Author Archives: Brian

The Intercommunion Controversy and Exodus – August 13, 2018

http://graphics-remarkable.com/storytelling/?share=twitter The German bishops are keeping at it. They are pushing the controversial agenda of intercommunion in certain instances for “mixed marriages” of Catholics with Protestant spouses. Accordingly, the German bishops published guidelines entitled: “Walking with Christ – tracing unity. Inter-denominational marriages and sharing the Eucharist.” It was released even after Pope Francis had sent a letter, via Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J. to Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishop’s Conference, in order to stop its publication. The guidelines argue that Protestant spouses should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, because it may cause “grave spiritual distress” to the spouse and the marriage if they are not permitted to do so. The German bishops plan to continue pushing the measure at the bishop’s conference plenary assembly in September.

However, as Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has argued, interdenominational marriage “does not represent a situation of ‘grave and pressing need.'” He further reflected: “Whoever wants to receive the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ must already be integrated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, through the confession of faith and sacramental baptism. Thus, there is no mystical, individualistic, and emotional communion with Christ that can thought of apart from baptism and the Church membership.” This follows the guidelines of the Catechism: “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.’ It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible.” (CCC 1400) Or, in other words, only a person who is in full communion with the Catholic faith is permitted to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Then, there is the question of Canon Law 844, paragraph 4, which “provides for the giving of Holy Communion to a non-Catholic who has no access to his own minister and who manifests the Catholic faith, if he is in danger of death, or in the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop or Conference of Bishops, another grave necessity warrants it.” The German bishops are using this as a kind of sacramental loophole. Yet, as Cardinal Raymond Burke points out, this exception is meant specifically for emergency, near-death situations. He recommends revising this paragraph, because of “its lack of clarity which has led to many contradictory practices in the matter of ‘intercommunion.'”

There are other, older, antecedents found in scripture to this idea of intercommunion. The Book of Exodus sheds light on the present controversy regarding the Paschal mystery. After all, the Paschal mystery originated in Exodus, as a sketch of things to come. After the original Passover, the Israelites were permitted to leave Egypt. Yet, it was not just the Jews who departed but: “A mixed multitude also went up with them.” (Ex. 12:38) Like the present controversy involving “mixed marriages,” the Israelites came out of Egypt as a “mixed multitude,” meaning they were not all practicing Jews. They were outside the Israelites’ covenantal bonds with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was at the dramatic scene at Mount Sinai that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were established as annual, obligatory feasts as part of the Covenant. Later, apparently, some of the non-Jews of the mixed multitude, in the midst of the Israelite congregation, wanted to partake also of the Passover lamb and Unleavened Bread – prefigurements to the Eucharist and the Mass. How would Yahweh respond?

Yahweh declares: “no foreigner shall eat of it.” (Ex. 12:43) No foreigner, meaning no one outside of the covenantal seal, shall partake of it. If someone does want to partake in the Passover, Yahweh tells them to be “circumcised, then he may come near and keep it.” That is, He tells them to become Jews and observe the commands of the Law, to worship God “as a native of the land.” Basically, God tells the mixed multitude to convert and join the covenant. Only then, can they participate. God is adamant that there will be “one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Yahweh does not give allowance for anyone outside the covenantal relationship.

Yahweh further declares: “In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house.” Just as none of the Passover meal should be eaten outside of the Jewish house, so too, the Eucharist should not be carried outside of the one holy Catholic Church. Even if one is baptized, the seal of the New Covenant (like circumcision in the Old), as Protestants are, the Eucharistic prerogative remains: it shall be eaten in one house, and none of its flesh shall be taken outside the house, that is, the faith of the Church. Communion should be given only to Catholics within the one Catholic Church.

This is the Fathers’ interpretation too. St. Cyprian said of this verse: “The flesh of Christ and the holy thing of the Lord cannot be cast out. The faithful have no home but the one church.” And: “The faith of the divine Scripture manifests that the church is not outside and that it cannot be rent in two or divided against itself, but that it holds the unity of an inseparable and invisible house. It is written concerning the rite of the Passover: “It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of its flesh outside the house.” St. Jerome likewise wrote, “All such efforts are only of use when they are made within the church’s pale. We must celebrate the Passover in the one house.” In other words, St. Jerome confirms the parallelism of the Passover as the Mass, and the one house as the Catholic Church.

The prefiguring shadow of the Eucharist inundated the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings. God was not subtle with His symbology. When the Israelites were hungry in the Sinai wilderness, God rained down bread from heaven for them to eat for forty years. When the Israelites saw it, they said, “What is it?” And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” Later, the Israelites murmured against God and Moses saying “we loathe this worthless food.” In response, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If God punished such murmurings against perishable manna, how then can non-Catholics be allowed to partake in the new manna of the Holy Eucharist while deeming it “worthless food?”

In His Bread of Life discourse, the new Moses, Jesus, addressed directly a similar grumbling. He said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever.” Some of the disciples murmured against the Eucharist saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” Yet, Jesus did not soften His speech, rather He declared more forcefully: “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.” Jesus forced the issue: “Do you take offense at this?” His disciples had to decide whether it was “worthless food” or not. There is no middle ground to the Real Presence. Many could not accept it, for after this “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” It is immediately following this episode too, perhaps not coincidentally, that Judas is revealed as Jesus’ betrayer. Indeed, the Real Presence is pivotal to the faith.

As Catholics receiving the Eucharist, we can answer the Israelites’ question from the desert, “what is it?” with rather another question, “who” is it? We can affirm, “It is our Jesus.” The psalmist wrote, “Man ate of the bread of the angels.” If this was just a shadowy wisp of the reality to come, how much holier is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in our new manna? How can the German bishops allow admittance to the Bread of Life by those who also deny it? As St. Paul addressed the gravity of this situation: “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Instead of catering to emotions and false-ecumenicalism, the German bishops should affirm the sacredness of the sacrament and invite them to a conversion of faith.

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Gaudete et Exsultate Impressions – April 30, 2018

The message of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) is one that deserves to be read.  I very much like the spirit of the message of the universal call to holiness for all Christians regardless of their state in life and vocation.  This is a good teaching reaffirming the statements from the Second Vatican Council “.. all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father Himself is perfect.” (LG, 11)  We can unite our whole lives, in our daily thoughts and actions, to the life of Christ. I appreciate his mentioning of St. Josemaria Escriva’s call to become “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”  This is a beautiful call to holiness.

On the other hand, as others have critiqued the document, there are a number of unnecessary “distractions” in it.  These are the apparent rhetorical jabs at more conservative, traditional-minded Catholics.  It is beneath the office of the Pope and against the unity of the Body of Christ to segregate the Church into separate political pockets.  The Church is bigger and better than that.  The Church is transcendent, not political.  Nevertheless, she is a diverse, big-tent community.  The idea of scolding certain types of Catholics is ultimately not helpful and only deepens divisions.

Critics have pointed in the document to his discussion on Gnosticism and Pelagianism.  These were two ancient heresies that he warns have snuck back into the Church.  Gnosticism was an ancient heresy that the body and physical realm  are evil, and it was only through secret spiritual knowledge that one attains salvation.  Pelagianism was a heresy that one can “earn” salvation through good works rather than the gratuitous sanctifying grace from Christ.  Thus, it diminished Christ’s Cross and His gift to us for our salvation.

Pope Francis criticizes a group of Christians as “new Pelagians.”  These new Pelagians have “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern with the Church’s liturgy . .” He adds, “some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting” that “appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures,” rendering the Church “fossilized, or corrupt,” a “museum piece.”  This is reminiscent of a similar condemnation of neo-Gnosticism and neo-Pelagianism in the February 2018 letter titled Placuit Deo put forth by The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  The letter states: “Both neo-Pelagian individualism and the neo-Gnostic disregard of the body deface the confession of faith in Christ, the one, universal Savior.” And, “The salvation that God offers us is not achieved with our own individual efforts alone, as neo-Pelagianism would contend.”

Jesus did warn us about the pharisaical practice of following the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.  I think this must have been Pope Francis’ intention.  This is a good point, which we should all fully absorb to avoid too much rigidity and scrupulosity in our faith.

On the other hand, why does the Vatican seem to go out of its way to scold traditional Catholics?  Are traditionalists really the main problem in the Church today?  Certainly, the bigger issue seems to be those Catholics who have fallen away en masse from the doctrines of the Faith, ignore the social teachings, and ignore the sacraments of the Church.  I would posit that, in fact, it is these Christians who fit better with the neo-Gnostic and neo-Pelagian labels.  Liberal Catholics are much more likely to be the ones who want an ambiguous, individualized Christianity free of specific doctrines and dogmas, and free to determined one’s own personalized enlightenment.  This would align much more closely with ancient Gnosticism.  Similarly, a liberal Catholic would be much more willing to say, in a neo-Pelagian way, that they are a “good person,” who doesn’t really need the Church or social doctrines or the sacraments.  In effect, they can do it on their own, earn their own salvation.

The Exhortation spends quite a bit of time highlighting the fact that we cannot earn sanctifying grace, but it is a free gift from God.  We are justified by grace alone.  Obviously, this is true enough. This is the same epithet of Pelagianism, however, that was a common accusation in the Protestant Reformation.  It was a regular critique by Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers against the Church’s emphasis on good works.  Pope Francis’ critics would argue he is echoing the critique of Martin Luther against the Church.

The Exhortation also makes the false equivalence between abortion and the “equally sacred” lives of the poor, destitute, and vulnerable.  It argues that the quality of life of the poor and the migrant has the same moral weightiness as the very life of a human person.  This is a nonsensical untruth.  The quality of life of a poor person, or a migrant, as awful as their circumstances might be, in no way reaches the moral equivalence of exterminating the life of a human being.  This is a misleading liberal trope, usually used by liberal Catholic politicians to hide their unfaithfulness to the Faith. It does not, however, excuse us from the Gospel’s mandate of serving the poor, sick and oppressed, which, as Pope Francis rightly points out, is the measure by which we will be judged.

The Exhortation also lashes out at Christians “caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet . .”  It is no secret that the Vatican has had many recent spats with online conservative blogs, outlets and news organizations.  Some have suggested that the swipe in the Exhortation against “silence” was a personal jab at Cardinal Sarah, who the Vatican has publicly rebuked and his book on The Power of Silence.  The difficulty for many traditional Catholics under this Pope is the perception that he idolizes mercy to such a degree as to make doctrines and dogmas seem elastic, or at worst, irrelevant.  I don’t believe that is true. We shall see over the next few years if this comes to a head with various social issues and synods.  Pope Francis is a good Pope.  But, for all of the pontiff’s wonderful gifts and his humble persona that attracts new people to the Faith, the Church must be able to show mercy without sacrificing truth.

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Holy Confidence in God – April 17, 2018

Goodness of God:
Father Benedict Rogacci (1646-1719) in his book Holy Confidence paraphrases the attitude of the great ascetic monk St. Anthony saying, “none should be sad who awaited the salvation of God and His heavenly kingdom.” This is one of the fundamental themes he stresses in the book. Christians should not be sad and gloomy, despairing of past sins and anxiously questioning their salvation. Rather, we should rejoice in the Lord and in the promise of our salvation. Ours should be a deep-seated spiritual joy befitting the children of God. He cites two models of our converted state of mind: in one, the penitent rightfully bewails having fallen into his past sins and misery; the other, the better way, is to rejoice in amazement at the goodness of God in rescuing him.

The Lord Comes to Us:
God loved us so much that He came down from Heaven to enter the world, and took on a body to suffer for us at Calvary. Now, He remains with us in the hiddenness of the Blessed Sacrament, where He comes to dwell within us in Holy Communion. This intimate love is reminiscent of Solomon’s Song of Songs poetically describing God’s love for His mystical Bride, the Church. In talking with the prophet Elijah at Mount Horeb, God said He would be “passing by.” A strong and heavy wind came by, rending the mountain and crushing rocks, but the “Lord was not in the wind.” Then, there was an earthquake and fire, but the Lord was not in the earthquake and fire. Then, the Lord came to him in a summer breeze with “a tiny whispering sound.” (1 Kgs. 19:12) The Lord comes down in gentleness to meet us.

Abba / Father:
Father Rogacci reminds us of God’s tender affection for His children, as He “found delight in the sons of men.” (Prov. 8:31) The King of Heaven is not like the kings of the earth who lord over their subjects. God is not anxious to preserve His loftiness before us, but approaches us with tenderness. He seeks love, not fear. He does not call us servants but “friends” and “children of God.” Jesus taught us to call God “Abba,” or to address Him as our very own Father. The letter to the Romans says: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Rom. 8:15)

Forgiveness:
God’s whole mission is not to condemn the world but to save souls, desiring that none be lost. He does punish sins, but He does so only to satisfy His perfect justice. He punishes without anger or passion. Sin provokes His pity for us, and He stands ready to blot out our transgressions and remember them no more. (Is. 43:25) We are to avoid mortal sin at all costs, and remain in a state of grace. This is why He has mercifully given us Confession, Absolution and Holy Communion.

Believe and Receive:
How then should we act? Father Rogacci says we should trust in the words of Christ: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) There is nothing more reassuring than these words of Jesus to dispel all doubts. This requires perseverance in our prayer daily. Jesus taught us to believe in our hearts that God will answer all of our prayers, saying, “All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mk. 9:23) St. Peter also tells us to “Cast all your worries upon Him because He cares for you.” (1 Pt. 5:7) Fr. Rogacci continues this idea of ‘believe and receive’ stating: “We should go to Him in all our needs with confidence that He will help us, like the tenderest father or mother we have ever known. We should never fear a refusal or think we are a trouble to Him, but be certain that He is willing to grant with all His heart what we ask.”

Perpetual Dependence:
Sometimes what we ask for may require us to pray for a long time. Fr. Rogacci says this is a good thing. It reminds us that without God we can do nothing. He says: “This necessity of perpetual dependence on Him teaches us our utter powerlessness, our absolute inability of doing any good thing without Him. Nothing is better fitted to humble our pride and give glory to God.” As Jesus said we can do nothing on our own. We are utterly dependent upon the mercy of God and the merits of Jesus Christ. We should not dwell in anxious scrupulosity on our sins, but have a holy confidence in God. Fr. Rogacci recommends imploring God each day with prayer, such as from the Liturgy of the Hours: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.”

Spiritual Joy:
Someone asked Jesus will only a few be saved? “But He answered, ‘Strive to enter in by the narrow gate.'” (Lk 13:24) As Fr. Rogacci points out, this “signifies little to us whether the number of the elect be great or small, but it signifies a good deal that we should do what is necessary to obtain eternal life.” To be saved requires us to persevere in divine grace until our deaths. All of us were like the Prodigal Son who squandered his inheritance from the Father. Yet, with the son’s humble confession before Him, the Father joyously welcomed him back into His house as His son, and as Jesus says, they were “merry.” Fr. Rogacci posits that sadness and depression can be used as weapons of the devil to harm us. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and not always easy. Despite this, as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom, we have an underlying spiritual joy to sustain us. Assured of God’s divine goodness, we can trust in His sanctifying grace. As Jesus told His disciples “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” This is the foundation for our hope and joy.

Holy Confidence:
We are to have a simple holy confidence in our Father in Heaven who hears all that we ask and pray. Fr. Rogacci echoes the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! . . . Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:4-7)

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The Divine Mercy Sunday Promise – 28 March 2018

Eastertime:
It is a wonderful time of year. Spring is here and the opening day of baseball. The weather is becoming nicer and the days longer. Lent has given way to Easter, and the Octave of Easter gives way on the following Sunday to “Divine Mercy Sunday.” It is another great reason to love the season. But, what is so great about Divine Mercy Sunday?

The Promise:
Divine Mercy Sunday may be the greatest day of the year because of the immeasurable amount of grace Jesus promised to pour forth on this day. In the private revelation accepted publicly by the Church, Jesus made a specific promise to Saint Faustina about Divine Mercy Sunday:

“On that day . . . The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” (Diary, 699)

Conditions:
Christ wanted to draw our attention to the immense importance of these two sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion. So much so, that Christ’s promise amounts to offering the graces of a complete pardon, or essentially a second baptism! Jesus reiterated these conditions and promise of a complete pardon at least two other times to her. (Diary, 300 & 1109) The “oceans of grace” available to us on Divine Mercy Sunday can make us anew and give us a fresh start again. We simply have to make a good Confession (such as the Saturday before) and stay in a state of grace up to receiving Holy Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday or the vigil Mass. Jesus requested we also do works of mercy whether deed, word, or prayer.

Opposition:
But, the devotion was not always so. Initially, the Vatican had received erroneous and confusing translations of Sister Faustina’s Diary, and in 1959, censured the devotion and banned her writing. The ban would last 20 years, seemingly fulfilling a prophetic writing in the Diary that her work would “be as though utterly undone.” In 1965, Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow at the time, commissioned one of Poland’s leading theologians, Fr. Ignacy Rozycki, to prepare a critical analysis of the Diary. Then, on April 15, 1978, after receiving Fr. Rozycki’s analysis and a better translation of the Diary, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith lifted the ban. The Congregation’s Nihil Obstat stated: “there no longer exists, on the part of the Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy in the authentic forms proposed by the Religious Sister [Faustina].” Years later, on April 30, 2000, Karol Wojtyla, then Pope John Paul II, canonized Sister Faustina Kowalska and established the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Theandric Christ:
It had been assumed that such an overly generous and merciful grace as the remission of all sins and punishment would be impossible. Yet, any doubt was overcome and the Catholic Church universally embraced the message of Divine Mercy. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out: “Christ’s passion was not merely sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race.” (III.48.2) Since Christ is the divine Son who took on human flesh, all of his actions were “theandric;” that is, they were divine actions manifested in a human body. Consequently, all of His humanly actions were of infinite value and merit, and more than enough to satisfy divine justice for all of humanity. This is why St. Pope John Paul, who had been thinking about Saint Faustina for a long time when he wrote Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”), could say: “This constitutes even a “superabundance” of justice, for the sins of man are “compensated for” by the sacrifice of the Man-God.” (DM, 7) Christ’s superabundance of grace leaves at our disposal an ocean of divine mercy greater than any sin.

Blood and Water:
This is how Christ can promise us on Divine Mercy Sunday a complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. Just as Eve was drawn from Adam’s side while he fell into a “deep sleep,” so too, Christ’s Bride, the Church, was drawn from the blood and water that came from Christ’s side in His crucifixion. In the Divine Mercy image, red and white light is issuing from Jesus’ heart, symbolizing the blood and water of the sacraments for Holy Communion and Baptism. One of the main prayers Jesus taught Saint Faustina was “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” Jesus is asking us to trust in the sacraments of the Church. The power of the Holy Spirit can make us new creations in Christ, particularly if we partake regularly in Confession and Holy Communion. Why not take advantage of Christ’s great promise this Divine Mercy Sunday?

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The Woman and the Two – 27 March 2018

There has been a lot of discussion recently about women, from the “Weinstein Effect” to #MeToo. Misogyny in our culture is on notice, and the idea of womanhood has come to the forefront. In many respects, we have never before seen a moment like this focused on the dignity of women.

Perhaps it is time the modern world should look towards an older idea of womanhood, that which permeates our Catholic faith.

From the very beginning of scripture to the very end we find ‘the woman.’ Christians often quote lines from the Old Testament and the prophets regarding the Savior to come. This is all true, but it is not the whole story. The prophetic announcements tell of two intertwined together on behalf of our salvation. In the first moments in Genesis after the fall, God declares to the wicked serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”

There is some dispute how to best translate the next line in the passage, specifically if it should be “he” and “his” or “she” and “her.” But, St. Jerome in translating this from the ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts chose to translate it as “she” and “her” as the most accurate. The Douay-Rheims translation based on the Latin Vulgate into English renders it “she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This was reaffirmed by other Church Fathers and in Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception as “unmistakable evidence that she crushed the poisonous head of the serpent.”

The effect is the same. The woman through her seed shall crush the head of the serpent. That is, the Virgin Mary through Jesus Christ shall crush the head of Satan. Jesus is the divine Redeemer, and Mary the creature, but the two together crush Satan, and bring hope of eternal life. This is downplayed in our protestantized modern Christianity. The prophet Isaiah talks of the two as well, a virgin who will bear a son. The fall came at the hands of two, and in God’s beautiful symmetry, the restoration also comes at the hands of two.

The Virgin Mary is the masterpiece of God’s creation. She is conceived without sin, the sanctifying grace of her Son applied to her by way of anticipation, but to the rest of humanity by deliverance. She is unique in all of creation. Mary told St. Bernadette at Lourdes “I am the Immaculate Conception.” In the heavenly vision to St. Catherine Laboure at Rue du Bac, later forged into the miraculous medal, Mary is standing on the head of the serpent, seemingly answering the question of pronouns in the protoevangelium.

We find ‘the woman’ again at a wedding feast in Cana. The two together, Jesus and Mary, co-launch Jesus’ first miracle and his public ministry. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary looks knowingly at Jesus saying, “They have no wine.” In that one short sublime sentence Mary asks Jesus to perform his first open miracle, and begin his public work of salvation. This is Mary’s first act of motherly mediation too for her spiritual children. Jesus knows what she is asking but answers, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He addresses his mother as the archetype ‘woman’ acknowledging her prophetic role. Yet, Mary continues to direct the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is the Son of God, he is in charge, but he defers out of respect and love for his mother.

At last, at the final stroke of the salvific drama, Jesus addresses ‘the woman,’ this time from the Cross, saying “woman, behold your son,” and to John, “behold your mother.” Mary, ‘the woman,’ became, by order of grace, the spiritual mother of all the living. And, Mary is still our mother. Is it any wonder that our Lady still comes to us at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima to remind us over the centuries “do whatever he tells you”?

St. Louis de Montfort called the Incarnation the “greatest event in the whole history of the world.” It is ‘the woman’ who is central to the Annunciation, which leads to the Incarnation and the Redemption. At that critical moment, God sends the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and he greets her with the Angelic Salutation, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” and “blessed are you among women.” In ‘the woman,’ who alone is full of grace, the inherited link of sin is broken. The serpent can only lie in wait of her heel, and only enmity remains between them.

It was not until Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord,” that God became man. God made his Incarnation dependent upon the woman. This set in motion the whole drama of the Redemption. This greatest moment in the history of the world, the Incarnation, is memorialized in the prayer of the Rosary. Every time we pray the words of the Rosary, which are the words of the Angelic Salutation, we are greeting and honoring Mary again, just as the heavenly ambassador did. We are praying over and over again the words of the Incarnation. In it, we are reliving and honoring that unique theandric event, when the Word became flesh in the woman. In short, the Rosary is the Incarnation in prayer form.

‘The woman’ is at Eden; she is at Cana; and she is at Golgotha. And, ‘the woman’ appears again at the very end of time, with the great unveiling of the apocalypse, the final bookend to salvation history: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Our spiritual Mother appears as Queen of heaven, offering intercession for her children even to the last moment.

St. Pope John Paul II highlights this in Redemptoris Mater. He declares that the Virgin Mary was “not only the ‘nursing mother’ of the Son of Man but also the ‘associate of unique nobility.'” One of the great modern errors is that Mary was just a human vessel to birth Jesus. Mary did provide Jesus with his physical flesh and blood, hence the profound link between the devotions to the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist. But, Mary’s maternal mediation was much more in the order of grace. She was, and is, a collaborator with her Son in the work of salvation, as the encyclical states: “Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation” with “‘burning charity,’ which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of ‘supernatural life to souls.'”

In this time of women, let us remember ‘the woman.’ The Virgin Mary is the fulfillment of that original dignity in our preternatural past. She offers us the example par excellence of holiness and virtue. Mary is the Theotokos, and based on that unique grace of who she is, her intercession for us is most efficacious. Through our devotion to her, she will crush the head of Satan in our lives. She is the Queen mediating on behalf of our salvation before the throne of the King.

This is why we pray: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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Saint Polycarp, Heresy, and Lent – February 23, 2018

How many people today have left the Church because they deem the Bible incongruent, mythological and unscientific? This falling away is usually undergirded, whether knowingly or unknowingly, by assumptions made in critical historical and textual analysis of the Bible. Modern scholars have sought over the past couple of centuries to deconstruct the Bible by weeding out prophecies, miracles, supernatural occurrences, and other textual peculiarities from the “historical facts.” This technique of Biblical criticism has been used to try to delegitimize Jesus in the New Testament and Yahweh in the Old Testament. What we are left with, so they say, is that we know little about the “historical Jesus,” if he even existed, and much less about the genocidal, tribal God of the Hebrews.

This is exactly the type of heresy that St. Polycarp fought against in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

St. Polycarp, as one of the prime Apostolic Fathers, had direct contact with St. John and the other Apostles. He had one degree of separation from Jesus. Polycarp himself was a direct disciple of St. John the Apostle. St. Irenaeus, who was a student of Polycarp, wrote in Against Heresies that Polycarp “was not only instructed by the Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed bishop by Apostles in Asia and in the church in Smyrna.” He also wrote reminiscently about Polycarp in his letter to Florinus, “I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths.”

One of the stories that Irenaeus heard from Polycarp was about a time when St. John was in Ephesus. He describes seeing St. John going to take a bath, but upon seeing Cerinthus [a Gnostic heretic] inside the building, he rushed out saying, “Let us get out of here, for fear the place falls in, now that Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is inside!” Along these same lines, Polycarp himself ran into on one occasion a similar heretic, Marcion. Marcion said to Polycarp, “Don’t you recognize me?” To which Polycarp responded, “I do indeed: I recognize the firstborn of Satan!”

Marcion was a well-known heretic of his day. He espoused a particular semi-gnostic heresy that the God of the Old Testament could not be the God of the New Testament and Jesus. There were “two gods,” or so he thought, in a dualistic world. The Old Testament God was the Demiurge creator of the material universe, who sought to impose legalistic justice with harsh and severe punishments; while, the God of the New Testament gospel was one of kindness, compassion, and mercy. As he found these two dichotomies irreconcilable, Marcion dismissed all of the Old Testament and much of the New. Marcion was, in effect, the first Bible critic.

St. Polycarp was not amused. The early Church historian, Eusebius, records Irenaeus’ account of how St. Polycarp would react to the Gnostics he encountered, saying, “O good God! For what times hast thou kept me that I should endure such things!” Although Marcion did believe in the divinity of Jesus, he was a Docetist, who believed Jesus only had an imitation body. In effect, he denied the physical birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Polycarp responded by quoting St. John, “To deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to be Antichrist.” Marcion distorted Paul’s theology to create an all-forgiving God, and rejected the hard-sayings of the Gospels and the so-called wrathful, jealous God of the Judaism.

Many modernist critics today (i.e., atheists, agnostics, universalists, etc.) agree with Marcion’s interpretation of Scripture. Marcion’s influence from the 2nd century seems to have extended all the way to the 21st century. This modernist attack on the veracity of the Scriptures has certainly contributed to the “rise of the nones” (i.e., those who increasingly espouse “none” as their religious affiliation). They deny that sacred Scripture is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit, and see it rather as the work of fallible men alone. This watered-down version of the faith has even crept into some Christian circles as well. Their mantra is “Jesus is love,” so how could he also be a God of justice?

Interestingly, Marcion’s heresy forced the young Church to deal rather quickly with this challenge to Scripture by assembling and defining the canon, which would eventually take on the form of the modern Bible. St. Polycarp may very well have been one of those early Church leaders who helped define the canon. Polycarp’s own writing “The Epistle to the Philippians” was ultimately not included in the canon of Scripture, but it gives us great insight into the mind and heart of an Apostolic Father who interacted directly with St. John the Apostle.

St. Polycarp is perhaps most well-known for his martyrdom, which happened probably on February 23, 155 A. D. This is now the day we celebrate his Feast day, or, as the account of his Martyrdom refers to it “the birthday of his martyrdom.” “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” is also the first recorded martyrdom themed letter after the New Testament period. It follows a particular genre highlighting the similarities in Polycarp’s death with the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ.

By this time in 155 A.D., Polycarp was an old man in the midst of a repressive pagan, anti-Christian Roman Empire. The Empire was forcing all to publicly offer incense and declare that Caesar is Lord. Those who did not were killed, and in the most barbaric ways, such as being thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Christians were a prime target as many refused to apostatize.

Three days before his arrest, Polycarp had a vision of “flames reducing his pillow to ashes.” Whereupon Polycarp turned to his companions and said, “I must be going to be burned alive.” When the Romans finally seized him, he said peacefully “God’s will be done.” Then, they brought him to the arena with “deafening clamor” full of pagans who wanted to kill him.

It was then that “a voice from heaven” was heard. Here follows a few excerpts of his martyrdom:

“As Polycarp stepped into the arena there came a voice from heaven, ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.'”

Polycarp is then brought before the proconsul for examination. He tells Polycarp: “Take the oath, and I will let you go,” and “Revile your Christ.”

Polycarp’s response is, “Eighty six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

The proconsul tells him, “I have wild beasts here. Unless you change your mind, I shall have you thrown to them.”

Polycarp declines again, to which the proconsul says, “If you do not recant, I will have you burnt to death, since you think so lightly of the wild beasts.”

Polycarp rejoined, “The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long; after a while it goes out. But what you are unaware of are the flames of future judgment and everlasting torment which are in store for the ungodly. Why do you go on wasting your time? Bring out whatever you have a mind to.”

Upon that, they bind Polycarp to a pile of wood to be burned alive “like a noble ram taken out of some great flock for sacrifice: a goodly burnt-offering all ready for God.”

Polycarp proceeds to give his final prayer, offering himself up as a Eucharistic sacrifice in union with the sacrifice of Christ. In part, praying, “I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and rise again unto life everlasting, both in body and soul, in the immortality of the Holy Spirit.”

With that, the fire is lit and “a great sheet of flame blazed out.” Then, another miracle occurs. The author writes, “we who were privileged to witness it saw a wondrous sight . . . the fire took on the shape of a hallow chamber, like a ship’s sail when the wind fills it, and formed a wall round the martyr’s figure; and there was he in the center of it, not like a human being in flames but like a loaf baking in the oven.” Again, he depicts Polycarp’s martyrdom in Eucharistic terms “like a loaf baking.” They then smell “a delicious fragrance.”

His martyrdom concludes with this:

“Finally, when they realized that his body could not be destroyed by fire, the ruffians ordered one of the dagger-men to go up and stab him with his weapon. As he did so, there flew out a dove, together with such a copious rush of blood that the flames were extinguished; and this filled all the spectators with awe, to see the greatness of the difference that separates unbelievers from the elect of God. Of these last, the wondrous martyr Polycarp was most surely one.” The account comes to a close with the author stating the martyrdom of Polycarp the Blessed is “talked of everywhere, even in heathen circles. Not only was he a famous Doctor, he was a martyr without peer.”

Saint Polycarp offers us an example this Lent. He was a great Apostolic Father who adhered steadfastly to orthodoxy and fought against heresy and Gnosticism. He had a simple but strong faith, and spoke in Eucharistic terms of self-sacrifice. His self-denial led him eventually to his own martyrdom. This Lent we also walk the way of the Cross, in a self-sacrificial union with Christ. We mortify our bodies in Lent with the hope to rise in our bodies with Christ in Easter.

 

 

 

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The Antichrist and the Temple in the Christian Mind – February 5, 2018

President Trump recently announced his intention to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus reaffirming it as the capital of Israel. This raised the collective eyebrows of millions of dispensationalist Evangelical Protestants. Their eyes fixed, as they saw it, on the prophetic markers of scripture (a Jerusalem-centric book) as it has played out in Israel’s recent history from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to statehood in 1948 to seizing Jerusalem in 1967.

Trump’s bold move brought new life to old murmurings about the possibility of a future Third Temple in Jerusalem. Some sites have even heralded President Trump as a “modern-day Cyrus the Great,” the Persian king who ended the Babylonian captivity and allowed the Jews to build the Second Temple. Overreactions aside, many believe the Bible foretells that the Third Temple will reestablish ancient Levitical worship, but also be the seat of the antichrist. It is the precursor to the End Times, and will provoke the return of Jesus Christ. St. Paul warned the Thessalonians of the antichrist saying, “he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., fulfilling Jesus’ words from the Olivet discourse (Mt. 24). In the preterist eschatology, that generation experienced its own apocalypse with the encircling and massacre of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers, and the razing of the Temple. Josephus records their emperor worship too: they “brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them.” This desolating abomination echoes that of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“God Manifest”), who had similarly desecrated it with a statue to Zeus some 237 years prior. The Church holds these men among the “types” and forerunners of antichrist, who have plagued the Church through out its history with heresies and persecutions.

In the first century of the Church, the Roman Caesars from Nero to Diocletian became “antichrists,” and Rome was “Babylon.” Even St. Jerome, in his Commentary on the Book of Daniel, expressed this idea, And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.” Yet, centuries later, with the arrival of Muhammad and Islamic jihad, the mythos of antichrist took on a distinctly Muslim flavor.

The firsthand accounts of Christians who encountered the original Muslims in the early 7th and 8th centuries give insight into this viewpoint. St. John of Damascus wrote in his Against Heresies about the “deceptive error of the Ishmaelites, the forerunner of the antichrist.” Such was the mindset of the first encounters. As early as 634 A.D., in The Doctrine of Jacob, a Jewish merchant from Palestine who had converted to Christianity laments over the Arab invasions. In a correspondence with his Jewish cousin Justus, he relates in part:

“What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens? He replied, groaning deeply: ‘He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword.’ Truly they are the works of anarchy being committed today and I fear the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist.”

Another eyewitness to the initial Arab attacks was Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In 634 A.D., Bethlehem had already fallen to the Arab invaders, so he was forced to give his Nativity sermon in Jerusalem. He compared their situation to Adam being barred from paradise though “we do not see the twisting flaming sword, but rather the wild and barbarous Saracen [sword], which is filled with every diabolical savagery.” His most detailed description of the Muslim invasion came in his Epiphany sermon, in probably 636 A.D., a dire moment, as the Arab army had surrounded Jerusalem itself. He spoke of the “God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets.” Jerusalem fell in 637 A.D., and in due course they established Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, meant to forever cement the idea that Islam had supplanted Christianity and Judaism, even in the very heart of the Judeo-Christian world.

Muslim hordes had been attacking and conquering in all directions from Arabia for 900 years. By the time of Martin Luther in the 16th century, Constantinople, the great city of Eastern Christendom, had fallen and the Haghia Sophia was a mosque. The heart of Europe was under constant mortal threat. Islam undoubtedly punctuated Luther’s wholehearted belief that he was living amidst the Last Days. He knew well the threat, comparing “the Turks” to the “divine rod” of justice to punish Christendom for its unfaithfulness. Yet, Luther was an equal opportunity hater, as “the pope is Antichrist, so the Turk is the very devil. . . both shall go down to hell.”

Luther’s apocalyptic outlook exacerbated his extreme condemnation of the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church as the “Antichrist” and “Whore of Babylon.” Indeed, this was the central conflict of Luther and the reformers of the Protestant Reformation. Protestantism redirected and divided this mythology of the antichrist away from where it had been for centuries. Entire encyclopedias can be written on the effects of the Reformation in theology, politics, and culture, but it was primarily an attack on the authority of Rome. The doctrines of the ministerial priesthood, the sacraments, the Virgin Mary, and the Real Presence, among others, all stand on the authority of the Chair of Peter. Luther’s attacks on the Church stemmed from his indictment of the papacy, and his rabid anti-papist superstition was his primary heirloom to the Protestant mindset. It divided Christendom between a gnostic-esque worldview and those who accept the sacramentality of the world.

Even after this quincentenary, 500 years after the Reformation, the superstition of a papal antichrist and the associated Roman Catholic whore of Babylon are still with us in modern dispensationalism. Hal Lindsey and Tim Lahaye, in their nonfictional and fictional predictions, write of a diabolical European Union and a papal-figure antichrist or false prophet. This is somewhat ironic, as it was Adolf Hitler – a type of European antichrist – who when asked about the origins of the Nazi salute, referenced Luther as his inspiration. German anti-Semitism, nationalism, and militarism of the Third Reich were arguably birthed with Luther, as attested to by William Shirer and others. In the countervailing message of Mit Brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI alluded to the messianic notions of Hitler as “a prophet of nothingness.” Yet, Hitler contemptuously dismissed the Church saying, “We are witnessing the final somersaults of Christianity. It began with the Lutheran revolution.”

These notions of the antichrist and the Temple have been in the religious mind for millennia. It has varied from era to era depending on the political-cultural landscape of the time. Our day is no different. Birth pangs of the apocalypse are always latent within our news with wars and rumors of wars. Relocating the U.S. Embassy does not mean a Third Temple will be built anytime soon, or ever built. It does not herald Armageddon either, but it does carry its dangers. It is perfectly predictable to see the anti-Semitic anger and rage that swirls about Jerusalem and this small, coveted plot of land, as highlighted with the reaction of Erdogan of Turkey, and the United Nations’ condemnatory vote. Jerusalem is the soul of the world, and in this world there is always a struggle for the soul.

In a time now when Christians of all stripes are under mutual threat from within and without, the sad afterglow of the Reformation seems to have finally waned a bit. It is ecumenicalism under duress. Reawakened militant Islamism is attacking Christianity from the outside and militant modernism is undermining Christianity from the inside: our mutual threats are mutually binding. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants should have a fraternal rapport, even if reunifying under the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic faith remains remote at this point. Even so, Christians are bound in spirit and hope of Jesus’ prayer to the Father click herethat they may all be one.”

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St. Thomas Aquinas and the Culture of Life – January 24, 2018

Upon this 45th annual March for Life, I read a line of attack against the Church’s pro-life stance that I had not heard before now. Some pro-choice advocates use the Church’s greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to argue in favor of abortion. Nicholas Kristof did it in a May 2017 N.Y. Times column about Dr. Willie Parker, an oxymoronically called “Christian Abortion Provider.” Mr. Kristof falsely claimed that St. Thomas Aquinas “believed that abortion was murder only after God imbued fetuses with a soul, at 40 days or more after conception.” Moreover, Aquinas even made it into the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, citing “the 40-80 day view, and perhaps to Aquinas’ definition of movement.” What they are both referring to is the mistaken notion that the unborn baby receives its soul (“ensoulment”) 40-80 days after conception depending upon gender. In the pre-scientific mind, this was generally thought to be recognized in the baby’s movements, or “the quickening” around 20 weeks after conception. Aquinas’ apparent false opinion was based upon the primitive science of his day (13th century), which was notably still rooted in the ancient writings (4th century B.C.) of Aristotle.

St. Thomas actually never wrote anything explicitly on abortion. So, to say that he approved of abortion is utterly false. In fact, he did condemn it implicitly in his magnum opus, Summa Theologica. For example, in his commentary on murder, he states: “He that strikes a woman with child does something unlawful: wherefore if there results the death either of the woman or of the animated fetus, he will not be excused from homicide.” (ST II-II, q.64, a.8) In another section he addresses various scenarios of whether to baptize a baby in the mother’s womb, saying: “If, however, the mother die while the child lives yet in her womb, she should be opened that the child may be baptized.” (ST, III, q.68, a.11) St. Thomas’ underlying philosophy is correct: to kill an unborn baby is murder. He ran into some ambiguity with his era’s limited understanding of embryology. It is very clear that if St. Thomas had lived in the modern scientific age of biology, genetics and sonograms he would have concluded beyond a doubt that life begins at conception. Natural science clearly demonstrates the existence of a new genetic individual at fertilization. He was, in this respect, a victim of his time.

Nevertheless, St. Thomas did touch on this indirectly again in the third part of Summa Theologica while discussing the Immaculate Conception of Mary. He certainly argued that the human soul is present by the time of the quickening. On the other hand, he did not think philosophy itself could say definitively whether or not the soul is present before any observable body movements in the fetus. To reiterate, he did not say the soul was definitely not there, only that he could not prove it was there. In the case of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, he argued that we do not know exactly when she was sanctified (i.e., received her soul), so the Church correctly celebrates her sanctification from the time of conception. (ST, III, q. 27, a.2, ad.3) We can infer through his conclusion that he considered ensoulment possible from the moment of conception, and thus, making any abortion tantamount to murder.

The idea of “delayed ensoulment” is a red herring, however. The Church has always taught that abortion is intrinsically evil, and is not dependent upon the idea of ensoulment. The Church’s position is built upon Scripture, Tradition, and natural law, which St. Thomas surely knew and accepted. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) The prophet Isaiah similarly wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb.” (Is. 44:24) The Didache, a vade mecum written sometime near the end of the first century states, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” Abortion is similarly condemned throughout the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, from Clement to St. Jerome, and so many more. St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century that those who have “deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder.” St. Thomas knew extraordinarily well all of these ancient Church teachings on abortion, and that it was forbidden at any stage of development.

The Catechism too is clear on this: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion . . . is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (CCC 2271) St. Pope John Paul discussed ensoulment too as a red herring in Evangelium Vitae: “Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.” (EV, 61) In our era today, with the force of modern scientific evidence of D.N.A. analysis and 3D ultrasounds, we can understand without question a person is a person from the moment of conception.

This is why in light of modern science the permissive acceptance of abortion is so scandalously pernicious. This callous perniciousness of the culture of death is crystallized in the fascinating case of Dr. Stojan Adasevic. Dr. Adasevic was an infamous Serbian doctor who performed abortions in the communist country of Yugoslavia for a couple of decades, killing in utero somewhere between 48,000 to 62,000 babies. His abortion mill even killed up to 35 babies in one day.

That all changed one night when he began to have a profound reoccurring dream that haunted him for weeks and weeks on end. In the dream he was in a beautiful sunlit meadow full of flowers with many children playing and laughing. All of the children were from four to 24 years of age. Whenever he would try to approach and speak to the children they would run away screaming in terror. Despite the idyllic setting of the dream, he felt oppressed and would wake up in a cold sweat each night. The recurring scene was watched over by a figure in a black and white habit who would stare silently at him.

Eventually one night, he was able to catch one of the children, and the child cried out in terror: “Help! Murderer!” At that moment, the man in the black and white habit turned into an eagle and swept down to pull the child away. The next night the doctor decided to ask the man who he was. The man replied, “My name is Thomas Aquinas.” Stojan then asked, “Who are these children?” St. Thomas answered, “These are the ones you killed with your abortions.” With that, Stojan woke up in shock, refusing to participate in any more abortions. There were many other details involved revealing this as something more than just a dream. Since that time, Dr. Adasevic became heavily involved in the pro-life movement and reverted back to the Orthodox faith of his childhood. Stojan has since apparently had a great devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas. He wonders now, having read the Summa Theologica and St. Thomas’ ambiguous writing on Aristotle’s idea of ensoulment, if “the saint wanted to make amends for that error.”

Whether or not that was, in fact, one of St. Thomas’ errors remains debatable. Clearly, he thought ensoulment was possible from the moment of conception, but he left some ambiguity in regards to the provability of that belief. Unfortunately, the primitive “science” of St. Thomas’ day could not establish that as empirical fact. Yet, he unquestionably followed the Church’s teaching on the evils of abortion, so that those who use him to promote the culture of death are wrong. We can infer that St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, was unwaveringly pro-life, condemning abortion as murder. And, if he were alive today, St. Thomas would clearly stand with those who accept modern science that life begins at conception.

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“The Snake and the Rosary” of St. John Bosco – November 12, 2017

Dreams are a product of our unconscious mind and imagination. To pay too much attention to them is foolhardy. The inspired writer Sirach wrote “dreams give wings to fools.” (Sir. 34:1) But, not all dreams are created equal. Some dreams are more than just unconscious renderings of our conscious lives. In some rare cases, dreams are inspired visions from heaven. Mary and Joseph were “warned in a dream” not to return to Herod. The wife of Pilate warned him to release Jesus “for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” It is of this latter version, that of prophetic dreams, that filled the life of St. John Bosco. The Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco details some of these dream-visions that he experienced.

St. John Bosco was an Italian priest who lived in the 19th century helping and educating youth, particularly disadvantaged young boys. Many of the vision-like dreams revolved around the state of the boys’ souls in his Oratory. The dreams often involved the boys with weapons in fierce battles against gruesome animals and beasts. The weapons were metaphors for the sacraments and devotions, while the animals and beasts were various sins and vices. The dreams were a sublime rendering of our internal struggles between virtue and vice, innocence and sin, heaven and hell. The prophetic nature of the dreams revealed the actual state of the boys’ souls. They also revealed the hidden spiritual realities of the Catholic faith. These remain completely relevant to us too. Imagine if St. John Bosco were still alive today, how troubled would his dreams be by the state of our souls?

One of the prototypical dream-visions St. John Bosco had concerned “The Snake and the Rosary.” In it, he and the boys were in a meadow where a stranger took him to see “a huge, ugly snake, over twenty feet long.” The stranger impelled him to dangle a rope over the snake, which he was quite hesitant to do out of fear. He finally agreed to hold the rope over the menacing snake, and the snake leaped up and “ensnared itself as in a noose.” The snake then furiously writhed to free itself but ended up tearing itself to pieces. The stranger then took the rope and put it in a box saying “watch carefully.” Then, opening the box he saw the rope had taken the shape of the words “Ave Maria” or “Hail Mary.” The man then explained to him that the snake is a symbol of the devil and the Ave Maria rope stands for the Rosary – with which “we can strike, conquer, and destroy all of hell’s demons.”

The dream, however, was not done. In the second part of the dream, the boys of the Oratory were now congregated around the remnants of flesh from the snake. Then, against St. John Bosco’s protests that it was poisonous, some of the boys began to pick up the snake flesh and eat it saying, “It’s delicious!” They promptly crumpled to the ground, with their bodies swelled and hardened like stone. The saint tried vigorously to keep them from eating the meat but they just kept eating it. He questioned the stranger why do they keep eating the meat even though it will kill them? The stranger replied, “Because the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of God!” He pleaded to the stranger that there must be some way to save them. To which, the stranger said there is, by “anvil and hammer.” St. John Bosco then put the boys on an anvil and hit them with a hammer. With that, most of the boys were “restored to life and recovered.” The stranger then explained to him that the anvil and hammer are symbols respectively for Holy Communion and Confession. By Confession we strike away at sin, and by Holy Communion we are sustained.

St. John Bosco constantly stressed this theme, “Frequent and sincere Confession, frequent and devout Communion.” This was reflected in many dreams. For example, in another dream, the boys fought with two-pronged pitchforks against ferocious animals. He was shown that the two-prongs symbolized a “good Confession and a good Communion.” In yet another terrifying dream, St. John Bosco saw boys running down a road and being caught in traps and pulled into hell. God, however, left implements next to the traps so the boys could cut themselves free. There were two swords symbolizing a “devotion to the Blessed Sacrament – especially through frequent Holy Communion – and to the Blessed Virgin.” There was also a hammer “symbolizing Confession,” and knives symbolizing devotions to St. Joseph and various saints.

In perhaps his most famous dream, he saw a large ship, representing the Church, in a violent storm and under attack. The Pope guided the ship to two large columns, at which, the ship docked and was saved. On the one column was a statue of the Virgin Mary with the title “the Help of Christians;” and, at the top of the other larger column was a Eucharist Host entitled “the Salvation of the Faithful.” St. John Bosco explained: “Only two means are left to save her amidst the confusion: Devotion to Mary Most Holy and frequent Communion.”

In our modernist era besieged by materialist confusion, the dreams of St. John Bosco are all the more urgent. The attacks are particularly diabolical against young people, seducing them to believe that there is no God or absolute morality, and no eternal consequences. Anything goes! The devil lies hidden before our secular eyes. This makes the risk of succumbing to mortal sin, and potentially damnation, all the more terrifyingly ominous. Sadly, as the percentage of Catholics decrease, the number of those without religious affiliation expands (the so-called “rise of the nones”). If youth were so imperiled in the 19th century, how much more endangered are souls in the 21st century with the falling away en masse from the Church, the unmooring of morality, particularly in sexual promiscuity of all sorts, and so much more. The monsters of St. John Bosco’s dreams are running wild today.

The Church, however, is here to aid us in the battle. It is our field hospital, present on the battlefield to heal our wounds and save our souls. She helps us grow in virtue and slay the beasts. The saint’s solution for us was simple: innocence preserved in penance. He said one good Confession could restore us to our title “of Son of God.” As the dreams of St. John Bosco reveal, our salvation is found in prayer, frequent Confession and Communion, Adoration, and recourse to Mary and the Rosary.

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Purgatory and the Communion of Saints – November 11, 2017

“No man is an island,” so Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”). We are each bound to one another “through innumerable interactions” so that: “No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.” Pope Benedict exhorts us to ask, “what can I do in order that others may be saved? . . . Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.” Salvation is a social reality. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the community of believers coming together in a city. Heaven, as a city full of people, is a place of communal salvation. Sin, on the other hand, introduced the “destruction of the unity of the human race.” While man’s original unity was torn apart by sin, the work of redemption aims to heal that disintegration, as Benedict discerns, “redemption appears as the reestablishment of unity.”

Each believer is an interconnected cell in the Mystical Body of Christ. We are a band of brothers and sisters, bound together in hope and love, in a confraternal exchange of supernatural charity. Even now, the saints of Church Militant on earth, are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” – Church Penitent (or Church Suffering) in purgatory and Church Triumphant in heaven. The Communion of Saints live in a symbiotic relationship: the saints in heaven and purgatory interceding for those on the earth, while the believers on the earth ask for their heavenly intercession. And, in this month of November, dedicated to the souls in purgatory, we recall our special role in this symbiotic relationship while still alive: to pray, sacrifice and intercede for the dearly departed souls in purgatory.

Those in purgatory have died in God’s grace and friendship and are “assured of their eternal salvation,” however, they are “still imperfectly purified” and must necessarily “undergo purification” to enter into heaven (CCC 1030), for nothing unclean enters into it. (Rev. 21:27) Jesus spoke of purgatory, alluding to it as a “prison,” in which we pay for our sins down to “the very last penny”:

“Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (Lk. 12:58-59)

St. Paul similarly tells the Corinthians that we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and are subject to a “purifying fire;” they “will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:15) The encounter with Christ is one of grace and judgment. Benedict describes this eloquently:

“Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. . . . Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.” (Spe Salvi, 44) Even after Confession, we must still make penance.

The departed faithful souls in purgatory do have to make recompense for their sins to satisfy the perfect justice of God. We can, however, assist them in that. The Catechism (CCC 1032) quotes an example from Scripture saying, “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc. 12:45) And so, how do we as Christians make atonement for the dead? The Catechism clarifies this:

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

We are called to be intercessors, for both the living and the dead. We can offer up our prayers, sacrifices and sufferings on behalf of the poor souls in purgatory, for they can no longer merit for themselves. But, God has deigned through the Communion of the Saints that we can make up for others what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. For, we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), contributing to the salvation of souls. We can do this through our prayers, such as praying the rosary for those in purgatory. We can offer penances, and sacrifices. We can give alms, and do acts of charity on behalf of the deceased person.

Benedict also recommends a particular devotion for everyday life, that is, “offering up” all the minor daily hardships of the day. We can “insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great ‘com-passion’ so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race.” We can offer up those petty annoyances throughout the day whatever they might be, slow traffic, the heat, the pestering co-worker, etc. “In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning.” (Spe Salvi, 40) We can be assured that our efforts, prayers and sacrifices are efficacious and capable of mitigating the suffering of those in purgatory. (CCC 958)

Most importantly, we can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, and indulgences granted by the Church, for souls in purgatory. You can contact your Church and have a mass offered for your beloved deceased. Another beautiful gift is the tradition going back to Pope Gregory the Great of offering “Gregorian Masses” for deceased persons on thirty consecutive days. These are generally not done now in parishes, but in monasteries, seminaries, and other religious institutions.

The efficaciousness of intercession for those in purgatory has received mystical confirmation too. One such mystic was St. Faustina. She wrote in her Divine Mercy diary about a soul, a recently deceased nun, who visited her from purgatory requesting her prayers. Upon first visiting her, the sister was in “terrible condition,” but after some undisclosed amount of time of praying for her, the nun eventually returned and “her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy.” She would soon be released from purgatory and conveyed to her that many souls had “profited from my prayers.” Similarly, in the Divine Mercy Novena, dictated to St. Faustina by Jesus, He asks us to offer the eighth day for the souls in purgatory. He told St. Faustina, “It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.” (Diary, 1226) Memorializing a person is nice, but prayer for the deceased may be what they truly need.

Thus, it is within our power as members of the Communion of Saints to assist the poor souls in purgatory in the process of their purification and sanctification. Our prayers and sacrifices can help pay off their debts. In turn, in gratefulness for the merit we win for them, they will surely pray and intercede for us, until, at last, in heaven we will meet all those who we have helped, undoubtedly to our surprise. Also, lest we put our earthly time limits upon God, we should remember to pray even for those who have died long ago. God, who exists outside of time in eternity, receives all of our prayers and sacrifices in the eternal present, and can merit a soul whether long since dead or in purgatory. So, out of love for our family and friends, let us do our part in supernatural charity for the souls in purgatory, who may be most in need of our help.

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