Quote of the Week: Christian Bale

On being roughed up while attempting to visit the blind, imprisoned, pro-life activist named Chen Guangcheng, [Read more…]

The Most Consistent, Pro-Freedom, Pro-Constitution, Pro-Life, Candidate in the Race UPDATED

There is definitely a “new top tier,” and the favorite of folks in the military, as well as one of the favorites of Catholic employees, is definitely in the race. Much to the chagrin of professional consultants and pollsters, I might add. [Read more…]

Because Natural Law is Catholic

I’m going to have to borrow a line from U2‘s Bono and say, “Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya,” as the Edge’s guitar solo rises to a crescendo. I’m talking about my last few posts, which uncharacteristically have touched on politics and things political. [Read more…]

Because the Reality of Our Fallenness Isn’t Pretty-UPDATED

David Brooks explains it pretty well in his Op-Ed in New York Times from a few days ago,

People are really good at self-deception. We attend to the facts we like and suppress the ones we don’t. We inflate our own virtues and predict we will behave more nobly than we actually do… [Read more…]

Another Reason to Call the Cops: It’s Your Only Option UPDATED

That’s right. I’m referring to the post I wrote yesterday about why you need to call the police if you run into a Penn State situation in your parish.

I don’t know how it is in your diocese, but in mine, when signing my children up for Religious Education classes, Youth Group activities, etc., all of the sign up forms have sad little liability waivers built into them now. They say, in a nutshell, “you can’t sue us.” [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.

Because Mammon Hates The Idea of the Jubilee, and Hopes You’ve Forgotten It

Who’s the fairest of the all? Mammon!

 

Have you been getting tired of all the Debt Crises du jour stories? Back in April, I did a little tongue-in-cheek post about Mammon, and how even if we actually worshipped him, we would do so in a manner that would put us at risk. And in terms of debt forgiveness, Mammon, would prefer we bring back debtor prisons, rather than ever forgive debt.

Would you be surprised to learn that debt was destroyed routinely back in the day? Doing so helped civilization grow and prosper, because healthy credit markets helped civilizations grow and prosper too. Today I’d like to share a little historical snippet regarding debt from the good old days. The thoughts belong to a fellow named David Graeber, an anthropology professor at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. This is from a post at the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog,

Contrary to popular belief, credit has been the predominant form of money in world history. In ancient Mesopotamia, elaborate credit systems predated coinage by thousands of years. Periods in which people assume that money really “is” gold and silver, let alone use cash in most everyday transactions, are more the exception than the rule. Ancient empires, for instance, used coins mainly to pay soldiers, and when those empires dissolved in the early Middle Ages, society didn’t really “revert to barter,” as its often believed, but returned to elaborate credit systems—denominated in Roman (and then Carolingian) currency that no longer actually physically existed.

The remarkable thing was that they were able to maintain these credit systems despite the lack of any reliable state authorities willing or able to enforce contracts. How did they do it? Two ways: but both involved insisting that there were values that were more important than mere money.

The first was the cult of personal honor. In most parts of the world, in the Middle Ages (Europe was only a partial exception), merchants had to develop reputations for scrupulous integrity—not just always paying their debts, but forgiving others’ debts if they were in difficulties, and being generally pillars of their communities. Merchants could be trusted with money because they convinced others that they didn’t think money was the most important thing. As a result, “credit,” “honor,” and “decency” became the same thing—an identification which passed into ordinary life as well. As a result in England, where probably 95% of all transactions in a Medieval village were on credit, and decent people tended to avoid the courts, people still speak of “village worthies,” or “men of no account.”

The apogee of this system though was the world of Medieval Islam, where checks were already in wide use by 1000 AD, and letters of credit could travel from Mali to Malaysia, all without any state enforcement whatsoever. In Melaka, the great Indian Ocean entrepôt, merchants from as far a way as Ethiopia or Korea notoriously avoided written contracts, preferring to seal deals “with a handshake and a glance at heaven.” If there were problems, they were referred to sharia courts with no power to have miscreants arrested or imprisoned, but with the power to destroy a merchant’s reputation, and therefore, credit-worthiness, if he were to refuse to abide by their rulings.

This latter brings us to the second factor: the existence of some sort of overarching institutions, larger than states, usually religious in nature, that ensured that credit systems didn’t fly completely out of hand. For much of human history, the great social evil—the thing that everyone feared would lead to the utter breakdown of society—was the debt crisis. The masses of the poor would become indebted to the rich, they would lose their flocks and fields, begin selling family members into peonage and slavery, leading either to mass flight, uprisings, or a society so polarized that the majority were effectively (sometimes literally) reduced to slaves. In periods where economic transactions were conducted largely through cash, there are many parts of the world where this actually began to happen.

Periods dominated by credit money, where everyone recognized that money was just a promise, a social arrangement, almost invariably involve some kind of mechanism to protect debtors. Mesopotamian kings used to rely on their cosmic ability to recreate society to declare clean slates, erase all debts, and simply start over. In ancient Judea this was institutionalized in the seventh-year Jubilee. In the Middle Ages, Christian and Islamic bans on usury and debt peonage, far from being impediments to trade, were actually what made most trade possible, since they ensured ordinary people were not entirely impoverished, and had the means to purchase the merchants’ wares, and because those religious systems became the foundation for networks of honor and trust.

That was my bold highlight. Religious systems the foundation for networks of honor and trust? Imagine that! You can find the entire post here, and his book where they sell books or in your local library. Therein Graebel writes,

It seems to me that we are long overdue for some kind of Biblical-style Jubilee: one that would affect both international debt and consumer debt. It would be salutary not just because it would relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also because it would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all to agree to arrange things in a different way.”

I think the Jubilee year was every 50th year, actually, but mechanisms for debt destruction may be an idea that needs to be brushed off if we intend to hold Mammon at bay. Food for thought.

For Letters to Sons Like These by St. Stephen, King of Hungary

“My boy, at present you have the fun and I do the work; but your labors are on the way.”

Now, that sounds like something I would say. Today is the Feast of St. Stephen of Hungary, who wrote the words you see above. What follows are a few excerpts from letters he wrote to his son Emeric (who also was canonized on the same day in 1083). St. Stephen is known as the first Christian king of Hungary, and his life is celebrated there with due pomp and pageantry yearly on August 20th.

After learning of him from the good folks at Universalis this morning, I found excepts of his “Admonitions” in an unpublished thesis titled Notes On Parental Advice in the Middle Ages  by George Valentine Kendall. I promptly added them to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. First, take a look at this long sentence in the foreword to the ten letters to Emeric,

from the Forward,

Since I perceive that all things, founded at the nod of God and disposed by his most manifest preordination, both in the spaciousness of the sky and in those most spacious climes of earth, do subsist and thrive wholly in accordance with the rationality of intelligence; and since I am sufficiently aware that all things granted by the grace of God for the use and dignity of this life – to wit: kingdoms, consulates, dukedoms, counties, pontificates and all other authorities, are ruled, defended, divided and joined together, partly by divine precepts and regulations, partly by legal, partly by juridical, partly by civil, and by the counsels and advices also of nobles and of those advanced in age; and since I know for a certainty that all classes of the world, everywhere, of whatever authority they be, do instruct, counsel and advise not only their retainers, their friends and their servants but also their sons; therefore, most amiable son, companion in this life, it irks me not to prepare for you lessons, precepts, counsels and advices whereby you may embellish the character of your own life and of that of your subjects, in such time as, most high God willing, you shall reign after me.

Maybe Blaise Pascal was taking lessons on long sentence structure from this guy! You don’t have to be a royal though to see the worth of writings such as these being left to our children, not to mention to posterity. “Ich bin ein Ungar!” or is that “Magyar vagyok!?” 


And now for the excerpts, which are really timely given our coming election cycle in the United States.

Excerpts from the Admonitions of St. Stephen, King of Hungary, to his son Emeric.

On the Nobility

The coronation of Stephen I

“They (the various nobles) are the champions of the kingdom, the defenders of the weak, the conquerors of enemies, the enlargers of monarchies. They, my son, are your fathers and brothers. Of these, truly, you should reduce none to servitude, nor call any slave; they should serve you as soldiers not as slaves, rule all of them without anger and pride and envy, peacefully, with humility, gently, holding ever in your memory that all men are of one condition; and that naught elevates, save humility; and nothing casts down, save pride and envy.

If you are peaceable then you will be called a king and a king’s son, and you will be loved by all the knights. If you are choleric, proud, envious, disinclined to peace, and if you stick up your neck above counts and princes, without doubt the strength of the military will be the weakness of the regal authorities, and they will betray your kingdom to the aliens.

Fearful of this, direct the life of your companions with the rule of virtue, that captured by your love, they may inoffensively adhere to the kingly authority, and that your realm may be wholly at peace.Than these doctrines no noble could ask more liberal, no king more efficacious.

On Justice

Hearken to this, my son; if you wish to possess the honor of kingship, love justice: if you wish to be master over your own soul, be patient. Whenever, my very dear son, a cause deserving condemnation comes before you, or some one accused on a capital charge, be unwilling to deal with it impatiently or to resolve with an oath to punish him – which course of action must be weak and unstable, inasmuch as foolish vows ought to be broken – or to decide the question yourself, lest your regal dignity be dishonored by the usurpation of inferior business, but rather send business of this sort to the judges, to whom it has been committed because they decide the case according to its own law.

Fear to be judge, but rejoice to be and to be called king. Patient
kings rule, but impatient ones tyrannize. When, however, something comes before you which it befits your dignity to judge, with patience and mercy or pity judge it, that your crown may be laudable and seemly.

Concerning the Reception of Foreigners, and the Support of Strangers.

In strangers and men from abroad there is such great utility that it can be held worthy the sixth place in regal dignity. Why did the Roman Empire first grow, and why were the Roman kings exalted and glorious, except because many noble and wise men congregated there from diverse regions? Rome, in truth, would be a hand-maiden to this day, if Eneades had not made her free.

His incorruptible right hand

For as strangers come from diverse regions of the provinces, they bring with them diverse languages and usages, and diverse learning and arms, all of which not only adorn the royal palace and render magnificent the court, but also abash the arrogance of aliens. For a kingdom of one tongue, or of one custom, is weak and fragile.

Wherefore I bid you, my son, support those persons with a good will, and treat them fairly, that they may prefer to continue with you rather than to live elsewhere. For if you destroy what I have built up or strive to disperse what I have gathered together, without doubt your kingdom will suffer the greatest damage. Lest that be, augment your kingdom daily, that your crown may be held august by all.

Procession of the
“Holy Right Hand”

On Filial Loyalty

Ancestors ought to be imitated, and sons ought to obey their parents. My customs, which you see to befit the kingly dignity, follow them without the fetter of any uncertainty. For it is a hard thing for you to maintain a kingdom of this geographical position, except you show yourself an imitator of the usage of kings who have reigned before. What Greek would rule Latins with Greek customs? Or what Latin would rule Greeks with Latin customs? None. On this account, follow my usages that you may he held eminent by your own people and praiseworthy among foreigners.

On the Importance of Your Catholic Faith

St. Stephen’s Basilica

My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and Apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God, and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church.

Indeed, in the royal palace, after the faith itself, the Church holds second place, first constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles and holy fathers, And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient. However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted; and for that reason she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians less a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.

Inside the basilica…

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at very time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favor not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbors or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”.

Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak. Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness that so resembles the pangs of death.

All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly Kingdom.

****

Tragically, St. Stephen’s son Emeric died in a hunting accident, and predeceased his father. The infighting over who would succeed him troubled him for the rest of his days. Upon his own death, St. Stephen was buried alongside his son.

Ludwig von Beethoven composed an overture in honor of this saint and king. Here it is played beautifully by the Motif Orchestra conducted by Chun-Lung Hsu. I bet St. Stephen got a kick out of this performance.

St. Stephen of Hungary, pray for us!

More on St. Stephen can be found here and here on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. 

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.

Thoughts on Obedience and Reading Maps without Guidance

Today, while making the rounds around the blogger neighborhood, I saw a great quote on a subject that is not near and dear to the heart of modern mankind: obedience. Deacon Greg Kandra shared the thoughts of a modern saint on the subject,

Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands…Oh, the power of obedience! The Lake of Genesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again into the water and they caught ‘a great number of fishes.’ Believe me, this miracle is repeated every day. —St. Josemaria Escriva [Read more…]