Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

But Can I Be Peter?

The readings today (Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:27-32, 41-44; Ps 30; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19) got me thinking on an old topic.  A few weeks ago, I asserted that I am Judas.  A friend blogger begged to differ.  LuceMichael commented:

I dunno Ryan, I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. What Judas did was purely evil. Not just sinful, but truly and historically evil. Saying "I am Judas" is akin to reckoning ourselves as the contemporaries of Jesus who condemned Him to death, a view which VII rejects, btw.

More appropriate is a comparison to Peter, or the other apostles who abandoned Jesus in fear and denial. They sinned, turned away from doing the right thing, but in the end, were redeemed and in the case of Peter, who was exhorted by the Lord to "turn back and strengthen" the others, much good came from a flawed man. In fact, the papacy and Magisterium came from him, once he was humbled, contrite and forgiven.

There is always the philosophical and theological conundrum of whether Judas is in Hell. While none of us can say for sure, there is at least a strong likelihood that he *is* in Hell, having sold out the Lord, and taking his own life in despair of mercy.

Judas and Peter make an interesting contrast in their response to the own guilt in the passion. But most of we Christians are NOT Judas; most of us, though we sin carelessly, thoughtlessly, or maliciously and with intent, still do not come to the level of evil that Judas attained. With the grace of God, I will never completely deny Jesus. Through all my sins and faults, I know Him to be my Lord and Savior.

And He is Risen!
My major point was that my sins are the things that necessitate the death of the Messiah.  In a way, Judas was less culpable than I, perhaps, because he was more confused about who Jesus is.  I, on the other hand, know precisely who Jesus is, and yet sin and sin again.  We must be careful here, because the sin that landed Judas in hell, if that is where he is, was not treason against God, nor was it apostasy.  Those sins are forgivable (Jn 20:23).  St. Peter committed the same sins after all, though in a different way.  The sin of Judas was rejection of forgiveness, rejection of the Holy Spirit prompting him to repentence.  Judas thought that somebody like himself, someone so enormously important who had done a thing so enormously wrong, could never be forgiven.  And, in a sense, he was right.  Without repentence, there can be no forgiveness of sins (Mk 3:29; CCC 1864).

But St. Peter repented.

Her point is very well made.  Judas killed himself (Mt 27:5-8) but St. Peter repented.  In today's gospel reading, our Lord asks St. Peter three times if he loved Him as they strolled along the beach together, perhaps arms-over-shoulders.  The threefold act of love that St. Peter makes rehabilitates him after the threefold betrayal.  Note well that these acts of love, these acts of contrition, do not undo what Peter has done, but rather, they set him on a new path.  So it is with the penances that we perform after our confessions.  They actualize our repentence and put us on a new path  So how do we get to be like St. Peter, who did so many wonderful things for the Church, even dying for the sake of our blessed Lord?
We repent.

Face it.  We are probably not going to stop sinning any time soon - though make no mistake: in grace, it is possible, so strive for heavenly perfection.  Strive for sanctity!  But, observing our own failure, our own repeat failures, even our own egregious failures, we must not give up.  We must not go hang ourselves as Judas did, either literally or metaphorically.  Do not say of our holy religion, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (Jn 6:60) and then abandon it as those who could not stand the Eucharistic teaching of our blessed Lord (John 6:66).  Examine your conscience and pray for the grace of honesty.  So many people are afraid to confront their own sins, so they say, "Oh yeah, well the Church sucks because of X."  When we have reached our maximal efforts and failed yet again, perhaps we will then realize on a deep, deep level that it is not our own efforts that save us.  Most of us, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, really believe deep down inside believe that we can save ourselves, that we must save ourselves, that we must prove ourselves to God.  That is all bosh.

Jesus Christ saves us.

"While we were yet sinners Christ died for us," (Rom 5:8).  He loves us even in the midst of sin.  And no matter how badly we sin, we have only to turn back, confess our sins to a priest, and receive the gift of a fresh start.  We must pray for the courage to face our sins head on, for the grace to be St. Peter.

God's Grace Has Got To Be Enough

Later today I will be giving a talk to my parish's preconfirmation students.  I have thirty five minutes to tell them about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in our life.  Might as well expect me to teach them Spanish in thirty five minutes!  On top of that, I am told that the students are eager for anyone to answer questions - on the Virgin, on our holy religion, on life in general.  So I am going to fit my talk into fifteen minutes (I know, to expect me to speak on anything for only fifteen minutes presses the boundaries of credibility) and leave fifteen minutes for Q & A, and five minutes of buffer time.

Insurmountable task?  Yes.  Evangelization of whatever audience always has been.  Good.  It reminds us that we must rely upon Jesus.

Say a prayer for these poor CCD students, and for their hapless mariologist.  Lolol.

Introducing Mercy Fridays

Starting today, I am going to try to produce material about mercy for Fridays, especially while we're still in Eastertide.  I will draw largely from the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, but not exclusively so.  Here's a starter:

O Eternal Love, You command Your Sacred Image to be painted
And reveal to us the inconceivable fount of mercy,
You bless whoever approaches Your rays,
And a soul all black will turn into snow.

O Sweet Jesus, it is here You established the throne of Your mercy
To bring joy and hope to sinful man.
From Your open Heart, as from a pure fount,
Flows comfort to a repentant heart and soul.

May praise and glory for this Image
Never cease to stream from man's soul.
May praise of God's mercy pour from every heart,
Now, and at every hour, forever and ever.

(Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1)

Let's never get tired of commending ourselves to God's mercy.  I try to remember - but lately have not been succeeding - when I am angry at somebody, that I stand in constant need of God's mercy, and so does the object of my wrath.

My Apologies

I had hoped to complete a piece about Mary and the Redemption by this past Saturday, as the final piece during Easter Week on the Resurrection. It clearly didn't happen. Please accept my apologies. I will keep working on it, while posting other material in the meantime.

The Anchoress on the Pope and the Accusations

One of the most intelligent, least bombastic people writing on the internet these days is the Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia, who writes for First ThingsRead her excerpts and comments on the Holy Father and the latest round of unsubstantiated claims against him.

WSJ Points Out Problems in NYT's Reporting of Fr. Murphy and Cardinal Ratzinger

Laurie Goodman of the NYT either deliberately or through incompetence bungled her story about how Cardinal Ratzinger supposedly exonerated Fr. Murphy of Wisconsin while he stood before an ecclesiastical criminal tribunal for sexually abusing hundreds of children.

If she had so libeled anybody else, right now, she and the NYT would be getting sued for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.  Read the WSJ piece here.

The Resurrection: Fridays in Eastertide

So during this eight-days-in-one that we call the Easter octave, we've been reflecting about what the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, means.  We've looked at what the Apostles meant, and that the Church still means the same thing today.  We've looked at how the Resurrection manifests Jesus as Lord and God, with power over life and death - and how he plans to share his kingdom with us by giving us a new way of life.  We've looked at how that new way of life can begin now, and how it will lead us to an eternity of joy.

So what is the proper response of a Christian?  Let's look at Psalm 116, my favorite, for some suggestions.

I love the LORD, because he has heard
         my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
         therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
          the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
          I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the LORD:
          "O LORD, I beseech thee, save my life!"
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
          our God is merciful.
The LORD preserves the simple;
          when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
          for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
          my eyes from tears,
          my feet from stumbling;
I walk before the LORD
          in the land of the living.
I kept my faith, even when I said,
          "I am greatly afflicted";
I said in my consternation,
          "Men are all a vain hope."
What shall I render to the LORD
          for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
          and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
          in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
          is the death of his saints.
O LORD, I am thy servant;
          I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.
         Thou hast loosed my bonds.
I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
          and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
          in the presence of all his people,
          in the courts of the house of the LORD,
          in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
The Psalmist is deeply grateful to the LORD for having saved him from the "snares of death," the "pangs of Sheol," and from anguish and distress.  When he was tearfully stumbling, consternated by the abandonment of human consolations, God "dealt bountifully" with him.  The Psalmist, as he often does, prefigures Christ with his prayers.  The Holy Spirit invites us to make the prayer our own, to pray like Jesus, and so the prayer is an invitation to the imitation of Christ.  Jesus was raised up from "the snares of death" by God.  What was Jesus' response to being raised from the dead?

He offered the Eucharist (Lk  24:30), a word that means "thanksgiving" in Greek, a ceremony that He made a sacrifice of His flesh and blood (1 Cor 11:23-5; Mt 26:26-8) by His sacrifice on the cross, a sacrifice that draws us into communion with Him, and thence to God, and thence to all the others in communion with God for an eternity of Joy (Jn 6:48-57).  The Eucharist is literally our participation in Jesus' sacrifice of thanksgiving.  It is how we thank God for what He has done for us.  Moreover, it is how God does for us what He has done for Jesus.

(hat tip to Veritas Vos Liberat)

"Whoa... wait a minute," you might be thinking.  "The Eucharist is how God saves me," you start, and then continue, "and it is how I thank God for saving me?"  Yup.  "But, I don't get it.  What does that mean?  What do I have to do?"  Nothing.  Just accept it gratefully.  Make it our weekly (daily?) act of thanksgiving to God, and we will have received what He would give us.  He doesn't want our actions - whatever you and or I can do, He can do better anyway.  He doesn't want our charity.  He doesn't want our money.  He doesn't want our apologetics or evangelization or even our prayers.  Doesn't need 'em.
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
He just wants us.

The rest will follow.  So simple.  Die to yourself by going to confession.  A real deathblow happens there - the ego is given a tough kidney shot, at the very least.  Then go to Mass.  Pray silently along with the priest.  Enter into the prayers.  Enter into Christ.  Receive Him with an open heart to whatever He wants.  Give thanks and praise.  And then "do whatever He tells you," (Jn 2:5).

Friday is the day on which Catholics generally (at least in former times, though we are still asked to) give up meat, in honor of the day on which our Lord gave up His own flesh.  May I humbly suggest that, at least during the fifty days of Eastertide, we take up the sacrifice of thanksgiving by going to Mass an extra time, perhaps on Fridays, to sing the praises of God?

The Resurrection: Eyes on Jesus

Excerpts from the gospel reading for the day is one of the most excellent:

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”  They stopped, looking downcast.

One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”

And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”

They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.  But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.  Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his Body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.  Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.  As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.

But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”  So he went in to stay with them.  And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.  Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”  So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”  Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

In his homily, Monsignor made a couple astounding points.  "[The disciples'] eyes were prevented from recognizing him," Monsignor conjectured, because they were "downcast."  The disciples were not looking for Jesus in those darkest days of human history; they were looking at the ground.  They thought that He was done and that they were abandoned.  We must not focus so much on ourselves and on our own problems that we miss Jesus even while He is there with us, teaching us, and setting our hearts aflame - if only we will look to Him and listen.


I would like to point out that the disciples actually recognized Jesus for who He is in "the breaking of the bread," the Eucharist.  Hearing the Word of God explained to them prepared them to receive the Word of God into their fellowship and into their very bodies.  I would also like to point out that the disciples conversed with Jesus, frankly expressing their troubles and their doubts to Him.  That honesty is part of sincere faith for those who have troubles and doubts.

If we bring our even our dashed dreams and deepest despair to Jesus, who knows what he might make of them?  Keep praying.  After you have said your peace, listen in prayer.  Speak with other disciples.  Read the scriptures.  Confess your sins, if needs be.  Visit the Eucharist at church, hear Mass, receive communion.  Don't give up on Jesus, and try not to be downcast, but fix your eyes on Him and look for Him.  He is risen!

(Lastly, here's a link to the Men of Emmaus, a Catholic fellowship for men based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, for those of you who might be looking for fellow disciples and who live in the area.)

The Resurrection: Not Just for Jesus

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52
An odd but often unconsidered or even unknown teaching of Holy Church is that not just Jesus, but every human being who has ever lived will be resurrected on the Last Day, at the very End of all things.
We gloss over it in the Nicene creed every week at Mass:
...We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
 So what does this mean for us as human beings?  It means a few things, right off the top of my head:
  1. Heaven will not be just a spiritual place - but will be a material place as well, because material bodies need a material place to be;
  2. Our bodies, though very material, will be transformed into something very new, something not seen since Jesus ascended into heaven;
  3. St. Paul calls these "spiritual bodies," (1 Cor 15:44) in contrast to "physical bodies," which can be confusing, because a body is physical, but it helps to be aware that physis in Greek does not mean material or corporeal, but rather, natural, so St. Paul almost certainly intended to contrast "spiritual" bodies with merely natural bodies;
  4. Our bodies, then, though material, will not be natural, but supernatural or spiritual, as Jesus Christ's was after His resurrection;
  5. These bodies, far from constraining, will liberate the soul;
  6. We see examples of this liberation in accounts of Jesus' resurrection - how he could eat (Lk 21:41-3) and cook fish (Jn 21:13), and so was definitely material, and yet walk through doors (Jn 20:19), so definitely was not bound by time and space as normal matter is.
Suffice it to say that in the resurrection we shall not be zombies.  We shall be changed (1 Cor 15:52).  We will be the inhabitants of a new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pt 3:13) in which heaven has come down to earth and God will make His dwelling, once and for all, among His people (Rev 21:1-5).
More than being pie in the sky, this knowledge, once firmly ingrained in our hearts, should transform how we do everything.  Merely passing concerns must yield to more eternal ones, practical questions to questions of our standing before God, lower things to the higher.  With this knowledge, we are encouraged to reject sin even if it kills us.  What does death matter when it will be followed by a new sort of life, a life that never dies?  The Maccabees were inspired because their confidence in God's justice convinced them that He must have some means - even after death - of rewarding those who sacrificed their bodies for His sake (2 Mac 7).  Have we, who have heard of a Man actually rising from the dead, who have experienced the power of the resurrection to some extent in our own lives, any excuse for being less brave in the face of life or death?

Easter: Notes on Its Historicity

In honor of Easter, I am going to be posting a series of articles and excepts about the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and on its significance for us.
Here's the first, some brief notes about the historicity and materiality of the resurrection, i.e., that Jesus of Nazareth, truly a man like us all in every way but sin, actually returned to life after having become completely dead.  I'll start with an excerpt from Veselin Kesich's The First Day of the New Creation: The Resurrection and the Christian Faith, an excellent book that I read for class while in seminary.  Parts of it are hard, but most are fairly accessible.

The basic agreement among the evangelists in their accounts of what happened on the first Easter morning is more significant than certain discrepancies in those accounts.  All four evangelists bear witness to the empty tomb, either stating this explicitly or, like St Mark, clearly implying it.  The variations in the accounts actually testify to their authenticity and serve as an important indicator that the story of the empty tomb belongs to the most primitive gospel tradition.  It is highly unlikely that the empty tomb stories could be legendary embellishments of a later period in the life of the Church, for if the Church had fabricated them, we should expect the Christian community to have created a harmonious account.  The Church did not try to harmonize the accounts, but instead faithfully transmitted the traditions that were received, (Kesich, 71).
The question of whether a dead man could really rise from the dead is not a new one.  The Acts of the Apostles describes the rejection of his message of the ressurection of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:32).  Later, St. Paul writes his letters, he adamantly defends the resurrection as an actual, material event in 1 Corinithians, implying that the essential doctrine of Christianity was being called into question then as well.  In fact, St. Paul asserts that the event was not only material and historical, but publicly witnesses as well.  He writes:
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
In the later New Testament writings, the generic terminology of the "exaltation" of Jesus is replaced with the more specific term "resurrection," also alerting to the likelihood that clarification of the authors' intent was felt to be important (Kesich, 81).

A great volume, monstrously long and detailed, is N. T. Wright's book The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3).  The book is really stupendous, but I warn you: at 740 pages it is the sort of text that most people will want to take a few pages at a time and just be content to let it take a year or two!

Whether a skeptic, ancient or modern, wants to reject the accounts of the resurrection out of hand as impossible within the framework of their materialist conception, there can be in any event no doubt about what the apostles intended.  They believed and taught from the very first day that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

The Empty Tomb and the Power of the Resurrection

The deacon read this gospel passage at the Vigil last night at St. Matthew's Cathedral:

Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag'dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre.  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you."  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Matthew 28:1-8
Here's my thought.  Most of us Christians live in this the morning of the first day.  By that I mean this: we Christians understand, mostly, that Jesus is risen from the dead.  We even understand that we are (supposed to be) somehow united to him in some way.  But we do not really understand what this all means.  It makes us happy, kinda; it makes a little afraid, too.  We are like the women, or Peter and the Beloved Disciple after them, staring into the empty tomb, confused and dazzled by the sunlight on the dawn of this new day in Christ.  Everything is different now.  We as individuals haven't all figured that out.  Some among us have.  Most of us kinda know things are supposed to be different now, but can't quite figure out what it means for our lives.  My hunch is that we, as a whole Church, are somewhere along these lines.  Among us there are some saints, radically transformed by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in everything they do.  There are others, who are bumbling about as if nothing happened, or worse, who have missed the point of God's love and are hanging themselves alongside Judas Iscariot.  Mostly, we are in the middle somewhere.  We are yearning for a new life that we have begun to live but to which we have not quite given ourselves over yet.
Jesus Christ has triumphed over death!  The very worst thing that the powers of this world can do to their victims, their most very potent weapon, has been neutralized.
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?
1 Corinthians 15:55
Jesus Christ is the "first fruits" (1 Cor 15:23) of the resurrection.  We will be the harvest.
The power of God has been fully unleashed in the resurrection of the Son of God.  Now the tide is turned.  Sin obstructs and obscures it, but only like a sandcastle obstructs the ocean: for a few minutes, and then the jig is up.  Death's last blow will have been struck, and it will itself be dealt a death blow:
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53
But what does all this mean for us here and now?  What does the resurrection of Christ mean in the life of a Christian?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 6:3-5
It is not only at the End, at the Resurrection of the Dead, that we shall be raised, but even here and now!  Here and now if we live in Christ and let Him live in us, we can have His kind of life, a life that bears immense fruit - here and now:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing... By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my loveIf you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends...  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  This I command you, to love one another.
John 15:1-17
How are we to live in Christ and let Him live in us?
Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world."

They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."  They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?"

Jesus answered them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;  he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."
John 6:32-58
We need to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  But how can we do that ?

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins..."
Matthew 26:26-28
Baptism introduces us into the death and resurrection of Christ so that we can share in His life.  The Eucharist brings us into the fullness of His life.  It brings His life into us.  This mystery is the great source of power of the Christian life.  Never underestimate its power.  By it, tyrants have been humbled, janitors have been made into great heroes, kingdoms of darkness have been made into harbors of peace, and martyrs have smiled at death.  So brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be afraid or confused by dazzling sunlight of the dawn of this, the First Day of a New Week.  Instead, let us put on Christ, live His kind of life, and show the world a sort of love that transforms life, that is "stronger than death," (Song of Songs 8:6).

I Am Judas

Today is Holy Thursday, the Feast of the Lord's Supper, the Solemnity of the Betrayal of Judas.  If we contemplate sin seriously, it can quickly become overwhelming.  Even venial sins - little white lies, sharp words, petty refusals of generosity or gratitude - deserve a terrible punishment because of the majesty of the Creator whose Law they offend.  The most terrible crimes, though, can only leave us unfazed if we are truly callous and hardened.  The temptation we experience all year long, I propose, is not to this sin or to that, but toward this callous failure to understand the horror of sin.  It is rooted perhaps in many foundational failures: carelessly failing to note the glory of God's creation and plan; failure to really take in the dignity of our wife, neighbor, child, coworker; failure to take our own sins as seriously as we take the sins of others.  It is upon this last point that I want to reflect more particularly for just a moment.

It is very common for us to coin new terms like stupak, which nowadays means to betray one's convictions in a self-congratulatory way and to abandon those counting on you to help them in a very important cause.  It's easy to think of the Nazi leaders as the ultimate evil, and their party members as the ultimate colluders of evil, the ultimate opportunists.  It's easy to think of this or that disgraced priest as the ultimate scandal, the most wretched of men.  It's easy for us to think of the school board's ridiculous and immoral curriculum as the ultimate lesson in degradation.

What's hard is to remember that my sins are made of the same sort of thing.  It's hard to remember that I sit silently while others mock the church or make pro-lifers out to be wackos.  It's hard to remember that I buy my food and clothing without a care or a thought toward what "causes" the manufacturers support: gay marriage, abortion, no matter - as long as I get the best ice cream or the best coffee.  It is hard to remember that I have neglected my family obligations because other opportunities were more alluring.  It's hard for me to remember that many of the movies and songs I put into my head that "don't have that effect on me" all the while corrode my heart and thinking.

This, then, is the hard work of the Christian: to remember that I am Judas.

It isn't as dramatic as it sounds.  I am going to set aside the cases of people whom I believe to be possessed outright, like Hitler.  Even in the matter of Judas Iscariot, the gospels tell us that the devil entered into him.  The gospels also show something more to the present point: Judas did not suddenly, dramatically betray our Lord.  His betrayal was the final acheivement in a string of interior desertions.  Fulton Sheen does a good job in one of his books illustrating how Judas is the apostle who never quite got it.  He got money.  That he understood.  He got the Romans.  Them he understood.  But Jesus: Judas never quite understood Him.  Many of us think that we "get" Jesus.  I, like Judas, do not understand Him nearly as well as I think.
The simple fact is that tonight is Holy Thursday.  Tonight, in some way big or small, I will almost certainly betray our blessed Lord with sin - perhaps even between confiteor and communion.  That's something like betraying with a kiss, isn't it?

I am Judas.

If You Are Feeling Weighed Down

If you are Catholic, and trying to do it (i.e., be Catholic) well, and are paying attention, you probably feeling a little down about all the stuff going on right now.  I know I am.  I don't have anything really articulate to write.  The thing feels to me like a very dense storm cloud, fiercer than normal anti-Church nonsense.  It's very incongruous with the weather being so fine outside my window.  The cross is not ours to bear alone, though.  Please do not give up looking to Jesus, looking to heaven for help.

There should be some consolation in this: that our blessed Lord told us that we would be persecuted (Jn 15:20).  Now, don't get me wrong.  Getting called on sin - that's not persecution, it's a public service that we apparently need.  Being gleefully, ferociously stalked by self-appointed "watchdogs" who completely neglect their own house and who bay and howl for the House of God to be torn down to its foundations, head first - that is a little bit closer to what is meant by persecution.  At least, it gives us a watered-down taste of what our brothers and sisters in other countries face every day on a much more violent scale.  We should allow this animosity provoke us to prayer for our enemies and for our brethren whom they treat worse.
We should also take comfort in this prophecy of St. Peter, the first pope, who himself came against fierce opposition:
For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Pt 4:17)
If you find yourself fazed or perturbed, please remember these words of Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing perturb you,
nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change.
Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
 It's going to be OK.  Hold fast, pray, enter into the Triduum with your whole heart.  Remember Jesus.

The Brouhaha Over The Pope

I might be the last to have heard about these events, but it has lately come to my attention that the Holy Father is himself being accused of aiding and abetting child molestation, specifically by ordering the abandonment of the church criminal trial of a vicious child molesting priest in Wisconsin.  The New York Times' Laurie Goodstein "broke" the story, which in reality turns out to be little more than a well-orchestrated hoax, as Fr. Raymond J. DeSouza shows.  In fact, not only do the documents cited by Ms. Goodstein as evidence flatly contradict her assertions, but neither she nor any of the other papers or blogs to carry the story have ever contacted Fr. Thomas Brundage, ecclesiastical judge in the original case that was supposedly thrown out by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.  As the Anchoress points out, this sham is just the next in a string of annual hoaxes, fabrications, and exaggerations that by pure happenstance all come at Eastertide.

Sincere, devoted Catholics are more sickened than anyone else by the horrorific revelations of diabolical priestly sin and of the horrendous abdication of episcopal responsibility that have wracked the Church these last ten and twenty years.  But that's not what these fabricated accusations are about.  Nor are the legitimate stories, for the most part, being so vigorously reported because of a hunger and thirst for justice on the part of the media.  This brouhaha is about ideology.  That's why other organizations, a number of which are far more deeply saturated in this wickedness, are left unscathed by the media; it's why the media won't hesitate to run journalistic garbage as news.  Ideology?  Yes.  Sexual ideology - specifically, birth control, fornication, homosexuality, women's ordination, and so on.

We must pray for our Holy Father.  He has recently asked for prayers that he will not flee from ravening wolves who want only to shipwreck the Church.  This opportunity is one we must not miss to band together with each other and Christ, and to walk with this cross on our shoulder, together, to Calvary.

The Communion of Sinners

So, I've had this thought bouncing around in my head over the last few weeks.  Lining up for the confessional, I bumped into an acquaintance of mine.  Since I mostly make my confessions at the same time and same place each week, it's actually not that odd for me to bump into people I know in line at the confessional.  A smile or a nod passes between the two of us.  The smile or nod means a lot.  It means, "Hi."  It means, "Glad I'm not the only one I know that uses this thing."  It means, "Hey, another sinner.  That's great!"

 In Line for Confession
Well, clearly it's not great that we are all sinners.  What is great, though, is that it's not just one of us.  Wouldn't that stink?  Literally, one person would be to blame for all the world's mess.  It would be easy for the rest of us to feel self-righteous, especially toward that poor slob, but I do not believe that would be a good thing.

Instead, we have the situation of all of us needing Jesus.  Our sins may be different in "species and number," and even in gravity, but not in essence.  In essence, our sins are all affronts to the will of our Creator and against our own dignity.  We are called to live in the communion of saints, the strong bond of those redeemed and sanctified by Christ.  For the time being, while we haven't left sin behind entirely yet, we might as well get on with the work of building up a strong bond of those being redeemed and sanctified by Christ.  This communion will only grow among us to the extent that we admit what we have in common: that we are all sinners.  There's no use pretending, acting like we don't see each other in line for the confessional.  Instead, it's probably best to admit to ourselves that we are sinners, and in very specific terms what sort of sinners we are.  We should also admit to each other freely, easily in general terms, that we are sinners.  We can do so, if in no other way, by making an appearance in our local parish's confessional line.  To the extent that we can safely do so with people we trust, it might not hurt to share with each other in more specific terms the ways we sin.  In fact, it might heal to know that we are loved, not only by God, but by our brothers and sisters... sins and all.  Confessing our sins to our priest and, when prudent, to each other can only build up the communion of sinners until, hopefully, one day we enter perfectly into the communion of saints.

Oh, wait a minute.  You weren't in line for the confessional?  Oh.  I see.  Well, I suppose there's one thing more priggish than a person who sins and then tries to act like he's perfect: someone who doesn't even think he sins.  You do sin, don't you?  Then 'fess up.  Join the confessional line, the communion of sinners - so that you can be made worthy to enter into that other communion line.

And The Ayes Have It!

One lesson that leaps out on the Feast of the Annunciation is obedience to God.  Mary's yes to God literally revolutionized the entire world and all of human history.  It rerouted us from the downward spiral of sin and slavery onto the upward path of redemption and grace.

But how can a single yes be so powerful?

A clue can be found by delving into what happens to be my favorite beatitude, if beatitudes are the sort of thing that can be ranked.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:1) provides deep inside once we understand what is meant by meekness.  Meekness is not door-mat-ishness.  Meekness is the acceptance of reality.  Now, that doesn't sound too hard, but when we consider how much time, energy, money, thought, and emotion are invested into iPods, movies, shopping sprees, expensive vacations, distracting hobbies and enterntainment, and worse, darker things like addictions, we can quickly see that a lot of people prefer to avoid reality.  When we look at the power politics in a place like Washington, D.C., the micromanagement in our own office, or the violent behavior that often dominates in places like the Beltway, we can quickly see that a lot of people prefer to control reality.  The meek person, far from passively giving in to adverse forces, evaluates reality, understands what is possible to him without sinning against God or his neighbors, and then works within those parameters.  The meek person realizes that not only he or she, but also reality, is real too.  The meek person realizes that God is God, and that he is not.  Reality is real, and lying, cheating, or stealing won't make it go away.

This message can be really hard.  Some people feel very deeply that they have been jipped by life, and all of us have some hard knocks, from time to time, that tempt us to lash out against them, against somebody in our life, or against God.  The meek person, trusting in God's providence, rolls with the punches.

The virtue of meekness makes me think of a favorite movie of mine, Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven't seen it, you should.  Two of the movie's main characters are brothers.  One spends his life in tremendous violence, always grasping for a better life.  The other sets his heart on love, accepts circumstances as they come without letting them deter him, and refuses either to do wrong or accept discouragement along the way.  The characters are not Christians, but they come very close to a perfect illustration of the polar opposition between the one who does whatever it takes to get what he wants, and the one who accepts reality as the framework for living life.  If to the latter way of life we add humble trust in God's will and fatherly providence for us, we have the Christian virtue of meekness, the virtue that wins us the whole world.

If we, moved by grace, can be open to God's will and say, "Yes," whatever may come, we will be amazed by what follows.  Since we are not immaculately conceived, we'll typically have years or decades of spiritual grime clogging our heart.  But even this first yes will begin to move things along, open things up, turn things around.  God will begin, perhaps slowly, but certainly surely, to move in our life.  He will not suddenly transplant us to a rose garden of a life - that wouldn't be real.  But as long as we keep saying, "Yes," to Him, He will keep giving us more and more of the raw stuff that joy is made of - love, peace, service, friendship, virtue, a clean conscience, and a sound relationship with Him.  He will give us all the things that we can never seize for ourselves or control like masters.

A great way to say, "Yes," to God, to accept the reality of our own sinfulness and to proclaim the reality of God's amazing justice and mercy, is to go to confession.  Especially during these last days of Lent, and especially if you haven't been in a few months or years, consider going.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, understanding, and will.
All that I have and am You have given to me,
And I surrender it now to be governed entirely by Your will.
Your grace and Your love: these are wealth enough for me.
Grant me these, Lord, and that shall be enough for me.
The Suscipe Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola

Beautiful Snippets from the Fifth Sunday of Lent

From the first reading, Is 43:16-21:

Thus says the LORD,
who opens a way in the sea
and a path in the mighty waters,
who leads out chariots and horsemen,
a powerful army,
till they lie prostrate together, never to rise,
snuffed out and quenched like a wick.
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
After starting with a reminder of God's powerful, demonstrated by mighty deeds in real history, the prophet tells Israel, and us, that God is going to set us on a new path, in which former sins are transcended.  The joy that His plans for us will bring is described in Ps 126:
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
Our bondage to sin and its ugly consequences will be broken.  St. Paul tells us how much this new life should be worth to us in the Epistle, taken from Phil 3:8-14:
For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things
and I consider them so much rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him...
depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection
and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death,
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
St. Paul continues to encourage us with his own efforts:
...forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
He would like us to share in them, no doubt.  Not only that, he wants us to join him in forgetting our spotty pasts except in as much as they humble us and become fertile soil for wisdom.  But guilt and shame from our past must fall away.  And lastly, Jesus' beautiful, beautiful words to the woman caught in adultery, whom he saved from stoning (Jn 8:1-11):
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Let's use these last two weeks of Lent to our great advantage.  Let's enter into it with our whole hearts, praying fervently for the grace to rise higher in Christ, leaving behind sin and the scars it leaves, to be transfigured with Our Blessed Lord.

The Paper It's Written On

I wonder whether it has occured to Bart Stupak and his group of pro-life democrats that in the hours after the announcement of the deal they've brokered with the White House, there is a deafening silence from the left, and especially from the abortionist left (if one need distinguish).  Granted, it has only been a few hours.  NARAL's website makes no mention.  The online stories carried by the MSM make no mention.  Nobody is mentioning the reaction of the abortionists.

I suspect that's because there isn't any.

They know what Bart Stupak and his (I believe sincere) colleagues have allowed themselves not to know.  The abortionists know that the vaunted executive order to clarify how a health-care plan that expressly covers abortion does not in fact do so, if it is ever actually issued, will not be worth the paper it is written on.  With the television cameras off, and they will be off, the President will never get around to it; and the calls from Stupak and his group that he do so will not be heard outside of Congress, or perhaps outside of congressmen's offices, perhaps.  And if the order is actually, in some imaginary world, issued, it can as easily be rescinded.

If any of the above were false - if an executive order carried more weight than legislation, rather than less - the abortionists wouldn't have fought so tenaciously to keep it out of the law, and they wouldn't be so taciturn about the whole thing suddenly.  But wait, I do hear noises, after all: the sound of snickering in sleaves.
I am trying hard not to judge Stupak and his group.  The amount of pressure that they have been receiving has been enormous.  I think it safe to say that the spiritual combat is not yet over.

Alice von Hildebrand Strikes Again!

InsideCatholic just reprinted a 2008 article by philosopher Alice von Hildebrand entitled, "When Is Stupidity a Sin?"  Here's a quote:

When a Catholic gratefully proclaims that the Church has the fullness of revealed truth, this assertion should be wrapped both in humility and gratitude. This is a key to a successful apostolate: "To be possessed by truth" is a clarion call to live it, reflect it, and thereby draw other hungry souls to its beauty.
Read it!

Priceless Irony

A UK court made an excellent ruling today.  A law in the UK, passed by parliament and authorized by the Queen in 2007, prohibited organizations from discriminating against homosexual couples - that is, any service or good, not strictly religious, could not be denied to a homosexual couple if it would be permitted to a hetersexual couple.  A number of dioceses began to spin-off (secularize) their adoption services, etc., so that those agencies could continue doing good work without the Church having to be implicated.  A poor solution by any standards, but an understandable one, too.

The statute contained its own demise, though.  In a selfish bid for special status, the statute included a provision that exempted organizations whose purpose was to serve persons of one particular sexual orientation (the homosexualists of course meant their orientation).  The homosexualist groups wanted this provision included so that they could exclude and refuse to serve heterosexuals.  In an almost inconceivably (these days) fair judgment, the justice who heard a relevant case has ruled today that the same provision provides protection to any organization, provided their mission includes service to only one sexual orientation.  The wicked statute is thus effectively gutted, its heart pulled out right through its own loophole.

Read all about it.

St. Patrick and the Snakes

I am rather inclined by nature to prefer natural explanations to supernatural ones, when it comes to understanding natural events or, for that matter, when it comes to analyzing claims of supernatural phenomena. I also understand the difficulties in interpreting historical accounts written by people more or less willing than myself to believe reports they have heard of the supernatural.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe in miracles as a possibility - and not just the "sunshine is a miracle" sort, either. I have made four pilgrimages to Lourdes and while there, I witnessed what seems to me to be the supernatural healing of a paraplegic. I also have had a couple near brushes with death that have given me great confidence in my guardian angel, whose existence I do not take to be figurative, but very, very real. Realer than my own.

All of this is said by way of disclaimer, because I want also to say that I think the account of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is probably at least somewhat allegorical rather than purely factual in nature.
The Ireland of Patrick's day, the Ireland that enslaved him and the Ireland that the missionary bishop evangelized, was not a nice place. Britain being the edge of Roman civilization, Hibernia (as they called Ireland) was the beginning of the shadows. Beyond that was the dark and brooding North Atlantic, which no man had sailed. The island did not have a government and laws, but had warlords and power. It did not have manorial estates or great cities like those found in the Roman world, but id did have slaves like the Romans had. It did not have elegant priests with elaborate cults to various gods gathered from around the world by explorers and soldiers; no, it had gods of its own, and fearsome priests who conducted deadly and secret rituals. Those fearsome priests fed their fearsome gods with the fearful blood of human victims.

I believe that the snakes in this allegory about St. Patrick represent the evil demons hidden behind the masks provided by the names of those Celtic gods. Wherever those dark gods have been worshiped - Hibernia, Mesoamerica, Phoenicia, and beyond - they have demanded blood, and they have shared a remarkable interest in the blood of virgins and children. The most virginal of virgins (except for the Virgin) and childish of children is, of course, a little baby. No blemish nor spot, on the skin or in the heart - the perfect sacrifice for demons that hate God, that hate goodness, that hate innocence and purity, that hate. I believe they hate babies for this reason, and I believe that they are trying to prevent the final return of Jesus Christ, whom they believe will return as he came the first time: a little child.

St. Patrick, who prayed and fasted, who was unsuccessfully poisoned and burned, who loved his enemies, drove the demons out of Hibernia. I bet the people, living long under those dark shadows, were immediately interested in self-sacrificial love as a, shall we say "viable," alternative to the scheming sacrifice of others that was taught by their own priests. When they saw that immense love in his own person, they were hooked. What is known is that within a few years of his arrival, many average folks and several chieftains in Hibernia had been converted by the ex-slave with the shamrock. He provoked fierce opposition from entrenched religious and political interests in doing so, but by the time he passed to eternal reward, St. Patrick seems to have converted almost the whole darned place. In any event, Hibernia was well on its way to becoming Ireland. Ireland is not the First Daughter of the Church (that is France), nor the Finest Flower of Catholic Culture (I am going to award that title to Italy), nor the Most Ardent Defender of the Faith (let's say Spain, which conquered the Moors). But I will say that Ireland, her recent religious malaise aside, is perhaps of all rocky and cracked places, the country with the most tenacious faith.

St. Patrick did that.

Think of our country. We have immense potential and tremendous accomplishments. We unfortunately have a recent fascination with solving our problems by killing them. Even our littlest little "problems" get killed without quarter or mercy by our modern, scientific, medical and judicial priesthoods. Our country is, I believe, in the feverish and menacing grip of very wicked spirits. They pervert our leaders, enchant our spokespeople, drowse our people, mutilate our laws, and are eroding our nation in so many ways.
St. Patrick might very well be a powerful intercessor for us.  Think on that over your drinks tonight.

St. Patrick, please drive away the snakes from our nation. Amen.

Archbishop Chaput Weighs In...

Archbishop Chaput of Denver wrote a column in his diocesan newspaper yesterday clarifying the position of the U.S. Bishops with respect to the current Obamacare baby-killing governmental power grab:

The Church in America opposes it, unambiguously and for several reasons.  Read all about it.

Better Late than Never

The following is a shorter version of yesterday's Laetare Sunday homily: Authentic Christian Joy

We celebrate Laetare Sunday as a day of rejoicing in the midst of Lent. The Church gives us this oasis in the midst of our Lenten journey to remind us to keep our eyes focused on the goal of Easter. Our goal is the joy of the Resurrection. Authentic Christian joy is counter cultural; it goes against what the loudest segments of our culture tell us we should be searching for. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a great illustration of the difference between authentic Christian joy and the cheap substitute that our culture often feeds us.

The Prodigal Son is searching for happiness and joy. He just doesn't know how to go about finding it. He makes three major mistakes that eventually lead him to the pig pen. The first one is that he separates himself from the family in search of freedom. Freedom is great, he just has the wrong idea of it. He sees it as a getting rid of restrictions so he can do what he wants. Freedom for the Prodigal Son means setting himself up as his own moral authority. What he doesn't understand is that freedom separated from objective truth leads to slavery. He'll get there eventually.

The second major problem with his search for joy is that he is greedy and possessive. "Give me my share of the inheritance," he demands. In the Prodigal Son's mind, the more he has, the happier he'll be. Does that message sound familiar?

His third major problem is that his ultimate goal is pleasure. Pleasures are great, and our culture offers us an innumerable amount of them, but if we set them up as the thing to be sought after, we'll be miserable. First of all, pleasure is fleeting, and secondly, it tends to consume us and our energies. Sure enough, the Prodigal Son's search for pleasures absolutely consumes him and all his possessions. Welcome to the pig sty.

What happens next is a work of pure grace. The words of the Gospel are powerful: "he came to his senses." This is where is journey toward true joy begins. The same is true for each one of us. We find joy when we see reality as it really is. C.S. Lewis said our challenge throughout life is to see what's really real. The Prodigal Son's about to find out what's really real.

Whereas freedom meant separating himself from the family and becoming his own moral authority, the Prodigal Son now finds that true freedom is in the family and living by the rules of the household. But it's more than that. True freedom consists in surrendering himself to the Father: "Treat me as one of your hired hands." St. Paul makes this point explicitly when he said, "Be slaves of Jesus Christ." The paradox is that when we give ourselves completely to God, we become freer than we could ever imagine.

Whereas he thought possessions would make him happy, now he finds that the love of the Father makes him truly happy. When he lived his life of dissipation, people loved him because of what he had; now as he returns to the Father with absolutely nothing, he realizes he's loved for who he is. When we understand this point, we'll be able to be truly detached from possessions, whether we have many or few. The only thing that really matters is the love of the Father.

Whereas he thought that the goal of life was pleasure and that pleasure meant joy, now he understands that the joy of reincorporation into the love of the Father demolishes that notion. He is swallowed up in the love of that Father--the cloak, the ring, the fatted calf, the party with all the household (come on big brother!). Our true joy consists in relishing in that same love of God for us in the midst of the community that is the Church.

Just as the final joyous state of the Prodigal Son is dependent upon his reconciliation with the Father, so our joy is as well. The Church offers us the chance to receive sacramental reconciliation, especially in this season of Lent. I think you'll find that your joy is associated with how seriously you take this offer.

Dear Young People II

Dear young people, do not be content with anything less than the highest ideals!  Do not let yourselves be dispirited by those who are disillusioned with life and have grown deaf to the deepest and most authentic desires of the heart.  The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living.  Refuse to sell your dreams cheaply.  Watch out for the dangerous ways that lead to passing joys and satisfaction.  Deepen your relationship with God through prayer.  Prayer spreads Divine energy.  It makes us live in a new way and gives rise to a revolutionary evangelical style.

State Nullification is Back

For those of you who are unaware, there is a constitutional law concept called "state nullification."  What it is, in a nutshell, is the theory that a state has the right, as the source of authority and the basic unit of governance in the United States, to void a federal law within its boundaries.  Nullification was a big deal before the Civil War, especially in the 1830s.  The question was settled by the Civil War.  The federal government's in charge.  That's it.

Until now.

Different theories of nullification have existed from the beginning.  The most plausible one says basically, "Hey, we've got this Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
So therefore, if a power is not delegated to the federal government, but reserved to the respective states, then if the federal government tries to use that power, a state should have override within its boundaries, because the power is reserved to the state."

Now, with the healthcare reform effort becoming more and more divisive and partisan, and more and more expensive (remember when it was supposed to be budget neutral?), states are fighting back to protect their citizens from this economic trainwreck-in-the-making as best they can.  Read this New York Times article to see how Virginia is leading the way.

So why is this appearing on a blog dedicated to the spiritual life?  Well, simply, because I believe that we are being lied to.  We are (were) being told it will cost nothing, when in reality it will add to the mounting debt that is literally going to enslave our children and grandchildren to foreigners who do not live near them or care about them.  We are being told it will not damage the private sector, but "rein it in."  In reality, it will destroy the insurance industry that has served most of us reasonably well for decades, leaving only government programs to help us - DMV-style and at massive expense.  Further government involvement in private life will further replace family and community bonds of charity, and seemingly absolve those who neglect the need of their family and neighbors.  Lastly, and perhaps most deviously, I believe that the American people is being deliberated manipulated emotionally to make this government expansion possible - they are playing to our real hard feelings about people we've known who've needed treatment and - many times for reasons not actually related to lack of coverage - been unable to get it.  They are offering us a health-panacea.  For materialists, who believe there is nothing beyond this life, health is the highest good, and a panacea is the key to happiness.  They are essentially promising, in so many words, heaven - or a piece of it - on earth.  They are doing so without reference to Christ, our only real hope of real salvation.  The government is proposing itself as a provider, as a caretaker, as a father.  It is setting itself up increasingly over and against Christ.  That's not good.

We need to pray very hard for our country.  We Christians need to lead the way in depoliticizing this issue so that we can look for creative ways to extend our society's immense resources to those who go without basic needs met - ways that will not further empower a massive, inefficient, power-hungry government bureaucracy - ways that will actually address the real problems of real people.

What's Going On With This Blog?!

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the erratic and infrequent posts of late.  I am pretty excited about the cause of my recent unreliability in posting.

Without Having Seen is moving to a new home and a new platform.

My reasons are multiple, and I'll spare you.  Suffice it to say that I believe the reading experience will be comparable or superior.  At the same time that I am finalizing the blog's code at the new site, I am also recruiting some more writers to add to the base of perspectives offered on this blog.  All these things - plus more stuff at home - have got me busy enough that my blogging has had to take a back seat for a bit.

Please do keep checking in, though.  When the new site is ready, this one will announce the new home and automatically redirect the eager reader there.  In the meantime, thanks for your patience.

Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl is an independent film staring Ryan Gosling.  The movie's central character, Lars, is a man that everyone in his small Minnesota town has decided is just different.  Reclusive and antisocial, but still perfectly civil, Lars goes to work, goes back home, and goes to church, all the time minimizing social contact, and certainly physical contact with other people.  He lives next door to his brother and sister-in-law and even tries to minimize contact with them.  His brother, and presumably much of the town, thinks that he just likes to be by himself.

That is, until Lars orders a girlfriend in a box: a more expensive cousin to the inflatable kind.  When Lars introduces his girlfriend to his brother and sister-in-law, they think he's lost it.  In reality, Lars is just beginning to thaw a little, break out of the long winter of his soul.  As the movie continues and the various personalities unfold, Lars' history and personality begin to unfold as well.  Gosling does an excellent job of offering peeks into his character's heart and mind.  The other members of the community each decide how they are going to respond to Lars' very real delusion about his not-nearly-so-real girlfriend.  The plot thickens as a (real) coworker of Lars makes more obvious her feelings for the oblivious introvert.  Hilarity and poignancy intermingle and flow back and forth throughout this movie.  The simple plot and the somewhat more complex, yet still comprehensible characters show in very natural, concrete, un-preachy terms how mercy leads to healing.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this movie.  I bought it used and can safely say it is one of the best movies I've ever seen, and easily the best $5 I've spent in a full year.  Click the picture to find it on

An Interesting Marriage Proposal...

Msgr. Charlie Pope, of our own Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has an interesting proposal concerning marriage.  No, he's not getting hitched - he's already happily married to Mother Church.  So what's his big idea?  It boils down to this: if the world is going to redefine marriage to suit the homosexualist agenda, then the Church should come up with a new name for what used to be called marriage.

Happily, he has an idea for a new term, or rather, an old term.  HOLY Matrimony.
Click here to read the rest of his marriage proposal.

I Think He Means It

Bart Stupak (D-MI) has been saying all along that he and his ten pro-Democrat colleagues will not collaborate with the expansion of Federal funding for abortion. Nor will they vote for any bill that draws Americans into further material collaboration with that monstrous evil.

Coincidentally, Bart Stupak is a former state trooper, and he kinda looks like it, doesn't he? I mention that, because even though he has also practiced law, state troopers don't strike me as the sorta cats that are given to b.s. and clowning around. You hear him talk, and that kinda comes through. When he says that he and his little caucus aren't going to let abortion expand on their watch, I think he means it.

Keep praying, Christians.

St. Agnes of Bohemia

This life of St. Agnes of Bohemia, whose memorial is today, is taken from

Agnes was the daughter of Queen Constance and King Ottokar I of Bohemia. At the age of three, she was betrothed to the Duke of Silesia, who died three years later. As she grew up, she decided she wanted to enter the religious life.

After declining marriages to King Henry VII of Germany and Henry III of England, Agnes was faced with a proposal from Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. She appealed to Pope Gregory IX for help. The pope was persuasive; Frederick magnanimously said that he could not be offended if Agnes preferred the King of Heaven to him.

After Agnes built a hospital for the poor and a residence for the friars, she financed the construction of a Poor Clare monastery in Prague. In 1236, she and seven other noblewomen entered this monastery. Saint Clare sent five sisters from San Damiano to join them, and wrote Agnes four letters advising her on the beauty of her vocation and her duties as abbess.

Agnes became known for prayer, obedience and mortification. Papal pressure forced her to accept her election as abbess; nevertheless, the title she preferred was "senior sister." Her position did not prevent her from cooking for the other sisters and mending the clothes of lepers. The sisters found her kind but very strict regarding the observance of poverty; she declined her royal brother’s offer to set up an endowment for the monastery.

Devotion to Agnes arose soon after her death on March 6, 1282. She was canonized in 1989.
Agnes was the daughter of Queen Constance and King Ottokar I of Bohemia. At the age of three, she was betrothed to the Duke of Silesia, who died three years later. As she grew up, she decided she wanted to enter the religious life.

After declining marriages to King Henry VII of Germany and Henry III of England, Agnes was faced with a proposal from Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. She appealed to Pope Gregory IX for help. The pope was persuasive; Frederick magnanimously said that he could not be offended if Agnes preferred the King of Heaven to him.

After Agnes built a hospital for the poor and a residence for the friars, she financed the construction of a Poor Clare monastery in Prague. In 1236, she and seven other noblewomen entered this monastery. Saint Clare sent five sisters from San Damiano to join them, and wrote Agnes four letters advising her on the beauty of her vocation and her duties as abbess.

Agnes became known for prayer, obedience and mortification. Papal pressure forced her to accept her election as abbess; nevertheless, the title she preferred was "senior sister." Her position did not prevent her from cooking for the other sisters and mending the clothes of lepers. The sisters found her kind but very strict regarding the observance of poverty; she declined her royal brother’s offer to set up an endowment for the monastery.

Devotion to Agnes arose soon after her death on March 6, 1282. She was canonized in 1989.

Did you catch that? Seven hundred and seven years (707!) from the time she died until Holy Father John Paul II canonized her. Talk about patience! St. Agnes of Bohemia strikes me as a great saint for Lent. She spent much of her life in the secular world doing good for Jesus. She entered a convent that she founded, did not seek prominent position or honors, was a gentle servant, but uncompromising in her devotion to Jesus. This Lent, let's continue to burrow into the interior monastery that God wants us to build in our heart. Let's deepen our devotion to prayer, detachment, and service to the poor.

St. Agnes, Poor Princess of Bohemia, pray for us.

Dies Irae

Dies irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla:
teste David cum Sibylla.
The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the sibyl!
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
How much tremor there will be,
when the judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
through the sepulchres of the regions,
will summon all before the throne.
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.
Death and nature will marvel,
when creation arises,
to respond to the Judge.
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.
When therefore the judge will sit,
whatever hides will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?
What am I, miserable, then to say?
Which patron to ask,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me fons pietatis.
King of tremendous majesty,
who freely savest those that have to be saved,
save me, source of mercy.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.
Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of thy way:
lest thou lose me in that day.
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Seeking me, thou sat tired:
thou redeemed [me] having suffered the Cross:
let not so much hardship be lost.
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
Just judge of revenge,
give the gift of remission
before the day of reckoning.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce, Deus.
I sigh, like the guilty one:
my face reddens in guilt:
Spare the supplicating one, God.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Thou who absolved Mary,
and heardest the robber,
gavest hope to me, too.
Preces meae non sunt dignae:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
My prayers are not worthy:
however, thou, Good [Lord], do good,
lest I am burned up by eternal fire.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.
Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.
Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis:
voca me cum benedictis.
Once the cursed have been rebuked,
sentenced to rancorous flames:
Call thou me with the blessed.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.
I meekly and humbly pray,
[my] heart is as crushed as the ashes:
perform the healing of mine end.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Tearful will be that day,
on which from the ashes arises
the guilty man who is to be judged.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
Spare him therefore, God.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.