Wisdom from Thomas Merton’s Letter to a Young Activist

Now that the presidential election is over, some of you may be feeling listless after the loss in the “biggest election of all time.” My advice? Don’t be.

Depending on where you stand politically, think about how you reacted to last nights election news.

Did you get caught up in the election cycle so much that you lost sight of the Kingdom of Heaven? A slippery slope lies between being a concerned citizen and morphing into a partisan political hack who sees everything through the lens of party and not through the lens of faith. [Read more...]

What If God Was One of Us, and Drove a Race Car?

Ayrton would not approve of that typo!

Today is the 20th anniversary of the passing on to God of this legendary racing driver. As such, I’m republishing this post.

I would wager that the answer to my title question would be that if this ever happened, it would look a lot like Ayrton Senna da Silva dominating Formula One circuits.

Who is Ayrton Senna? A race car driver who died eighteen years ago. Prepare for a gearhead hagiography post of sorts. [Read more...]

King David is Criticized Soundly, and Takes It Like A Man

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, many of the stories we find in the Bible rival Shakespeare’s works in terms of their sweeping grandeur and poignant messages. In fact, as others more erudite than Joe Six-Pack have argued, without the Bible, much of what we take for literature would have no foundation on which to stand. What follows is an episode that could have come right out of the Bard’s Macbeth. [Read more...]

Because Joseph of Cupertino Could Fly

—Feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino

Two years ago, the world was held in thrall by Stephen Hawking’s declaration that there is no need for a Creator for the universe to have been formed. The giant had spoken, succinctly, and confidently. If you are like me, you haven’t read his new book, but you probably saw the interview with Larry King.

One of my take-away’s from the interview? Stephen Hawking gushing over his experience of being weightless. He got to take a flight on one of those NASA planes that climbs parabolically so at the “top”, for a short while, zero-G is achieved. He evidently was thrilled to be weightless. [Read more...]

“All That Remains” Report: Back From Nagasaki!

The photograph above is of Nyokodo, the small hut where Dr. Takashi Nagai and his children lived after his city was destroyed. Ian Higgins, and others from Major Oak Entertainment, spent 10 days in Nagasaki and environs interviewing folks, and filming scenes for the film about Dr. Nagai’s experience in the aftermath of that cataclysmic event. [Read more...]

For Thoughts on Faith Like These by Thomas Merton

100,000 Monks Pray for a Better World

I was moved to share Fr. Louis’ (Thomas Merton’s monastic name) thoughts on faith with you when I saw this photograph on one of my friends Facebook pages, coupled with today’s Gospel reading. Perhaps you have seen it too. Won’t you join them in praying for the same? It will only take a few seconds. Here’s a suggestion from St. Faustina, [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Francis of Assisi, Deacon

It’s the feast of St. Francis of Assisi today, in case you didn’t notice. True story: My grandfather was a Catholic and his name was Francis too, and he was named after the fellow you’ll be reading about below. As it happens, that is also how I came to be named, but the Catholic connotation of that Christian name lay dormant for some great length time. My grandfather died, see, when I was a wee tot and my memories of him bear no mark of his (and now my) religion at all.

Dipping into my favorite electronic library, I came across this little review of “Mrs. Oliphant’s” Life of St. Francis in an English journal called “The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art.” Wow, they don’t write journals with titles like that anymore! Now, I have no idea who the author of the following thoughts is, but the introductory paragraphs of the essay below start with the chagrin St. Francis causes amongst our non-Catholic Christian brethren. Because there really is no one closer to St. Francis in devotion to Christ, than perhaps the Blessed Virgin herself.

Looking for a Catholic who took the gospels literally? You’ve found him. These thoughts were penned in the Year of Our Lord 1872, or about half a heartbeat ago in the cosmic scheme of things. Have a look,

from a review of The Life of St. Francis

The Franciscan Order met a crying want of the age which the older religious communities failed to satisfy. But there is nothing to show that Francis had any such conscious purpose in originating it. From first to last he was the child of impulse, but of impulses which were always benevolent, generous, and devout. “He thought little of himself, even of his own soul to be saved;” his one idea and master-passion was how best to work for God and to help men.

The first murmurs were already beginning to be heard of the great democratic movement which has since overspread Europe, and the feudal system, still surviving in full force, was more and more felt to be an oppressive burden on the poor. Nor was the only power that could then act as a counterpoise itself irreproachable. There was a very general outcry against the pride of a wealthy and dominant hierarchy accused of caring more for its own aggrandizement than for the souls of men. And that cry had taken shape in strange forms of heresy, old and new, which threatened social as well as ecclesiastical order, and which Church and State—so far as the two can then be distinguished—were banded together to trample out with ruthless and indiscriminate severity.

But the Church, if she was to retain her moral supremacy, required a machinery which could convince as well as crush; there was needed a popular ministry to satisfy the wants of popular devotion, and a popular theology to meet on its own ground the advances of popular heresy. And this was the double work which Francis, however unconsciously, was destined to accomplish, though he might have seemed from his antecedents about the unlikeliest man in Europe for the purpose.

In the little city of Assisi, which lies beneath the Eastern slope of the Umbrian Apennines, there lived a worthy merchant, Pietro Bernadone di Mericoni by name, to whom was born in 1182 a son named Francesco, and known among his companions by the common Italian sobriquet of Cecco. The boy grew up to be the pride of his parents, the spoiled child of fortune, the darling of society, the idol of a glittering circle of youthful friends, gayest among the gay, of singular personal beauty, fascinating manners, and brilliant but genial wit.

At the age of twenty he was struck down by a severe illness, and from that hour is dated his “conversion—from a life of carelessness, not apparently of vice—the first result of which was his joining, in obedience to a dream, the army of the “Gentle Count” “Walter of Brienne, in the strife of Guelph against Ghibelline. But a second dream turned him back at Spoleto, and for a time he resumed his old life, but not in the old spirit. “Why so grave, Francis?” said his wondering companions; “are you going to be married?” The question suggested the reply: “I am; and my bride is—Poverty.”

Those strange nuptials have been immortalized by the greatest of French orators and of Italian poets, and the pencil of Giotto has familiarized to our eyes what the glowing words of Bossuet and Dante have made musical to our ears. The events which followed in rapid succession must be briefly dismissed here. In obedience to another vision Francis undertook to rebuild the little church of St. Damiano, outside the walls of Assisi, and incurred the fierce anger of his father, who had already been sorely troubled by his eccentricities, by selling some of his bales of cloth for the purpose. He was seized as a lunatic, and imprisoned for several months in his own home.

At length, after signing a renunciation of his patrimony, and stripping off his costly garments, he went forth, homeless and friendless, like the patriarch of old, forgetting his own people and his father’s house, and not knowing whither he went. But he now remembered an incident which had occurred some time previously, and had deeply impressed him. He had met a leper near Assisi, and, conquering his natural disgust, had sprung from his horse and embraced him. Those who know the peculiar care bestowed by the Church of that age on these unhappy outcasts, whom Christ, according to the Vulgate reading of Isaiah’s prophecy, had made types of Himself, will not wonder at the sequel. The seeming leper vanished, to appear again to Francis in a dream; for it was indeed none other than the Divine Sufferer of whom the prophet spoke.

To the lepers’ hospital at Assisi accordingly Francis now betook himself, and thence he came forth to supplicate alms to rebuild the church of St. Damiano, and another church outside the city formerly dedicated to St. Peter, but now restored under the name of La Portiuncola, or Our Lady of the Angels, and which is still the central home of the Franciscan Order.

The time for establishing that Order had now come. We must pass over the touching story of the conversion of his two first companions, Bernardo di Quintavalle and Pietro di Catania, who settled in a little hut on the plains of Assisi to form the first nucleus of the new community. In a few weeks the numbers had increased to twelve, and already Francis heard in spirit “the tread of multitudes”—French, Spaniards, English, Germans—thronging to join them. He traced out a cross on the ground stretching to the four points of the compass, and despatched his little band in four companies on their mission of mercy to the bodies and souls of men.

The Order was now formed, but it had no legalized existence, and the members were simple laymen. Francis, therefore, who was no “nonconformist,” but a devoted son of the Church, resolved in Izio to repair to Rome, and ask for the sanction of the Pope. Innocent III., whom he and his companions found pacing at sunset along the stately terraces of the Lateran, looked with amazement on these strange visitors, in their rough shepherd’s dress, and remanded them till the morning.

That night, we are told, he dreamt, like the Syrian King of old, of a palm-tree which rose beneath his feet, and its branches stretched over the earth, and the weary and world-worn from every nation came to repose beneath its shade. And again he dreamed that the great Lateran Church was falling to the ground, and was propped up by the poor beggar in big brown shepherd’s dress who had stood before him the previous evening. He hesitated no longer, and, in spite of the remonstrances of his cardinals, dismissed his visitors with his blessing and a solemn, though as yet unwritten, approbation of their stern rule of poverty.

That went something like this,

The return of Francis to Assisi was like a triumphal procession. Bells were rung and litanies chanted, and crowds came forth to meet him, and the church of the Portiuncola was at once formally made over to him. The conversion of St. Clare soon followed, and the Church of St. Damiano was assigned to the female community of Poor Clares, the “Second Order” of Franciscans, instituted under her rule.

And now Francis, who but two or three years before had been hooted as a madman through the streets of his native city, was preaching in the cathedral, though only a deacon, to enraptured crowds, who hung upon his every word. We must pass rapidly over the first General Chapter of the Order, the second journey of Francis to Rome to obtain a fuller confirmation of the rule from Honorius HL, and his meeting there with St. Dominic, when the founders of the rival Orders vowed before the altar an eternal friendship, to note his first acquaintance with Cardinal Ugolino, afterwards Pope Gregory IX., who remained ever afterwards the warm friend and patron of Francis and his community.

St. Francis, pray for us.

For Thoughts On Being a Christian by the “Chinese Chesterton”

All wisdom is from the Lord God, and hath been always with him, and is before all time. —Sirach 1:1

I came across the following thoughts in my friend John C.H. Wu’s book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. Author Frank Sheed called John, a Benedictine Oblate, “the Chinese Chesterton.” The following selection may help you understand why. [Read more...]

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.

To Find Peacefulness of Soul, Be Confident in the Mercy of the Lord

What follows are a few thoughts on Christian peace of the soul by my friend John C.H. Wu. They are from the chapter in his book “The Interior Carmel” that reflect upon the beatitude “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” How soon we forget this calling of ours! Not only our vocation as peacemakers, but our destiny to become the adopted children of God.

The Source of Peace

John C.H. Wu

Nothing conduces to peace more than self-abandonment to the good pleasure of God. In The Imitation of Christ there is a conversation between Christ and the Disciple. Christ says: “Son, suffer Me to do with thee what I will: I know what is best for thee.” The Disciple answers: “Lord, what Thou sayest is true; Thy care over me is greater than all the care I can take of myself…If Thou wilt have me to be in darkness, be Thou blessed; and if Thou wilt have me to be in light, be Thou again blessed; if Thou vouchsafest to comfort me, be Thou blessed; and if it be Thy will I should be afflicted, be Thou equally blessed” (III,17).

When King David was in danger of death, he could still sing as if he were in the greatest secruity and prosperity:

Many say: “Who will show us good things?”
Lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us,
O Lord!
Thou hast given greater joy to my heart
Than that of men, who abound in corn and wine.
As soon as I lie down, I fall asleep in peace.
For thou alone, O Lord, makest me to dwell in
security
(Psalm 4.7-9).

Is it not clear that his inward peace flowed from his absolute confidence in God?

Christian peace is rooted in faith, nourished by hope, and perfected by love. It is a peace which is not achieved directly by man, but given by God to those who are disposed to receive it. It issues from the indwelling Holy Trinity in the center of your soul. When you realize that God has found a home in your spirit, which is the apex of your soul, you feel a security which the world can neither give or take away.

Perfect love casts out fear, as St. John says; and the reason is that “God is love, and he who abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4.16). If God abides in you, you have nothing to fear any longer, seeing that “Greater is he that is in you, than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4). Then you will feel with St. Paul:

If God be for us, who is against us? Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword?…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.31-39).

Not even the atom bomb or cosmic rays can separate us from the love of God. Teresa of Avila wrote,

St. Teresa of Avila

You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven. No doubt you can believe that, in any place where His Majesty is, there is fulness of glory. Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself. Do you suppose it is of little importance that a soul which is often distracted should come to understand this truth and to find that, in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in Him, it has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice? However quietly we speak, He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest; we must talk to Him very humbly, as we should to our father, ask Him for things as we should ask a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His children.

It is all as simple as that. But you say, How do I know that God is delighted with me? Well, if you have anything on your conscience, go to Confession immediately and begin anew. Don’t be afraid of the priests. They are, every one of them, potentially great sinners like you and me. A holy priest, Msgr. John Murphy, who died not long ago, said in a speech on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee something to the following effect: “Those of of you who have known me well during during these years must think that you are witnessing a miracle today!” The holier you are, the greater glory you give to God; for His power is revealed in the very distance between your present attainment and what you might have been without His grace.

The point I am driving at now is that we must have full confidence in God and His priests, who are endowed with the power to bind and loosen. God cannot abide in your soul when you are in mortal sin. He is, of course, still present in other modes, but abide in you He cannot. And if He is not at home in you, you will not be at home with yourself nor anywhere else. You make a hell for yourself and for others who have to live with you.

Get up as quickly as you fall, and you will recover your past merits. You will not have to start the journey all over again; you will continue from the point where you fell. According to St. Thomas (Aquinas) and other theologians, grace may even revive in the soul in a higher degree than before its loss, provided contrition is fervent enough. This is the way to peace, because it will restore the indwelling of the Holy Trinity within us.

For those of us with a scrupulous conscience, I want to quote the words of Father Alfred Wilson, C.P., in his Pardon and Peace(1948):

Love of God is the most effective antidote to sin. If we love God intensely, we shall hate sin effectively. If you desire to hate and conquer sin, try to forget all about yourself for a time, and study instead and ponder the goodness and loveableness of God, so that your soul may be refreshed by basking in the sunshine of His love. Get out into the fresh air of God’s love and away from the fetid atmosphere of the repulsive and depressing dungeons of self and sin.

Nothing pleases God like a contrite heart coupled with a loving confidence in His mercy. If our conscience accuses us, then be sorry, go to Confession, and resolve to do better hereafter. Thus, our peace of mind is restored. If we have the testimony of a good conscience, then, as St. John says, “We have confidence towards God, and whatsoever we shall ask, we shall receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3.21-22).

Obviously it is foolish to think that sins need not be repented of and absolved, that they will dissolve themselves in the course of time. The longer they stay on your conscience, the worse trouble they will make, leaving you no peace and nagging at you constantly like a shrewish housewife. Can you enjoy peace of mind with a buzzing bee in your ear? But it is even worse to entertain a mean idea of God, as though He were not a forgiving Father.

Fr. Mateo

I have come across a very significant story in Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey’s book Jesus, King of Love. As it has helped me, it may also help some of my readers:

One of the many souls who regard Jesus a tyrant was preparing to make a general confession for the hundredth time. Restlessly, she spent the days of her retreat writing down the sins of her whole life. She neither meditated nor prayed; she was entirely absorbed in an examination which stifled her.

At last she went into the confessional. She read out the list of her sins, repeating and explaining over, and over again, in fear and trembling. When at length she thought she had finished, a voice was heard which very gently and very sadly said,

“You have forgotten something very important.”

“I thought I must have,” she answered, terror-stricken, and hastily prepared to read it all again.

“Your sin is not in your notes,” continued the Voice, “and it offends me much more than all that you have said. Accuse yourself of lack of trust.”

The voice moved her her to the depths and she sought to ascertain if it were really her confessor’s. The Confessional was empty! Jesus had come to give her a supreme lesson.



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