Friday, December 31, 2010

Holy Mary, Mother of God and "the best of all possible worlds"

January 1st, The Feast of Mary the Mother of God
In the modern period, a most foolish philosophical theory came to be accepted by many, and even by many Christians. Gottfried Leibniz, one of those modern philosophers who will continue to be thought of as great until the Final Judgment, is credited for having coined the phrase “the best of all possible worlds.” He argued that the world in which we now live is the best of all possible worlds, a world which could not be better than it now is.
Leibniz’s primary reason for postulating this theory – that this world in which we live is the best of all possible worlds – is to attempt to build a theodicy: The Good God is not responsible for the evil in the world because the world is as good as it could possibly be, not even God could have made it any better or any less evil.
Against Leibniz’s theory, St. Thomas tells us that God could have created the world better than he did – though, of course, any particular nature cannot be better than it is without becoming a different nature; yet God could have created species of higher perfection than he did in fact create. Hence, “God can make something else better than each thing made by him.” (ST I, q.25, a.6) In this manner, the universe could have been better than it is, if God had willed it to be so.
There are three creatures, however, which could not be greater – the humanity of Christ, the beatific vision, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. On today's feast of the Mother of God, we consider this Woman, she than whom no greater creature could have been created. The Blessed Virgin is herself that “best of all possible worlds.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

When did the star first appear to the Magi?

The Feast of the Epiphany, Matthew 2:1-12
Behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” […] Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
We have already discussed the chronology of the events surrounding the Savior’s birth, yet we subtly avoided a most difficult question regarding the feast of the Epiphany – When did the star first appear to the Magi? This is connected with an additional inquiry regarding the time at which the Magi set out from their home country and the length of their travel to Bethlehem. Finally, as we will see, the massacre of the Holy Innocents seems to be related to the time of the appearance of the star.
First, we might ask a most practical question: What does it matter when the star appeared? Why should we be concerned at all to determine the time of the star’s appearance or the duration of the Magi’s journey? To this we respond that it will be good to know when the star appeared, because this will indicate something about the order of the manifestation of the Christ. If, for example, we were to conclude that the star appeared to the Magi two years before the birth of Christ (something which many modern scholars presume), we would have to admit that the Magi received the astronomical salutation before the Blessed Virgin had received the Angelic Salutation – is this fitting?
Moreover, we must say that, even prescinding from the practical value of this question, there is great spiritual value to pondering the events surrounding the Nativity. In much the same manner as St. Ignatius Loyola, who traveled to the hills around Jerusalem with hope of discovering which way Christ was looking as he ascended into heaven, we now will seek to glean from the biblical text some indication of the time in which the star was seen by the Magi.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Holy Innocents received the most excellent form of Baptism

 December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents
Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
It is not possible to determine either the day or the year of the slaughtering of the Holy Innocents, though the Armenians believe it to have been fifteen weeks after the birth of Christ. We know that it must have happened no less than forty days after the Nativity, since Christ was presented in the Temple at that time – he had not yet fled to Egypt and the Infants had not yet been killed.
The reason their feast is kept December 28th, within the octave of Christmas, is that the Holy Innocents gave their lives for the newborn Savior. Hence, these first flowers of the Church, martyrs by blood alone, accompany the Holy Child Jesus who entered this world on Christmas day. As they were redeemed by the Birth of Christ, so we today celebrate their birth into eternal life.
These children were not saved without baptism, but they received instead the baptism of blood, through which they were cleansed of original sin and united to Christ’s Body. Washed in their own blood, in place of water, these infants received a non-sacramental participation in the saving death of Christ the Lord, and so share now in his glory. The baptism they received is the most excellent, greater even than the sacramental baptism of water.

Was John the Beloved assumed into heaven?

There was a very popular tale in ancient times that St. John the Evangelist was assumed bodily into heaven, not merely in the manner of Elijah and Enoch, but after the fashion of Mary. Many believed that St. John’s body was glorified, being perfectly united to his beatified soul, and enjoying the bliss of heaven proper.
St. Augustine had spoken against this myth in his Tractates on the Gospel according to John, but the legend of the assumption of John had persisted even into the fourteenth century, so that Dante also felt the need to correct the myth in his Divine Comedy.
The confusion arises from our Lord’s discussion about the Beloved Disciple with St. Peter in John 21:20-23, specifically, “Jesus saith to him: ‘So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? Follow thou me.’ This saying therefore went abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die. And Jesus did not say to him: ‘He should not die;’ but, ‘So I will have him remain till I come, what is it to thee?’”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about...

December 25th, Christmas Day
On this Christmas day, we take a moment to meditate upon the Nativity of Christ our Lord. Here follows the revelation of the Birth of Christ, as it was given to St. Bridget.
"When I was present by the manger of the Lord in Bethlehem I beheld a Virgin of extreme beauty wrapped in a white mantle and a delicate tunic through which I perceived her virginal body. With her was an old man of great honesty and they had with them an ox and ass. These entered the cave and the man having tied them to the manger went out and brought in to the Virgin a lighted candle which having done he again went outside so as not to be present at the birth. Then the Virgin pulled off the shoes from her feet, drew off the white mantle that enveloped her, removed the veil from her head laying it beside her, thus remaining only in her tunic with her beautiful golden hair falling loosely over her shoulders. Then she produced two small linen cloths, and two woollen ones of exquisite purity and fineness which she had brought to wrap round the Child to be born, and two other small cloths to cover His head, and these too she put beside her. When all was thus prepared the Virgin knelt with great veneration in an attitude of prayer; her back was to the manger, her face uplifted to heaven and turned toward the East.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Harmony

There can be no denying it: There are very significant differences between the Nativity story given in Matthew’s account of the Gospel and that given in Luke’s. However, though the differences are great, they are by no means irreconcilable – in fact, we can see a marvelous harmony between the two accounts: Matthew tells us of St. Joseph’s experience, while St. Luke tells us of Mary’s.

First let’s point out the differences in the two accounts: First, there are differences in the genealogies (Matthew’s being of Joseph, while Luke’s is secretly of Mary). Second, there are differences in the angelic salutations. Third, there are differences in what happens immediately before and after the birth of Christ. Fourth, there are differences regarding who is present at and shortly after the Nativity.
However, there are also some important points of identity: First, the basic historical circumstances (the time and place of the birth) are identical. Second, both agree Joseph and Mary were betrothed when she conceived the Child. Third, in both accounts, the Christ Child is the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Fourth, Joseph and Mary were together when the Child was born.
Obviously, there are many more points of difference (notice, I say “difference” rather than “contradiction”) and also of identity, but those listed suffice for our purpose. We now turn to consider the Harmony of the Christmas narratives - A Gospel "harmony" is the stringing together of various Gospel accounts to show that they are indeed true accounts of one unified and continuous narrative.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Was Christmas necessary?

Christmas is the great season of gift-giving. A gift is seen to be all the more precious when we recognize this essential fact: it is a gift, it didn’t have to be given at all. Moreover, the gift becomes even more cherished when we realize that other gifts might have been given in its place, especially if we see that the gift we have receive is particularly suited to our needs and desires.
Christmas is not only a time of giving and receiving gifts, it is the time in which we recall the greatest Gift which God has given us – His Son. While it is true that “one ought never to look a gift-horse in the mouth”, it is also true that we Christians are called to meditate upon the Incarnation and the Birth of Christ –we are not doubting or a critiquing, we are meditating and wondering at the grace of God.
The Gift of Christmas is all the more precious when we recognize that it need not have been given at all – absolutely, it was not necessary that God should redeem us, nor less that he should redeem us through the particular means of the Incarnation. Even given that He chose to save us through the Incarnation, the whole mystery could have been accomplished in any number of ways. And yet, from among all these possibilities, from among all these possible gifts, God has chosen to give us this particular Gift – the Gift of His Son, the Gift of a Child; and, through this Messiah, the Almighty has given us salvation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Did St. Joseph suspect the Blessed Virgin Mary of sin?

4th Sunday of Advent, Matthew 1:18-24
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Great humility, devotion and piety are required of any who would hope to contemplate the great mysteries hidden in the inner life of the Holy Family. Far be it from any to approach so holy a home, so mysterious a union as the marriage of Joseph and Mary, without first  purifying one’s heart and mind of every vain and unworthy thought! It is holy ground we upon which wish to tread, and we must remove our sandals – that is, we must free ourselves from the spirit of the world and of the present age; an age in which marriage and family life so terribly shipwrecked – with simplicity of heart and purity of mind, we look to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and we ask: What was St. Joseph really thinking, when he had intended to put Mary away secretly? Did he perhaps suspect the most holy Virgin of sin? Did he perceive the gift he had received?
In matters so highly sensitive, we will not rely upon our own reasoning, nor less on the reasoning of the modernist biblical “scholars” of our day – men who know little of true piety – rather, guided by the expositions of St. Thomas Aquinas and the learned scholar Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide, we will look to the sound interpretation given by the Fathers of the Church.

Monday, December 13, 2010

When you cannot find a spiritual director

Feast of St. John of the Cross, December 14th
After a long period of searching for a good spiritual director, St. Teresa of Avila rejoiced to find the holy young priest, St. John of the Cross. And, although she was 52 and he was only 25, she entrusted herself to his guidance. St. John of the Cross is the image of a good director, merely thinking of him makes us desire and pray for more holy directors.
On the feast of St. Teresa of Avila (October 15th), I wrote a short post regarding what qualities we ought to look for in a spiritual director. In response to this, several people wrote asking what ought to be done if a suitable director could not be found, or if the director desired could not fulfill this role due to a lack of time. I had promised to write a second article to address this situation, and it seems fitting that we take the opportunity provided by the feast of St. Teresa’s spiritual director, St. John of the Cross, to consider this troubling and all too common scenario: Recognizing the importance of spiritual direction and the lofty qualities required of a director, what ought we do to if we cannot find a spiritual director?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Did John the Baptist doubt that Jesus is the Christ?

St. John the Baptist in prison

Gaudete Sunday, Matthew 11:2-11
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
It is not at all uncommon (or surprising) to find modern(ist) biblical scholars claim that St. John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah, doubted whether Jesus is truly the Christ. Often, they will present their theory in highly psychological terms: John, in prison, nearing his execution, wonders whether his life has any real meaning or perhaps if he has misunderstood his vocation. In this distressing state of existential doubt, the Baptist questions the Lord regarding whether he truly is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
These biblical scholars present John the Baptist as a reed swaying in the wind, blown about by the happenings of the world and the persecution he know faces. But Jesus said, “This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” No, St. John was not a reed swayed by the wind, he was a prophet and more than a prophet – and he rejoiced to see the fulfillment of the Promise.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Do Catholics worship icons?

December 4th, The Feast of St. John of Damascus
St. John Damascene is hailed as the Church’s great defender of icons and iconography. He is often considered the last of the Eastern doctors and is renowned for his Summa Theologiae, which is titled, De Fide Orthodoxa.
The influence of this holy doctor, which was great in his own time, is yet a light to the Church in the modern world – we require icons, sculptures, and sacred music in our Liturgical prayer as well as our personal devotion.
The Second Council of Nicaea stated the faith of the Church – “We define that […] the representations of the precious and life-giving cross, and the venerable and holy images as well […], must be kept in the holy Church of God […], in houses and on the roads, whether they be images of God our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ or of the immaculate Lady the Mother of God, or of the holy angels and of all the saints and just.”
And why do we reverence icons? Because, as St. Basil the Great teaches, “the honor given to an image goes to the original model.” (De Spiritu Sancto, 18,45)

Friday, December 3, 2010

St. Francis Xavier and the necessity of baptism for salvation

December 3rd, The Feast of St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier, the great apostle of the Indies, is said to have baptized over one hundred thousand persons. By the clarity of his doctrine, the force of his many miracles, and the witness of his love, Francis Xavier won countless souls to Christ. And yet, we live in an age in which the missionary zeal of Francis Xavier is undermined by the presumptuous and suspect speculation of many theologians – unfortunately, it is certain members of his own Order, the Society of Jesus, who have most confused the Church’s tradition.
If baptism is not necessary for salvation, if people can be saved without faith in Christ and the Sacrament of Faith, if the predication of the Gospel does not really make a difference for the salvation of pagans, then St. Francis Xavier’s life was ill-spent. If, on the other hand, the missionary work of Francis Xavier really did (and does) matter, then it is clear that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Andrew, the apostle of the Cross and the father of Iconophiles

November 30th, The Feast of St. Andrew
“We should remember that St. Andrew is the apostle of the cross. To Peter, Jesus had given firmness of faith; to John, warmth of love; the mission of Andrew is to represent the cross of his divine Master. Now it is by these three, faith, love, and the cross, that the Church renders herself worthy of her Spouse. Everything she has or is bears this threefold character. Hence it is that after the two apostles just named, there is none who holds such a prominent place in the universal liturgy as St. Andrew.” (from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Guéranger)
St. Andrew is known as the apostle of the Cross on account of his martyrdom: like his brother Peter, Andrew suffered crucifixion, not in the same manner as Christ, but upon an x-shaped cross where he hung for two days before his death.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Christ, Bridegroom and King: The Feasts of St. Cecilia and Bl. Miguel Pro

The Second Coming
At the end of the liturgical year, the Church gives us to meditate upon the second coming of Christ. As we consider the Final Judgment, Christ is presented to us under two figures: Bridegroom and King. The saints of November 22nd and 23rd, St. Cecilia and Bl. Miguel Pro, are particularly known for their devotion to Christ under these two titles – Cecilia’s Spouse is the King of Fr. Miguel. It will be helpful to consider what each of these titles reveal to us about Christ and the Day of Judgment.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
In the book of Revelation, Christ is presented as the Bridegroom and the Church is his spotless Bride. The relation of the bride to her bridegroom recalls the whole-hearted devotion which we are meant to have to Christ. It is for this reason (namely, allegorical testimony), that St. Paul tells us that, while the one who marries does a good thing, the one who remains celibate does better (cf. 1 Cor 7:38). The vocation to consecrated virginity is greater than that to married life, not because the individual is necessarily more holy, but because the virgin is a clearer sign of the Kingdom which is to come – where they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Moreover, it is happier to remain celibate, “An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor 7:34-35).

The Wisdom of the Cross: Pope Benedict and Contraception

In his homily to the newest princes of the Church, willing to shed their blood for love of Christ and the life of His Church, our Holy Father chose not to allude to the glory of the ceremony surrounding their elevation, but rather did what he does best and what he encourages his priests to do- he stuck to the Gospel.  On this glorious Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church’s message is both realistic and sobering- Christ reigns from the Cross and we are to stand with Him at all costs.
Interpreting the Petrine ministry in light of St. Paul’s great Christological Hymn in Colossians, the Holy Father noted that the primacy of Peter and his successors is totally at the service of this primacy of Jesus Christ, the only savior; at the service of His Kingdom, i.e. of his Lordship of love, so that His Kingdom might come, spread, and renew all men and all things, transforming the earth, making peace and justice blossom within her.  The world was created through Christ, but because of sin it no longer reflects His glory and is on the road to perdition.  Through the Fall, man has surrendered all of creation to the reality of evil.  Through the Incarnation of Christ, however, the hope of the restoration of all things is made effective.  The life of grace, allows us to stand with Christ at the foot of the Cross, where we in turn receive grace upon grace

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pope Benedict on the senses of Scripture

Abraham and Isaac:
The literal sense - Abraham believed in the resurrection.
The spiritual sense - Christ would be sacrificed for our sins.

In his Exhortation, Verbum Domini, the Holy Father offers a vision of the senses of Scripture which has been lost to most popular Catholic exegetes of our day. Following the scholastic division of the Scriptural senses into the literal and the spiritual (the spiritual being further divided into three senses: the allegorical, moral, and anagogical), Pope Benedict emphasizes that the senses cannot be wholly separated, since it is the same Spirit which has inspired them. Moreover, the Holy Father offers a vision of the literal sense which is far broader than that which many modern exegetes would allow; but, as will be shown, his Holiness is well founded in the tradition.
The Literal Sense
It is not at all uncommon to find the literal sense of Sacred Scripture defined as “that meaning which the sacred authors (i.e. the human authors) intended to immediately express.” This is the definition adopted by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC). Why, even Mark Shea and Fr. Corapi have defined the literal sense in this way! There is only one problem…neither the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nor any Vatican document, nor the Pope in this most recent Exhortation has adopted this definition. This idea seems to have come in through protestant exegesis; it certainly is not from the Catholic tradition of Scripture study.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Christ learned to rule as the good King

The Feast of Christ the King, Luke 23:35-43
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Church gives us to meditate upon the Kingship of Christ in the immediate context of his suffering and ignominious death – as the ancient hymn relates, Regnavit a ligno Deus, “God reigns from a tree.” Indeed, Christ is already King as God, even when he dies upon the Cross; and, what is more, through this death he gains the authority and the kingship over heaven and earth even as a man! Through his suffering and death, Christ is not only King according to his Divinity, but even according to his humanity – it is Christ, both man and God, who will come again and manifestly claim the world as his kingdom.
Christ is King in his humanity, and all creation will be made subject to him; but, though he had this authority from all eternity as God, he yet had to learn how to rule as King in his humanity. God is King by his very essence, and thus has no need to learn how to rule well; but in his humanity even Christ is not King by natural right, for such authority is given by God to men on account of the Divine will – thus, the man Christ is not a King by nature, but by divine election and human acquisition. So, in order that Christ should be a good King of the universe, it was necessary that he learn how to rule well those who would be subjected to him.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Antichrist tells us to "build the city of God"

The fall of the Tower of Babel:
What happens when we try to build the city of God

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 21:5-19
Jesus said, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.
It is not my intention at this time to discuss the various merits and demerits of OCP or of any particular song – but I will mention the refrain of two hymns, not so much to criticize those hymns in particular, but rather as a means of indicating the view many modern(ist) Catholics have regarding the second coming.
At some parishes in the United States, it is still not uncommon to hear: “Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing!” or “Sing a new Church into being, one in faith and love and praise!” Beyond the fact that these songs have a mystical ability to turn otherwise respectable adults into buffoons, their real danger is in the theology which they embody. These songs (and others like them) are a deception of the Antichrist.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The resurrection of the flesh -- the most commonly denied dogma

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus…
“On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body”
So writes St. Augustine (cf. En. In Ps. 88,5), and the point is re-affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 996) –  “It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life?”
First, we must consider whether the body which is raised is identical with the mortal body we now possess. We will not delve into the very important and interesting theological speculation regarding the qualities of the risen body, but will simply consider the identity of the resurrected body – that it is the very same body as was separated from the soul in death.
Second, we will consider the most popular objection against the resurrection of the body – whether a cannibal will be resurrect in his own body. The question of cannibalism gathers several issues together: First, how can both the cannibal and his victim rise, since the cannibal has consumed the other’s flesh? Second, what if a bear eats a man and then a man eats that bear? Third, what about organ donors? Fourth, what about children who die when only just barely conceived, how will they have enough matter for a resurrected body? Many many other questions besides are answered in the course of discussing the more basic question of cannibalism and the resurrection – we will even see what happens to all our excess fingernail and hair clippings!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Prayer, purgatory on earth

According to the common teaching of theologians, and of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the chief pain of purgatory is the delay of the beatific vision. The soul suffers immensely for she knows that she will soon see God. She loves God intensely and desires to be with him. She is confirmed in good and so has a certain hope of heaven; but she knows too that she would already be enjoying life everlasting, if only she had prepared herself more on earth. Thus, the primary suffering of purgatory is the waiting – it is this waiting which is most purifying.
It is also the teaching of theologians that the suffering of purgatory is generally much greater than the suffering experienced on earth. Thus, to endure a little suffering on earth with a true spirit of contrition and love, and with the intention of offering that pain for the purification of one’s soul, is to gain a great advantage – a little pain on earth can avoid a great deal of suffering in purgatory. Hence, we ought to desire to live out our purgatory as much as possible while still on earth! The primary means we can do this is through prayer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is there fire in purgatory?

The doctrine of purgatory is revealed through certain scriptural texts which speak of a burning fire – cf. 1 Cor 3:15, 1 Pet 1:7. Though there are certainly other passages of the Bible which can be drawn upon (e.g. Job praying for his dead children, the Judas Maccabeus praying for the dead), the Tradition of the Church has principally relied upon the passages referring to fire – this is especially noticeable in the declarations of Florence and Trent.
Hence, we come to a very important question: If the Church discovered the doctrine of purgatory through meditating upon the scriptural images of a purifying fire, ought we to hold that there is material fire in purgatory? With the help of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the great Thomistic theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, we may succeed in shedding some light upon this question.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, hidden in the Mass

You will notice that, during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, while the choir chants the Agnus Dei, the priest will break the Host into three pieces. Two parts are left upon the paten, while one part (which is very small) is placed into the chalice of the Precious Blood. This is called the rite of “commingling”, because it is at this point that the Body and Blood of Christ are sacramentally mingled together – though the Lord is fully present in both the Host and the chalice, the one is the Sacrament of his Body and the other is the Sacrament of his Blood.
As the priest performs this rite he prays: “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” There is, in the very rite itself, a direct connection between the commingling and salvation! St. Thomas Aquinas, following an ancient tradition, has shown how the whole Church is mystically present in this sacramental rite. Here, hidden in the rite of the Mass, we find a symbol of our two feast days – All Saints’ and All Souls’.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

After the Pharisee left the temple area, according to Flannery O’Connor

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 18:9-4
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.”  Luke 18:11
The Savior tells us that it was the tax collector who went home justified, not the Pharisee; but have you ever wondered what happened to the Pharisee once he got home? Did he ever repent? Flannery O’Connor offers a meditation on this parable in her short story Revelation – though the theme of the exaltation of the humble and the humbling of the mighty runs through many of her stories, this particular story is almost a direct re-telling of the Lord’s parable. The one great difference between the Gospel parable and O’Connor’s short story is that she allows us to see the mystery from perspective of the Pharisee, whom she brings to the very point of conversion.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The necessity of the prayer of petition

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 18:9-4
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
While there are many lessons to be learned from the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector, St. Augustine offers an insight regarding prayer that we might not immediately perceive. First, consider the parable itself.
The Pharisee, who had lived a righteous life, came to the Temple to give thanks to God. We easily recognize his error in despising others – he considers himself to be holier than all others, his great sin is pride. The humble tax collector, on the other hand, came to the Temple to implore the mercy of God – and he went home justified.
St. Augustine sees, in this parable, a central truth about prayer – “The fault of the Pharisee is not that he gave God thanks, but that he asked for nothing further” (cf. St. Thomas’ Catena Aurea). The tax collector prayed well because he asked for mercy and grace, while the Pharisee prayed poorly because he did not ask for anything. Here we learn that prayer cannot be merely praise and thanksgiving; for, while we are on earth, all true prayer involves petition.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why some prayers fail

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 18:1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
The parable of the wicked judge and the persistent widow offers a good opportunity to consider the importance and necessity of prayer. However, there is an objection which must be met: Why does God sometimes not answer prayers? If prayer is truly all powerful and if we are promised that we will receive whatsoever for which we ask, why do some prayers fail?
There are two principle reasons why God does not answer a prayer: either that for which we had asked is not helpful to us or would be misused by us, or we asked for something from God but we did not persevere in our prayer. This point about perseverance in prayer brings up a further question: Why does God not always answer prayers immediately, but instead requires us to persevere in prayer for a very long time?
You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences. – James 4:2-3

Friday, October 15, 2010

What to look for in a spiritual director

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, October 15th
It is well known that St. Teresa had to overcome numerous difficulties in the spiritual life. Among these difficulties, finding a good spiritual director was particularly challenging – ultimately she became acquainted with St. John of the Cross, who at the age of twenty five became her confessor and director (she was fifty two at the time). And yet, in spite of these difficulties, St. Teresa insists that spiritual direction is part of the ordinary life of the Christian – something to which nearly every person should avail themselves at some point during their journey. In particular, the Church herself encourages all those who strive for a special perfection in the spiritual life to entrust themselves to a director – all the faithful are required to receive some direction in the spiritual life through at least a yearly confession.
Even if we admit the normalcy and occasional necessity of spiritual direction, there is yet the great difficulty of finding a spiritual director whom we trust. What are the characteristics of a good spiritual director? The Catholic Encyclopedia offers helpful guidance in this matter.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Lord has no need of our thanksgiving, and yet...

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 17:11-19
Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
In the account of the cleansing of the ten lepers, of whom only one (the Samaritan) returns to give thanks, our Savior may at first appear to be dejected or hurt that the other nine have not thanked him. What shall we say to this – Is it possible that the Lord of heaven and earth, the King of the universe needs the thanksgiving and worship of man?
God does not rely on his creation
The forth weekday preface states: Lord, “you have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace.” We must insist that man’s worship of God does not increase God’s glory absolutely, nor does God require that worship for his own benefit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to pray the Rosary well

From The Secret of the Rosary, by St. Louis Marie de Montfort

With purity of intention:
IT IS NOT SO much the length of a prayer, but the fervor with which it is said which pleases Almighty God and touches His Heart. One single Hail Mary that is said properly is worth more than one hundred and fifty that are badly said. Most Catholics say the Rosary, the whole fifteen mysteries or five of them anyway or, at least a few decades. So why is it then that so few of them give up their sins and go forward in the spiritual life? Surely it must be because they are not saying them as they should. It is a good thing to think over how we should pray if we really want to please God and become more holy. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

St. Francis, man of sorrows

October 4th, The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis is most especially remembered for his joy and good cheer. So many movies and books, as well as statues and paintings, have burned into our mind’s eye an image of St. Francis frolicking with the butterflies and playing with animals. The joy of this great saint has been a light to the nations for over 800 years – and it illumines even our own day.
Nevertheless, we will have misunderstood an essential characteristic of St. Francis, if we think of him only in his joys and consolations. In fact, the poor man of Assisi can probably be more truly characterized as a man of sorrows. If it is true that he spoke with the animals and sang to the sun, it is also true that he bore the marks of Christ’s Passion on his body – the holy Stigmata of our Savior.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Everything you ever wanted to know about your guardian angel

October 2nd, The Feast of the Guardian Angels
As we celebrate the feast of the guardian angels, we might become aware of the fact that we really know very little about our heavenly helpers. I am sure that most of us have many questions about our angel and how he works in the world – but where shall we ever find answers? At this point in our journey, rather than becoming discouraged or running off to many other sources, it would be best to place ourselves at the feet of the Angelic Doctor and hear what he has to tell us. The following question and answer study of the guardian angels is based on the Summa Theologica I, qq.50-64 (angels in themselves) and qq. 106-114 (angels in relation to creatures). ST I, q.113, is particularly enlightening, since it is a question devoted wholly to the guardianship of angels over human beings.

Friday, October 1, 2010

If men and women are equal, do the angels really want women to wear a veil at Mass?

October 2nd, The Feast of the Guardian Angels
Of all the scriptural passages which speak of the angels, perhaps the most confusing and difficult for our own age is the place in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he advises that women must wear a veil while in Church. He reasons that the man need not wear a veil, since his head is Christ; but the head of the woman is the man, therefore she must veil her head as a sign of submission. St. Paul concludes his argument with the rather surprising statement that it is “because of the angels” that the women must wear the mantilla.
In this discussion, I will care little for “political correctness”, since this could obscure the truth. Obviously, when speaking in various circumstances, I would adapt the language to fit the people; but, when discussing doctrine in a theological forum, it is necessary to write unambiguously. St. Paul has always been a great defender of the true vocation of the woman, while the feminism of our day is her great enemy!
I will first offer St. Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on the passage; then I will consider what this reference to the angels really entails…

How St. Therese saved a murderer and inspired Mother Teresa

October 1, The Feast of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus
The following took place in 1887, when Thérèse Martin was fourteen years old.
“One Sunday when I was looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I saw the Blood coming from one of His hands, and I felt terribly sad to think that It was falling to the earth and that no one was rushing forward to catch It. I determined to stay continually at the foot of the Cross and receive It. I knew that I should then have to spread It among other souls. The cry of Jesus on the Cross – ‘I am thirsty’ – rang continually in my heart and set me burning with a new, intense longing. I wanted to quench the thirst of my Well-Beloved and I myself was consumed with a thirst for souls. I was concerned not with the souls of priests but with those of great sinners which I wanted to snatch from the flames of hell.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What makes a biblical scholar a saint

Sts. Augustine
and Jerome
September 30th, The Feast of St. Jerome
On the feast of St. Jerome, at least very short post is in order. We are all well aware of the fact that St. Jerome was the greatest Scripture scholar of the early Church. He knew many languages, he translated the Bible, he worked with manuscripts. He was also the most respected commentator – until the most recent years, St. Jerome was the Church Father most often read in the Divine Office. It is arguable that St. Jerome was the most intelligent man in the world during his time, he certainly had an incredible capacity for learning new things and remembering even the smallest details of things he had learnt long ago.
It strikes me, then, as particularly interesting that this Father most closely associated with the Bible got some of the most important biblical questions wrong! St. Jerome did not consider much of what the Protestants now call the deuterocanonical books to be part of the Canon of Scripture. The great scholar, at the time when the Canon was being formed, took the wrong side – favoring the late Judaic Hebrew Canon over the Judaic Greek Alexandrian Canon (which is very close to the one we now accept).
It was not St. Jerome who led the Church through this most difficult crisis, but St. Augustine. Though a bishop, St. Augustine did not know Greek well and he didn’t know anything of Hebrew. St. Jerome was far superior to the Bishop of Hippo when it came to biblical theology, knowledge of the Bible, and knowledge of languages…yet God chose St. Augustine to be the Father most instrumental in giving the Canon of Scripture to the Church.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

If you want to understand the angels...

Not a helpful image for understanding angels

Angels are beings far greater than men, far exalted over men, far closer to God than men. If we are to have any hope of coming to some understanding of these marvelous creatures, we must first admit our lowliness. We must submit our reason to Revelation and to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church. Then, we must begin to think…and we must be very, very careful…

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why the archangels have men's names

The Archangels: Jegudiel, Gabriel, Selaphiel, Michael, Uriel, Raphael, Barachiel
Beneath: The Cherubim (blue) and Seraphim (red)

The Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels
As today is the feast of three of the holy archangels and Saturday will be the feast of all the guardian angels, I would like to make a short series of posts on the angels.
Much of what I write in the posts over the next few days will be heavily rooted in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas – this seems particularly fitting, since he is called the Angelic Doctor. I would recommend that we all re-read his treatise on angles from the Summa Theologica I, qq.50-64, and also his discussion of the way in which the angels participate in the divine governance of the world which can be found in ST I, qq.106-114. The first of these sections discusses the angels more generally – their nature, their mode of knowing, their will, and their creation and fall. The second section deals with their relation to each other and to humanity.
ST I, qq.50-64 will answer the following questions and many more: How many angels are there? How many angels can stand on the head of a pin? Can an angel be in two places at the same time? Can an angel be in any place at all (since they are immaterial)? How do angels know things if they do not have sense experiences? Were the angels created good? How did some of the angels fall? Was Satan the greatest of the angels, before he fell?
ST I, qq.106-114 answers these and other questions: Do the angels speak to one another? Is there a hierarchy of angels? Do some angels command other angels? Do seraphim ever come to earth? Does each human being have a guardian angel? Did Christ have a guardian angel? Will the anti-Christ (presuming he is human) have a guardian angel?
I will attempt to answer some of these questions in future posts, but for now (to get the ball rolling) I would like to take a slightly lighter question: Why do the archangels have men’s names?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Almsgiving is necessary for salvation

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 16:19-31
“My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.”
As we consider the parable in today’s Gospel text, we are struck by the reality and the real possibility of hell. Not only is hell real, it is something that could befall any of us. Let me explain.
Even if we are among the few who actually believe that hell exists, there is still a great temptation to reserve damnation for only the most hardened criminals, those guilty of hideous and unspeakable crimes – murderers, child molesters, war criminals, etc. Only these select few, who are characterized as being so evil as to have nearly lost their humanity, only these will go to hell. And then we are confronted with today’s Gospel.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The problem of bilocation

On the feast of Padre Pio, many good Catholics and also many non-Catholics and even atheists recall the stories of his miraculous bilocations. St. Pio of Pietrelcina was known to have bilocated many times throughout his life, a phenomenon which has become central to the telling of his mystical life. Of course, Padre Pio was not the only saint to have bilocated, but he is certainly the saint most commonly associated with the mysterious gift.
Without denying the fact of bilocation as a phenomenon, there is still some difficulty in explaining just what this event really is. By “bilocation,” do we mean that Padre Pio was present in two places at the same time? If yes, was he present both in his soul and in his body, or just in his soul? If just in his soul, was he materially present, having acted through a momentarily constructed physical body, or was his presence only a spiritual action visible only to the intellect?
What follows is more speculative than most of the writing on this blog. I offer this speculation neither to give any definitive answers nor to induce doubt, but rather to help us all wonder at the glories of God’s works.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Someone should have told Mother Teresa...

The Vademecum
Recent articles on www.chiesa and articles by various bloggers have brought the Vademecum for confessors back into discussion. This document was published by the Council for the Family in 1997 and speaks, among other things, to the issue of contraception. Let us be clear from the start, THIS DOCUMENT IS NOT MAGISTERIAL TEACHING! However, it does have a certain degree of moral authority as coming from a board of distinguished theologians and published through the Vatican.
A second point we need to recognize: the vademecum does not require the confessor to do anything in particular in regards to questioning or advising penitents about contraception. Some people have read far too much into this document and have declared that the current policy of the Church is that confessors are to leave contraceptive couples “in good faith” – i.e. priests ought not to tell people about the Church’s teaching on contraception. This conclusion is simply not true. The document is not a part of magisterial teaching, nor does it make such a strong claim against educating the people.
Rather than go into a detailed analysis of the text of the Vademecum, I would like instead to invoke an equally powerful moral authority: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. I point to Mother Teresa as an example to all Catholics, but especially to preachers – how prudently, lovingly, and courageously did she preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is private property natural?

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 16:1-13

“If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?”

The Church has given us the parable of the dishonest steward in conjunction with a most challenging portion of the book of the prophet Amos. The prophet condemns those who would take advantage of the poor and who would rather purchase luxuries than assist the poor in their need (Am 8:4-7). From this perspective, our Lord’s parable takes on an aspect of social justice which might not at first be noticed. We are to imitate the steward not in his dishonesty, but in his generosity in forgiving debts and distributing the material goods at our disposal. Moreover, this is the interpretation which many of the Father’s of the Church had given this parable: As the dishonest steward distributed the goods which his master gave him, so too we are to generously distribute to the poor the material goods we have been given by God (cf. Ambrose, Basil, Theopholis, Augustine, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, and others).

However, there is a more fundamental question which this parable raises: If the goods we possess are from God and if the Lord calls our material possessions “what belongs to another,” we ask whether there is any room for private property. Is private property natural? Do we have a right to possess material goods as our own? The answer St. Thomas Aquinas (and the Church’s Magisterium following him) gives to this question is most enlightening.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mary's Genealogy

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. –Mt 1:1
These first words of the New Testament are followed by the long list of ancestors which ultimately culminates with the following words: “Jacob [became] the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” Have you noticed that this extended family tree is not actually shown to be our Savior’s lineage? In fact, both Matthew and Luke give the genealogy not of Jesus, but of Joseph. Since Jesus was not truly Joseph’s son, it is Mary’s genealogy which would reveal to us the Savior’s ancestry – But do we have any idea who Mary’s ancestors were?
We know from Sacred Scripture and from Sacred Tradition that Mary was a descendent of David. St. Paul states, “it is evident that our Lord sprung out of Juda” (Hebrews 7:14). Yet, St. Thomas mentions that some may object, for it seems that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not of the tribe of Juda but was indeed of Aaron’s stock, as was her cousin Elizabeth.(Lk 1:5) St. Thomas responds that, as the kingly and priestly family lineages were most highly regarded, they were frequently joined by marriage. Thus, it is not impossible that St. Elizabeth as well as the Blessed Virgin may have had some part in the tribe of Juda. And so too Christ was of the tribe of Juda, as witnessed by the book of the Apocalypse, where Christ is called “the lion of the tribe of Juda.” (Rev 5:5)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mary's Nativity and the children's limbo

The Immaculate Birth of Mary
As pointed out in yesterday’s post on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church had universally accepted the immaculate birth of Mary – that she was sanctified in the womb and born without sin – long before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was being thought about. Much as the feast of Christmas came before the feast of the Annunciation and maintained greater prominence; so too, the feast of the Nativity of Mary was prior and was more prominent in the life of the Church, until the most recent times.
The Church celebrates the feast of the Nativity of Mary because she was holy in her birth – she was born free of original sin. St. Thomas appeals to this point explicitly in a sed contra (of ST III, q.27, a.1) to defend the doctrine of her sanctification in the womb. Precisely because Mary was freed from sin while in the womb (or, as we now know, from the first moment of her conception), we celebrate her birthday as a solemn feast.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Immaculate Birth of Mary

September 8th, The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Nine months after the celebration of her Immaculate Conception, the Church honors our Lady’s Immaculate Birth. In fact, the Nativity of Mary is historically prior in the Church to her Immaculate Conception. Long before there was consensus among theologians regarding whether Mary was conceived without sin, nearly all agreed that she was at least born without sin. The Feast our Lady’s Nativity is more ancient than that of her conception, and this later feast’s date was determined by the date of her birth – much like the feast of the Annunciation was set according to the feast of Christmas.
How pleasing it is to consider the order of revelation and the order of history: Though Mary had been preserved from sin from the moment of her conception, the Church first recognized the holiness of Anne’s daughter in birth and only later came to understand that her sanctification came at the first moment of her existence. As Christmas is a higher feast than the Annunciation, so too, Mary’s Nativity was a feast long before the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps someday, her Nativity will again rise to prominence.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Spirit alone knows the things of God

August 31, Tuesday in the 22nd week in Ordinary Time
No one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:11)
These words of St. Paul are written to remind us that any true knowledge of the divine mysteries comes not from men, nor from the spirit of the world and worldly wisdom, but only from the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must have the Spirit of God living in us – that is, we must be moved by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
However, upon reading that only the Holy Spirit knows the things of God, we might be led to wonder whether the Father and the Son know what the Spirit knows. Indeed, St. Paul seems to speak exclusively of the Spirit, no one knows … except the Spirit. Is it true? Does the Holy Spirit have some special knowledge which is lacking to the other two Persons of the Blessed Trinity?