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.

Because Christ Is In Every Book of the Bible

Interestingly, I missed this video (below) last week when Deacon Greg Kandra ran it over at his place. Maybe there is a reason for that. You see, earlier this week some friends of mine got into a discussion regarding books of the Bible. [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!

“Post-Rapture Scare” Music (Caritas in Veritate Edition)

Like a champion athelete that should retire when they are on top, I probably should have quit when I was ahead when it comes to the most recent Rapture scare. But the thing is, this isn’t the first prediction of the end of the world and it won’t be the last.

The Bible may not guarantee it, but I will. And we get to do this all over again in 2012 too? Sheesh! But wait a second; the Bible does guarantee something: there is no knowing when the end will come, so stop with the guessing already.

Not only does Christ the LORD state this clearly (see Photoshopped billboard above) once, but He does so repeatedly. Here, here, here, and here. For good measure, the Apostles Peter and Paul do so as well, here and here, respectively. And did I mention Christ said it again here? Practically everywhere throughout the New Testament! Sorry to engage in Shock and Awe scripture tactics but beware the Catholic who reads his Bible regularly.

So, you see, I’m still going to have some fun with this event while hopefully spreading the Truth with Charity (see above links, por favor). Oh, and before we get any further, the Catholic Church (the one founded by the Just Judge Himself) has stated unequivocally that what Christ and the Disciples said about all the end of the world stuff is absolutely and unchangeably true. Catholics believe in the end of the world. It will happen once, and for all. But not on the time-table of any charlatan who thinks he can decipher the mind of God the Father. Even the Son didn’t go there. So that idea is most assuredly laugh-out-loud funny.

So let’s get to some of the music that my friends and I thought of while waiting for this most recent bout of end-times silliness (see you again next year) to pass. First up, the best pop song I can think of that makes light of Apocalypse now!

It’s the End of the World, As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), R.E.M. No set up for this is needed, right? I felt fine, how about you? I didn’t even break out my stash of spare bricks for the post-Rapture looting I invited everyone to attend. Yep, I was that confident that God wouldn’t satisfy the pride of a huckster by showing up on the schedule (say that the British way, for effect) of a mere mortal.

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Rapture, Blondie. A number of my friends posted this one on their Facebook walls. About all that this song has in common with the end of the world is the word “rapture.” Deborah Harry helped bring rap music mainstream with this song. The Mars Attacks! theme sort of reminds me of the zombie apocalypse (see my “Theology of the Zombie” post for details) scenario in a way.

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Dueling Banjo, from the movie Deliverance. See, God is subtle, and as the scriptures (and the Church) clearly teach, the end is unknowable. And your personal end is unknowable too. But something like this happening might be a sign that you should pay attention to. Just sayin’.

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One of Us, Joan Osborne. Several of my friends shared their “If this was the last day on Earth” music as the clock ticked down. This tune made Catholic author Mary DeTurris Poust’s play list. She also wrote a little post about the event you may enjoy as well. Have a look while you listen to Ms. Osbourne.

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Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Tears for Fears. The idea for sharing this song just came over me. Perhaps it’s the name of the band, which fits this event to a “t”, as well as the general idea behind the song. Harold Camping, and his ilk, have a problem with letting the Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen, rule the world, see? Yo! Mr. Camping—get your hand off the tiller.

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Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pete Townsend. This song is about politics on one level, and about being duped (with startling regularity) on the other. A huge hit for Pete’s band the Who, he’ll go a little softer with his acoustic version. But not much.

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I Will Always Be True, Third Day. Rounding out this seven song set, the gang from Third Day puts this whole episode into the proper perspective for us. After all, Truth Incarnate said “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

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Next week, I’ll get back to the Jesus Goes Mainstream series.

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.

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 Church Fathers 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 the Daily Readings

If it’s Thursday, then I’ll be lectoring at daily Mass at the parish near my office. I went to the USSCB website to see the readings for today and again was amazed, for like the millionth time, at how prescient the order of the readings are.

I have no idea when the readings for the Lenten season were chosen, or put in this particular order. I know it wasn’t last week though. Most likely it was 30,40,50, or 350 years ago. But the thing is, they always seem to hit home with whatever the crisis du jour is.

Universal truths ring loud and clear, and they are timeless. This is why I love the Bible and the Church.

Jeremiah 15: 5-10

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind
and test the heart,
To reward everyone according to his ways,
according to the merit of his deeds.

And the Responsorial Psalm (from Psalm 1) complements beautifully,

R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Not so, the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Amen.

For 10 Things To Do While Fr. Corapi is on Leave

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here, also known as “the Worst Consumer of Catholic Media on the Planet.

You’ve heard the news about Fr. John Corapi? Let’s say that you are a devotee of his. You aren’t alone, because last time I checked, there are 45,800+ “fans” on his Facebook page alone.

He has been placed on Administrative Leave, which to a Marine (like me) means he has been given a “time-out” from line-duty until an investigation can be completed. Nothing to get all wound up about.

But the question now is, how are you going to fill that hour or two (or four?!) that he helped you fill during your week?

 Whaat?! The company commander is wounded and has been medevaced and you lugs just sit down? What is this, the Soviet Army?!

I’ve got news for you lubbers. That’s not how we run things here in the Church Militant. There is plenty for you to do, especially when you consider Commander’s Intent and orders from the Holy Spirit via the pen of St. Paul,

So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

You heard the Old Man…WORK! And lest you start bellyachin’ about the opportunity for advancement you have been presented, heed these words too:

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. -(Philippians 2:12-15)

So, let’s assume the Skipper (Marine slang for Captains/Company Commanders) won’t be back, OK? But we’re still at war. So here is a little list of things to do to fill your time while Fr. John is on hiatus.

1. Read Your Bible for an Hour a Week. What, you don’t have a Bible? What kind of soldier are you? Besides, the battlefield is littered with them. I may not be a heavy user of Catholic Media (and TV…no time!), but the USSCB website has the Bible available 24/7. No excuses for not heading to the rifle range. I bet your parish has a bible study class available too. Sign up for it ASAP.

2. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is like #1 above, but with spiritual direction provided by the Church. The readings and psalms are all laid out for you. It is a great way to spend your time, any time of the day. Available 24/7 at Universalis.

3. Meet the Doctors of the Church Where do you think Fr. John learned to shoot like he does? He’s standing on the shoulders of giants, and so can you. Head to the library and read some of the sermons of St. Athansius, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and others. You’ll be amazed at the stuff they wrote, and the skills you’ll pick up.

4. Read The Spiritual Combat by Dom. Lorenzo Scupoli. Want action? Want a riveting read on tactics and strategies for living through this fight called Christian life? You’ve come to the right place with this book. This will get you started on Chapter One.

5. Pray for our priests and for vocations. We have deaths, retirements, and casualties. And the troops always need leaders. Pray for us soldiers for Christ and pray for our officer corps. If Adoration is available at your parish, that is a great place to pray. But anywhere will do, if you just make the time.

6. Go to Confession. A great way to kill an hour, at least for this week. Only you and God know the state of your own soul, so go take care of business.

7. Go to Daily Mass. This is a great way to spend a half-hour everyday, if you can swing it. You will be surprised at how easy it is to form this habit.

8. Get to know your own parish priest(s) better. This sort of takes care of itself as a result of #6 and #7 above. You know their names, but do they know yours? Why not?!

9. Get Involved in Your Parish. Here is an idea: become a lector, or an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Or join the choir, a committee, or help out at the next parish function. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Help pull some of the load in your parish.

10. Pray the Rosary with your family. Pope John Paul II said, “How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening.” Hard to do in my family, I’ll admit, but it’s not impossible to do at least once a week. You can even pray along with Mother Angelica and the gang over at EWTN (9:30 PM Eastern).

I’m sure there are many, many other ways to increase your knowledge and devotion during Fr. Corapi’s hiatus. So, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For, as the Apostle says When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

So don’t take your packs off. Saddle-up and move out for King and Country!

Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!


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