Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bullet Points to Sainthood

Reposted and revised for new Sky View readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mystery of Iniquity

Reposting for new Sky View readers:

The Mystery of Iniquity, 1944

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


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

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

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

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

But mark this difference carefully!

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

I thought I toiled in vain

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

-Isaiah 49:4


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

The spirit of faith:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishops of Pennsylvania: Straight talk about cohabitation

"In the months ahead, we urge all engaged couples who are living together to separate. All Catholics should seek to be reconciled with God and the Church by going to confession and by going to Mass and Holy Communion regularly."

--Bishops of Pennsylvannia, 1999

Living Together: Questions and Answers Regarding Cohabitation and the Church's Moral Teaching
The Bishops of Pennsylvania

Dear Engaged Couple:

We congratulate you on your engagement and want to offer a word of encouragement to you during this special period of preparation for marriage.
While there are many issues which you will discuss over the course of your preparation period, one important area in which many priests and couples have shared their concerns with us is that of engaged couples living together before marriage. While many in our society may see no problem with this arrangement, living together and having sexual relations before marriage can never be reconciled with what God expects of us.

In addition, countless studies have shown that couples who live together before marriage have higher rates of divorce and a poorer quality of marital relationship than those who do not.  Your engagement is meant to be a time of grace and growth in preparing for your marriage. In the months ahead, we urge all engaged couples who are living together to separate. All Catholics should seek to be reconciled with God and the Church by going to confession and by going to Mass and Holy Communion regularly.

Living chastely during your remaining months of engagement will teach you many things about one another. It will help you to grow in the virtues of generous love, sacrificial giving, self-restraint and good communication - virtues which are essential for a good and lasting marriage.

We pray that as you seek God and his way more deeply, you will be rewarded with an abundance of his grace. May your love for each other always be strong and life-giving.

With every prayerful best wish, we remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Bishops of Pennsylvania
September 1999.

1. What is cohabitation?

"Cohabitation" is commonly referred to as "living together." It describes the relationship of a man and woman who are sexually active and share a household, though they are not married.

2. Why is cohabitation such a concern for the Church?

As you work with your priest during this time of preparation for marriage, you will speak with him about many issues. But the Church is particularly concerned about cohabitation because the practice is so common today and because, in the long run, it is causing great unhappiness for families in the Church. This is true, above all, because - even though society may approve of the practice - cohabitation simply cannot be squared with God's plan for marriage. This may be why most couples who live together before marriage find married life difficult to sustain for very long.

The Church does not invent laws. It passes on and interprets what God has revealed through the ages. No one in the Church has the right to change what Jesus has taught. To do so would be to deprive people of saving truths that were meant for all time. Our Christian faith teaches that a sexual relationship belongs only in marriage. Sex outside of marriage shows disrespect for the sacrament of marriage, the sacredness of sex, and human dignity.

3. We have good reasons for living together before our wedding. Why can't the Church just accept that?

The Church cares for you as a parent cares for a beloved son or daughter. Knowing that cohabitation increases a couples' chance of marital failure, the Church wants to protect you and preserve your happiness. Besides, most couples don't really evaluate the reasons they give to justify their decision.
Think about it:

Reason 1: "It's more convenient for us." 

"Convenience" is a good thing, but it's not the basis for making a decision that will affect your entire life. Married life is sometimes inconvenient and even demanding. Cohabitation for convenience is poor preparation for that kind of commitment. Research bears this out. Studies show that those who live together before marriage tend to prefer "change," "experimentation" and open-ended lifestyles - all of which could lead to instability in marriage. One study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, concluded that couples who cohabit tend to experience superficial communication and uncommitted decision-making once they are married. Cohabitation for convenience does not allow for the careful thought and adequate "space" necessary for making wise life decisions.

Reason 2: "We're trying to save money for the wedding, so living together is more economical."

Sure, you might save the price of monthly rent, but you're sacrificing something more valuable. Engagement is more than just time to plan the party. It is a time for deeper discussion and more thorough reflection, which are best carried out in a detached way. Couples who are living together do not have the luxury of such detachment. So whatever expenses you save, you'll likely pay more in the end. Dr. Joyce Brothers said it well in an article on cohabitation: "short-term savings are less important than investing in a lifetime relationship."

Reason 3: "Because of the high divorce rate, we want to see if things work out first."

Studies consistently show that couples who live together score significantly lower in both marital communications and overall satisfaction. On the surface, a trial run at marriage may seem to make sense, allowing one to screen out less compatible mates. But it doesn't work out that way. Couples who live together before marriage actually have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don't. And about 60% of couples who cohabit break up without marrying. Living together before marriage is different from living together in marriage, because there is no binding commitment to support the relationship.

Reason 4: "We need to get to know one another first. Later we'll start having kids."

Cohabitation is actually the worst way to get to know another person, because it shortcuts the true development of lasting friendship. Those who live together before marriage often report an over-reliance on sexual expression and less emphasis on conversation and other ways of communication - ways that ultimately lead to a more fulfilling sexual union after marriage. Traditionally, the process of dating or "courtship" has led couples to a deeper appreciation of one another through conversation, shared ideals and dreams, and a mutual understanding of one another's values.

Reason 5: "The Church is just outdated and out of touch with its thinking in this matter. Birth control made those old rules obsolete."

That's just not true. In the early days of the Church, living together outside of marriage was common among the non-Christians in the Roman Empire - as was the use of artificial contraception. But these practices were devastating for individuals, families, and society. Women were treated as disposable objects, mere toys for sexual pleasure, to be discarded when passions waned. The Christian vision of marriage and family led to happiness and fulfillment for individuals and families - and a great renewal of culture and society. Far from being outmoded, then as now, the Church's teaching is revolutionary - and it works!

4. Why does the Church interfere in the sex lives of couples? It's really just a private matter between us.

Sex is intensely private and personal, but it also has deep moral and social dimensions. Sex works as a primary bonding agent in families and the family is the building block of society. Sexual rights and wrongs influence the health and happiness of individuals, families and neighborhoods. That's why sexual behavior has always been the subject of many civil laws. The Church, of course, wishes to safeguard the family and society. But, more than that, the Church wishes to safeguard your relationship with your future spouse and with God. Sex is the act that seals and renews the couple's marriage covenant before God. Sexual sins, then, are not just between a man and a woman, but between the couple and God. And that's the Church's responsibility. Sex is not simply a private matter. If it's between you and God, it's between you and the Church. You need to ask yourself: "When do I stop being a Christian? When I close the bedroom door? When does my relationship with God cease to matter?"

5. But, really, how does what we do with our own bodies affect our relationship with each other and our spiritual relationship with God?

The gift of your body in sexual intercourse is a profound symbol of the giving of your whole self. In making love, the husband and wife are saying to one another in "body language" what they said to each other at the altar on their wedding day: "I am yours, for life!" God created sex to be physically pleasurable and emotionally fulfilling. But it is even greater than all that. It is, above all, the deepest sign of the complete gift of self that a husband and wife pledge to each other. This mutual gift empowers the couple to become co-creators with God in giving life to a new person, a baby.

According to God's design, the gift of sexual union has two primary purposes: strengthening married love and sharing that love with children. The only "place" where this total self-giving between a man and a woman is to take place is in marriage. It is the only "place" where children can be raised with the secure, committed love of a mother and a father. So sexual intimacy belongs only in marriage. Outside of marriage, sex is a lie. The action says: "I give you my whole self" - but the man and woman are really holding back their commitment, their fertility, and their relationship with God.
Before giving your body to another person, you need to give your whole life, and you need to receive your spouse's whole life in return - and that can only happen in marriage.

6. Why can't I just follow my conscience if I believe living together is okay?

People can be wrong in matters of conscience, and people often are. Where our self-interest is concerned, our capacity for self-deception is huge. Here, as in everything we do, we need an objective standard to tell us if our conscience is properly formed and able to make right judgments. Morality is not a matter of opinion or "gut feeling." Conscience is God's voice, speaking the truth deep within your heart. It's unlikely - if not impossible - that God would contradict His own commandments just for your convenience or desires. You are acting in good conscience when you choose to do what God intends. The choice to live together outside a marriage is always wrong and sinful.

7. Why does the Church claim that living together is a scandal to others?

Many of our family and friends are doing the same thing. Just because everyone does something doesn't make it right or any less serious. A couple's choice to live together is not simply made in isolation. It affects everyone in relationship with these two people - parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even other members of the parish. A cohabiting couple implicitly communicates that there is nothing wrong breaking God's law. This can be especially misleading to young children - nieces, nephews, and children of friends - who are impressionable and whose moral reasoning is immature.

8. What is the best way to prepare ourselves spiritually for our upcoming marriage?

"A wedding is for a day, but a marriage is for a lifetime." That can be a long and happy time, but only with good preparation. The best way to get ready for marriage is to practice your faith. Catholics do this by faithful attendance at weekly Sunday Mass, by going to the Sacrament of Penance (confession), by prayer, and by practicing works of charity. If you haven't been attending Mass regularly, your parish priest will want to see you back. If it's been a long time since your last confession, your priest will help you. Confession is a necessary step if you have already been cohabiting. During the days of preparation, you are strongly encouraged to pray together as a couple, read Scripture, and lead a virtuous life. For guidance, look to other couples with strong Christian values.

9. Why should we need to separate now? It's just an arbitrary rule of the Church.

The Church's teaching on cohabitation is not an "arbitrary" rule. Living together before marriage is a sin because it violates God's commandments and the law of the Church. St. Paul lists this sin - technically called "fornication" among the sins (whether within or outside cohabitation) that can keep a person from reaching heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9) Cohabitation works against the heart's deepest desires and greatly increases the chances of a failed marriage. If you are honest with yourself, every practical consideration will tell you that separating before marriage is the right thing to do. It is a decision to turn away from sin and to follow Christ and His teaching. That is always the right decision. But it's a good decision for other important reasons, too:-it will strengthen your marriage -it will deepen your friendship -it will foster deeper intimacy and communion -it will build up your problem-solving and communications skills -it will give your marriage a greater chance for success.

You may think you are unique and that your passion for each other will never wane. But that's what most couples think. No one goes into marriage planning for a breakup; yet a majority of couples today do break up. You want to be one of the exceptional couples who not only succeed in marriage, but also live together in happiness and fulfillment. Some couples who are living together think that separation before marriage is artificial or meaningless. Some fear that halting sexual activity will be harmful to the relationship. But this is rarely the case. Sometimes in marriage, too, a sexual relationship will have to be suspended for a time due to illness, military service, business travel, or the good of a spouse. Relationships not only survive this , but actually grow stronger. God rewards such sacrifices with graces for a good relationship. Abstaining from sex will also enable you to rely on other means of communication, which ultimately will empower you to get to know each other in a deeper, lasting way.

10. What good will following the Church's teachings do for us anyway?

Catholic teaching in this matter brings rich blessings to those couples who willingly accept it. The Good News of Jesus frees you to enjoy intimacy even more:

-by appreciating your spouse as a person, not an object

-by living in a stable, secure, permanent, and faithful relationship

-by expressing true, committed love rather than simply satisfying a physical urge

Married life has a special place in God's plan. Like everything good, it require sacrifices. But they're small compared to the rewards. Seek first the Kingdom of God; everything else you desire will be given to you - and more!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer:

1. As an engaged couple, why did you choose to cohabit before marriage?

2. What have the two of you learned from your experience of living together? What have you learned about yourselves as a couple and as individuals?

3. What is the driving force behind your decision to marry at this time? What has changed in the relationship and made you wish to marry and have your marriage blessed in this Church?

4. Was there a previous reluctance or hesitation to marry? If so, why? Have those issues been completely resolved?

5. Why are you seeking marriage in the Catholic Church?

6. What does marriage as a sacrament mean to the two of you?

7. How do you see your faith and love for each other as an intimate part of your marriage?

8. How do you want your marriage to be open to life?

"At the beginning, the Creator made them male and female and declared for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. And the two shall become as one. Thus, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined."

- Matthew 19:4-6

"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws . . . God himself is the author of marriage."

- The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II, 48

"The conjugal covenant of marriage opens the spouses to a lasting communion of love and life, and it is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the procreation of children. The communion of spouses gives rise to the community of the family." - Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II, 7

"Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses . . . is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death . . .That total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving."

- Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, 11

"The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity."

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2363

"The very preparation for Christian marriage is itself a journey of faith. It is a special opportunity for the engaged to rediscover and deepen the faith received in Baptism and nourished by their Christian upbringing. In this way they come to recognize and freely accept their vocation to follow Christ and to serve the Kingdom of God in the married state."

- Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hastening the Hour of the Saints

“To avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to its fullest.” Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete goes on to say, in his article, Humanae Mortis, that the link between love and life is sacrifice and that the only way for man to gain his life is to lose it, to give it up, to sacrifice it. Indeed, the ultimate sacrifice is at the hour of death in which each person is called to freely give his or her life back to God. Yet, during life, God gives every person many opportunities for sacrifices and acts of self-denial as a kind of preparation for the hour of death. And it is the office of the Mother of God that the link between our love and our sacrifices be brought together as closely as possible for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Pope St. Pius said of her: “Hers was the office of tending and nourishing that Victim, and at the appointed time presenting Him for the sacrifice.” Just as Christ offered himself through a ritual at the Last Supper before he personally offered his life on the Cross, the Blessed Virgin too offered her Son through a ritual at his Presentation in the Temple before she personally offered him up at the foot of the Cross. But sometimes we forget that she hastened the hour of our Lord’s death when she asked Jesus to perform a miracle at the wedding of Cana. When she informed him that the host ran out of wine, our Lord, curiously enough, referred to the hour of his death; that it had not yet arrived. He seemed to be suggesting that her request would inevitably trigger the process that would lead to that hour. Yet, Mary asked the servants at the wedding to “do whatever he tells you.” In other words, she was preparing the Lamb for the Sacrifice by creating the opportunity for his first public miracle! That miracle would get the ball rolling, so to speak.

Is it any wonder, then, that she will do the same for her saints? At each Mass we are called to offer our love and sacrifices at the altar. And how efficacious will these sacrifices be if we offer them with the Blessed Virgin for the conversion of sinners. This ritual offering that we make on behalf of ourselves and others will undoubtedly prepare us for the hour of our death, the very hour we utter in every Hail Mary we pray.

In fact, in 1859, when Our Lady appeared to Sr. Adele Brice in Wisconsin, she instructed her to do precisely this. She said, “You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” And as for trials of life, fifty eight years later in Fatima, she made a similar request: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that he may choose to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners?”

This, in my opinion, should be at the center of every parish program. Most of us are aware of the declining numbers at parishes throughout the country. It could even be said that the Catholic Church in the West is growing old. Daily Mass, quite often, is attended by people who are 50-60 years of age and older. Younger generations are cohabitating more and marrying less. So why not take what the Blessed Virgin has asked of us and make it the centerpiece of the New Evangelization? And if her messages are not persuasive enough, let us look to the Saints who were especially devoted to her. They will tell us that sacrifice and death- especially in Mary’s hands -are God’s chosen instruments for resurrection.

St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe are arguably the best known Marian Saints. Both write at length about Mary’s role (along with her Spouse, the Holy Spirit) in conforming each of her sons and daughters to the image of Christ. According to both of these Saints, inviting the Mother of God to have her way with us is the shortcut to glory. But in getting us there, she prunes us and purifies us. In other words, she helps each disciple to gain his life by losing it, by giving it up, and by sacrificing it. As St. Louis de Montfort said,

“If we do not die to self and if our holiest devotions do not lead us to this necessary and fruitful death, we shall not bear fruit of any worth and our devotions will cease to be profitable… we must choose among all the devotions to the Blessed Virgin the one which will lead us more surely to this dying to self. This devotion will be the best and the most sanctifying for us.”

Practically speaking, St. Maximillian told his Franciscans that they should find ways to deny themselves two or three times a day. Offering up little things is quite beneficial, like not jesting with a friend when we are tempted to do so or not eating that extra piece of chicken at dinner. And what is even more important than these little offerings throughout the day is to accept the crosses that Lord gives us. And even with this, the Blessed Virgin will help us. He said,

“The Lord Jesus does not expect us to walk exactly the same way He did. But He demands that we bear the cross of our duties daily and make sacrifices of our will. If, however, we find even these things difficult, let us go to the Immaculata and pray for help. She surely will not refuse us. This life demands sacrifices of us.”

Yes. Life demands sacrifices of us. But for many, such sacrifices go to waste. Too often, they are not used for spiritual sacrifices and neither are they used to prepare for the greatest sacrifice of all, the hour of death. So, let us pray that, to use the words of St. Pius X, she will tend and nourish her little victims and at the appointed time present them for the sacrifice. By allowing her to hasten our hour, more Saints will be made and more souls will be saved. This, no doubt, is what the Church and society desperately needs.

15 rules for being a friend of the Cross

Reposted for new Sky View readers:

The wisdom of the Cross, possessed by every canonized Saint, is the greatest, most liberating wisdom on earth. Work for it. Ask for it. You will fail often, no doubt! But pick yourself up and try again. Soon enough, without realizing it, you will receive! You will be conformed into the image of Christ. “In His person was shown the excellence and true dignity of human nature…In His dealings with men, justice and mercy, sympathy and courage, pity for weakness and rebuke for hollow pretense were perfectly blended.”

The following 15 rules is from a letter from St. Louis de Montfort to congregation called, Friends of the Cross:

1. Ask and you will receive: Ask God for the wisdom of the cross; ask for it continually and fervently without wavering or fear of not obtaining it, and it will be yours.

2. Daily crosses: We do not have to go far to find a cross. If you fulfill your duties as well as you can, you will find no lack of opposition, criticism and ridicule, which will be sent by divine providence without your choosing or wanting it.

3. Take up some voluntary crosses.

4. Everything into profit: Take advantage of little sufferings, even more than of great ones. If it is true to say that we may have a preference for certain crosses, let it be particularly for small, obscure ones when they come to us at the same time as great and spectacular ones. Do not allow the tiniest piece of the true Cross to be lost, even though it be only an insect-sting or a pin-prick. Turn everything to profit "Thank you, Lord. Your will be done."

5. Unconditional acceptance: Suffer all sorts of crosses, without exception and without choice. Make the resolution to suffer any kind of cross without excluding or choosing any. You should firmly believe that this is the highest point of heavenly glory and of genuine happiness for the true and perfect Friend of the Cross.

6. Peace after the fall: If you make a blunder which brings a cross upon you, whether it be inadvertently or even through your own fault, bow down under the mighty hand of God without delay, and as far as possible do not worry over it. God allows his greatest servants, those far advanced in holiness, to fall into the most humiliating faults so as to humble them in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. He thus keeps them from thoughts of pride

7. Cheerful disposition: What, then, does God look upon with pleasure and satisfaction, and about which he inquires of the angels and even the devils? It is the one who is struggling with the world, the devil, and himself for the love of God, the one who carries his cross cheerfully.

8. Complacency spoils: The moment our corrupt minds reflect with self-complacency on any of God's gifts within us, that gift, that action, that grace becomes tarnished and spoilt, and God no longer looks on it with favor. In fact, God is pleased to hide his friends in the shelter of his presence, that they may not be defiled by the scrutiny of men or by their own self-awareness. He humiliates them! How many faults he allows them to fall into! What uncertainty, darkness and perplexity he leaves them!!

9. Avoid appearance of evil: If you happen to do something which is neither good nor bad in itself, and your neighbor takes scandal at it - although without reason - refrain from doing it, out of charity to him, so as to avoid the scandal of the weak.

10. Consider what you deserve: Whatever cross or humiliation he sends you is exceedingly light in comparison with the number and the greatness of your offences, for you should consider your sins in the light of God's holiness,

11. Feelings unreliable: Without any feeling of joy in the senses or pleasure in the mind, we love the cross we are carrying, by the light of pure faith, and take delight in it, even though the lower part of our nature may be in a state of conflict and disturbance, groaning and complaining, weeping and longing for relief.

12. God either actively wills it or permits it: All natural evils which befall us, from the smallest to the greatest, come from the hand of God.

13. To remember Christ crucified: Look upwards and see the beautiful crown that awaits you in heaven if you carry your cross well.

14. Three kinds of complaints: Never willingly complain against any person or thing that God may use to afflict you. There are three kinds of complaints we may make in times of distress. The first is natural and spontaneous, as when the body groans and complains, weeps and laments. There is no fault in this, provided, as I have said, that the heart is resigned to the will of God. The second kind of complaint is that of the mind, as when we make known our ills to someone who can give us some relief, such as a doctor or a superior. There may be some imperfection in this if we are too eager to tell our troubles, but there is no sin in it. The third kind is sinful: that is when we criticize our neighbor either to get rid of an evil which afflicts us or to take revenge on him; or when we willfully complain of what we suffer with impatience and murmuring.

15. Gratitude: Accept the cross only with gratitude. Whenever you receive any cross, always welcome it with humility and gratitude. And when God favors you with a cross of some importance, show your gratitude in a special way, and get others to thank him for you.

“And because you have been faithful in little things, the Lord will place you in charge of greater, according to his promise. That is to say, in charge of the greater graces he will bestow on you, of the greater crosses he will send you, of the greater glory he will prepare for you...”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Misguided social justice

The quotable Christopher Dawson:

We must admit that the passion for social justice and national renewal and the spirit of self-dedication to a common cause are good and even holy things. But on the other hand we must recognize that these ideals are neither final or exclusive: that programs of humanitarian or national reform, however successful, will not suffice to conquer the forces of social evil, and that if they are based on false principles they may even prove to be their ally.

Above all we must remember that an exclusive and one-sided devotion to a particular object often ends by defeating the very end that it has in view. Just as German militarism ended in military defeat and the Russian Five Year Plan produced a state of general scarcity nor far removed from famine, so, too, an insistence on higher wages may help to increase unemployment, and the campaign for the abolition of poverty may end in the pauperization of a whole society.

-Religion and the Modern State, 1935

Sky View comment:

To confuse Christian charity on the part of individuals and private institutions with humanitarian or entitlement programs headed by the State has not only marginalized the Church in being the custodian of the needy and thus efficiently relieving their needs, but it has made more people more needy. Not a few Catholics promoted a State-run universal healthcare system just a few years back. However, what they also got was the HHS Mandate.  Similarly, Dawson indicated that although it might seem compassionate to insist that the State artificially jack-up the minimum wage, what ends up happening is that this helps increase unemployment. Social justice wrongly conceived is no justice at all. It simply empowers the State.

Proof of the Devil: The Saints

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household Book: Come, Creator Spirit: Meditations on Veni Creator

Quotes on the Devil:

The same Spirit who led Jesus in the wilderness where he was to meet the tempter is now in us, to drive and lead us too. But the same Spirit remained with Jesus in the wilderness and gave him the power to triumph over the tempter; the Spirit is with us today, too, our constant companion, to “train hands for war and my fingers for battle.” (Ps 144:1)

Why is it that many intellectuals today, certain theologians among them, are no longer able to believe in the existence of the devil, not merely as a symbol, but as a real, personal entity? One of the reasons, I believe, is that they have looked for the devil in books, while the devil is not interested in books, but in souls. You do not meet the devil in libraries or academic institutions, but in souls, particularly in certain souls. For the most cogent proof that they will not be found in sinners or in the obsessed, but in the saints.

He manages the tactic of camouflage very well, as certain insects are able to do, blending perfectly with their background. Because of this, it is practically impossible in any particular instance to say, with certainty, what is the devil’s work and where precisely the dividing line is between that and the evil that we human beings set in train.

But in the lives of the saints the situation is quite different. There the devil is obliged to come out into the open, to stand out against the light; his activity stands out in clear contrast, black on white.

All the saints give testimony, some more, some less, to the struggle they had to wage against this obscure reality…Francis of Assisi broke with almost all the common assumptions of his day, but he did not break this one. To one of his companions he once confided, “If the brothers knew how many trials and how great are the afflictions the demons cause me, there would not be one of them who would not be moved to pity and compassion for me.”

Poem of the Man-God: Tyrants of the House

I came across a book called Poem of the Man-God (vol. 1). It is a five volume series detailing the life of Christ through a vision by Maria Valtorta in the mid-1940’s. Occasionally, after an episode of our Lord is narrated, Maria claims that Jesus will give her a commentary on what she just saw.

For instance, after the vision of Jesus as a young boy with St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lord gives Maria Valtorta a commentary on twentieth century parenting. Keep in mind that Poem of the Man-God is not approved by the Church. As such, I ask that you judge for yourself the merits of this excerpt from chapter 37 of the first volume. I found it to be interesting.

Chapter 37: The First Working Lesson Given to Jesus

Jesus reportedly said to Maria:

“As soon as I was old enough to handle tools, he [St. Joseph] did not let Me lead a life of idleness, but he started Me to work and he made use of my love for Mary as the means to spur Me to work. I was to make useful things for Mother. That is how he inculcated the respect which every son should have for his mother and the teaching for the future carpenter was based on that respectful and loving incentive.

Where are now the families in which the little ones are taught to love work as a means of pleasing their parents? Children, nowadays, are the tyrants of the house. They grow hard, indifferent, ill-mannered towards their parents. They consider their parents as their servants, their slaves. They do not love their parents and they are scarcely loved by them. The reason is that, while you allow your children to become objectionable overbearing fellows, you become detached from them with shameful indifference.

They are everybody’s children, except yours, o parents of the twentieth century. They are the children of the nurse, of the governess, of the college, if you are rich people. They belong to their companions, they are children of the streets, of the schools, if you are poor. But they are not yours. You, mothers, give birth to them and that is all. And you fathers, do exactly the same. But a son is not only flesh. He has a mind, a heart, and a soul. Believe Me, no one is more entitled and more obliged than a father and mother to form that mind, that heart, that soul.

A family is necessary: it exists and must exist. There is no theory or progress capable of destroying this truth without causing ruin. A shattered family can but yield men and women who in the future will be more perverted, and will cause greater and greater ruin. And I tell you most solemnly it would be better if there were no marriages and no more children on the earth, rather than have families less united than the tribes of monkeys, families which are not schools of virtue, of work, of love, of religion, but a babel in which everyone lives on his own life disengaged gears, which end up by breaking.

Broken families. You break up the most holy way of social living and you see and suffer the consequences. You may continue thus, if you wish. But do not complain if this world is becoming a deeper and deeper hell, a dwelling place of monsters who devour families and nations. You want it. Let it be so.”

Thursday, October 17, 2013

St. Ignatius shows another side of love

Reposting for the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

On October 17th, the Catholic Church celebrates one of the earliest Church Fathers: St. Ignatius of Antioch. He succeeded St. Peter as bishop of Antioch and he died a martyr in the Coliseum in Rome. On his way to Rome he wrote letters to several churches.

Tradition has it that he knew not only the Apostles but the Blessed Virgin herself. Some of their correspondences are still extant. Indeed, St. Ignatius was not only privileged to fellowship in good company, but he was also spiritually and morally formed by good company. The best company! The Blessed Virgin and the Apostles.

With that said, we should pay close attention to the manner in which he exercised Christian love and how such love was manifested in his pastoral practices. How did he counsel bishops, priests and deacons to approach obstinate sinners- some of whom were public figures. Mind you, obstinate sinners, by definition, are those who show not the slightest intention or good will in repenting from serious sin.

The Church has many in her ranks today. Many public figures- who call themselves Catholic -not only engage in serious sin but promote it. Even more troubling is that many of these self-styled Catholics approach the altar with impunity...without the slightest public rebuke.

But the great Saint, Martyr, and Father of the Church approaches this matter markedly different from many Catholics of the 21st century (clergy and laity). Indeed, his idea of Christian love had two sides. What we see today only has one. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote:

But some most worthless persons are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practice things unworthy of God, and hold opinions contrary to the doctrine of Christ, to their own destruction, and that of those who give credit them, whom you must avoid as ye would wild beast.”

Now, to our modern ears, these are crude and rough-edged words of admonition. Perhaps, today, we could use more refined words. But as a rule, the principle of avoiding obstinate sinners who give scandal has been maintained by the Church up until the 1960's. A sinner- especially one of high public profile -mired in serious sin or grave scandal was, more often than not, prevented from entering the sanctuary until a whole hearted repentance was ascertained by the Church. Ensuring repentance was aimed at  recovering the salvation of the obstinate sinner. In the meantime, it also preserved the salvation of those who would be scandalized by their sins.

You see, many of us have forgotten that love has two sides: Love's first instinct is to welcome. But there is another side to love that spouses and parents know well. And that is when a wrong has been done (let's say on the part of the spouse who commits an act of infidelity or a child who does a serious wrong) the spouse or parent, for the good of the marriage or the good of the child, is duty-bound to say, "Stop right there and go no further! Something is seriously wrong. And it needs to be resolved before things return to normal." The unfaithful spouse not only has to show contrition for his infidelity, but in order for the marriage to survive, he must also stop cheating. The same applies to the child. The son or the daughter who does wrong must make amends before he or she is relieved of parental discipline.

Now, for some reason, in recent years, this concept has been lost in translation as we proceed from the home to the Church. But this wayward spouse-child analogy is entirely appropriate for the point I am trying to make. To repeat, there are two sides to love: The immediate instinct of love is to reach out, to welcome, and to embrace. But as we know, the God of the bible, spouses and parents are willing to activate that other side of love when circumstances require it.

The other side of love, so seldom seen today, can juggle opposites. It is able to make the distinction between the sin and the sinner. And because the Christian is called to love the latter, it must hate the former. Love and hate, in this context, are inseparable. As regards to sin, our Lord uses nothing but aggressive language in our obligation to extract it. When speaking of that which occasions sin, he said, "Pluck it out!" "Cut it off!" If that weren't enough, the illustrations he uses in teaching about the consequences of not doing this is even more dramatic and unsettling.  

The other side of love is also farsighted. It has the long term interests of the beloved in mind. It is able to foresee that serious sin seriously compromises the welfare of the sinner. As such, it is at least willing and ready to take on a disciplinarian role. It can even be subversive and confrontational when the occasion calls for it. To be sure, the other side of love does not wince nor draw back from anticipated reactions such as anger or even hurt feelings. Why? Because the long term good of the sinner (or loved one) is never lost sight of. After all, short term sacrifices and inconveniences come with long term gains. Every good spouse and parent knows this. But, unfortunately, not every good Catholic bishop, priest, deacon and lay person- who acts on behalf of the Church -knows this quite the same way.

Jesus exercised this side of love quite often. This is why he appeared to be severe and even rude at times. And as you can see, St. Ignatius of Antioch, as one who enjoyed the "good company" of some very exceptional Saints, employed this other side of love in his letter to the Ephesians. Like the Apostles Paul and John, he admonished pastors and laity alike in Ephesus to avoid those men and women who poised themselves as followers of Christ but were not. And he used the strongest words in making his case.

I am afraid that if Catholics who are in leadership positions, or who have a public voice, do not strive to imitate men like St. Ignatius- the very ones the Church has held up as models to imitate -then they (and we who follow them) will not be equal to our mission. Indeed, the Church will suffer from a severe shortage of men. Not only that,  she will be no match for those who unapologetically advance godless ideologies.

The Sacramental Practice of Self-denial

Reposted for the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

I have no taste for corruptible food or for the delights of this life. Bread of God is what I desire; that is, the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for my drink I desire His Blood, that is, incorruptible love.

~St. Ignatius of Antioch

There is a profound connection between the Eucharist and the practice of self-denial. We may not think of it this way, but the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through which the Eucharist is given to us is self-denial in action. It is Christ eternally offering all that he has to the Father- his body, blood, soul and divinity. And yet, for us, self-denial is the preeminent virtue that makes love possible; it is the cornerstone of stable relationships; and it is the force behind great achievements.

St. Francis of Assisi once said that God is more pleased with bearing criticism in silence than with ten days of fasting. This self-denying silence goes a long way in keeping the peace between husband and wife, family members and neighbors. But it takes a great deal of discipline and sacrifice not to defend yourself when you’re being accused of some fault.

This is where the Eucharist comes in. The life of Christ, as told in the Gospels, is not only to be imitated. Holiness requires more. We sometimes forget that Christ is fully alive in the Eucharist as he exists in eternity and as he existed in time. Mysteriously contained within the Sacred Host is the Incarnation, the Nativity, the Presentation, his Death, his Resurrection, his Ascension and even his Second Coming.

To be sure, when the Eucharistic Host is elevated by the priest during the Mass, our Heavenly Father looks down and sees, in one glance, all the sacrifices Jesus made: from the moment he cried in the manger to his final words on the Cross. The sacrament of the Eucharist, therefore, projects this life-long sacrifice of love into the present moment through the Holy Sacrifice of the altar. But it doesn’t stop there.

As we feed on his body, blood, soul and divinity, the fire of the Holy Spirit reproduces the image of Christ within us. As Pope Leo XIII said, when we eat regular food, the food assimilates into us, becoming part of us; but with the Eucharist, the opposite happens! We become assimilated into Jesus and hence we become transformed into his likeness. Proceeding from his image and likeness imprinted in our soul is the virtue of self-denial; the virtue that weeds out selfishness little by little. With this, love of God and neighbor can prosper all the more.

Interestingly enough, the early Christians saw martyrdom as an imitation of the Eucharistic sacrifice. St. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of the apostles St. John and St. Peter, just prior to his death in the Roman coliseum, said, "I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." For him, martyrdom was the supreme act of self-denial whereby he became like his Eucharistic Lord.

It is important to keep in mind that it was in the day to day sacrifices of St. Ignatius- those little acts of love -that prepared him to face the lions in the coliseum. And we cannot forget where the source of his strength came from. It was the Eucharist, the “medicine of immortality,” as he put it, and "the Bread of God which is love incorruptible."

Self-denial, as practiced by our Lord, is the substance of every virtue and that which makes Christian love a living reality. And for Catholics who wish to advance in virtue, it is good to know there is a profound connection between the daily Sacrifice of the Altar and our practice of self-denial at home and abroad. And self-denial, sweetened by the body and blood of Christ, will lead the soul to peace and joy too few people know.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Priest in a New Age

Below is an excerpt from The Doctrinal Mission and Apostolate of St. Therese of Lisieux by Benedict Williamson. Published in 1932.

"Before very long we priests of the older generation must give place to those of the new, to the young priests who are raised to the altar in these days to fill the place in the battle-line which we leave vacant...

The world which they must encounter differs in the most fundamental manner from that which we have faced: we have seen the beginning of the revolt, they must face it in all its fury. Hitherto when men sinned they recognized it as sin, and never for a moment pretended it was virtue.

There have been great sinners in the past but they never posed as great saints. A man highly placed and powerful sinned desperately, defied God and his Church, violated every law human and divine, sinned to the last extremity and gloried in it and in his contempt for every virtue, but he never pretended it was anything but sin. At times such a one after a life of indescribable wickedness would repent as thoroughly as he had sinned, and embrace a life of penitential austerity not less frightening than his sin.

But the neo-Pagan of today indulges lust and sensual passion to the full and calls it virtue. The whole difference between the old and the new lies here."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Remembering Lepanto

Very few feast days have been inspired by war; but the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is the exception. Actually, it was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 that gave Pope St. Pius V the incentive to implore Catholics throughout Europe to pray the rosary. He had formed an alliance of European nations to push back the advances the Muslim armies were making on their soil. Christians forget that the Ottoman Empire posed a significant threat to Christendom for centuries. Yet, in from the mid-sixteenth century to the latter part of the seventeenth century, Islamic civilization and political power had begun to decline. And as for the Battle of Lepanto, Jeremiah Wells tells why it was imperative that Christians took up this military cause:

“The powerful Ottoman fleet, still intact, continued to raid Christian lands. The year after that strategic triumph, Ali Pasha, who commanded the naval forces in Malta, captured Chios, the last Genoese position in the Eastern Mediterranean and through treachery murdered the ruling Giustiniani family. Then for three days the Mohammedans roved over the island, massacred all the inhabitants and destroyed everything Catholic. Two boys in the Giustiniani family, aged ten and twelve, were martyred. The younger boy, almost cut to pieces, was told to hold up one finger if he wished to apostatize and live. He clenched his fists so tight that they could not be opened even after death.”

Wells goes on to tell us that the Christian ships which fought on behalf of the Holy Roman Empire were outnumbered 278 to 208. Initially, on October 7, 1571, the winds favored the Muslim fleet but then suddenly the winds shifted. Soon thereafter the Christian fleet was poised to make sizable gains. And to make a long story short, the Ottoman Turks were driven back.

That same day, Pope St. Pius V was in a meeting with his treasurer when he received an inspiration from God. He knew that his prayers had been answered. Suddenly, he walked over to his window and pensively stared out the window. Then he turned around with a joyful look on his face and said, “The Christian fleet is victorious.” Two weeks later, the Christian victory at Lepanto was confirmed. Saint Pius V then added the “Feast of the Holy Rosary to the Church calendar and the invocation Auxilium Christianorum to the litany of Our Lady, since the victory was due to her intercession.”

Over a century later, on September 11, 1683, the Ottoman Turks were once again driven back; this time from Vienna. It proved to be the last real attempt by the Muslims to do away with Christian civilization. However, it should be remembered that they proved to be successful in the Middle East and in northern Africa. In fact, every single city mentioned in the book of Revelation where the seven churches were situated eventually fell under the rule of Islam. For centuries, Jerusalem met this same fate. In any event, there were a lot of close calls. As the great Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc said,

“It very nearly destroyed us. It kept up the battle against Christendom actively for a thousand years, and the story is by no means over; the power of Islam may at any moment re-arise…The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable.”

This was written in 1936 when Islamic civilization and political prowess was at its all time low. But in another fifty to sixty years, his prediction would come to pass. Islam has returned! And we might just have to rely on the Holy Rosary again for the same reason that Pope St. Pius V and Catholic Europe did in 1571.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Careless and Roughly Clad: The Spirit of Assisi

October 4th marks the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi:
Monasticism, more than any other way of life on earth, inspires a love of poverty. One man who epitomizes the monastic way of life, arguably more than any other, is St. Francis of Assisi. God raised him up just as the Catholic culture in Italy was beginning to prosper. As Pope Leo XIII said, “Amidst the effeminacy and over-fastidiousness of the time, he is seen to go about careless and roughly clad, begging his food from door to door, not only enduring what is generally deemed most hard to bear, the senseless ridicule of the crowd, but even to welcome it with a wondrous readiness and pleasure…”

Careless and roughly clad, St. Francis preached the Gospel in such a way that redirected the people’s attention to the poverty and simplicity of Christ. To his brothers, St. Francis of Assisi used to say: "You know, my brothers, that poverty is the queen of virtues, because it is shone so brightly in the King of kings, and in the queen, his mother. Know my brothers, that poverty is the straight road to salvation, the nurse of humility, the root of perfection; its fruits are numerous, but hidden."

However, since the early 1970’s, we have fewer religious brothers and sisters showing the way to this virtue. The love of poverty is seldom understood, let alone loved. Materialism, socialism, and a misguided interpretation of social justice within some Catholic circles have made poverty out to be the worst of evils and wealth, a basic human right. With this, people are more apt to place the highest value on material things and on issues relating to the economy.

Sadly, among some in the religious life, the love of poverty has been lost as well. St. Francis predicted that his order would not be exempt from this: “As Brother Leo writes, holy Father Francis used to say in front of the lord of Ostia and many brothers and clerics and lay people, and also preached frequently to the people, that his brothers, at the instigation of evil spirits, would depart from the way of holy simplicity and highest poverty.” (source- Francis of Assisi: The Prophet / The Early Documents)

Indeed, the Church has long taught that coveting material things eventually divides people and inspires envy among the classes; whereas the religious life or monasticism- when inspired by the ideals of Francis of Assisi -binds souls together and inspires a generosity unknown to people outside of the Christian world. In the first several centuries of Church history, it was the religious communities that created hospitals, hospices, cathedral-schools, orphanages and the universities. According to Rodney Starks, author of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success, it was the monastic estates that inspired a cash economy and lending money on interest. So many of the institutions and enterprises we take for granted can be traced back to men and women who renounced everything to follow Christ.

By the late twelfth century, St. Francis of Assisi took up this cause and renewed it. Even though the medieval culture in which he lived was refined and delicate, he made the love of poverty honorable again. He was a soul the Lord raised up to prune and to foster growth within the Church. Pope Innocent III had a vision “wherein it seemed to him that St. Francis was supporting on his shoulders the falling walls of the Lateran Basilica.” Unbeknownst to many Catholics of his day, this roughly clad beggar was pretty important to the Church, to say the least.

St. Francis teaches us there is something holy about being rejected by people for Christ’s sake. And there is something holy about being less dependent on material things. Why is this? So that we can be all the more dependent on God. Again, to quote Pope Leo XIII:

“Bereft of all, mocked, cast off by his own, he had again this great point in common with Jesus Christ, -- he would not have a corner wherein he might lay his head. As a last mark of resemblance, he received on his Calvary, Mt. Alvernus (by a miracle till then unheard of) the sacred stigmata, and was thus, so to speak, crucified.”

The spiritual and moral implications of St. Francis of Assisi and all who follow his example are enormous; but so are the historic contributions and social implications. Monasticism or the religious life is not just a calling that benefits those who are called, nor does it exclusively benefit the religious order he or she is called to. It also has a profound effect on society. Religious orders exemplify the Christian standard and hold it high for all to see. And through their ongoing prayers, they appease the justice of God and cut loose many blessings for heaven; not just for themselves, but for all of us.

It would seem that this special calling from God- the consequences of which are cosmic - needs to be explained to Catholics from the pulpit, in the classroom and elsewhere. People need to know why this man from Assisi, careless and roughly clad, is so important for souls, the Church and society.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How Same-sex Attraction Develops


This is the first installment of a mini-series on the causes of same-sex attraction by Dale O’Leary from a book entitled, One Man One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage, 2007. It is probably the most well-balanced treatment on same-sex attractions (SSA) that I have read up to this point. If you wish to study this all-important issue more in-depth, consider reading the whole book by clicking here.

I personally do not know the author nor have agreed to promote his book. This series of excerpts results from being impressed by how O’Leary uses the principles of the Catholic Faith and the findings of scientific inquiry to better understand same-sex attraction. Over the course of a few weeks, I will post more excerpts from chapter 5: Same-sex Attraction in Men.

Excerpts from chapter 4: How Sexual Attraction Develops

The convergence of circumstances that leads to SSA is like a slow-motion accident. No single event dooms someone to develop SSA; rather, cumulative circumstances conspire against an already-vulnerable child. In order to understand this more thoroughly, it’s helpful first to consider how natural sexual attraction to the other sex develops…

As the baby grows, his father becomes more important. The baby perceives him as “different” from the mother, to whom he had been attached. The father’s differentness challenges the baby to separate from his mother and explore the world around him. If from our mothers we learn that we’re loved no matter what we do, from our fathers we learn we can win approval for what we do. A healthy balance between acceptance and challenge in the first year of life is important to the development of a healthy personality.

As children develop, they also begin to recognize sex difference, to name people- Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa- and to recognize to which sex they belong. Throughout our lives, we have an intrinsic need to know a person’s sex. Children appear to be programmed to recognize sex difference and to divide the world up into two sexes. And it isn’t enough merely to learn, “I’m a boy,” or “I’m a girl”; the child learns to identify with the sex to which he belongs. He thinks to himself, “I’m like other boys, and I’ll grow up to be a man like my father,” or she to herself, “I’m like the other girls, and I’ll grow up to be a woman like my mother.” Ideally the child learns to feel good about being a boy or girl- safe, loved and accepted. During this period, the child continues (literally) to build his brain, from his experience making connections that will influence the way he thinks about himself and others for the rest of his life. …

As children grow, they find they have more in common with children of their own sex than with children of the other sex. Same-sex friendships become extremely important as the child consolidates his sense of masculinity or her sense of femininity. At this stage, familiarity leads to friendship, whereas complementarity -feeling essentially different from another person- creates mystery, which some believe is the foundation of romantic attachment. In adolescence, sexual desires appear and become associated with that mystery.

Of course, no child has a perfect upbringing or parents who knew how to fulfill every single developmental need. But for the vast majority of people, there are enough positive experiences to overcome the negative ones. Healthy development is so ordinary that we tend not to notice it while it is happening. Indeed, its only when things go wrong- when accidents happen –that people look for reasons why. And for people with SSA, we find evidence in case histories, autobiographical material, and studies that something has gone very wrong indeed.

Adults with SSA frequently say, “I’ve always felt different.” As adults, they associate this “always feeling different” with their SSA, and in this they might be correct. Feeling different from one’s same-sex parent and/or peers in early childhood appears to be a common element in stories of many people with SSA. The problem is that the child’s feelings usually do not fully reflect reality. “Feeling different” from one’s same-sex parent and peers doesn’t mean that a person isn’t an ordinary boy or girl who could grow up into an ordinary man or woman. “Feeling different,” rather, means that somewhere along the track, the healthy psychosexual development stage of identification with the same sex has not been properly negotiated.

Just as certain intersections might be the scene of numerous accidents, certain family factors seem to put a child at risk for feeling different. In 2001, Peter Berman and Hannah Bruchner conducted a study of sexual attraction in adolescent opposite-sex twins in order to test the various theories for the origins of sexual attraction. They used a large sample drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results provided what they called “substantial support for the role of social influences” and led them to reject the simple genetic theory, hormone-transfer theory, and a speculative evolutionary theory for SSA.

Specifically, they found that in boy/girl pairs of twins, the boy was more likely to experience SSA in adolescence- but only if they had no older brothers. If SSA is related to early feelings of being different from persons of the same-sex and/or being like persons of the other sex, then a boy with only a twin sister is at greater risk of feeling more like a girl (even more so than a boy with only a non-twin sister, because of the close community between twins). Having an older brother to identify with, however, helps negate that risk. For the researchers, this clearly pointed to socialization as the dominant factor…

In the histories of men and women with SSA, we find many such accounts of feeling alone, different, alien. Reading this excerpt, we can’t help but feel compassion for that lonely child. It’s important when dealing with the issue of SSA to remember the sense of alienation that lies at its root, and to respond to it with love.

Not only are all cases of persons with SSA unique, but men and women are different, and therefore it isn’t surprising that SSA develops and manifests itself differently in men and women.