One From the Road (Music for Mondays)

So my family and I are up in the Nation’s Capitol. Our Lord said, Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. It doesn’t get much more “least” than unborn babies.

So after Mass yesterday, I pulled a Crazy Ivan on my wife and kids and told them we’re heading to Washington D.C. for the March for Life. The idea came over me during the homily and that ended at about 1:15 PM. We shoved off by 3:30 PM.

Who would watch our puppy Cody? The Lord provided. Where would we stay? The Lord provided. Can we go to the pre-march Mass? The Lord provided (free, but you need tickets, which we have). Can you muster the chutzpah to make the 8 hour drive one-way? Can you endure the cold?

Well, like I said, we are here (in Quantico, VA now) and by 10:30 we will be at the Mass at St. Mary, Mother of God parish, after which we’ll get a bite to eat and head to the rally point on the Mall.

That’s all I know for now. Oh, and I woke up with this song playing in my head too. I think I’m supposed to share it with you.

Elton John, Daniel.

Who Is Jesus Christ? by Eric Sammons (A Book Review)

Yesterday I wrote about classic books in the packs and pockets of the saints and how reading them can help us too. For example, St. Francis de Sales (whose feast day is tomorrow) and his worn copy of Dom. Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat. St. Teresa of Avila turned from reading trashy romance novels to reading books like Francisco de Osuna’s The Third Spiritual Alphabet.

Francisco himself constantly references the works of Jean Gerson, which were over 100 years old by the time he read them. I recommend Gerson to you as well.

When the saints above were picking up these volumes, however, they were written by their contemporaries. So just like them, I’m going to recommend a new book to you today: Who Is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew by Eric Sammons.

Who is Eric Sammons? Eric is the director of evangelization at his parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland and is working towards his Masters degree in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also a husband and father of five children. Did I mention he co-founded the non-profit Little Flowers Foundation that helps Catholic families adopt special-needs children? He also blogs at The Divine Life. I like Eric because he is a baseball fan too, and a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, which was my favorite team from childhood. That and he’s obviously a disciple of Our Lord.

But enough about Eric, and on to why should you buy this book. It’s quite simple really. As I mentioned yesterday, you are in Christ the King’s Army, or are thinking about joining it. As such, you are willing to put your life on the line for His Majesty. Therefore it makes a lot of sense for you personally to get to know Him better. This slim, accessible volume, will help you do just that.

There is even a strategic and tactical reason for you to learn as much as you can about Jesus. In the Marines, leadership responsibilities are pushed down to the lowest levels from the highest. Any break in the chain of command, due to death, injury, or absence of one’s superior, does not absolve the subordinate from responsibility to act, in any situation, the way his commander would.

The mission is shared with all and known by all. In the Marines, we call this Commanders Intent. By knowing the commander better, we know how he would act if he was here. Therefore the subordinate knows how to act in his absence. We act as the commanders proxy in any situation. This means we need to have a personal understanding of the commander and that is where Eric’s book comes in. Eric has taken the Gospel of Matthew, and all of the titles of Our Lord and Savior given therein, and has addressed each one in a way that gives us a fuller understanding of who Jesus Christ is.

Reading this book is a wonderful way to get to know Our Lord better. Eric guides us by the hand by exploring our incomplete perceptions of Him first, (Man, Rabbi, Ghost(!), Carpenter’s Son) and even those of His contemporaries and of the Apostle’s (John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah). After all, He did ask the question “who do the people say that I am” followed up with “and who do you say that I am?” Eric goes on to explore the roles of Jesus, the prophecies and types of Christ, and his role as a son and as the Son.

Eric takes us through each of these names, or roles, or types, in a way that is easily understandable. I have read aloud portions of this book to my children before family prayer time. I’ve had my children read chapters during “quiet time” too. I’ve read it during breaks at work when my batteries need a recharge as well.

The chapters are short, but dripping with scripture references, the works of the Church fathers, and Eric ends them with reflections and points to ponder. Eric too is a convert to Catholicism, and reflections on his conversion, and examples from his walk on the Way, are helpful to all of us as we too walk this path.

Getting to know Our King better is one of the reasons why I am Catholic. This rich book, published by the good folks at Our Sunday Visitor, will help you (and your family) do the same. Buy a copy and keep it in your, back-pack, briefcase, lunch box, or purse. You’ll be glad you did.

Because, Believe It Or Not, It’s Easy

How many high school seniors do you know who have a blog? To narrow that list down a bit, how many of them have one dedicated to blogging about the Catholic faith? Well allow me to introduce you to a young man who does just that.

He’s young, smart, edgy, and reverently irreverent. In other words, he’s the kind of Catholic I hope my kids meet up with and hang out with. 

Full Disclosure: I’ve never met Marc personally. But he caught my eye first with a post he wrote on Catholics in the military, and another that he posted which linked to my post on Vlad the Impaler.

If photographs of nuns smoking cigarettes offend you (some people do smoke, you know, and some of these people become nuns and priests too) don’t bother e-mailing me. Just remember this about my friend Marc: He is young, and though inexperienced in many ways, he is inflamed with a love for Christ and His Church, and his writing shows this clearly.

Thirty years ago, when I was Marc’s age, I was just as fired up about being a Marine. I think we share a personality trait, or two. We go all the way, or not at all. There is no “half way.” Why is Marc Catholic? Because, as “the Kid” writes below, it’s easy.

Guest post by Marc Barnes,

I suppose that whenever any honest Catholic is asked this question – be it by the must-save-you-from-hell-for-which-you-are-destined-by-your-goddess-worship Baptist or the mind-boggled agnostic who cannot begin to comprehend our happy willingness to make a few babies -G.K. Chesterton’s answer seems the most appropriate response; that “the difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”

I want to laugh and yell to the inquisitors that the real question, and indeed the only question worth asking, is why on earth are you not Catholic? An aversion to joy? Or perhaps just an aversion to fish on Fridays? A fear of true community? Or perhaps a deep and abiding fear of nuns? (I have a secret belief that those who do not like Catholicism simply have no sense of humor. However, that’s another story.)

But if I had to undertake the monstrous task of sorting through the various delights and pleasures of Catholicism – which I do, in case you were wondering – to search for one most meaningful to me – to decide between incense, the Communion of Saints, old ladies praying rosaries, our Mother Mary, and all the rest – there is one guilty happiness, one indulgent secret of Catholicism that makes it the Right Religion For Me. Catholicism is easy.

Having made that reckless statement, I would kindly ask those who fast every other day of their novena-filled lives while practicing self-flagellation to put down their pitchforks, stop google mapping my house, have some bread and water, and follow me for a few more paragraphs.

Catholicism is the only religion that is equally accessible to both saints and sinners, and is just as true and available to the murderer in the last pew as it is to the priest facing him. Though I dislike explaining positives through negatives, the same simply cannot be said for popular versions of Evangelical Christianity, for example, where spiritual experience requires emotional or transcendent experience to validate it.

I have many Protestant friends who I’ve honestly questioned, “how do you know you are forgiven for your sins?” The answers are many and varied, but all incredibly deep: “I let God into my heart and He speaks his word of forgiveness there, telling me I’m forgiven” or “I admit my sins and I feel God’s forgiveness wash over me.” There is nothing at all wrong with these holy answers except this: they are too holy.

But answers like these make forgiveness only accessible to saints, to people with hearts finely-tuned to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, to those who hear God in their ears telling them they are forgiven, and thus they make it unavailable to the hungover truck driver or that murderer in the back pew, God bless him. Better is the follower of religion that when asked, “are you forgiven?’ can answer “yes, I went to Reconciliation on Tuesday before the 9 a.m Mass,” for that is an answer that even the worst of us can give.

It gets even holier when I’ve asked them if they have God in their lives. “Yes, he speaks to me through His word, and is constantly inside of me.” or “Yes, ever since I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior he has been holding my hand.” What beautiful answers! Indeed, the holiest saints in heaven are nodding their heads in sage agreement.

But what sadness and tragedy! The hungover trucker is shaking his head and saying “what the hell are you talking about?” Answers such as these are brilliant gems of trust, but the truth of the matter is – when it comes to feeling God’s presence – we aren’t all diamonds in the rough. Most of us appear to be just “the rough,” in fact.

The hand-holding Jesus does not always remain foremost in the mind of those rocked by sorrow or sin, and thus the responses made by our Protestant brothers and sisters are reserved for the peaceful, contemplative saints among us, and not the beserker in the back pew, may he live forever. Better is the religion that when asked, “Is God inside you?” can answer, “Yes, and I ate Him this morning at the 9 o’clock Mass too.” for that is an answer that the most distracted and unsaintly of practicing Catholics can give.

This trend continues throughout every aspect of the faith. “How do you know you’ve received the Holy Spirit?”, “How do you know you are saved?”, “How do you know God loves you?” No matter the question, Catholicism’s answer is always universal, practical and equally applicable to every one of it’s members, while other believers answers are emotional, personal, and apply to seemingly only the holiest of saints among them, whom they consider themselves to be. The irony that Catholics should happily admit is that the problem with every other form of Christianity is not that they have dumbed down religion (though they often do in many aspects), but that they have made it extremely complicated and – dare I say, dare I? Oh, alright then – elitist.

If, as Chesterton says, “religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; [and] it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary,” then it is certainly a point for Catholics that we follow this maxim, and certainly a point against our holy brothers and sisters for whom a man must feel extraordinary to even begin to take part in the faith.

That’s why Catholics are so happy and ridiculous. Because Christ made this whole religion thing easy. He established an infallible Church so that we would not have to seek personal revelation for our every decision, he established the power to forgive sins here on earth so we would not just have emotional consolation after every lustful thought. He established the Eucharist so He would be with us always, not only in Spirit, but physically there for the least of us to cradle in our unworthy hands.

I am Catholic because Catholicism is easy. But the really beautiful thing in this whole matter is this. Just because Catholicism works for the sinner does not mean it is banal, bland, or boring for the saint. The Eucharist, when viewed with proper consideration and taken with proper praise has us weeping, fainting, and caught up in the most intimate, sensual glories of heaven. It is our very life-breath, the greatest most addicting drug ever given to man, that can elevate us beyond the reach of earthly delight.

And all of us, every last one of us, has a duty to become a saint, has a duty to try for this holiness, and for the holiness that Christians of other faith traditions claim as their staple diet. But the reason I am Catholic and the reason I would die for my Church, is that my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is available to us whether or not we can reach this holiness. He has made it easy, so that the brigand in the back pew might slowly and surely become the saint in the front.

About the author,

Marc is close to failing high school or close to passing, depending on your outlook on life. He plans to go to Franciscan University in Steubenville and become a famous rapper and/or Catholic writer and/or fast-food employee. He loves short walks on the beach. His favorite thing to do of all time is to create clubs, groups and organizations that only ever really have one meeting that never gets followed up on. He currently maintains a blog known as BadCatholic, that focuses on how bad we are at practicing our great religion. And how that’s O.K. He has 5 brothers and sisters, an incredibly attractive girlfriend and no pets. He wishes he were cool enough to be invited into a gang.

For Thoughts On Freedom Like These By Fulton Sheen

A little while ago, I shared a few of the Catholic ideas that have been consistent since Our Lord’s Advent and yet are paradoxical. Today, when you have a spare half-hour, have a listen to Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the audio clip below.

Don’t let the title fool you though, because this talk is about freedom.

Sure it was recorded back when the Cold War was getting warm, and Communism was the scare of the era. And it was scary for good reasons, as the blood of those who were put to death in this political system’s path of “progress” testifies to. But freedom is the what Archbishop Sheen speaks of here so eloquently. Freedom as it is understood in the Catholic, and therefore in the Christian, tradition.

I have spoken recently with some who has said, I can’t be a Catholic because the Church is a tyrannical system. One that squelches all freedoms: religious, political, spiritual, artistic, sexual, etc, etc. If you have had these same thoughts, or know someone who does, listen to the clip below. After you do, the citation taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 795) below will be understandable.

A reply of St. Joan of Arc to her judges sums up the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.

http://www.gloria.tv/media/110466/embed/true

Catholic thoughts are always of the “fully baked” variety.

Because the Church is Paradoxically Consistent

The other day I wrote about the dictionary meanings for the word “catholic.” I have more thoughts on the matter, but that post was running long. Having already imposed a 3500 word(!) post on you right after the New Year, constant reading of marathon length missives might tucker you out, make you cross-eyed, and compel you never to return to this space. So consider this post as part II in a series of indeterminate length on the meanings of that word.

Though this Marine is no expert on word etymology, today I ask you to consider the meanings of the word “catholic” again, but this time applying them to an organism.

A human being for instance, or perhaps I should say to the ideal of what it means to be fully a human being. I wrote that this is one of my goals while slogging through what remains of the pilgrimage that is my time here on earth.

I happen to agree with the following thoughts I ran across recently on the Catholic Church,

Church and Bible are not to be judged only by what they say, but rather by what, for society and the individual, they have actually achieved; and what has acted for so many ages as a key to so complex a lock as human nature has its testimony in itself.

These words were written back in 1906 by an obscure convert to Catholicism named W.J. Williams. The bold highlights are mine. As my eyes ran across these words, my memory bank lit up remembering similar thoughts written, and more fully elaborated on, by someone who is anything but obscure. G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, which was published in 1909 (long before he was received into the Church) writes the following on page 152,

The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. It was in Notting Hill and Battersea that I began to see that Christianity was true. This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

Chesterton then takes the reader through the full development of this idea between pages 148 and 187, in the sixth chapter  which he calls The Paradoxes of Christianity. If you haven’t read Chesterton before, head over to my favorite electronic bookshelf and read this for yourself. Then read our discussion notes on this chapter too.

Perhaps you are perfect, but if you are like me, it’s more likely that you simply judge others by their actions while judging yourself by your intentions. I’m getting better at stopping myself from following that pharisaical path into the pit of unhappiness and oblivion. It must have something to do with how I’m spending my time lately.

Someone shared their opinion on the post on Dracula that I was being inconsistent in my approach in how I considered Vlad, his life, his acts, and his death. To which I say, welcome to the paradox of lived Christianity. I have often quoted Qohelth, the Teacher, from my favorite Old Testament book in this space. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said of the words of the Psalmist, The Holy Spirit says,

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace.

What hath man more of his labor? I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end.

Are not these seasons also shared by our human natures in our own life cycle? I can only speak of my personal recognition of my own paradoxical nature, so perhaps you do not see this. Perhaps you are more consistent than I am, but I know that I am consistently paradoxical. But the Church sees this as her thoughts have developed over these past 2000 years of her existence. And again, this viewpoint is not that of one solitary person, but of this earthly house of the world-society of souls, as my new friend Algar Thorold describes the Church, shepherded by the Vicar of Christ for the benefit of all mankind.

Consider the paradoxical nature of the Church herself as a living organism that is growing up in Her mission, and maturing in it as well. This is better explained by Blessed John Henry Newman in his Essay on Development than I ever could. But in essence Newman argues that the Church too has grown and matured through a life cycle of change. And still she develops, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Take a look at this long paragraph Newman writes at the conclusion of section 1 of the first chapter of his  Essay on Development,

But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change. It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope.

We’re half-way through the paragraph now but I wanted to alert you that the bold highlights above are mine. The words “deep”, “broad,” and “full” are, to me anyway, synonyms for the word “catholic” too, both in regards to human beings as well as to the institution of the Church. Or maybe you buy into the modern social science idea that man can only be understood as little self-serving widgets directed by their own self-interest like the economists would have you believe. That is the way that governments treat us too. I used to think that way as well, until I met the saints. Their lives are lived for others, at the expense of themselves. This is true humanism. Now back to the beata’s thoughts. He was talking about scope,

At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

That was me with the bold again (and a link, actually). Recently I’ve had discussions with those who say “I can’t follow the Church because back during the Thirty Years War she advocated the killing of Protestant’s etc. etc.” To which I say, that was then and this is now,

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this “Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.”

Yes, the Vicar of Christ just said those words recently. Read it all at the not-so-top-secret Vatican website. Again, this is a true form of humanism, the Christian form, because Christ, the Eternal Word is the origin of humanism. God became a human, and the Good News, which has existed from the start, only obscured, arrived in the flesh. The world hasn’t been the same since. But the Word is eternal and as this past weeks reading from the Letter to the Hebrews notes, our ancestors saw the words, but didn’t get the message.

For in fact we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.

If you are still stuck in the times of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, etc. etc., are you being profited? Are you even fulfilling the pledge that we pray in the prayer that the Word taught us?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Instead, you may be falling into that logic trap that our human ancestors fell into before the Incarnation as well. Bear with me here.

Because to me, judging the Church only on her failures, while forgetting her successes is like judging the Marine Corps only on her failures while forgetting her prowess in actually fighting battles and winning wars. Stay stuck on the Ribbon Creek incident (where several Marine Recruits  died of drowning by the actions of a sadistic drill instructor), for example, while forgetting all of the Marine Corps’ success on the battle field, like the fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservior to Hungnam during the Korean War, and you may understand what I mean.

Those young men who died at Ribbon Creek can never be forgotten, nor can we bring them back to life and restore them to their families. But as a result of that tragedy, the Marine Corps changed the way recruits were handled, and she continues to develop the way recruits are trained to this day. Critics of the Church today who say that she is incapable of allowing freedom of thinking which helps her to develop makes me wonder if they have really considered what she has accomplished in spite of her growing pains. As W.J. Williams writes,

The Church, then, does not regard herself as perfect, but as having found the only possible way in which to make a great religious experiment, to organize and objectify the religious idea; to create and to continue an organism in which the religious process may be carried on. She does not say that she has accomplished her purpose in a manner the most perfect that could be conceived—far from it, she does but say, that she has done what she could; but she adds that if she has failed in her purpose it is not easy to see whom else she should regard as having succeeded, nor is it easy to find in the world an organism which has united experiment, consistency and advance in the religious idea, in an equal degree with herself.

So the critics that keep pounding the table that the Catholic Church never changes, is anathema to change, is the killer of all freedom, both actual and intellectual, are, in my humble and unimportant opinion, missing the boat. Perhaps they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Because the Church is paradoxically consistent and consistently paradoxical.

To be continued...

For All the Meanings of the Word “Catholic”

My God isn’t too small, but I sure am. For the longest time I was a modern pharisee, so sure that I knew everything I needed to know about God and my own salvation. Then I walked away from worshipping God for the longest time, because my little mind “got it” about God and I didn’t really care about what your opinion, or any churches opinion for that matter, was about Him.

I waited a long time to be called home to the Church. But when I started to hear the call, the reasonableness of becoming a Catholic had a lot to do with that very word “catholic.” Let’s take a look at the word and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Here is how the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word,

Definition of CATHOLIC

1:
a) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the church universal
b) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it
c) capitalized : Roman Catholic

2: comprehensive, universal; especially : broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests
— ca·thol·i·cal·ly adverb
— ca·thol·i·cize verb

Examples of CATHOLIC,

(She is a novelist who is catholic in her interests.)
(a museum director with catholic tastes in art.)

Origin of CATHOLIC

Middle English catholik, from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French catholique, from Late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, general, from katholou in general, from kata by + holos whole — more at cata-, safe

First Known Use: 14th century (maybe in English, but I think St. Ignatius of Antioch used the term to describe the Church back early in the 2nd century).

Related words to CATHOLIC

Synonyms: all-around (also all-round), all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized

Antonyms: limited, restricted, specialized, technical

Looking at the citation, definition #1 jives with what historically may be ascertained about the Church. She is, after all, a world-wide Church with parishes practically everywhere. She traces her leadership lineage from Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to St. Peter, who was given the Keys of the Kingdom by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bear with me for a minute because my mind is very small. The universe, however, is (we think) infinitely large. Guess what? The Catholic Church claims all of that space as her domain too. Remember the keys? That’s why someone from the Vatican Observatory can say that the mere thought of extraterrestrial life shouldn’t spook you.

That is, unless your mind is too small and you believe that God only exists on our planet, or maybe not even at all. That’s not to say that, God willing, ET couldn’t come here and ruin our lives either. Remember what was done to the Native Americans by other human beings? Or what the Egyptians did to Israel, or the Babylonians, or the Romans? Free will can be painful.

Maybe you’ve never given this much thought. I know I didn’t for the longest time because I was too busy getting and spending and such. Conquering the world for me and mine, while giving mere lip service to serving God. That sounds harsh now that I read it, but it is true.

Let’s move on to definition #2 which pertains to the small “c” version of the word.

comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests.

Now this definition is what gets to the heart of why I am Catholic. Because now that my little mind has been pondering our Triune God more and more, this second definition jives with the characteristics of God Himself. Comprehensive? Check! Universal? Check! Broad in sympathies? I’m counting on it! Broad in tastes and interests? Well now that you mention it, of course He has broad tastes and interests, most of which I have ignored all my life and many which I have never even considered. Consider the variety of life He created, people of every race and origin, 15000+ types of trees, and thousands of different kinds of flowers and hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of spiders (yuk!) even.

Consider that He became a human in order to save every man, woman, and child, and maybe even the animals (St. Francis of Assisi preached to birds!), in every clime and place. In every land, every nation, north, south, east and west. Because He is beyond mere points on a compass.

This weeks readings from the letter to the Hebrews practically scream this from the very first words in that letter(and I still didn’t get it) as you can see here,

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through the Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe, who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and who sustains all things by His mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.(Hebrews 1:1-4)

And here,

It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. Instead, someone has testified somewhere:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under his feet.”

In “subjecting” all things to him, He left nothing not “subject to Him.”(Hebrews 2:5-8).

For the longest time I ignored this salient fact, this truth, which has been staring me right in the face in the phrases “all things” and “nothing not” all this time. Others have missed them as well, which explains why the Church defended Christianity from the Arian, Donatist, and all the other heresies as well. And it explains why Our Pope could say this back when he was a Cardinal,

Just as the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy [in the great religions] neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.

And it explains why sometimes we trip each other up when one persons idea of orthodoxy (example: can I do yoga and still be a Catholic?) conflict with another’s ideas on orthodoxy (example: you may only receive the consecrated host on the tongue). All of which is way above my pay grade (able-bodied seaman, if that) and leads me to say “thank God for bishops!”

Maybe I understood all of these ideas about God and the Church only in theory, but not in practice. I’m certain I was lacking them in actual practice when I had stopped worshipping altogether. But I was, and still am, humbled to discover that the Catholic Church has been, and still is, engaged in a “practice makes perfect” exercise that has stood the test of time despite Her slips and stumbles along the way.

Look, even the synonyms of the word “catholic” describe Our Lord and His Church (all-around, all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized), even as the antonyms(limited, restricted, specialized, technical) continue to describe me when I stumble, which is often. And this helps to explain why the words denomination, narrow-minded, and sectarian do not describe Our Lord and His Church, but the antonyms of these very words do.

I came across these thoughts the other day that helped bring me full-circle on better understanding the Church and her mission,

Therefore, that Catholicity, which at first did but mean the collection of traditions from all parts within the Christian Church, came to mean what it was inevitable in the nature of the case it should, from the first, actually imply,—the bringing into one and gathering together of all the strongest facts and experiences of religion,—all elements in the religious idea wherever found which could prove their fitness by survival or their vitality by their growth or this ” richness” by their capacity for a deeper interpretation;—all “truths of religion,” outside the Christian Church as well as within it. In this manner and on a basis of the deeper expediency, begun but not completed, attempted not achieved, a Catholic Church has alone any chance of becoming “Humanity grown conscious of itself.”

Remember the two greatest commandments? St. Francis de Sales reminds us of them in the ninth meditation in his Introduction to the Devout Life,

Consider that Jesus Christ, enthroned in Heaven, looks down upon you in loving invitation: “O beloved one, come unto Me, and joy for ever in the eternal blessedness of My Love!” Behold His mother yearning over you with maternal tenderness—” Courage, my child, do not despise the Goodness of my Son, or my earnest prayers for thy salvation.” Behold the Saints, who have left you their example, the  millions of holy souls who long after you, desiring earnestly that you may one day be for ever joined to them in their song of praise, urging upon you that the road to Heaven is not so hard to find as the world would have you think. “Press on boldly, dear friend,”—they cry. “Whoso will ponder well the path by which we came hither, will discover that we attained to these present delights by sweeter joys than any this world can give.”

You can call me grasshopper,  but I’ll be taking this saint’s, and all his millions of saintly friends, advice from now on. To be continued…

Update: Monsignor Charles Pope on the width of the Church.

Because The Church Militant Transforms Us

—Originally posted back in July, perhaps you will give it a second look on this day before we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

I ran a half-marathon once, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps—13.1 miles on a hot, humid September morning in Quantico, Virginia. Along with 120 other happy Leathernecks, I never could have run this distance successfully without prior training.

I couldn’t have made it  without the refreshment stops provided by our benevolent leaders along the way either. Even though I had stamina, discipline, and faith in my abilities, all of that would have been for naught without ice cold water available at stations along the route. I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line without them, and no one else would have either. [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Angela of Foligno

The other day I shared with you the story of St. Simeon Stylites the Elder, the original “pillar-hermit.” Simeon was a lay person, but he evidently was unencumbered by family responsibilities. Today, I want to introduce you to a saint for the rest of us. Her name is Angela and she lived in Foligno, Italy from 1248 until her death in the year 1309.

As I reported back when I shared Algar Thorold’s essay, I stumbled upon the story of this lay Catholic mystic and stigmatic and I’m glad I did. Algar busts the myth that there are two Catholic Church’s (one for the priests and religious, and one for lay people) and Angela’s life shows this as well.

That this is a myth is obvious to anyone who turns their attention to the Communion of Saints. Although there are many priests and religious in the saintly ranks, there is also a heaping helping of regular folks like you and me too. Blessed Angela is an example of a regular person who accepts the call to become a saint.

A friend of mine noted that Angela’s life reminds her of the television series Desperate Housewives except that in Angela’s case the story is that she used to be desperate until she came to rest in Our Lord’s arms. Let’s take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia citation on her,

Umbrian penitent and mystical writer. She was born at Foligno in Umbria, in 1248, of a rich family; died 4 January, 1309. Married at an early age, she loved the world and its pleasures and, worse still, forgetful of her dignity and duties as wife and mother, fell into sin and led a disorderly life. But God, having in His mercy inspired her with a deep sorrow for her sins, led her little by little to the height of perfection and to the understanding of the deepest mysteries.

So she was well to do, and footloose and fancy free. Maybe a party girl like the one’s you knew in school. Or someone from the popular crowd who you secretly admired while you openly despised her. But she had a profound change of heart around the time she turned 40 years old. And as she details in her Eighteen Steps, it was not an instantaneous change, but one that was progressive. Thankfully, her confessor decided to document her incredible story.

Angela has herself recorded the history of her conversion in her admirable “Book of Visions and Instructions”, which contains seventy chapters, and which was written from Angela’s dictation by her Franciscan confessor, Father Arnold of Foligno. Some time after her conversion Angela had placed herself under the direction of Father Arnold and taken the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Note to self:  it’s time for me to find a spiritual director too.

In the course of time the fame of her sanctity gathered around her a number of Tertiaries, men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of sisters, who to the Rule of the Third Order added the three vows of religion, without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity.

Angela at last passed away, surrounded by her spiritual children. Her remains repose in the church of St. Francis at Foligno. Numerous miracles were worked at her tomb, and Innocent XII approved the immemorial veneration paid to her. Her feast is kept in the Order on the 30th of March.

Bl. Angela’s high authority as a spiritual teacher may be gathered from the fact that Bollandus, among other testimonials, quotes Maximilian Sandaeus, of the Society of Jesus, who calls her the “Mistress of Theologians”, whose whole doctrine has been drawn out of the Book of Life, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Angela has been noticed by Pope Benedict XVI as well. Back in October, while speaking during his weekly audience, he said that the lesson of her life is that “God has a thousand ways, for each of us, to make himself present in the soul, to show that he exists and knows and loves me.” Regarding her conversion and constancy, Our Pope credits Angela’s commitment to a life of prayer and quoted her words as follows,

“However much more you pray, ever more greatly will you be illuminated; however much more you are illuminated, so much more profoundly and intensely will you see the Supreme Good, the supremely good Being; how much more profoundly and intensely you see it, much more will you love it … Successively you will arrive to the fullness of light, because you will understand not being able to comprehend.”

Third Order Franciscans are still active today, though they no longer “take the habit” as recounted above. When Algar Thorold writes of Angela, it is in glowing praise because of her complete conversion, her humility, her commitment to prayer and for the miracles and visions that she was gifted with. She bore the stigmata, and you may read of her visions The Book of Divine Consolations and of her conversion in Thorold’s Essays on Catholic Mysticism.

Blessed Angelo of Foligno, pray for us.

For All the Saints: Simeon Stylites the Elder

Someone who you may have never heard of in the Communion of Saints is also celebrated by the Church today. Would you believe a guy who sat atop a pillar for over 35 years? I can’t make this one up folks so I’m going to share the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent about my steadfast and devoted friend named St. Simeon “Stylites.”

When I first heard about the Stylites, I was taken aback.  I thought how could someone do such a thing? If my own child came to me with an idea to do something like this, would I support them? Or would I be like St. Francis of Assisi’s father and be outraged. I hope not. Come and see how this story unfolds,

St. Simeon was the first and probably the most famous of the long succession of stylitoe, “pillar-hermits,” who, during more than six centuries, acquired by their strange form of asceticism a great reputation for holiness throughout eastern Christendom. If it were not that our information, in the case of the first St. Simeon and some of his imitators, is based upon very reliable first-hand evidence, we should be disposed to relegate much of what history records to the domain of fable; but no modern critic now ventures to dispute the reality of the feats of endurance attributed to these ascetics.

Wait a second…for six hundred years there were hermits climbing pillars and living atop them? Holy renunciation! That is seriously hard corps. And think of all the folks who aided and abetted these “stylitoes.” Impressive charity, that. Tell me more about this Simeon character.

Simeon the Elder, was born about 388 at Sisan, near the northern border of Syria. After beginning life as a shepherd boy, he entered a monastery before the age of sixteen, and from the first gave himself up to the practice of an austerity so extreme and to all appearance so extravagant, that his brethren judged him, perhaps not unwisely, to be unsuited to any form of community life.

I told you he was gungy, which is Marine slang for “gung-ho.” Get outta here Simeon because you’re making us look bad! Blaise Pascal wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Simeon didn’t have this problem.

Being forced to quit them he shut himself up for three years in a hut at Tell-Neschin, where for the first time he passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking. This afterwards became his regular practice, and he combined it with the mortification of standing continually upright so long as his limbs would sustain him.

The whole season of Lent. When I was in the Marines, I stood for long periods during inspections. Then I went on to serve as a Marine Security Guard where standing watch for 8 hours at a time in some posts at the Embassy was just another day at the office. Simeon, I’m starting to like you. Because when I thought 8 hours was a long time, you were just getting warmed up.

In his later days he was able to stand thus on his column without support for the whole period of the fast. After three years in his hut, Simeon sought a rocky eminence in the desert and compelled himself to remain a prisoner within a narrow space less than twenty yards in diameter.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is a showboat. But you’ve got Simeon all wrong, because he was devoted to the LORD. He didn’t change his mind about this and people noticed.

But crowds of pilgrims invaded the desert to seek him out, asking his counsel or his prayers, and leaving him insufficient time for his own devotions. This at last determined him to adopt a new way of life.

I think he prayed for a solution, and one was provided.

Simeon had a pillar erected with a small platform at the top, and upon this he determined to take up his abode until death released him. At first the pillar was little more than nine feet high, but it was subsequently replaced by others, the last in the series being apparently over fifty feet from the ground.

OK, so from nine feet up, his benefactors could throw him a jug of water, or a bunch of grapes. But it was still a little to crowded and noisy, see. So he just kept getting help to go higher. How did he pay the workers? How did he get food and water, relieve himself? We’ll see later when I take you to the movies.

However extravagant (!) this way of life may seem, it undoubtedly produced a deep impression on contemporaries, and the fame of the ascetic spread through Europe, Rome in particular being remarkable for the large number of pictures of the saint which were there to be seen, a fact which a modern writer, Holl, represents as a factor of great importance in the development of image worship.

And people kept coming out to see him, seeking his counsel, and asking him to pray for them and bless them. The accessible hermit. Here is how,

Even on the highest of his columns Simeon was not withdrawn from intercourse with his fellow men. By means of a ladder which could always be erected against the side, visitors were able to ascend; and we know that he wrote letters, the text of some of which we still possess, that he instructed disciples, and that he also delivered addresses to those assembled beneath.

Probably with a voice trumpet or something. Can you even imagine such a spectacle today? What about sunscreen and umbrellas Simeon? What about lightning? Stop worrying will you? Have a little faith.

Around the tiny platform which surmounted the capital of the pillar there was probably something in the nature of a balustrade, but the whole was exposed to the open air, and Simeon seems never to have permitted himself any sort of cabin or shelter. During his earlier years upon the column there was on the summit a stake to which he bound himself in order to maintain the upright position throughout Lent, but this was an alleviation with which he afterwards dispensed.

I’m glad he cut himself some slack. Sheeesh! And the high and the mighty came calling, just as they did with the Desert Fathers. Centuries later, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem about him too.

Great personages, such as the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia manifested the utmost reverence for the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo paid respectful attention to a letter Simeon wrote to him in favour of the Council of Chalcedon.

Why would they bother? Well, as you’ll see, Simeon was up there for quite some time. And besides, he must have been talking some sense and providing good counsel.

Once when he was ill Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to descend and allow himself to be attended by physicians, but the sick man preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

What, and climb down from his perch every time he got the sniffles? Simeon was no “sick-bay commando” folks.

After spending thirty-six years on his pillar, Simeon died on Friday, 2 September, 459 (Lietzmann, p. 235).

Talk about staying power. 36 years is not a fad folks. That is an institution. Later on, another Simeon would break his record, by another 32 years for a total of 68! And there was something of a bidding war for his relics,

A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of his remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city. The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honour and known as Qal ‘at Sim ‘ân (the mansion of Simeon) remain to the present day. It consists of four basilicas built out from an octagonal court towards the four points of the compass.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for this photograph (see below) being described here.

In the centre of the court stands the base of St. Simeon’s column. This edifice, says H.C. Butler, “unquestionably influenced contemporary and later church building to a marked degree” (Architecture and other Arts, p. 184). It seems to have been a supreme effort of a provincial school of architecture which had borrowed little from Constantinople.

How about watching this short film about the Stylite? It’s only 43 minutes (and change) long. It’s called Simon of the Desert and it’s the 1964 classic by Luis Bunuel. It even has subtitles, and a surprise ending.

One of the really beneficial things about being a Catholic Christian is learning about all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Communion of Saints. Their witness and example run the gamut of,  and make manifest, the individual ways that Christ calls us to serve Him.

St. Simeon, pray for us.

Because These Catholic Chaplains Were Awarded the Medal of Honor

This photograph is for all of you who get really persnickety about the altar, vestments, and such ancillary things like that. This is Major Charles Watters, U.S. Army, celebrating Mass out in the field for the troops. The altar is a couple of ammo boxes sitting on top of two water cans.

Though there are no relics of saints embedded in this altar, what matters most, Our Lord and Savior, will be there with His men soon. I attended services just like this one, even when I wasn’t a Catholic. Because beggars can’t be choosers, see? [Read more...]


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