Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you’re having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable? [Read more...]

For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies II

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your co-pilot once again. We have now descended to 31,000 ft. It’s way before dinner, but seeing how you have been so patient on this flight, your pilot Webster and I thought we would give you a sneak preview of our after dinner entertainment for this evening. By the way, smoked talapia is on the menu tonight, so hold your appetites until then!

This scene is the final one from tonight’s selection, Chariots of Fire, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1981. This scene includes a rousing rendition of William Blake’s Jerusalem and features Eric Lidell winning the 400-meter sprint, against all odds.

So again, sit back and enjoy the ride and thank you for flying YIM Catholic Airlines!

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Thanks to Thomas à Kempis for These Thoughts on Confession

Seemingly, there aren’t enough words to describe the graces we obtain from the Sacrament of Confession. And the number of opinions on this Sacrament are legion, if our poll results and the comments they have prompted are any indication. Webster and I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of this Sacrament yet. For example, we haven’t mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday or the fact that the Sacrament of Confession plays a large role in the diary of Sister Faustina.

And the fact of the matter is no saint on record has ever said,

Look at me! I soar above the heights of the world with the Lord. I have no need of the Sacrament of Confession. Yippee! 

If anything, the importance and necessity of this Sacrament are solidified and bolstered by the saints. St. Teresa of Avila, practitioner of contemplative prayer, writes at length on the importance of this Sacrament and the duty we have of finding a good confessor.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not anywhere near the level of perfection that she obtained while she was here on earth.  If Big Terry says Confession is  important, I listen up.

Although not an official saint, Thomas à Kempis discusses the importance of this Sacrament in The Imitation of Christ. Take a look at these thoughts Thomas wrote down regarding the Eucharistic celebration coupled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He is writing here in the character of Our Lord. Notice how similar these phrases are to the ones Sister Faustina reports in her diary (bold highlights are mine),

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

The Voice of Christ,

You must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.

The enemy, knowing the great good and the healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.

No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.

Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.

Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.

What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.

Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.

How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion! How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.

If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.

Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.

For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.
He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.

Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.

Several of you have commented about the short lines at the confessional and long lines for Communion. Many complained about priests not motivated to hear their confessions. I’m not saying I don’t believe what I’m reading. Not every parish has uniform hours for this sacrament or uniformly motivated priests to hear them. But this hasn’t been my experience. Keep in mind, I’m a recent RCIA convert. Confession opportunities are plentiful, but especially during Lent. I intend to make full use of them and I hope you will as well.

Semper Fidelis

For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies

This is your co-pilot speaking. It’s been kinda quiet here at YIM Catholic today. Well, that’s because it’s Lent and Webster and I are cruising at 38,000 feet.  Oh, not literally, but figuratively for the next 38 days. But we haven’t flown the coop completely. We’re still around, but when you are on a long cross-country flight (like the 40 days of Lent) you have to be gentle with the controls so as not to upset the passengers. [Read more...]

Thoughts on Temperance on a Friday

I’ve been thinking about these thoughts written by C.S. Lewis in the current YIMC Book Club selection Mere Christianity.  They are from chapter 3 of Book III, The Cardinal Virtues. I thought of this when I saw this photograph of Our Pope and a tall glass of beer. Hats off to Athos over at Chronicles of Atlantis.

It reminded me of something Benjamin Franklin said, Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Here is what my new friend Jack Lewis has to say on the subject of Temperance,

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened “Temperance,” it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.

It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. 

But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons-marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

Still not sure? Here is what Our Lord says about such things in the Gospel of Mark, (7:14-23) from the Daily Readings earlier this week,


The Heart of Man

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable.And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and then out into the latrine?” Thus He declared all foods clean. 
 
And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

So be temperate, and prudent, and all the other Cardinal virtues. It’s almost Miller-time at Casa del Weathers.  Even if I’m under the weather, (ha-ha, no pun intended) it’s still one beer per man, per day in my household.  Adios, and please drink responsibly!

Because We All Serve As Leaders And Followers

I was in the Marines for a long time, both on Active Duty and in the Reserves. I’ve seen all kinds of leaders, or more accurately, people thrust into leadership positions. Some of the people I reported to were exceptional. Some were horrible. What does this have to with with being a Catholic? Bear with me.

Those who have been in the Church for longer than, say, two years know that parish priests get moved around. They serve tours of duty, if you will. Sometimes two years, sometimes twelve. I don’t really know what the standard length of time is. If you become a monsignor, maybe you get to finish out your career in that parish. I really don’t know.

If the priest does something wrong, he should be relieved of his post. I understand that in the past, this hasn’t happened quickly enough. Like the passengers who foiled the plans of the hijackers of Flight 93, and sacrificed their lives doing so, how we react to transgressions, too, is up to us parishoners. The offender must be relieved and rehabilitated, or discharged from the service. Canon Law gives you these rights and responsibilities:

Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Like the officers I served under in the Marines, some of these priests are going to be exceptional. I have some advice for you. Prepare yourself now for the day they will be re-assigned to another post. Webster once wrote that monks are just soldiers in a different uniform. And so are priests. Your excellent priest may be replaced by one who isn’t so great.

Maybe the new priest should be given a break. I knew whenever a new reporting senior was placed over me, there was a period of time in the beginning where we had to feel each other out. The new guy on the block might have been great wherever he came from, or he might have been a rookie prone to being overbearing in an attempt to compensate for a lack of experience.
That is where the parishioners come in, see. We are the troops in the Church Militant.We are on the front lines as well as in the rear. If you don’t like the army analogy, let’s go back to the naval vessel. But please don’t tell me you didn’t realize that you are living in enemy-occupied territory or cruising in the enemy’s home waters. Have you not joined our ongoing YIMC Book Club discussion yet? Come and see what C.S. Lewis is saying about Satan.  St. Peter, our first Pope, proclaims the following about us:

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:9)

St. Peter writes this and is eventually crucified upside down for these beliefs and for his belief in Jesus Christ. St. Peter’s martyrdom screams that what he believed about Our Lord is True. People don’t just die willingly for causes they don’t believe in. Not without going down with a fight. Instead, they run. But to willingly die for a cause you believe in? That takes courage.  And that courage comes from deep and abiding faith. The motto, Alone, Unarmed, Unafraid comes to my mind. And this verse as well,

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.(Philippians 4:13)

Here is another example of a great leader. King David, fleeing for his life from the murderous intentions of his own son Absalom, is crassly treated by one of his subjects. Is the command “off with his head!” given? Not even close. Take a look at a role model of a King who knows humility and where he actually stands in the world, especially when the entire kingdom knows what became of Bathseba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite:

As David was approaching Bahurim, a man named Shimei, the son of Gera of the same clan as Saul’s family, was coming out of the place, cursing as he came. He threw stones at David and at all the king’s officers, even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David’s right and on his left.

Shimei was saying as he cursed, “Away, away, you murderous and wicked man! The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.”

Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.” But the king replied: “What business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah, that he curses? Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants: “If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life,how much more might this Benjaminite do so? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.”

David and his men continued on the road, while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside, all the while cursing and throwing stones and dirt as he went.

Let me bring this back full circle. We are the troops, or crew members, of our parishes, which is the battalion or the ship, if you will. We know the insides and out of this ship or unit as well as the Captain or the Colonel. Maybe even better.  If we receive a boot Lieutenant, or Ensign for a priest, break him in gently. If we receive a grizzled old salt who is like a “know-it-all” Commander or Major, feel them out for a while and be flexible with them. And then break them in gently too.

As you can see, our role isn’t small. We are the backbone of the Church.

Thanks to Anne Rice for Asking This Question

In light of Webster’s recent post regarding the roles and responsibilities of the laity, I thought I would share with you some correspondence on a related topic that I have had with Anne Rice, author of the The Vampire Chronicles and the Christ the Lord series. I had written her to share one of Webster’s posts and was flabbergasted when she wrote me back a few hours later.  Sheee-eesh! Be careful what you wish for.

Usually I’m the last to know news like this but I had discovered via Bloomberg News that in 1998 Anne returned to the Catholic Church.  Whaat?! The Vampire Writer? Surprised, I learned of  a new novel she had written entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It is about Christ’s early years from the time when the Holy Family returned to Nazareth from exile in Alexandria, where they had fled in accordance with the instructions an angel had given to Joseph in a dream. She also writes of her return to the Church in detail in an autobiography, Called Out of Darkness.

You haven’t read these books yet? I know, I know, you are swamped with books right now.  So am I! But if you haven’t read them, put them on your list.  And make sure to add the sequel, The Wedding at Cana. And where am I going to find the time to read her new series about angels, which debuted recently with Angel Time? I have no idea.  But I am going to find the time. Anyway, I had written her as follows,

Ms. Rice:

We are kindred spirits despite our obvious and wild differences.  Much like the twelve apostles, huh?  What a motley crew: Zealot resistance fighters (Simon) to fishermen (Peter, Andrew . . . ), to tax collectors (Matthew, despised by all).  Wow!

I’m not gonna take up a lot of your time.  I wanted to share my partner’s latest post with you.  What a story . . . It’s the kind that my friend Blaise Pascal would probably smile at.  He’s probably smiling now (I hope).

Be well and thanks for all that you are doing for Our Lord. Have fun at your book signing in Riverside. Sadly, my family and I will just miss it.  We are coming to Southern California for the Holidays for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary and Christmas and New Years.  Any other signings in So Cal during that time?

Warmest regards and the love of Our Lord be with you Always,

Frank

Ahem, pretty presumptuous, I know, but what the heck? I was sure she wasn’t going to answer anyway. A few hours later I received this reply,

Thanks for your letter.  When you have time, tell me: do you believe that the majority of humans created go to Hell for all eternity? I am finding out that many Christians do believe this. I was not taught this growing up Catholic, and I find it very difficult to believe.  I am curious however as to what others believe.  Thanks for your note.  

Take care, Anne.

I received this note back on December 5, 2009, around lunch time. I had been riding shotgun with Webster at YIM Catholic for all of six days when it arrived in my  e-mail. Gulp!  The Anne Rice, noted author of the Vampire Chronicles and the Christ the Lord series has written back to little ol’ me? Golly! Then I re-read it and thought, whaat?! Is this some kind of a test? I sent her back a rushed reply as follows:

Anne:

I certainly hope not!  Otherwise, I am done for.  No, our God and Father is not limited by our human rules, norms, or best guesses.  The Pareto Effect does not apply to God. I have faith that Our Lord loves all of us so much that He does everything to help guide us to Him. And that is one of the beautiful, just spectacular Graces that Our Lord gives us through His Church. Thanks be to God!

I went to Reconciliation this morning to confess my sins and to speak with my pastor about this blog.  His counsel prompted me to edit this piece I had posted about the Saints yesterday.  While I was doing penance and pondering what I had been counseled on, I knew that I must edit my post as such:

“But don’t worry and please don’t forget the mission of Our King’s Church: to save souls, at any cost. Most of us haven’t been called into the Church’s equivalent of the Officer Corps (Holy Orders). But we can still serve with distinction, whether we are butchers, bakers, or candle-stick makers. Again, one of the heroes of the Church (St. Francis of Assisi) serves as an example to me. ‘Preach the Gospel always,’ he said. ‘Use words if necessary.’ Also, there is no age requirement (17–28 to enlist) either and no minimum or maximum (6–8 years) contract length. Heck you can even get “out” and rejoin! Just ask Anne Rice.”

I hope I answered your question and I thank you for writing me back.

Your friend in Christ,

Frank

I sent another quick note asking her for permission to post her reply, to which she responded, 

It’s fine with me if you share your response.  I never really write confidential emails.  My queries can be shared, of course.  Thanks for the feedback.  I’m pondering.  I started another Discussion on Amazon in the Christianity forum on what people believe about Hell.  I’m interested in the beliefs of all Christians on this. 

Anne

This left me pondering too. Before I was a Catholic, I would have answered her question the way that makes sense to a modern day Pharisee, you know, that most won’t make it to heaven. But you can be sure that I just knew that I would make it. Sigh. But as a Catholic, my frame of reference had changed drastically. Let the scriptures show that,

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)

and

He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

I could go on and on with verses from the Bible relating this fact, both Old Testament and New.  Want some more examples?
 
“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)

“And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (John 17:1-2)

So I ponder with Anne the astounding and yet true fact that Jesus came to save us all.  Every single last one of us, past, present, and future. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The healthy, the sick, the able and the lame.  You, me, and everyone here in my house and yours, in my town and yours, in my country, and in every other country as far away as Timbuktu and all points in between.  He died for me, and for you. For the whole world. The just, and the unjust.  For the forgiveness of all our sins, past, present and future.

And our free will comes into play in how we approach this fact. Because there is the capacity in heaven for every single soul to be saved. Isn’t that obvious? Space isn’t the problem. The only thing preventing this from occurring is freedom of choice and our temerity in sharing this good news. This freedom God has given us is an inalienable right. We can opt out or we can opt in. But the fact is that we have been given this great freedom to do with as we see fit, from the Original Sin of our first parents.

It is our Christian duty to proclaim the Good News. The Catholic Church actively pursues the saving of souls from the moment of conception until natural death. That isn’t popular with many folks.  Remember the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) who all received the same wages whether they started working at 5 a.m. or 7 p.m.? That is how the Catholic Church sees it. Deathbed baptisms, confessions, etc? No problem. Because saving souls for Christ is job one and the true mission of the Church, among the laity and religious alike. Did you know that Holy Orders are not required to perform a baptism?

Thanks again for your question, Anne, and may we all keep job onein mind. And for our YIMCatholic readers, I turn Anne’s question over to you. How do you answer it? RSVP. Anne and I thank you in advance for your replies.

Because I Yearn (Music for Mondays)

As each week goes by, I accumulate clips of music to post on Mondays. I checked last night and found only one clip stored since last Monday. But what a clip. What a coincidence. Yesterday in choir, we began practicing a piece for Lent, “Sicut Cervus Desiderat” by Palestrina (left). That’s the music I set aside.

Here the piece is performed by the Westminster Cathedral Choir. The text is from Psalm 42: “Like the deer that years for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God? . . . ”

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For All the Saints: Anthony the Great

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of the Desert Fathers. Today, we celebrate St. Anthony the Great. Anthony is really the Godfather of all the Desert Fathers and the person responsible for starting the formation of Christian monastic orders. I love the following saying attributed to him, because it seems to hit home with how I often feel these days, despite the fact that this was said over 1600 years ago:

Abba Anthony said: “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad because you are not like us.”

Yes, we are living in interesting times. And what an interesting person! A role model even of St. Francis of Assisi. Take a look at what Thomas Merton has to say about Abbot Anthony from his book The Wisdom of the Desert.

In the 4th century AD the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men who left behind them a strange reputation. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the ancient Roman world to live in the solitude and silence of the desert. Why did they do this? The reasons were many and various, but they can all be summed up in one brief phrase: the quest for salvation. Among these men (and women!) the life and witness of St. Anthony the Great is unique.

St. Anthony, called “the father of monasticism”, was born in central Egypt about 251 AD, the son of peasant farmers who were Christian. In circa 269, he heard the Gospel being read in Church and applied to himself the words of Jesus to the rich man: “Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come, follow Me.” He sold everything he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor and devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse living on the outskirts of his village.

Around 285 AD he went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude. It was in this solitude and silence that Anthony heard clearly the Word of God for his life. After 20 years in solitude, Anthony emerged “as one initiated into the mysteries of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit (he became) a physician given by God to Egypt through whom the Lord healed many people.” He died at the age of 105 in 356 AD and his biography, written by St. Athanasios (whose memory the Orthodox Church celebrate on January 18th, and the Catholic Church on May 2nd) created an immediate literary and theological sensation throughout the ancient world.

What can we, more than 1500 years later, learn from Anthony’s witness? What is the meaning of his flight from society into the desert? First, society—which meant classical Roman pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life “in this world” – was regarded by Anthony and the many other desert fathers and mothers as a shipwreck from which each had to swim for their lives.

These were men and women who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the non-Christian tenets of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. These Coptic hermits—for Anthony—like so many of his brothers and sisters, was a Copt and spoke no Greek or Latin—who left the world as though escaping from a shipwreck, did not merely intend to save themselves. They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the ability but even the obligation to pull the world to safety after them. Perhaps we cannot do exactly what Anthony did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break our spiritual chains, cast off the domination of alien compulsions and find our true selves in Christ Jesus.

Some sayings of St. Anthony the Great:

When the same Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?” He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.”

Abba Anthony said: “This is the work of a great man: always to take responsibility for his own sins before God and to expect temptations until his last breath.”

He also said: “Whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it in accordance with the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

Abbe Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares? Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.’”

Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (Jn 4:18)

He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

St. Anthony, Pray for Us!

For All the Saints: Macarius the Great

When I was going through the RCIA program as a candidate, the need to choose a Confirmation name came up. The director of the program and my sponsor both gave me some suggestions (including St. Francis Xavier, as I recall).

I liked what I read about him, but he didn’t seem right for me. I thought a lot about it. I realized that I was choosing a friend in heaven whom I could ask to pray for me. That is a special trust, so choosing this person haphazardly wasn’t in the cards for me.

By this time in my journey, I had come across the Desert Fathers & Mothers. I love these people! Such stories, such sacrifice, such practical sayings! All very motivating to a guy who, despite all my earlier objections to Catholic Christianity, found himself standing in the recruiting office saying “sign me up.”

I really enjoyed what they had to say about living our faith. But one of them stood out to me most, and I knew he was the patron saint for me: St. Macarius the Great. His feast day was yesterday (January 15, so I humbly apologize for not getting this post up sooner, Abba!).

St. Macarius is known by other sobriquets as well: Macarius the Great; Macarius the Wonder Worker; Macarius the Elder. As for me, I just call him Abba Macarius when I ask him to pray for me. He once said this about prayer:

Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?” The old man said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.”

Amen to that! Here a few other stories and wise sayings to give you a taste of my patron:

A brother once came to the abbot Macarius and said to him, “Master, speak some word of exhortation to me, that, obeying it, I may be saved.” St. Macarius answered him, “Go to the tombs and attack the dead with insults.” The brother wondered at the word. Nevertheless he went, as he was bidden, and cast stones at the tombs, railing upon the dead. Then returning, he told what he had done. Macarius asked him, “Did the dead notice what you did?” And he replied, “They did not notice me.”

“Go, then, again,” said Macarius, “and this time praise them.” The brother, wondering yet more, went and praised the dead, calling them just men, apostles, saints. Returning, he told what he had done, saying, “I have praised the dead.”

Macarius asked him, “Did they reply to you?” And he said, “They did not reply to me.” Then said Macarius, “You know what insults you have heaped on them and with what praises you have flattered them, and yet they never spoke to you. If you desire salvation, you must be like these dead. You must think nothing of the wrongs men do to you, nor of the praises they offer you. Be like the dead. Thus you may be saved.”

Wow, talk about learning to be dead to the world. Sheesh-ka-bobbers!

The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius’ goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, ‘We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’ (1Tim.6.7) ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1.21)

Ahem, I get a lump in my throat just reading that one. I personally am so far away from this level of spirituality that any help I can get from a friend like this is more than welcome! And then I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies too. Did he really write them? Or did someone else write them and use his name (much as the writer of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe he was King Solomon)? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. They are powerful homilies, and I feel duty bound to share them with you.

They have titles like the following:

That God alone is able to deliver us out of the bondage of the wicked ruler.

Christians ought to go over the course of this world with care, that they may attain the praise of God.

There is a wide difference between Christians and the men of this world.

The gifts of grace are preserved by a humble mind and a ready will, but destroyed by pride and sloth.

How the soul ought to demean herself in holiness and purity towards her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Christians that are willing to improve and increase ought to force themselves to every thing that is good.

If you think these titles are wise sayings unto themselves, you owe it to yourself to read the homiles yourself here. You’ll be glad you did!
Happy belated Feast Day Abba Macarius!


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