The Magi and Astrology

Bethlehem

 

Astrology is the occult science of predicting free future events and human personality traits by means of the stars.  It was believed, for example, that gods inhabited the planets, and that a person who was born when a particular planet was dominant would inherit the characteristics of that planet’s god.

Judaism and Christianity have always rejected such theories and its practices as being overtly pagan, in that they supplant the supreme will of the one true God with that of the influences of multiple gods and goddesses; in a word, astrology is inherently polytheistic.  The future belongs to the true God, who does not direct His universe in accord with other gods, or man-made charts, or numerological systems.  Rather, it is determined by His unforeseeable holy will, which is always purposeful, rather than arbitrary or fatalistic.

Astrology belongs to the general practice of divination, which includes the many occult methods of attempting to predict the future.  These would include the reading of palms, crystal balls, and tarot cards, as well as the interpretation of signs, omens, numbers, dreams, and the behavior of fire, water, and animals.  And to state a most important and unpopular truth – to consult a psychic is to practice that form of divination called psychomancy.  Tragically, many Christians now turn to psychics for their mental and spiritual needs as they once would have turned to a priest or minister.

Because in biblical times the Jews were surrounded by pagan peoples, the Old Testament makes many references to divination and related occult practices.  And since the modern world has largely renounced the one true God and resumed its pagan superstitions, Christians should recognize in these passages a most prudent and wise legislation for the present age.  For example,

“When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the nations there. Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, 11or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead.  Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is dispossessing them before you. You must be altogether sincere with the LORD, your God. Although these nations whom you are about to dispossess listen to their soothsayers and diviners, the LORD, your God, will not permit you to do so” (Dt. 18:9-14).

“Do not be deceived by the prophets and diviners who are among you; do not listen to those among you who dream dreams, for they prophecy lies to you in my name; I did not send them.” (Jer. 29:8-9).

In the New Testament, converts to the new faith who had formerly practiced divination – most probably astrology – renounced both the practices and the materials involved:

“Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices. Moreover, a large number of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned in public” (Acts 19:18-19).

Note that “magic” was often used as a general name for divinatory techniques.

Divination is a by-product of the mistrust of God.  The person who practices Christianity and occult techniques is actually trying to manipulate God in various ways, in the hope that one form of manipulation will work with Him.  But the true Christian entrusts all to God, most especially the future.  Their constant prayer is “Thy will be done, not mine.”  As a result of this trust, they do not live in constant fear of the future; nor do they feel the need to be warned about it beforehand by means of divinatory practices.

Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

“All forms of divination are to be rejected…[including] consulting horoscopes, astrology” (CCC 2116).

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Catholic teaching on occult practices, divination, and astrology are clear.  Nevertheless, an argument to the contrary is often made regarding the Magi and astrology.  Such is the claim:

“Every year on the solemnity of the Epiphany, we read the account of three eastern  astrologers who, in seeing an extraordinary star, rightly interpret the phenomenon as indicating a great king had been born.  God used astrology to lead these Magi to Bethlehem, and the Holy Family graciously received their pious visit.  Therefore, God clearly approves of the practice astrology, and so, too, must the Church.”

Actually, astrology did not lead the Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem.  It led them only to the paranoid bloodthirsty dictator, King Herod the Great.  And yet, it did not lead them even to him.  Astrology had almost nothing to do with the visit of the Magi, and God certainly did not endorse it.

The stars and planets belong to God, not to astrology.  God does not bow to the charts and maps of mere men; He does not conform His activities to man-made assessments of the zodiac intended to foresee His free actions from heaven or free human events on earth.  Hence, the appearance of the star of Bethlehem suggested to the Magi only that an important figure had been born.  That God used such an indication in no way suggests that the complex theories of astrology are correct or reliable, but only that God uses from time to time natural elements to announce supernatural events.  That one instance of this should coincide with the eyes and minds of three astrologers means nothing for astrology.  Hence, in spite of the star seen in the East, the Magi could not find their way to Christ, except by inquiring about Him in Jerusalem.  If astrological theory had been true and correct, then this visit to the center of Judaism would have been unnecessary, and the Magi would have left their Persian homes and headed directly for the stable or cave of Bethlehem.  But astrology could offer them no such guidance.  As it happened, it was Old Testament prophecy that correctly directed them to the Messiah’s manger.

But why, when the Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem from the East, did they think of Jerusalem?  What astrological notion brought them to the Holy City?

Once again, astrological theory had nothing to do with Jerusalem.  At the time of Our Lord’s birth, Israel was rife with Messianic expectation.  One can see this in the excitement generated by the ministry of John the Baptist.  The Jewish authorities were anxious to ask him whether or not he was the One to come.  The Jews were prepared to believe Jesus was the Messiah as well, until He showed Himself to be a type of Messiah quite different from the one they expected and wanted.

The Old Testament contains many Messianic prophecies, and the Jewish scholars would mentally pour over these passages night and day.  But the Jews did not live only in Israel; they were also dispersed throughout the Gentile world.  This dispersion is called the “diaspora.”  By means of this diaspora, the Jewish faith was spread throughout the world, and with it, knowledge among the Gentiles of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.

If the Magi were truly “wise men,” then they would have been at least somewhat familiar with Judaism, its wisdom literature, and its prophetic books.  Seeing the star and believing it signaled the birth of a great figure, the Magi would have recalled the mysterious Old Testament references to a Jewish Messiah, such as this passage from the Book of Numbers:

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17).

Hence, the Magi decided to inquire at the center of Judaism – the city of Jerusalem – regarding the place of the Messiah’s birth.  And in this city, they found their answer as provided, not by divination or astrology, but by the Jewish prophet Micah:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic. 5:2).

God searches for us wherever we are to be found.  He comes to us even in the depths of our sin and unbelief.  But if He speaks to us under such circumstances, He certainly is not endorsing such sin and unbelief, but calling us out of it.  Imagine the logical absurdity of suggesting that, because a person turned to God in the midst of an act of adultery or murder, God, therefore was endorsing adultery or murder.  And so it was with the Magi.  God found them in the midst of pagan superstition, and then called them from it to turn to the Jewish prophets in order to discover the Christ Child.  In doing so, God in no way endorsed the superstitions of divination and astrology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Domestic Monastery

Saint Augustine Studying

 

The Second Vatican Council, in asserting the importance of the Christian family, referred to it as a sort of “domestic Church.”  The council fathers wrote,

“From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism, are made children of God, thus perpetuating the People of God through the centuries.  The family is, so to speak, the domestic church.  In it, parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care the vocation to a sacred state” (Lumen Gentium #11).

According to this admirable view, the family is a Christian community, conceived by the love of husband and wife, that sustains the ancient faith through time.  It is the setting where children are first evangelized and catechized, and are simultaneously encouraged in the ways of Christian virtue through the examples of their parents.  And it is also that corner of the Church where religious and priestly vocations are first discerned and encouraged.

This is an admittedly ideal view of the home, but it must remain the standard for all Catholics, because it is essential to the survival of the Church in a profanely secular society.  The Catholic family is presently surrounded on all sides by a culture constructed by the lost that militantly propagates religious skepticism, dangerous superstition, and unspeakable perversity.  Amid such filth of mind and body, the family must provide young impressionable souls with a safe haven of goodness where the love of truth and purity are nurtured and an interior life is pursued.  And yet, as described by the council, this “domestic church” is actually only a beginning.  It is the place where young souls are introduced to the faith and life of the Church.  The catechism somewhat develops this notion:

“The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith.  For this reason, the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and Christian charity” (CCC 1666).

Again, the emphasis is placed on the word “first.”

But what is to follow this “first” – this initial evangelization, this introduction to catechesis?  Does something described as “first” in order not imply something second in order?  If persons grow, mature, and increase in their capacity for religious knowledge and spiritual life, then should not the domestic church also experience an increase or deepening of some type?  Yes, it should; it must.  The mission of the domestic church must mature as its members mature, so that adult souls may continue to advance in the interior life.  I would suggest that the Catholic home in which one or more adults reside should be viewed as the “domestic monastery,” an essential component in the survival of Catholicism in the modern world.

But first – I realize that the domestic church is meant to lead to the Church proper, the institutional Church, the local parish and diocese.  This is the intended “second,” of which the domestic church is the “first.”  But I dare say, the current sequence is not working so well.  There is a clear breakdown in the scheme, and something needs to be urgently done about it.

The word “monastery” originally meant a solitary abode, a place where an individual prayed the complete Divine Office.  But the term now obviously refers to professed religious men or women who, as a community, pray the Divine Office and attend daily Mass, but also, study theology, scripture, and spirituality.  And this is precisely what the Church needs from her laity.

The contemporary Catholic Church suffers from many spiritual afflictions.  She is a sort of crumbling palace – magnificent, but on the verge of collapse.  At this point, some one will want to quote to me Christ’s promise to Simon Peter, that the gates of hell will never prevail against the true Church built on the rock of Saint Peter and his successors (Mt. 16:18).  Yes, it is Gospel truth: Satan will never destroy the Catholic Church.  But tragically, Catholics have often misused the foregoing passage and distorted it into a pleasant comforting promise from Our Lord that the Church will never experience theological, moral, and sacramental confusion, exasperated by a dearth of courageous religious leadership.  I would cite the last fifty years as proof that such an interpretation is false; I would cite all the more the last several years – and most recently, the appalling Pachamama fertility goddess fiasco in the Vatican.  As biblical proof, I would refer to Saint Paul’s public rebuke of Saint Peter (Gal. 2:11-14), as well as the New Testament prophecies of a Great Apostasy in the Church at the end times.  The catechism has some remarkable comments about this apostasy (CCC 675-677).

My point is, in spite of Christ’s promise to Simon Peter and his successors, the Church can descend into shocking degrees of religious confusion and moral scandal, while lacking at the same time the sort of leadership needed to resolve the crisis.  It is her official defined teaching that will never be corrupted by those powers of hell that revel in spreading doubt and confusion.  Yet, there is plenty of allowance, within the parameters of divine providence, for a widespread failure of both clergy and laity to manfully uphold authentic Catholic teaching.  To deny this is to deny the facts of Church history.

In light of this, what is the laity to do in such an era?  Must we be content with the paucity of truth and the banality of devotion found in our local parish or diocese?  Are the treasures of the Church’s theological, biblical, and moral writers the exclusive property of the ordained or professed?  Are we inescapably deficient in some sort of supernatural grace, so that it is impossible for us to grasp the wisdom penned by the ancient masters of the spiritual life?  A thousand times, “No!”  For the riches of the Gospel are meant to be distributed to all who would receive them.  It is only our own laxity and indifference that can keep them from us.

The home – that happy abode where we can slam the door on the insane world outside and live as Catholics should this is our solution to the troubled times in which God has purposefully placed us.  If truth is not to be found in abundance from our pulpits, I dare say, “So what!”  Platitudinous homilies provide no excuses for our own religious ignorance, nor does the absence of ongoing adult religious education.  If the sacramental life of our parish is poor – regardless, this provides no justification for our own impoverished spiritual life.   The truths of the Catholic faith and the practices of the Catholic life can now be learned by a myriad of means.  Catholic publishing, including the re-publication of reliably orthodox works, is now a thriving industry.  Hence, we must not use the state of the Church as a convenient rationalization for being and remaining ignorant.  Such ignorance can be blamed only on our own sloth.

As a solution to a grave problem, and as a worthy end in itself, we must elevate the Catholic home to a domestic monastery of study and prayer.  As the Church swirls in a state of religious confusion, let there be no such confusion at home, but only light and clarity.  Let our homes shine as beacons of Gospel fidelity and resound with the sacred chants of the ages, like the Benedictine monasteries that once salvaged Catholic civilization as the Roman Empire collapsed around them.

I realize that the activities and responsibilities of family life can leave many people with minimal time and opportunity for regular study and prayer.  For most working people, perhaps, the notion of a domestic monastery is quaint, but utterly unrealistic.  Then apply the notion to whatever degree is possible, even if only once a day or once a week.  Devise a routine, however slight, that suits the circumstances.

One would ideally begin with the praying of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours.  This official daily prayer of the Church will establish a routine of formal devotion and expose one to the Church’s sagacious patrimony of Church Fathers, biblical commentators, and spiritual masters.  Following the Office, one could add other devotions as well, or else, bible or catechism study.  The essential element in establishing a spiritual life is form, of not continuing in an amorphous state of intent, but giving shape to that intent; in other words, a spiritual routine.  This is absolutely essential.  And around this routine, other devout practices will naturally collect.  By means of saying, for example, Evening Prayer, followed by twenty or thirty minutes of catechetical or spiritual study, one could correct decades of accumulated error and reach a sound understanding of the faith.  It’s entirely possible, if one looks upon such a program as life-long, as having no actual point of completion except salvation.

An additional and essential element in the domestic monastery is silence.  Except for faith itself, there is nothing so necessary to prayer and study.  One needs to find a quiet room that is free of the countless distractions that fill our homes – phones, televisions, computers, and any objects that will especially distract our mind.  The ideal is to arrange a particular room for such devout purposes, and provide it with holy images and appropriate furniture, so that we can comfortably sing, pray, meditate, and study with minimal interference.

In summary, a partial solution to the current state of the Church is the domestic monastery.  The home is a place where the faithful – either alone or with other family members or friends – can substantially compensate for the inadequacies of the modern Church and advance in the interior life.  By this means, the perennial faith of the saints will survive the darkest of times, and the souls of the faithful will be set free from ignorance and sanctified in truth, as Christ intended for every member of His Church.

The Light of the World

christmas-treeOne evening last year, my wife and I decided to visit the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore, to browse the books and have a bite to eat.  After finishing our coffees and gathering our things together, a young woman approached us with a smart phone.  She was an evangelist from some rather bizarre Christian sect, and presented to us what clearly was a well-rehearsed carefully scripted introduction to her faith, complete with multiple arguments explaining why we needed to abandon our Catholic faith.  In spite of her determination, it didn’t go very well, since her arguments and methods were poor and she was entirely dependent on that moronic little phone, which she constantly consulted.  As soon as I told her to put the device away and speak directly to me from her own knowledge, her presentation and confidence crumbled.  The episode finally ended when she refused to allow me to speak at all, even as she insisted that we listen to her.  After being repeatedly interrupted, I ended her monologue and left that bookstore with feelings of deep sympathy for her husband.

Heretics inevitably share a number of arguments and methods.  They naturally draw from the same trough, in their common mission of defeating the greatest of all religious foes – the mighty Catholic Church.  One such common argument pertains to the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.  It is used by both the neo-Puritan and the Grinch.  Our local bookstore evangelist expressed it this way:

“Advent wreathes and Christmas trees are pagan religious symbols.  As Catholics, you may think you’re honoring God by inventing some sort of Christian meaning for such symbols, but it’s all in vain.  For the religious use of evergreens has its origins in paganism, remains pagan, and can never be otherwise.  The only person your Advent and Christmas decorations honor is the devil, regardless of your intentions!”

One of the reasons this argument appears effective and even unassailable is because it makes an impressive appeal to history.  It appears to reach back into the ancient mists of a pre-Christian world, and leaves the accused party feeling unqualified to respond.   In fact, it does reach back into those ancient mists, but only to revive the same ancient errors.  The person who uses this argument has fallen into a polemical darkness, due to their excessive desire to “get” the Catholic.

Saint Paul confronted a similar error.  The Corinthian Christians were uncertain whether or not they should eat foods bought in the public markets that had been offered to pagan deities.  He answered,

“Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:4-6).

Saint Paul then explained that there is nothing wrong with eating such food…unless a brother, whose understanding of the faith is weak, is scandalized at the sight of other Christians eating such food.  In other words, the actual problem is not the idolatry or the food itself, but the immature faith of that Christian brother, which ultimately elevates the idol above the Christian God.

Directly parallel to this, Christians who argue that Advent wreathes and Christmas trees perpetually remain pagan symbols are elevating the pagan gods above the true God.   That such evergreens have been used in pagan worship in the past means nothing for those who use them amid Christian worship today.  Yes, the intention does matter, and the clear intention of the Christian is to give honor, not to Molech or Baal, but to Jesus Christ.  Nor is there anything objectively wrong with the use of wreathes, trees, or lights.

The one true living God made all the elements of the natural world.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit created the evergreens that are used as decorative wreathes and trees.  He made light as well.  Pagan gods made nothing, because they do not exist.  And even if a demonic spirit responds when some one calls on a particular false god – nevertheless, that demon is still only a creature and has created nothing.  Therefore, the elements of the natural world do not and cannot belong to pagan deities or demons.  They belong entirely to the true God.

This is not to overlook the fact that wreathes and trees are often parts of a merely secular celebration of the seasons.  That’s a concern for every devout Christian, but there is little we can do to stop it.  The fact is, atheists and Hindus sometimes indulge in such decorations, without having any feelings of piety or devotion.  But that is not the issue of the above objection.

To argue that evergreens have been used in the past for idolatrous worship is one thing.  But to then assert that, as a result, every future religious use of evergreens is inextricably bound to pagan superstition is to claim that pagan gods own evergreens and all that is done with them, and that the true God is powerless to reclaim them.  This only puts false gods above the true God, and false religions above the true religion.  One might as well argue that, two thousand years ago, those Jews who waved palm branches as Christ entered Jerusalem were guilty of pagan worship, because pagans had previously used palm branches in their temples.

Why are natural elements such as evergreens, which possess no inherent religious or moral qualities, considered to be perpetually owned by pagan gods?   How is it that beings that do not exist have wrested evergreens away from the God who created them, and now hold them forever as objects of idolatrous devotion?  Why is it that the God who redeemed the human race cannot redeem evergreens for true devotion?  The primary problem with this mentality is that it elevates the devil above God.

Non-Catholic Christians often assert that what matters most is that which is in a person’s heart.  Hence, they oppose memorized or repetitious prayer because, allegedly, it is not spontaneously flowing from the believer’s heart.  They oppose formal ritual and sacramentalism, as well as doctrinal and moral definitions, because these also, allegedly, do not comprise heartfelt piety or faith.   And yet, apparently, no matter what is in a Catholic’s heart as he decorates his home for Christmas, no matter how reverently he commemorates the Light of the World’s entrance into this dark and dismal world through the Incarnation – as represented by sparkling lights on a tree or flickering candles in a window – nevertheless, all such devotion is snatched away by some glowering demonic entity, of which the Catholic is completely unaware.

It is not the decorations that are pagan, but instead, the argument that claims such decorations are forever pagan and hence, cannot be claimed by the true God of the true religion.  Such a view gives all the glory to Satan, as if he were still the prince of this world.  But he is not.  For he has been dethroned by Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, whose blessed Incarnation is proclaimed in symbol with every Advent and Christmas light that pierces the frigid darkness.

If Bible Christians finally get their wish, and Catholics are forbidden to place Christmas decorations in public places – including house windows and front lawns – then the militant atheists will be the first ones to thank them for aiding the difficult enterprise of removing the last traces of Christianity from public life.  Perhaps, when all the beautiful symbols of Christmas joy and hope have been fully purged from society, then the neo-Puritans among us will realize that, all along, they were only useful idiots in the hands of our preternatural enemy.

 

 

 

Drop Down Dew

Bethlehem 2

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain the just;
let the earth be opened,
and bud forth a Savior” (Is. 45:8).

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I recently made an hour-long trip to another town in Massachusetts, in order to do some urgent Christmas shopping.  On the way up, I chose the quickest and most direct route possible.  But after the task was completed, I decided to zig-zag my way back home.  The general area surrounding the town is quite scenic, and since I had lived there many years ago, I decided to nostalgically wind my way through a number of old familiar places.  I thoroughly enjoyed the long idyllic meandering drive, except for one disturbing feature.  As I drove through one town or village after another, I was struck by the changes in the Catholic landscape.  I passed through no fewer than five consecutive towns in which parishes had been closed.  Many moons ago, I had attended these parishes and presumed they would always be available to God-seeking souls.  The mountains were still in place, the rivers wound the same courses, and the fields had remained where I remembered them.  But in many places, the Catholic Church had tragically departed, leaving those rustic towns partly or entirely deprived of God’s magnificent truth and saving grace.  It changed the scenery in the bleakest way.  For nature had remained, but super-nature had left.  The sun might as well have set over those snowy hills once and for all, for a darkness of another type had prevailed.

That evening, the thought of this tragedy remained on my mind.  Before retiring for the night, I sat at my desk to chant night prayer/compline.  During the Advent season, I sing for this final hour the ancient chant Rorate Caeli, which is one of the four essential chants of the liturgical season.  It is a mournful meditation on the fully merited divine abandonment of Jerusalem, due to her countless offenses.  The antiphon-refrain is taken from Isaiah 45:8 in the Vulgate-Douay tradition.

“Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum.

“O heavens, send your rain upon us, send down the Just One to Israel.”

Another translation sings,

“Drop down dew from above, ye heavens, ye clouds rain down the just one.”

This antiphon is a plea to God for His mercy, that He would not abandon Israel forever, but would one day send the long-awaited Savior.  Going even further, the verses contain a sentiment that seldom fails to bring a lump to the throat.

“Do not be angry with us, Lord.
Remember no longer all our past transgressions.
See, your city of Holies now has been deserted.
Sion has been abandoned.
Jerusalem has been made desolate.
The house of your kind and merciful blessing
and of your glory,
the place where abundant praise
rose from our fathers.”

In light of the present state of the Catholic Church, it is difficult to sing such a text through to the end without pausing for an involuntary swallow or two.  Yes, in many ways and in many places, God has substantially deserted His Church, leaving her desolate.  During the last twenty years, countless parishes and religious communities have been closed; numberless priests and religious have abandoned their vocations, and as many lay people have thrown up their arms in despair and exited the vestibule for the last time.  And where parishes remain and Masses are still offered, what is the actual quality of the faith of those who attend?  How many Catholics truly believe everything the Catholic Church teaches?  It would be impossible to arrive at a mathematically accurate answer, but I would suggest a simple approach: merely observe the number of souls standing in the confession lines on a Saturday afternoon.  Of that miniscule number, possibly a few believe everything the Church teaches.  And they are the “faithful,” if the word is to have any meaning at all.

The current desolation of the Catholic Church is entirely merited.  To be precise, God did not abandon her; rather, she drove Him out.  And she did so with far more than sex scandals, which were the inescapable effects of a cause that preceded them: namely, infidelity.

In so many places and in so many ways, the Church resents God.  She resents having been given so important a place in the divine scheme for the world.  Expressed another way, the Church is in the midst of an identity crises.  For she does not want to be what God has made her, does not want to have what God has given her, and does not want to do what God has asked of her.  She is the one true Church of the one true religion, she has the fullness of God’s truth and grace for our salvation, and she must generously and urgently dispense this sacred treasure far and wide, even at the risk of her own safety.  That is, she must make disciples of all the nations.

I have thought about this resentment almost since the day I returned to the Church in 1990.  I’ve wondered over and over again why the Church seems to loath the gift of her own magnificence.  It seems to me she resents it because of the courageous action it necessarily demands of her.  It is seen, not as an honor accompanied by responsibility, but as a risk to her own comfort and ease.  Better to be a fat sated institution of Dapper Dans than a rough band of evangelists living and eating by divine providence.   This seems to be the common attitude among her clerical and lay masses, and it is the grossest infidelity to God.

This resentment is the motivation behind so much deceptive ecumenical activity, which is only the vice of religious indifference parading as the virtue of tolerance.  Psychologically, it makes perfect sense.  After all, if you resent your own nature and wish you were something else – something far less – then it is only natural that you would enjoy the company of others who similarly deny your exalted nature and assert it is no greater than their own.  They would be affirming your own delusion, which would provide a degree of psychological relief.  This, in my opinion, is the unspoken mindset behind so much Catholic ecumania.  And it is part and parcel of the present desolation.

Saint Paul wrote,

“For what a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows in the flesh, from the flesh also will reap corruption.  But he who sows in the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8).

The flesh, concupiscence, the innate inclination to sin due to fallen nature has sown and reaped its harvests, first of infidelity, and then of perversity.  Such has been the past achievements of a morbid host of traitors within the Church, some preternatural.  The forthcoming harvest that is presently being prepared by the same pack of wolves appears to be the normalization of both – of unbelief and sexual degeneracy as permanent salutary states.

In light of the Church’s recent history, it is impossible that she would not experience the chastisement of God.  But this is reason for hope, for divine chastisement is not an idle temper-tantrum; rather, it is both disciplinary and medicinal.  As both the Old and New Testaments teach,

“The discipline of the Lord, my son, disdain not; spurn not his reproof; for whom the Lord loves he reproves, and he chastises the son he favors” (Prov. 3:11).

“Now all discipline seems for the present to be a matter, not for joy, but for grief; but afterwards, it yields the most peaceful fruit of justice to those who have been exercised” (Heb. 12:11).

The present desolation of the Catholic Church is purposeful.  It is not evidence that God neither loves, favors, nor perseveres within her.  No, just the opposite is true.  God is purifying His bride, so that she might again be faithful to Him and serve His purposes.  But she has lost much, and still must lose much more – her reputation, her wealth, and her liberties.  If only she will reaffirm her identity, spiritual riches, and mission, then the present desolation will give way to a restoration.  And that is what every Catholic must be daily praying for and working towards – a great restoration of the Church.

“Be ye comforted,
be ye comforted, O my people,
for most quickly comes thy salvation.
Why, then, are ye all consumed with grief,
so that thy sorrowing has transformed thee?
I come to save; do not be fearful.
Do ye not know that I am thy Lord and thy God,
the most holy One, Redeemer of Israel?”

“Drop down dew from above, ye heavens,
ye clouds rain down the just one.”

Classes on Catholicism

Saint Justin Martyr II

Our classes on the Catholic faith are held at the following times and places:

  • Mondays at the Saint Joseph’s Residence (1365 Enfield St., Enfield, CT);  this class is only tentative
  • Tuesdays at Christ the King parish center (41 Warsaw Ave., Ludlow, MA), beginning on September 17
  • First and third Thursdays at Holy Trinity Parish Center (331 Elm Street, Westfield, MA), beginning on October 3

Classes meet from 7-8:30 pm.  There is no set fee, but donations are greatly appreciated.

These classes/talks teach Catholics how to better understand the Church’s teachings and how to explain and defend them.  They comprise a mixture of catechesis and apologetics, and make constant use of the Bible, Catechism, and other reliable sources of the faith.   Each evening concludes with a period reserved for on or off-topic questions and answers.

All who are sincerely interested in studying Catholicism are welcome.  If you’d like more information, please contact me.  And please note that the Monday evening class in Enfield is tentative, depending on new students.

To contact The Fullness of Truth Apostolate:

  • (413) 568-4429
  • thefullnessoftruthapostolate@juno.com
  • PO Box 2301, Westfield, MA, 01086

 

The Meaning of Holy Saturday

Christ in Limbo IIThe liturgical period between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is a week full of activity.  It is the apex of the Second Vatican Council’s expression “active participation,” in which the faithful are surrounded by, and immersed in, a plethora of devotional expression and ceremonial symbolism.  As should always be the case – but especially in the midst of the Holy Week liturgies – Catholics must remain both prayerful and alert.  Every reading, every pious word, chant, gesture, and period of silence must have our fullest attention, because there is much to learn and even endure as we follow Christ through the agonizing last week of His earthly life.  We must all experience Our Lord’s Passion as if we were present at it two thousand years ago.  For in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are all standing on the Hill of Calvary and shuddering at the brutal torture and execution of a just man, the very God-Man who came to His own, though His own received Him not.

The meaning found in the Holy Week liturgies extends even to the silence that follows them.  The solemn Eucharistic procession that concludes the Holy Thursday liturgy commemorates Christ’s departure from the Upper Room, His entrance into the Garden of Gethsemane, the agony He endured there, and the diabolical kiss of Judas that preceded His imprisonment.  The Church recommends that we devote a period of time in the church to reflecting on these events, supplemented by the reading of the thirteenth through seventeenth chapters of the Gospel of Saint John.  Though the Holy Thursday service may have been concluded, our devotion must not end.

The silent recession that concludes the Good Friday liturgy is similar and provides a unique period of prayer and reflection that extends throughout the night and into Holy Saturday.  However, as we all know, Holy Saturday tends to be a day of nearly frantic preparation for the Easter Vigil and the many festivities of Easter Sunday – both sacred and secular.  As a result, an important body of doctrinal truths is overlooked, year after year.

After the lifeless body of Christ was placed in the tomb, it is generally presumed that a morbid hush came over the world, a period of supernatural inactivity.  Hence, Holy Saturday takes on a similar character of religious quietude, leaving us to go about our preparations without the pious intensity of the previous week.  But preparations aside, the Church herself is silent and still.  In fact – except for the Good Friday service – Holy Saturday is the only day in the liturgical year in which no Mass is offered and no biblical readings are assigned.

In some parishes – usually ethnic communities where tradition is stronger than in ordinary parishes – a small informal service may be held before an image of Christ entombed, with prayers and meditations that again reflect the alleged supernatural stillness of the day.  It is as if Our Lord was literally asleep until His Resurrection – resting up in preparation for His spectacular Lord’s Day appearance to His disciples.

While pondering the lifeless Corpse in the tomb, it may seem from our perspective as if Holy Saturday was a day of divine inactivity, but it certainly was not the case from the perspective of the One who was crucified.  For Jesus Christ, there was no Sabbath rest that year.  Holy Saturday was a busy day, indeed.

From the moment of His death upon the Cross at 3 p.m. on Good Friday until the moment of His Resurrection early on Easter Sunday, the divine Savior in His human soul ministered to the righteous departed souls in Limbo.  From the Cross, Jesus “descended” to this realm of the dead.  This truth is not an obscure theory found only in apocryphal writings or specious private revelations; it is a doctrine of the faith which we regularly profess.  In the Apostles’ Creed we say,

“[Jesus Christ]…suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.”

Christ’s Descension into “hell” is not to be taken in the literal sense.  In this case, the term refers to the realms of the dead in general.  Christ did not visit the damned as a means of tormenting those who would never benefit from His redemption.  Nor did He visit heaven; He would finally do that at His Ascension.  Instead, Christ descended to the realm of the just where all the righteous persons who had died previous to His atoning death awaited their liberation.  This means that no one – not even the greatest individuals from the Old Testament era – could enter heaven until the price for all human sin had been paid.  If such persons could have entered heaven at the time of their death, then there would have been no need for Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.

The paradise in which these souls temporarily resided is called the “Limbo of the Fathers” and “Abraham’s Bosom.”  It was a place of peace, but it lacked the presence of God, which is the primary joy of heaven.

Death is, by definition, the separation of the human soul from the human body.  It was the same for Christ, but with a qualifier.  Following His dying words upon the Cross – “It is finished” – His soul descended to the realm of the dead while His lifeless body remained in the tomb.  However, His divine Person – the Word of God – remained united with both.  This means His soul remained the soul of the Son of God, and His corpse remained the body of the Son of God.

The Roman Catechism says,

“Although His soul was separated from His body, His divinity was never parted from either His soul or His body.”

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

“During Christ’s period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason, the dead Christ’s body ‘saw no corruption (Acts 13:37)’” (#630).

Therefore, to contemplate Christ in the tomb – perhaps even with an image before us – is to contemplate, not merely an instrument once used by God but then discarded in death, but the very body of God Incarnate who remained united with it.

Regarding the Descension of Christ, the Catechism teaches,

“The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was ‘raised from the dead’ presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.  This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead.  But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there” (CCC 632).

“It is precisely these holy souls who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he desended into hell” (CCC 633).

Obviously, holy souls did not, and do not, reside in hell.  Rather, at the time of Christ’s death they resided in “Abraham’s Bosom” – also called the “Limbo of the Fathers” and “Paradise.”  Previous to the atoning death of Christ, this realm of the dead was the closest domain to heaven.

The expression “Abraham’s Bosom” comes from our Lord’s Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  In this teaching, Jesus said,

“And it came to pass that the poor man died and was borne away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom; but the rich man also died and was buried in hell.  And lifting up his eyes, being in torments, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom” (Lk. 16:22-24).

This parable reveals a number of extraordinary insights into the afterlife, including the full consciousness and memory of deceased souls, as well as their mediatory functions on behalf of others that in no way offend the supreme mediation of Christ.  The saints assist the saints in many ways, because that is how God has arranged salvation.

Various scriptural passages describe the activity of Christ’s human soul on Holy Saturday.  Saint John wrote,

“Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is hear, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live” (Jn. 5:25).

And Saint Peter wrote,

“Put to death in the flesh, [Christ] was brought to life in the spirit, in which also he went and preached to those spirits that were in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19).

What exactly did Christ do on Holy Saturday?  From the moment He was taken down from the Cross until His Resurrection, Our Savior declared to “the spirits that were in prison” the Good News that the price for their sins had been paid, that their anxious souls had been redeemed, and that the moment of their entrance into the glory of heaven where they would behold the blessed face of God for eternity was near.  How near?  It is the general teaching of the Church that Christ led the souls from Limbo into heaven at the time of His Ascension – forty days after His Resurrection.  And among these souls were Adam and Eve, as well as the good thief.

May we meditate on these holy truths every Good Friday evening and Holy Saturday, and never again imagine that Christ, even in death, rested from His salvific labors.

The Poetic Witness

 

dsci0791

‘We retreat.  We don’t escape.  That’s a word I loathe.  But retreat – that’s a characteristic word for me, that you retreat for strength.  You don’t escape; you withdraw with God.’

– Robert Frost

————————————————————————————————————-

The poet Robert Frost was not a religious man.  During his childhood years, his multi-denominational family only occasionally attended Church, and later as an adult, he followed the same practice.  Frost seems to have been something of a non-practicing Protestant, with a proclivity for the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  And to add even more mystery to the man, he cited the Old Testament – not the New Testament – as one of a small number of books that had most influenced him.

In spite of the absence of overt religiosity, Robert Frost recognized the importance of one element of authentic Christianity, one that is seemingly of little importance to most Christians.  That element is the need to retreat from the world and rest in God.  Christ, the saints, and the poet all harmoniously emphasize that retreat is not a form or act of escape.  It is not a running away from the world, but a withdrawing from it in order to be refreshed and strengthened by a divine spring.  For the world – meaning, all that is opposed to God and His Kingdom – is an ugly and wearisome thing.  Excessive exposure to it and absorption in it draws the soul perpendicularly downward into countless thoughts, concerns, and activities that isolate it from its source of celestial inspiration and light – God the Almighty.  Man was not made for this world, even though he was placed in it.  He was made to pass through it, and, after being refined in its sorrows and hardships, after enduring all by the grace of God and rising victorious in Him, to finally triumph over this world.

Immediately after His baptism and just before the initiation of His public ministry, Jesus withdrew to the desert for a forty-day period of absolute fasting, prayer, and demonic temptation.

“Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led about the desert by the Spirit for forty days, being tempted all the while by the devil.  And in those days he ate nothing; and when they were completed he was hungry” (Lk. 4:1-2).

Although the extreme asceticism of this retreat exhausted Our Lord’s physical body, it prepared his spiritual soul.  It was not an escape.  No, the forty days were anything but that, due to the demonic confrontations Christ endured.  But this was the only appropriate preparation for a ministry that would demand, not only physical exertion, but spiritual as well.

Throughout His earthly life, Jesus continued to practice solitary prayer.

“The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (Lk. 5:15-16).

He also recommended it to His disciples.  In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught,

“But when you pray, go into your room, and closing the door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Mt. 6:6).

Shortly before He selected His twelve apostles, He withdrew by Himself.

“Now it came to pass in those days, that he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.  And when day broke, he summoned his disciples, and from these he chose twelve” (Lk. 6:12-13).

After the apostles had been sent out in pairs by Jesus to preach, heal the sick and crippled, and exorcise the possessed, and after they had been wearied from the constant demands of such a mission, Jesus said to them,

“‘Come apart to a desert place and rest a while.’  For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  And they got into a boat and went off to a desert place apart” (Mk. 6:31-32).

Scripture repeatedly reveals that, before each important act, Jesus prepared Himself by withdrawing from the world to a solitary garden or mountain and passing even an entire night in contemplation and prayer.

Previous to His most important Eucharistic discourse, after miraculously feeding well over five thousand people on the plain of Bethsaida, and after finding the crowd on the verge of proclaiming Him their political Messiah, Jesus quickly dismissed both the people and His apostles.  Then, as the Gospel of St. John expresses it, He “fled again to the mountain” (Jn. 6:15) to pray.

Each of these biblical examples shows our Lord and His disciples retreating to quiet solitary places, not only to eat and rest in peace, but also, to think and pray apart from the chaos, demands, and distractions of the world and the worldly.  It is as if the human being was made for another sort of life and can endure a mundane busy-body manner of living for only so long, as if it is contrary to human nature and well being to be immersed in external activity morning, day, and night.  Positively, such a life style is contrary to the needs and vitality of the soul, and whoever wholly devotes himself to such a manner of living devotes himself to a slow and meaningless death.

I have no intention of spiritualizing Robert Frost or of reinterpreting his life and work as secretly religious.  The fact is, he was not a religious man, nor a Gospel man, but simply a secular poet.  So, it would be foolish to try to make him into a philosopher, mystic, or theologian.  Nevertheless, the poet in general stands in a unique place in society, as a sort of bridge between religion and irreligion.  He bears witness to a much-neglected side of life.  And I would even go so far as to suggest that there are “secular” prophets – the literary equivalents of the Persian King Cyrus, who was used by God to liberate the Jews from their Babylonian Captivity, even though he did not worship the God of Israel.  As another example, I would mention George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm.  These two books prophetically warned the modern world of the dystopian hell that man can and will create for himself.

Poets remind us of the interior life.  They witness to the possibility and importance of calm reflection and critical reasoning.  They stand apart from the mindless bustle of the world and the mad pursuits of money, possessions, power, and popularity.  They are the indictment of the life of empty show, of living on the surface.  Their lives and work proclaim to the religious and irreligious alike a vital message that amounts to a Christian responsibility:

“Retreat.  Withdraw from the world – and not as an escape, but for the strength that will be found in sacred solitude.  For you are not only a physical body; much more, you are a spiritual soul.  And you were made for the life of the mind, – not only to live, but to examine the life you were given.”

One of my favorite poems by Frost begins in this way:

“Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day….”

Now who walks in a swamp? And who walks in a frozen swamp?  And who walks in a frozen swamp on a gray wintery day?  The obvious answer is: the poet.  As if in response to the cryptic voice of Christ that whispers to every soul on earth, “Come apart to a desert place and rest a while,” the poet forsakes the familiar pleasantries of modern civilization and wanders in order to wonder.  He or she is a standing witness to a fundamental Christian truth neglected by most Christians; namely, the innate religious nature of the human creature which finds its repose, not in the way of Martha, but in the way of Mary (Lk. 10:38-42), not in a frenetic exterior life, but in a rich poetic interior life.

Christian soul, retreat and withdraw often, not to escape from the world – for you cannot – but to defeat the world after being strengthened and guided by the God whose soft mellifluous voice is most distinctly heard when all others are silent.

The Transcendence of Christianity

 

Birth of ChristThere are many religions on the face of the earth. There are many spiritualities, philosophies, and world views.  And there are countless self-proclaimed preachers, prophets, visionaries, and reformers – most of whom claim to have the one truth that can set us free, the single uncorrupted interpretation of Scripture, or the final urgent end times message from heaven.  Our world is dense with religious demagogues peddling their wares, advertising the latest and greatest doctrines and morals for those in the market for a deluxe new and improved religion.  For the restless seeker of truth, who observes this often insincere marketing of religious ideas, it is only too tempting to dismiss the quest as simply hopeless.  Indeed, choosing a denomination, spirituality, or philosophy in the modern world can be comparable to shopping for cereal at a supermarket: you look to the left and the right, and see nothing but cereal to the vanishing point.  In the end, you choose the cereal that is the sweetest, the cheapest, or the nearest.  Or else, you go home and create your own.

And so it is with truth in the modern world, so that one is tempted to denounce the religious riddle as unsolvable. There is guidance, however, in the very word, “religion.”  The term “religion” is most likely derived from the Latin word, “religare,” meaning to tie, fasten, or bind.  The religious person ties, fastens, or binds himself to God. The essence of true religion is not in a person binding himself downwards to man, but in a the person binding himself upwards to God.  Hence, in Col. 3:1-2, St. Paul wrote,

“Therefore, if you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Mind the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.”

The movement and orientation of authentic religion, then, is upwards; it is vertical, rather than horizontal, transcendent, rather than mundane, and eternal, rather than temporal.  True religion directs the human mind above itself to the great and Supreme Other.  It summons the human person to follow, not the movements of the heart or the cravings of the passions, but instead, the designs and intentions of the eternal God above.

Hence, when a person discovers the living God and offers to Him their life, they experience a conversion.  The term “conversion” means a “turning.”  In a conversion, a person turns from one thing to another thing; they turn away from themselves and to God.  This entails the submitting of the free will and the person’s assorted beliefs to that which God has revealed.  For true religion consists, not only in what one believes, but also in what one does not believe.  Conversion requires that a person purge from their hearts and minds all that is contrary to the truth.

Religion that lacks conversion is a contradiction in terms.  If it instructs a person to turn, not away from themselves, but instead, to themselves, to dwell on their feelings and opinions with confidence and self-esteem, rather than on God and the truths He has revealed, then such a so-called religion is actually an anti-religion; it is the very opposite of true religion because it ties, fastens, and binds one downward to oneself.  Such a “spirituality” – as it is more often called – is only glorified self-absorption.  And that describes much modern religion – the glorification of the self.

Today, it is far more common for a person to convert a religion to himself rather than for a person to convert to a religion.  For example, consider a Catholic mother who has a homosexual son.  Religiously speaking, she has two options: either she can favor the faith, or she can favor her son.  If she favors the faith, then she will understand that homosexual acts are sinful and that loving her son means praying for him and helping him to resist his homosexual desires.  For if she loves him with a holy love, then she will desire his eternal salvation above all the passing pleasures of this life.  In other words, being converted to the true God and His truth, she will remain faithful, even in such a difficult and painful situation, and even if her son rejects her for it.  But if the mother instead favors her son over the faith, then she will make all sorts of excuses for him, speak of him only in glowing terms, and condemn the Church for having such harsh teachings.  In other words, she will convert the Catholic religion to her situation, and anything that the Church teaches that is critical of the homosexual life style she will claim is simply wrong and needs to be changed.  Hence, the conversion is headed in the wrong direction.  Ultimately, it is God who is being told that He must convert to her, and be tied, fastened, and bound downward to her!

Consider another common situation. Say, a Catholic man believes in reincarnation.  He likes the idea because, first, it seems to explain why bad things happen to good people, second, it acknowledges the existence of life after death, and third, it provides an escape from the finality of the Christian teaching on a final judgement immediately after this life.  Like the mother, this man has two choices; either he can favor the Catholic faith, or he can favor the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation.  If he favors the faith, then, after doing some catechetical and biblical research, he will firmly reject reincarnation as irreconcilable with Catholic teaching.  But if he favors reincarnation, then he will submit the teachings of the Church to a doctrine totally contrary to the faith, and to whatever degree he recognizes this conflict, he will say that it is Catholicism that is wrong and needs to change.  In other words, again, the conversion goes in the wrong direction; the faith is converted to the opinions of the man, so that it is tied, fastened, and bound downward to him.

Both of these common situations reveal the antithesis of true religion in which the self is regarded as the supreme being and the author and judge of all doctrines and morals.  They depose God and demand that He be the humble convert.

The life and teaching of Jesus Christ are thoroughly transcendent. He taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  When He prayed, blessed, healed, or restored the dead to life, he lifted His eyes upward.  He asserted that the first and foremost commandment was to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, such that the other great commandment – the love of others – must always remain subservient to the first.  All the days of His earthly ministry, He spoke of his heavenly Father and of the Kingdom of God.  And when Our Lord departed this world, as if to offer us one final lesson, He ascended into heaven.  Jesus consistently emphasized the essential truth that His religion was a transcendent religion – one from heaven, teaching heavenly doctrines, bestowing heavenly grace, and leading its adherents to heaven.

The transcendent orientation of Christianity has always been manifested in the environments in which Catholics worshipped. The mind of the worshipper was drawn upward to God and the things of God by dignified ritual, language, gesture, music, and architecture.  Sanctuaries shimmered with the heavenly, with the finest vestments and sacred vessels, with pillars, arches, frescoes, stained-glass windows, and spires, all of which elevated the human mind and drew it upwards to the thought of the otherworldly and divine.  Even the distracted mind that wandered at Mass could be brought back to the godly by such purely religious designs.  And sacred music especially, chanted in sweet clouds of rising incense, rehearsed the human soul for the day of salvation.  Such internal and external religion served the internal and external nature of man.  It responded to the truth that the human being is an inescapably religious creature, such that the human heart burns for the supernatural and the mysterious, so that, without these, it withers and despairs.  The human being is by design and nature a religious being whose true vocation is not natural, but supernatural.  Man was made for God, to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and enjoy His divine presence for eternity.

How, then, may the spirit of man be most effectively broken? How best subjugate him with emptiness and misery?  Not with wars, poverty, injustice, and loneliness.  Rather, if the soul of man is to be broken, then let his religion be corrupted.  Take from the human person true religion, give a poor substitute in its place, and the source of man’s strength, virtue, mission, hope, and the very purpose for which he was created – eternal life with God – will all at once be lost.

Now, how may religion most effectively be corrupted? Simply, by reversing its orientation, by supplanting the transcendent with the mundane, the vertical with the horizontal, the upward with the downward, and the eternal with the temporal.  Let the Gospel of salvation become the Gospel of social justice.  Let Christ the Redeemer become Christ the community organizer.  Let the homilies offer, not exhortations to repentance and faith, but platitudes about self-esteem and self-love.  Let religious education offer, not sound catechesis, but a warm community experience.  Let churches be built with low ceilings, thick carpets, and loud PA systems.  Whitewash the frescoes, jack hammer the high altars, tear down the pillars, and shatter the stained-glass windows.  And the music?  Oh, fill the nave, not with that magnificent repertoire that has carried the faith through the ages, not with the Church’s music, but with the world’s music; not Gregorian chant and Palestrina’s motets, but with rock and jazz.  Celebrate Mass with…a polka band.  Forbid the use of Latin – that ancient language that rings with the sound of the sacred.  In a word, reverse the orientation so that the new religion of the new man will sing of human goodness and human achievements.  Let the hymns proclaim the greatness of our race and celebrate, not man’s need for God, but God’s need for us!

If it isn’t obvious, the foregoing litany of reversals is not imaginary, but an accurate accounting of the changes made to Catholicism over the last fifty years. It is as if the City of God had given way to the secular city.  And because true religion has been abandoned, man has been abandoned; or rather, man has liberated himself from his divine liberator.

This modern distortion of authentic Catholicism is unworthy of the name religion, for it ties, fastens, and binds man to this world and asks him to turn from, and be converted to, nothing.

But is there proof for the dramatic claims I’ve made?  Yes, I believe so.  The proof is found in the modern mass exodus of Catholics out of the Church.  Is this the result of the many clerical sex scandals?  Yes, in part.  But the sex scandals are part and parcel of the new religion of the new catholic.  After all, if the homilies we hear year after year are void of references to the divine and natural moral law, then why should we be surprised if the men who preach such homilies are found to be living immoral lives?  It actually makes perfect sense. They’re just practicing what they preach, or what they don’t preach, which is a pseudo-religion void of both morality and doctrine.  Hence, to state what should be obvious by now, the most rapidly declining religious body in the United States today is the Catholic Church.

Every single departure from the Catholic Church is a tragedy of eternal proportions. Each one is a repetition of the tragedies that followed our Lord’s Bread of Life Discourse, in which many of His disciples rejected Him specifically because they rejected His Eucharistic teaching.  And who was the most infamous member of this faithless band but Judas Iscariot himself, whose betrayal is first mentioned in relation to his Eucharistic unbelief.  In the midst of this mutiny, Jesus did not compromise His teaching.  He did not omit those truths which repelled the crowd, but maintained them simply because they were true.  Yes, He was the living Bread of Life, and to consume His Body and Blood would be to receive His divine life.  It was not mere metaphor, simile, or figures of speech; it was literally true.  His Flesh would be true food and His Blood true drink.  By means of His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist made present among the faithful by transubstantiation in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ would remain Emmanuel for all time – “God with us” by a sacramental mode of presence.

Such is the sacramental vocabulary that the Church developed over the centuries. Through controversies and necessary clarifications, the Church carefully refined her teaching, in order to express with precision the profound truths contained in Holy Scripture.  But the Apostles had no such benefits; they lacked such a developed sacramental theology, and yet they believed in the Person, Jesus Christ, in His divine authority, power, and nature.  Thus, when Our Lord turned to the twelve and asked, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered with the confidence of faith, saying,

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

After one has found the true God and the true religion, there is no other place to go, no other spiritual domain except that single domain of saving eternal truth.

So, where can a person go after leaving the one true Church of Jesus Christ? Where can a Catholic go after having at their daily disposal the fullness of God’s truth and grace for our salvation?  As a Catholic, and as an adult convert, I have a duty to publically confess that there is no other place to go, no comparable denomination, religion, spirituality, philosophy, or world view.  Catholicism, which is the fullness of the Christian religion, bears the totality of God’s gift to humanity in Christ, the truth and grace for which man was created.

On the topic of the various world religions, in the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Saint Paul VI wrote,

“Obviously, we cannot agree with these various forms of religion, nor can we adopt an indifferent or uncritical attitude toward them on the assumption that they are all to be regarded as on an equal footing, and that there is no need for those who profess them, to enquire whether or not God has Himself revealed definitively and infallibly how He wishes to be known, loved, and served. Indeed, honesty compels us to declare openly our conviction that the Christian religion is the one and only true religion, and it is our hope that it will be acknowledged as such by all who look for God and worship Him” (#107).

All religions contain some truth. Even Satanism holds to certain ideas that are correct.  But some truth is only some truth.  God has far more for us than merely some truth.  Whereas the various world religions comprise man’s search for God, the Christian religion comprises God’s search for man.  In Christ, the one true God literally entered the human scene and shared in the human condition.  In the Incarnation, God literally walked among us, teaching us what we must believe and showing us how we must live.  In this revelation alone, humanity may find its answers and its peace of soul.

But why should any person believe such exclusive claims? And how, in the era of tolerance, diversity, and religious pluralism, can Christians still make such claims?  The answer is always the same: Jesus Christ.  For Christ is not merely the founder of another world religion.  He is not merely the priest and prophet of Christians.  He does not compare with Muhammad, Buddha, or Zoroaster.  These men were only the founders of their particular religions.

Christ is no mere founder of a religion. Rather, He is the Savior of the world and the only hope of salvation for the entire human race and every member of it.  He is, then the Savior of Muhammad, Buddha, and Zoroaster, if ever they could be saved.

Christianity is, then, Christ, and Christ is the living God come in human flesh to offer to His Father what no human being could offer – namely, a spotless human life made eternally valuable, due to the divine Person to which it was joined. Thus, it would be an insult to speak of Him as merely the founder of the Christian religion, for He is its God as well.  Thus, we sing at Christmas,

“God of God, Light of Light. Lo he abhors not the Virgin’s womb.  Very God, begotten, not created.  O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

Christ is divine, and therefore, Christianity is divine.

No, It Is Not Clericalism

 

Christ the King IIIIn the document, Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God, the pope recently addressed the clerical sex scandal crisis.  One term that is found repeatedly in this letter is that of “clericalism.”  Pope Francis apparently feels that the present Church crisis is primarily due to clericalism, and the bishops in America and elsewhere are quickly following his lead.  As a result, one already finds the term “clericalism” in one episcopal statement after another.  Even the media has seized upon it.

I would agree that clericalism is a serious problem in the Church.  It always has been, and it probably always will be.  But what, exactly, is clericalism?

Clericalism is one manifestation of the capital sin of pride.  The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it in this way:

“Pride is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God.”

In other words, to be proud is to be full of yourself.  It is to have a disordered infatuation with one’s own qualities, achievements, status, and opinions and to crave or even demand praise from others.  We are all guilty of the sin of pride and we especially act on it according to our particular station in life.

Clericalism is that manifestation of pride that afflicts men of the cloth – popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons.  It takes many familiar forms: misplaced pomp in liturgical and other public appearances; excessive signs of external respect; emphasis placed on clerical opinions on Church matters, to the belittling of the opinions of lay people; an aloofness and air of superiority; a tendency to look upon the laity as personal servants, and to disregard lay concerns as unimportant.

Christ warned the Apostles about clericalism.  He said,

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25–28).

The man who practices clericalism does just what Our Lord proscribes.  He makes his authority over others felt in oppressive ways.  He does not serve others, but insists that they serve him.  And he enjoys every bit of it.  Let me give one concrete example of clericalism.  Many years ago, when I was employed by the Church as an organist, I was socializing in a friary with the priests shortly before a Confirmation ceremony.  A priest who had just been ordained said to everyone present, “When I’m finally made a pastor, it’s going to be ball-and-chain.”  Everyone laughed.  From what I’ve heard about this priest, I’d say the prophecy has been fulfilled.

Now, let’s suppose that the pope and the bishops are correct in their assessment of what ails the modern Church, that it’s primarily clericalism.  If this is so, then I would expect to see some predictable forthcoming changes.  For example, let cardinals be addressed, not as “Your Eminence,” but more humbly as “Cardinal so-and-so.”  Let bishops be addressed, not as “Your Excellency,” but more meekly as, “Bishop so-and-so.”  Forsake the kissing of episcopal rings, and such expressions as the bishop’s “throne” and the bishop’s “palace,” wherever these practices are still in use.  And let’s simplify clerical and liturgical vestments as well, so that the pomp in Catholic liturgy is directed entirely to the glory of God, and not to man.  Such changes could be only the beginning of purging the Church of arcane signs of clericalism.

Does anyone really expect to see these changes?  If you do, then I’ve got a drawbridge I’d love to sell you.

The present crisis is not due to clericalism.  Clericalism does not make a normal heterosexual male want to sexually molest another male or a child!  Such a term only provides an easy escape for those unwilling to admit and confront the far more malevolent problem in the Church; namely, rampant homosexuality.  The liberal pro-gay media has escaped this admission by defining the crisis as one of pedophilia.  The ecclesiastical powers that be have done the same.  But the statistics prove otherwise.  Pedophilia consist of sexual relations between an adult and a child thirteen years old or younger.  There have been many such incidents in this crisis, that is for certain.  And one of the most disturbing aspects of this is the realization that men this sick, with such an extreme sexual-psychological disorder, have been ordained in droves, in spite of the various examinations candidates for the priesthood must pass.  Is this not suggestive of collusion?  However, the statistics reveal that approximately eighty percent of the sexual abuse in the Church has been committed against boys older than thirteen.  In other words, the present crisis is one of bishops and priests having homosexual sex with teenagers and seminarians, boys and young men.  That is the unpopular but well-documented fact.

The present crisis in the Church is not one of clericalism or pedophilia, but widespread homosexual activity, abuse, recruitment, and protection of the guilty.  This latter tendency has unfortunately been receiving all the attention, and it’s in this protecting of the guilty that there is the alleged clericalism.  But every ring of scoundrels protects its own, so there’s nothing unique about this.  The real issue is the behavior itself, the actual sin committed, which is then being concealed and denied.  And that sin is homosexual acts.  Until the pope and bishops can face this ugly truth, the Church will continue to be mired in scandals and to decline in her reputation and her ability to perform her God-given mission.

Although I do not have proof, I think it’s a safe presumption that many holy souls in the Church’s history – men and women from all periods and places – have been afflicted with homosexual desires.  These persons have perhaps suffered in silence, confessed their occasional falls, and striven to the utmost to avoid temptation, by the grace of God.  Perhaps heaven is full of such saints.  However, especially in light of our age’s omnipresent encouragement to indulge in all forms of sexual sin, I am strongly opposed to the ordaining of homosexual men.  This includes celibate homosexual men.  Again, such persons may live lives of extraordinary sanctity, but there is far more to the priestly ministry than only personal sanctity; there is also fidelity to Catholic teaching.

A priest with a homosexual attraction will be surrounded by temptation for his entire life.  The Church prudently and wisely teaches that, in order to effectively avoid sin, we must avoid the near occasions of sin, those circumstances which cause us the most potent types and degrees of temptation, those to which we are most likely to fall, based on our personal history.  A homosexual man in the priesthood, having even the purest and noblest intentions, would nevertheless be contradicting the Church’s counsel to avoid the near occasions of sin.

An equally prudent and wise teaching of the Church warns, “Do not trust thyself.”  Do not ever place faith in yourself, in the confidence that you will not fall to a temptation.  Instead, presume that you will fall, and so, avoid the temptation.  Saint Augustine once advised his fellow priests and bishops, “Don’t ever leave me alone with a woman.”   A homosexual priest would again contradict this invaluable counsel of the Church, recklessly trust himself, and frequently be alone with one man after another.  This is a reliable recipe for the commission of many sins.

There is another reason that I’m opposed to the ordaining of homosexual men to the priesthood, and it concerns teaching the faithful.  To make an extreme understatement – the current state of biblical and catechetical teaching in the Catholic Church is deplorable, and it has been so for over half a century.  There is a consistently narrow selection of Christian themes that are repeated over and over again, ad nauseam, wherever the Church teaches.  Sometimes I feel as if every homily is the same as every other homily, except that the order of words has been rearranged.   And we all know the themes: love, mercy, tolerance, acceptance, blah-blah-blah.  It sounds like a campaign speech from Bernie Sanders.  We hear and read this drivel week after week and decade after decade.  But these themes, as much as they are somewhat biblical, are not accurately presented as Holy Scripture presents them.  They appear to be, not strengths and virtues, but weaknesses and vices.  For example: love, the most over-used and abused word in the modern homiletic vocabulary.  Properly understood, Jesus Christ did not teach about love; He did not say one thing about it, except to warn us about it.  Instead, Christ taught about the virtue of charity, which is about as far from the emotion of love as you can get.

The Catechism defines charity in the following way:

“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).

Charity is God-centered, transcendent, and exceedingly holy.  And if it is genuine, then it results in the acceptance of all that God has revealed through Scripture and Tradition, and the conformity of one’s actions to the divine moral law.  But this is light years above the rubbish that is repeated day and night in the sanctuaries, halls, and classrooms of the Church today.  Instead, we hear about love, love, love, without any clarifications that would distinguish Gospel love –  charity – from worldly love – desire, often of the most disordered kind.  After all, rock musicians sing about love all the time.  Is that Gospel love?  Absolutely not!  So then, let our pastors and preachers teach us about the vast differences between charity and love.

I could carry on regarding the other redundant themes that we constantly hear and read about in the modern Church, but I’ll stop with charity.  In my opinion, the above-mentioned narrow selection of Christian themes amounts to a new gospel, a false gospel; it amounts to an effeminate gospel.  The teachings that are presented to us week after week and decade after decade are the by-product of an effete character.  I dare say, it is all that a homosexual clergy, or a homosexual-influenced clergy, is willing to preach and teach.  It is their system of belief, not God’s.  It is the gay gospel of the world, rather than the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For this reason, it is especially weak in the area of sexual morality.

This is not to imply that all or most priests and bishops are homosexual.  Realistic estimates place the number at an average of about forty percent.  But as with the rest of the population, in which homosexuals amount to only about two percent, the political, social, and cultural influence this population has is astounding.  It’s a testimony to the effect a committed and uncompromising group of people can have on others.  If only the Church would get the message.

My favorite spiritual writer – Dominican theologian Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange – once penned a passage that struck me from the first and has remained a personal guiding principle ever since.  In a footnote, he wrote, ‘The greatest thing a man can do is nothing.’  This is pithy Thomistic wisdom at its best.  The greatest thing a man can do is NOTHING!  What on earth does this mean?

It is the common view that the manly man is the character that is quick to curse, quick to punch, and has half-a-dozen women hanging all over him.  He’s the handsome stud who’s sleeping with all the beauts.  But this is exactly backwards.  It takes no strength to indulge in one’s desires.  It requires no heroism to surrender to temptation, vice, and sin.  There’s simply nothing manly about falling.  On the contrary, the strong man is the one who fights his sinful desires and wins.  The Christian hero confronts his temptations like a soldier of Christ, defeats them by the grace of God, and retains his holiness.  In the face of sin, the true man of God stands strong and does…nothing!  That is, he does not act on his temptations, but resists them.  Through the spiritual gift of self-mastery, he overcomes his most potent foe: himself.

This is precisely what the homosexual life style contradicts.  It gives in to grave sin, it surrenders to extreme temptation, and it celebrates these mortal falls as victories in the name of a perverse liberty.  But such a so-called liberty, such libertinism, is actually a dreadful form of bondage.  As Our Lord said,

“Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34).

In my opinion, the presentation of Catholic teaching and preaching has been deplorable for so long because homosexualism – an actual ideology, meaning a philosophy, world view, culture, and religion all based on the homosexual fixation – has dominated the Church on all levels.  The fragmentary gospel that we nearly everywhere encounter in the modern Church is a gay false gospel that has surrendered to grave sin.

Until the Church ceases to ordain homosexual men, the gay false gospel will be the only Gospel we hear.  May God Almighty give our pope, bishops, priests, and deacons the manly courage to confront this evil and reform His Holy Catholic Church.