Author Archives: Brian

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 that 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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The 100 Years War: The Church and Communism – October 16, 2017

The past 100 years from 1917 to 2017 have been an encapsulation of the protoevangelium, when God told the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” This 100-years-war has signified a most pronounced phase in the enmity. It began in 1917 with both (what are the odds?) the revelation of Our Lady of Fatima and the Russian Revolution to atheistic Communism. For the past 100 years the mystical body of antichrist has undoubtedly taken its most grotesque form in atheistic materialism, embodied in Socialist and Communist governments around the world. The serpent became the Leviathan. Before the “October Revolution,” Mary warned in Fatima in July 1917 of Russia, saying “she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” The rest, as we know, is history.

In this month and year of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, it is a good time to recall the “satanic scourge” (as Pius XI called it) unleashed on the world through the wicked wiles of socialism and communism. This is particularly important as Western cultural elites and sympathizers, have long sought to minimize the evils of Marxism, as The New York Times seems to have been doing recently, as The Federalist described, with “a series of fond, nostalgic recollections about the good old days of twentieth-century communism.” Perhaps it is time to review again all the fun had in the “red century” with some relaxing bedtime reading like The Black Book of Communism or Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Or, maybe enjoy some uplifting reads about Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution?” Yay! Or, perhaps, just eat some popcorn and watch a little light entertainment like The Killing Fields.

Some may say, what about “twenty-first century Socialism?” Well, one need only take a quick scan of headlines on Venezuela. Not long ago Venezuela was a prosperous, oil-rich country, a Socialist miracle! Now, after 18 years of Chavez-Maduro Marxism, it is a Socialist hellhole. Many in the country have been reduced to starvation (a Communist specialty) and descended into stealing and eating zoo animals, with apparently a particular delicacy for collared peccaries and buffalo. This, sadly, is not an aberration in Socialist experiments, but the norm. It is probably more palatable, however, than the grass and bark diet in the prison-state of North Korea. The hard facts of history reveal that Communist demagogues killed up to 140 million people (as Dr. Paul Kengor cites in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism) from Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Kim Jong-un to Chavez to Che and Fidel. The list goes on and on. Lenin did say, after all, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet; 140 million broken eggs, now that is a big omelet!

The Church, on the other hand, was never fooled by the cons of socialism and communism. From the beginning, encyclical after encyclical railed against the false ideology of Marx and Hegel. In fact, it is right there in the Catechism: “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism.’” (CCC 2425) Whereas the Catechism is brief, the papal encyclicals are rich in detail and sweeping in condemnation.

In 1846, Pope Pius IX promulgated Qui Pluribus (On Faith and Religion), beating Marx to the punch, who published The Communist Manifesto in 1848. Pius IX wrote about the “unspeakable doctrine of communism,” which is “a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even human society itself would follow.” He warned about “the most dark designs of men in the clothing of sheep, while inwardly ravening wolves.”

In 1878, Pope Leo XIII wrote about the evils of socialism in Quod Apostolici Muneris. He began his encyclical about “the deadly plague that is creeping into the very fibers of human society and leading it on to the verge of destruction.” Pope Leo then singled out “that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth in the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning—the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever.”

The encyclical also warned that Socialists sought to destroy marriage and the family. For Socialists, there can be no higher allegiance to God or family, but only to the almighty State. Pope Leo asserted that the “foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law.” Yet, the “doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union.”

Thirteen years later in 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued another encyclical on labor and capital and the working class in Rerum Novarum, the foundational text for Catholic social teaching in the modern age. Wrote Leo: “To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property…” This, the Church declared, is “emphatically unjust,” and the “remedy they propose is manifestly against justice. For, every man has by nature the right to possess private property as his own.”

Socialism is built upon the notion of coveting, a violation of the ninth and tenth Commandments. Rerum Novarum pointed this out: “The authority of the divine law adds its sanction, forbidding us in severest terms even to covet that which is another’s.” Socialism is also built upon the false idea of class warfare. Here too, Pope Leo dismissed their error: “the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth.”

As in earlier encyclicals, Pope Leo again defended the institutions of the family and marriage against the attacks of socialism: “the family … has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.” “The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.”

In 1931, Pope Pius XI released Quadragesimo Anno on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, which it called the “Magna Carta” of Catholic social teaching. Pope Pius stated bluntly: “We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, socialism … is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” Pius went further stating: “If socialism, like all errors, contains some truth, it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

But, what about Socialism-lite? Pius dismissed this too rather succinctly: “We have also summoned communism and socialism again to judgment and have found all their forms, even the most modified, to wander far from the precepts of the Gospel.” Pope John XXIII also would later reiterate this point in his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra saying “Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate socialism.”

To be fair, Pius did take extreme “individualism” and capitalism to task to respect the human dignity of the worker, who “cannot be bought and sold like a commodity.” He pointed out what is needed is not an excessive reaction, like the Socialists propose, to destroy the whole free market system, but rather, the “first and most necessary remedy is a reform of morals.” The Church’s stance has always been a measured approach, protecting the rights of both the employer and the employee through a return to Christian charity and concern for one’s neighbor.

Pope Pius left his harshest criticism for the “Communist plague.” He skewered it with such lines and paraphrases as: “Unrelenting class warfare and absolute extermination of private ownership”; “employing every and all means, even the most violent”; “its cruelty and inhumanity”; “The horrible slaughter and destruction”; “openly hostile it is to Holy Church and to God Himself”; “impious and iniquitous character of communism”; “seeks by violence and slaughter to destroy society altogether”; “pave the way for the overthrow and destruction of society.”

Pope Pius XI was not done. In 1937, he issued another encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, on atheistic communism. Pius did not mince words again. He exhorted that “the Faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.” “It is a system full of errors and sophisms.” The encyclical was aimed directly at the “imminent danger” posed by “bolshevistic and atheistic communism, which aims at upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization.”

Communism is particularly insidious as it “robs human personality of all its dignity.” “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity.” In the collective, “all forms of private property must be eradicated.” The collectivity also rules over marriage and the family. “There exists no matrimonial bond … that is not subject to the whim of the individual or of the collectivity.” Think “postcard divorces.” The spread of communism has been aided by a “diabolical” propaganda of the “sons of darkness,” and a “conspiracy of silence” by the non-Catholic press, due in part “by various occult forces which for a long time have been working for the overthrow of the Christian Social Order.” Sounds familiar.

In 1991 Pope John Paul II issued Centesimus Annus for the 100th year anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It re-stated the Catholic teaching that the root problem of modern totalitarianism is its denial of the transcendental dignity of the human person. “Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” Militarism and Marxist class struggle are derived from the “same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.” As Bishop Fulton Sheen wisely observed, “communism tries to establish the impossible: a brotherhood of man without a fatherhood of God.”

George Orwell knew well this Socialist deception, adapting the mantra in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal.” Yet, as the pigs declare later in the story “some animals are more equal than others.” Their true colors eventually come out. This is the Orwellian doublethink of the Party. How eerily reminiscent are crimethink and the thought police of 1984 to the current environment of political correctness on American campuses and in European governments. The Berlin Wall may have come down and the U.S.S.R. been dissolved but cultural Marxism is as strong as ever. The progressive vanguards of the Left continue on as the ideological heirs of the twentieth century Socialists and Communists. They carry on the revolution by embracing the “errors of Russia” and attacking private property, free markets, individual liberty and free speech, traditional marriage and the family, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. There may not be at this moment an “Evil Empire,” a singular totalitarian state, but there is a totalitarian state of mind present; the imperious impulse in the media and our educational, governmental, and judicial systems. Big Brother is still lurking.

Still, we have hope. The Church did triumph over Soviet communism. And, Christ has given us the blessed assurance that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church. In the dreary days of 1917, amidst World War I, and the unleashing of the evils of atheistic communism, the Virgin Mary promised, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Yes, Leviathan continues to lash out and rage, but its head has already been crushed.

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The Power of Silence Amidst the Noise of the World – September 12, 2017

Saint John tells us in the Book of Revelation “when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Rev. 8:1) The silence of heaven rests above the great din of the world. Before the immensity of the Infinite, there are no words, only wonder, adoration, and silence. We have a foretaste of this eternal silence in the Divine Liturgy, which is the liturgy of the Church. Rivers of living water and sanctifying grace flow not only about the heavenly Throne, but also into the sacramental confines of hearts and flesh. Yet, as Cardinal Sarah says in his book The Power of Silence, if we, who are made in the image of God, are to approach him, “the great Silent One,” we must first quiet ourselves and enter into his silence.

But, the world today is raging against the silence of eternity. “Modern society,” Cardinal Sarah tells us, “can no longer do without the dictatorship of noise.” Postmodern man engages with hellish noise in “an ongoing offense and aggression against the divine silence.” Humanity has lost its sense of sin, and no longer tolerates the silence of God. He poignantly describes the current sad state of man: “He gets drunk on all sorts of noises so as to forget who he is. Postmodern man seeks to anesthetize his own atheism.” Even within the Church there is a noisy undercurrent of idolatrous activism. In this wonderfully written book with so many striking passages, the African Cardinal seeks to re-proselytize the increasingly secularized and debased West; the new evangelization rises from south to north.

Why silence? Silence is the chief means that enables a spirit of prayer. “Developing a taste for prayer,” he confides, “is probably the first and foremost battle of our age.” In modern techno-parlance, if our “interior cell phone” is always busy, how can God “call us”? Without silence, there is no prayer; and without prayer, there is no supernatural life in God.

Silence is not necessarily not speaking, but rather, it is an interior condition of the soul. “God is a reality,” he tells us, “that is profoundly interior to man.” God resides within the heart of man. The path to God is a path of interiority. At the Carthusian monastery of La Grande Chartreux in the French Alps, where they observe the vow of silence, interiority is a way of life. But, as wonderful and as holy as an exterior vow of silence is, it is not really an option for most people. Most lay people live amidst of the noise of the world. Cardinal Sarah understands this, and recommends a solution: “each person ought to create and build for himself an interior cloister, a ‘wall and bulwark’, a private desert, so as to meet God there in solitude and silence.” Man must learn to live in an interior silence, ‘an interior cloister,’ which we can bring with us wherever we go.

This silent interiority lends itself to a sacramental vision of the world. The silent and invisible Spirit of God dwells within the physicality of our bodies. We are a temple of God. Cardinal Sarah tells us that God gave us three mysteries to sanctify and grow our interior life with Jesus, namely: the Cross, the Host, and the Virgin. We are to contemplate these continually in silence. They are incarnational and sacramental by nature, where the heavenly is mingled with the mundane, and the divine lies hidden within the ordinary. So it is with our interior cloister, where the divine comes to rest silently in our human nature. In this sacramental vision of reality we participate directly in the mystery of God and impart it to the world.

Our primary focus should always return to the silence of Jesus. The divine silence entered the world as the “all-powerful word leaped from heaven”(Wis. 18:14-16) to be conceived and born of a woman, the Virgin. Mary is nearly silent in scripture, though she echoes over the ages “Do whatever he tells you.” Few words are recorded from the Holy Family, including not one word from St. Joseph, his silence reflecting his saintliness. Divine silence and humility came first as a baby in Bethlehem. Cardinal Sarah reminds us of this first scandal, “God hid himself behind the face of a little infant.” No stage of human life is deemed unworthy of Christ.

Then, for thirty years Jesus lived a hidden and silent life in Nazareth. So much so that his neighbors question at the beginning of his public ministry “where did this man get all this?” His divinity was veiled in everyday life, even though his mission of redemption had already begun from the ordinary woodworking in the carpenter’s shop to the mundane sweeping of its floors. Our interior silence is of upmost importance because it allows us to imitate the Son of God’s thirty years of silence in Nazareth. Jesus recapitulated within his “holy and sanctifying humanity” all the ordinariness of our human natures and vocations. By doing so, “the hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533) Our interior cloister should be animated with the knowledge that, no matter where we are or what we are doing, Christ is there with us in the silence of Nazareth.

In the Cross, Cardinal Sarah reminds us that “the mystery of evil, the mystery of suffering, and the mystery of silence are intimately connected.” This trinity of mysteries is summed up in Jesus’ cry from the Cross quoting Psalm 22, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” Modern man likes to see the silence of God in the face of horrible, tragic events as proof of his non-existence: “if evil and suffering exist, there can be no God.” Yet, as Cardinal Sarah points out, the infinite and absolute love of God does not impose itself on anyone: “his respect and his tact disconcert us. Precisely because he is present everywhere, he hides himself all the more carefully so as not to impose himself.” In creating man and the world, God had to, in effect, “withdrawal into himself so that man can exist.” In allowing for human freedom and freewill, God would necessarily appear silent.

Man’s freedom, and ultimately sin, would leave God disappointed in man, and make God himself vulnerable to suffering, as a Father suffers for his child. The suffering of man leads to the suffering of God. God is with us in our suffering. The mystery of suffering and God’s silence will never be fully understood in this life, but must be viewed from the lens of eternity. God’s time is not like our own where “a thousand years are like one day.” Our brief sufferings on earth disappear forever like drops of water into the immense ocean of eternity. Even now, the person who prays often can “grasp the silent signs of affection that God sends him” as noticeable only by those who are lovers. Jesus has revealed, however, that bearing our crosses and silent sufferings can be redemptive and sanctifying. We can complete what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions” for the sake of the Church. Our interior cloister should be united with the redemptive sufferings of Christ in his Passion and Crucifixion.

Jesus remains with us now, most silent and most humble and most small in the Eucharist. As the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, “the miracle of transubstantiation comes about imperceptibly, like all the greatest works of God.” There is no extravagant burst of light and power at each Eucharistic consecration, only silence before the Real Presence of God in the Host and the Mass. Cardinal Sarah laments the lack of silence and adoration today in much of the modern liturgy, declaring bluntly “The liturgy is sick.” He continues: “The liturgy today exhibits a sort of secularization that aims to ban the liturgical sign par excellence: silence.” Rather, reception of Holy Communion should be a moment of intimacy with the Lord, when we “receive the Lord of the Universe in the depths of our hearts!” Our interior cloister should be continually fortified by the words of Jesus: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56)

In every manner in every mode of everyday life, silence is necessary. Silence is necessary because it predisposes us to a life of prayer, a life of interiority and a sacramental vision of reality. Through the seven sacraments, the channels of dispensation of the divine grace of Jesus Christ to the world, we are recapitulated within Christ – a holy priesthood making spiritual sacrifices. We are spiritualized and divinized, made into children of God. Jesus adjures us not to leave the way of the sacramental life, for “apart from me you can do nothing.” Our prayers and sacrifices are “like the fragrance of incense that ascends to God’s Throne.” Each of us can become, as Saint John Paul called, a “contemplative in action.” Our practice in the virtues of silence and prayer are “an apprenticeship in what the citizens of heaven will experience eternally.”

Silence is needed most urgently now, even for those in the Church who would subsume social activism ahead of the worship of God. Cardinal Sarah proposes “a spiritual pedagogy” as illustrated by Mary and Martha in the gospel. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for being busy in the kitchen, but rather for “her inattentive interior attitude” towards Christ, as shown in her complaint about the “silence” of Mary. Mary remained at the feet of Jesus in silent contemplation and adoration. Cardinal Sarah warns, “All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will.” We should be Mary before becoming Martha. Man can encounter God only in interior silence. The active life must be harmonized with the contemplative life. Silence must precede activity.

Silence is a form of resistance to the noise of the world. There is a danger today of being lost in “unbridled activism,” where our interior attitudes are diverted from Jesus towards social justice and politics. In the field hospital of the Church, the social aspect does have its place, but as Cardinal Sarah says, “the salvation of souls is more important than any other work.” This vital effort entails evangelization, prayer, faith, repentance, mortification and embracing the sacramental life, in short, living a liturgical existence. Before venturing out into the noise of the world, Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence encourages us to remain firmly grounded in our interior cloister, adoring God in silence.

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The Only Thing that Matters – September 11, 2017

Life is fleetingly short. The minutes and seconds of our earthly lives are trickling down inexorably like grains of sand falling through the hourglass. Christ on his judgment seat holds the hourglass for each of our lives, watching, and waiting for that moment when we shall, at last, appear before him. Only he knows how many grains of sand of time are left for us. We must be ready at any moment. That is why Christ declares “behold, now is the day of salvation.” In a world where “all is vanity,” we must cut through the fog of sin and meaninglessness, and seize the weightiest of matters, in fact, the only thing that matters – the salvation of our souls.

Jesus said what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? Our goal is not this world or this life. Our goal is eternal life in the world to come. Jesus spoke of this often, comparing it to a wedding feast. In the great revelation given to St. John, he was caught up into heaven and beheld the joy of the saints at the wedding feast of Christ. An angel spoke to him “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:9) St. John wrote about these blessed ones of the Church as the Bride of Christ, saying she “has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Rev. 19:8) The saints are ready because of the way they are “clothed.” But, what is this clothing and why is it “fine linen, bright and pure?” Simply put, this is the divine, sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ.

We must be covered and clothed with the supernatural grace of Christ. Those with the proper “wedding garments” are saved, and those without them are condemned. Jesus himself alluded to this in a disturbing aspect of the wedding banquet parable:

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Mt. 22:11-13)

Time is short to be ready for the eternal wedding feast. The only thing that matters is that at the moment of death we are clothed with sanctifying grace.

The opposite of being clothed is being naked. We find nakedness in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, Original Sin, their eyes were opened “and they knew that they were naked.” (Gen. 3:7) They were exposed and ashamed before God. There is a curious scene too, in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus was betrayed and seized by the Roman soldiers. As all this happened, scripture says, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (Mk. 14:51-52) Sin has left us all naked and exposed to damnation. St. Paul spoke of this too, saying “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (2 Cor. 5:2-3) Yet, it matters not what sins we may have committed in the past. Nothing is beyond the mercy of God, as long as we sincerely seek his forgiveness through the repentance of our sins.

So, we must be clothed from on high by the Holy Spirit, but how?

Sanctifying grace is conferred onto us through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of the Church, which are necessary for our salvation. (CCC 1129) The seven sacraments of the Church are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. These are the means by which we put on our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure.

All of the sacraments are eminently efficacious and necessary for the life of the Church. However, I would like to focus here on just three sacraments, which are so necessary for the world today, and for our individual souls, and yet, are so sorely neglected. Jesus’ prayer from the Cross is apt “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Or, in our case, we know not what we squander.

As far as we know, St. John was the only Apostle to hear these words from the Lord as he was crucified. He remained at the foot of the Cross, and did not flee like the other Apostles. He was the disciple whom the Lord loved. He was entrusted with the care of Mary the mother of God after Jesus died. He rested his head close to Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Last Supper. He was the only Apostle not martyred, and so, lived to a wise old age, reflecting deeply for his whole life on the words of Christ. This deep meditation poured forth in the pages of his gospel when he wrote about the sacraments, especially Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession.

In the third chapter of John’s gospel he writes about Baptism and being “born again.” The conversation, of course, is between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:5) Baptism is the basis for the whole Christian life and “the gateway to life in the Spirit.”

Three chapters later John writes about the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse. In it, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn. 6:53-54) The Eucharist is our food of immortality.

Later in his gospel he writes about Confession and the power to forgive sins. He says about the Resurrected Jesus: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23) This sacrament of divine mercy renders us into a state of grace. Baptism, the Eucharist and Confession are so vital, so necessary in the everyday life of a soul. These are the channels of sanctifying grace by which we put on the wedding garments of Christ. To neglect these is to neglect the state of our souls, and to jeopardize our place of eternal life in heaven.

This is the only thing that matters: When we die, will we be clothed in the wedding garments of Christ, or not? This requires us to earnestly pursue the weightiest of matters: repentance, conversion, sanctity, holiness, and saintliness. We are men and women of God, called to strive to enter through the narrow gate, to pray ceaselessly, to cling to the truth always, and to serve one another. The way of the disciple is to renounce the vanities of this world and to embrace the Cross of Christ.

St. John quotes Christ in the Book of Revelation about keeping our garments white and clean: “He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Rev. 3:5-6) And again, concerning our garments and Christ’s Second Coming: “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev. 16:15) It is up to us to keep our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure. We do this by taking refuge in the sacraments of the Church; and going to Confession frequently, and receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist often.

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Mary and The Great American Solar Eclipse – August 16, 2017

Darkness is coming over America. For the first time in nearly 100 years a total solar eclipse will be visible from coast to coast across the United States. Monday August 21st will be “The Great American Eclipse.” It will be an American-centric event. Millions of people are travelling to see the totality of the eclipse, in what one astronomer is saying will be “the most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history.”

It should be a truly spectacular spectacle. In terms of pure celestial mechanics, the moon will be aligned between the earth and the sun, casting its shadow perfectly over the sun, for those along the path of totality. It is pure science, not supernatural.

Yet, the Great American Solar Eclipse is causing many to worry and speculate that it is a harbinger of the apocalypse. They fear God is casting judgment upon America, and this judgment will be reflected in nature by a blotting out of the sun. Many Christian blogs and books have been written on the eclipse, and blood moons, and other astronomical curiosities. These are not hard to find.

But, what to make of it?

Certainly, the United States has been going through a period of relative social and political unease. The social norms of the country are in flux and moving away from divine truths as promulgated by the Church. One need only look at judicial rulings on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex ‘marriage,’ and transgenderism to see the shift away from traditional Christian values. Sin ultimately does provoke judgment. But, does this mean we are now living in the apocalypse? Well, no. Does this mean we are living in deadly serious times? Yes, it does.

Jesus himself did warn us to observe signs in nature before his Second Coming saying, “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves.” (Lk. 21:25) This echoes the prophecy of Joel: “The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.” (Joel 3:15) These will be cataclysmic happenings and worldwide events. Does the Great American Solar Eclipse rise to this level? No, it does not.

That is not to say that the spiritual things are not reflected in the temporal world. Clearly they can be. God does give us signs in creation. At the exact time of Jesus’ Crucifixion, the sun did not give off its light. As scripture says, “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (Mk. 15:33) So, there was darkness at the Crucifixion and there will be darkness at the Second Coming of Christ. And yes, there will be a brief darkness over the United States during the total solar eclipse on August 21st. Is this a sign from God specifically for America? Perhaps. Perhaps in the spiritual sense, that God does occasionally give us signs through nature. Perhaps God is trying to get our attention, and is calling us to repentance. Certainly sin has increased, and by way of analogy, the light of God is dimming in our society. Holiness is being eclipsed in America.

The last time a full coast-to-coast eclipse happened across the U.S. was June 8, 1918. This was not long after the last apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal in 1917, and in the midst of the tragedy of World War I. Mary also warned that when you see “a night illumined by an unknown light” that God was about to punish the world for its sins. Most believe this was fulfilled on January 25, 1938 with a great aurora over much of Europe just before the start of World War II. This year is the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, which some attach special significance to its centenary. It was at the last apparition on October 13, 1917 that tens of thousands of people witnessed another solar event, in that case, the dramatic “Miracle of the Sun.”

It was Pope Pius XII who also witnessed the Miracle of the Sun phenomenon. In fact, he supposedly witnessed it four times, in the year 1950 when he was going to proclaim the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. He says he observed it on October 30th while walking in the Vatican gardens. He then witnessed it again on “the 31st of October and Nov. 1, the day of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption, and then again Nov. 8, and after that, no more.” On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary dogma in Munificentissimus Deus: “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” The Miracle of the Sun phenomenon seemed to confirm the dogma. So, on August 15th of the liturgical calendar we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. The Great American Solar Eclipse falls within the octave of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. This feast culminates eight days later on August 22nd with the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

On October 11, 1954, Pope Pius XII released the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam declaring the Mary the Queen of Heaven and instituting the liturgical Feast of the Queenship of Mary. It quotes among others St. John Damascene that “When she became Mother of the Creator, she truly became Queen of every creature.” Pope Paul VI later moved the feast day to the octave of the Assumption in order to emphasize the close bond between the glorification of her body and soul and her Queenship in Heaven next to her son, Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium makes this explicit saying, “Mary was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son.” (LG, 59) Thus, from August 15th to August 22nd we celebrate the Assumption of Mary into Heaven and her being crowned Queen of Heaven. Some see significance in the fact that the eclipse falls within the octave of the Feast of the Assumption and on the eve of the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Besides these two feasts of Mary, August 21st also falls on the Feast day of Our Lady of Knock. Our Lady of Knock was an apparition of the Virgin Mary that happened on August 21, 1879 in the County Mayo village of Knock, Ireland. There are some interesting aspects to this apparition in comparison to other Church approved apparitions. For one, this apparition was completely silent. Mary spoke no words to the fifteen witnesses. The apparition lasted for about three hours. Along with the Virgin Mary, who was in deep prayer with her eyes raised towards heaven, were St. Joseph, and an altar with Jesus – as the Lamb of God – on it. St. John the Evangelist was also in the vision. This is somewhat unusual and unique in Marian apparitions.

Our Lady of Knock did not speak any words. There was only silent symbolism. Jesus is pictured as the Lamb of God on an altar – clearly depicting the paschal mystery. In the four gospels, the word lamb is mentioned just four times total. In contrast, in St. John’s book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 28 times. In the apparition at Knock, St. John was seen holding a book, which some have surmised was the Book of Revelation. In it, St. John wrote about The Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and when the Lamb “opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” (Rev. 8:1) St. John also wrote about another great sign, Mary as the Queen of Heaven: “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.” (Rev. 12:1)

Is there a deeper spiritual meaning to the eclipse? That remains uncertain. As with all things in life, we must live in the present moment and seek to amend our lives the best that we can. Perhaps, if the metaphor holds true, that sin is darkening our souls, then God is telling us to retreat to Mary the Mother of God in pursuit of sanctity. As a fairly remarkable astronomical event, we should appreciate the eclipse on Monday, and enjoy it safely (with the proper NASA-approved eclipse glasses, of course!) But, we should also be mindful to the dimming of our moral lives and the coarsening of our culture. In this time of devotions to Mary, perhaps we can rededicate ourselves to the message of Fatima, which is always the message of Mary and Jesus: prayer, sacrifice, conversion, and the sacraments.

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Reconsidering Contraception and the Way of Life – July 26, 2017

Contraception was not always as widely accepted as it is now. This is important to remember, especially for those of us born after the so-called sexual revolution, when contraceptives have become nearly ubiquitous, even farcical to the point of absurdity, just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor. However, in the not-so-distant past, in the first part of the 20th century, Christians of all stripes, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants were nearly unanimous in their belief that contraception was a grave sin and against the will of God. When did attitudes change so radically?

Many point to the Lambeth Conference on August 4, 1930 as the first crack in the dam. The Anglican Conference of Bishops passed a controversial resolution to allow for the use of birth control when “there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood.” This declaration was the first of its kind and perhaps the ‘camel’s nose under the tent’ that opened Christians to the practice of contraception. T.S. Eliot noted prophetically in his Thoughts After Lambeth, “The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse.” The Catholic Church was not so patient in her response. Soon after Lambeth, on December 31, 1930, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Connubii (“of chaste marriage”) reaffirming the historical Church teaching that contraception is a “grave sin.”

The leaders of the birth control movement took offense at the encyclical and derided the Pope. Margaret Sanger, head of the movement and future founder of Planned Parenthood, wrote an article in The Nation on January 27, 1932 mocking Catholic doctrine as “illogical, not in accord with science (sound familiar?), and definitely against social welfare and race improvement.” Race improvement was a euphemism for Sanger’s infamous eugenics ideology. Later in the essay, she accused the Church, by forbidding contraception, of increasing the “number of feeble-minded, insane, criminal, and diseased.” Sanger’s utopian vision harnessed contraception to engineer biological and racial purity. Interestingly, and perhaps to her credit, Sanger did not condone abortion as a form of birth control, calling it “dangerous and vicious.” Latter-day pro-choice and Planned Parenthood disciples have strayed where even she would not go.

In the decades that followed, the outcome of this culture war is plainly obvious with the widespread acceptance and legalization of contraception (and abortion). Yet, the Church has steadfastly remained a “sign of contradiction” (HV, 18) opposing contraception in all its facets as “intrinsically evil.” (CCC 2370) Some may say this is one of the Church’s ‘hard teachings.’ Indeed, this hard teaching has been reflected in the day-to-day, rank-and-file parish level, where many Catholics have accepted and use artificial birth control. This is probably why we do not hear sermons against contraception or have proactive discussions on periodic abstinence and Natural Family Planning. The point, however, is not to mete out judgment in the disconnect between truth and practice.

In an era of same-sex ‘marriage,’ abortion on demand, and gender fluidity, does it even make sense to discuss contraception – ground long ago ceded? As witnessed last century with the unleashing of Pandora’s box of sexual promiscuities and the idolization of sexual pleasure, perhaps it is the right moment to contemplate again the Church’s wisdom on contraception – the place where the “experiment” began. This also gets to the heart of the issue: procreation as the primary end of sexuality and marriage. The “contraceptive mentality” reduces sexuality to sensuality, and the dignity of the human person to an object of pleasure. The ‘unitive without the procreative’ mindset is the underlying zeitgeist of our generation, and the root of many modern social ills.

Even CC recognized the potential burdens of parenthood: “We are deeply touched by the sufferings of those parents who, in extreme want, experience great difficulty in rearing their children.” (CC, 60) No one is suggesting this is an easy, unemotional topic. It is uncomfortable and impractical, the way the world sees, but nonetheless we should reconsider because it is the right thing. Doing the right thing is something we as Catholics should be interested in doing. This means heeding the voice of the Church, and heeding the words of Christ. Jesus said we should strive to enter in through the “narrow gate” for “the way is hard, that leads to life.” Jesus also commands us to take up our cross and follow Him. In the context of marriage, we offer self-sacrificial love for our spouse. The marital vocation is a “work of mutual sanctification.” (GS, 52) It is their way to holiness and to heaven. As part of that, “fidelity and fecundity” are the twofold obligations of their conjugal love. (CCC 2363)

This is not to say that we are obligated to necessarily form very large families beyond our means. We are obligated in our openness to life, but we can regulate births and space children apart by natural means with “virtuous continence.” (CC, 53) Pius VI adjures us that virtuous continence should be used only after prudently reflecting on the moral law and our obligation of openness to having children. Yet, part of our responsible parenthood would factor in difficulties of “physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.” These are potentially “serious reasons” for spacing out pregnancies and limiting the size of families. It is illegitimate to say no to the primary good of marriage (children) for any trivial or selfish reasons. The couple with clearly formed consciences must have the moral judgment that they have serious, grave, or just reasons for delaying or limiting the size of one’s family. The contraceptive mentality of not being open to life for non-grave reasons is morally wrong, even if done through natural means.

One of the main points of Paul VI’s prescient 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae is that contraception is contrary to natural law. The male coming together with the female naturally procreates a child. The natural law purpose then of sexual intercourse is procreation. Any artificial interference, whether through contraception or sterilization, is against natural law, and against the intentions of God as reflected in nature. It breaks the unitive and procreative significance of the marital act, and reduces it to just sensual pleasure; an offense against the dignity of the human person created in the image of God. The conjugal love between a husband and wife is “by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children.” (HV, 9)

The question then is, if we have correct moral consciences and serious, just reasons for limiting the size of our family, how do we go about this in a morally licit way? The first and obvious way, as stated by CC, is abstinence. The next is natural family planning in one form or another. HV states that married couples may control births by taking advantage of the infertile “natural cycles immanent in the reproduction cycle.” (HV, 16) Abstinence and NFP are not “Catholic contraception” because nothing artificial has been introduced into the process to render intercourse infertile. The procreative potential remains intact. As the late moral philosopher Joseph Boyle stated, “Refraining from intercourse is not contraceptive intercourse, since it is not intercourse at all.” By our recourse to abstinence and natural family planning we preserve our inherent human dignity, respect the moral order, and offer humble obedience to our Creator.

HV did put one asterisk in the encyclical regarding contraceptive usage. This is the exception for therapeutic treatment of bodily diseases. The statement reads: “On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.” (HV, 15) Intention is key. One of the footnotes for this paragraph is for a speech Pope Pius XII gave to the Congress of the International Society of Hematology in 1958. In that, he references the “principle of double-acting actions,” or the principle of double-effect. He says, “If the woman takes this medicine, not with the intention of preventing conception, but only by medical indication, as a necessary remedy due to a disease of the uterus or of the organism, it causes an indirect sterilization, which is permitted according to the general principle of double-acting actions.”

In some instances one spouse accepts contraception and the other does not. How does the Church handle this? The Vade Mecum for Confessors (3, 13) addresses this by referencing CC: “Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin.” (CC, 59) Again, as outlined, certain conditions must be met.

One need not look all the way to 20th century magisterium, however, to find Church pronouncements against contraception. In the New Testament, the word pharmakeia (same root word for pharmacy) appears three times, which some scholars have linked to contraception. The ancient Greek word denotes the mixing of “magic potions,” or as the New Testament sometimes translates it, “sorcery.” The meaning is not entirely explicit, and may have multiple levels of meaning. Yet, in the context of the ancient pagan cults, with widespread sexual fertility rites and orgies, it probably refers to contraceptive and abortive practices. The second century physician, Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, for example, uses the term to refer to potions for both contraception and abortion. These “magic potions” were likely illicit drugs used in conjunction with pagan sexual rituals to stimulate hallucinations, sterilization, prevent conception, or to end a pregnancy. In the letter to the Galatians, the usage of pharmakeia appears alongside other sexual sins. St. Paul warns that those who practice “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery.. shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21) In two other references found in Revelation (Rev. 9:21; 21:8), it is similarly condemned.

The word pharmakeia also appears in the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. This first century document was possibly a vade mecum, the early Church’s first handbook on morality and fundamental doctrines. In the first part of the document are proposed two ways of living – the way of life and the way of death. The Didache exhorts: “you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not use potions, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.” The focus here again is on sexual immorality. The practice of “magic” and the use of “potions” could have multiple levels of possible meanings, including the occult and illicit drugs. However, in the context of the passage, it more than likely refers to abortifacients and artificial birth control.

Contraception closes off marriage from the divine love it is meant to image and reflect. St. Paul speaks about the love of a husband and wife as a “great mystery” meant to image the love of Christ and the Church. Marital love is also an icon in creation of the eternal exchange of love among the three persons of the Holy Trinity; so that, the very love between the Father and the Son is, in fact, another person, the Holy Spirit. In an analogous way, from the conjugal love between two persons, a husband and wife, comes a third person, a child. Their love is em-bodied literally. Sterilized sex cuts God, the ultimate ‘Giver of Life,’ out of the life-giving equation, so that man becomes by unnatural means the sole-arbiter in generating life or not. This stifles the Trinitarian image of God in creation, as a “communion of persons” in marriage and the family.

Shakespeare wrote “what’s past is prologue.” The past has brought us to this moment, and yet, it need not be our future. It may be difficult, but we should reconsider our comfortable acceptance of contraception and our uncomfortable omissions from being fully pro-life. God entrusted us with the awesome responsibility and role as co-creators with Him in bringing forth new persons. This presupposes our openness to life. The pseudepigraphical and extra-biblical book of Enoch tells the pre-history story of the fall of the angels from heaven, and how they spread sin across the earth, teaching man “charms and spells, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants.” That is to say, they taught magic potions and sorcery, and led mankind astray. It is this type of neopaganism that seems to have reemerged again in modern times under the guise of social progress. The civilized, non-Christian experiment is still in its slow-motion collapse. As the faithful of the Church, we should play the part, and be a countercultural sign of contradiction.

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The Chaplet of Divine Mercy in St. Faustina’s Diary – April 21, 2017

Easter is the momentous culmination of our Christian faith. As the “Feast of feasts” and the “Solemnity of solemnities,” the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection could not be contained to just one day in the liturgical calendar. So, we celebrate the Easter Octave – the eight-day festal period from Easter to the Feast of Divine Mercy. The grace and merit won by Christ on our behalf naturally flows from Easter Sunday to Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Divine Mercy devotion is comprised of many aspects: the Feast Day, the image, confession, the great Promise and Indulgence, the three o’clock hour, the novena and finally, the chaplet. The power of the Divine Mercy chaplet is highlighted throughout St. Faustina’s diary, including the power to save the dying, the power to forestall divine justice, and even, power over nature.

The primary intention of the chaplet is to save souls, especially sinners. Jesus tells St. Faustina: “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same.” (diary, 811) This point is reinforced a number of times throughout the diary with concrete examples of the chaplet saving souls. In one instance, St. Faustina is mystically transported to a dying sinner surrounded by a “multitude of devils.” As she prays the chaplet, she sees Jesus appear just as in the image and the rays from His heart envelop the man, saving him and giving him a peaceful death. St. Faustina realizes “how very important the chaplet was for the dying. It appeases the anger of God.” (diary, 1565) As Jesus had advised St. Faustina: “Say unceasingly the chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death.” (diary, 687)

St. Faustina also sees the efficaciousness of the chaplet to mitigate divine chastisement. On a number of occasions in the diary, she describes how reciting the chaplet disarmed an angel about to deliver imminent divine justice. In one instance, St. Faustina sees an angel, an “executor of divine wrath,” about to punish a certain part of the world. In trying to plead for mercy, she begins to pray the words of the chaplet. Then, as St. Faustina recounts, “As I was praying in this manner, I saw the angel’s helplessness; he could not carry out the just punishment which was rightly due for sins. Never before had I prayed with such inner power as I did then.” (diary 474) After a similar occurrence of angelic restraint later in the diary, St. Faustina proclaims “this chaplet was most powerful.” (diary, 1791)

As if to reinforce the power of the chaplet, one day St. Faustina was “awakened by a great storm” of wind, torrents of rain, and thunderbolts. She then was prompted to pray the chaplet so the storm would not harm anyone. As she recounts, “I began immediately to say the chaplet and hadn’t even finished it when the storm suddenly ceased, and I heard the words: “Through the chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will.” (diary 1731)

The Divine Mercy chaplet is a powerful way for us to show mercy towards others through prayerful intercession. It is particularly fitting during Eastertime with the chaplet’s Paschal and Eucharistic language. Each time we pray the chaplet, we offer to God the Father the passion and sacrifice of Christ, on behalf of our sins and for those of the whole world. It is a microcosm of the Mass in prayer form. The Divine Mercy devotion inevitably leads us to the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, which we can partake in this Sunday for the Feast of Divine Mercy.

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