For Thoughts Amid the Storm (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Vision of St. Don Bosco 

Generally posts shared with the addendum in the title above have been reserved for lines of verse. Not so today. Instead, I’ll share a few epigrams from the disparate bookends of the Desert Fathers and Mothers to the United States Marine Corps, with a few wise words of friends and saints in between.

Remember my recent post on being a pilgrim people? First up, from the deserts of Egypt near Skete, a thought about pilgrimage.

One of us asked Abba Sisoes, “What is pilgrimage, Abba?” He answered, “Keep silent; and wherever you go, say, ‘I am at peace with all men.’ That is pilgrimage.”

Sigh. I’m a gonna need some help then. More epigrams, por favor! Like this one from an Amma,

Amma Theodora said, “Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Speaking of storms, my buddy Blaise Pascal reminds us,

There is a pleasure in being in a ship beaten about by a storm, when we are sure that it will not founder. The persecutions which harass the Church are of this nature.

St. Paul on endurance,

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:6-7

And from the Marine Corps version of the Communion of Saints, General Victor H. “Brute” Krulak. He stood 5′ 4″ tall, and maybe weighed 145 lbs when wet. Not a Catholic, but an Episcopalian, he fathered three boys. One of them would become the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the other two became Epsicopal priests and served as chaplains (one retired from the Navy, the other served in the Army). Here is his promised bookend thought,

Being ready is not what matters. What matters is winning after you get there.

Ain’t that the truth.

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.

For Archishop Fulton Sheen’s Thoughts on Vatican II

The good folks over at Catholic Answers have the scoop:

Q: “Did Fulton Sheen support Vatican II? Sheen is a favorite of some who reject the Council, so a quote from him citing his support for Vatican II would be quite helpful for discussions with them.” [Read more...]

Because These Words Paul Wrote Are Worthy of Shakespeare

Especially compared to the “weak tea” of the speech heard ’round the world yesterday.

Of course, this passage from his second letter to the Corinthians isn’t just some dramatic idea that the Apostle Paul dreamed up. They are after all an account of his personal experience witnessing for Christ.

But they are more than that too. They are the words of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Long time readers know of my favorite speech from Shakespeare’s play Henry V. I love how Kenneth Branagh delivers the St. Crispins Day speech so realistically. Just the other day in a post about friendship, I shared a video scene between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they imagine dialogue from a costume drama set in the hills of Northern England.

I’ve probably watched that scene two dozen times now. I’ve been driving my kids crazy with it too as I improvise more things to say after the rousing “Gentlemen to bed!” introduction.

So with the flair for the dramatic still reverberating through my brain, I turned to the Daily Readings and came upon what follows. Interestingly, I had shared them with you before just a fortnight ago. But as I read them today, I hear a classically trained actor delivering them with verve and dripping with pathos. Maybe it’s just the newly revised edition of the New American Bible.

Reading 1
2 Cor 11:18, 21-30

Richard Burton

Brothers and sisters:
Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.
To my shame I say that we were too weak!

But what anyone dares to boast of
(I am speaking in foolishness)
I also dare.
Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they children of Israel? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
Are they ministers of Christ?
(I am talking like an insane person).
I am still more, with far greater labors,
far more imprisonments, far worse beatings,
and numerous brushes with death.

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

And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me
of my anxiety for all the churches.
Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

And the saga continues on into the next day.

Brothers and sisters:
I must boast; not that it is profitable,
but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows),
was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know that this man
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things,
which no one may utter.

About this man I will boast,
but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish,
for I would be telling the truth.
But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me
than what he sees in me or hears from me
because of the abundance of the revelations.

Therefore, that I might not become too elated,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

How can the scriptures not come to life when such inspired words as these are read as if they were spoken directly to a blood brother? Read the Bible!

For Stuff Non-Catholics Say About the Church Like This

No, this isn’t  a photograph of Karl Marx. That’s Walter Bagehot, former editor of the Economist and a fellow who could write his fanny off. I stumbled upon what follows while tracking down a quote attributed to Blaise Pascal. I’ve become something of an unbeliever in the attributions for quotes that can so easily be found on the internet these days. I want to see the footnotes, or the original text nowadays.

So I was snooping around the electronic shelves of Google Books and found the quote, “All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room,” buried in an article written by Bagehot that was published in an astonishing place.

Would you believe a literary journal of sorts published monthly by the Traveler’s Insurance Company of Hartford Connecticut, Circa 1887? I kid you not.

The piece where Blaise’s quote (from thought #139) was used by Bagehot (how do you pronounce that name!) in a selection entitled Thoughtless Activity, the Curse of Society. Some things never change, do they? The article was taken from a chapter in Bagehot’s book of essays Physics and Politics. And though it was a good article, I was mainly bowled over by the idea that a for-profit insurance company even bothered to publish poetry and essay’s alongside their annual financial and mortality tables. What would Sandy Weill have thought? Fire that guy and hire another actuary! Click on this title line and have a look.

Poking around for more on Bagehot, it seems that he may have been fond of the Catholic Church for a time, early in his career, you know, before more important things took up his time. In his Literary Studies, published several years after his death, his biographer Richard Holt Hutton had this to say about him,

I have no doubt that for seven or eight years of his life the Roman Catholic Church had a great fascination for his imagination, though I do not think that he was ever at all near conversion. He was intimate with all Dr. Newman’s writings. And of these the Oxford sermons, and the poems in the Lyra Apostolica afterwards separately published—partly, I believe, on account of the high estimate of them which Bagehot had himself expressed—were always his special favorites.

Perhaps Bagehot’s brush with Rome was a near-miss, but he certainly wrote favorably of her from France here,

Walter Bagehot on The Catholic Church, from his essay The Coup d’Etat of 1851

I do not know that I can exhibit the way these qualities of the French character operate on their opinions better than by telling you how the Roman Catholic Church deals with them. I have rather attended to it since I came here. It gives sermons almost an interest, their being in French, and to those curious in intellectual matters, it is worth observing. In other times, and even now in out-of-the-way Spain , I suppose it may be true that the Catholic Church has been opposed to inquiry and reasoning. But it is not so now and here.

Loudly from the pens of a hundred writers, from the tongues of a thousand pulpits, in every note of thrilling scorn and exulting derision, she proclaims the contrary. Be she Christ’s workman or Antichrist’s, she knows her work too well.

“Reason, reason, reason!” exclaims she to the philosophers of this world. “Put in practice what you teach if you would have others believe it. Be consistent. Do not prate to us of private judgment, when you are but yourselves repeating what you heard in the nursery, ill-mumbled remnants of a Catholic tradition. No; exemplify what you command; inquire and make search. Seek, and we warn you that ye will never find, yet do as ye will. Shut yourselves up in a room, make your mind a blank, go down (as you speak) into the depth of your consciousness, scrutinize the mental structure, inquire for the elements of belief,— spend years, your best years, in the occupation,—and at length, when your eyes are dim, and your brain hot, and your hands unsteady, then reckon what you have gained.”

“See if you cannot count on your fingers the certainties you have reached; reflect which of them you doubted yesterday, which you may disbelieve tomorrow; or rather, make haste—assume at random some essential credenda,—write down your inevitable postulates, enumerate your necessary axioms, toil on, toil on, spin your spider’s web, adore your own soul, or if ye prefer it, choose some German nostrum; try an intellectual intuition, or the pure reason, or the intelligible ideas, or the mesmeric clairvoyance, and when so, or somehow, you have attained your results, try them on mankind.”

“Don’t go out into the byways and hedges; it is unnecessary. Ring a bell, call in the servants, give them a course of lectures, cite Aristotle, review Descartes, panegyrize Plato, and see if the bonne will understand you. It is you that say Vox populi, vox Dei. You see the people reject you.”

“Or, suppose you succeed,—what you call succeeding. Your books are read; for three weeks or even a season you are the idol of the salons. Your hard words are on the lips of women; then a change comes—a new actress appears at the Theatre Francais or the Opera; her charms eclipse your theories; or a great catastrophe occurs; political liberty, it is said, is annihilated. Il fauti se faire mouchard, is the observation of scoffers. Anyhow you are forgotten. Fifty years may be the gestation of a philosophy, not three its life. Before long, before you go to your grave, your six disciples leave you for some newer master, or to set up for themselves.”

“The poorest priest in the remotest region of the Basses-Alpes has more power over men’s souls than human cultivation. His ill-mouthed Masses move women’s souls—can you? Ye scoff at Jupiter, yet he at least was believed in, you never have been. Idol for idol, the dethroned is better than the unthroned. No, if you would reason, if you would teach, if you would speculate,— come to us.”

“We have our premises ready; years upon years before you were born, intellects whom the best of you delight to magnify, toiled to systematize the creed of ages. Years upon years after you are dead, better heads than yours will find new matter there to define, to divide, to arrange. Consider the hundred volumes of Aquinas. Which of you desire a higher life than that;—to deduce, to subtilize, discriminate, systematize, and decide the highest truth, and to be believed? Yet such was his luck, his enjoyment. He was what you would be. No, no, eredite, credite. Ours is the life of speculation. The cloister is the home for the student. Philosophy is stationary, Catholicism progressive. You call. We are heard,”etc.

So speaks each preacher, according to his ability. And when the dust and noise of present controversies have passed away, and, in the interior of the night, some grave historian writes out the tale of half-forgotten times, let him not forget to observe that, profoundly as the mediaeval Church subdued the superstitious cravings of a painful and barbarous age, in after-years she dealt more discerningly still with the feverish excitement, the feeble vanities, and the dogmatic impatience of an overintellectual generation.

You’ll find Bagehot’s report from France on the electronic stacks of the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

To Train My Family to Pray, And Lead Them By Example

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here. Yesterday my family put into practice prayers that they learned a long time ago. You see, a line of storms was forecast to hit our area, and everyone took them seriously.

Wednesday nights are when many parishes hold their C.C.D. classes for the kids. That’s an abbreviation for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes. The teachers called the house and informed us that due to the weather forecasts, classes for tonight would be cancelled.

Remember when you were in school and classes were cancelled due to snow? That is the kind of jubilation that my kids reacted with when we received this news. Cart-wheels and high-fives all around! And then Joe Six-Pack crashed the party with, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” Dad can be such a killjoy at times, ’tis true.

Emeril!

But I’m a Dad, and I have always been a Christian Dad, the one who taught my children to pray the Our Father even when I knew it only as “the Lord’s Prayer.” And now that I’m a Catholic Dad? Well, I’m not quite the Emeril Lagasse of prayer, but I’ve definitely cranked it up another notch. Bam! Or as we say it around these parts (East Gallilee, er I mean Tennessee), Bhayum!

How scary was the weather? Well, let’s just say that my 15 year old son sent me a text before I headed home from work with the following words: “Be safe Daddy.” I don’t think he’s called me “Daddy” for three of four years now. Scary weather forecasts will do that to a kid, and even to an adult. “Abba” is “Daddy” as I recall, and Our Lord even pointed that out to the Apostles.

I texted him back that I would be fine, because it was early yet and the cells hadn’t arrived. When I got home, I noticed my wife had prepped some chicken drumsticks for grilling. So I did the only thing that a man could do: I put on my poncho and grilled them. A man has got to eat, and he has to feed his family. Pretty basic stuff, right? I even had a beer while I was cookin’. My motto is “one beer, per man, per day” and I don’t let the weather interrupt that. Ever.

Solid Oak!

So, we were finishing up our dinner, which we ate in the formal dining room because the kitchen table was covered with stuff from our pantry. Remember the stairs I built? Sheesh, that seems like a hundred years ago. They climb over the pantry below, and as I built them with oak treads, with nails, glue, and screws to boot, I know the safest place in the house is right underneath the stairs. The pantry, then, doubles as the stronghold of Casa del Weathers. My wife had made more room for us in case we needed to hit the stronghold. Smart woman! That’s why I married her.

As I was helping myself to another drumstick and more cheese mashed potatoes, I asked my youngest son to get me a beer. My daughter informed me that she had already gotten me a beer earlier and I said, “yes, but today I’ll have another, because “the Extreme” is thirsty tonight. See, we watched the movie Twister a few weeks back to prepare for Spring. I had joked about being “the Extreme” while I was grillin’ too. “I betcha didn’t know your Dad was ‘the Extreme,’” I said, but she shot back “oh yes I do!” Then the phone rang, the CCD teacher called to scrub the mission for tonight, and the jubilation and high-fives reined supreme.

That is, until “the Extreme” said, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” The natives were not happy. But I outrank them, see, and when an extra hour gets freed up to practice our faith, I grab it. And then the first storm cell made it’s presence felt, and we headed into the strong-hold, just like in the movie Thunderheart. And trust me, hearts were thundering in the pantry at this point.

We didn’t have time to grab our rosaries, but after years of training, we didn’t need them. And that is the point of this post. In the Marines, we trained constantly in peace-time and during war-time. Training is non-stop; “it ain’t training, unless it’s raining.” And when we were in the pantry, the prayer training we had been practicing all these years, paid off. Did our prayers stop the storm? Stop tornadoes from ripping our house apart? I don’t know. Many who prayed lost their homes and businesses in Alabama.

No. The praying did what nothing else can do. It provided comfort and courage during the worst storms we have ever lived through. Did you see the news that some atheists are calling for atheist chaplains to minister to them in the military? I’m not sure what good that would do, or in what way they can be ministered to by atheist chaplains. “Worried are you? Here you go lad, read a little of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and be of good cheer.” Hmmm.

Here is what we did instead. In the stronghold, we held hands and we prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And when the storm abated, we sang the Gloria and left our refuge. Twenty minutes later, we went right back in and did it all again. We even said the Nicene Creed, after I botched the Apostles Creed (rookie!). We sang the Gloria again though, which we all know by heart.

At one point, I noticed that my daughter had stopped praying with us. She started listening to the ruckus that was going on outside instead. I noted the signs of panic in her eyes, and her tears started flowing as her fears rose up. As the boys and my wife kept praying loudly, I reached for her hand and said,

“Honey, I need you to keep praying. We all need you to pray along with us.”

She squeezed my hand, and mentally and physically she backed away from the precipice of fear and panic, and joined the rest of us in saying our prayers. She had faith in me, see, just like she did when I helped her learn to swim in the deep end of the pool, or ride her bicycle without training wheels.

But the faith isn’t in me, but in the example I was setting. And she knows that now more than ever. Her faith, our faith, is in the Lord. And we cried out to Him in the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And no matter what happened that night to our property or our bodies, the importance of why we pray was apparent to her, and to all of us. We cried out to our Heavenly Daddy, “Abba Father!” because we need His compassion and peace when our courage is tried.

We were like the sleeping disciples who woke up on the boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:34-41). We cried out to the Lord, like they did, and our souls were comforted. I’m not going to go into much more detail. Suffice it to say, “you play the way you practice.” And when it comes to prayer, when you practice it during the peaceful times, and you or you children think it is a waste of time, or boring, and even pointless, keep at it.

Because when the trying times arrive, as they most certainly will, all that peacetime prayer training will pay off.

Because Napoleon Died a Catholic Death

A few weeks back, my family and I hit the used book sale that is held annually to benefit our local public library. Going to this sale has been an annual event for us, ever since we moved to Tennessee six years ago. It is at that sale where I first picked up the collection of Harvard Classics, where I met Blaise Pascal and Thomas à Kempis.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I go to this sale on the lookout for books about the Faith, and works written by great Catholic authors. 

I hit the jackpot this year, with a treasure trove of titles. Four Faultless Felons by G.K. Chesterton, for example. A paperback from 1956 called The Papal Encyclicals, with writings from St. Peter all the way up to Pope Pius XII. More Chesterton with Father Brown of the Church of Rome, edited by John Peterson. I picked up 17 titles in all, including The Waters of Siloe by Thomas Merton and The Peasant of Garonne by Jacques Maritain.

And the selection I am sharing with you today is from Hilaire Belloc’s biography of a famous French general and Emperor you may have heard of named Napoleon Bonaparte. Published in 1932, and weighing in at 379 pages, in a large hardback sporting “16 Illustrations and 22 Maps,” I’m looking forward to getting to know Napoleon better, through Hilaire Belloc’s pen.

A cursory glance of the volume landed me near the end of the book where the death of the exiled leader is imminent. Much as he did in The Great Heresies, Belloc doesn’t bother with footnotes here. But from what he writes about how Napoleon died, I hope to meet him in heaven.

Here is how Belloc tells the tale,

The Death of Napoleon

In exile on St. Helena

It was nightfall on Sunday, April 29, 1821. Napoleon lay dying. The little iron camp-bed with the silver eagles on its four corners and its green curtains was placed in the middle of the low petty room, its head to the light between two windows, its foot towards the simple fireplace, on the mantlepiece of which, in front of a large square looking-glass, stood the bust of his little son.

Wretched as the room was, it was the best in the shanty of a house—a place that was soon to be turned into common stables and was most suitable perhaps for that. It had been worse, when first the Emperor and the few who followed him came into that exile. They had found shreds of the wall-paper turned moldy and rotten with moisture and the ragged carpet on the floor gnawed into holes by rats. So much had been set right; muslin had been stretched over the walls and fluted round, the ceiling white-washed, and the place reasonably clean.

Napoleon’s Lodgings

It stood not far from the summit of a sort of very wide shallow cup sloping down easterly towards the sea from on of the ridges of that volcanic island (St. Helena in the South Atlantic), the floors of the long low place being somewhat less than 2000 feet above the sea, the noise of which could be heard coming up the funnel from the mouth of the depression below. And up that broad cup of the valley, and from the ocean below too, frequently blew the south-east gales—which the failing Emperor dreaded, finding that they suited him ill.

To the right end of the bed as he lay in such extremity he looked through an open door at the chapel which had been set up as best might be in the next room of the suite, the dining room. He gazed through to the wooden altar which the Chinese workmen (serfs of the East India Company) had set up; and his eyes could rest there on one of the last monuments of his name; the four golden letters “N” embroidered on either corner of the green velvet cloth which covered the two steps.

Through this door that morning he had heard the Sunday Mass which Bertrand’s young son had served. There also was the Tabernacle, rough, amateur, cardboard covered, but ornamented as best might be with gilt paper and the white of it gleaming against the red satin behind, while above stood a great Crucifix in ebony, too large it seemed for the altarpiece. Its great silver figure of Christ dominated the scene. He had given orders that when his last agony should be upon him, the Blessed Sacrament should be exposed and the Prayers of the Dead recited; also, said he, he desired to fulfill all the duties of the Catholic Faith.

Now as he had said these words, Antommarchi—the surgeon attendant upon him, who was an atheist in the spirit of his time,as also from the boast of science that he had, could not restrain a smile; whereat Napoleon, with some remnant of strength, flamed up at him and cried, “Be off! Stupidity fatigues me, but I can forgive shallow wits or even bad manners. I cannot forgive dullness of heart.”

It being not long after dark, Montholon had already taken up his watch at nine o’clock, which he changes alternately with the valet Marchand, and it ran till two o’clock in the morning. But on that day he had occasion to leave the Emperor alone, for this reason, that the priest Vignali was to attend. For Napoleon had said long before, when first he discovered what awaited him in his exile, “I must have a priest about me: I would not die like a dog.”

The Emperor had not feared death. He had seen it coming for now long past, ever since the beginning of the year. For when, on New Year’s Day, Marchand had pulled the curtains in the morning, Napoleon—who loved a joking converse with a familiar, and was devoted to those about him—had said, “Well, and what present have you for me this New Years?”

Marchand had answered, “Sire, the hope of seeing Your Majesty soon set to rights and leaving this air which does you only ill.”

But to such words Napoleon, no longer smiling, had gravely replied, “It will not last long, my son. My end is on me; I cannot carry on much more.”

Said Marchand, “As I see things it is not so.”

And then Napoleon had ended all this by the few words, “It shall be as God wills.”

As his illness had increased upon him he had known more and more that certainly it was death.

There came a time when he could no longer walk or ride out of doors, and when he attempted to do so turned faint. In March his blood had chilled and they needed to put warm clothes about his feet, and by the middle of the month he said to a doctor who begged him to take remedies prescribed, “Well, sir! I am at your orders! But do you not see that death will be to me a gift from Heaven? I do not dread it. I will do nothing to hasten it, but I would try no sortilege to make my life the longer.” And at another time he said, “Death has now been for some weeks beside me upon my pillow,” meaning that he had become familiar with that Visitor.

He had told them also, with more instinctive knowledge than their science possessed, that he was dying of what his father had died of; and so he was—with a cancer in the stomach which was certain soon to make an end; so that he could also say, when his English doctor asked him how he felt upon a certain day, “I shall soon give back to the earth the remnant of that life which it is of such import to the Kings to seize.”

He had asked, while still he could attend to reading, that they should read him Homer for a while; and that same day, Sunday the 29th, he had dictated, as he had dictated upon the day before, what he termed “A Reverie”—would that we possessed it! But now, when the night had come, greater things were at hand. The priest was with him alone.

Napoloeon Bonaparte confessed, and was absolved; his peace with the Faith was made; the Last Sacraments were administered—save for this, that he might not receive the Viaticum since he could retain no food. They therefore dared not give him the Eucharist. But he was at peace, while yet his reason remained to him.

It remained to him still for a brief four days. Upon the next day, the last of April, the Monday, his thoughts being still clear but his weakness very great and the sickness upon him very grievous, he kept his eyes still fixed upon the bust of his little son showing there against the glass at the foot of the bed upon the mantel. His sleep had left him, but he lingered on through May 2 and until the 3rd. Upon the 3rd, the last flicker of his great will being, as he thought, still at his service, he attempted to rise for a moment, but fell back. They gave him wine, and as he tasted it he murmured, “How good is wine!”

With that night of the 3rd, however, all around know that the end was upon him, and all watched. With the morning, before noon, his delirium began, in the frenzy of which at one moment he attempted to seize on Montholon at his side; and in that fever he muttered continually words the whispered confusion of which suggested now this, now that. It is said that the last of them which any mortal could distinguish were, “Army…army…” and “Head of the Army….” But there can be no certain record of such things.

All that day long, all the afternoon, right on through the night till four in the morning of the Saturday, the 5th, that final unconscious communion with the last flicker of this life continued. Drowning the slight murmurs of it, came violent rain for hours against the window panes at either side of the beds head, and mixed with that noise the saying of the Prayers before the Altar. Out of the sea a great wind arose and blew furiously up the valley, shaking the frail and miserable tenement with its gusts and rattling the casements and driving more furiously still the waters of the tempest against the glass.

But as the afternoon grew louder in the heavens without, the Emperor at last lay still, and even the faint whisperings from his lips were no longer heard; but they still moved imperceptibly in breathing. The household were assembled. It was near six in the evening. At nine minutes to the hour, the sunset gun was heard far off down the wind; and the rush of the tropical twilight fell under the hurrying clouds and that now lessening gale all those silent about him saw the change: the mouth half fell, the eyes opened; but they saw nothing of this world any more: Napoleon was dead.

They covered him with the cloak he had worn at Marengo, a Crucifix upon it, and by his side laid his sword.

You better believe that if I can say a prayer for the soul of Dracula, then I can certainly say one for Napoleon’s soul as well. And in the spirit of Lenten almsgiving, I’ll throw another one in for Hilaire Belloc’s soul for good measure too.

Update: Napoleon answers the question “Who is Jesus Christ?”

Because of the Way This Desert Father Handled a Calumny

—Feast of St. Joseph  

There are scandals, and rumors of scandals and there always will be. To be tainted by scandal, whether you are wrongly accused or guilty, is really a no-win situation. How does one take on the burden of this situation?

Christ was wrongly accused and He barely said a word to defend himself. But others have been wrongly accused and have borne their accusations in a similar manner.

One of my favorite examples of this is from an episode in the life of my patron, St. Macarius the Great. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of this Desert Father’s humility, renunciation, and faith. Accused of sexual misconduct, Sister Benedicta Ward translates this episode in the saints life in her book Selections From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Abba Macarius said this about himself:

‘When I was young and was living in a cell in Egypt, they took me as a cleric in the village. Because I did not wish to receive this dignity, I fled to another place. Then a devout layman joined me; he sold my manual work for me and served me.

Now it happened that a virgin in the village, under weight of temptation, committed sin. When she became pregnant, they asked her who was to blame. She said, “the anchorite.”

Then they came to seize me, led me to the village and hung pots black with soot and various other things around my neck and led me through the village in all directions, beating me and saying, “This monk has defiled our virgin, catch him, catch him” and they beat me almost to death.

Then one of the old men came and said: “What are you doing, how long will you go on beating this strange monk?” The man who served me was walking behind me, full of shame, for they covered him with insults too, saying, “Look at this anchorite, for whom you stood surety; what has he done?”

The girl’s parents said, “Do not let him go till he has given pledge that he will keep her.” I spoke to my servant and he vouched for me. Going to my cell, I gave him all the baskets I had, saying, “Sell them, and give my wife something to eat.”

Then I said to myself, “Macarius, you have found yourself a wife; you must work a little more in order to keep her.” So I worked night and day and sent my work to her. But when the time came for the wretch to give birth, she remained in labor many days without bringing forth, and they said to her, “What is the matter?”

She said, “I know what it is, it is because I slandered the anchorite, and accused him unjustly; it is not he who is to blame, but such and such young man.” Then the man who served me was full of joy saying, “The virgin could not give birth until she said ‘The anchorite had nothing to do with it, but I have lied about him.’ The whole village wants to come here solemnly and do penance before you.”

But when I heard this, for fear people would disturb me, I got up and fled here to Scetis. That is the original reason why I came here.’

See what I mean? Is that not the most amazing, most Christ-like lowering of oneself that you have read, short of the trial of Our Lord? Short of the prophet’s words in Psalm 22?

But I am a worm, hardly human,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me

Sun Tzu

Who accepts blame like this when wrongly accused nowadays? With humility? With quiet reserve and with faith that the truth will come to light and set them free? This reminds me of something that Sun Tzu, in his Art of War wrote, five centuries before Christ was crucified, and eight centuries before Abba Macarius endured this calumny,

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

That is the truth. May it ever be so. And as for the example of Abba Macarius, Sister Benedicta shares this anecdote in Paradise of the Desert Fathers,

They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.

Another very Christ-like character trait. Abba Macarius, Pray for us.

You will find Sister Benedicta Ward’s book on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Update: For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says

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.