Saturday, February 28, 2009
After professing my distaste for the self-flagellating kind of voluntary mortification, I have to admit that there is one form of it in which I engage. It’s something I call . . . running.
For some unknown reason, I have misleading memories about my running past. I seem to remember hitting the pavement as being liberating. There are times when I’ll be walking down an alley or a trail, and I’ll get the urge to run, as if I can bound through endless miles with long strides. When I try to do it, however, I’m quickly brought back to reality. Usually before I’ve even covered half a mile, I’m offering my self-induced suffering up to God on behalf of my children or the students in my confirmation class.
I don’t run because I want to suffer. I run for other reasons. The suffering is a side-effect that I try to put to good spiritual use.
There are other things, besides the suffering that accompanies the cardio portion of my workout that I find I can offer up this Lent. There are the annoyances in the weight room from other people who don’t return their weights to the rack. When a bar is loaded with weights, I typically have to assume the bar is in use by somebody super-setting the exercise with another exercise, unless I’m the only one in the weight room. I could just get really annoyed, but in the spirit of the season, I patiently made do with what was available and returned my weights to the rack when I was finished. Another practice that I suspect that I’m the only one engaging in is the praying of an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be between each set.
So maybe I am stretching the definition of mortification just a bit, but if I can’t exercise while I pray, at least I can pray while I exercise.
The true spirit of mortification embraces, in the first place, all the occasions for physical or moral suffering permitted by divine Providence. The sufferings attendant on illness or fatigue; the efforts required by the performance of our duties or by a life of intense labor; the privation imposed by the state of poverty—all are excellent physical penances. If we sincerely desire to be guided by divine Providence in everything, we will not try to avoid them, or even to lighten them, but will accept wholeheartedly whatever God offers us. It would be absurd to refuse a single on of those providential opportunities for suffering and to look for voluntary mortifications or our own choice. Likewise, it would be foolish for those in religious life to omit the least exercise imposed by the Rule in order to do a penance of their own choosing.I might quibble with the part about not avoiding or lightening the opportunities for suffering that God sends our way. If there is an easier way to do a job, it seems a little silly not to seek the most efficient way, all other things being equal. Likewise, if I’m hiking on a path, and I come to a spot where the path is deep mud all the way across, but I can easily circumvent the mud, it seems foolish to go through the mud.
Friday, February 27, 2009
The meditations are distinctly Carmelite in flavor. I used to think that I could be a Carmelite, but now I’m not so sure. My understanding is that Carmelites are big on mortification. I can embrace the redemptive value of suffering, but I balk at the idea of voluntary, unnecessary suffering. I like to think that if I ever end up in a hospital with a serious injury, that I will forego the morphine drip and embrace the pain, but I have a sneaky suspicion that if the time ever comes, I’ll end up embracing the drip instead of the suffering. The engineer in me imagines my self as an excited atom, shedding gamma rays of lost grace as my spiritual electrons seek their lowest energy state. At this point, my wife is surely rolling her eyes.
It is not that I don’t see the value of mortification, just that I don’t seem to be able to do it. From today’s meditation:
After the Incarnation, the Cross of Jesus is the greatest proof of His love for man. Similarly, mortification, which is suffering eagerly accepted for the love of God, is one of the greatest proofs of love that we can give Him. It means freely giving up a satisfaction or a pleasure in order to impose on ourselves, for love of God, something which is contrary to our own natural inclination; we thus prove that we prefer to satisfy God rather than ourselves. Every act of voluntary mortification, whether physical or moral, says to God, “Lord, I love You more than myself!” And since a soul in love has an ardent desire to give proof of its love, it is very vigilant not to miss a single opportunity for renunciation.
As always, love is the key that unlocks all of the spiritual treasures. Today’s mass reading from Isaiah reminds us that fasting and penance, in and of themselves, merit nothing if our hearts remain hardened. It is not magical. If we fast because we think that God will reward us, we do it for the wrong reason. What God desires from us is love. It doesn’t matter what pious deeds we perform, if we don’t love our neighbors. Pious devotions and practices (and yes, fasting) help us to empty ourselves and place the focus of our attention on God.
Grrr. I started out by writing about how mortification and fasting aren’t my cup of tea, and then I end up praising the practice. It’s almost as if I’m trying to argue myself into a deeper commitment. . . .
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I know, I know. The ashes are a sign (as is so much in our liturgies) that points to a greater reality, and Jesus was really speaking about doing penance for the right reasons (objectively good actions, done with the wrong intentions, can be morally evil). I am definitely not suggesting that we shouldn’t receive ashes. I’m just complaining that, as in so many things, the explanation can be complicated.
I find my thoughts today flitting back and forth between the idea of repentance and penance for my personal sins and the idea that we, as a nation or as a Church, must repent and do penance for our corporate sins.
My personal sins I can deal with, at least conceptually. I am directly culpable for my failings “in my thoughts and in my words; in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” I am acutely aware of my sinfulness. Every time that I think that I’m making progress, I find myself seeking forgiveness yet again. The words of Psalm 103 are comforting:
The Lord is compassion and love,When we receive the ashes, we hear the words, “Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a time for us to shed our hubris and pride, to acknowledge that we are dependent upon God’s grace. Sin separates us from the font of life-giving water. Separated from God, our souls wither. Once again, through this season of penance, I try to tear the focus of attention away from myself and place it where it should be.
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
His wrath will come to an end;
he will not be angry for ever.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults.
For as the heavensw are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins.
As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
for he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust.
Corporate sin and penance has always been a harder concept for me to wrap my mind around. Perhaps I should say that it’s been a harder concept for me to wrap my heart around. This Lent, I find myself feeling (though I hate to use that word) that we, as a nation, are facing a great chastisement. I don’t look forward to it. If I were more emotionally sensitive, I would weep for those who will suffer. The two images that occupy my mind are those of Abraham bartering with God over the fate of Sodom and the repentance of the Ninevites after Jonah’s warning. I feel (there’s that word again!) helpless before the oncoming storm, and yet I know that all God is calling me to is fidelity and trust. Have faith, yes, but do penance! Not just for yourself and the sins that you’ve personally committed. Not just to discipline your own will. Do penance to make reparation for the sins of your people.
Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The unwritten answer is yes.
When we were confirmed, we became soldiers of Christ. In an older age, the rite include a slap from the bishop. Our enemies, of course, are spiritual. Our weapons are prayer and fasting. Our armor is the sacraments and good works. Just as our soldiers fight on foreign soil to protect a sometimes ungrateful and unaware citizenry, so must we engage the enemy this Lent. The concluding prayer from today’s Office of Readings is appropriate:
protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin the discipline of Lent,
make this day holy by our self-denial.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
These little lunch dates with my wife are, I think, good for our relationship. We engage each other in conversation in a way that we would not if, as I usually do, I simply went home for lunch. My dear wife sometimes complains that I don’t communicate well, to which I reply by pleading guilty to being male. On my scale, I think we talk about things a lot more than most couples. I can only guess that she’s using some kind of internal female scale where the standard is continuous talking.
We had baby Jamie with us today, and she was quite good. As we were leaving, a woman commented that she’s always such a happy baby whenever she sees her, to which I replied that yes, she is now. Maybe she’s making up for the first five months when all she did was cry.
Before returning to work, I stopped at the Marathon station and got myself a big ol’ 44 oz. fountain drink of Mt. Dew. I don’t do that often, but it was Fat Tuesday, and this would be my last Mt. Dew for seven weeks. Last year for Lent, I had the brilliant idea of giving up high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). You never realize how much stuff it’s in. I found myself going without catsup, cocktail sauce, and tartar sauce. I made it all the way through until the last week of Lent, when a friend asked my wife what I was doing about bread. D’oh! I never thought to check the ingredients for bread.
The purpose of corporal mortification is not to inflict pain and privation on the body for the pleasure of making it suffer, but to discipline and control all its tendencies which are contrary to the life of grace. The Apostle warns us: “If you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Rom 8,13). We must curb ourselves in order to avoid falls; we must prune the useless or harmful branches in order to avoid deviation; we must direct toward good the forces which , left to themselves, might lead us into sin. For the4se reasons mortification, although it is not an end in itself nor the principal element in the Christian life, occupies a fundamental place in it and is an absolutely indispensable means toward attaining a spiritual life. (From Divine Intimacy)
Sunday, February 22, 2009
When I heard him, he was speaking to a group of Catholic men in Cincinnati. This was at the height, or perhaps just past the peak, of the men’s fellowship movement, when groups like Promise Keepers were filling stadiums (should that be stadia?) with tens of thousands of men united in a desire to follow Christ and provide spiritual leadership for their families. Promise Keepers was a largely evangelical Protestant endeavor, and it spawned a Catholic response that included St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers and the Catholic Men’s Fellowship. In Cincinnati, an annual men’s conference, Answer the Call, was initiated. It was at one of these conferences that I heard Fr. Pfleger speak.
Fr. Pfleger gave a real stem-winder of a sermon that day, although I don’t remember his saying anything particularly incendiary. All of the speakers that day were recorded, and cassette tape sets of the conference were made available, so I’m certain that a recording exists of this particular sermon. That sermon made enough of an impression on me that, to this day, I clearly recall two of the points that he made.
The first point was that God doesn’t just want to come along for the ride. If we invite him into our heart, as if into our home, we can’t expect him to just sit there. If we tell him to make himself feel at home, he’s going to start rearranging the furniture. To further illustrate the point, he brought up the popular poem, God as My Copilot. After describing the poem, or maybe even reading it, he practically shouted, “GOD DOESN’T WANT TO BE A COPILOT!” He doesn’t want to sit by while you steer the course of your life. He wants you to give him the stick! I can’t begin to estimate how often, in the years since then, that phrase, God doesn’t want to be a copilot, has run through my brain, leading me to surrender my own desires to the will of God.
The second theme that I remember Fr. Pfleger speaking about that day was the subject of today’s gospel reading about the paralytic lowered through the roof to be healed by Jesus. Recall that, the paralytic had four friends who brought him to see Jesus, but because of the crowd, they were unable to get to him. Undeterred, the four climbed to the roof, removed the tiles and broke through the roof, then lowered their paralyzed friend, on his pallet, down before Christ. Moved by their faith, Jesus first forgives the man’s sins, and then heals his paralysis.
As men, we all suffer some form a spiritual paralysis which we, on our own, are unable to heal. We need the healing touch of Christ. But sometimes, the paralysis might be so bad that we are unable to approach Christ on our own. In that case, do we have four friends who would do for us what the four friends in today’s gospel did? Do we have friends who care enough about our spiritual health to know when we need God’s grace and are determined enough (and half the spiritual resources themselves) to get us to Him. A related question is this: what would we be willing to do to get one of our friends the healing that he needs?
Fellowship is important, but too often ends at good times and donuts. Friendship makes demands. I have to ask myself whether I am a good friend those that I count as friends. Am I willing to literally raise the roof for the spiritual health of my friends? It’s a humbling question. It’s a question that I might very well have to answer at my judgment.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
My dear wife, who had a blog of her own had encouraged me to start a blog, but now she wanted me to include a counter. As any husband can attest, it is nearly impossible to resist and insistent wife, so one night I enrolled my blog in sitemeter. My wife was impressed, and upgraded her counter to sitemeter as well.
Sitemeter tells you some interesting things about who reads your blogs. I don't have many readers, and I really am OK with that. A lot of them click over to my site from my wife's, so you could say that I'm riding on her coat-tails. But the really interesting visitors are the Google searches. I get a lot of international visitors to this post who are looking for information on euthanasia.
My wife and I were discussing our respective blogs the other night. She has a lot more people who read her blog than I have reading mine, so I asked her whether she ever feels pressure to put up a post. When you're posting new content daily, and you know that people are visiting your site daily, hoping to get new content, there is pressure. This blogging hobby has definitely affected my sleeping habits. Since it takes me a long time to write a post, and I generally don't get started until after the kids are put to bed, I find that I'm staying up fairly late, and still getting up early in the morning. I've rebelled a bit lately, consciously not posting so that I could watch TV with my Amy.
The transferral of thought to keyboard doesn't always go smoothly for me. Part of my reason for blogging was to practice that discipline. It doesn't seem to be getting any easier. When I think about things in my mind, everything is so coherent and elegant. Then I try to type it out, and it gets clunky (that is a word, isn't it? I'm pretty sure I've seen other writers use it.). Oftentimes, I'll find myself with several different things that I have thoughts, opinions, and reflections on, but I just can't find the time to record them all, and so they end up lost.
Which brings me to another reason why I blog. I have too many thoughts that, even if someone else has thought them before me, they are original to me. If I don't record them somehow, they drift away. So my blog is my way of trying to concretize and fix my thoughts. To that extent, there are some blog posts that are just for my sake. It doesn't matter to me whether anybody else appreciates them, because they are not the primary audience.
One thing that I find this blog to be very limited in its ability to do is to act as a journal of prayer. One of the basic elements of prayer is contrition. I am a sinner, and when I meet God in prayer, it is with the acknowledgement that I am weak. When I speak of my sins to God and implore his grace to overcome them, it is a private matter. There are, and always will be, elements of my interior life that will not appear in any public forum.
As I sit here, I can think of at least four things that I'd like to post on, but instead I'm typing out this rambling essay, because this is what I need right now. After I finish, I'm going to say my Evening Prayer and go to bed. Maybe the four will become posts in the future, or maybe they'll just drift away, as if the thoughts behind them never even existed.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
On February 2, former Lutheran Minister Noah Lett was the guest on Marcus Grodi's show, The Journey Home (mp3 audio available here). Noah has been on the show before and is now employed by EWTN as a theological consultant. His conversion is a bit more mystical than most: an encounter with St. Bernadette Soubirous (the Lourdes visionary) in a dream features prominently.
At about 34 minutes into the broadcast, Marcus notes that he has discovered that sometimes, after a person has been Catholic for a while, the things that become most important to them about the Catholic Church might be different from the things that originally brought them in. He then asks Noah whether, in the ten years since he originally appeared on the program, that has happened to him, whether he has made any new discoveries that have become important to him as a Catholic.
I just loved Noah's response.
Well, I can talk about something very recent that has been a new discovery. When I came into the Church, I was trained at two seminaries in biblical studies with New Testament emphasis, and so I was inclined to think of everything in terms of exegetical work. I didn’t read anything that I didn’t think exegetically about it. Well, one of the things that my friends before I became Catholic and afterward tried to interest me in were the Liturgy of the Hours. You know, and you read like the morning office – I’m used to things highly woven together like any gospel story like, say, the wedding at Cana. It’s all highly woven together and tightly done so that it rewards a certain kind of looking for those things. Well, the Morning Prayer is anything but highly woven together. It’s got a lot of little pieces that are sort of collaged together. I was not prepared to read that and do the Liturgy of the Hours when I came into the Church because I was still looking for it to be like the Bible.
Here recently about four months ago I received the gift of the Liturgy of the Hours. I realized that I had changed, and that the Church, besides giving me the Bible, has also given me the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours make me aware – it’s sort of like this. When you read the Bible, you can read it, and there can be a difference between doing it and thinking about it. But the Liturgy of the Hours, you’re either doing it, or you’re not, you know, because you say those things. Yeah, you can be studying them academically, but everybody sees that you’re not saying the Liturgy of the Hours, all you’re doing is studying the Psalms or something. But what you realize is that the Liturgy of the Hours, I do them. I say these Psalms. When you do exegesis you think, “Do I have an adequate theory that combines together the two testaments so that I can answer all of the problems that are between the two testaments so you might avoid some of those passages that make it difficult to join the two testaments.” The Liturgy of the Hours don’t ask you that. They put the Old Testament and the New Testament together like a Psalm or something and say “Read this.” You don’t have to understand how they go together to
experience the goodness it brings you.
I finally, after twenty years, I realized this! Finally, I realized this! I realized that when you do exegesis you go, “Yeah, Dei Verbum says that I should always make sure that I read the passage in its historical environment at the time.” And you think, yeah, that’s a lot of hard work. The Liturgy of the Hours takes Psalm 22 and doesn’t say, “Do you have adequate historical knowledge of the exegetical and linguistic historical background of this?” It just says, “Read it!” And it says, “You don’t have to know all that to do this, because the words will become yours, and there’ll be a meeting between you and the Psalm 23 person.” Everyone knows Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” How many people stop and think, “Oh, I can’t read this, because I have no idea what the shepherd was like, you know, back when they wrote this.” You just do it, and you experience the goodness of it. This is a great gift.
I love saying Morning and Evening Prayer, and I try to do the ones in between. Not because somebody says, “OK, you better do this.” It’s because it expresses my heart.
Sometimes people wonder, “How is it the case that you can do all those Catholic, liturgical, external things?” Well, let me ask you this: if your wife is a good wife, does your good wife say, “I don’t want any of the externals of love, I only want you to internally feel love for me?” No. Try do get by with that on Valentine’s Day, you know, and see where you sleep. My wife wants me to be internally in love with her and externally show it. What if I were to say, “Wife, we’ve been doing things, we’ve been doing Valentine’s Day here for thirty years (we’ve been married for thirty years, me and my wife), so uh, maybe this is too external a form thing, we don’t want to do this, we want to do it another way.” My wife would go, “Are you nuts? I want my candy! I want my other stuff on Valentine’s Day! Give it to me!” Your good wife will say to you. What about on her birthday? Can you say, “We’ve been doing your birthday, and you say to your wife maybe lowly that we’ve been doing this for so long, maybe this is external ritual, we shouldn’t do it anymore.”
Our Lord is no less a person than my wife. The Liturgy of the Hours give me a way of expressing my love. I do not always know what to say! But I find these words. When I realize that Jesus said all the Psalms – He said the Psalms, they were his words. He found that he could say these Psalms. I’m saying the words that Jesus said, and I’m experiencing the goodness that comes. This is wonderful. I mean this is a new gift to me, after twenty years.
I’m feeling much better today, thank you for asking. Upon returning to my little cubicle, I reached for a tissue, that constant flow being one of my many symptoms. To my horror, the last few tissues came out, leaving an empty box on my desktop. That means that for the rest of the morning, I’ll be blowing my nose with napkins from the break room. My poor nose!
I didn’t expect to travel the way of suffering so soon. I should be thankful that a sore nose is the worst of my suffering.
Oh my Lord Jesus Christ, I offer up to you all of my sufferings, works, prayers, and joys of this day, for all the intentions of your most Sacred Heart, in union with the holy sacrifice of the mass throughout the world, in reparation for sin, and for the intentions of all my friends and associates, especially our holy
father, Pope Benedict XVI. Amen.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I don't think that Paul was talking literally about strapping on his running shoes and pounding out ten miles, or striving to take first place in the weekend 5K. Rather, he was using an analogy to help people understand what he was saying about living the faith.
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. so I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air, but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Our ultimate desire should be to be with God in heaven for eternity. So when we live our life, we should live with that goal in mind. We should always aim for heaven, and that means keeping our focus on Christ, who is the way the truth and the life. Too many Christians do not live for Heaven, but rather to avoid hell. The problem with aiming for Purgatory is that, if you miss, it's all over. If you aim for Heaven and miss, you still have a shot at a concession prize. Paul tells us that we should run to win, not just to finish.
A popular speaker, Matthew Kelly, has used the analogy of running a marathon. If you went out tomorrow to run a marathon, could you? What if you tried really hard? Most of us just would not be able to do it, because we haven't trained to do it. That's because trying alone isn't good enough; you've got to train. If the race is analogous to spiritual growth leading to heaven, then how do we train? We start by going to mass, but a runner who wants to be competitive isn't going to reach peak performance if he only runs once a week. We've got to do the things that are necessary to enter into a closer relationship with God: frequent the sacraments, pray daily (Paul says pray continuously), read and study the Bible. Let your growing love for Christ express itself in love for your neighbor through charity and service. Exercise self-control in avoiding sin and the things that lead you away from God.
Don't just run aimlessly, Paul tells us. Don't be a minimalist Catholic, doing only the things that the Church says you have to do, and those grudgingly.
Nobody says that training for the race is easy, but isn't that what we admire so much in our star athletes? You're not likely to see a champion runner compete in a parka and snow boots. That's because they are heavy and restrict motion. They slow the runner down. That's what our sins do. And I'm not just talking about the mortal sins -- the big ones -- even the venial sins are encumbrances that can cause us to fall just shy of our goal. We have to shed our disordered desires and detach ourselves from all the things around us. They might be good things, and we can use them and enjoy them, but we must not let them become more important to us than our ultimate goal: the beatific vision. That would be like running in a beat up pair of sneakers that we've had forever, when a new pair could give us that extra performance that makes the difference between winning and being an also-ran.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
We also have to remember that, while nobody else can run the race for us, we are not running alone: "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." The saints who have already finished the race ahead of us have returned to line the final stretch, cheering us on. There are other runners also competing who are on our team. We support one another in the race. We train together for race day. Just as the amateur athlete might look to the professional to see how they train, we can look to the saints to see how they lived their life, what they did to grow close to Christ. They don't just cheer for us, they give us an example. They are our role-models.
Another way to think about laying aside every weight is to think about the importance of a good diet for the competitive athlete. Peak performance athletes don't typically live on a diet of greasy hamburgers, french fries, and soda. They eat healthy food, aware of the nutritional value of what they put into their bodies and the effect that it will have on their performance. They might carefully watch what they eat before a race to ensure the maximum amount of energy is released to their muscles when they need it. If we are to run the spiritual race to win, we must be careful about what we feed ourselves with spiritually. The formation of an individual's conscience is a very important thing, and a malformed conscience can cause us to run erratically, and could result in spiritual injury that could prevent us from even finishing.
We also have to run the race that is set before us. We don't get to choose the course, it's already laid out. Spiritually, we have to live the life we've got. We can't waste our time living someone else's life. I'm a husband and a father of six, one of whom has special needs. That's the race that I've got to run. It does me no good to try to run the race of a cloistered monk -- that's not the course that is set before me. This is where I am, and this is where I have to find God's will for me.
In a race, if you break the rules, you could be penalized or disqualified. Christ gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, along with the authority to bind and loose. The Church has defined some things as intrinsically evil. Do those things, and you'll probably find yourself disqualified. At any rate the Church lays out the rules and offers plenty of coaching advice. You break the rules at your own peril. I wouldn't recommend it.
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
(2 Timothy 2:5)
It is our hope that, at the end of our life, we will cross the finish line and enter into the embrace of God almighty.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (May 2008).
Down in the soul’s wine cellars
The casks of virtue brood.
They’re aging through the centuries,
Like deep Alaskan crude.
The casks of sin, however,
Are daily tapped and flow,
Filling carafes, beakers, and jugs,
Giving each face a glow.
It’s quite a ways below ground,
The soul’s wine cellars dwell.
The casks of sin and virtue stand
So close, it’s hard to tell
Which, when you tap its fullness,
Comes spurting an arcing stream
Into a thimble or a cup,
Into this world or a dream.
But when he takes a sip,
God, the sommelier,
Knows at once the vintage broached
And tosses it away.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It's been about a year since Rowan Williams, the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury caused a row by remarking that the imposition of sharia law in England was inevitable. Many people took his remarks to be an endorsement of Islamic law. I think that he was merely looking at the direction the tide was flowing and making a prediction about the future, unless the tide is reversed. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown "quickly distanced himself from the Anglican primate, signalling that British law must be based on British values." Then, to the extent that the population of England has increasingly Moslem values, the British law will reflect that, right minister? Isn't that pretty much what the Archbishop said?
Two items from this week document this slide in British law and policy.
The first is news that Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who produced a film critical of Islam, has been banned from entering England. Note that Mr. Wilders is a member of the Dutch parliament. The reason given for banning him is that he represents a "security risk." It seems that the British government is afraid that if Mr. Wilders enters the country, there could be riots by those who are defining the new British values. John Derbyshire over at The Corner notes that the chief spokesman for the Lebanese group Hizbollah was allowed to enter Britain last May. To the British government, a Dutch film-maker politician is a security risk while the front man for a terrorist orgnanization is not.
The second item concerns an English foster parent. It seems that a 16 year-old Moslem girl, after having been assaulted by a family member, was placed in foster care. While in foster care, she converted to Christianity and was baptized. This was done entirely on the girl's initiative.
'We had a multicultural household and I had no problems helping the young person maintain her faith of birth,’ she said. ‘I have always prided myself in being very professional in what I do. If something works for a young person, whether I agree with it or not, I am happy to support them in that.’
But the girl, whom the foster mother describes as caring and intelligent, defied expectations by choosing not to wear overtly Muslim clothes or to eat Halal food.The girl, whose interest in Christianity had begun at school some
time before her foster placement, also made it clear that she wanted to go to church.
The carer, an Anglican who attends a local evangelical church, aid: ‘I did initially try to discourage her.
‘I offered her alternatives. I offered to find places for her to practise her own religion. I offered to take her to friends or family. But she said to me from the word go, “I am interested and I want to come.” She sort of burst in.’
The British government, it seems, is being somewhat selective in which British values it is going to uphold.
You might be thinking at this point that this is all very interesting, but it's happening over on the other side of the Atlantic, half a world away. It's got nothing to do with us. To which I would suggest that, unless we are vigilant, what happens over there could be a portent of things to come here. Remember that British common law (at least as it used to be practiced) forms the legal foundation for much of the English-speaking world, including the United States. We like to think that the Judeo-Christian values of the majority of U.S. citizens will always protect the freedoms that we enjoy. However, a very vocal and active minority can wield considerable influence in just which (and whose) freedoms are given priority. One person's freedom of speech can be found to interfere with another's "freedom" not to be insulted. When we begin to lose sight of which freedoms are necessary to the funtioning of a free and democratic republic, then we'll begin to follow our dear friends on the other side of the Atlantic into the darkening night.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Monday, February 9, 2009
Sunday, February 8, 2009
The short answer to the question “Why did you join Regnum Christi?” is that it was the best of the alternatives available. There are three points that were important in my decision to join. First, there is a universal call to holiness. Holiness is not just for priests, nuns, and saints; every follower of Christ is called to strive for holiness. Second, doctrine and dogma are not incidental, but form the backbone of faith. There are a variety of competing doctrines within Christianity. Only the Catholic Church can claim the authority to distinguish the truth between competing doctrines. Third, all followers of Christ are called to the apostolate. Christ himself commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations. Thus, we are called to share our faith with others.
When considering how to pursue holiness, I knew that the saints would provide good examples, and I found that the daily and weekly commitments for members of the Regnum Christi movement were tested and proven methods to achieve spiritual growth: Eucharistic adoration, Marian devotions such as the Rosary and the Angelus, frequent sacramental confession, weekday mass attendance, meditation on the scriptures, etc. I recognized, from the reading that I had done, that what the movement expected of its members was good and that it would draw a soul closer to Christ, as long as they were viewed not as burdensome duties but as acts of love.
The members of Regnum Christi are thoroughly Catholic. They love the Church and the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. When attending a mass celebrated by a Legionary priest, the reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and the care to perform the rite with fidelity is evident.
Finally, Regnum Christi members are typically very active Catholics. The RC members that I knew were active in the parish. In addition, they were involved in other programs that reached out to Catholics with the teachings of the Church, helping them to apply those teachings in their daily life.
There was no other group doing these things. There were no parish groups promoting a universal call to holiness. Individual Catholics were on their own to come up with their own plan for spiritual development, and there was no real encouragement to accept the challenge. There were some other groups, mostly farther away, that emphasized different aspects of spirituality, but many of them seemed passive or contemplative (almost feminine), rather than the active model presented by RC.
There were aspects of Regnum Christi that didn’t fit perfectly with my spiritual goals and needs, but the overlap was significant enough that I could overlook the rest. As I stated earlier, I became a member of Regnum Christi in 2001, and I have benefited from that decision. There have been and are aspects of the movement that I have not fully embraced, and given the new revelations about the life of the founder, I don’t know that I ever will. My goal continues to be to grow in holiness with fidelity to the Church, and I continue to discern whether the Movement to which I belong is the best way to achieve that goal.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
What a relief! I'm sure we can count on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to keep the legislation from being introduced in the 111th Congress (I typed with tongue firmly in cheek). Somebody tell the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities to get with the program! Lest anybody miss my sarcasm, I want to state clearly that I am dubious of the assurances in the CNS brief.
Meanwhile, the Catholic News Agency reports on the Prevention First Act (PFA). This act, which has be introduced in the present congress under the bill number S. 21, would dramatically increase funding for contraception and explicit sexual education. Emphasis on FOCA could draw attention away from PFA. Both pieces of legislation are gravely immoral.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.
“The lifting of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a very grave canonical penalty, but it has not changed the juridical situation of the Society of St. Pius X, which currently does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic Church. In addition, the four bishops, while they are no longer excommunicated, do not have a canonical role in the Church and do not licitly exercise a ministry in her,” the statement says.
In order for the SSPX to be recognized, the statement goes on to say, “full recognition of Vatican Council II, the Magisteriums of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition.”
While I would dearly love to see these souls returned to union with the Church, I don't see it happening any time soon. Of course, I'm wrong often.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I am reminded of the lyrics to a Steven Curtis Chapman song from back when Regis Philbin was the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire:
I get a phone call from Regis -
he says "Do you want to be a millionaire?"
They put me on a show and I win
with two lifelines to spare
I act like nothing ever happened
and bury all the money in a coffee can
Well, I've been given more than Regis ever gave away
I was a dead man who was called to come out of my grave
I think it's time for makin' some noise
The Catholic News Agency is reporting that Legionaries of Christ spokesman Jim Fair has confirmed "that there are aspects of his (Legionary founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in January 2008) life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest." For extensive commentary on what this could mean for the order and for the Church, I refer you to Patrick Madrid's post from this morning.
Fr. Maciel also founded the apostolic movement Regnum Christi, of which I have been a member since October 2001. In the wake of these new revelations into the life of the founder, many people are asking what the attraction of a movement like Regnum Christi is. I fully intend to take that up in a future post, but not right now.
Concerning the future of the order and the movement, Mr. Fair noted to CNA that their particular charism was given by Fr. Maciel and approved by the Church. The Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi will continue to serve Christ and the Church according to that charism.
It is disappointing to me personally that the admission that the founder might not have lived up to the ideals of holiness that he proposed to others was only made after the new allegations became public.
It is also somewhat shocking that, today of all days, I received via email a letter from the General Director of the Regnum Christi movement that begins, "I would like to begin this letter by congratulating you on the occasion of these holy days we have lived, and by wishing you a very happy New Year of 2009, as we thank God for all the blessings that he has granted us during this period." It would have been appropriate three or four weeks ago. Today, it was highly inappropriate. The letter did contain one paragraph that caught my eye.
Lord, we ask you to halt our hand and tongue before hurting our brothers and sisters. Don’t allow my words to harm or wound you, who dwell in those around me. We ask your pardon for everything that may have hurt or offended anyone, and we ask you for the courage and strength never to hold onto grudges or resentment. We offer you our lives so that we may always do good, as you have taught us, and so that our words may be words that you sow in the hearts of your children.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. (Lk 2:25-26)
An essay in the February 2009 issue of Columbia magazine explores the role of the elderly as prophets in the model of Simeon and Anna. The author, Camillian Father Carlo Notaro, notes that in his Letter to the Elderly (1999), Pope John Paul II stated that the elderly "are the guardians of our collective memor, and thus the privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values which support and guide life in society."
How many people find understanding and comfort from elderly people who may be lonely or ill and yet are able to instill courage by their loving advice, their silent prayers, or their witness of suffering borne with patient acceptance!
Sunday, February 1, 2009
When Jesus taught in the synagogue, the gospel says that he did not teach like the scribes, but with authority. We are left to surmise the difference. Perhaps the scribes taught with arrogance, speaking down to those who did not possess their knowledge. More likely, the scribes taught what the scriptures said, but Jesus taught what the scriptures mean. We know from other gospels that Jesus claimed authority that the scribes dared not claim. For example, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, "You have heard it said, . . . but I say . . . ." In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI notes, "He teaches not as the rabbis do, but as one who has 'authority' (Mt 7:28, cf. Mk 1:22; Lk 4:32). Obviously this does not refer to the rhetorical quality of Jesus' discourses, but rather to the open claim that he himself is on the same exalted level as the Lawgiver--as God."
Not only did Jesus teach with authority, he backed it up by performing miracles. He cast out demons and cured leprosy. He restored sight to the blind and made the lame walk. If you've been following the weekday gospels, Mark continues to relate the many miracles that Jesus performed and the crowds that followed him because of it. In spite of seeing all of these miracles, the apostles are still astonished when he calms the storm at sea!
Jesus punctuates his teaching on this occasion by casting out an unclean spirit. It's not uncommon these days for "experts" to explain away demonic possession in biblical times as cases of mental illness. Whether possession or insanity, the encounter with Christ still produces a miraculous result. Some cases, according to Jesus himself, can only be helped by prayer and fasting.
The demon possessing the man in today's gospel knew Jesus's identity. I can't help but wonder, therefore, why he would go to the synagogue. It could have been to find out whether Jesus really was the Son of God--a kind of demonic recon mission. Another opinion would be that the demon went to the synagogue to "out" Jesus and make it harder for him to accomplish his mission.
Consider that before this incident, these men had been going to the synagogue week in and week out, listening to the scribes and sitting in the presence of a demon. Jesus comes with a new authoritative teaching and casts out the devil that either they had not recognized or had learned to live with. What happens after Jesus leaves? Do they allow themselves to be changed by this incident, or do they return to their prior, comfortable practice? It can be the same way for us, when we attend a retreat. We draw closer to God and see him with clearer eyes for a weekend, but then we return to our lives. Are we changed by the retreat, or do we slip back into our comfortable patterns of living, allowing ourselves to be blind to sin and resisting the call to daily conversion?
Lord, you taught with authority and you cast out demons. Help us to hear your words and accept the teachings of your Church. Give us the grace to see the demons around us and resist their temptations. May we spread your fame and lead others closer to you. We humbly ask this in your name. Amen.
I have often said that the bad thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows your business. Very little remains private in a small town. However, the good thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows your business. Neighbors know when you're not home, and look out for your property. If you need service, chances are good that you know the person who answers your call. Everything is more personal.
My lunch partner also relayed how many of his friends are amazed when he tells them that the nearest Wal-Mart is 20 minutes away. That may be, but from my home, I can walk to church, the post office, the library, the kids' schools, the grocery store, and our Knights of Columbus hall. A few things are a little farther away, but still within bicycle range, including the hardware store, the YMCA, and even my place of work in the next town. Plus, our town has sidewalks, good roads, and is well lit. When it's warmer, I can go for a run at night without having to worry about running in a bad neighborhood, down unlit streets, or out in the road where a passing car might get too close.
Some people think that they need big city amenities. I happen to like the ones I get in my village.