For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says About Discerning True Christians


A while back, I introduced everyone to my patron, St. Macarius the Great. He has some great homilies that help to prepare Christians for the trials and tribulations that we will encounter along this narrow path. What’s that? You don’t need to hear anything from a desert father about the inner struggle in the life of the Christian? Don’t delude yourself.

Think back over the past 9-10 years regarding scandals among the priesthood. Or better yet, look back just recently and there have been any number of implosions across the spectrum of those who profess to be good and holy Christians. I don’t have to name names, now, do I? Scandal is no stranger to the Church.
The fact of the matter is, the path of Christianity is treacherous and full of temptations, and risks of failure. As John C.H. Wu counseled yesterday, when you fall down, you have to get back up. No one is safe and as the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” There is no dearth of scandal among members of the faithful.

But often times, we go looking for earthly heroes and alleged paragons of virtue whom we think we can follow with confidence anyway, when we should just stick with Christ. If we need additional models of Christian behavior, we should just stick with the saints, whom are our brethren in the Church Triumphant, and whose behaviors point us back to Christ anyway.

Below, my patron has a few important words on sifting the posuers from the pure at heart.

Homily XXXVIII: 
Great exactness and intelligence is required to discern true Christians, and who these are.

Many who appear to be righteous are taken for Christians. It is a task for skilled men and experts to try whether such men have really the stamp and image of the King, lest perchance they should be counterfeits of the works of skilled men, and skilled men wonder at them and criticize them. But people who are not skilled cannot test deceitful workers, for they too wear the shape of monks and Christians. For the false apostles also suffered for Christ, and they also preached the kingdom of heaven. That is why the apostle says In perils more abundant, in afflictions above measure, in prisons more abundant, wishing to show that he had suffered more than they.

Gold is easily found; but pearls and precious stones which do for a king’s diadem are seldom found, for many times none that will do are found. So Christians also are built up into the crown of Christ, that those souls may be made partakers with the saints. Glory to Him who so loved that soul, suffered for it, and raised it up from the dead. But as a veil was put over the face of Moses, that the people might not gaze upon his face, so now a veil lies upon your heart, that you may not behold the glory of God. When this is taken away, then He shines forth and manifests Himself to Christians, to those who love Him and seek Him in truth, as He says, I will manifest Myself to him, and will make My abode with him.

Let us endeavor then to come to Christ, who cannot lie, that we may obtain the promise, and the new covenant, which the Lord has made new through His cross and death, having burst the gates of hell and sin and brought out the faithful souls, and given them the Comforter within, and brought them into His kingdom. Let us reign then with Him, even we, in Jerusalem, His city, in the heavenly church, in the choir of the holy angels. The brethren who have been long time exercised and tried, these can succour the less experienced, and feel for them.

For some who had made themselves sure, and had been mightily worked upon by grace of God, have found their members so sanctified that they reckoned that concupiscence does not occur in Christianity, but that they had acquired a sober and chaste mind, and that from henceforth the inward man was raised aloft to divine and heavenly things, so that they really imagined such an one to have come already to the perfect measures. And when the man imagined that he was already near the calm haven, billows rose up against him, so that he found himself again in the middle of the ocean, and was carried where sea was sky and death was ready. Thus sin entered after all, and wrought all manner of evil concupiscence.

And again a certain class of persons having some grace vouchsafed to them, and having received a drop, so to speak, out of the whole deep sea, find it hour by hour, and day by day, such a work of wonder, that the man who is under its influence is amazed and astounded at the strange, surprising operation of God, to think that he should be given such wisdom. After this, grace enlightens him, guides him, gives him peace, makes him good in every way, being itself divine and heavenly, so that in comparison with that man kings and potentates, wise men and nobles are esteemed as least and worthless.

After a time and season things change, so that of a truth such a man esteems himself a greater sinner than all others; and again at another season sees himself like a great colossal king, or a king’s powerful friend; again at another season sees himself weak and a beggar. Then the mind falls into perplexity, why things should be thus and then thus. Because Satan in his hatred of the good suggests evil things to those who attain virtue, and strives to overthrow them. That is his occupation.

But do not submit to him, while you work at the righteousness that is accomplished in the inner man, where stands the judgment seat of Christ, together with His undefined sanctuary, that the testimony of your conscience may glory in the cross of Christ, who has purged your conscience from dead works, that you may serve God with your spirit, that you may know what you worship, according to Him who said, We worship that which we know. Obey God who guides you. Let your soul have communion with Christ, as bride with bridegroom. For this mystery is great, it says; but I speak concerning Christ and the blameless soul.

To Him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Thank you. And Abba Macarius? Please pray for us.

More wisdom from Abba Macarius can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Postcards from WYD: Hey…I Know That “Kid!”

Remember I told you that Marc Barnes, aka “the Kid” , and blogger at BadCatholic, was in Madrid for World Youth Day? The proof is above. That photograph is one of 106 that Life Teen International has posted over on their Facebook page. Here’s another with Marc and his buddies,

Go check them all out. And while you’re at it, go check out Marc’s post over at Virtouspla.net It’s about Superman, or something.

I Hear Guitars…And Lot’s of Reverence.

The English version of the World Youth Day theme song…sing along!

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An Appeal For the Horn of Africa, In Free Verse (Updated)

For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.

I hear that you lost a few coins yesterday in the maelstrom.
I am sorry for your loss.
Perhaps you follow the financial markets too closely.
Or the latest budget crisis.
Or political football contests.

So wealthy you are to worry
of your barns being less full!
I wonder what it is like
to be so far from actual physical want
that this amounts to your idea of pain.
I pray that heaven is like that.
There is no pain there, only banquets!

My family and I are starving for want of rain.
There is no food,
and so counting calories is not a game
that my family and I play.

I am personally a stranger to you,
but a constant companion
to suffering.

Grace will call you to help me, no?
Like the sons of Korah I lament:
“My tears have been my food day and night,
as they ask daily,‘Where is your God?’”

He is here with me
and there with you.
Grace calls to grace,
as deep calls to the deep.

My well is dry
and yours is a little less full.
Can you spare a thimbleful of water
for my family?

The scriptures recount a meeting
between a matronly Gentile woman and Our Lord.
She asked for her daughter
to be rid of a demon.
Christ noted that throwing the children’s bread to dogs
was not fitting.
But I, like she, have this to say:

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

And for that act of faith,
He made her daughter whole.

The wise shepherd also counseled us to
“ask and ye shall receive.”

And so I swallow my pride and beggar you thus,
Would you deign to honor Him with some scraps
for me and mine today?

It won’t solve all the problems.
But it may help me live so that one day
I can help save you.

How to help.

UPDATE: A reflection on this Sunday’s readings, which includes the story shared in the post above. Who let all the riff-raff in? That would be His doing.

Remember that Confession Video by “the Kid?”

Great news…Marc Barnes, aka “the Kid,”from BadCatholic was awarded a $1000 scholarship from the i-Confess contest.  The contest was put on by the Diocese of Brooklyn in conjunction with both the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Rockville Centre. Great job Marc! Here are the Top Ten results,

Top 10 Contest Winners:

1. Get Clean, Submitted by Melinda Collins
2. Be Reconciled to God, Submitted by Caleb and Molly Herboth
3. Backpack of Sins, Submitted by Virginia Jacobsen and Douglas Kraeger
4. Break Free, Submitted by Randy Adair
5. Bless Me Father, Submitted by Joseph and Nicholas Torres
6. Go be Forgiven, Submitted by Marc Barnes
7. Humble before God, Submitted by Lucas and Phoebe McNamara
8. Let Your Angel Guide You, Submitted by Katie DeRienzo and Marina Recio
9. God is waiting for you, Submitted by Joseph Finneran
10. A Sacrament of Healing, Submitted by Bryan Salecker

Here is Marc’s video,

Thanks everyone for your help with the views and “likes!” Melinda Collins was awarded a $25,000 scholarship for first place. How neat is that? Go see the rest!

A Convert’s Lament To Mary (A Few Words for Wednesday)


Our Eastern brethren have been observing the Dormition Fast since the first of August. It continues until August 15th this year and concludes on the Feast of the Dormition, which Western Catholics celebrate as the Feast of the Assumption. In honor of this tradition, I will be sharing some of our Marian posts. This one is from October of last year…

Edward Caswall was another Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in the mid 1800′s. He also joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, like his friends Blessed John Henry Newman and Frederick William Farber.  And, like them again, he was a prolific poet and hymnist.

Below is one of Caswall’s fine poems included in his book of verse entitled The Masque of Mary. This particular  poem really resonates with me.

As a convert to Catholicism, I pretty much ignored Our Lady my whole life. Lately, I’ve been making it a point to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and pray the Rosary regularly with my family. Although I’m not always 100% successful in this effort, I can truthfully say that I’ve been coming around to recognizing the significance of The Blessed Virgin as both the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven.

Much like Caswall, though, I wish I would have come around sooner (but better late than never).

A Convert’s Lament to Mary

Among the thoughts that in my heart
Awaken grief sincere,
Causing with sudden pang to start
The unexpected tear,
Is this, that in the days gone by,
Star of the wintry sea!
Blinded by darkest heresy,
I thought so light of thee.

O Mother of my Lord and God,
Whom none invoke in vain;
O Path of life, which all have trod,
Who now in glory reign!

Had I but learnt in earlier years
To seek thine aid above,
To offer thee my infant tears,
Thy loving glance to love,—

How many deeds of sin and shame
Which now my heart appal,
Scar’d at the sound of thy pure name,
Had not been done at all!

How many a desolated space
Of vainly wasted hours,
Had bloom’d beneath thy smile of grace,
With paradisal flowers!

Mother! receive thine erring child;
Look tenderly on me;
From thy dear bosom long beguil’d,
I now return to thee.

More of Edward Caswell’s poems are here in The Masque of Mary, along with other of Caswell’s works on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

Because The Earth and It’s Fullness Includes…

Heavy Metal?! That’s right. And it all belongs to the LORD. For you see, a very talented reader writes,

Hey Frank,

I saw your post about Dave Nantais’ book; it has great insights about the intersection of rock music and Christianity. Dave is a close friend of mine (we met after he answered my craigslist ad looking for a drummer)

Anyway, you might enjoy checking out music by my band Theandric. We try to integrate heavy metal/hard rock with aspects of the Church’s tradition, such as Gregorian chants and scripture!

Enjoy!
Paolo Tiseo

You know, Heavy Metal isn’t usually my cup of tea. But these two tracks by Paolo’s band Theandric? I could get used to it. Check them out:

Adoro Te Devote. A few weeks back, I shared the poem with this title by St. Thomas Aquinas. Paolo made a heavy metal version of it. Crank it and see if smoke comes out of your speakers! Help it go viral, because only 100 views is not enough.

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Veni Creator Spritus The awesomeness of this track cannot be denied. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, follow the lyrics below.

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In the beginning the earth was a formless void
And darkness covered the face of the deep
The Spirit of God hovered over the waters
(before the serpent’s crawl and creep)

Veni Sancte Spiritus
fill the hearts of thy faithful
Veni Sancte Spiritus
inside of them thy holy flame ignite

As the prophets foretold, in the fullness of time
An angel of God descended to earth
“Be not afraid, Highly Favored One!
This is no accident of birth”

Veni Sancte Spiritus
and they shall be created
Veni Sancte Spiritus
thou shalt renew the face of the earth

VENI, CREATOR SPIRITUS
MENTES TUORUM VISITA
IMPLE SUPERNA GRATIA
QUAE TU CREASTI PECTORA

A voice crying out in the wilderness
“Prepare the way of the Chosen One”
Spirit descending – a heavenly advice
“This is My Beloved Son”

When the hour had come
for Jesus to pass from this world
The right hand of God would be His throne
He said to the Twelve in the upper room
“I will not leave you alone”

“I will send another Advocate
Who will lead you to all Truth.
If you doubt His boundless Mercy
My Cross shall be the greatest proof”

DEO PATRI SIT GLORIA
ET FILIO, QUI A MORTUIS
SURREXIT, AC PARACLITO
IN SAECULORUM SAECULA
AMEN

I told you rock music and theology were compatible. Go check out Theadric’s website and buy an EP, or two. And then feel free to “like” them on Facebook too. Thanks Paolo!

For Thoughts Like These On Confession

What follows are thoughts on the Sacrament of Reconciliation written by Kenhelm Henry Digby in his classic, Mores Catholici.

Thoughts on Sin, the Church, and Forgiveness

Now the Church had far more mysterious relations than could exist in any mere domestic society, so that by persons who viewed it from without, a right understanding respecting it could only be formed by an act, in the first instance, of confidence in the truth of God who has founded the Church. They must at first have been satisfied with the evidence that it was a divinely constituted household, and then after being received into it as members, they would assuredly in due time have discovered how it was holy in all its doctrines, and just in all its ways. As the Athenian says to the blind wanderer who interrogates him respecting the laurel groves to which he has come—”These things, O stranger, are to be venerated, not from the words of men, but rather from long custom and experience.”

Cicero, indeed, says, that “the medicine of the soul is not only not desired before discovered, but that it is not even valued after it is known;” but such a complaint applies only to philosophy, for it was ungrounded in relation to the remedies which the Church administers, insomuch that a man accustomed to confession, when asked for arguments to prove its divine origin as an integral part of religion, must have felt as if he had been called upon to prove the reality of his own existence.

Its proofs were in the deepest roots of his spiritual life. His own amendment, the recovery of long lost joy, the renovation of his heart, this was the evidence that must have convinced him so feelingly that each argument beside would seem blunt and forceless in comparison. It is dangerous to follow men into the deepest recesses of their heart and behold what passes there: I will not, therefore, invite “the moderns” to search into the grounds of their hatred for confession. To persons obstinate in the conclusions of prejudice, reader, I would turn not, when viewing historically the supernatural features in the morality of the Catholic Church. On confession and indulgence I will speak not as if to an ignorant multitude, nor to judges, nor to senators, more accustomed to action than to the contemplation of things, but as to a man interiorly philosophic who understands and loves philosophy.

Respecting the hatred of truth and the love of deceiving and of being deceived observable in many men, (Blaise) Pascal says,

Mark a proof of this which fills me with horror. The Catholic religion does not oblige one to discover his sins indifferently to all the world; it permits him to remain concealed from all other men excepting one only, to whom it commands him to disclose the bottom of his heart, and to show himself such as he really is. 


There is only this one man in the world that it orders us to undeceive, and he is obliged to an inviolable secrecy, so that this knowledge is in him as if it was not in him. Can one imagine any thing more charitable and more gentle? Nevertheless, the corruption of man is such that he finds this a hard law, and it is one of the principal reasons which have made a great part of Europe revolt against the Church. (Thoughts, #100)

You have heard the great thinker of modern times; let us now attend to the philosophy of the middle ages. “Silence respecting sin,” says the Master of the Sentences,

arises from pride of heart. For a man wishes not to confess his sin in order that he may not be reputed externally such as he exhibits himself in the sight of God, which desire springs from the fountain of pride. For it is pride in a sinner to wish to be esteemed just, and it is hypocrisy to palliate or deny our sin like our first parents, or like Cain to bury it in silence. Now where there is pride and hypocrisy there can be no humility, and without humility there is no forgiveness. 


Therefore, where there is silence respecting sin there can be no hope of pardon. Here then, we see how detestable is the silence of sin, and how necessary is confession, which is the evidence of a conscience fearing God; for he who fears the judgment of God does not blush to confess. Perfect fear dissolves all shame. The confession of sin has shame, and that shame is a heavy punishment : and for this reason we are commanded to confess, that we may suffer shame, for this is part of the divine judgment.

Thus the words of St. John, beginning with “if we confess our sins,” were not understood as implying merely, “If we say that we are sinners generally with all the world,” but as teaching the necessity of suffering the shame and humiliation of confessing one’s personal particular sins; nor was there found any one formerly to maintain that this could be an immoral shame which would injure rather than repair the soul’s purity.

That extreme horror on finding that one has been suspected of crime, which Tieck’s hero evinces in his conversation with Balthasar, only proved in fact an unillumiuated heart: moreover, this overstrained and false honor reveals its own weakness, for by its very indignation it evinces its conviction that the fall was possible.

It is worthy of remark, that while the Church inflicted penance on all who ever made mention of expiated sins,— for among the penitential canons of the rule of St. Columban, we read, ‘”He who relates a sin already expiated shall fast on bread and water for a day,”—the very men who denounced the act of humility that she imposed as injurious, made no scruple not only as we before observed, in resting in self-contemplation, but also in confessing the sins of their past life; or rather exulted in being able to recall the rememberance of them, disclosing them in detail with effrontery: their own retrospective narration differing £rom the confession which they renounced and stigmatized, only in the circumstance that theirs was made in defiance of the law of God, in hardened impenitence insensible to shame.

“O fearful thought!” cries St. John Climacus, “there are moments of delirium in the career of sin, when man fears not God, esteems as nothing the memory of eternal punishment, execrates prayer, looks at the relics of the dead as if they were senseless stones.” True, indeed ; but what is it to reflect that in consequence of a new instruction, widely imparted and legally established in some places, this is the case with men now, not during moments of delirum, for which they might repent and make amends, but throughout their whole lives, which pass in an uninterrupted career of self-esteem and congratulation? To the fundamental objection of the moderns, the best mode of reply would be simply to relate in the clear and precise language of the middle ages, what was the Catholic doctrine.

Taking, then, Hugo of St. Victor for their representative, let us hear what he says respecting sacerdotal absolution.

Solus Deus peccata dimittit (Only God forgives sins) ; yet authorities have that power by which priests forgive sins, and that by which God forgives them. But priests are said to forgive sins, because they administer the sacraments in which, and by which, sins are by the divine authority, forgiven.

When it was said that the form of absolution which had been in use thirty years before was deprecatory, and that William of Auxerre, William of Paris, and cardinal Hugo thought that this was the only ancient form, St. Thomas Aquinas replied, that ”he did not know whether this were true or not; but in any case no authority of antiquity could do prejudice to the words of our Lord, ‘Whatever you shall bind on earth.’”

Thus instead of being tempted to enter with them upon subtle, antiquarian investigations, he embraced the spirit of antiquity. It is clear, however, from the Roman council under pope Zacharia, that the form of the sacrament of confession was then similar to what it is at present. Strictly judicial is the sacerdotal office so that with accurate precision has the church retained the name of Basilica, which signified that upper part of the forum, where justice was administered to the people.

You can read more at the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

For Thoughts on Our Adversary by Fray Francisco de Osuna

No, this isn’t about Uncle Sam, patriotism, or anything like that. This is part two of a series on the work of on-going personal conversion that I started yesterday. Milk drinkers beware, because meat and potatoes are coming your way.  Bring your knives and forks and spoons. Napkins are optional.

Last December, I wrote of a minor miracle regarding me and Fray Francisco de Osuna. Come to think of it, St. Anthony of Padua probably had something to do with it too, as I thought a book was lost, and it was found. Francisco, see, was a Franciscan, and he wrote the book I misplaced, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, that had a huge impact on St. Teresa of Avila. Information like that gets my attention, pronto.

For me, Fray Francisco became a mentor of sorts. Sure, he’s dead and gone, and not an official saint, but if reading his book helped out the Carmelite superstar mentioned above, then I figured he could help me out too. I didn’t know too much about Franciscans at the time, except that they were founded by the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi. But for a guy that was cloistered, Fray Francisco sure seemed an expert on human nature. And his command of the scriptures, as you’ll soon see, put this RCIA attending “soon to be former” Protestant “Bible-expert” at ease.

As for his “peace-loving” Franciscan side? Well, don’t you dare try and stereotype my mentor. Besides, the combat he refers too is spiritual, though it involves the physical as well. In my mind’s eye, I picture him as Sir Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, but with a Spanish accent. However, instead of spouting modernist, Manichean, New Age, Star Warsian psycho-babble from under his brown wool habit, he’s teaching Catholic orthodoxy. The kind that, with me anyway, never goes out of style.

Take for instance the following passage from the seventh letter of “the Alphabet.” What’s this section all about? “How We Are To Cast Out Evil Thoughts, Saying: Thoughts Start War if the Gate is not Closed.” What follows is from the first chapter of this treatise. Remember my affinity for the military genius from ancient China, named Sun Tzu? My mentor Fray Francisco could teach him a thing, or two.

Chapter 1: The Devil’s Army

Astute captains always keep soldiers in reserve so that when they rush into a losing battle, the soldiers who thought themselves overwhelmed will take heart at the support, and their joy and renewed efforts will discourage the enemy. This is exemplified in the valiant, gentle captain Joshua who in the fight against the city of Hai placed five thousand men in ambush on one side of the city and thirty thousand on the other side, while he with the main body of soldiers stood openly against the city. He pretended to flee before the citizens, who ran out in pursuit, while the thirty thousand came and took the city, and the five thousand resisted those who returned to defend it; thus, with some helping others, they all enjoyed total victory. (Joshua, Chapter 8)

Just a quick note from your Marine Corps trained editor. See what I mean? Fray Francisco speaks the lingo that resonated with the recently retired Leatherneck. And now, we meet the adversary.

This strategy of clever warriors is no less known by that skilled soldier, the devil, to whom the words of the Maccabeans are applicable: “He fought many battles and took the fortresses of all, and killed the kings of the earth. He went through even to the ends of the earth and took spoils of many nations; and the earth was quiet before him. And he gathered great power and a very strong army, and his heart was exalted and lifted up. And he subdued the countries and nations, and princes became tributaries to him.” (1 Maccabees 1:2-5)

This passage describes the unjust, exceedingly prideful Alexander (Ed: Alexander the Great), who through great force became lord of what was in no justifiable sense his. He represents the devil, not only in deed but in name, for his name means the very strong, and so it can be said of him that he was a very strong and warring man, the son of a whore (Judges 11:1) His evil guilt and sin are expressed by his wicked mother whose son he became when he obeyed her and heeded the counsel of iniquity.

This devilish and most strong Lucifer, like the other Alexander, fought and fights each day many unjust battles; he took the fortresses of all when he conquered our first parents, leaving us vanquished like the subjects of a captured king. He killed the kings of the earth, who were our first parents, whom God created to rule all inferior things, when he caused them to offend God Your Majesty and be sentenced to death. He killed them, as it were, because he said they would not die for their offense, but that in itself was the reason they perished.

And it says he passed through to the end of the earth, which is human flesh corrupted by iniquity, and God says that this end has come before him in lament (Genesis 6:11-13). This passing through the earth is original sin, which goes from one to another like a perpetual burden, as slavery is handed down from mother to child, or corrupton spreads from the roots of the tree, or force of yeast affect the entire dough, or the poison of the salamander invades the tree’s fruit, for Pliny says that if the salamander touches the roots of the tree, its entire fruit and all the tree will be infected.

See Isaiah 14:12

Thus the devil passes by to take possession of mortals and steals immense wealth when he leads into sin many who previously were rich in grace. And if they do not resist, the earth becomes quiet before him, which in itself suffices to make them his. The devil gathers a great army from among the defeated, forcing them to fight against those as yet unconquered, and he protects them and arms them with cleverness like his own so that they constitute a crowd of sinners whose hearts burst with deviltry and who are more skillful than the devil himself.

He can muster such an army because there is no earthly power to equal his (Job 41:24). He took countries of nations, especially because the Gentiles worshipped him (as Alexander probably did), and as Christ explains, the tyrants became his tributaries when he named himself prince of this world (John 12:31). The tyrants are lesser devils who serve him continually, albeit against their will, for if they do not consent to honor God in heaven, even less do they wish to be subjects of Lucifer.

This extraordinarily strong warrior who, like Goliath, is trained for battle since youth (1 Samuel 17:33), fights in the style I began to describe: that is, he keeps soldiers in reserve and divides his army into three groups for a more clever attack. He orders one squadron after another into the skirmish so that if his enemy succeeds against the first, the second will defeat him, and the third, as seen in the image from the book of Kings: Three companies went out from the camps of the Philistines to fight (1 Samuel 13:17).These Philistines, who are demons, pitch their tents in the field of malice and assemble their trops in three battalions.

Luxury is the first battalion and it marches forth heavily armed and provided with everything necessary to win. St. Bernard says this battle engages every rank or class of people: all ages, the ugly, the beautiful, the great and small, the healthy and the sick –in short, the entire human race.

Many manage to escape from their ferocious opponent, but then the battalion of Pride rushes in, armed with offices, riches, honor, and such things, and those who did not wish to sully themselves in what they considered the obscenity of the first vice now fall victim to the second precisely because it seems so clean in contrast with the first and less blameworthy for the reason that so many people commit it.

If they overcome the second battalion, the third surely defeats them, for these soldiers are more ferocious and cunning, being the demons themselves who have come to battle men by thrusting into their imaginations a whole throng of spiritual vices, as expressed by the image of Sennacherib (Tobit 1:18), who launched his entire army and power against Jerusalem.

St. Paul advised the faithful about this: “Take comfort, brothers, in the Lord and the strength of his power. Put on the armor of God to counter the devil’s tricks. For now we do not contend just with flesh and blood, but with princes and powers, the rulers of the world of darkness, the evil spirits over heavenly things (Ephesians 6: 10-12).”

The apostle’s words prove the seriousness of the battle in that first he warns us that the battle will be strenuous and we will need the armor of God’s favor and effort, since our own is inadequate against such infamy, and second, he refers to trickery, which implies malice as well as strength. Third, he emphasizes the grievousness of the battle by stating that it is no mere contest of flesh and blood and by naming the demons with lofty titles so as to evoke their tremendous power to battle spiritual opponents for what he calls heavenly things, those which the commentary explains are the virtues and souls of the faithful against whom the third assault is launched.

The first two attacks are physical, clear to see, and involve the body rather than the spirit. But the third hurls a host of evil thoughts to irritate and wear us down, and our letters says concerning these: “Thoughts start war if the gate is not closed.”

It seems that in the first two battles the devil leaves the fighting to his soldiers, those who take his side: that is, the flesh, which is the first vice to plague man, and the world, which supports the devil against Christ. But when the devil sees that his companions and vassals, who are other demons, are defeated and that person has withstood successfully the siege of these two vices and lives chastely and totally devoted to God, then it can be said of him: “He sent against them the heat of indignation, anger, and fury, and tribulation, a multitude of agents of misfortune; he opened a way for his anger and he did not save them from death.” (Psalm 77:49-50)

Is your milk getting curdled yet? Perhaps it is fitting to recall that Blessed Pope John Paul II recommend the following to the flock,

“May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

For the Work of On-Going Personal Conversion (Part I)

I’ve written in the past about the deleterious side effects of cults of personality. If I wasn’t clear before, let me rectify the situation and say that I believe in the only cult of personality that really matters. It is the same one that all of the saints point us towards: the Person of Jesus Christ.

The Church is built around this, and this alone. One of the reasons I am a Catholic now is that I believe I became ready to move past the milk and head on to the solid food of the Faith. Prior to my conversion, I was a milk drinker for so long that I grew tired of it. So I left and as a result, I almost missed the feast that awaits Christians that persevere along the Way.

One way I have found that helps me stay grounded in the faith is to follow the advice of St. Philip Neri,

It is very useful for those who minister the Word of God, or give themselves up to prayer, to read the works of authors whose names begin with S., such as Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, etc.

Or in the case today, the works of St. Catherine of Siena. What follows is from Chapter 63 of her Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin. How do I know it’s chapter 63? Because something I was reading that was written by Father Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. identified it as such in his The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life. How did I find out about his book? From the tip I received from the Chinese “Chesterton”, and author of The Three-fold Way of Love, John C.H. Wu. See?

Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

The common thread among these folks, and the other saints (such as St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others), is that Christianity is not just a “one-and-done” conversion. Far from it.

As Christians, see, through no merit of our own, we help spread the Good News, while the saints help us to persevere in the faith in that which we cannot see. In the passage below, God gives information through a vision of St. Catherine that points out how after our first conversion, the second must be attained, which leads unto the third. Come and see,

How the Soul, after having mounted the first step of the Bridge, should proceed to Mount the Second.

“Thou hast now seen how excellent is the state of him who has attained to the love of a friend ; climbing with the foot of affection, he has reached the secret of the Heart, which is the second of the three steps figured in the Body of My Son. I have told thee what was meant by the three powers of the soul, and now I will show thee how they signify the three states, through which the soul passes. Before treating ‘ of the third state, I wish to show thee how a man becomes a friend and how, from a friend, he grows into a son, attaining to filial love, and how a man may know if he has become a friend. And first of how a man arrives at being a friend.”

“In the beginning, a man serves Me imperfectly through servile fear, but, by exercise and perseverance, he arrives at the love of delight, finding his own delight and profit in Me. This is a necessary stage, by which he must pass, who would attain to perfect love, to the love that is of friend and son. I call filial love perfect, because thereby, a man receives his inheritance from Me, the Eternal Father, and because a son’s love includes that of a friend, which is why I told thee that a friend grows into a son. What means does he take to arrive thereat ? I will tell thee.”

“Every perfection and every virtue proceeds from charity, and charity is nourished by humility, which results from the knowledge and holy hatred of self, that is, sensuality. To arrive thereat, a man must persevere, and remain in the cellar of self-knowledge in which he will learn My mercy, in the Blood of My onlybegotten Son, drawing to Himself, with this love, My divine charity, exercising himself in the extirpation of his perverse self-will, both spiritual and temporal, hiding himself in his own house, as did Peter, who, after the sin of denying My Son, began to weep. Yet his lamentations were imperfect and remained so, until after the forty days, that is until after the Ascension.”

“But when My Truth returned to Me, in His humanity, Peter and the others concealed themselves in the house, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, which My Truth had promised them. They remained barred in from fear, because the soul always fears until she arrives at true love. But when they had persevered in fasting and in humble and continual prayer, until they had received the abundance of the Holy Spirit, they lost their fear, and followed and preached Christ crucified. So also the soul, who wishes to arrive at this perfection, after she has risen from the guilt of mortal sin, recognising it for what it is, begins to weep from fear of the penalty, whence she rises to the consideration of My mercy, in which contemplation, she finds her own pleasure and profit. This is an imperfect state, and I, in order to develop perfection in the soul, after the forty days, that is after these two states, withdraw Myself from time to time, not in grace but in feeling. My Truth showed you this when He said to the disciples ‘I will go and will return to you.’”

“Everything that He said was said primarily, and in particular, to the disciples, but referred in general to the whole present and future, to those, that is to say, who should come after. He said ‘I will go and will return to you;’ and so it was, for, when the Holy Spirit returned upon the disciples, He also returned, as I told you above, for the Holy Spirit did not return alone, but came with My power, and the wisdom of the Son, who is one thing with Me, and with His own clemency, which proceeds from Me the Father, and from the Son. Now, as I told thee, in order to raise the soul from imperfection, I withdraw Myself from her sentiment, depriving her of former consolations.”

“When she was in the guilt of mortal sin, she had separated herself from Me, and I deprived her of grace through her own guilt, because that guilt had barred the door of her desires. Wherefore the sun of grace did not shine, not through its own defect, but through the defect of the creature, who bars the door of desire. When she knows herself and her darkness, she opens the window and vomits her filth, by holy confession. Then I, having returned to the soul by grace, withdraw Myself from her by sentiment, which I do in order to humiliate her, and cause her to seek Me in truth, and to prove her in the light of faith, so that she come to prudence. Then, if she love Me without thought of self, and with lively faith and with hatred of her own sensuality, she rejoices in the time of trouble, deeming herself unworthy of peace and quietness of mind.”

“Now comes the second of the three things of which I told thee, that is to say: how the soul arrives at perfection, and what she does when she is perfect. This is what she does. Though she perceives that I have withdrawn Myself, she does not, on that account, look back, but perseveres with humility in her exercises, remaining barred in the house of self-knowledge, and, continuing to dwell therein, awaits, with lively faith, the coming of the Holy Spirit, that is of Me, who am the fire of charity.”

“How does she (the soul) await me? Not in idleness, but in watching and continued prayer, and not only with physical, but also with intellectual watching, that is, with the eye of her mind alert, and, watching with the light of faith, she extirpates, with hatred, the wandering thoughts of her heart, looking for the affection of My charity, and knowing that I desire nothing but her sanctification, which is certified to her in the Blood of My Son. As long as her eye thus watches, illumined by the knowledge of Me and of herself, she continues to pray with the prayer of holy desire, which is a continued prayer, and also with actual prayer, which she practises at the appointed times, according to the orders of Holy Church.”

“This is what the soul does in order to rise from imperfection and arrive at perfection, and it is to this end, namely that she may arrive at perfection, that I withdraw from her, not by grace but by sentiment. Once more do I leave her, so that she may see and know her defects, so that, feeling herself deprived of consolation and afflicted by pain, she may recognise her own weakness, and learn how incapable she is of stability or perseverance, thus cutting down to the very root of spiritual self-love, for this should be the end and purpose of all her self-knowledge, to rise above herself, mounting the throne of conscience, and not permitting the sentiment of imperfect love to turn again in its death-struggle, but, with correction and reproof, digging up the root of self love, with the knife of self-hatred and the love of virtue.”

More from St. Catherine’s Dialogue can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. I’ll post more on this subject with thoughts from my Franciscan mentor, Francisco de Osuna.


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