Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Armies Gathering

A great, though-provoking, and ultimately encouraging spot from the never-mince-truth folks at RealCatholicTV. Whether we like it or not, the armies of good and evil are gathering and the battle lines have been drawn through our culture for the makings of, as host Michael Voris puts it, a "spiritual nuclear war." Anyone who would deny it need only read the news headlines each day and re-examine the corollary passage to the one that inspired me to start this blog, Ephesians 6:10-19.

We frequently think of Mary's queenship as being that of a tender, nurturing mother, but seldom as a fearsome, terrifying leader of Christ's army (for those who oppose him). But the reality, as the host points out, is that in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, she is first introduced in Scripture in terms of enmity.

"For those in her loving protection, she is the sweetest of all blessings, but for those who refuse to love her and reject her Son, she is the most fearsome of all enemies....What we have as Catholics is the most fearsome and awesome queen to have ever led an army into battle."

Mary, Our Lady, Queen of Victory, pray for us!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Liberty, Slavery, Life and Death

In today's world, we find ourselves in a place and time where the words "liberty" and "freedom," so long cherished in the American tradition, have become horribly twisted and disfigured to mean the freedom to do whatever we want.  But, as the second reading from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Calendar C) reminds us, the freedom to choose is only a half of the equation that Christ gives us through his life, death, and Resurrection.

Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.

But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.

I say, then: live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
St Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that free will also comes with a very certain set of instructions attached:  it is not for us to use "as an opportunity for the flesh," but rather as an opportunity to choose to serve one another in love and, in doing so, to demonstrate our love for God.  To choose the selfless, servant love that God intended and Christ modeled for us, is the reason that he died to secure our liberty from the eternal slavery of sin and death.  If we use that freedom to choose otherwise--to serve ourselves and "the desire of the flesh," we violate the purpose of the liberty, which leads right back into the only alternative: the slavery from which we were ransomed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feast of St. Thomas More

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More.  His life as devoted husband, father, lawyer, and politician, remains a shining example of how all laypersons are called to live holy lives, and a reminder in times of political turmoil and political correctness that statesmanship, when practiced with integrity and devotion to truth, meshes seamslessly with faith and becomes a distinct path to holiness.  As the Holy Father spoke of his life and martyrdom, "His profound detachment from honors and wealth, his serene and joyful humility, his balanced knowledge of human nature and of the vanity of success, his certainty of judgment rooted in faith: these all gave him that confident inner strength that sustained him in adversity and in the face of death. His sanctity shone forth in his martyrdom, but it had been prepared by an entire life of work devoted to God and neighbor."

Universal Church to honor life and witness of St. Thomas More - CNA

St. Thomas More - New Advent

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Reality and Insanity of Sin

Sin. Hell. They are such ugly words.  Unfortunately, they are words that have largely made their way out of our vocabulary as Christians.  I say "unfortunately" because they are a very necessary part of our dialogue about who we are as people, why we need a savior, and the final reality of where we will spend eternity after the chapter of our life on this earth has been closed.

First, let's reflect on the nature of sin.  Sin, by definition, is an offense against God, a "missing the mark" if you will.  I'll spare the recap of Adam and Even and the Fall (although it doesn't hurt to read back through Genesis 3 once in a while).  Suffice it to say that Adam and Eve chose to sin; it was not some otherworldy curse of human existence that God inflicted upon them.  He put the choice before them, yes; otherwise there would have been no opportunity for them to demonstrate their love for him through their obedience.  But the action of choosing their own will and placing it above God's commandment, at the behest of the evil one--the serpent--was their own.  They chose to put themselves before God, and in doing so opened the door for sin and death to enter the world.

Fast-forward to today.  The same choice is placed before each of us numerous times daily, where we have the choice to obey the commands of a loving Father who knows far better than we do what is best for us, or to ignore that infinite love and choose instead what best suits us for the moment.  Regrettably, we choose every day--and multiple times--to follow in the legacy of our parents.  The reality of sin, along with its consequences of death and eternal separation from God, remain.  We, living in the shadow of the fall and left to our own devices, would be in a very sad state of affairs.

Sin is very real, and you'd better believe Satan is just as hard at work in the world today as he was in the Garden.  He's just as good today at convincing us that we can make the rules for ourselves.  It's not a pleasant thought, but the consequence of ignoring and refusing to face the reality is even worse.  If we refuse to acknowledge the stranglehold that sin and death in their many forms have on humanity, then we also refuse to acknowledge the necessity of Christ, who through his obedient and sinless life reversed our choice to put self-will before the will of God, and in suffering and dying satisfied the "wages of sin."  As St. Paul put it so well in his Letter to the Philippians:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NAB)
In Baptism, we are given the gift and privilege of taking on his name, of calling ourselves Christians.  We are given full share in the gift of his death and the glory of his Resurrection, and look forward to the day when we might share fully in the glory and love of eternal life with him.  Being invited to be a co-heir with Christ (cf Romans 8:16-17) sounds like a pretty good gift to me.  In fact, I can't imagine a better gift than that, perhaps because there isn't one.
It can only work if we first acknowledge the reality of our own sin, confess it, and repent from it.  Without the ongoing confession and repentance, and the obedience that necessarily follows, our hearts cannot be open to receive the gift.  It's not that it ceases to be offered, it's that we literally push it back at Christ, slam the door in his face with a "no thanks pal," continue to try to make the rules for ourselves, and forfeit our inheritance of eternal life for the muck of sin, death, and eternal separation from him who is Goodness and Truth.  I don't know about you, but to me that choice sounds pretty insane.

A Lesson Missed in the Gulf Oil Spill (Update)

In last week's post, I lamented that we had missed a key lesson in the midst of the oil spill disaster that is continuing to play out in the Gulf; that we had forgotten that, ultimately God is in control of all things and that in the grand scheme of his physical creation, we are frail and limited participants.

The headline this morning on, Louisiana Declares Day of Prayer for Oil Spill, made me realize that, even as secularized and anti-God as our society has become, the lesson may not be totally lost.  Perhaps it should not have taken 62 days to resolve for an ecumenical day of prayer, but as in the case of Nineveh, when turning toward God for help, it is better to come late than never.  We can only pray now for the grace to remember that he will give us the ability to end the disaster in his time, not ours, lest we should make the mistake of shaking our fist at him when immediate relief does not come.

Update (June 27) - Father Barron posted a great spiritual reflection, entitled "Current Events: The Spiritual Value of the BP Oil Leak " at the Word On Fire blog.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Lesson Missed in the Gulf Oil Spill

This past week I had the chance to overfly some of the oil slicks that are washing ashore in the Gulf region.  The sight of hundreds of acres of oil slick looming just off the coast was daunting, and dwarfed the few shrimp boats that had been sent out to begin skimming.  Then, this morning, as I was browsing through a slideshow of the pictures from the devastating mess that the whole thing has turned out to be, it finally sunk in that this is a disaster that, right now, has no end in sight, and that will likely take decades--if not longer--for the region to recover from.

In the midst of all the blame and finger pointing between the government and BP, debate about how we ought to try to cope with the immediate consequences of the disaster while maintaining the supply of oil that is the lifeblood of our entire socio-economic structure, and starting to collect lessons learned to prevent future incidents of this magnitude, we have overlooked one critical lesson.  It is one that our secular society, would dare not mention, for fear of admitting that we human beings are very far from having it all under control.  The disaster, and all disasters like it where man encounters the abruptness and unforgiving tendencies of nature, is a stark reminder of how little control we have over the world around us, and even of our own existence.  It is so easy to go about the ho-hum of our daily lives feeling like we are in control of our immediate circumstances, of our comings and goings, and that in some obscure sense that the future--tomorrow, and each day after it--are somehow "owed" to us.

The reality is that we are still living in exile from the garden, in the shadow of the fall.    While the God of the Universe, who loves us infinitely, certainly holds creation and the circumstances of our lives completely within his grasp, those circumstances, including whether or not we take our next breath or see the sun rise on tomorrow, are no more in our control than the millions of gallons of oil that have been gusing into the Gulf each day.  In fact, they are less so.  We will eventually get the spill contained and recover from the damage done, but because of our sin we must struggle every day to surrender the uncertainty of our lives and of the human condition to the one who does know and control all things.  Nothing during our brief time on earth is promised us, save one thing: Christ's promise that (1) he is with us always, and (2) if we remain faithful, he will see us through our end on this earth to the unimaginable joy of eternity with him.  The reality of that promise is one that often escapes our consciousness, but we can rest with greater assurance of it than of our expectation that the world will keep turning and the sun will rise tomorrow.  Without it we are left utterly hopeless

As the words of Psalm 46 remind us, "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountaints shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.  The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." (Ps. 46: 1-3).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Joy Delights in the Beloved

This Rock Magazine (Catholic Answers' bi-monthly magazine of Catholic Apologetics and Evangelization) continues to stun me with the quality of their articles.  The current issue (May-June 2010; Volume 21, Number 3), which I had the pleasure of reading today during a 10-hour flight, was no different.  It contained a handful of powerfully written and pertinent articles, and one in particular, like Father Frank Pavone's article When It Is Okay to Disobey from the March-April 2010 issue, was one I could not help but share.

Professor Anthony Esolen's article, Joy Delights in the Beloved, is not yet available on the 2010 forum as of this posting, but below are some excerpts that will hopefully give you a good enough preview that you'll want to read it for yourself.  In his article, Esolen draws on his expertise as the editor and translator of the Modern Library edition of Dante's Divine Comedy to contrast Dante's portrayal of true, timeless joy and beauty (in Purgatorio and Paradiso) with the cheap counterfeit of temporal and material satisfaction that secular society would have us swallow instead.  Commenting on the manner in which secular society seeks to reduce the depthless wonder and beauty of the unique and irreplaceable human being, created in the image and likeness of an infinitely beautiful, good, and unfathomable God, to the level of a mechanically functioning machine, Esolen writes:

If I am right, then we might define contemporary secularism as the cultural analogue to a machine.  Imagine the vast and intricate stainless steel contraption used to print a little "m" on pieces of candy, hundreds at a time, indistinguishable from one another.  There is nothing veiled about it.  It is reducible to a blueprint, frank and simple.  It is naked metal.  It does what it is supposed to do.  More to the point, it does not do what it is not supposed to do.  It will not surprise.  It will not muse about the past...It does not fear the future, the day of judgement...
It is only a machine.  The trouble is that man does not only fashion machines for his purposes; he too often fashions himself after the purposes of his machines.  That is especially true of the contentment offered by the secular state, and its subordinate machinery in the schools and what is tellingly called the entertainment "industry."  If man is conceived in the mechanistic terms, then the best we can do with him is to make him predictable--to strip him bare of mystery--and engineer the public domain so that what is left of his personality will be reasonably content.  What is offered to man instead of the genuine adventure of joy and abundance of life is a managed, planned satisfaction of material desires.
He continues, again contrasting the false joy of the secular world with the veiled and gradually-revealed true joy--a life lived "more abundantly" (cf. John 10:10)--that God, through the person of Christ, offers us by welcoming us into eternal communion with himself.  In Dante's allegory, this welcoming was represented in the character of Dante's beloved Beatrice, who remains veiled to both Dante and his guide, Virgil, as she leads them through the joy of anticipation in Purgatorio to the threshold of the fulfillment of joy, knowledge of the inexpressible beauty of the unveiled Godhead in Paradiso:
But we grow used to treating persons as if they were mechanisms, and the things of the world as if they were inert matter, manipulable according to our wish.  That secularism which reduces one's fellow man to a chemical machine lays bare the natural world, as if the blade of grass were no more than a sunlight-converter.  In such a world turned wrong-side out...we close off the possibility of joy, and our awareness of God recedes into numbness.  The false familiarity whereby we think we know what a star analogous to the demand, among some radical secularists, that God become the object of that same false familiarity, else we shall not believe in him.
and later:
Whenever God shows himself, he necessarily also veils himself, and if we isolate any such showing and take it as final and definitive, we risk falling before an idol, with presumption and despair soon to follow.  God not only must remain infinitely beyond our power to grasp, but, by his love for us and our answering love for him, we cannot wish it otherwise, just as Dante could never wish to come to an end of the light of Beatrice's beauty.
Pick up a copy or subscribe to This Rock to read the full article or a variety of others.  I hope that they will remind you, as they have reminded me, of the unfathomable beauty and depth of our faith.