the apple never falls far from the tree.  For some in their old age, this is a consolation. Yet, for others, it is a cause for concern.

The 1974 song by Harry Chapman could not have driven this point home any better. It was a song ahead of its time. Please take time to read it. It may spare many of us from future heartache:  Cat's in the Cradle lyrics

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Marriage Conversation: Getting that and other things right

Below, are sobering statistics from Dr. William May’s book, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. When the younger generations come of age, the tsunami of support for the legalization of same-sex unions will be significant. Take a look: 
  • “The percentage of high school seniors who aspire to marriage has remained unchanged over the years, but the number achieving their dreams has dropped precipitously.” 
  • “In just 30 years the marriage rate per 1000 unmarried women declined more than 43 percent. Births to unmarried mothers are now over 41 percent.” 
  • “Research shows that 46 percent of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds now believe that the ‘growing variety in types of family arrangements’ is a good thing.”
  • “56 percent of high school seniors believe it is OK to have children and not be married. An increasing number of eighteen-to twenty-nine-year-olds think that marriage is obsolete (44 percent).”
Most of the book is geared for public policy and the debates surrounding the redefinition of marriage. The argument Dr. May advances centers on the premise that marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. Since no other institution fulfills this objective, proponents for the sanctity of marriage cannot afford to omit this critical dimension. Indeed, the public policy debate comes down to two conflicting understandings of marriage (taken almost verbatim from the book):

1. Marriage is the public recognition of a committed relationship between a man and a woman (or two adults) for their fulfillment.
  • Increasingly, people have come to think of marriage as a means of pursuing individual happiness.
  • But when society severs marriage from the right of children to have a mother and a father, this sacred institution can easily be reduced to a mere instrument of self-fulfillment
  • Marriage is much greater than the sum of its parts
2. Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.
  • Marriage is much more than an institution for adult fulfillment…Marriage between a man and a woman is still the only institution that unites kids with their mom and dad. This expresses the fullness of what marriage is.
  • Marriage thus defined, a man and a woman are not only irreplaceable to each other; but as a father and a mother, they are irreplaceable for their children.
  • On the other hand, if same-sex unions were to be legally recognized, fathers or mothers would be replaceable. Having two of the same-sex parents for any child would necessarily involve the negation of the other.

Dr. May’s points are very helpful in framing the policy debate along more solid grounds. He is of the opinion that educating the youth will help reverse their widespread support for alternative lifestyles and unions. For instance, he said, “Reversing this trend requires the education of young people on the reality of marriage….”

As with many Catholic scholars and evangelists, he suggests that education is the key in restoring the acceptance of the Christian definition of marriage. In part, I agree with him. However, I am of the belief that ideas alone will not suffice. And because ideas alone will not suffice, education as the instrument of communicating ideas cannot compete against the strong social and political momentum in favoring the redefinition of marriage.

We have to consider how the Church Fathers, the monastics and early Christians overcame a similar tsunami. From the ruins of a decadent Greco-Roman civilization and a fallen Roman Empire, they brought forth a Christian civilization. And that civilization was built upon a solid moral foundation. If truth be told, their challenges in restoring society were more formidable than ours. Like them, we have to draw from Christ’s reserve of supernatural strength and add spiritual sacrifices to education. Ideas and eloquent arguments were not enough then and they are not enough now!

In 1832, a holy priest, Blessed Antonio Rosmini, tried to convince his contemporaries that many Catholic institutions in his day were relying too much on intellectual formation and not enough on spiritual formation. Using the early Church as a model, he said, “That which the Apostles added to their preaching was the Catholic worship, which chiefly consists in sacrifice, sacraments, and the prayers thereto pertaining…The doctrines which they spread abroad by preaching were not so many abstract assertions; but the practical force, the force of action, arose from that worship, whereby man could attain the grace of the Almighty.”

About one hundred years later, Our Lord told St. Faustina essentially the same thing. He said, “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.” But by the early twentieth century it was beginning to be a long forgotten truth.

Therefore, as we press forward with developing ways to communicate the sanctity of marriage, let’s be mindful of what restored it during the early years of the Church. As Pope Leo XIII said, “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang; for the purpose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it is formed, and its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The maturity of spiritual childhood

Revised and reposted:

 “One need not practice evangelical poverty to be saved, but one must deny oneself. It is a law of the spirit that cannot be evaded,” said Fr. Edward Leen. Oddly enough, the Irish priest who authored the book, The True Vine and its Branches (1938), goes on to say that the chief characteristic of childhood is one of self-denial. This is precisely what our Lord calls every adult to: a childlike trust in God.

It is a peculiar assertion to say that self-denial is the mark of childhood. After all, is it not true that a toddler pronounces the word “mine” before he does “mommy?” Children are not known for voluntary sharing their toys. In fact, parents are constantly bidding them to be more generous as they play with their siblings and friends. These objections, no doubt, are true.

However, what Fr. Leen is calling to mind is something more fundamental. The predominant disposition of a child is marked by a trust and dependence on his parents. Because of this, Fr. Leen argued that a child’s trust is far more endearing than the polite considerations of adults. He said,

“Confidingness is the permanent quality of the child spirit. The little one does not fret against, or resent, its dependence…It depends on them [the parents] as naturally as it breathes. There is in the child a complete absence of self-consciousness or reflecting back on itself…Its life is grappled to a life outside its own.”

Due to this self-abandon disposition, the child discovers a happiness that is seldom retained throughout in his adulthood years. Sooner or later the admission that we need God and others for one's happiness is falsely perceived to be a sign of weakness- a kind of a crutch. --------Fr. Leen goes on to say that a child’s happiness derives from the ability to lose himself in a world outside of himself. He continues:

“This transition of the center of gravity of its existence outside of itself is the source of utter confidence and fearlessness…It is in striking contrast to the subjectivity and self-preoccupation that marks the adult. That life is not calculating.”

What is even more charming is that “the choice of the persons to whom they readily give themselves is not determined by riches or by beauty, but by affection.” To be sure, children are not interested in status of the people they love; at least at a very young age. They accept others as they are, especially their parents.

This childhood simplicity and dependence was a quality that our Lord fostered in the hearts of the Apostles. Nevertheless, their adulthood tendencies asserted themselves from time to time. Quite often, they esteemed greatness as the world viewed greatness. When their worldly ambitions were frustrated, it was not uncommon for them to murmur. That’s right. Prior to the decent of the Holy Spirit, being small in the eyes of others was not a top priority for the Apostles.

Fr. Edward Leen reminds us that, “Men are always more alive to the disadvantages from which they suffer than they are to the advantages which they enjoy.” One such disadvantage they abhorred was not “being someone of distinction.” They wanted recognition. They coveted human respect. But it must be borne in mind that our Lord has a way of answering our prayers in unexpected ways. If it is distinction they wanted, it was distinction they received. As Fr. Leen said, “The apostles looked for distinction in Christ’s Kingdom. That distinction would not be denied to them, but the way to it was not self-advertisement, but self-effacement.”

It is a great irony in God’s plan that in order to become great in God’s eyes the disciple must first become small in his own eyes. As St. John the Baptist said, "He must increase while I must decrease."

As each soul is spiritually formed, fallen human nature will rebel against its dependence on God. This is precisely why meditating on the Cross and even death itself are so very important for our salvation. They remind us how limited we are as God’s creatures. The priest goes on to say add this:

“Man, proud of the freedom of his will, is ever tempted to revolt against the natural limitations that are inherent in created freedom…Christ’s teaching strikes at the root of this disorderly tendency in rational creatures. He warns men that their entry in the kingdom of God- their return to the paradise from which they had been expelled -can be effected only through abandoning this independent attitude of the soul. He tells them that they must shed the ‘grown up’ or ‘adult’ attitude in their dealings with God and become as little children with their Heavenly Father.”

“In his riches, man lacks wisdom.” (Psalm 49) Hence, voluntary acts of self-denial keep the wisdom of spiritual childhood alive. This spiritual practice is a palpable reminder that our human lot in life is one of dependence. And if the Christian is ambitious, the author of The True Vine and its Branches maintained that he should not settle for half-measures:

“To vanquish this enemy, the devoted disciples of Christ do not content themselves with refusing him his lawful demands, they push their resistance further. They assume the offensive. They deprive him even of what it would be permissible to grant…Hence, it is that self-denial as a habitual disposition of the soul which is akin to the disposition of spiritual childhood.”

And what if we should fall and give in to sin or the illusion of independence? Answer: we should never lose hope. Fr. Leen continues:

“So superabundant is the grace of Christ that the Christian can fall many times and rise again many times…The Christian can rise from the death of sin, not once, but an incalculable number of times. There is in him a source of vitality, in virtue of which, it is in his power to enjoy innumerable resurrections.”

Indeed, conversion is a series of beginnings. The Saint is always starting over but is never disheartened. He or she knows that spiritual progress is principally a work of the Holy Spirit. And that progress necessarily involves recognizing and embracing the wisdom of spiritual childhood. It is ironic but true that through spiritual childhood a Christ reaches his full maturity in the soul.

Walk to Mary: Part three

The following post is part of a nine-part series of emails being sent out to those who wish to make a 21 mile pilgrimage from the St. Joseph Shrine in De Pere Wisconsin to the Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. It is wonderful opportunity to pray for conversions and for America. 

Click here for details: Walk to Mary

Part three:

The Blessed Virgin Mary asked Adele to do something that most of us Catholics feel uncomfortable with; and that is going out into streets and announcing the Gospel. Our Lady instructed Adele to: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” And that is exactly what she did. In fact, when she visited families, she offered to clean their houses in exchange for the opportunity to teach the children the Catholic Faith.

The early Christians and the Fathers of the Church understood that evangelization, by itself, was often not enough to attract souls to Christ. Indeed, the proclamation of God’s Word was coupled with either corporeal works of mercy or some service that was needed other than preaching or teaching. Pagans were willing to listen to anyone who fed them or provided some service for them out.

Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, noted how the early Christians did not rely on preaching or instruction alone in order to be heard. He said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

The “Old Evangelization,” if you will, not only served the body in order to reach the soul, but it inspired a missionary spirit. Like the early Christians, Adele did not wait for the people to come to her; instead, she went looking for the people. What a daunting task! But remember last words Our Lady spoke to Adele: “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.” Indeed, we are not alone.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why evil has its hour

Excerpts from Holy Abandonment
By: Fr. Ailbe J. Luddy

The malice of men and the holiness of God are combined in a strange collaboration. The Infinitely Holy cannot cease to hate evil. He tolerates it, nevertheless, in order not to deprive man of the use of his liberty. But his justice will claim its imprescriptible rights and hold all to a strict account at the proper moment: nations and families always in this world, because for them there is no eternity; but individual men either here or hereafter.

In the meantime God wills, for the attainment of His purpose, to make use of the malice and the sins of men, as with their virtues and good works. So the very disorders produced by human agents contribute to the order which Providence has designed.

On the side of men there may be much that is blameworthy. God will be their judge. But on the side of Providence everything is just, everything is wise, everything right and good, everything directed to a laudable end, everything brought to a final result which is always absolutely and infinitely amiable. Nero was a monster, still he made martyrs...The crusades seemed a failure because they did not result in the rescue of Jerusalem, but they were the means of saving Europe. The French Revolution turned everything upside down, but it forced society in self-defense to a renewal of life and vigor.

In the persecution of the present time it is evident that Satan has been unchained and that he has received permission to sift the just. “For what what purpose does this triumph of the impious serve? For what purpose does this apparent defeat of the Church serve? For what purpose does this perversion of the masses serve? For what purpose do these governments that ruin the peoples serve? For what purpose does this cowardice, this lukewarmness of persons who are considered religious serve? For what purpose, in a word, does this dominion of evil over good serve?

For what purpose does this evil serve? It is because God respects that liberty of ours which is the condition for merit and demerit. He gives men their way. But when He judges the time opportune to confound sinners, to awaken the slumberers, to stir up the tepid, and to defend the just, He will bring a universal war upon the guilty world. The scourge appears: there is an impressive silence; the clamor of politics is hushed; faith revives; the churches are filled as before. God had been forgotten. People remember now that He is the Master of all events…

The scourges of God come as trials to some, as chastisements to others; but they bring the grace of spiritual revival to every soul of good will. Happy he who can comprehend them and put them to profit!

His anger has its source in mercy!

Walk to Mary: Part two

The following post is part of a nine-part series of emails being sent out to those who wish to make a 21 mile pilgrimage from the St. Joseph Shrine in De Pere Wisconsin to the Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. It is wonderful opportunity to pray for conversions and for America. 

Click here for details: Walk to Mary

2. In 1859, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Adele in North East Wisconsin, times were tough. It wasn’t uncommon for pioneers to die from starvation and from the harsh, cold Wisconsin winters. One could say, without the least bit of exaggeration, that the basic necessities of life were hard to come by. Although heaven is not indifferent to the bodily and material needs of mortals, the help that Our Lady came to provide did not have anything to do with food or clothing. The message she came to deliver to the young immigrant from Belgium was short and to the point: there was work to be done. There were settlers who were in need of conversion.

Nevertheless, history proves that people are most open to the truths of the Gospel in times of crisis; especially when their physical well-being is in question. In fact, twelve years after the apparition in October of 1871, the greatest natural disaster in North American history was to threaten Adele and the Catholic community in Robinsonville, Wisconsin. The disaster was none other than the Peshtigo Fire. In fact, it raged across a 2,400 square mile area and killed anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 people. According to The Compass News, Fr. Pernin, an eye witness to the fire, wrote about what he saw in his memoir. “The Finger of God Was There,” he said. “I chanced to look either to the right or left, before me or upwards, I saw nothing but flames ... I saw nothing but immense volumes of flames covering the firmament, rolling one over the other with stormy violence ...”(February 17, 2011) But some Catholics had gathered where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in October of 1859. Through a rosary procession around the Chapel, they implored her for help.

To make a long story short, help came. The chapel, the convent, the school, the five acres of land and all who gathered there were miraculously spared from the “stormy violence.” But the good help came- the really good help came –twelve years earlier when Our Lady instructed Adele to save souls from a far worse fate, namely, spiritual death. She said, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

Walk to Mary: Part one

The following post is part of a nine-part series of emails being sent out to those who wish to make a 21 mile pilgrimage on May 4th from the St. Joseph Shrine in De Pere Wisconsin to the Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. It is wonderful opportunity to pray for conversions and America. 

Click here for details: Walk to Mary

Part I:

1. Not just a lady and not just a mother, but a queen! Wisconsin has bragging rights it has never capitalized on before. A real queen came to visit a young Wisconsin girl named Adele Brice in October of 1859. Indeed, it was the Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, who appeared to her. But she referred to herself- not the queen of any particular nation –but the “Queen of Heaven.” And if she is queen of heaven, she has to be the queen of all of those who reside on the earth as well. We ask her to accompany us and guide as we draw close to Christ.

For this reason, she has been given the name of “Our Lady of Good Help.” Seeing that her children were malnourished in the Faith in 1859, she sought out Adele and instructed her to do the following: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation…” This is Catholic education at its finest. But more is needed. This is why the Blessed Virgin added, “Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners.” So that the teachings of her Son would take root in souls, she asked Adele to act as an intercessor. To be sure, Our Lady of Good Help not only made Adele into a teacher but she also made her into a living conduit of God’s grace for others. Like Adele, we are not just called to be a beacon of Christ’s light, but also a vessel of his very life.

The walk to Mary on May 4this a summons to become a better instrument of Christ’s light and life for a world that so desperately needs it.

When the Heart Prevails Against Logic

Excerpts from the book, “Spirituality of the Old Testament,” by Paul Marie de la Croix.

“It would seem that the essential element of great purifications is the night; that is, a spiritual date explicitly willed by God which souls cease to understand the reason for the trials that afflict them and believe they are separated from him forever. Previously they had been following a path which seemed to lead to a goal, so that every step, however painful, was an advance. But now the road seems to have no outlet.

Previously such souls, even in their worst trials, never doubted God’s mercy or His purifying treatment. But henceforth divine conduct is utterly incomprehensible, even extremely arbitrary and unjust. Everything bewilders them, causing uneasiness, anguish, obscurity. They more they seek God, the more deeply hidden he remains; the more they desire him, the more he rejects them. There is complete opposition and discrepancy between God’s word and external events, between God’s promises and the state of desolation in which souls are left.

Sometimes they encounter a failure which he permits even though he has first assured victory; sometimes, for no apparent reason, they experience a reversal of God’s relationship to them. They seem to be permanently abandoned or even rejected, though divine favor and friendship had been theirs before. They have not been guilty of the slightest infidelity, but they must become fit for the final mystery of faith. To reach this state and to gather its fruits, they must give up all human modes of action. Only in the dark night can they receive the revelation of what they could not and would not attain by their own minds.

God wishes to be possessed for his own sake, independent of all justice, all right, all reason. He brings souls to bay as they face scandal and injustice. He seems to act in a capricious, arbitrary way, following only his own good pleasure. Thus does he invite souls to enter the depths of spiritual love. For in his wisdom, he spurns all systems and he achieves his triumph by ways that to us seem utterly disconcerting. 'He writes with crooked lines.' He arouses such generosity and faith that souls must surrender their last self-defenses, and in spite of all struggle, the heart prevails against logic. He obliges them to attain absolute selflessness, to care for nothing but God’s good pleasure, however incomprehensible it may be.”

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Naked Communist

The Naked Communist is a book that wasw written in 1958 by conservative United States author and faith-based political theorist Cleon Skousen [also a former FBI agent].

The list of communist goals contained in the book was read into the Congressional Record by U.S. Congressman Albert S. Herlong, Jr. of Florida, on January 10, 1963. [Source: Wikipedia] I am posting an excerpt of this list of goals not for conspiratorial purposes. That is not my interest here. But rather, Mr. Skousen points to several things Bishop Sheen, Pope Pius XI and Pope Leo XIII warned us about several decades ago. It just so happens that some goals have been realized and others are being realized today. In 1958, when the book was written, Catholics and Americans were very much alive to these dangers. Today, however, apathy is getting the upper hand.

The following is an excerpt of the list of Communist goals contained in The Naked Communist (Note: different order in the original edition of the book.).

Family, Religion and Schools:

• Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity, masturbation and easy divorce.

• Emphasize the need to raise children away from the negative influence of parents. Attribute prejudices, mental blocks and retarding of children to suppressive influence of parents.

• Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as "normal, natural, healthy."

• Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with "social" religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity which does not need a "religious crutch."

• Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of "separation of church and state."

• Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers' associations. Put the party line in textbooks.

Media and Standards of Morality:

• Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.

• Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them "censorship" and a violation of free speech and free press.

• Support any socialist movement to give centralized control over any part of the culture—education, social agencies, welfare programs, mental health clinics, etc Gain control of all student newspapers.

• Infiltrate the press. Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, policymaking positions.

• Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.

Politics and U.S. History:

• Discredit the American Constitution by calling it inadequate, old-fashioned, out of step with modern needs, a hindrance to cooperation between nations on a worldwide basis.

• Discredit the American Founding Fathers. Present them as selfish aristocrats who had no concern for the "common man."

• Belittle all forms of American culture and discourage the teaching of American history on the ground that it was only a minor part of the "big picture."

Businesses and Law Enforcement:

• Infiltrate and gain control of more unions.

• Infiltrate and gain control of big business.

• Transfer some of the powers of arrest from the police to social agencies. Treat all behavioral problems as psychiatric disorders which no one but psychiatrists can understand or treat.

• Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition; that students and special-interest groups should rise up and use "united force" to solve economic, political or social problems.

• Overthrow all colonial governments before native populations are ready for self-government.

• Provide American aid to all nations regardless of Communist domination.

• Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind. If its charter is rewritten, demand that it be set up as a one-world government with its own independent armed forces.

• Do away with all loyalty oaths.


“America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”

-Joseph Stalin

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Fulture of Freedom

Keeping the message alive!

Reposting excerpts from:
The Future of Freedom, 1938
By Douglas Jerrold


Douglas Jerrold was a Catholic-political author from England. He maintained that liberty is a stern discipline. As such, when liberty turns to license- when there is no check to our quests for pleasure -it is then that the political power will be is poised to expand indefinitely while true liberty diminishes. He warned long before the Sexual Revolution that preaching unbridled promiscuity is quite effective in ushering in a totalitarian state. After all, who else but a State vested with power can clean up the social debris?

Excerpt: Future of Freedom

The first point, therefore, for Christians to remember about politics is that the Christian civilization, now openly challenged all over the world, is founded on two revolutionary assertions, which have had as their secular consequence a unique series of political experiments. Our civilization is rooted in the teachings of Christ and thus, for practicing Christians, it enjoys peculiar authority, but even if it were not so, we should still be wise to spend a little time in thinking about those characteristics which distinguish the Christian civilization from all other civilizations, in asking ourselves whether we should be doing wisely to change it so as to deprive it of these characteristics. It has changed the face of the world. It is responsible for material progress on a scale unknown to any previous civilization. It has created possibilities of happiness unknown to any previous civilization.

The bases of Christian civilization are the freedom of man within a closed moral order, and the autonomy of secular power, subject to the prior rights of the family. This balance of institutions derives neither from human wisdom nor from the mysteries of religious contemplation, but from specific dogmas of Christianity. The primacy of the spiritual in the world order derives from the teaching that all men are equal before God. Man’s claim to freedom rests, not on his intelligence, as fools believe, nor his claims on the good nature of those more intelligent than himself, as knaves pretend, but on his first duty to serve God with his heart, mind and soul. The doctrine that the rights of the family are absolute as against the rights of the State derives from the second commandment of the Christian dispensation, which imposes on man, as the price of salvation, the fulfillment of social obligations. These obligations cannot be freely fulfilled in a society which places the State above the family, and so removes from man his direct and personal responsibility for the preseveration and well-being, from generation to generation, of the society to which he belongs...

Even if mankind had no soul to save, it would still be true that the Christian civilization had saved his body. The Christian society is not merely a free society, it is the only free society which has ever endured. It is not a coincidence but a consequence that, wherever the basic Christian institutions have been destroyed, so the powers and responsibilities of governments, even in Christian countries, have had to be increased until today the tasks of government, and the funds required to discharge them, are alike so great as to tax their utmost limits the resources of the richest peoples in the world. The end of this process is seen in the final necessity imposed upon Governments which have destroyed all the institutions of a free society, to appropriate all the resources of their country to maintain their organization, and destroy all the rights of personality in order to maintain their authority…

Christian civilization is based on freedom and responsibilities, and having been so based for thousand years, there is, in every heir to that civilization, the urge to express himself in freedom of action. A man free to know, love and serve God; a man taught that he has an immortal soul and is only a little lower than the angels; that it is God’s will that, when he has worked out his salvation, he shall be crowned with honor and glory, such a man will not be content with a political regime which does not allow him say “Bo” to a goose, or even to a Commissar. If we go too far along the road to slavery, one of two things must happen. Either man’s political master must seek to cure him of the belief in his divine destiny, and to reduce him spiritually as well as politically to the animal level, or man will demand from his political mentors a field for the free expression of his personality in action.

The attack on the Church and the free family, on the Church sovereign in its own sphere and the family with rights antecedent to those of the State, is necessary to the positive state, because it is built on the denial of those rights of the human personality which the Christian state holds sacred…

I only wish in this chapter to emphasize that our historic Christian civilization is different in kind, by reason of its obedience to certain commands of Christ, from all the civilizations which have preceded it, and that the challenge of the new, twentieth-century conception of the State must be resisted if this civilization is to be preserved.

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to catch red flags before its too late (part two)

1. Dysfunctional Families:

Coming from a dysfunctional background or suffering from a strained relationship with one or both parents will definitely have its effect in a future marriage. I used to work at a Catholic orphanage which took in children that were physically and sexually abused. Having seen the effects, I can tell you that physical abuse is bad enough; but sexual abuse cuts to the soul and turns it inside out. If sex was just another recreational activity, as secular-liberalism maintains, then the misuse or exploitation of it should not cause the trauma and damage that it does. Many who have yet to marry may have had some experience with sexual abuse. Or perhaps they were deprived of a healthy relationship with a parent. But few appreciate the impact it will have on their future marriage.

God gives us two chances, so to speak: The family we are born into and the one we make for ourselves once when we come of age. As for the former, we have no choice in the matter; the family is just given to us by virtue of our birth. But when it comes to choosing a spouse and making a family, we have the choice to repeat what was given to us in our childhood or we can pursue a better path. As Dr. Scott Hahn said, if you come from a dysfunctional background and you want to continue the dysfunction, all you have to do is…well…nothing! Just go with the flow.

This leads me to point I wish to make: If you come from such a background, I would highly recommend you pray and search for a spiritual director: one who is solid in his or her Catholic faith. This, of course, is in addition to whatever counseling or psychiatric help that may be needed. Ideally, the spiritual director should be a priest or a consecrated in the religious life. The advantage of having a priest as a director is that you can go to him for confession on a regular basis. A lot of the healing that needs to take place is not only psychological or emotional in nature, but spiritual as well. Exposing your wounds and scars through talking things out is a must!! Usually people choose to do this with a counselor; and, to be sure, that may be required. But if counseling is not grounded in solid moral and spiritual principles it will undoubtedly overlook critical aspects which need attention. As such, the root cause of the problem will persist.

For instance, one important contribution Catholic spirituality makes towards the healing of wounds is the insistence that forgiveness is absolutely necessary. Indeed, forgiving the offender is the first step in the healing process. On the other hand, harboring a grudge or hatred towards a family member will adversely affect your relationship with God and with your future spouse.

Another contribution towards healing and making oneself a better candidate for marriage is the knowledge that other person’s (the abuser or perpetrator) sins or misconduct towards you does not define you. Mistreatment, neglect or abuse should not be allowed to define you. To grasp this truth through spiritual direction can make all the difference in the world. It can be refreshingly liberating!

To heal is to make important distinctions. Catholic theology is full of distinctions. However, many fail to make the distinction between the mistreatment they endured growing up and their own dignity as a son or daughter of God. It is quite common to assimilate the mistreatment, the lack of love or the abuse and hence make it apart of their own identity. But through good spiritual direction and an active prayer life, Jesus can salvage what was lost through the sins of others. And through the meditation of the mysteries of Christ- principally that of his suffering and death -a person can discover meaning in his or her own suffering. This is important because for those coming from an abusive or dysfunctional background, it is natural to have felt abandoned by God.

Through spiritual direction, spiritual reading and a Christian social life, a wounded person can begin to see that even most painful memories can be an instrument of resurrection and renewal in God’s hands. To be sure, God does not arbitrarily permit evil and misfortune. In his wise and loving providence, the Lord foresees that some greater good will come from our suffering. But in order for us to benefit from that greater good, we have to resist the temptation to rebel or murmur against him. Instead, like the prophet Job, we should bless the Lord and trust that he has our best interests at heart.

2. Not Knowing What a Christian Is:

Unfortunately the definition of what a Christian or follower of Christ really has not been sufficiently explained in many Catholic parishes for several decades; nor has it been enforced with the Church’s pastoral practices and disciplinary actions. With this in mind, it is understandable, but yet regrettable, that it has become difficult to find a good Catholic husband or wife. People do not even know what is truly consistent or inconsistent with an authentic Catholic identity.

Reading the Catholic catechism or sound Catholic theology books is always helpful. But even these sources can present principles of sexuality and marriage in the abstract. What you need is something concrete and practical. And as far as getting the necessary knowledge of what a Christian really is, there is no better source than the lives or writings of the Saints.

As mentioned earlier, this kind of spiritual reading will not only help us discern what a Christian thinks and how he talks and how he behaves, but in the writings of the Saints you will find virtues and attitudes that make for a good and long marriage. For instance, St. Francis of Assisi once said that being silent when criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. As difficult as it is, this virtue goes a long way in making peace in one’s marriage. And then there is St. Dorotheus. As for keeping peace in one’s heart, he had this to say:

"The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man.”

There are so many of these gems worth reading about. Truly, the Saints are the continuation of Christ’s life on earth. They shed light on those specific and practical matters in life that can make or break a marriage.

3. Virtues and Vices Exist in Families:

This third obstacle in recognizing red flags has been addressed in the previous post. In it I explained that virtues and vices do not live in isolation but rather in groups. This is to say that one red flag will usually lead to another. Worldly people compartmentalize. As such, they see the different aspects of their life in unrelated and disconnected segments. But as we draw closer to Christ, we compartmentalize less and less. We begin to see values in a larger context; as part of a vast tapestry, if you will. In writing about the soul’s conversion to Christ, Bishop Sheen wrote the following:

“Things which before seemed precious are now considered trivial, and things which before seemed inconsequential, have now become the essence of real life. Without the Divine sense of values, which conversion brings, the soul is like a department store where the wrong price tags are on everything hairpins sell for a thousand dollars, and diamond rings for a nickel. Conversion hangs the right price tags on the right things and restores a true sense of values. That is why the outlook of a convert is entirely changed on subjects such as marriage, death, education, wealth, pain and suffering...He now sees why religious education is essential– for unless the soul is saved, nothing is saved.”

Conversion not only helps us to see the hierarchy of values and truth, but it also helps us to see- as if from a bird’s eye view –the unity of values and truth. The same applies to vices and virtues. Indeed, they are so interrelated that one leads to another. This is why St. Peter encouraged his flock to build one virtue upon another. He said,

“[M]ake every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. (II Peter 1:5-9)

Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted. They not only forget what Christ did for them, they forfeit what Christ can do on their behalf. And one of the most useful gifts he bestows for those who are called to the married life, is to discern red flags in prospective spouses.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Israel's lessons and America's future (repost)

"Israel's lessons and America's future" is a repost and was renamed from "Judges, Kings and America." The Old Testament not only tells the story of God's relationship with his people, but it also lays out important historical lessons for nations, especially America.


America can learn something from the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament we see that when the Israelites drifted away from God and hence fell into idolatry, loose living was but the sad result. As such, liberty under God’s law turned into license in the absence of his law. Historian, William Durant, once said that when liberty turns to license, dictatorship is near. In fact, the last verse of the book of Judges indicates that the Hebrews grew weary of God’s law and authority. Indeed, they wanted a change. The concluding verse in the book of Judges is as follows: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.” (Judges 21:25)

After Moses had led the Israelites to the frontiers of the Promised Land, Joshua, his successor, took the reins, ushered them in and had the Twelve Tribes settle in their respective regions. For the next several years God chose to govern his people through the Twelve Judges. Their names were Othniel, Ehud, Shamger, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. It was God who chose each judge and through the anointing of the Spirit, they exercised a judicial oversight over the new nation. However, they did not enjoy the power of a king. To be sure, the power of the judges was modest and intermittent. By no means did they possess unlimited power under God. By and large, people were free to govern themselves.

Years later our Lord Jesus would remind the Jews that to sin is to be a slave of sin. And slavery to sin eventually translates into political slavery. When the first-century Jews rejected their Messiah in favor of Caesar, it was Caesar, the Roman emperor, who sent his general Titus to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. Due to their own sin, they could not discern their deliverer.

True and enduring liberty can only be had within the observance and protection of God’s law. But when sin and lawlessness increases, feelings of insecurity will increase just the same. And when people forfeit the protection of Almighty God they will soon seek the protection of an all-powerful State. After all, Scripture says that a distressed conscience magnifies misfortunes. After the twelfth Judge of Israel, the Israelites “did what they thought best.” In other words, they followed their own desires instead of God's laws. Sure enough, Israel had looked to their neighbors for inspiration. Seeing that other nations had kings, they too wanted their own king.

Enter Samuel: In the First Book of Samuel this prophet makes an appearance. Some say he was the last of the Judges but the first of a long line of prophets. In any case, he was favored by God. Through him the Lord would speak to his people. The Israelites knew this. So they approached Samuel and requested a king. When Samuel heard their request, he was upset. He knew that by them requesting a king they were, at the same time, rejecting God’s rule through the Judges. Samuel took the matter to God. In response, the Lord replied, "Grant the people's every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king. As they have treated me constantly from the day I brought them up from Egypt to this day, deserting me and worshiping strange gods, so do they treat you too.”

Samuel then gave them their wish. But they would have to pay a price by loaning their land and children to the State. He told the Israelites: The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows:

1. He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.

2. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.

3. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers.

4. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials.

5. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves.

6. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work.

7. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.

Strangely enough, when people are given a choice between liberty and security, they will choose security. This is especially the case when people feel deprived of Divine Providence through a life of sin. Israel would have to learn this lesson time and time again.

To make a long story short, they got their king. The first King of Israel was Saul. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel. But Saul proved to be a disappointment. By default, the Lord told Samuel to anoint David. He then became king and his son, Solomon succeeded him. From 1050 BC to 930 BC these three kings ruled over the kingdom of Israel. Happily, Israel was one nation during this time. But that was to change after Solomon died. Under his son, Rehoboam (grandson of King David), Israel was divided into two different kingdoms through conflict in the year 930 BC. Ten tribes formed the northern kingdom, better known as Israel. Two of the tribes established the southern kingdom, which was given the name of Judah.

The royal line of David was to be preserved in the kingdom of Judah (Just as the successors of St. Peter, the first pope, was preserved in Western Christianity after it split from Eastern Christianity. Western Christianity became known as the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Christianity became known as the Orthodox Church. Both sides can trace their lineage back to the Apostles).

Unfortunately, the northern kingdom of Israel fell into the worst kind of paganism. Israel lasted from 930 BC to 723 BC. In 723 BC it was destroyed by Assyria. Approximately 19 kings ruled and every single one of them were bad. But the kingdom of Judah was not much better. It lasted from 930 BC to 586 BC. Like Israel, the kingdom of Judah was destroyed by a superpower known as the Babylonian Empire. Approximately 25 kings ruled Judah but only a handful were good.

These were the sad results of a people who rejected the dominion of God. For centuries the Jews would be dominated by one mighty empire after another. By the time the Roman Empire came along (when Jesus was born), the suppressed nation of Israel was so desperate to be free from oppression that they misinterpreted the Messianic prophecies to mean that their political liberation was at hand. According to them, their Messiah would be a political warrior. But God had better plans. Instead, he proposed to save their souls through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

The same proposal is held out to America. To be sure, it is only by freeing the soul from sin that any nation can be liberated from political tyranny. If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved! Unfortunately, Israel had to learn this the hard way. Let's pray that America will not repeat the same mistake.

Catching Red Flags: A preventative measure for divorce

For a number of reasons, looking for a wife or husband is more complicated today than it used to be. For one, there are more broken families today than fifty years ago. A person carries whatever dysfunction or baggage comes from that broken family into what is hoped to be a lifelong marriage.

Second, although it is better now than it was before, Catholics (at least in America) have not done the best job of defining what a Christian or disciple of Christ really is. Frankly, from the late 1960’s up until this last decade, the definition of a Christian has been pretty watered down. Couples who cohabitate, who use contraception and who regularly miss Mass, refer to themselves as “Catholics.” Unfortunately, many practicing Catholics go along this custom and give nominal Catholics who live by their own rules the courtesy of calling them what they are not, namely, a "Catholic." This makes the discerning process all the more difficult. As a result, when someone says that he or she is "Catholic," we can no longer take it at face value. Unfortunately, the title of being a "Catholic" no longer means what it once did. We have to look beyond the cover of the book, so to speak.

To use a book as an analogy, when it comes to dating and finding a spouse, it might happen that the title of a book suggests that it is a Christian book. It might even happen that the first few chapters are Christian in every sense of the word. But as you continue to read- especially towards the end of the book –the material begins to show inconsistencies with what the book claims to be. Upon discovering this, instead of ignoring it, you have to ask yourself: “Is this book really a Christian book? And should I buy it?”

The point of this analogy is that it is of the utmost importance to get to know the person, with all of his or her dark corners- as much as possible -before committing yourself to a lifelong relationship. It just may be that their more enduring attitudes and habits- not apparent in the initial phases of dating -are inconsistent with their claim to be a Christian. If you think that “your new found love can do no wrong,” then you do not know your prospective spouse enough!! Remember, love is based on knowledge. You cannot love someone you do not know. And if you think you do love that special someone without knowing him, then, in reality, you are only attracted to him; love has yet to enter the picture.

There is no better test of finding out a person's character as when he is under the crucible of trials and contradictions. It really is true that adversity builds character! However, it is equally true that adversity reveals character; that is, you often get to know the deeper, more hidden attributes of a person when his will is contradicted. Indeed, it is always good to know how your girlfriend or boyfriend responds when you are the cause of that contradiction. I cannot say it enough, virtue acts quietly but the disagreeable circumstances reveals the real character of a person.

One more consideration before we venture into the third point: Christians can often make the mistake of spiritualizing their problems and their own wounds. That is, some are led to believe that because they found Christ or because they participate in a prayer group or even attend daily Mass, that their problems automatically go away. Keep in mind that grace builds on human nature, it does not replace human nature. Therefore, even though you or your significant other is praying more, reading Scripture more or attending religious events, this does not absolve them from working through their problems.

To be sure, there can be a temptation, after having a profound experience with God, to presume that we are instantaneously healed when in fact we have some work ahead of us; the work of dealing with bad habits of thinking, feeling and doing. No doubt, self-conquest is the hardest conquest in the world. But with God’s help, it is within reach.

This leads me to the third about why looking for a husband or wife is difficult these days. We do not readily see that vices and virtues exist in groups or families. I am amazed at how many people overlook the most blatant of red flags while they are dating; the time when they are supposed to be vigilant and actively discerning the suitability of their lifelong mate. The following general principle might help in the discernment:

Keep in mind that both virtues and vices do not exist alone or in isolation; they exist in families. If you read the Catholic Catechism or a good book on Catholic moral theology, you will find that the cardinal virtues, the theological virtues and the seven deadly sins are grouped together. And the reason why they are grouped together is due to the similarity and affinity they have with one another. As such, they tend to conglomerate and reproduce other virtues and vices very similar to themselves. And when they are reproduced, they tend to cling to one another. Just as every person is not only an individual but a social being, virtues and vices do not like to be alone.

 If a man, for instance, is addicted to pornography, chances are he struggles with bearing false witness. After all, what man wants to tell his wife or mom what he was just doing (i.e. viewing immodest pictures of women). Also, any man who depersonalizes women through the pleasure of viewing porn will also depersonalize a woman in his anger. In many cases (but not all cases), pornography can lead to some kind of spouse-abuse.

Another example is that if a man does not get along with his mother, treats her with disrespect, he will undoubtedly carry this over into his marriage. Quite often, the parent-child relationship serves as a template for future marriage relationships. On the other hand, if a man loves and respects his mother, he has a solid foundation from which to love and respect his wife.

As for a man’s suitability to a prospective wife, it is always good to know that the quicker she gives of herself emotionally in saying “I love you” and sexually in terms of giving too much of herself physically, she will be just as quick to leave the relationship when sacrifice and perseverance are required. I would be remiss if I didn’t add this: In worst case scenarios, we instinctively know that porn stars and prostitutes do not make good mothers. Similarly, any woman who overly sexualizes herself or puts a great deal of emphasis on her sexual appeal will be deficient in those virtues that make for a good mother. After all, a virtuous mother is a vocation of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. In such a vocation, the accent is on the giving! But women who focus too much on their sexual appeal to men, they are being groomed to covet attention; that is, in receiving and not giving.

Men have to realize their attraction to pretty women is often immediate and superficial. He is visual and as such he can be drawn towards a woman’s beauty in an instant. However, this power of attraction can go just as quickly as it came, especially when an attractive woman begins to impose demands or simply annoys him.

If feminine beauty were sufficient to guarantee a man’s unconditional love for a woman, then the divorce rate in Hollywood would not be so astronomically high.

In closing, the benefit of drawing close to Christ is that he reveals- not only himself to you –but you to yourself. In other words, with Christ, we begin to see ourselves as we really are. And in seeing ourselves as we really are, that is, sinful and imperfect human beings, then we begin to learn more about how human nature and relationships work. By living his life and following his precepts, we are less likely to believe in false promises and overlook critical red flags in discerning who are future spouse is going to be.

Read the sequel: How to catch red flags before its too late