Thursday, January 31, 2013

St. Don Bosco on correcting orphan boys

The Feast of St. Don Bosco:  January 31st
On correcting orphan boys

First of all, if we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfil their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always laboured lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal. And the whole Salesian society has done this with me.

My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them.

I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he showed to his new converts. They often reduced him to tears and entreaties when he found them lacking docility and even opposing his loving efforts.

See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or wilfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger.

Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.

This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.

They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.

There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.

In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The 100 Year Test

"The outlook on the future is by no means free from anxiety; on the contrary, there are many serious reasons for alarm, on account of numerous and long-standing causes of evil, of both a public and a private nature. Nevertheless, the close of the century really seems in God's mercy to afford us some degree of consolation and hope…"

-Pope Leo XIII, On Jesus Christ the Redeemer 1900


On October 13, 1884 Pope Leo XIII, just after celebrating Mass, turned pale and collapsed as though dead according to one report. Those standing nearby rushed to his side. They found him alive but the pontiff looked frightened. He then recounted having a vision of Satan approaching the throne of God, boasting that he could destroy the Church. According to Pope Leo XIII, the Lord reminded him that his Church was imperishable. Satan then replied, “Grant me one century and more power of those who will serve me, and I will destroy it.” Our Lord granted him 100 years.

The Lord then revealed the events of the 20th century to Leo XIII. He saw wars, immorality, genocide and apostasy on a large scale. Immediately following this disturbing vision, he sat down and wrote the prayer to St. Michael. For decades it was prayed at Mass until the 1960’s. Like many of the Church’s spiritual defenses, it was discontinued in the second half of the 20th century.

Some have speculated that the century of testing the Catholic Church began in 1914. Regardless of when the time of testing officially began, it is important to note that three years into World War I (WWI) in 1917, the same year the Communist Revolution in Russia was unleashed, Pope Benedict XV penned an encyclical entitled, On Preaching the Word. It would prove to be prophetic. In it he addressed an issue that had to be “looked upon as a matter of the greatest and most momentous concern.” More on this “momentous concern” in the next post.

Up until 1917, Western Civilization had begun to drift away from the light of Gospel. The Reformation, the French Revolution and, as mentioned, the Russian Revolution, were highly instrumental in ushering in the era of secularism. Pope Benedict XV could not escape the conclusion that the world was changing. He wrote the following in the same encyclical:

“If on the other hand We examine the state of public and private morals, the constitutions and laws of nations, We shall find that there is a general disregard and forgetfulness of the supernatural, a gradual falling away from the strict standard of Christian virtue, and that men are slipping back more and more into the shameful practices of paganism.”

With the return of paganism, comes an intolerance of Christianity. Indeed, the Church would produce more martyrs during the 20th century than in any other century. But as bad as things were in the world, the real test for the Church would come fifty years later during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s. Similar to that of the Reformation in 1517, scores of Catholics would leave the Church. Priestly and religious vocations would dry up. Mass attendance would sharply decline. Catholic clergy and laity would no longer be on the same page in terms of belief and behavior. And as for many church-goers that would remain, their morals and lifestyle would prove to be comparable to non-Catholics.

Perhaps, this is the apostasy Pope Leo XIII saw in his vision. Did not our Lord ask in the Gospel of Luke, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

What was foreseen by Pope Leo XIII on October 13, 1884- exactly 33 years before the miracle of the sun at Fatima –has been confirmed, not only by subsequent events, but by other credible sources. The work of iniquity which had gained much momentum outside the Church in the late 19th century and early 20th century, was about to make its way in the institutions of the Church. In fact, on June 29, 1972 Pope Paul VI confirmed just that when he addressed his audience. He said, “It is as if from some mysterious crack, no, it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”

About a year later, on October 13, 1973, Our Lady of Akita, in an approved apparition in Japan, took this point further and gave us some idea how this “smoke” would take effect. She said, "The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops...the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.”

This, in fact, is exactly what happened. As for the consecrated women in the religious life, their numbers plummeted dramatically in the 1970’s. One consecrated woman, Sister Lucia, was the only surviving seer of Fatima who witnessed all of this. Her nephew, Father Valinho, wrote her a letter in 1971 inquiring about the convulsions the Church was experiencing. In response to the letter she said, “It is indeed sad that so many are allowing themselves to be dominated by the diabolical wave that is enveloping the world, and they are so blind that they cannot see their error.” “I am convinced,” Lucia continued, “that the principal cause of evil in the world and the falling away of so many consecrated souls is the lack of union with God in prayer. The devil is very smart and watches for our weak points so he can attack us. If we are not careful and attentive in obtaining the strength from God we will fall, because our times are very bad and we are weak.”

Lack of prayer and compromises among priests and the religious led to a more general problem of relaxed standards in the Church! These were the manifestations of a deeper and more sinister force at work in the Church. But the Catholic practitioner- be it cleric, evangelist or teacher -has to mindful of both natural and supernatural causes if a remedy is to be applied for the problems that exist in and outside of the Church.

In 1944, Father Paul Furfey, former professor and head of the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, published a book called, The Mystery of Iniquity. In it, he provides wonderful insights into the necessary task of dealing with the symptoms as they appear to the naked eye. But he doesn’t leave it there. He said that permanent cures for the pressing social problems of the day require us to look beyond secondary causes:

“[T]he mystery of iniquity is at work. Its activities do 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.

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.”

The hope of victory! Catholics have to be mindful of this hope. They have to live out this hope. But in order for this hope to translate into a real, solid victory, we have to know that evil is communicated through practical and even ordinary means. The practical and ordinary means I refer to are pastoral practices and habits of evangelization/teaching that are defective. Evil doesn’t just happen. And this is where Pope Benedict XV encyclical On Preaching the Word comes in. In his 1917 letter, he prophetically anticipated some of the things through which the Church would be tested…tested within her own institutions.

To continue reading, please click on: The Papal Letter of 1917

The Papal Letter of 1917

In 1917 Pope Benedict XV couldn’t help but notice that the world was growing cold to Christ. The observation of these developments begged an important question: Why the change? Why was had Western Civilization grown tired of its native religion? Instead of blaming the world, Pope Benedict XV did some serious soul searching on behalf of the Church. He asked, “Has the Word of God then ceased to be what it was described by the Apostle, living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword? Has long-continued use blunted the edge of that sword?”

The answer, of course, is a resounding “no!” Then what was the underlying cause of a world that had gone secular? As uncomfortable as it, the Holy Father points to the answer: “If that weapon does not everywhere produce its effect, the blame certainly must be laid on those ministers of the Gospel who do not handle it as they should. For no one can maintain that the Apostles were living in better times than ours, that they found minds more readily disposed towards the Gospel or that they met with less opposition to the law of God.”

No doubt, the Apostles, the Church Fathers and the early Christians at large faced a world quite hostile to the Gospel. For instance, out of the first 30 popes, 29 died a martyr’s death. But at the same time, the Church converted that same cruel world in unprecedented fashion. For almost 300 years she was persecuted and repressed by the Roman Empire. But with every blow to the body and with every drop of blood that spilled as a result, the Catholic Church grew by leaps and bounds. By 313 A.D. Christianity was legalized and by 392 A.D. it was the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Yet, the brutal fact remained: The Church possessed the same Gospel and the same Sacraments as the Apostles did, but the results in 1917 were not encouraging. And as Pope Benedict XV suggested, Catholics in the 20th century were not using the Gospel as they should. This, he said, was “a matter of the greatest and most momentous concern.”

Although the problem of mishandling the Gospel and easy access to the Sacraments were not visibly pronounced in Pope Benedict XV time, they would be in decades to come. With an uncanny eye, the Holy Father saw the beginning of what would be a real crisis. In his 1917 encyclical, On Preaching the Word, he chose to focus on the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the diligence bishops had to exercise in selecting, not only learned men, but holy men for the priesthood. Indeed, he echoed the admonition given by the Lateran Council centuries earlier: "If it should ever be impossible to maintain the present number, it is better to have a few good priests than a multitude of bad ones."

In fact, Pope Benedict XV cautioned his brother bishops of the following: If men find easy access to the pulpits of our churches…it is your duty to see that such a grave abuse should disappear, and since you will have to render to God and to His Church an account of the manner in which you feed your flock, allow no one to creep unbidden into the sheepfold and to feed the sheep of Christ according to his fancy.” The Holy Father was candid enough to say that if an unworthy priest leads souls astray through error or scandal, then the bishop who ordained him would share in his sins. To this, he said, “If anyone acts carelessly and negligently in this duty, he clearly offends in a grievous matter, and on him will fall the responsibility of the errors which the untrained preacher may spread or of the scandal and the bad example which the unworthy one may give.

 The Fathers of the Church were known to issue to very same warning to their priests. But what if a good priest turned bad? There are countless examples throughout sacred history that show that a man of the cloth can begin his ministry on solid footing only to slip and fall from grace at a later time. Perhaps a gifted preacher may let human applause go to his head. In any event, if a member of the clergy was found to abuse his office, the pontiff counseled his brother bishops to act! For the good of souls, false compassion for the unworthy minister had to be set aside. He said, “If you detect any one for his own glory or for gain, abusing the office of preaching, you should at once remove him from that function.” And elsewhere he said that if a priest was to be found wanting in virtue or learning, he was to be “debarred.”

The criterions for choosing worthy men for the priesthood, according to Pope Benedict XV, were three-fold. First, he candidate was a man “who always fully conformed himself to God's will.” In other words, he had to be a man of virtue and zeal. Secondly, “he will not avoid labor or trouble of any kind.” The Holy Father went on to say that such a man should not immoderately desire the comforts of life or seek his own ease rather than the good of souls. Like Christ and the Apostles, the man of the cloth should possess the spirit of sacrifice. As such, short-term sacrifices will deter him from long-term gains. In the third place, every priest and preacher of the Word should be a man of prayer. As St. Bernard counseled a fellow preacher: "If you are wise, be a reservoir, not a conduit, be full yourself of what you preach and do not think it enough to pour it out for others." The Doctor then adds: "Today we have in the Church a profusion of conduits, but how few are the reservoirs!"

These priestly qualities are “a matter of the greatest and most momentous concern” because from the mouths of unworthy ministers comes a distorted or diluted version of the Gospel. To be sure, such an abridged version which leaves out supernatural principles and counter-cultural doctrines is incapable of saving souls. It produces that useless salt the Lord warned about in his Sermon on the Mount. As Pope Benedict XV said, “But since among the truths revealed by God there are some which frighten the weakness of our corrupt nature, and which therefore are not calculated to attract the multitude, they carefully avoid them, and treat themes, in which, the place accepted, there is nothing sacred.”

Then he asked a question which is so important for those who communicate the Catholic Faith: “Does a physician prescribe useless remedies to his patient, merely because the sick man rejects effective ones? The test of the orator's power and skill is his success in making his hearers accept the stern truth he is preaching.” Out of fear that stern truths will be rejected, many preachers and teachers of the Faith omit them altogether from their lectures and discourse.

In fact, the sins that are currently bring about the decline of Western Civilization in general and America in particular, are not given a lot of attention from pulpits, pastoral letters and even church documents. Contraception, and the consequent low birthrate and the impending demographic crisis, cohabitation and the consequent low marriage rates, divorce, extramarital sex, homosexual activity, and pornography have hastened the de-Christianization of society. These are sins that Christ came to save us from. Indeed, this is the “bad news” people need to hear about. After all, if they do not know about the bad news, they can hardly welcome the Good News. Without knowing the bad news of sin (specific sins) and where it can lead, namely, hell, the Gospel is perceived as irrelevant.

This is why Pope Benedict XV goes out of his way to showcase an apostolic virtue of St. Paul’s, one that has always been essential for winning souls to Christ. The failure to stress this duty would prove to have great and momentous consequence for the Church. He wrote,

“[St. Paul’s] heart was on fire with the love of Christ, he sought for nothing save the glory of Christ. O that all are engaged in the ministry of the Word were true lovers of Jesus Christ. Would that all could repeat these words of St. Paul: ‘For whom Jesus Christ I have suffered the loss of all things,’ and ‘To me to live is Christ.’”

He then adds, “[A]ll Christ's doctrines and commands, even the sterner ones, were so proclaimed by St. Paul that he did not restrict, gloss over or tone down what Christ taught regarding humility, self-denial, chastity, contempt of the world, obedience, forgiveness of enemies, and the like, nor was he afraid to tell his hearers that they had to make a choice between the service of God and the service of Belial, for they could not serve both, that when they leave this world, a dread judgment awaits them; that they cannot bargain with God; they may hope for life everlasting if they keep His entire law, but if they neglect their duty and indulge their passions, they will have nothing to expect but eternal fire. For our ‘Preacher of truth’ never imagined that he should avoid such subjects, because, owing to the corruption of the age, they appeared too stern to his hearers. Therefore it is clear how unworthy of commendation are those preachers who are afraid to touch upon certain points of Christian doctrine lest they should give their hearers offense.”

As Father Paul Furfey suggested in 1944, the problems that weigh heavy on the Church and the moral evils that are leading to the decline of Western Civilization need to be attacked at their source. Certainly this involves using every supernatural means at our disposal and exposing the works of darkness without apology. This is why today’s Catholic would benefit from reacquainting himself with the truths that are detailed in Benedict’s encyclical, On Preaching the Word.

To read about similar challenges the Church is facing and what could arguably be considered some practical solutions, click on:

Separating the faithful from the unfaithful

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Catholic Schools Week: Two Important Considerations

This week (January 28 to February 1, 2013) is Catholic schools week. It has been demonstrated time and time again that the Catholic Church can do a better job of educating children than the State and with less money. But in addition to celebrating the real value of Catholic education, it would seem appropriate that Catholics discuss why their schools continue to close. In 1950’s, for instance, the Catholic Church educated 12 percent of children in America. That percentage has dwindled down to less than 5 percent.

Just recently, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) reported that between 2000 and 2006 nearly 600 Catholic elementary and secondary schools closed, a 7 percent decline, and nearly 290,000 students left, almost 11 percent. (Andy Smarick. "Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?")

I can go on about the statistics of decline but I think it would be more useful to discuss those underlying reasons why the Church has suffered this setback. For our purposes, there are two factors (among others) that deserve our attention.

1. The crisis of Catholic education can be traced to the decline of religious vocations. In 1917, Pope Benedict XV said, “[T]hings are preserved through the same causes by which they were brought into being.” The unprecedented revolution of Catholic education during the first millennium of Christianity sprung from the monasteries that multiplied throughout the Middle Eastern and European landscape. Prior to this, in ancient pagan civilization, education and literacy existed for the chosen few. The teachings of philosophers, for instance, were made available to those few men who could afford to study philosophy.

Yet, with the emergence of Christianity, things would change. Christ said let the children come to me. Under his mandate, bishops, priests, monks and nuns set out to make Christian education available to everyone: children and adults. From this inspired initiative came forth catechetical schools, parish schools, cathedral schools and universities. Indeed, it was these institutions which played a significant role in civilizing a-once-barbaric continent, namely, Europe. And that mission to bring the light of the Gospel to the people was sustained by the sacrifice of religious brothers and sisters until the mid 1960’s. Due to their call to celibacy, the cost of employing them would be minimal.

In 1920, before the crisis of priestly and religious vocations rocked the Church, 92 percent of Catholic schools were staffed by religious- nuns, priests and brothers. However, in the post-1960’s era, the majority of teachers in Catholic schools would be assumed by lay people. With this development, tuition cost skyrocketed. After all, behind just about every lay person is a family to support financially.

Given the legacy of Christian education of the monasteries and religious orders- and the revolutionary effects it had on Western Civilization -and given the manifold benefits of having the religious at helm in Catholic schools, I am surprised there is not a vigorous and visible campaign by parishes and dioceses around the world to promote religious vocations. This, it would seem, is a monumental oversight on the part of Catholics whose mission it is to further the cause of Catholic education. No doubt, this is a long term goal. But it is one that needs to be pursued if Catholic education is to be preserved by the cause which brought it into being.

2. In the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century Catholics understood that they had competition in terms of educating children. That competitor was none other than the public school system. In fact, public education was more than just a competitor. It was believed that a secular education posed a mortal threat to the mission of the Catholic Church in saving souls for Christ.

For instance, the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia edition stated that public schools are an “imminent danger to faith and morals.” And just four years later in 1921, Cardinal James Gibbons made the same observation: “The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation.”

In 1882, Fr. Thomas J. Jenkins published a book called, Judges of Faith: Christian vs. Godless Schools. It was an extensive survey of bishops around the world as to their position on public schools. It is important to know that in America there was a consensus among bishops that a secular education is an infallible instrument of bringing about a secular society. And as for Christians, a religiously neutral school would naturally breed religiously neutral children. As Fr. Jenkins said, “No practical Christian ever becomes unfaithful. So creedless, neutral schools, breed creedless children; indifference to God and virtue is the surest precursor to infidelity in practice…”

These creedless schools, as Fr. Jenkins put it, was perceived to foster a secular worldview among youth, one that is narrow and one-sided. In 1884, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore stated the following: “A one-sided education [i.e. secular] will develop a one-sided life, and such a life will surely topple over; and so will every social system built up of such lives...”

So here we are. In 2013 there is no shortage of talk about whether America will topple over or not. Yet, Catholics in America have a distinct advantage they are not using. They could look back to the writings of their spiritual ancestors and compile volumes of warnings about the very thing that is troubling both the Church and the nation. A century ago, popes, a plethera of bishops and priests warned us about the perils of a State-run education system and what it portends to the salvation of souls and the nation's welfare. But we have yet to give it the attention it deserves.

It is interesting to note that although the majority of bishops were quite alarmed about the monopoly of the State on education just 100 years ago, today very few of their successors have addressed it as a real problem.

To conclude, if Catholic education is to burrow its way to the light, Catholics will have to once again rediscover those causes which it into being. Furthermore, they will have to ask themselves: "Is there something our spiritual ancestors saw that we are not seeing?"

Mary's effect upon the soul

Wonderful Effects of this Devotion
By St. Louis de Montfort

My dear friend, be sure that if you remain faithful to the interior and exterior practices of this devotion [i.e. the consecration to Jesus through Mary] which I will point out, the following effects will be produced in your soul:

1. Knowledge of our unworthiness: By the light which the Holy Spirit will give you through Mary, his faithful spouse, you will perceive the evil inclinations of your fallen nature and how incapable you are of any good. Finally, the humble Virgin Mary will share her humility with you so that, although you regard yourself with distaste and desire to be disregarded by others, you will not look down slightingly upon anyone.

2. A share in Mary's faith: Mary will share her faith with you. Her faith on earth was stronger than that of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and saints.

3. The gift of pure love: The Mother of fair love will rid your heart of all scruples and inordinate servile fear.

4. Great confidence in God and in Mary: Our Blessed Lady will fill you with unbounded confidence in God and in herself: 1) Because you will no longer approach Jesus by yourself but always through Mary, your loving Mother.

5. Communication of the spirit of Mary: The soul of Mary will be communicated to you to glorify the Lord. Her spirit will take the place of yours to rejoice in God, her Saviour, but only if you are faithful to the practices of this devotion.

6. Transformation into the likeness of Jesus: If Mary, the Tree of Life, is well cultivated in our soul by fidelity to this devotion, she will in due time bring forth her fruit which is none other than Jesus.

7. The greater glory of Christ: If you live this devotion sincerely, you will give more glory to Jesus in a month than in many years of a more demanding devotion.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guns, things and political exploits

According to the Dallas Morning News more than 100 sheriffs nationwide have threatened to ignore unconstitutional gun laws. For instance, Sheriff Terry Box of Collin County, Texas posted the following on his Facebook page: “Neither I, nor any of my deputies, will participate in the enforcement of laws that violate our precious constitutional rights, including our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

This defensive posture is in response to the renewed efforts by some politicians to push for tighter gun control legislation. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, President Barak Obama, along with many Democrat Senators, took their anti-gun cause to the American people. Speaking to an audience, the president hinted that gun reduction was the answer. He said, "Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there's even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try.”

Shortly after 26 people were gunned down on December 14, 2012, many conservative commentators rightly predicted what was bound to follow. The Sandy Hook tragedy would undoubtedly be exploited for some political end. After didn’t Rahm Emanuel once say, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Yes he did. To be sure, we have seen this tactic before. For instance, when the news of the Tucson shootings hit the airwaves in January of 2011, when 6 people died and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s suffered a shot wound to the head, secular-liberal politicians did not waste a minute in exploiting the tragedy. Not a few of them alleged that such violence was inspired by conservative talk radio.

The political exploitation of tragedies is something to keep in mind during this national gun control debate. But there is also something else to consider.

People influenced by secular-liberalism and people of faith see the world differently. As for the former, a secular worldview disables a person’s understanding of human nature. If you ask people of this persuasion why there is more violence in public schools, than, let’s say, fifty years ago, or why the divorce rate skyrocketed after the 1960’s, or why families cannot leave their front doors unlocked anymore, they would either shrugg their shoulders with indifference or claim that the cause is material in nature. In other words, their answer to any social or public problem is reduced to “things.”

Accordingly, the problem of teenage pregnancy can be solved by making contraception more available to children and adolescents. Through a secular worldview the answer to the plight of our public education is more money or smaller class sizes or having children start school at a younger age. And after the Tucson, Aurora and Newtown shootings, the focus was naturally on guns. However, notice that every single one of these solutions is based quantity (not quality) or on things.

To propose real solutions for mass shootings, crime and other social problems is to understand the human person as he or she really is: body and soul. It is to understand that Adam Lanza (Newtown), James Holmes (Aurora) or Jared Loughner (Tucson) may have been- in addition to their mental illnesses –a product of a broken family, or neglected because of absentee parents, or addicted to violent video games or sexually/physically abused or may never been morally and spiritually formed. This is not to suggest that they should be absolved from blame. No. It is just that there are real moral and spiritual factors that make people bad enough to go on a shooting rampage. In fact, America has never known rates of narcissism and the fixation on stardom among our youth as it has today. It would be na├»ve, therefore, to dismiss these factors as having a profound influence on unstable individuals.

Keep in mind that guns and mental illness have been with us for centuries. But these mass shootings- with apparently no military or political motive –is something new. And what is also new- fifty years new –is an accelerated erosion of virtue, the family and the influence of Christianity on our public institutions.

In any event, if our politicians continue to misconstrue the real problem, if they persist in exploiting tragedy in order to undermine the constitutional rights of Americans- especially the right of self-defense -then people of faith just may have to consider the position many Sheriffs are taking. Indeed, they may have to revisit the words of Pope Leo XIII: “[W]here a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God.”

Quiet in Tarsus: Paul's training regimen

A Sky View repost:

Preface:

Waiting on the Lord can be one of the most difficult trials a Christian endures in his or her spiritual life. Pope St. Gregory the Great said the cross of waiting may be due to the punishment or purification from God for sins committed; or it may be a preparation for some greater task or mission the Lord has for you; or it may be an instrument through which God wishes to glorify himself in a special way.

Whatever the reason, waiting on the Lord can be likened to a school where the greatest of lessons about life can be learned. It teaches us the humility of being that “worthless” servant Jesus refers to in his parable; the one where the servant works hard in the field only to have to serve his Master at the table at the end of the day. St. Paul had to learn this lesson over and over again in prison and in the setbacks he encountered during his mission.

This blog was originally divided into three posts in May of 2010 and then again in May of 2011. Quite in Tarsus speaks to the St. Paul’s difficult trial of waiting on the Lord before his mission even got started.


Future Trials:

Very few Saints have been privileged with a clear foresight of what trials lay ahead. Usually we are made aware of the challenges of life, the trials of a mission or the difficulties of some undertaking as they happen. For St. Paul, however, just after he saw the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus, he was granted a vision of the sufferings which awaited him. After his conversion, he recounted some of what he suffered in his second Letter to the Corinthians:

"Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure." (II Corinthians 11:24-27)

Somehow, the Lord had to prepare St. Paul to endure these trials. Without this preparation, the temptation of giving into despair would have been too overwhelming. Indeed, this new Apostle, teeming with enthusiasm and fervor, had to be trained to see through short term sacrifices in order to lay hold of the long term gain of saving souls.

It is important to keep in mind that enthusiasm and fervor alone is never enough for perseverance. Such feeling and inner conviction are no match for the uncertainties, opposition, or even the dangers in carrying out God's work. Surprisingly, the preparation which God uses for such a work is often uneventful and quiet. Here, I refer to the simple but painful act of waiting on the Lord. It is in this that faith, hope and love are perfected. It is in this that great Saints are made. And to be sure, St. Paul was no exception.

Before the torrent of St. Paul's preaching was to be released into the ancient world, this newly ordained minister of the Word had to wait in silence. Shortly after his baptism, St. Paul had visited the Church in Jerusalem only to have become the source of commotion and a object of hatred. The Hellenists (those who adapted to Greek culture) wanted to kill him and worse yet, the Christians in Jerusalem did not trust him yet. As a result, a short time after he began his mission, the Apostles sent him home, back to Tarsus. Few people know that St. Paul had to wait a long four to five years until St. Barnabas came looking for him.

For a zealous man like St. Paul, waiting on the Lord was no easy feat. "But God is a great King, and kings often expect others to wait for them."


The Saints Waited:

Scripture is full of waiting: "I waited, waited for the LORD; who bent down and heard my cry." (Psalm 40:2) "Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14)

St. Padre Pio once said that waiting on the Lord is like being in an interior room of a ship out at sea. You can feel the ship rocking from side to side; but because the room does not have any windows, it seems the ship is far from its destination. Indeed, the ship seems to be going nowhere. In reality, however, the ship is traveling many miles a day. Likewise, waiting on the Lord can feel like you are losing ground, but in reality the soul makes much progress during this time. The Lord has been known to do his greatest work when things look dormant or when all seems lost. Beneath the surface, Divine Providence is merely getting things ready: "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds." (Sirach 35:17-18) Just as important, as we wait and trust in the Lord on a day to day basis, he builds-up the soul from within.

For St. Paul, it is probable that the Apostles did not give any indication as to when they would commission him to preach the Gospel. In obedience to them, St. Paul had to wait for their permission to resume his ministry. God leaves us in periods uncertainty for his divine purposes. Perhaps, this is part of what makes the Dark Night of the Soul so difficult.


The Holy Family Waited:

Recall another familiar story: the exile of the Holy Family into Egypt. In order to escape the wrath of Herod, St. Joseph was told by an angel of the Lord to flee with the baby Jesus and his mother to Egypt. St. Joseph was simply told by the angel to stay there until he was told to leave. There was no indication as to how long they would have to stay. A short meditation of this episode will bring to our attention how difficult that must have been! Taking refuge in a foreign land amidst a foreign people for safety is one thing; but to do so without knowing how for how long is a real test of faith. The same could be said of St. Paul. He was told to wait in Tarsus until the Apostles said otherwise. That could have been interpreted to mean one week, a month or several years.


Through the Eyes of Faith:

It was during these years of apparent inactivity that the fortitude, spirituality, and theology of St. Paul were developed. Receiving the vision of the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus was a miraculous, supernatural intervention. Although it was enough to convert him, it did not serve to prepare him for his apostolate. Evidently, God chose a more ordinary means of getting St. Paul ready for his mission; and that was to wait on the Lord in silence, fasting, and prayer.

Through solitude and stillness, the Lord trained St. Paul to rely less on his senses and more on his faith. In order to live in hope when things look hopeless or to even press forward in difficult conditions, the believer, like St. Paul, must grow accustomed to seeing the world differently. He must peer beneath the surface with the eyes of faith, trusting that what appears to be fruitless or evil, can be beneficial for God's purposes. If there is a law that runs through great enterprises, achievements and missions it is that they are more often than not marked by contradictions and suffering. Too many people are quick to dismiss failures and setbacks as having little to no value when in fact it just may be what Christ had willed.


Unless the Lord Builds:

Waiting on the Lord provides yet another lesson; and that is to teach the believer that true and lasting good comes from God himself. It is not so much what we say or what we do that makes this world a better place, it is what God does with what we say and what we do which really counts. For St. Paul, it was but a natural impulse to want to immediately share the "good news" he had received from the Risen Lord. But before the Apostle did act, the Lord wanted to impress upon this new convert a critical lesson: "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build." (Psalm 127) No matter how good or how eloquent the Ambassador of Christ would prove to be in proclaiming Christ-crucified, such gifts would be useless if the Lord did not use them.


Putting God Above Your Mission:

Lastly, waiting on the Lord served to purge the Apostle of a subtle temptation all too common among the workers of the vineyard: the temptation to love the work of God more than God Himself. How many followers of Christ- Christians who sincerely want to advance the kingdom of God -end up becoming too preoccupied with the mission while our personal spirituality suffers neglect? We may get too busy for prayer; we may enjoy the success of a mission with the result of becoming complacent; or the disciple of Christ may attribute the fruits of his labor to himself. To help us avoid these pitfalls and illusions so fatal to the work of God, Jesus allows us to wait on him while some petition seemingly goes unanswered. While we endure the "silence of God," the opportunity to affirm and reaffirm our love for the Lord is invaluable! It not only strengthens and validates our relationship with Christ, but it gives the Christian credibility. We know that God listens to those who are willing to forsake all for him, including the very work he has called us to.

That's right! It is the ironies of ironies that the Lord calls his servants to renounce (that is, the willingness to give up some work for his glory if necessary) the very mission he calls us to. This is what makes the period of waiting exceedingly difficult. God first provides the inspiration for a mission but then he permits delays and setbacks. From the days of Noah to the Christian era, this means of testing was frequently used.


Willingness to Sacrifice:

For St. Paul, the Risen Lord provided him the inspiration to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. After his baptism, he was able to act on that inspiration...but just for a short period of time. Unexpectedly, just when St. Paul was ready to join the Apostles to begin a new vocation, he was told to sit down and wait. In other words, he had to die to the very mission God had called him to fulfill just as Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah (the male heir God had promised from whose loins the nation of Israel would proceed).

After each day that passed in Tarsus, the Lord seemed to be asking St. Paul the very question he asked St. Peter: "Do you love me more than these?" That is, do you love me more than the mission I have called you to? With the fervor to proclaim the Good News burning in his soul, St. Paul had to reaffirm his love for the Lord as the highest and the most unrivaled of his loves.

For every Christian who seeks to work on God's behalf, there are two competing loves: The love for God versus the love for God's work. To be a channel of God's grace and an Apostle of his Good News, the latter must be totally subordinated to the former. This right ordering of the two loves can be a painful process. But it is one that is absolutely necessary to glorify God.

Waiting on the Lord in Tarsus played no small role in preparing St. Paul for his mission. More importantly, it prepared his soul for heaven. As such, he could say at the end of his life, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."

Paul at the Areopagus

A Sky View repost:

The church of Athens was one of the last churches to be established in Greece. According to one theologian, it came into being around the year 500 A.D. Athens was full of intellectuals. No doubt, they are usually toughest bunch of people to evangelize. Quite often, they suffer from intellectual pride and they further have a greater capacity to justify evil.

The city of Athens just happened to be the home of the Areopagus, where intellectuals would gather and discuss the philosophical ideas and issues of the day. One day, St. Paul decided to join these high-minded men who prided themselves on sophisticated language and abstract theorems. However, on this occasion, preaching to the Athenians was more of a lesson in the art of evangelization than anything else.

In his preaching, he decided to limit himself to the lowest common denominator. Instead of preaching Christ-crucified, he took a philosophical approach. This was something he would later regret as evidenced in his letters to the Corinthians. In Athens, he appealed to their poets and spoke, in general terms, of the God and the future resurrection. The Apostle even paid them a compliment by saying the following: "You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, 'To an Unknown God.' What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.” It was a beautiful oration but one that bore little fruit in terms of conversions. But he did walk away with two new followers: Dionysius and Damaris.

The book of Acts reports that St. Paul then made his way to Corinth. It would seem that he mulled over his time at the Areopagus. Perhaps he even weighed what he could have done differently. After all, his message to the Corinthians had a whole new flavor to it. It is more explicit on what was foolish to the world, instead of what was most appealing. Talking philosophically about God, in a style agreeable to the Greeks, was probably more eloquent but it certainly was less effective. The real power of the Gospel emanated from the mystery of the cross.

St. Paul, with new vigor and determination, told the Christians in Corinth that he was, for now on, going to “proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” He may have shied away from this unconventional approach at Athens, but he resolved to shy away from it no more. In fact, he was at pains to contrast the foolishness of the Cross with the refined wisdom of the Athenians:

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.’ Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? (I Corinthians 1:18-20)

Can it be that Jesus Christ chose twelve men from humble origins precisely because intelligence, if unredeemed, is a hindrance to salvation every bit as riches are? Simplicity and child-like trust are hard to come by among intellectuals. Let there be no doubt, an intelligent Saint is better than an ignorant Saint; this, because intelligence and knowledge is a gift from God and ignorance, an absence of that gift. But even among Christians, the intellectually gifted can find themselves in a world of mere ideas with little or no practical experience of how things work in the real world. And as it pertains to unbelievers, I have found that the most intelligent among them are duped by the most by secular, power-hungry politicians.

We as Catholics can learn a lesson from St. Paul; especially as we address matters on religious liberty or the right to life. When we appeal to the public and even make our case to the State in favor of religious liberty, we often limit ourselves to natural law terminology; this, in an attempt to highlight the common denominator we have with the people. For instance, we say that Catholic agencies cannot distribute contraception because it is a “matter of conscience.” Or when an argument is made that life begins at conception, we might limit our appeal to the science behind it. This is all well and good. Nevertheless, this approach, as much as it appeals to the familiarity of the public, is inferior to the apostolic and patristic (i.e. Church Fathers) approach. When they made their case to powerful men or to their audience, what stood out above the rest was God’s rights and God’s will. This was their emphasis.

For us, to hold fast to Christ’s teaching that using artificial birth control is against God’s plan for married couples and, as such, is offensive to him, is foolishness to the world. Still, we should proclaim it loud and clear. However, because of the potential ridicule or the fear of being ostracized from the mainstream, Catholics distanced themselves from this truth. Furthermore, we couch the argument in terms of conscience rights and speak very little of God’s rights. To be sure, liberty is unintelligible and will remain so if we do not make a connection- for all to see -between liberty and God’s rights and jurisdiction over every single human being. It is because every person is created by God, for God and in the likeness of God that no government or hostile party can violate human rights. Erase God from the equation of life and liberty, and what you are left with is the survival of the fittest, the strongest and the loudest.

The lesson that St. Paul learned in Athens also applies most fittingly to the Church in America. When Catholics make the Cross the centerpiece of their message- when repentance and sacrifices are the condition upon which people become a follower of Christ -and when we unapologetically articulate those moral doctrines that society deems to be foolish and outdated, then we will see gains similar to those of St. Paul "after" his disappointing visit to Athens.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In His Time


He who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right.

-Sirach 35:16-18


Miracles do happen:

Sometimes God’s answers to prayer are immediate, leaving no doubt in the mind that favorable outcome we prayed for was inspired by Divine Providence. But there are other times when that same Divine Providence is painfully slow in answering prayer. To our chagrin, sometimes the answer is no. However, with every door that closes, God opens another one. Through the years, I have learned that whatever God’s manner of answering prayer happens to be, it is for our greater good.

For instance, in the late 1980’s, I was reading a book written by Sister Briege McKenna. She was a Catholic nun who claimed to have the gift of healing. In her book (the title escapes me at the moment) she recounted several stories in which her prayers were answered; some in miraculous fashion and yet others were less extraordinary. But as I was reading her book, God’s intervention in everyday life became more palpable to me. In other words, I came to believe that miracles and healings were not just reserved for the first century when Christ walked the earth. In fact, the belief that the divine work of Jesus Christ continues, even in our own day, was more credible to me than it had been in the past.

During the reading of Sister Briege’s book, this renewed faith I had in God’s divine intervention would be put to the test. One day my mother had a root canal performed. By the time she returned home from the dentist, her mouth was still numb. But when that numbness wore off, she experienced repeated jolts of pain. It was so bad she couldn’t talk or open her eyes. All she could do was lean back on the recliner, cry and moan. Being that my mother was not the crying type, my father became alarmed at the extent of her anguish and then rushed off to Walgreens to purchase some kind of pain reliever. My mom’s condition wasn’t quite at the point where we considered taking her to the emergency room.


Family room miracle:

And so there I was, standing there, the only other person in the house. Incidentally, I had just put down Sister Briege’s book. Then, with a great deal of reluctance, I asked my mother if she wanted me to prayer over her. Mind you, I was not accustomed to this kind of spiritual exercise at this point in my life. So, when I didn’t hear her say anything I was relieved. But after a minute or so, as I proceeded into the kitchen, I heard her say, “yes.”

Not knowing exactly what to do, I stood by my mother as she was holding the left side of her face with her hand, moaning, and with tears running down her cheek. I then put my hand where her hand was- where most of the pain seemed to be coming from –and prayed a simple prayer…out loud. As I was praying, my mom pressed my hand against her cheek as if it was a heating pad or something. At the same time, I felt as though the Lord heard my petition on behalf on mother. As such, I concluded the prayer, removed my hand and asked her how she felt. For the first time in several minutes, she spoke intelligible words. She said something like, “It feels better.” She immediately sat up, began rocking on her recliner and then proceeded to talk as if nothing happened. The pain was gone.

A few minutes later my father returned from Walgreens. It had been pouring rain outside. Frustrated and all wet from the rain, he said to my mother that he didn’t find what he was looking for. But she replied, “Don’t worry, Joe prayed over me.” My father, confused because my mom was inconsolable when he had left for the store but was perfectly fine when he returned, just shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Although this experience left no doubt in my mind that the Lord still intervenes in our day and age, I can honestly say that he has only answered my prayers in this way a handful of times. As for the multiplicity of other times, his answers were more subtle and sometimes slow in coming. And I would even venture to say that when the Lord delays his answer, we profit all the more because of it.


When God delays:

Case and point: About a year before my mom’s healing, I had to take a sabbatical from college three weeks before the semester ended. For the first time in my life, I was burdened with a severe depression. Being that my family life and my social life was as good as it could be up to that point, I assumed this condition was the result of a chemical imbalance.

Regardless of the cause, I experienced all of the classic symptoms of depression: hopelessness, helplessness, despair, anxiety and wanting to die (Thankfully, I never considered suicide because of my faith). Due to my inability to concentrate, studying, listening to lectures and even thinking on my feet in social situations became exceedingly difficult. With this, I withdrew all together from college. In hindsight, this was a good thing because my social life was slowly verging from where God wanted me to be. In a word, I was having too much good for my own spiritual good.

Returning home, I had no idea what the future held for me. It was as if my personality had died, not knowing if it would ever return. As such, I had become a stranger to myself. Second to the depression itself, the greatest trial was the uncertainty of how long the crippling effects of my depression would last. The only relief I had from the monotony being housebound was going to sleep at night. But after a few months, I was encouraged to work- to get a job doing something. As painful as that was, it was something I needed to do.

During these dark and dreary winter months, I prayed and even pleaded with God to deliver me from this darkness. I thought to myself: “If I just pray a little more, God will heal me.” But as hard as I prayed, no relief was immediately forthcoming. In fact, the temptation of feeling abandoned by God was overwhelming. Worse than the depression itself was the feeling that God had just let go. The sense of having a safety net was completely gone.


New found empathy:

But in my day-to-day despondency, I started to notice something: I developed an empathy with the needy, the poor and the infirmed people I saw on television. In previous years, such images would inspire a passing sympathy. But in my suffering, I felt like their equal. No longer looking down to them with pity, I believed I was one of them; as if looking at them straight in the eye for the first time.

This new found empathy hit me so hard I pledged to God that if he were to ever heal me I would not forget those people who are in need. In fact, when my depression gave way to normalcy once again, I sponsored two children- a boy from India and a girl from Columbia –through an international charity for children. But I never would have done this if it weren’t for the pain and suffering I went through. Having a heart for these two children was truly an act of God’s mercy. This experience would also inspire me to work with the developmentally disabled, senior citizens and hospice patients.


Closer than before:

Still, as important as serving people in need is, the greatest blessing that resulted from my time of need was waiting on the Lord. That’s right! Waiting on the Lord! Scripture, especially the Psalms is replete with that theme. The servants of God knew it well. For Habakkuk, who had witness much suffering amongst his people, had to be trained to will what God willed. His timing had to conform to God’s timing: “Then the LORD answered me and said: ‘Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.’” (Habakkuk 2:2-3)

During what seemed like eternity (i.e. five months), I had to totally rely on God’s help. After all, no one understood my affliction; not even those who were closest to me. It was then- even amid feeling abandoned –that I was given a kind of intimacy with Christ I never knew.

When I ventured out into the world again to work, I was still in the throes of my depression. The social anxiety was still very intense. As such, during work-breaks I would find a quiet corner in the building to pray the rosary just so I could get through the day. And as I drew closer to Christ- totally relying on him –he gave me a gift: His Mother. During those difficult days- as well as other times of crisis in my life –she was there pray with me and to strengthen me. Her maternal presence was palpable. As much as I wanted a quick fix- an immediate healing, if you will –the grace and power of God would instead come through painstaking perseverance.


An ounce of desolation:

C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers in your pleasures, speaks through your conscience and shouts in your pain.” He certainly got my attention through my depression. For at least five months, I relied on Him in ways I never had before. But in a much deeper way, I have come to better understand words of St. Paul: “[I]f only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” That is to say, Jesus Christ is not just some indifferent onlooker from above who just answers prayers from time to time. No. In a mysterious way he suffers with us. On one occasion he identified himself with the needy and on another occasion, when St. Paul was persecuting Christians, he identified with his suffering Church. And it is through this joint suffering that God’s answer to prayer is experienced in the most powerful of ways.

Perhaps this is why St. Francis de Sales said, “An ounce of desolation is worth more than a pound of consolation.” In our desolation, we are given an opportunity to love God for who he is and not for what he can give us. We also learn to live in the moment, accepting all the circumstances of the day as God’s will. But too often, many of us live in the past or we become fearful of what the future might bring us. Waiting on the Lord, therefore, as painful as it can be, is the very thing that purges us from these defects. It enables our confidence and trust in his providence to take root and grow.

Quite often in one's life, bearing a heavy cross- feeling almost too heavy to carry -is not just a once in a lifetime event. As for me, trials of this nature when my faith was tested visited me at least a handful of times. Why does this happen? Well, contrary to what some Christians believe, conversion is not a singular event. Conversion is a series of beginnings. We're always starting over...going back to the drawing board...falling and getting back up again. And those invaluable lessons we learn through suffering need to be renewed again. Just as the penitent sinner returns to the confessional to have his sins forgiven yet again, so too does the Christian need reminding that this earth is not his home. It just so happens that this reminder is most deeply felt through suffering. Through the Cross we become strangers to this world and, at the same time, are more disposed to welcome a better world, namely heaven.


Strange nostalgia:

This is probably why I have nostalgia of that desolate period of time in my life. That may sound strange, but it is very common for those who experienced intense suffering. In hindsight, I know the beginning, middle and end of that depressive episode. And after five months or so, I resumed my college studies. But the reason behind my nostalgia- the core of it -also has something to do with how Christ was experienced. In times of suffering, very often, the layers of distractions that once existed between the soul and God are pealed back. It is then that the soul is open to his divine consolation and its consequent foretaste of heaven. Indeed, the greatest irony of this is that this bright ray of light shines through during the darkest periods.

God answers prayers in his own time and in his own way. He accommodates us by giving a prompt response to our prayers. For that, many are grateful. But he fulfills our deepest spiritual and moral needs by withholding his answer for a while and allowing us to wait on him. It is then that real spiritual progress is made.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Two Cultures of Death: Similarities between Rome and America

Preface:

History repeats itself because human nature has remained constant throughout world history. As such, nations rise and fall for similar reasons. The fall of the Roman Empire has a lot to say about the decline of America.

As for ancient Rome, before its mighty empire fell, Christianity was persecuted and repressed for years. By the time the Christian religion was legalized and thus was permitted to have any meaningful influence on its public institutions, it was too late. Its downward spiral was beyond the point of no return. What is more, because the Romans had become religiously indifferent and confused, human life ceased to be held as sacred and inviolable. By the first century, not a few Roman emperors had a wonton disregard for human rights. In fact, they did not hesitate to kill anyone who became the least bit disagreeable to them.

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:

Enter Seneca and Petronius: The year was 60 A.D. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, 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 amphitheatre 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 let it out of the cage.

Germany learned this painful lesson in 1945 when it was virtually destroyed by Allied Forces at the end of World War II. In the 1930’s, 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 1930’s and the early part of the 1940’s. 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 accelerated ten to eleven years before when the U.S. Supreme Court expelled God from the most important public institution- our schools (i.e. banning prayer and bible reading). What the American people- including Christians –failed to appreciate is that the suppression of religion is but the prelude to the violation of human rights. 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 by it.

But when the moral evils of denying one group of people the right to live- such as the preborn –then God’s rights are denied. 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, between those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life, or between the powerful politicians and the homeless man. Like Seneca and Petronius who supported this culture when it suited their purposes, death will knock on the door of those Americans who will not want to open it. But sadly, they will not have any choice in the matter.

What can be said for the helpless American in cases of abortion and forced euthanasia, can be said for America itself! Her time will come too soon if the culture of death is not overcome.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Church's Dress Code

Preface:

This article was last posted in February of 2012. It is a message I will continue to repeat because when the Church requires repentance, as she used to, as a condition of being received into the Church and as a condition of receiving the Sacraments, then the Gospel will become a viable alternative to secularism.

This age-old pastoral practice (but one that has been omitted in recent years) was the principal force in unifying the Church. After all, Christ warned his disciples not to give holy things to dogs and pearls to swine "lest they tear you to pieces." Giving the Sacraments to obstinate, unrepentant or apathetic sinners and allowing them into the communion with the Church has led to division among Catholics.

In fact, to be a “Catholic” can mean any number of things today. And even the values and priorities among regular church-goers can vary a great deal. This has been demonstrated by the mere fact that the hierarchy of the Church in the United States is suing the Obama administration over the H.H.S. mandate while, at the same time, a significant percentage of Catholics- clergy and laity –voted to keep the president in office. Hence, the erosion of religious liberty is not just a political problem, it is a pastoral problem as well!


The Wedding Banquet:

The parable of the Wedding Banquet happens to hold the key as to the reason why the Catholic Church has suffered great declines in Mass attendance, decline in priestly and religious vocations, and an increase of secularization in the world. An excerpt of that parable is taken from the Gospel of Matthew 22:

The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, "My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?"

The Church, in many parts of the world, but especially in the West, does not require repentance in order to join the Church or to receive the sacraments. Parents who show little resolve to live the life of Christ by, let's say, observing the Lord's Day every week are permitted to have their infants baptized; teenagers are not required to confirm their baptismal vows by demonstrating that they intend to live out the Gospel before they receive the sacrament of Confirmation; engaged couples are not required to repent and abstain from living together before entering into the sacred bonds of Matrimony and worse yet politicians who have a proven record of supporting abortion rights are not told to publicly renounce their sin against the dignity of life before approaching the altar. Of course, there are exceptions with each of these examples. But the point is that in the last fifty years repentance has become an option instead of an absolute necessity. And therein lies the problem to the Church's woes.


Repent and be Baptized:

In the Acts of the Apostles the people asked St. Peter: What must we do to be saved? He replied, "Repent and be baptized." That is, repent first and then be baptized! And St. Peter could have gone on to say: Repent first and then receive the Body and Blood of Christ! Repent first and then receive the sacrament of Confirmation! Repent first and then receive the sacrament of Matrimony! Our Lord said, “Do not give pearls to swine and holy things to dogs lest they tear you to pieces.” He cautioned the Apostles and future Shepherds of His flock not to give the sacraments, the mysteries of the Faith, and even the name “Catholic” to those who would not respect holy things or be worthy recipients of them. Jesus warned that to ignore this injunction would result in being “torn to pieces.” Perhaps the current day division within the Church, the conflicting messages coming from the Church hierarchy and the contradictions among Catholics on important moral issues is what our Lord meant when he said “lest they tear you to pieces.”


The White Garment:

Repentance, which leads to holiness, is that white garment the Lord was referring to in the parable of the banquet. Repentance is a sincere effort to renounce sin and turn towards the Lord and the new way of life he has for us. Pope St. Gregory the Great said that the tears of repentance must come before the waters of baptism. Traditionally, repentance was the condition and the prerequisite of being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. If this repentance was wanting, then the candidate wishing to join the Church would simply be denied. By and large, this was the pastoral practice of the Catholic Church up until the 1960's.


Early Catechumenate:

For instance, in early Christianity (here I refer to the first millennium) a candidate wishing to enter the Catholic Church had to demonstrate to the Bishop over three years that he or she willing to observe "all that Christ commanded." And as late as the 1940's it was common practice in the Church's RCIA to ascertain that candidates believed all of the Church's teachings before being initiated into the Body of Christ, the Church. Unlike the servants in the parable who allowed the guest to sit down at the banquet without the proper attire, the Catholic Church was a jealous mother who made sure her children were properly dressed. I would argue that her dress code in centuries past bore a striking resemblance to the dress code the King enforces in heaven.


Church's Most Important Mission:

The most important mission given to the Church by Christ comes down to this: She is to prepare souls for eternity. That is, the Catholic Church's main duty is to prepare souls to meet God face to face. Throughout the centuries, she made sure that each soul given to her care was wearing the white garment. If the person refused to wear this garment by not repenting from mortal sin and false beliefs, with sorrow but with a firm resolve, she did not hesitate to exclude the unrepentant sinner from her communion. Pope St. Leo the Great told the bishops in the fifth century that "those who refuse to share in our discipline cannot share in our communion." And it is this discipline that strengthens the unity of the Church; the unity that is so necessary if the truth is to be accepted by the world.


False Compassion:

The Church considered it false compassion- a kind of cruel mercy -to allow the sinner to delude himself into believing that he was in God's good graces when in fact that he was not. How many nominal Catholics have gone to their deathbeds without feeling the compunction of heart or the contrition for their sins because those within the Church- both clergy and lay -were afraid to tell them what their sins were? Indeed, they were permitted to attend the banquet at the altar here below without having to wear the white garment. But at the altar in heaven what did the King say to them? Was their communion with the Church on earth consistent with their communion with the Church in heaven? Or did the King, immediately following their death, have to ask them to leave the banquet because they were not wearing the garment of repentance?

If repentance is an option then Jesus himself is an option. When repentance from sins such as promiscuity, cohabitation, contraception, and homosexuality (to name a few) is not insisted upon when proclaiming the Gospel, preparing souls for the sacraments or admitting candidates into the Church, then Jesus as Savior and Redeemer is out of a job. Frankly, there is no need for him if repentance from sin is up to the sinner. No sin, no Savior. And if there are no sins to repent from then why bother with Christianity at all?


Fruits of False Compassion:

Should we be surprised that people have responded accordingly by not coming to Mass? Should we be surprised that younger generations are having little to do with organized religion; even less so than older generations? The priesthood, the altar and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is utterly unintelligible without the need to repent from sin; that is, from "specific" sins, not just sin in general. Shepherds and teachers of the Faith need to "name that sin" or else Christians will simply make up their own short list of sins; and a short list it will be.

In recent years, the relaxed dress code of not having to wear the white garment has led to moral confusion in and outside the Church. The reason behind the small splash the Church seems to be making in Western Civilization is due to the churches being over-crowded with people who do not wear the shiny bright garment the King requires his followers to wear. As such, the Church does not shine as brightly; she is not as attractive; and her influence is not as transformative as it once was...and as it could be.


Catholic: Only One Meaning

We need to reinstate the Lord's dress code so that the name "Catholic" can only mean one thing: An active follower of Christ who believes in the fullness of who He is and in the fullness of what He has taught us!

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bishop Aquila: 40 Years of the Culture of Death

40 Years of the Culture of Death: A Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade

By Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

January 22, 2013


Excerpt from sermon:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I went to college in 1968 with the idea of becoming a doctor, like my father. College campuses in the late ‘60’s and throughout the 70’s were places of turmoil. I didn’t practice my faith much in the first three years of college and I certainly never imagined that the Lord would one day make me a bishop.

I spent my first three years of college working as a hospital orderly and assisting in the emergency room, at a university student health center and in a hospital in California during summer break.

When I began the job, I hadn’t thought much about human suffering, or about human dignity.

But during my employment in hospitals, something changed. At that time, some states had approved abortion laws that I wasn’t even aware of. Because of those laws, when I was in college I witnessed the results of two abortions.

The first was in a surgical unit. I walked into an outer room and in the sink, unattended, was the body of small unborn child who had been aborted. I remember being stunned. I remember thinking that I had to baptize that child.

The second abortion was more shocking. A young woman came into the emergency room screaming. She explained that she had had an abortion already. When the doctor sent her home, he told her she would pass the remains naturally. She was bleeding as the doctor, her boyfriend, the nurse and I placed her on a table.

I held a basin as the doctor retrieved a tiny arm, a tiny leg and then the rest of the broken body of a tiny unborn child. I was shocked. I was saddened for the mother and child, for the doctor and the nurse. None of us would have participated in such a thing were it not an emergency. I witnessed a tiny human being destroyed by violence.

The memory haunts me. I will never forget that I stood witness to acts of unspeakable brutality. In the abortions I witnessed, powerful people made decisions that ended the lives of small, powerless, children. Through lies and manipulation, children were seen as objects. Women and families were convinced that ending a life would be painless, and forgettable. Experts made seemingly convincing arguments that the unborn were not people at all, that they could not feel pain, and were better off dead.

I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath. I can never forget that. And I have never been the same. My faith was weak at the time. But I knew by reason, and by what I saw, that a human life was destroyed. My conscience awakened to the truth of the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. I became pro-life and eventually returned to my faith.

I learned what human dignity was when I saw it callously disregarded. I know, without a doubt, that abortion is a violent act of murder and exploitation. And I know that our responsibility is to work and pray without ceasing for its end.


Repentance, Prayer, Renewal:

At each Mass, before we receive the Eucharist, the Church instructs us to consider and confess our sinfulness. When we pray the Confiteor at Mass we proclaim the sins of “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.”

We ask the Lord for mercy. We ask one another for prayers.

At the Penitential Act, we recognize the times we have chosen sinfulness, and also the times we have chosen to do nothing in the face of the evil of this world. Our sins of omission permit evil. They permit injustice. At the Penitential Act, I sometimes think about the abortions I witnessed and my heart still experiences sadness. I beg forgiveness for the doctors, nurses, politicians, and others who so ardently support abortion and pray for their conversion.

Today we recognize the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade—we recognize 40 years of sanctioned killing in our nation. Today we recognize the impact of those 40 years. Tolerating abortion for 40 years has coarsened us. We’ve learned to see people as problems and objects. In the four decades since Roe vs. Wade, our nation has found new ways to weaken the family, to marginalize the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill—we’ve found new ways to exploit and abuse. ---

Today we must recognize that 40 years of sanctioned killing has given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation.

We must also recognize our sinfulness. When we survey the damage abortion has caused in our culture, we must repent for our sins of omission. We Christians bear some responsibility for our national shame. Some of us have supported pro-choice positions. Many of us have failed to change minds or win hearts. We’ve failed to convince the culture that all life has dignity. In the prospect of unspeakable evil, we’ve done too little, for too long, with tragic results.

Today is a day to repent. But with repentance comes resolve to start anew. The 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is a day to commit to a culture of life. Today the Lord is calling us to stand up.

When I worked in hospitals in college, I didn’t know or understand what the Church taught about human life. I learned by experience that a human life is destroyed in every abortion. But I was unprepared to defend life—unprepared to even see real human dignity, let alone proclaim it. I pray that none of you, dear brothers and sisters, will ever find yourselves in the position I was in so many years ago. I pray that you are prepared to defend the truth about human life….

Monday, January 21, 2013

Passive fathers breed angry sons

When boys used to cry, their fathers used to say to them, “You better stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” But today there are not a few fathers who are inclined to do everything in their power to keep their sons from crying at all. And this tendency has been institutionalized to a great extent.

In my social life and profession, I have noticed trend among many fathers, who, with intentions inspired by compassion and kindness, allow their sons to indulge either in anger or self pity unchecked. In many cases, however, it is not the father’s compassion and kindness that is transmitted to their sons. When excessive whining, complaining or anger is not disrupted by some kind of disciplinary intervention, then boys are prone to habitual anger, even narcissism.

I have worked with- and have been friends with -fathers whose congenial demeanor has served them well in their profession and social life. But their inability to transition into a stern, disciplinary man of authority when their sons act-up or misbehave ends up having unintended consequences.

For one, a child is hard-pressed to respect a parent who does not discipline. Instead of love, the passive father gets ingratitude in return. Second, to acquiesce to the whims of children or to show a reluctance to discipline quite often reinforces bad behavior. Such passivity on the father’s part perpetuates the need for him to yell or raise his voice in giving his son directives. Sometimes this can go on for years. But the saddest display of passive fatherhood is when he begs his children to cooperate. Begging our own children to listen to us is the surest sign that we have given up on our own God-given parental authority.

It is as if today’s parents have lost sight of the value of adversity, punishment and even failure. As to dealing with failure, it is every bit as beneficial for a boy’s development as success is. Moreover, being overlooked or ostracized by peers can be occasions for humility. As I recall from my childhood, it was the popular kids who never knew what it meant to be picked-on or last in games who struggled with arrogance and self-absorption. Bullying or losing is unpleasant to be sure, but there are many parents who feel that it is the worst of evils. As such, they do everything in their power to protect their children from these unfavorably circumstances. Sometimes, however, being overly protective of our kids can be just as harmful as the bullying or losing itself.

As to the institutionalization of this aversion to losing, sporting events for boys no longer stresses the importance of winning and achievement. This omission, quite often, is in deference to those boys who will inevitably feel the disappointment of loss. Even in the NFL, players get penalized for “taunting” the other team after a great play. From public institutions to sporting events for children, masculine virtues of triumph and conquest are slowly being smothered. Except for a few institutions like the military, boys are no longer being trained to be men.

The training of boys to be men starts with the father. But the father needs the community to reinforce this training. When a boy’s anger and self-pity is allowed to fester unchecked; when I see fathers and coaches do everything in their power to protect a child’s self-esteem at all cost; and when I see a real attempt to dismiss the value of discipline and punishment, kids naturally feel entitled to win. As such, they will not know how to process loss in the years to come. With such an attitude, they are deprived of learning invaluable lessons that come with trials and adversity.

When I attend community activities for boys, I feel like I am watching America make the same mistakes as other fallen civilizations did. For instance, when the Roman Empire was in a downward spiral, there was a gender imbalance of epidemic proportions. Masculinity was in short supply. In fact, these problems were to surface during the third century. Catholic historian, Henry Daniel-Rops had this to say: “The entire moral atmosphere of this epoch was permeated by a new style of feminism, which had been brought from the East by the Syrian princesses of Septimius Serverus’ [Roman emperor] family: women filled the roles of men because the men were wanting…” Men were wanting then, and I fear that men are wanting today.

If truth be told, it was Christianity that served to restore the gender balance by teaching and demonstrating to society what a real man and what a real woman is in Christ. By studying God as Father and Lord in Scripture, people came to understand how a father is supposed to behave. Throughout the bible, God was severe at times and yet at other times he was tender. He was also a God who rewarded and punished. And what is more, in his wisdom, he did not spare his servants from adversity.

Like his Father, Jesus Christ displayed these characteristics. As Cardinal James Gibbons said, “In His person was shown the excellence and true dignity of human nature, wherein human rights have their center. In His dealings with men, justice and mercy, sympathy and courage, pity for weakness and rebuke for hollow pretense were perfectly blended. Having fulfilled the law, He gave to His followers a new commandment.”

Christian manhood is the highest expression of masculinity. It is neither too aggressive or too passive.  The making of Christian man, the old fashion way, anticipated the demands of life. It prepared boys for the real world; an unforgiving world that tests the character of every man.

Unfortunately, many fathers, coaches, and teachers in the twenty-first century are protecting boys from that real world. In so doing, we will have a new generation of boys who will struggle to be men.  Not a few of them will not know how to manage their anger when the world will contradict them.