Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ask and You Shall Receive

"Love too much, there is discontent; love too little, there is emptiness. There is a reason why you feel this way. You were made for the Great Sacred Heart of Love and no one but God can satisfy you.

Your heart is right in wanting the infinite, but your heart is wrong in trying to make its finite companion the substitute for the infinite."

-Fulton Sheen, The Four Tensions of Love


Bishop Fulton Sheen, in a talk on the tensions of marriage, once said heaven is where we can have the thrill of the chase and the fulfillment of the capture. But here on earth the two are rarely enjoyed simultaneously. More often than not, whether it be the pursuit of things or people, the thrill is gone once something or someone is obtained. And so when thrill subsides, we move on to something else. The reason for this, Sheen went on to say, is that we are created for the Infinite. Finite, material things simply will not suffice. The key to happiness is not increasing your belongings, but rather, decreasing your wants…the want of material things.

On July 28th, in Sunday’s Gospel reading, our Lord made us a promise about happiness. He said, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The question is: What is it that we are guaranteed to receive or to find or to have opened for us? It may disappoint some but at the end of the Gospel passage our Lord promised that the Holy Spirit will be given to those who ask, to those who seek and to those who knock. Quite often, especially when we are in desperate want of something, we take his promise to mean that we will get things when we ask for them. Instead, what the Lord was saying is that, in the end, the human heart wants God and must have God if he or she is to be satisfied.

Nevertheless, we are human. Material or temporal things such as people, food, shelter, a job, a vehicle, health, etc. contribute to our well-being. It is through these things that the Lord communicates his goodness to us. And wanting these things in moderation is not a bad thing. Perhaps, this is why Psalm 20 reads: “May he [the Lord] grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.” But it is when things do not go according to our plans- such as when we are unemployed, infirmed, or grieving over the loss of a dear loved one -that we come to realize just how dependent our happiness is on earth on these things. And as stated, even when things go our way we get restless and want more than what we have.

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, The Light of Faith, said that when man no longer is oriented towards God, “he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants.” In other words, the worldly person lives for the moment and that moment, at least for the person, is not part of a bigger, more meaningful picture. More and more people are living for the experience…the experience in the moment. This is why, in my opinion, the rate of young couples cohabiting is going through the roof. The institution of marriage- what it means for their soul, their relationship and what it means for society –is too big of a concept for them to grasp. So, in response, they settle for the pleasures and conveniences of the moment.

But even in the thrill of having a new sex partner and then living with him or her- morally disordered as it is –there is something about God that young couples want. Whether it be sexual attraction, a successful career, or wealth, there is something in these things that reflect God’s goodness. However, it is only when people pursue these things as ends in themselves or use them without any reference to God that life goes seriously wrong.

Still, our Lord attracts souls to Himself through His creation. At every Mass we pray, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” It’s not just the sunset at the end of the day, the stars at night or the beauty of a scenic drive that this principle of glory applies to. No. God’s glory also shines through relationships, experiences and the circumstances of everyday life. Etienne Gilson, Catholic philosopher and author of the book, The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, said this: “It is because God is beautiful that things are beautiful; because he is good that they are good; because He Is that they are.” “All action,” he continues,” whether conscious or not, and even whether good or bad, contributes to the glory of God, for our acts may be deprived of their good, but nothing can deprive God of his glory.”

Without knowing it, therefore, the single person who desperately wants to get married, the poor person who seeks a better home for his family, and the sick person who wants to recover his health is really in search of God. And God, in his goodness, frequently answers us when ask for these things. After all, they are legitimate human desires.

But in the end, sooner or later, the good Lord moves us from the desire of things to desire Him for His own sake. This is the toughest lesson of life to learn. As Bishop Sheen said, when we love people and things too much, there is discontent; but when we love too little, there is emptiness. Yet, it is true, nevertheless, that anything, any experience and any person that ever made us happy has done so because what we got, in part, was God Himself. But as the great St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

For this reason, our Lord Jesus bids us to ask so that we can receive what we really desire. Many think they want this or that, but what they really want is Christ Himself.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pope Francis: To judge or not to judge

I’m sure you heard about the quote from Pope Francis. During a press conference he made a fundamental distinction between gay activism and persons with same-sex attraction, saying, “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers.”

Since then his comment has come under some scrutiny. For instance, Andrew Comiskey, former gay activist and recent convert to Catholicism, had expressed disappointment over the Holy Father’s choice of words:

“Here he goes beyond affirming the dignity of persons with certain tendencies; he unintentionally affirms an identity which in our age has become the rallying point for an artificial ‘ethnos’, a people group, whose misbegotten activism has redefined marriage throughout the world…I fear he did not represent well the faithful in his words. His desire to provide a fresh open face for seekers is welcomed as long as he grounds it in the call of costly grace.”

Personally, I would not go so far as to say that Pope Francis is “affirming an identity” so much as he is trying to make a fundamental distinction between certain individuals who push the gay-rights agenda and persons who have same-sex attraction. As for the latter, Pope Francis qualified his "non-judgmental" approach to a gay person on the condition that he or she accepted the Lord and demonstrates good will. By accepting the Lord, I take this to mean that such a person is living according to his teachings as taught by the Church. For this reason, a distinction has to be made between the same-sex attraction and the person who possesses it. Quite often, same-sex attractions are not only involuntary but they are a burden to those who are trying to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

With that said, Mr. Comiskey’s point shouldn’t be altogether dismissed. Catholics who engage in public discourse have to juggle opposites; especially with the complicated issue of homosexuality. That is, on the one hand, the sin of homosexual behavior has to be condemned as gravely immoral and unnatural (i.e. contrary to natural and divine law). Too many Christians, I’m afraid, go soft on this part of the equation. Yet, on the other hand, the person who merely experiences same-sex attraction or who openly engages in the homosexual lifestyle must be loved as Christ would love them. You heard the saying: Love the sinner but hate the sin. Nevertheless, the world- and particularly American culture -swings between two extremes.

Jacque Maritain, Catholic philosopher, put it this way: The bigot begins by hating the sin; in this case, the homosexual act. So far, so good. But he will then transfer his hatred to the sinner and will end up hating them both. This is not good! Conversely, the liberal will begin with his love for the sinner. So far, so good! But he, like the bigot, will end up transferring something that shouldn’t be transferred, namely, transferring his love or affection to the sin. As such, the liberal ends up loving them both. This, too, is not good. You see, both the bigot and the liberal are at odds with Christ. The Christian, for his part, must make a distinction between the sin and the sinner and do so with clarity.

Out of love for the sinner, he must not only hate the sin but is duty-bound to caution the person (or sinner) about the sin. The Lord, in no uncertain terms, requires this of his prophets and apostles. He said to Ezekiel, “If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” (Ezekiel 33:8)

Now, there is a great deal of pressure by those who represent the world’s way of thinking who tell us that we would be “cool” if we just dropped our rigid ways about sexual morality. For instance, there are those like Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor at the Huffington Post, who are blatant about their agenda. In one of his recent articles entitled, “How Christianity Became Cool Again,” he said,

“If more Christians can speak out the way Pope Francis [i.e. who am I to judge?] and Archbishop Tutu [I’d rather go to hell than go to a homophobic heaven] have this week and so many have been in recent memory -- it will change the way people view Jesus and the faith that he inspires in so many of us.”

Mr. Raushenbush is not a Christian. According to him, he is an outsider. But he is an outsider who took the words of Pope Francis out of context. Unfortunately, there are not a few “insiders” or Christians who are more subtle in their attempt to downplay biblical teaching on homosexuality. In her recent CNN blog, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” Rachel Held Evans suggested that the Christian churches should be focusing more on reaching out to the needy and less about sexual morality. Keep in mind, it is not so much what she says as what she doesn’t say:

“We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.”

This, I think, is what rubbed Andrew Comiskey the wrong way about the words Pope Francis chose to use. Given the context, I understand what the Holy Father was trying to communicate to the press. But, like never before, there is a great deal of pressure exerted on the Catholic Church to either change her teachings on homosexuality or to just be silent about it. This is why, in my opinion, that what we don’t say as Catholics can be just as important as what we do say. And when it comes to sexual morality we have to make distinctions and be clear about those distinctions.

Christ and his Saints were unrelenting about sin, especially sexual sin. And it was precisely out of love for souls that they openly deplored it. But the entertainment industry, academia, the media and sadly, people within the Church, want to foist this notion that our silence about the sin of homosexuality is somehow proof of our love for homosexual persons. To the contrary! If we can take Christ and the Saints as examples- and that we should –we would do well to do as they did. Love requires this kind of courage.

Love, as every parent knows, does not only affirm and embrace the person but it confronts wrongdoing. In every functional household, this is taken for granted. But for some reason, this kind of practical love has been lost in translation once we start talking about God or religion.

Yes, there is a price to be paid when we speak of sin; especially the sin of homosexual behavior. Yes, we will be called “hateful,” “bigoted,” and “intolerant.” But when it comes to the sanctity of marriage as with the sanctity of life, it is well worth the pain. We gotta take the hits.

After all, sexuality and spirituality are so interwoven that they are inseparable. If sex is not saved, the soul is not saved. And if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The New Work Ethic

Studies Confirm It:

A study by San Diego State University confirmed what employers toil with on a daily basis and what many of us have suspected for a long time. The work ethic of this nation is getting weaker with each younger generation. San Diego State University conducted a study among 355,000 US high school students from 1976 to 2007. Two interesting findings reveal that the more materialistic youth become, the weaker their work ethic is.

For instance, 62 percent of the youth surveyed from 2005-2007 put a high priority in having a lot of money, whereas only 48 percent from 1976-1978 had the same priority. Yet, when asked about wanting to work hard, those surveyed from 2005-2007, a whopping 39 percent admitted that working hard was not a high priority for them, whereas from 1976-1978 it was only 25 percent.

Several managers from several different corporations tell me it is becoming increasingly difficult to find young employees with a strong work ethic. What shows itself in the work force among the younger generations is an entitlement mentality which has severed the relationship between hard work and its reward. In fact, this same study carried out by San Diego State University found that more young people surveyed between 2005-2007 want a big house than from the sample surveyed between 1976-1978. The desire “not” to work hard and the desire to acquire wealth increased proportionately over the last 30 years by about 14 percent.

Once on the Same Page:

Interestingly enough, these findings seems to correspond with the testimony of high school teachers who claim that parents will defend their son or daughter “tooth and nail” no matter how much of an underachiever he or she is. If the student receives a low mark, well, according to many parents, it must be the teachers fault. This is a departure from just a few decades ago. As late as the 1970’s, parents, teachers, and school administrators were pretty much on the same page.

A child, if he was disciplined at school for bad behavior, could expect to have his parents discipline him just the same when he got home. But no such uniformity of action among authority figures exists today. The result is that children in our culture are seldom forced to examine themselves for the purposes of amending their faults. However, if they are not made to put forth a maximum effort to achieve high grades, they will hardly rise to the occasion when a high work standard is required of them in the work force.

The relationship between parents and schools (especially public schools) that once existed for the benefit of children, has broken down in recent years. This is largely due to the absence of Christian principles. The preaching of the Gospel fosters a spirit of sacrifice and service. When our Lord knelt down to wash the Apostles feet at the Last Supper, the night before he made the ultimate sacrifice for souls, he demonstrated what every one of his followers should aspire to. His redemptive sacrifice may have begun with the Last Supper and ended with Calvary, but the effects of that sacrifice translated into a strong worth ethic among Christian peoples.

Restoring the Work Ethic:

What is often associated with Christianity is its corporeal works of mercy to relieve hunger among the poor. But in the early centuries, the Catholic Church restored the value of hard work. Sloth, mind you, is one of the seven deadly sins. Nothing could have been more anathema to the Christian spirit than having an entitlement mentality. In fact, St. Paul said, “We instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) Idleness was a sin while working hard took on spiritual importance. Indeed, Christ taught, through his example and teachings, that work was holy.

Few know that ancient pagan civilization had grown to despise manual labor when Christianity came on the scene. Henri Daniel-Rops, author of the book, The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs, said, “The Christian attitude towards work placed the subject in an entirely new light by insisting that labor sanctified the individual who performed it. This completely broke with the idleness and sloth of which the classical world was dying…” By the time the Roman Empire fell, many fields had gone untilled because the hard work that agriculture required was not highly esteemed by the Romans. This weak work ethic, so common among the Romans, was one contributing factor to the decline of that once great empire.

In the centuries that followed, a work ethic unknown to humanity was advanced by Catholic monks and missionaries. From the ruins of a fallen empire, a new Christian civilization flourished. But it was only because the principles of the Gospel were diffused far and wide.

What worked for ancient Rome, can work for post-Christian America. However, it is only Christianity that can restore a balanced work ethic among younger American employees. The incentives that the Gospel offers for hard work is to, above all, please God and merit a blessing from him. Yet, this is not the only thing. The Church offers the means of grace to give a hundred percent- a total dedication of oneself -to the daily duties that the Lord has given us.  Christians have an eye for long-term gains. In fact, we are taught by Christ to see through short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term gains. Resurrection is the goal but the road that leads to it goes through Calvary. Or to put it in the language of the early Christians, there is no crown without a cross!

The declining work ethic among the younger generations is a sign of the times. It is a painful reminder that when the soul is not saved, nothing is saved: not even our work! This is one of many reasons why we must insist that our public institutions be the beneficiary of the Gospel once again. Indeed, there is no substitution for the incentives it offers and the grace it provides. Without Christ, work is a burden; something to be avoided. But when work is dedicated to our Lord, it is a means of sanctification; something that will contribute to his or her eternal happiness. We often forget that Jesus Christ was a carpenter before he was a preacher. He not only preached from behind pulpits, he made them too!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Man: An ambassador of two worlds

Men are just as much as mystery to women as women are to men. With masculinity having been on the decline in Western Civilization over the last several decades, men are even becoming a mystery to themselves. Since the emergence of secularism, an accurate understanding of man as he really is has suffered quite a bit. Men are naturally more prone than women to commit crimes such as homicide, sexual deviancy and even suicide. But in the absence of grace his self-destructive tendencies are not only more probable but more intense. Porn addiction, marital infidelity, and a midlife crisis are just a few of the common challenges indicative of man’s restless soul. All of this comes from a tension or divide he has within himself; something that is unique to him alone.

The only time God said, “It is not good!” was prior to the creation of Eve in the book of Genesis. It was then that Adam was without a virtuous woman standing beside him. But it “really wasn’t good” when Adam had disobeyed God’s command to not eat the fruit from the middle of the garden. As a result, he was deprived of the perfect communion he once enjoyed with God. The punishment of being banished from the Garden of Eden not only affected Adam profoundly, but it affected all of his male descendants.

To start with, a man was created to symbolize something that he is not; and that something is the transcendence of God...that God is infinite, beyond us or out there! Rarely is he content with his surroundings. As such, he seeks to venture beyond the horizon. The discovery of the New World, the first flight across the Atlantic ocean, and the landing on the moon- although dangerous enterprises -were envisioned and accomplished by men.

Whether it be the quest to conquer the world or the quest to save it, such ambitions are the making of man's spirit. His ambition to transcend space and time is not only a “guy thing,” but it reveals a strong underlying desire for heaven where there are no limitations. Unfortunately, however, in the absence of divine grace, this desire for transcendence can work against him. High crime rates, terrorism and dictatorships are often the products of a masculinity gone wrong. Hence, in the absence of grace and in the absence of a virtuous woman (mother or wife), a man’s self destruction is all the more hastened and guaranteed.

As the title of this post suggests, man is an ambassador of two worlds. There is a great divide running through his very being which separates two worlds from within. On the one hand, he is a husband and a father in one world- the world of his family. On the other hand, his identity is virtually inseparable from his work or his career. As previously indicated, divine grace and a virtuous woman are the two agents that reconcile these two worlds from him. Indeed, these are the two remedies that make a man whole.

As it pertains to the world outside, a man takes great pride in his work. After all, in a real sense, his work fulfills him and makes him whole. As Pope Leo XIII said, man possesses an innate desire to impress his personality upon the earth. The downside is that unemployment or underemployment can be a death-sentence to him. In Genesis, God gave the Adam the responsibility of naming the animals and cultivating the garden. But when Adam disobeyed the commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God punished him right where it hurts the most: his work! His work! As opposed to Eve, Adam was not punished in his person but rather it was the field in which he labored that received God’s curse; the curse of weeds and thorns which made his work that much more difficult. Because man's identity is so interwoven with his work, he will- in worst case scenarios -kill either himself or others over losing a job. But women, on the other hand, rarely do this.

In a nutshell, a man can be the best husband or father but if he is unfulfilled in his career he can feel like half a man. Then again, a man can be successful and a high achiever in his career but if he is an unfaithful husband or an absentee father he will have failed as a person. No doubt, his deathbed will be riddled with regrets at having failed the most important duty in his life.

It just so happens that maintaining the delicate balance of relationships and work is not a man's strong suit. As regards to relationships, he is apt to overlook a lot of things. Things such as birthdays, anniversaries or saying “I love you” to his wife may be counted as trivial to a man. It usually takes a virtuous wife or mother to remind him that these "little things" make life sweeter and worth living. Indeed, he needs to be constantly reminded that there is more to life than his work, that he has a family which needs attending to.

As stated, the two agents that brings these two- sometimes opposing -worlds together is God (through a strong spiritual life) and a virtuous woman in a loving relationship. But when all is said and done, it is the man himself who has to decide to reconcile these two worlds within; to die to himself so that divine grace can make him whole.

Sanctifying the Moment

"We do not walk out of a theater because the hero is shot in the first act; we give the dramatist credit for having a plot in his mind; so the soul does not walk out on the first act of God's drama of salvation- it is the last act that is to crown the play."

"Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now [the moment], spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us."

-Fulton Sheen, Lift Up Your Heart 1952


An insight can never make one holy but it can lead to holiness. And if there is any spiritual insight that few people in today's world know about and yet every Saint understood, it is the importance of sanctifying the moment. The problem is that most Christians are not interested in learning about this spiritual truth when times are good. More often than not our interest in this spiritual truth is sparked when we are helpless in a crisis or when we must bring ourselves to make sense of suffering. When life is comfortable and all is well, spiritual wisdom and strength are relaxed. But when our comfortable abode here on earth feels more like a valley of tears, then sanctifying the moment can be the greatest of tutors. Indeed, seeing God's will enfleshed in each moment will not only unveil the greatest secret to peace, joy and stability in everyday living, but it can lead to unshakable fortitude in times of uncertainty and pain.

In his book, Life Up Your Heart, Bishop Fulton Sheen dedicates a chapter to one of the greatest spiritual insights every Saint possessed; and that is the practice of sanctifying the moment. Below are excerpts from that chapter.


Sanctifying the Moment:

"All unhappiness (when there is no immediate cause for sorrow) comes from an excessive concentration of the past or from an extreme preoccupation with the future...

Each minute has its peculiar duty- regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory. The moment is always an indication to us of God's will. The ways of pleasing Him are made clear to us in several ways: through His commandments, by the events of his Incarnate life in Jesus Christ Our Lord, in the Voice of His Mystical Body, the Church, and in the duties of our state in life. And, in a more particular way, God's will is manifested for us in the Now with all of its attendant circumstances, duties and trials.

The present moment includes some things over which we have control, but it also carries with it difficulties we cannot avoid- such things as business failure, a bad cold, rain on picnic days, an unwelcome visitor, a fallen cake, a buzzer that doesn't work, a fly in the milk, and a boil on the nose the night of the dance. We do not always know why such things as wickedness and setbacks happen to us, for our minds are far too puny to grasp God's plan...

Because God's ways are not our ways- because the salvation of a soul is more important than all material values -because Divine Wisdom can draw good out of evil -the human mind must develop acceptance of the Now, no matter how hard it may be for us to understand its freight of pain. We do not walk out of a theater because the hero is shot in the first act; we give the dramatist credit for having a plot in his mind; so the soul does not walk out on the first act of God's drama of salvation- it is the last act that is to crown the play. The things that happen to us are not always susceptible to our minds' comprehension or wills' conquering; but they are always within the capacity of our Faith to accept and of our wills' submission...

Those who love God do not protest, whatever He may ask of them, nor doubt His kindness when He sends them difficult hours. A sick man takes medicine without asking the physician to justify its bitter taste, because he trusts the doctor's knowledge; so the soul which has sufficient faith accepts all the events of life as gifts from God, in the serene assurance that He knows best.

Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now [the moment], spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us. Books, sermons and broadcasts on a religious theme have the appearance of being circular letters, meant for everyone. Sometimes, when such general appeals do appear to have a personal application, the soul gets angry and writes vicious letters to allay its uneasy conscience: excuses can always be found for ignoring the Divine Law. But though moral and spiritual appeals carry God's identical message to all who listen, this is not true of the Now-moment; no one else but I am in exactly these circumstances; no one else has to carry the same burden, whether it be sickness, the death of a loved one, or some other adversity. Nothing is more spiritually tailored to our spiritual needs than the Now-moment; for that reason it is an occasion of knowledge which can come to no one else.

The University of the Moment has been built uniquely for each of us, and in comparison with the revelation of God gives each in it, all other methods of learning are shallow and slow. This wisdom distilled from intimate experience is never forgotten; it becomes part of our character, our merit, our eternity. Those who sanctify the moment and offer it up in union with God's will never become frustrated- never grumble or complain. They overcome all obstacles by making them occasions of prayer and channels of merit. What were constrictions are thus made opportunities for growth. It is the modern pagan who is the victim of circumstance, and not its master. Such a man, having no practical knowledge of God, no trust in His Providence, no assurance of His Love, lacks the shock absorber of Faith and Hope and Love when difficult days come to him. His mind is caught within the princers of the past he regrets or resents and a future he is afraid he cannot control. Being thus squeezed, his nature is in pain.

The one who accepts God's will in all things escapes such frustration by piercing the disguise of outward events to penetrate to their real character as messengers of the God he loves. It is strange how differently we accept a misfortune- or even an insult -when we know who gave it to us...

The swaddling clothes of an Infant hid the Son of God in Bethlehem, and the appearance of bread and wine hides the Reality of Christ dying again on Calvary, in the Mass. This concealment of Himself that God effects with us is operative in His use of the Now to hide His Will beneath the aspect of very simple, everyday things. We live our lives in dependence on such casual, common benefits of as air and water; so Our Lord is pleased to receive from us in return the thousands of unimportant actions and the trifling details that make up our lives- provided that we see, even in our sorrows, "The shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly."

Here is the whole secret of sanctity; the method is available to everyone and deserves particular notice from those who ask: "What can I do?" For many good souls are hungry to do great things for God. They complain that they have no opportunities for heroic virtue, no chance at the apostolate. They would be martyrs; but when a meal is late, or a bus is crowded, when the theater is filled, or the dance postponed, or the bacon overdone, they are upset for the whole day. They miss their opportunities for loving God in the little things He asks of them. Our Lord said, "He who is trustworthy over a little sum is trustworthy over a greater." (Luke 16:10) The Divine Beloved speaks to the soul in a whisper, but because the soul is waiting for a trumpet, it loses His Command. All of us would like to make our own crosses- tailor-made trials. But not many of us welcome the crosses God sends. Yet it is in doing perfectly the little chores He gives that saints find holiness...

On the other hand, to accept the crosses of our state of life because they come from an all-loving God is to have taken the most important step in the reformation of the world, namely, the reformation of the self. Sanctity can be built out of patient endurance of the incessant grumbling of a husband- the almost intolerable nagging of a wife -the bosses habit of smoking a pipe while he dictates -the noise the children make with their soup -the unexpected illness -the failure to find a husband -the inability to get rich. All these can become occasions of merit and be made into prayers if they are borne patiently for the love of the One Who bears so patiently with us, despite our shortcomings, our failures, and our sins. It is not hard to put up with others' foibles when one realizes how much God has to put up with us.

To accept the duty of the moment for God is to touch Eternity, to escape time...The phrase which sanctifies the moment is "Thy Will be done." It was the fiat of our Savior in Gethsemane which initiated our Redemption; it was the fiat of Our Lady which opened the way to the Incarnation. The word cuts all the guys ropes that attach us to the familiar, narrow things we know; it unfurls all our sails to the possibilities of the moment, and it carries along to whatever port God wills. To say and mean "Thy Will be done" is to put an end to all complaining; for whatever the moment brings to us now bears the imprint of the Divine Will.

-Conclusion of chapter will be forthcoming and posted below this one.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good-bye for now Rob


The following post was written two years ago, just a few days after the death of Rob Koger. Losing a loved one is one of many reminders in life that our happiness on this earth is dependent on so many important people and so many important things. For that reason it is quite fragile.

It’s amazing that in one moment we can seem on top of the world, feeling invincible, and yet the next moment life changes on a dime. One missing piece to the puzzle of life- just one –can throw everything off balance. Indeed, with the death of a loved one there is a constant awareness that someone is missing. And that void- that no one else can fill –suddenly makes us feel that the world we live in has forever changed.

More challenging still is having faith in God that everything will work out in the end; that one day there will be an answer to all of the “why’s”. After all, it is only faith and prayer that can ultimately reconcile the gratitude we owe to God for having benefited from someone else’s life- and -the untold suffering that it causes us when that life is recalled…recalled to the One who created it.


July 28, 2011:

Death greets us all. On July 25th, in my extended family, death greeted a young gentleman by the name of Rob Koger after a severe brain injury. Totally unexpected was his death. As his life was sustained by life support, prayers poured in on his behalf that God might work a miracle. As for myself, I prayed in earnest that he would recover.

However, as difficult it was to accept God's answer and say good-bye to such a promising young man, my faith in His Divine Providence inspires me to believe that He had bigger plans for Rob. No doubt, God's plans involved Rob's eternal happiness with Him in heaven. This place called heaven, seldom talked about or even thought about, is where life and happiness really begins. 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."

The drawback to this journey is that we enter into that abiding place, namely heaven, one soul at a time. That is, as each relative or friend is called home there are sad good-byes and a time of waiting before we are reunited with loved ones once again.

Saying good-bye to Rob as he crossed over the threshold of death and into eternity is a painful reminder that this earth, as good as it is, can only give us passing joys...good things in life that are impossible to hold on to. In a sense, Catholics rehearse saying good-bye to loved ones and the good things of this earth when we pray the Salve Regina at the end of each rosary. Addressed to the Blessed Virgin, it reads: "To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears...Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus."

The beautiful part about being Catholic is that we believe in second chances; indeed, our good-byes to loved ones through death are only temporary. But the sad part about being human is that these good-byes are so painful that our deceased loved one takes a part of us with them. We are never quite the same after a loved one's death because his or her life contributed to who we are. And even more importantly, each human being reveals something about God that no one else can reveal. As such, when we mourn the death of someone, we, at the same time, mourn the loss of that small portion of God we enjoyed in our friend or relative while on earth.

From everything I know about Rob, he sure gave us a lot of God to love. For that, many will shed tears over his death; especially his parents and siblings. The pain is incalculable but the hope of seeing him again will grow, God willing, over the years. At least that is my prayer for those who love him dearly. As for me, it is the only way I know how to find meaning in Rob's death.

And this brings me to my last point: A hospice nurse once told me that one would think that serving dying patients would be depressing. For her the contrary was true! Time and time again she had witnessed her patients speaking to deceased loved ones; at least, that is what her patients claimed. Quite often they would express how beautiful these people "on the other side" were. What is even more inspiring, the nurse said, is the joyful anticipation of these patients. Some died smiling and others passed-on with their arms stretched out to heaven. It was as if Something was being held out to them- something only they could see; something that was full of promise.

Although Rob was unconscious during the last hours of his life, I am confident that the good Lord offered something to him that was too good to resist. If I live a life of faith, love, and sacrifice, I am equally confident that I too will know and experience exactly what that "Something" is. Therefore, when death greets me, I believe that Rob will be there to greet me too.

Good-bye for now Rob! I hope to see you again under much happier circumstances when "good-byes" will no longer be necessary.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Priesthood: If they only knew...

A Sky View repost:

It is unfortunate that the priesthood is associated- almost exclusively -with parish life; having very little to do with society. To be sure, the parish is often thought to be a world set apart from real life, the public square or the culture at large. Although there is certainly some truth in this stereotype, history bears witness to a much bigger picture. If people only knew the bigger picture…

As recently as the early 20th century the Catholic Church took it for granted that the priest of the parish was also a man of the streets. Indeed, several pastoral theology books published a century ago admonished the man of the cloth to be a man of the people; this, by preaching the Gospel outside the parish, by making his voice heard in municipal affairs and by finding ways to engage non-Catholics. It was not expected, therefore, that the only contact a priest had with people was within the confines of his own parish. No. He was charged with the duty to make disciples even of those who did not come to him for his blessing. Yes. In ages past the priest was more than a pastor to his flock; he was also a Christ-bearer to the community. Impressed upon the soul of every priest is the sacramental seal of Holy Orders. Instrumental in building up the parish, the township and civilization was that seal.

In 1935 Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical on the Catholic priesthood. He reminded the world that the Church “sends everywhere as unwearied heralds of the good tidings which alone can save and advance true civilization and culture, or help them to rise again.” Pius XI takes the reader outside of the parish in order to show that whatever is praiseworthy in society can be traced back to the Catholic priesthood. He said, “All the good that Christian civilization has brought into the world is due, at least radically, to the word and works of the Catholic priesthood.” To be sure, what gave birth to Christian civilization is the very thing needed to restore it. But it needs to be applied; it needs to come in contact with that which needs saving.

It just so happened that Pius XI made the case for the seminal role of the priesthood just as Europe was preparing for World War II; just as the concentration camps of the Third Reich and the gulags of the Soviet Union were beginning to liquidate scores of innocent human lives; and just as the seeds were being planted for the Sexual and Cultural Revolution that would abruptly emerge some thirty years later. Although the world had forgotten, Pius XI was at pains to remind Catholics just how important the Catholic priesthood was in building up the greatest civilization to ever have existed. But sadly, because Europeans had forgotten that the priesthood had civilized their ancestors from the mire of barbarism, they were at risk of returning to that barbaric existence again. As Fr. Thomas Jenkins wrote in 1886:

“Four hundred years ago Europe was one great school- house under the tutelage of a grand Teacher and Mother, who, having brought forth all nations from the darkness of barbarism, had gathered them about her knee to teach them the arts of peace and the sweets of a Christian home. Far advanced were many of her pupil nations, and she had sent them forth from her nurseries instructed with Christian wisdom, able to frame their own laws and found their own commonwealths under her more distant, but still necessary, superintendence.”

It was necessary, then, that the Catholic priesthood be seen in its former light…as it really existed in history…as the chosen instrument used by Christ to sanctify souls and build-up a civilization where the dignity of each person was recognized. If people only knew that Christian civilization is the heir of the Catholic priesthood…

Certainly, the nucleus of priestly ministry is in the parish. But if society is to be fertile soil where the Culture of Life can flourish, then the consecrated voice and hands of the priest will have to extend beyond the borders of the parish once again. The laity can assist but they cannot do it alone; nor should they. The whole Church ought to be represented on the mission field. The notion that the world is the mission turf exclusively reserved for the laity- and the notion that bishops and priests belong only in the safe haven of basilicas and churches -is a false one. In fact, it was the bishops and monks that led the way in creating a Christian Europe. And besides, the preaching of the Gospel is the “pride of place” among all the duties of a bishop. Naturally, preaching is delegated to priests as well. In any case, by its very nature, the duty to preach bids the preacher to take the Gospel to the unbaptized in addition to the already baptized! The Catholic priesthood is too good and too valuable for it to be confined within the sanctuary.

But even more important- and no less marvelous -is the blessing that the priesthood brings forth for the individual person. In his encyclical, Pius XI also takes the reader through the panorama of his ministry and how it affects every aspect of human life. Indeed, the blessing of a priest is spiritually totalitarian in nature. He writes, “[F]rom the cradle to the grave the priest is ever beside the faithful, a guide, a solace, a minister of salvation and dispenser of grace and blessing.” To be sure, he is the guide of the soul throughout the journey of life. “Thus the priest accompanies the Christian throughout the pilgrimage of this life to the gates of Heaven.”

Step by step, Christ, through the priesthood, touches the soul, raising it up towards her final destiny. Pius XI explains how the Catholic priesthood is made to benefit the whole itinerary of life:

• "Scarcely is he born before the priest baptizing him, brings him by a new birth to a more noble and precious life, a supernatural life, and makes him a son of God and of the Church of Jesus Christ.

• To strengthen him to fight bravely in spiritual combats, a priest invested with special dignity makes him a soldier of Christ by holy chrism.

• Then, as soon as he is able to recognize and value the Bread of Angels, the priest gives It to him, the living and life-giving Food come down from Heaven.

• If he fall, the priest raises him up again in the name of God, and reconciles him to God with the Sacrament of Penance.

• Again, if he is called by God to found a family and to collaborate with Him in the transmission of human life throughout the world, thus increasing the number of the faithful on earth and, thereafter, the ranks of the elect in Heaven, the priest is there to bless his espousals and unblemished love…

• [A]nd when, finally, arrived at the portals of eternity, the Christian feels the need of strength and courage before presenting himself at the tribunal of the Divine Judge, the priest with the holy oils anoints the failing members of the sick or dying Christian, and re-consecrates and comforts him."

What power is invested in the priest who can forgive and retain sins in the name of Christ? It is a power that is scandalous to the world but one that is real nevertheless. Indeed, it is the greatest power on earth; one that unleashes God’s mercy far and wide. “[T]he God-Man,” Pius XI writes, “who possessed the ‘power on earth to forgive sins’ willed to hand it on to His priests; to relieve, in His divine generosity and mercy, the need of moral purification which is rooted in the human heart.” Without exaggeration, the forgiveness of sins and to hear the words of absolution in the confessional is liberation at its best. “What a comfort to the guilty, when, stung with remorse and repenting of his sins, he hears the word of the priest who says to him in God's name: ‘I absolve thee from thy sins!’” As one Catholic observed: “When a sinner has absolved a sinner; we, who rise from our knees before him, feel we have done nothing debasing. . .We have been at the feet of a man who represented Jesus Christ, . . . we have been there to receive the dignity of free men and of sons of God."If people only knew how the Catholic priesthood ennobles the soul…

Not only does a priest forgive the sins of individual souls. Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and through his personal sacrifices, he can help satisfy God’s justice for mankind. As Pope Pius Xi asked, “Who can tell how many chastisements priestly prayer wards off from sinful mankind, how many blessings it brings down and secures?” Even St. Pio remarked that it would be better that the sin didn’t shine than that the earth would be without the Mass.

When all is said and done, the bottom line is this: More people need to hear the words of priests. The civilization in which we now live needs a power from on high to rouse us to new and heroic virtues. The words of bishops and priests have a special anointing by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As Pius XI said, their words have the power to “awakens heroism of every kind, in every class and place, and inspires the self forgetting deeds of the most generous hearts.”

Rightly and generously applied, the Catholic priesthood can save what it gave birth to; namely, Christian civilization. “[T]he Church rises up like a bright lighthouse warning by the clearness of its beam every deviation to right or left from the way of truth, and pointing out to one and all the right course that they should follow. Woe if ever this beacon should be -- We do not say extinguished, for that is impossible owing to the unfailing promises on which it is founded -- but if it should be hindered from shedding far and wide its beneficent light!”

If they only knew…if people only knew what the Catholic priesthood has meant to sinners, the needy and civilization throughout the centuries, it could once again save what is being lost.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Making of Converts

The Making of Converts: Considerations for RCIA and Faith Formation Programs

A repost: Second revised edition

The reason why an excessive reliance on lectures in RCIA programs, religious education and retreats will not produce the spiritual fruits comparable to that of early Christianity, boils down to one reason: Ideas alone, and even the naked truth, does not contain the power to make converts.

The revolutionary character of Christianity in those early years was that it recognized that intellectual enlightenment was woefully insufficient to bring about a person's conversion to a higher, supernatural life. Indeed, Christ not only came to shed the light of truth but he also came to infuse the power of grace into souls. And the purpose of that grace was to empower the human will to do good and live his very life.

Hence, if the life of Christ infused into souls was the basis from which Christian civilization sprang then it is to this divine life, communicated through the Sacraments, that Americans, but particularly Catholics, must return to. Better put was the statement by Pope Leo XIII: “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery.”

A nineteenth century Catholic priest, Fr. Antonio Rosmini and a Catholic cardinal, James Gibbons, addressed this very point. As for Fr. Rosmini, he said, “To merely imitate Christ or the virtues of the Apostles was insufficient for the regeneration of mankind. On the contrary, virtue, even heroic virtue, was often an object of hatred. Without moral strength, an unattainable perfection of obedience to the commands of Christ could only aggravate the pagan’s despair of reaching it…" Indeed, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was an example of this despair. From what he wrote about the Christians it would seem that instead of being inspired by the heroism of the martyrs he was rather annoyed with them. In fact, he could not understand why these heroes of the Faith embraced the prospects of death so willingly.

We also have the testimony of St. Cyprian, an early Church Father and martyr who doubted that he could reach the heights of sanctity before he converted to Catholicism. In a letter to Donatus, St. Cyprian wrote: "By the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man, then, in a wondrous manner, doubtful things at once began to assure themselves to me, hidden things to be revealed, dark things to be enlightened, what before had seemed difficult began to suggest a means of accomplishment, and what had been thought impossible, was capable of being achieved."

It wasn't until St. Cyprian entered into the life of Christ- through prayer, spiritual activity and the exercise of virtue -that it dawned on him that living such a life was possible. After all, it was in the "doing"- and not just through passively receiving information -that knowledge of God is to be had. This is why Clement of Alexandria, also a Father of the Church, said the following: “We do not assert that knowledge consists in merely in concepts, but it is a divine science and a light that has arisen in the soul through obedience to God; it reveals everything to humanity, teaching human beings to know themselves and God.” Yes. It is holiness, not just in learning alone, that leads to the life-giving knowledge of Christ.

However, as the Church's theology developed and deepened over the centuries, more Catholic preachers, pastors and teachers (especially as we get closer to the twentieth and twenty-first century) relied on elevated and sophisticated theological language in communicating the Word of God. In doing so, the original simplicity and universal appeal, which characterized the New Testament writings, was diminished. Fr. Rosmini speaks to this when he says the following: "God’s work, through the Apostles, had to minister to the passive side of man as well as the active side; not just the intellect, but the will had to be regenerated…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.” (Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church 1832)

To be sure, it was the abstract assertions that limited the appeal of pagan philosophy. In his book, Our Christian Heritage (1889), Cardinal James Gibbons pointed out why pagan philosophy failed to capture the minds and hearts of most pagans in ancient civilization. Indeed, even the greatest of Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle failed to reach the common folk. Gibbons said, “[Pagan] Philosophers ‘might’ have been able to check immorality. Some of them, indeed, guided by the light of reason, inculcated beautiful and sublime moral maxims; but many causes that rendered their influence for the good were scarcely perceptible among the people. Their audience was generally composed of a narrow circle of literary men."

What is more, pagan philosophy never produced a coherent and unified code of morality by which the Gentiles could live by. Gibbons continues: "They had no well-defined and uniform moral code; and they were often vague and contradictory in their ethical teaching. They suggested no adequate incentives to the practice of virtue. They never employed the greatest argument of St. Paul for morality: It is the will of God that you should be sanctified.” The Gospel offered not only the best incentives for moral goodness, that is, to please God who sees all, but it provided the means through which to attain that moral goodness. As such, the knowledge of Christian doctrine is only one chapter in the making of converts. It is not the whole book!

Another nineteenth century priest, Fr. Johann Adam Mohler, said that “Christianity gave a creative power, able to beget a new life to its adherents; it made individuals aware that they was nothing aside from a continual living relationship with God, and it taught them that they must take up their instructions with humility if they wished to know anything.” It is good to keep in mind that the early Christians did not put the emphasis on concepts alone nor did they maintain that Christian concepts were better than pagan ones. They did not want the Gospel to be chosen because its philosophy or ideas were superior to their pagan counterpart. The non-Christian or candidate who wanted to join the Church had to be proven in his or her association with Christians as well as living out the Faith. If Christians were convinced that the candidate believed that the teaching of Christ was from God, their admission followed.

Therefore, today's parish ministries such as RCIA programs, religious education programs, marriage prep programs etc., are best served by a kind of spiritual formation which fosters an ongoing conversion to Christ. Certainly people need to be taught the basics of the Catholic Faith. Certainly the intellect must be enlightened and formed with the content of Divine Revelation. No argument there! But it is wholly foreign to the Fathers and the Saints of the Catholic Church to simply rely on lectures on a weekly basis or to reduce the Gospel to some vague moral code.

The Catholics of the twenty-first century can learn a great deal from the likes of Fr. Antonio Rosmini, James Cardinal Gibbons and Fr. Johann Adam Mohler. They lived in a century when the great apostolic and patristic traditions of the Church were known and revered. They were not perfect by any means but they knew how to make converts!

Monday, July 15, 2013

To Wrestle with God

Genesis 32

And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."

Then Jacob asked him, "Tell me, I pray, your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peni'el, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." (Genesis 32:24-30)

According to a recent Pew Research study entitled, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” less than half of Catholic parishioners believe that they can have a personal relationship with God and approximately one-third of them struggle to believe in a personal God at all. This is most unfortunate because Catholicism, especially gathering around the altar on Sundays, is unintelligible without an active, ongoing and personal relationship with Christ. Moreover, people who have an arms-length relationship with God not only miss out in terms of a meaningful participation in their own religion, but they miss out in the greatest struggle and conquest any human being could ever enjoy. As Fr. Ailbe J. Luddy, author of the book, Holy Abandonment, said, “In heaven we shall enjoy perfect repose, the peace resulting from victory. But our time on earth is a time of conflict: of conflict against ourselves to repair our faults, to overcome our defects, and to grow in virtue and merit.”

The relationship between the soul and its Creator is not merely a peaceful co-existence. Far from it! When the Holy Spirit seeks to make a dwelling place in the soul, the work to conform that soul into the image of Christ can involve a mighty struggle. Indeed, the way to heaven is not only counter-cultural, it is one that runs upstream, contrary to the current of our fallen human nature. As Fulton Sheen said, "It is very easy to flow with the current. Dead bodies flow downstream. It takes live people to resist the current." Jacob, our Old Testament patriarch, would come to learn this lesson with a wholly unique and personal struggle with God. And that struggle just happens to be a fine illustration of the kind of conflict each soul must enter if it is to make spiritual progress.

During the fourteenth week of Ordinary Time in 2013, one of the liturgical readings was taken from the book of Genesis chapter 32. Certainly, it is one of the more intriguing stories in the bible; intriguing, because the meaning of the event is not readily apparent. But if one peers beneath the surface, one could see a template of how every soul works out his or her salvation with God.

The story in Genesis involves Jacob wrestling with God in human form. The curious thing is that the Lord not only allows himself to be engaged in a match; he allows Jacob to prevail upon him…but only during the night. But as The New Interpreter’s Bible (N.I.B) commentary points out, “Jacob cannot struggle with God if God does not want to be engaged.” The scrimmage is wholly voluntary on the Lord’s part.

The biblical commentator goes on to detail the event: “God and Jacob struggle for a considerable period of time. When God sees that daybreak is near and that he has not been able to prevail in straightforward wrestling, God strikes Jacob in the hollow of his thigh (the exact spot is uncertain).” Indeed, such a victory is not without a price. The patriarch, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, is struck by the Lord in the hip or thigh, thus causing him to limp for the rest of his life. According to N.I.B., “Jacob is forever marked by the struggle, as he limps away towards the Promised Land. His mark attests to success and to defeat.” The wound that Jacob receives seems to dimly foreshadow the wounds our Lord received before ascending to heaven. It also seems to suggest that, to use the words of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is taken by violence.

But in his struggle with God, Jacob manages to secure a blessing from him. And this blessing would serve as the foundation for Jacob’s House, that is, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the great nation that God promised to Abraham. Judaism, the immediate heir of the blessing, and the Catholic Church, the eventually heir, learned from Jacob that to receive and pass it on requires a struggle- not just with the outside world –but with the God, the giver of that blessing. Indeed, saving souls is a costly mission. As our Lord said, the kingdom of heaven can be likened to a merchant finding a pearl of great price. It can only be bought by selling everything.

As for Jacob, this struggle with God would prepare him for many a battle. In one of his homilies on the book of Genesis, St. John Chrysostom, Father of the Church, argued that because Jacob fought with God, he would powerful in dealing with men. It prepared him for the trials that lay ahead.

The same applies to those who wish to follow Christ. Pope Leo XIII once said, “[N]o man can hope for eternal reward unless he follow in the blood-stained footprints of his Savior.” In putting us to the test, by delaying his answer to our prayers, by allowing us to feel a sense of abandonment and by stretching us beyond our limit, the Lord trains us to endure disapproval and opposition from people. I would go so far as to say that compared to the interior trials the Lord may test the soul with, exterior hardships (i.e. persecution, rejection and disapproval from others) will seem as child’s play. In his book, “Spirituality of the Old Testament,” Paul Marie de la Croix explains:

“It is true that the beginning of the spiritual life the sinner, striving painfully to be cleansed of his faults, has particular recourse to visible and external means of discipline and mortification. But later, when the purifications become more spiritual and the trials more interior, there is not any less activity and discipline required of him.”

Notice that Jacob’s conflict was at night. The timing of the conflict is very telling. More often than not, it is in the valley of life and under shadows of our trials that our Lord invites us to engage him. When we ask “why me?” but then resolve to trust and love him nonetheless- even without having all the answers – there is a battle to be won.

Through Jacob, the Lord teaches us that with great blessings comes a big Cross. And the Cross for Jacob and for each Christian consists of allowing God to do with us what he wills. As Fr. Luddy said, “We must not merely allow God to strike us, we must allow Him to strike us where He pleases.” That is to say, even though he may send us difficult and seemingly impossible circumstances, we are called to trust that the Lord will bring it all to a good and noble end. Despite what seems to be senseless suffering, the one who prevails over God presses on by persevering in prayers and supplications. This is when faith in God and our love for him does its finest work.

Jacob’s wrestling match with God traces out for every believer what it takes to merit a blessing and the kingdom of heaven from God.  To be sure, with a personal relationship Christ there are mountains to be summited and battles to won.  But such a venture demands from each soul a sacrifice. Again, to quote Fr. Luddy, author of Holy Abandonment: “Certain people imagine that they are specially beloved by God when everything goes well with them and they have nothing to suffer. Such persons labor under an illusion: for it is by adversity, not prosperity, God proves the fidelity of His servants, and separates the wheat from the chaff.”

Far from scaring people away from the Faith, this prospect of prevailing upon the Lord- even at a high cost -has great appeal. Preach this message and people will rise up to the challenge.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

God and the Mortality of Nations

"For he who finds me finds life and wins favors from the
 LORD;but he who misses me harms himself; all who  hate
 me love death."  -Proverbs 8:35-36

Originally posted as “The Two Cultures of Death,” this post, renamed as “God and the Mortality of Nations” has been revised and is currently published this week in the column section of the Catholic News Agency website.

Next week, the week of July 14th, I will be attending a talk by a local medical guild concerning POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment).

End of life issues are becoming just as pressing as beginning of life issues.  Indeed, in a few short years it is anticipated that euthanasia will pose a similar threat to our culture as the widespread practice of abortion has.


Foretelling a Nation’s Future:

History shows us that the life of a nation can be summed up, and even illustrated, in the life of its citizens. The fate of the Roman Empire, for instance, was told through the lives of two of its highest ranking members in the first century: Seneca and Petronius. These men were not only confidants of the notorious Emperor Nero, but they were products of their own culture. ------It just so happen that Roman society in their day had sanctioned the taking of innocent life for the purposes of entertainment and convenience. To varying degrees, Seneca and Petronius bought into the culture of death. Yet, the same reckless abandon they had for human life would claim their own lives.

To be sure, the lives of Seneca and Petronius are highly symbolic, not only for an empire that was destined to fall, but for America whose destiny has yet to be determined. Indeed, their lives tell a story…a story about the mortality of nations.

First Century Rome:

Take for instance Seneca the Roman philosopher. In the year was 60 A.D. he decided to go to the show; not a play in the theatre but a show of a real life and death drama. He didn’t know what he was getting into. He had heard about the gladiator shows at the Coliseum, but he wanted to see for himself what the hype was all about. Thinking that he was going to be entertained and distracted from the burdens of everyday life, he instead witnessed something he would never forget. He discovered that his beloved Rome – the home of the most “civilized” empire yet to date – gave no thought to human dignity during its state-sponsored entertainment. In his own words:

“I come home more greedy, more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings. By chance I attended a midday exhibition, expecting some fun, wit, and relaxation…But it was quite the contrary…These noon fighters are sent out with no armor of any kind; they are exposed to blows at all points, and no one ever strikes in vain…In the morning they throw men to the lions; at noon they throw them to the spectators.”

Another prominent figure during that time was Petronius, a contemporary of Seneca, and a fellow advisor of the Emperor Nero, who had a different opinion of these shows. With a feverish anticipation, he wrote to a friend reminding him not to forget about the gladiator show; after all, there was a new shipment of fresh blood. He could barely contain his joy as he writes: “Don't forget, there's a big gladiator show coming up the day after tomorrow. Not the same old fighters either. They've got a fresh shipment in. There's not a slave in that batch. Just wait. There'll be cold steel for the crowd, no quarter and the amphitheater will end up looking like a slaughterhouse. There's even a girl who fights from a chariot.”

Petronius was a product of his culture. But Seneca was too. Although he was horrified at the sight of gladiators killing each other to entertain the mob, he nevertheless bought into the culture of death. In fact, Seneca endorsed infanticide without the slightest hesitation. He once said, “We drown even children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Yet it is not anger, but reason that separates the harmful from the sound.” As for Petronius, he was an unabashed sponsor of human cruelty through and through. He had no scruples about the moral decadence that surrounded him.

These two men failed to realize, as did most at the time, that when even one person’s human dignity is violated or ignored – whether it be a gladiator or an infant – then it is a loss for humanity…a loss for them. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the culture of death caught up with both of these men. Indeed, Seneca and Petronius were forced to commit suicide by their boss, Emperor Nero; an emperor whom they faithfully served.

Twenty-first Century America:

Seneca and Petronius are illustrations of how a people can endorse the killing of human life when it suits their purposes. But when the moral evil of taking innocent life is let out of the cage, it inevitably consumes those who set it loose.

Germany learned this painful lesson in 1945 when it was virtually destroyed by Allied Forces at the end of World War II. In the 1930s, the medical community in Germany endorsed the widespread practice of euthanasia. Soon thereafter, the government ordered the killing and deportation of the Jews. Indeed, the culture of death was alive and well in Germany in the 1930s and the early part of the 1940s. Yet, it eventually consumed the German people through the brutality of war. Their country was reduced to ruble.

What happened in pagan Rome and Nazi Germany is happening to America. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal in all fifty states. The pre-born child was no longer considered a person vested with human dignity. But the erosion of human rights was hastened when the U.S. Supreme Court expelled God from our schools with the banning of prayer and reading the bible in 1962-63.

What the American people – including Christians – failed to appreciate at the time is that the suppression of Christian religion is but the prelude to human rights violations. The greatest guarantor of human dignity that the world has ever known is a well established belief that every human person is created by God, for God and in the likeness of God. As such, the person is – for all intents and purposes – the property of God with inalienable rights. And when this divine principle is enshrined into law, even the State is bound to respect it.

This is why leaving God out of public debate on abortion, as some Catholics propose, is a big mistake. Denying one group of people the right to live is tantamount to denying God his rights. God has his rights and they should be defended as such. Indeed, the State that legalizes abortion, the doctor who performs the abortion and the parent who opts for aborting his or her own child, all play the part of God. And when people play God in deciding who lives and who dies, the act of taking innocent life becomes a Pandora’s Box.

The culture of death, like the brutality of war, will not make the distinction between the guilty and the innocent or between the powerful and the weak. Like Seneca and Petronius who supported the culture of death when it suited their purposes, the mercilessness of that same culture will consume even its most zealous advocates. Under this dark shadow, no one individual or nation is safe; not even America.

But if America is to be spared from the fate of pagan Rome and Nazi Germany, the rights of God will have to be reintroduced into public discourse on life issues. Without him at the center of it, the protection of human rights doesn’t stand a chance. Indeed, no abstract natural law argument – by itself – will save us from the culture of death.

St. Benedict: A Star in the Darkness

Reposting for a great feast day: The feast of St. Benedict.

"Like a star in the darkness of night, Benedict of Nursia brilliantly shines, a glory not only to Italy but of the whole Church. Whoever considers his celebrated life and studies in the light of the truth of history, the gloomy and stormy times in which he lived, will without doubt realize the truth of the divine promise which Christ made to the Apostles and to the society He founded 'I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.'"

-Pope Pius XII

In 1947, seeing that Western Civilization was weighed down by a long and exhausting world war, Pope Pius XII penned a wonderful encyclical on St. Benedict. Contained within this letter to the Church are shafts of light that have the potential, if we just lay hold of it, to illuminate the moral and spiritual darkness which envelopes our public institutions. Using St. Benedict as an example, he recounts what it means to forsake all for Christ only to "receive a hundred times more now in this present age." (Mark 10:30)

What was accomplished in the fifth century can be revived and brought to bear upon the trying circumstances which challenge America's future. "St. Benedict," as Pius XII reminds us, "reclaimed the uncultured tribes from their wild life to civic and Christian culture; directing them to the practice of virtue, industry and the peaceful arts and literature, he united them in the bonds of fraternal affection and charity." And the Church herself, always needing an infusion of Christ's eternal youth, can also benefit from St. Benedict's sanctity and teachings.

Pope Pius XII con: "[W]hen the fateful barque of Peter is tossed about more violently and when everything seems to be tottering with no hope of human support, it is then that Christ is present, bondsman, comforter, source of supernatural power, and raises up fresh champions to protect Catholicism, to restore it to its former vigor, and give it even greater increase under the inspiration and help of heavenly grace.

What was, still is! What was effective for individual holiness in the fifth century, what was effective in making the Church strong, and what was effective in creating a Christian civilization, is still a viable option for Christians today in restoring all that is good in America.

From the depths of St. Benedict's solitude, meditation, and prayer, came forth as the answer to the problem of wide spread immorality among the people and the decline of the once great Roman Empire. The answer was not to be found in Rome's public institutions, nor in any policy or political program. Rather, it was to be found in the quiet of God's presence. As Pope Pius XII said, “Hidden with Christ in God, he there strove for three years with great fruit to acquire the perfection and holiness of the Gospels to which he seemed to be called by divine instinct.” The pope went on to say that during these three years St. Benedict shunned all earthy things so as to seek heavenly things; talking to the Lord day and night and learning to hear his voice.

With his eyes fixed on Christ as his model, he practiced penitential acts of self-denial. “In this way of life,” Pius added, “he found such sweetness of soul that all the former delights he had experienced from his wealth and ease now appeared distasteful to him and in a way forgotten.” Indeed, the answers to life’s greatest problems are to be found in prayer and good works. From prayer, the virtue of hope is born. From the practice of meditation, the source of strength is to be found. From manual labor and acts of charity, the spirit of sacrifice is fostered. What is more, from the Rule of St. Benedict in particular and the monastic life in general the dead-end roads of worldly pleasures and vice are seen for what they are.

Although the dark clouds had gathered in the fifth century with the Roman Empire having just fallen, the early Christians were full of hope. It was from this Christian virtue of hope that the old Roman society of the pagans gave way to the new civilization of the Christian era. Indeed, the dust that was kicked up from the collapse of the Empire had just begun to settle when St. Benedict forged this new life for the people in Italy. His followers developed new agricultural methods, a new cash economy, and a way of governing which was modeled on the father's authority in the family (later to be copied by civil authorities). The twelve monasteries that he founded also inspired principles of democracy whereby the monks were consulted before a rule or decree was enjoined. Also, we cannot forget the institutions that served the needy and unlearned such as hospitals, orphanages and schools. All of these Christian enterprises had emerged from monasteries amid the ruins of Rome.

Pius XII reminds us, “The Empire like all earthly institutions had crumbled. Weakened and corrupt from within, it lay in mighty ruins in the West, shattered by the invasions of the northern tribes.” Then, as if by a prophetic utterance, Pope Pius XII asked a question many Americans are asking today: “In such a mighty storm and universal upheaval, from where did hope shine? Where did help and protection arise in order to save humanity and what was left of its treasures from shipwreck?”

The answer: “It came from the Catholic Church.” The only institution or “nation,” as St. Peter would have it, gifted with immortality is the Catholic Church. Without sounding too triumphal, Pius XII goes on to remind the world that nations or institutions that are man-made are destined to perish. As such, we cannot put too much hope in them. But for those nations and institutions that cling to Christ “in” his Church, they can at least hope for a lengthy existence. The pope went on to say this:

“All earthly institutions begun and built solely on human wisdom and human power, in the course of time succeed one another, flourish and then quite naturally fail, weaken and crumble away; but the organization which Our Redeemer established has received from its divine Founder unfailing life and abiding strength from on high.” “Amid their ruins and failures,” he continues, the Church “is capable of molding a new and happier age and with Christian doctrine and spirit she can build and erect a new society of citizens, peoples and nations.”

St. Benedict did just that. He helped mold a new and happier age from what seemed to be the end of civilization. And he did so with the same spiritual means that are available today. “Like a star in the darkness of night, Benedict of Nursia brilliantly shines, a glory not only to Italy but of the whole Church.” No doubt, within the fullness of Christ's life, that same glory is the answer …the answer for America's challenges.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bellarmine's Theology of Small Government

Revised and reposted for the 4th of July:

Below, are four basic principles from the treatise On Civil Government by St. Robert Bellarmine which provides us a Catholic (and American) understanding of the State/government:

• Human nature was created by God in such a way as to require civil authority for its well-being, order and protection. As such, the authority of the State originates from the wise counsel of God. Human beings cannot co-exist without this higher principle of civil authority.

• Although civil authority finds its origin in God, it is not directly communicated to any one particular individual or group of individuals. The notion of the "divine right of kings" was a doctrine which arose out of Protestantism that held that God's power to rule was given to each king directly. This led to a kind of an oppressive monarchical system that Colonial Americans rebelled against. The truth is that the authority of the State resides in human nature, that is, in the people because it is for them that this authority exists to begin with.

• Since the people or the citizens of a nation are the purpose or end for which civil authority is ordained, it follows that it is the people’s prerogative to choose not only the form of government they see fit but the system through which their leaders are determined or chosen.

Before moving on, I want to add that in the supernatural order, religious authority works differently. It is, contrary to civil authority, conferred directly by God on specific men. For instance, Jesus Christ gave to Peter and the Apostles to power to bind and loose, to forgive and retain sins. In turn, this apostolic power was conferred on specific bishops  the Apostles deemed to be worthy of the office. Indeed, the sacramental grace of Holy Orders is communicated to particular individuals directly from the “hands of God” but through the mediation of consecrated hands. 

Now, from this Catholic perspective, if the State exists for the citizen, then the citizen can be also considered to be the customer of the State. A customer chooses what kind of services it wishes to receive and from whom it wishes to receive it. And according to Catholic political theology, people have the inherent right to choose what form of government they wish to be subject to. Furthermore, depending who they want to be ruled by, they also have the right to elect those political rulers of their choosing.

By virtue of this right, citizens can elect to create a government that invokes God and one that observes the principles of his Catholic Faith. After all, they are the customers of the State and the very purpose of the State is to serve their needs. Just as important, every man has spiritual needs that cannot be compartmentalized apart from his civic life. If the authority of the State comes from God- which the Catholic Church affirms that it does -then like the individual, the State is obligated to pay homage to its Creator. Yes, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. What is commonly overlooked, however, is that Caesar belongs to God!

A complete separation between Church and State is a like severing the body from its soul. Such a radical division leads to death. Why? Because society itself is of a material and spiritual nature. The Catholic Church does hold to a kind of separation of Church and State in that they are distinct from one another. However, these two entities, like the body and soul, are to collaborate and interact with each other so that the common good of society may be brought about. The proposition that there should be a radical separation between these two institutions is what Pope Leo XIII referred to as a "fatal theory." To repeat, such a dichotomy leads to the death of the commonwealth.

Now, if civil authority is a mere invention of man without any inherent God-given purpose, then it can be defined by the powerful or the rich as they see fit. Instead of the State having the welfare of its citizens as its goal, the State can turn into an end in itself. Indeed, the purpose of government can be defined to mean that the people exist for the State; that the multitude ought to serve the interests of the few. As Pius XI said in his encyclical on communism, “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”

This perversion of power- so common in world history -explains why the twentieth-century was riddled with atheistic or communistic dictators who killed more of its own people than all the wars put together. In the absence of God then, the State becomes supreme and rules according to its own whim. Cardinal James Gibbons, in his pastoral letter to the US Bishops in 1919, issued the following warning about the State taking the place of God:

“It lies in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs.”

Joblessness, a down trodden economy, serfdom, and human rights violations are but the sad results of State supremacy. But throughout history, it was the Catholic Church and her moral authority that restrained the strong arm of the State, ensuring freedom for citizens. She confidently assumed a prophetic role in holding the State accountable to the divine and natural law. As such, St. Thomas Aquinas’ saying is wonderfully fulfilled: A government which governs least, governs best. But a government can only govern least if the laws of God are daily impressed upon it.