Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sweet and Light

Ten years ago, when I first felt the nudge to return to the faith I after thinking in college that I could "write my own ticket" through life, there were some major stumbling blocks.  Chief among them them my own ego.  I was a young, invincible 20-something with a promising military career, and the streak of wanting to do it my own way (that is the motto and anthem of hell, by the way) made the commitment to jump with both feet to a life on God's terms very difficult.

So...I didn't.

Plans to live it up on my turns stifled any ability to listen to God's plans. I thought as long as I could "punch the ticket" on Sunday morning, did a few good deeds here and there, and didn't murder anybody, the rest of life was mine to live as I please.  Needless to say, I was deaf to any calling he was making of me, and even if I had heard it there was no desire whatsoever to carry out someone else's plans, even if that someone did happen to me the Creator and Lord of all things visible and invisible.

Thanks be to god that he quickly broke that status quo and supplied the humility I needed, and has continued with maintenance doses of many and varied forms throughout the past decade of adult life.  I say thanks be to God because, a dose of humility from without is a bitter but necessary pill, to clean and sweep our souls for a true indwelling, and without it, the words spoken by our Lord in this past week's Thursday Gospel would have continued to be nothing but noise and mystery to me:

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11:29-30)

"What? Easy and light?" would have been my response back then. "All these rules and commandments about what I can and can't do, and how I am obligated to love even complete strangers and even my enemies, how I'm supposed to carry a cross through life and accept any struggle, pain, and humiliation that comes with it?  How in the heck is that easy and light? Sounds like a bum deal."

It is only with humility, whether found within (the easy way) or given from without (the hard way) that the sweetness and lightness of the yoke comes comes.  The 14th Century Domincan priest, Father John Tauler (+1361), explained the idea further far better than I ever could:
Now, to what people is this yoke sweet and light, as they accept it and bear it along?  Surely only to those whose thoughts are turned inward in search of God, and quite turned away from all created things.  Children, our souls ever stand on the boundary line between time and eternity.  If we turn toward time, we shall without doubt forget eternity, and soon be led far away from the things of God.  Whatever we see from a distance looks small; whatever we see close at hand looks large, for there is but little intervening space.  Thus the sun is many times larger than the earth, but if reflected in a cup of clear water on a summer's midday it seems no bigger than a little bean, and any little object that should come between the sun and that mirror would be large enough to take away entirely the image of the great luminary.
So it is with a man's soul.  No matter how trifling may be the earthly image he places in the depths of his soul, it is enough to interfere with God's life shining there; the infinite good that God is may easily be hindered from entering and possessing the soul of a man.  And this is equally true when it happens that the image in the soul is not an evil and little thing, but a great and really good thing; it may hinder the entrance of God, who is without any image or intermediary whatsoever.  Know, therefore, for a certainty, that in whatever soul the infinitely good God shall be mirrored, it must be totally freed and emptied of all images; if the soul reflects a single created thing, that is enough to exclude the reflection of God.  All souls who have not established in their very depths this freedom from creatures, who have not uncovered and laid bare before God their innermost recesses, are as yet only scullions in the divine service, and to them God's yoke is bitter.  And, says Origen, the man who has not looked into the deeper depths of his being has a plain sign, that as yet he has not tasted of the eternal sweetness of God....And all who cleanse the mirror of their souls perfectly clear of the images of created things, so that God may pour in the sunlight of his divinity quite unobstructed, to them his yoke is sweet beyond all other possible sweetness.
Indeed.  In case you haven't figured it out yet, the world's yoke is crushing.  Why else in a world where we are supposed to have so much to make us comfortable--and where even the poor among us live better than most of the wealthy did just a few hundred years ago--are so many people, even people of means, so depressed, anxious, and hungry and thirsty for meaning in life.  Why is it that the emptiness and loneliness is sometimes far greater when the trappings are more plentiful, and that the world with its plethora of feel-good psychology, conscience-is-king pop spirituality, and the use of antidepressants has skyrocketed in the last two decades?

We as people being spiritually killed by the yokes we have allowed the world to place around our necks.  For a broken world that sees us not as people longing for answers to the deepest questions of the heart, but as commodities to be bought and sold, all it can offer is temporary, fleeting happiness at best, and at worst (more often than not) disappointment and bitter brokenness.  So, why not try out the yoke that the Master of hearts, the one who can only answer the questions of the heart with truth because by his very nature he is only capable of truth?  Why not let him clean off the mirror of our souls as he desperately wishes to do.  After all, what have we to lose? In the case of the world and what it wishes to take, it is only eternal peace.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Love Without End, Amen

Following on Monday's Post about the crisis of fatherhood, here's the positive side, the simple message of a father's love that's a little more easy on the ears.

"Daddies don't just love their children every now and then...It's a love without end, amen."

The truth, like only George can sing it....

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Crisis in Society is a Crisis of Fatherhood (AudioSancto)

WARNING!!! Includes statements that are non-PC, gender distinct, and highlight rather than diminish the differences in needs between girls and boys that only father in shaping childrens' identity.  "Church of nice" listeners beware!

This is a tremendous sermon by one of our local priests, one of many posted weekly at

Download link:

Here are links to the books referenced by the priest (I have not had a chance to read them yet, but have them on my list and look forward to posting a few more tidbits):

Legacy: A Father's Handbook for Raising Godly Children by Steve Wood 

Father, The Family Protector by James Stenson

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Good of Government by Roger Scruton

The conservative movement in America so often finds itself responding to the tidal wave of progressivism and expansionist government, instead of offering the good and natural (and necessary) function of government.  In this must-read piece, Roger Scruton summarizes the philosophical and natural law origins of conservatism, of the limited-government roots that have made the American experiment so unique, and what conservatives must do to regain the offensive in the culture war.

"Conservatives therefore have an obligation to map out the true domain of government, and the limits beyond which action by the government is a trespass on the freedom of the citizen.  But it seems to me they have failed to offer the electorate a believable blueprint for this, precisely because they have failed to see that what they are advocating is not freedom from government, but another and better kind of government..."
The Good of Government by Roger Scruton - First Things

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day Reflection - When Is It Okay to Disobey?

A happy and blessed Independence Day!

On this 238th birthday of our nation's independence from imperial rule, as we celebrate the blessings of liberty given to us by God and by those who have fought tirelessly to gain and preserve it, I thought I'd get started up again by reposting an oldie-but-goodie from a few years ago (March 1, 2010, to be exact).

In this reflection from the March-April 2010 issue of Catholic Answers (formerly This Rock) magazine, Fr. Frank Pavone reflects on the enormous responsibility of living as a Christian in a free society, and addresses many of the same issues as Dr. King and Pope Benedict XVI (see my previous posts from January 24 and January 31, 2010).  He writes from the same tradition and understanding of the relationship between divine law and human law as St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica and Dr. King in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail (excerpts below).

Please God, let us never forget in the ins-and-outs of the daily political grind, that God's law supersedes any law created by man, always and everywhere, and that it is our responsibility to carry his truth into the here-and-now (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1897-1904 and 2234-2243).

When Is It Okay to Disobey?
Catholics and Civil Disobedience
By Fr. Frank Pavone

Imagine for a moment that a law were passed in our country outlawing attendance at Mass. What would you do? Certainly campaigns would be launched to change the law, to challenge the law in court, and to elect new leaders who would reject such a law. 

But those processes could take years. The question is, what would you do in the meantime? Would you go to Mass anyway? If you are a priest, would you celebrate Mass anyway? Are there times when you would disobey the law and consider that disobedience to be morally justified?

This question goes to the heart of who we are as Christian citizens and of the relationship of the Church to the state.

The King Is Subject to a King
The Old Testament provides an excellent starting point for this question in 1 Samuel 8. The people of God are living on the land the Lord gave them. All around them, other nations are worshipping strange gods and engaging in strange rituals. One of the differences between God’s people and these other nations was that the other nations had a king. The people of Israel were always talking about the Lord, the Covenant, and the Commandments God gave to Moses, but they didn’t have a king.

So one day they go to the prophet Samuel, and ask, “Would you give us a king, please? All the other nations around us have a ruler that leads them into battle and fights their wars and provides for them, and we don’t have a king.” Samuel says, “What are you talking about? The Lord is your king!” “Yes, but we want a king like the other nations,” they reply.

So Samuel turns to the Lord, who tells Samuel to grant their request but also to warn the people that they’re going to suffer for it. And several chapters later we read the instructions that Samuel gives to the people. He says to them, "You said to me, no we want a king to rule over us. But the Lord your God was your king and now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked. Behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and hearken to his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God it will be well. But if you will not hearken to the voice of the Lord and rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king." (1 Sm 12:12b-15)

A hierarchy is established: The people obey the king. The people and the king obey the Lord.

If you read through the history of the Old Testament, you’re actually reading the history of two kingdoms interwoven one with another, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). And you soon discover that you are reading theological history. In other words, the events happened, but you are reading them from the perspective of God and understanding the God-related reasons why certain armies won the battles and others lost. 

What Scripture is trying to convey is not the brilliant political strategies or the terrible blunders, but rather the fact that when the people and their king observed and obeyed the Covenant, things went well and God delivered their enemies away from them. But when they—often at the urging of their king and because of his sinfulness—violated the Covenant, God delivered them into the hands of their enemies.

The prophets arrived to admonish the kings and to instruct the people. The role of the prophets is very clear in the Old Testament: to reproach the kings, telling them again that they need to be faithful to the Covenant.

We Have the King’s Responsibilities
You and I are in a position today in America that gives us even more responsibility than the prophets had when they spoke to the kings. We too are prophets by our baptism into Christ. We have a prophetic role, not in the sense of telling the future but of speaking the present, interpreting present events in the light of the Word of God. We do it as clergy when we preach, but we all do it as baptized members of the faithful when we bear witness to the Word of God in our daily life. We bear greater responsibility because we have more than just the opportunity to speak to our “kings,” our rulers, those in government authority. We have the opportunity to choose them—an opportunity that the people in the Old Testament never had. We have the power to choose them. And if our system of governance works the way it’s supposed to work, we in fact govern ourselves.

What this means is that all the scriptural responsibilities that God places on the sovereign, on the king, on the ruler, are placed on us! If you read the Bible from the beginning to the end you see a whole series of very serious responsibilities placed on the shoulders of the ruler of the people. The ruler of the people was to do justice, reaffirm the Covenant, lead the people in the ways of the Lord, promote peace, defend life, and rescue the poor and the widow. All of the responsibilities of the sovereign and their people are now on us. We don’t only have the responsibility that belongs to the people; we have the responsibility that belongs to the sovereign because of our ability, our opportunity to take part in the political process.

The Church’s Yes and No
What, then, does the Church think about the state? Historically, beginning with Jesus himself, it has said to governments at the same time yes and no. And the Church maintains a delicate balance between her yes and her no. In his book, Church and State in Early Christianity, Hugo Rahner writes, “The Church has never confronted the state with a ‘no’ of inflexible refusal dictated by another worldly mysticism or with a ‘yes’ of unqualified acceptance based on political indifference. The Church of the martyrs with a sure political instinct illuminated by grace knew how to find a balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no.’”

Let’s look more closely at that yes and no.

First, the Church says a profound yes to the state, and this is rooted in a very simple fact: All authority, all power, comes from God. Therefore obeying earthly, civil authority becomes part of our obedience to God.

Scripture is filled with examples of this. Perhaps one of the most striking is in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Even when the state and the powers of civil authority are persecuting believers, believers are exhorted to be good citizens. We read that God’s people are being taken into exile in Babylon. Yet they’re not told to create a revolution. They’re not called to overthrow the Babylonians. What are they called to do? 

Thus says the Lord of hosts, to the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives, have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there, do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer 29:4-7)

Seek the welfare of the city even if the city is holding you in exile.

We’re even more familiar with the New Testament exhortations. Peter, for example says:

Maintain good contact among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers they may see your good deeds and glorify God . . . Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors . . . Honor all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Pt 2:12-13, 17) 

And then of course we find the exhortation to pay taxes and the example of Jesus paying the temple tax and taking the coin out of the mouth of the fish to do so.

So to put it simply, the fact that we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) does not give us the right to ignore our duties as citizens of earth. One of the old criticisms of religion is that because we focus on the world to come we are less concerned about this one. But the Church’s teaching has always been very clear: Preparing for the world to come makes us more concerned about this one. After all, we want to spend eternity with the person next to us. God is preparing for us new heavens and a new earth—not some kind of totally disconnected world that has nothing to do with the things that go on in this life. 

Nonetheless, the Church also says a clear no to the state. That no is grounded in the very nature of a kingdom not of this world. When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36). When Jesus was asked, “Is it lawful to pay the tax to Caesar? ,” notice what Jesus does in response. He asks whose image and inscription are on the coin. They say “Caesar’s.” “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he tells them (that’s the yes to the state) “but give to God what is God’s” (that’s the no; see Mt 17:24-27, 22:17-21). In other words there’s something higher here. There’s a duty to be given. Now, from where does that duty flow? Think of what he said. The coin belongs to Caesar because it bears the image of Caesar, so give it to him. But “give to God what belongs to God.” That belongs to God which bears the image of God, namely human beings—including Caesar himself! So Christ establishes the framework. Caesar himself belongs to God. The state itself belongs to God.

The Church has always taught that the state does not contain the fullness of human hope or embrace the totality of human existence. The state exists for the human person, not the other way around. Our destiny, ultimately, is the new heavens and the new earth. So we can never put our ultimate hope and trust in what the state can do for us. In this consists the Church’s no to the state. It frees us from the myth of some kind of political salvation. The Church is the first to say that we are not asked to put ultimate hope and trust in any political party, candidate or system. Those things do play a key role but never merit our ultimate hope or trust. Our destiny is not comprised by this world alone. 

That does not mean, however, that we can shirk our responsibilities. We can’t walk away saying, “Oh, we can’t rely on those people anyway; they’re all crooked, they never keep their promises.”

God’s Law Comes First
In this context, then, we can return to the question with which we began. What would we do if a law were passed in our country outlawing attendance at Mass?

Hopefully, we would have the courage to disobey it. 

The Catechism asserts in its own words the Church’s yes and no to the state in sections 1897-1904 and again in 2234 to 2243. It explains that we are “resident aliens.” Our citizenship is in heaven, and only there is our ultimate loyalty. Hence, if that loyalty conflicts with our loyalty to civic authority, loyalty to God must prevail.

Having said this, the Catechism then explicitly talks about the proper role civil disobedience can play, if circumstances warrant. We have to obey authority, it reminds us. But the role of authority “is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society” (1898). Sometimes authority will fail in doing so.

It explains such a circumstance in this way:

Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility: A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence. (1902)

Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse. (1903)

Our duty in such cases is explained a bit later in the Catechism:

The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men”:

When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel. (2242)

The Right to Life
In our day, the most egregious example of the failure of civil authority to maintain the common good and protect human rights is in the legalization of abortion and euthanasia. Applying the Catechism’s teachings, Pope John Paul II wrote at length about civil disobedience in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):

Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pt 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. “They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God” (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God—to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty—that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rv 13:10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it. (EV 72, 73)

Surveying these teachings briefly, we find that the Church first of all calls us to do everything we can within the law to correct injustices. That is why we must be politically active and fully utilize our democratic system to change laws that fall short of the very purpose of law.

Secondly, when circumstances justify acting outside the law, we are never justified in committing acts of violence or otherwise violating human rights. Moreover, in judging whether circumstances for civil disobedience prevail, we have to exercise the virtue of prudence and always seek the guidance of others so that we do not rely solely on our own judgment.

Finally, it is clear that civil disobedience is not in any way disrespect for the law, because unjust laws are not bad laws, but no laws at all. Defending human rights in peaceful ways outside “the law” is ultimately a form of defense of and respect for the law. Civil disobedience, in defense of human rights, is actually divine obedience.

No Longer Law but a Perversion of It

As Augustine says (De Libero Arbitrio i, 5) “that which is not just seems to be no law at all”: wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above. Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.
Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions; e.g. that “one must not kill” may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that “one should do harm to no man”: while some are derived therefrom by way of determination; e.g. the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.
Accordingly both modes of derivation are found in the human law. But those things which are derived in the first way, are contained in human law not as emanating therefrom exclusively, but have some force from the natural law also. But those things which are derived in the second way, have no other force than that of human law.
—Summa Theologiae I-II:95:2
Bound to a Higher Law

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. . . . One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.  Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. . . .
—Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Fr. Frank Pavone is founder of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, a society of apostolic life dedicated to the formation and training of priests, deacons, brothers, and seminarians who will devote themselves fully to the proclamation of the gospel of life. He is also the national director of Priests for Life, an officially approved association of Catholic clergy who give special emphasis to the pro-life teachings of the Church. Contact Priests for Life at