Because the Sexual Abuse Scandal is Like The Ribbon Creek Incident

All of you who have never heard of the Ribbon Creek Incident, say “aye!”

Now, all of you who remember those pesky SAT analogy questions that went like this,

apple is to tree, as fish is to _________. a) Christians; b) water; c) sharks; d) pole

say “aye!”

I hope when reading that expression, you went with “b” as your answer.

Otherwise, I’m going to have to take all of you out as a group to the sand pit behind the squad bay and p.t. the lot of you until you can see yourself in the reflection of your own pool of sweat. Black Flag conditions be damned!

If you haven’t guessed it by now, this post is being brought to you by my alter-ego,  Joe Six-Pack, USMC. Remember the first time he showed up? And as the poor, hapless, civilians that you are, I (he?) probably lost many of you by using the jargon that every Marine knows like a second language. And I’m not gonna give you the scuttlebutt on those terms either. That is what Google is for! Go look up the words you didn’t understand on your own.

So, where in the world is this post going? Well, Archbishop Dolan recently said something very wise regarding the sexual abuse scandals that have occurred aboard His Majesty’s Ship. To paraphrase His Excellency, he says we can never forget.

Never Forget!

So what is the Ribbon Creek Incident and what does it have to do with the Church? The Ribbon Creek Incident took place in 1956 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in lovely Parris Island, South Carolina. P.I., see, is across the Port Royal Sound from it’s polar opposite, Hilton Head Island. The one is where Marines are made, and the other is where tourists forget their cares for a week or so. It’s analogy refresher time.

Hilton Head Island is to Heaven as Parris Island is to ___________ a)Fort Dix, b)Fantasy Island, c) the Emerald Isle, d)Hell.

You guys are getting better at this, but you’re still too slow. Yes, this time “d” is the correct answer.

On April 8, 1956 at approximately 20:00 (that’s 8:00 PM) a Drill Instructor named Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon took his platoon of recruits on a little punitive march into the wetlands around Ribbon Creek. Six of his recruits didn’t make it out because they drowned. And that is when the Marine Corps started aggressively fixing the problem of overzealous Drill Instructors destroying the raw material for the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

Would the Mothers of America continue to allow their boys to become Marines if sadistic D.I’s killed them in the process before they had even earned the title? That is highly unlikely. Just a few short years before this incident, the First Marine Division destroyed 8 Chinese Red Army divisions during it’s fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir to the coast at Hungnam. And don’t forget the successful, though brutal, island hopping campaign in the Pacific during the recently concluded World War. Would you believe this storied history was sullied by the disaster at Ribbon Creek? The tabloids were having a field day, as were the mainline newspapers.

In reaction to the incident, did the leadership of the Corps cover it up? Not no, but hell no! Because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that recruitment would be harmed by more incidents like this. And thus, national security would be put at risk.

Another institutional perspective that caused the leadership to act swiftly to correct abuse of recruits in training was the ever threatening prospect of the dissolution of the Marine Corps altogether. Lot’s of bright, well meaning folks continued to point out how redundant it was to even have a Marine Corps. These whiz kids could always break out ideas, and the budget numbers to support them, for folding the Corps into the Army, Navy, and that new-fangled branch called the Air Force.

Do you think I’m kidding? Check out this quote from an Amazon review of John C. Steven’s book Court-Marshal at Parris Island:The Ribbon Creek Incident,

An extremely informative & detailed read! Stevens iterates a tragic event in Marine Corps history with a direct, thought provoking style. As the current Commanding Officer of the Recruit Training Regiment at Parris Island, I am encouraging my officers & drill instructors to read this book in order to better understand how close we, the Marine Corps, as an organization, came to being disestablished because of the actions of just one man.

Another book of interest on the same subject matter is Keith Fleming’s, “The U.S. Marine Corps in Crisis: Ribbon Creek & Recruit Training.” That is another important book in helping to understand how the recruit training process has evolved.

So being entrepreneurial, and forward looking, and bent on survival, you see, the Marine Corps changed. You can read all about it in the two books mentioned above by the Colonel, as well as briefly over at Wikipedia. But suffice it to say, for the purposes of the simple analogy I have proposed here, that the Marine Corps decided to fix the problem ASAP. The Corps moved swiftly to address this issue. Now true, the actions taken would never bring these dead recruits back to life, and never restore them to their families. However, the Corps takes care of her own, and changes were made at every level to insure that these six young men did not die in vain.

Now, swiftly is a relative term. It took years, nay, decades for Headquarters Marine Corps to effect institutional changes to successfully prevent on-going abuse of recruits. Ribbon Creek was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the immediate actions the Marine Corps took only began the long, slow, crawl away from the abyss of institutional extinction. I was at Parris Island in 1981, and by that time many training changes had been put in place. Ribbon Creek happened 25 years before I arrived on the Island, and yet the institution continued to tune and fine tune the process of how Marines are made for another 20 years after I graduated. I would argue that the transformation in recruit training from the time of the incident in 1956, and the amount of time that elapsed until its gruesome effects on the reputation of the Marine Corps subsided, is about 40 years.

So by no stretch of the imagination am I saying that the Church is in the 9th inning of the game here. If anything, She is in the second inning, and for all we know, she may be playing a double-header. But I can tell you this assuredly. The Marine Corps never forgot Ribbon Creek, just as surely as she never forgot Belleau Wood, Tarawa, or Iwo Jima. Nowadays, training recruits isn’t done by the seat of the pants, but it is done as 1/4 art and 3/4 science. To even become a Drill Instructor nowadays is one of the hardest schools to successfully complete as an enlisted Marine. The future of the Corps depends on high quality recruits being successfully transformed into high quality Marines, by impeccably qualified Drill Instructors and Officers. Mistakes still occur, but the organization is intent on discovery of personnel problems. Transparency is the rule.

And that’s it folks. Joe Six-Pack, USMC’s analogy is complete.

The Ribbon Creek Incident is to the Marine Corps, as the Sexual Abuse Crisis is to the Roman Catholic Church.

It isn’t pretty, and it won’t be quick, but the change that has to come about to identify the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, identify the parties involved in propagating it, rooting out and turning over to authorities those who engaged in this criminal behavior, has arrived.

With leaders like Archbishop Dolan, and Pope Benedict XVI at the helm, I have confidence that the changes and procedures needed to root out abusive priests, and keep them out going forward, are being developed and will be implemented, and they will continue to evolve. Like the Marine Corps and Ribbon Creek, the Church must never forget is right! And might I remind you that this means us lay Catholics especially. We must be ever vigilant going forward, much like the passengers on Flight 93 were back in 2001. It took everyone in the Marine Corps, from the Commandant to the lowliest Privates, and every rank in between, to change the culture of the Corps after Ribbon Creek. Similarly, this participation at every level will be required by Mother Church if indeed She is to avoid the lee-shore of scandal that she found herself heading towards. “All Hands, Prepare to Wear Ship!” is the command, and incidentally, you are one of the hands, savvy?

And if the leadership needs an example for best practices in this department, please feel free to forward this post to Headquarters, er, I mean the Vatican. You might even recommend Dr. Zimbardo’s book too.

Semper Fidelis

UPDATE: I just saw, An Archbishop Burns While Rome Fiddles. Regarding that article, some clarity (and footnotes)from Elizabeth Scalia.

Because Christ is a Warrior (Then, So Am I)

Hi, remember me? I’m the guy who said Christ is a Royal (Then, So Am I). Now I have to write another post with a similar title because I observed that many of the same folks who weren’t interested in the Royal Wedding last week also seem to be conflicted about the actions of S.E.A.L. Team Six a mere forty-eight hours later.

Perhaps I’ll be starting a whole new series of blog posts around this theme of who Jesus Christ is, and how it relates to YIMCatholic. Sure, Eric Sammons already wrote a book about this, but that only covers Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew.

But you see, the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, and if you are a part of His Church, then as members of His Mystical Body, you too are just what St. Teresa of Avila, aka “Big Terry,” says you are:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

St.Thérèse of Lisieux
as St. Joan of Arc

If you think Frank has gone a little batty with the assertion that the Church is Christ, then look at our blog patron’s statement that is right there in paragraph 795 of the Catechism as well,

About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter. —St. Joan of Arc

This assertion, then, has ramifications for each and every one of us regarding our earthly vocations. I’ve seen many who have written posts after the death of Osama Bin Laden with plenty of Bible quotations that play up the docile, meek, and seemingly pacifistic side of Christianity. I can just as easily break out scripture references that proclaim Our Lord as a warrior, or that liken Him to one.

If the Bible is like an encyclopedia, than G.K. Chesterton’s point is well made:

For it is the test of a good encyclopedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.

Hmmm, there G.K.C. goes again, knocking the cover off the ball. Perhaps he is also talking about the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Because as important as the imagery is along the spectrum between the end points of pacifism and just war, it’s also important that we remember that the Church is composed of living, breathing, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. And these members cross the broad spectrum of all mankind.

Like last week, some of them are actual Royals in addition to being in the royal priesthood that Christians all belong to. And like the week before, some of them are homeless. And this week, we must remember that some of the members of Christ’s body are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Christ, then, in the form of the Church, continues to achieve His earthly mission to bring all people to salvation through the agency of many human beings, whom He created. And some of His children are called to the professional vocation of warrior. As the Holy Spirit spoke through King David in Psalm 144,

Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.

David seemed pretty thankful in the opening line of that Psalm, didn’t he? Here is what the Catechism has to say on the duties and responsibilities of the faithful who fill this role,

2310 —Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.

And that is exactly what the members of S.E.A.L. Team Six did this past weekend. It’s what they, and all the other members of the armed forces, have been doing, and will continue to do, as long as our country is in existence. Were they Christians? I don’t know. Were any of them Catholics? I have no idea. But do we need people like them doing what they do? Think about it.

I’ll wrap this post up with another paragraph from the CCC (emphasis mine) and another quote from St. Joan,

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits”- reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges:

“Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.’”

That is my prayer as well, so help me God.

Update: Father Steve Grunow of Word on Fire on the Death of a Terrorist. Also, a primer on Just War Doctrine.

Because Christ is A Royal (Then, So Am I)

—Feast of Bl. Marie of the Incarnation
What has the Royal Wedding got to do with anything? I ask this question because of the ambivalence to the event that I noticed across the Catholic blog-o-sphere. There was either nary a mention of it anywhere, or derisiveness when it was mentioned.

What’s the story? Jealousy of the royals? Feelings of inadequacy? Bunch of rich guys…to hell with ‘em? Was the prince’s red-coat stirring your loins for battles your ancestors fought long ago? You can’t stand monarchies, perhaps?

Or is it the spectacle that is made of it? The profligate waste of capital on a mere ceremony, that one blogger said could have been done for $100 in front of a humble priest? Seriously?! Judas would agree with you there. Catholics who are normally turning victory laps over pageantry, beautiful churches, sumptuous robes and incense all of a sudden announce that they aren’t fans of the Royals, etc., etc.

This is ironic to me because we’ll all be turning victory laps for the beatification ceremony of Blessed Pope John Paul II without batting an eyelash. It’s funny, to me at least, when blue-collar heroes like Joe Six-Pack, USMC are the ones gushing over the scriptural imagery of the Royal Wedding. It makes me want to break out a bullhorn and say, “Do you people even read the Bible?” This is the parable of the Wedding Feast folks!

Have a look at how Christ, Our King, puts it,

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.

He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.

I showed up to the wedding feast yesterday. I found the ceremonial wedding garment (humility), put it on, and then enjoyed the show. No, Joe Six-Pack, USMC doesn’t follow every shread of news about the Royal Family in the United Kingdom. But I can see the imagery of the Bride of Christ, and the Groom Himself all throughout the event.

Jesus is a Royal. Have you forgotten? And even though you wouldn’t have known it to look upon Him when he was on his thirty-three year mission to save the world, I’ve got news for you. You’ll know it when you meet Him the next time.

And haven’t you heard what the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul?

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Oops. Yes, staring right back at you in the mirror is another Royal. You’ve been given a peerage, and now you have to live up to it. Gulp! It’s hard to acknowledge that, but it is true. It’s exactly what the first lines of yesterday’s wedding homily made clear. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena doesn’t pull any punches either.

Like in the parable of the wedding feast above, the world was invited to a wedding feast yesterday. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,” and then the losers like me were invited too. That is how Grace operates. It’s unearned. You could get all wrapped up in feelings of inadequacy in realizing that you didn’t deserve to be invited, or you can just be grateful for being invited at all, go, party, and bask in the glow of it all. And then, get back to the business of bringing others to the Feast.

Because here’s something else His Majesty, Our King said that might help us understand our calling as Royals,

Jesus said to them, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” After he had said this, Jesus left and hid from them. (John 12: 35-36)

Which is why our first pope would go on to say,

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

That, as my friend Forrest Gump would say, is about all I have to say about that.

Updates:

I’m with the Archbishop of Westminster on this one!

27 months later…It’s a Boy!

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.

To Become Fully Human (A Work In Progress)

A few thoughts as we celebrate the season commemorating Jesus’s triumph over death, and His becoming what we are to become if we follow him.

A friend of mine asked me once, “If you could be any animal, what animal would you choose to be?” I didn’t think about my answer very long.

In the past, before I was a Catholic, I would probably have just lept to the first thing that popped into my head. An eagle, or a tiger, or some other fearsome predator, you know, one that is lethal and smart, such as these. [Read more...]

Because Christ Waits Patiently

I saw this posted yesterday somewhere: “Forget Christmas or Easter. Independence Day is the most important holiday of the year and will have a greater impact on world history as it serves to remind people for millenia that nations are ruled by the consent of the governed.” My first thought? This person is delusional. My second thought? I need to pray for them. [Read more...]

Because Confession Puts Us Back Together

Does everyone remember “The Kid?” That’s what I call Marc Barnes who blogs over at BadCatholic. Yes, the one with the blog with a photograph of nuns lighting up smokes. Marc is a gifted writer, and he wrote a guest post for me once. He also has a talent for making videos.

Back in January, I shared the video that Marc made about the March for Life with you. It went viral (sort of), as well it should have. It is that good!

About a month ago, I got wind of a little “make a video about Confession” contest for an All Day Confession Event being held in the Archdiocese of New York. Scholarship money is on the line for the winner of the contest. But for the rest of us, hearing and sharing a message that may save eternal lives is what’s on the line.

The first person that popped into my head when I learned of this contest was “the Kid.” I sent him a note saying, “hey Kid…make a video on Confession!” As a result, his God-given talents were put to work and he created this fantastic one-minute video below.

Watch it, share it, go to You Tube and “like” it, and more importantly…believe it! Go.Be.Forgiven.

Bravo Zulu Marc, and thanks!

For Bernard of Clairvaux’s Bible Reading Program to Make Sense of the World

Back in October of last year, I shared thoughts written by a Doctor of the Church with you. It was from a homily St. Bernard of Clairvaux had written and preached to the brothers in his order about one of the books in the Old Testament. As I was re-reading the homily today, these words of truth leapt off the screen,

there are two evils that comprise the only, or at least the main, enemies of the soul: a misguided love of the world and an excessive love of self…

I named the post where these words can be found For Solid Food Like This (Hold the Milk). As posts of mine go, it was unread for the most part. Last week I suggested that we all could spend an extra hour a week reading the Bible. But Frank, you may be thinking, where do we start? I think St. Bernard might have an idea or two.

In that homily, which is on the title of The Song of Songs, he recommends two of my favorite books from the Old Testament to tackle: The Book of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

Comparing these two books to loaves of rich bread, here is what he says to us about them in regard to his quote above,

These are two loaves of which it has been your pleasure to taste, loaves you have welcomed as coming from the cupboard of a friend.

Of course, he is addressing the brothers in the Cistercian order. As such, he is no longer talking to mere babes in Christ, but to soldiers of Christ. No longer folks who believe, but folks who have committed their whole life to Christ and His Church. And today, he is speaking then to Christians who are ready to take the training wheels off their bicycles and really begin to ride. But why these two particular books? Here’s what Doctor Mellifluus has to say,

The Book of Proverbs: Uproots pernicious habits of mind and body with the hoe of self-control.

Have we thrown self-control and self-discipline to the wayside? It appears that St. Bernard is describing the merits of this book as the first phase of recruit training to me. The process where we scrub off our old, worldly selves and become immersed in the culture of our new family. More than just a thought, where in our minds the light-bulb comes “on”, this book deals in concrete actions that teach us how to become practicing Christians and children of God. The military analogy that pops in my mind? Marines aren’t born, they’re made. The same is true for Christians. And what of the second book?

Ecclesiastes: by the use of enlightened reason, quickly perceives a delusive tinge in all that the world holds glorious, truly distinguishing between it and deeper truth. Moreover, it causes the fear of God and the observance of his commandments to be preferred to all human pursuits and worldly desires.

To me this is St. Bernard’s “know your enemy” book recommendation, comparable to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The shocker to many is that the Church doesn’t discard the use of reason, but she embraces it. Many have thought, “Why is Ecclesiastes even in the Canon of Scriptures?” Because the Patriarchs deemed this inspired book’s merits far outweighed its demerits, and for the very reasons that St. Bernard cites above.

Qohelth describes the world as we know it. Writing as if he is King Solomon, “the Teacher” profiles all of the paths that people take in the world, and describes in pithy phrases the stark truth: all of these ways lead to dead-ends except one. Which is why the good Doctor can say this without batting an eye about these two books,

the former is the beginning of wisdom, the latter its culmination, for there is no true and consummate wisdom other than the avoidance of evil and the doing of good, no one can successfully shun evil without the fear of God, and no work is good without the observance of the commandments.

Tempted to skip these two books and head straight to the Song of Songs? I wouldn’t recommend it and neither does St. Bernard.

Taking it then these two evils have been warded off by the reading of choice books, we may suitably proceed with this holy and contemplative discourse which, as the fruit of the other two, may be delivered only to well prepared ears and minds.

In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Learn the fundamentals, and practice them constantly until they become second nature. No, I don’t have this completely “wired” yet and probably never will. But we have to start somewhere and practice, practice, practice.

The Book of Proverbs is pretty straight forward, and the notes in your Catholic Bible should have all the resources you need to understand it. Ecclesiastes may be a little more challenging, but there is a lot of information available to help you along with the writer’s, and thus the Holy Spirit’s, reasoning. As Our Lord says,

but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Come to the well.

For Cults of Personality, Not! (Or My Brush with Fr. Thomas Euteneuer)

 

Late yesterday evening, after I asked for your prayers for Egypt, I clicked over to New Advent to see what was posted there on the situation on the ground. Many of you know that besides being the electronic host of the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent also posts links to other Catholic websites and blogs for noteworthy news stories or posts. New Advent has graciously posted our blog posts from time to time as well.

But a different sort of story caught my eye instead. [Read more...]

Because The Church Militant Transforms Us

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

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

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


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