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The Dictatorship of Absolute Relativism: Its Intellectual & Moral Bankruptcy (trois sur trois)

Is there objective truth?  Is there a proper way to live?  Is there right and wrong?  Beginning with Socrates who answered “yes”, and witnessed to his philosophical convictions and what he taught with his life.  We might call what Socrates witnessed to “ethics”, but what if the requirement were/is stronger?  The antithesis of a belief in objective truth is relativism.

There are no facts, only interpretations.

—Friedrich Nietzsche,
The Will to Power

If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and [for] men who claim to be bearers of an external objective truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascist attitudes.
Benito Mussolini, Il Duce

As a rule, only very learned and clever men deny what is obviously true. Common men have less brains, but more sense.
—William T. Stace

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“What is truth?”, Pilate asked.  -Jn 18:38

Whether you know it or not, you have a philosophy.  No, really.  Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you do. I do.  Everyone does.  As the maxim goes, “Actions do speak louder than words.”  Our every action, our every choice, our every thought, our anxieties, our fears, our dilemmas, what we rejoice in, what we cry over, what we love, what we despise, all reveal our most intimate philosophy each of us has internalized and adopted, consciously or unconsciously.  Really.  Honestly.  Pardon, or don’t, the expression, “God’s honest truth!” or, popular too, “And that’s the Gospel truth!”, when we really want someone to believe us.  Funny, no?

Relativism is deemed necessary to preserve peace and equality in our diverse world.  It’s widely accepted because it is rarely scrutinized.  It is simply assumed to be true, since it’s cheap, and it’s easy; certainly easier than thinking, seeking the more profound, the truth.  I have a thing about cheap…and easy.  You truly do reap no more than what you sow in this life, at least.  Truly.  Cheap love, cheap faith, cheap grace, cheap hope, cheap relationships, etc.  I have a thing about cheap.  Relativism sounds good – like free money.  Just one teensy-weensy problem.  You knew that was coming, didn’t you.  Didn’t you?  It doesn’t work.  Relativism is intellectual alcoholism or drug abuse.  It is easier, at least it seems initially, to anesthetize than to live life soberly, or in the case of relativism to look the Truth dead in the eye…and deal.  As you may know, I have a problem with the Truth.  I like it too much.

The one dogma of Relativism is that it is absolutely true for everyone.  And, there we go.  It contradicts itself from the beginning.  Ooops.  Problem.  Think.  Think.  Think.  Quick, think.  Think fast!  But what about science?  Relativism says, “ONLY scientifically verifiable statements are true!”  (Whew!  Almost got caught there!)  Except, the previous statement is scientifically unverifiable.  Think about it.  Science never claims ONLY what can be proven through repetitive experiment is true.  Where would that leave new, yet undiscovered knowledge?  False?  Never.  That would be a fantastic and ludicrous scientific statement, take it from a professional applied scientist.  Science says what can be proven through repeatable experiment MUST be true.  Science DOES NOT claim the contrary.  Anyone telling you differently is lying to you.  Trust me.  I studied this stuff and practice it every single day.  Trust me.  In fact, science leaves completely to mystery the more important questions in life, much more important.

People say, “Show me God!”  I say in return, “Show me love.  Give me a pound of love.  Show me hope.  What is its volume?  Show me trust.  What is its mass?”  Why is an ineffable God such a stretch?  People live in and through, literally, Hell (on earth).  Why is a metaphysical Hell so far fetched?  What’s the great leap of faith on that one, seeing constantly around us physical Hells through pain, suffering, disease, discrimination, violence, injustice, etc.?  

I have a theory, and some of my saint friends would seem to support me.  I think Heaven or Hell begins in this life.  Just whiffs, but through the mystery of free will (I am fascinated by the theological implications of man’s free will and God’s gift of it, the questions seem to ALWAYS come back to it) we do start to choose here in this life Heaven or Hell.  God does not sentence us.  No, if truth be told, as Matt defines truth, God help us all, in this life we choose our own eternal disposition, or at least we begin to.  Beginning here and now, in this life.  Not sure if that is theologically sound, or if that would merit a Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur, but as a Catholic expressing a personal opinion, neither do I require either.  Trust me, I checked.

So, if Relativism, albeit intellectually and certainly morally is easy and cheap and untrue, then, logic goes, there MUST be something true?  I love Pilate’s question.  I have spent quite a bit of time meditating on that one over the last couple of years.  Quite a bit of time.  That passage of scripture calls to me.  It calls to me.  

Pilate would fit perfectly in the 21st century, no?  A realist?  A cynic?  A secularist?  A man “with a future?”  One of “our kind of people!”  A company man?  You can see why he was hired, no?  But then again, you can see why the most notorious Nazis and Communists were hired, too, no?  I meet Pontius Pilates constantly, constantly.  Disinterested in anything but self-interest.  Too many of them.  Too few Christians.  Oh, they have the t-shirt, but love is more than a t-shirt you don’t know what it says or means.  You just wear it, cuz you’re “supposed to”.  Habit.  Constantly, constantly.

Since Relativism doesn’t work and is incapable of being consistent, I then find “selective relativists”.  Strongly pro or opposed to certain topics, but indifferent to other, morally related grave issues.  They like what they like, whether they know why or not, and damn it, that’s it!  Brilliant.  Just ‘effen brilliant.  Constantly, constantly.  There’s a joke I heard once about opinions.  They’re like (posterior orifice of the body, I cleaned it up), everybody’s got one and they all stink.  So, my thing is informed opinion.  My opinion is you are entitled to your opinion if it is rationally, not polemically, informed.  And, you better be able to back that up, at least around me.  Call me unreasonable.

My deeply Relativist friends stamp their feet in tantrum saying, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts!”  I say OK and show them the facts, which makes them furious.  Somehow, I’m the bad guy.  Somehow.  How such conclusions are reached in a mind with an intellectual darkness and confusion I, gratefully, do not believe I am burdened with?  Amazing.  Mystery. Mystery.  I know how.  Remove the facts which do not fit your predetermined conclusion, and “it’s all good!”  Stupid.  Insane.  But, that warm self-satisfied, hearing-what-you-want-to-hear feeling is a narcotic.  I like it, too.  Except, I believe I can sense the difference between cheap-and-easy and truth.  You can tell it’s the truth, because it’s harder.  The truth is always hard, no?  Usually, it’s the hardest answer to accept.  That’s how you know it’s the truth.  Because of what it asks of you.  We DO NOT WANT to hear that answer, trust me, but we MUST.  If we can accept the Truth, I hear, the rewards are not bad.  Even in this life…and, inevitably, in this life, the Cross, too.  Always.  Ultimately.  Inevitably.  If you are a disciple of the Truth.

“What is truth?”, Pilate asked.  -Jn 18:38

Jn 14:6

Love,
Matthew

The Wise & The Foolish

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-“Wise & Foolish Virgins”, oil on panel by Frans I Floris, 16th century, 118 × 132 cm, in private collection.

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; let us go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But He answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

-Mt 25:1-13

With the divorce rate in California above 70%, and assaults, disregard, and insults towards and dismissal of the institution of the family, the foundational building block of society, rampant in our modern dialogue, the mockery of the institution that is Hollywood marriages, I thought you might appreciate this reflection.  The sinner always seeks to deceive and delude himself and others, eagerly, of the normality and praiseworthiness, mitigation of his sin. I know I do. How can/could he/she do otherwise? To admit?…The Prince of Lies is a great liar. Gen 3:5.

The nature of things are not changed by calling them something else, no matter how hard we try or want to to justify ourselves to ourselves and to others, to our consciences; to silence, to salve, to inebriate, to numb, to anesthetize, anything, even the eager, quick sale of our souls, at a substantial loss, rather than to listen to that.

The truth is always hardest, yet it remains the truth, regardless of us or our ravings or madness/delusions. We have been here before, many times. Read your history and the Scriptures. Jonah 3:4. This is not new. There is a saying, “There are no new heresies.” We just repackage, recycle, and reoffend. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Concupiscence.

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-by Br. John Baptist Hoang, OP, fellow UVA alumnus

““Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.”
—1 Corinthians 9:25-26

The 2005 film, Cinderella Man, tells the remarkable story of Irish-American boxer James J. Braddock (1905-1974). Braddock, played by actor Russell Crowe, enjoys a successful career as an amateur boxer until life takes a turn for the worse at the threshold of the Great Depression. Like so many other Americans during that tumultuous time, Braddock struggles to make ends meet, barely managing to support his wife and three young children. In the end, however—as the title of the movie suggests—his life plays out like a modern-day fairy tale. His boxing career gradually picks back up, and the film ends triumphantly when he becomes the heavyweight champion of the world. He and his family, as the saying goes, live happily ever after.

Braddock is portrayed as the kind of person we all want to rally behind. Yet our sympathy for him goes beyond mere support for the underdog, mere pity for his life of hardship. There is actually something we come to love in James Braddock: he is a good man. He sacrifices everything he has for the sake of his wife and children. He sacrifices his own pride when he makes a desperate decision to beg for money from the rich and powerful. He risks his own life every time he steps into the ring to fight men who are quite capable of killing him. This is what evokes our admiration and sympathy: to see a man offer himself in love.

Of course, the protagonist has to have an antagonist, and the drama reaches its climax when Braddock faces his nemesis for the heavyweight title: the young and cocky Max Baer. But, whereas in many movies of this type the final fight scene is an epic battle between good and evil, in this film things are a little different. Baer isn’t evil; he’s just foolish. He’s portrayed as a playboy, who spends his time “fooling around” with several women.

Although this is a very inaccurate portrait of the real Max Baer, it is nevertheless a dramatically effective characterization, and it serves to draw out a distinction between two types of people: the just man and the fool. Braddock is the good and just man who remains a faithful husband and father throughout his life, while Baer is the fool who pursues a life of empty pleasure. Of course, Baer, for his part, regards Braddock as the fool, and in a sense this is true. Braddock is a fool for love and goodness; he is a fool in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, he is both wise and just; he is a “good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:3). Heavyweight title or no heavyweight title, his story reminds us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).”

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-James Braddock and Family, North Bergen, New Jersey, 1936. Standing is Braddock’s wife, May, and from left to right are his children: Rose Marie, Howard, and James, Jr.

Love,
Matthew

Vatican’s sex abuse prosecutor says church must amputate to heal

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by John L Allen Jr on May. 29, 2010
NCR Today

When the innocence of children is “trampled upon, broken, sullied, abused, and destroyed,” then “the earth becomes arid and the whole world sad,” the Vatican’s top sexual abuse prosecutor said this morning in Rome.

Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna indirectly critiqued the clerical culture in which abuser priests were routinely given second chances.

Christian friendship, Scicluna said, is “submitted to the law of God,” so if a member of the church is an “occasion of sin,” then a believer “has no other choice … but to cut this tie.”

Weeding out abusers, Scicluna implied, is a form of “divine surgery” intended to save the body by amputating a diseased part.

Scicluna, a Maltese priest who serves as Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke as part of a service of reparation for abuse committed by priests and for healing within the church organized by students at Rome’s pontifical institutions. The service took place this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Altar of the Chair of Peter.

Scicluna delivered a homily for the service. Widely considered the Vatican’s top expert on the sexual abuse crisis, Scicluna rarely speaks in public – making his comments this morning all the more significant.

Tapped by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, today Pope Benedict XVI, to handle the canonical response to charges of sexual abuse against priests, Scicluna is widely seen as the architect of the more aggressive approach to the crisis which emerged in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after 2001.

This morning, Scicluna delivered a largely spiritual meditation on the relationship between Jesus and children, saying that “the church, the spouse of Jesus, has always had a special care and solicitude for children and the weak.”

According to the fathers of the church, Scicluna said, a child was “the eloquent icon of innocence.”

In that light, Scicluna argued, destroying the innocence of a child makes the entire earth “arid” and “sad.”

Quoting St. Gregory the Great, Scicluna suggested that such sins are especially heinous when committed by priests.

“After having taken a profession of holiness, anyone who destroys others through words or deed would have been better off if their misdeeds had caused them to die in secular dress, rather than, through their holy office, being imposed as an example for others in their sins. Without doubt, if they had fallen all by themselves, their suffering in Hell would be easier to bear.”

Scicluna contrasted the innocence of children with arrogance and careerism in the church.

“How many sins in the church [have happened] because of arrogance, insatiable ambition, abuse of power and injustices committed by those who abuse their ministry to advance their career?”, Scicluna asked.

He denounced the “futile and wretched motives of vainglory.”

The remedy to such scandals offered by God as the “Divine Surgeon,” according to Scicluna, is to “cut out [disease] in order to heal,” and to “amputate in order to restore health.”

Beyond such drastic measures, Scicluna also proposed the “preventive medicine” of solid formation for future priests, calling on them to be on fire with the faith, making them salt and light for the world.

This morning’s service of reparation included an hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a period of guided prayer meditation led by Scicluna, and concluded with a solemn benediction. Students who organized the event said they decided to do so “in the wake of the media attention given in recent months to abuses perpetrated by priests, and in response to the Holy Father’s call to penance in his Letter to Ireland (http://www.zenit.org/article-28701?l=english).”

Jan 24 – St Francis de Sales, CO, OM, OFM Cap, (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church, “Gentleman Saint”

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You may have heard the expression:  “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”  You can thank St Francis de Sales for that one.  He also lived it.

“It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world. ” -St Francis de Sales

“Because some have committed spiritual homicide, we should not commit spiritual suicide.” -St Francis De Sales, 1621

Francis de Sales (French: Saint François de Sales) (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622) was Bishop of Geneva. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life, along with his Treatise on the Love of God. His writings on the perfections of the Heart of Mary as the model of love for God influenced St Jean Eudes to develop the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

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Born in France in 1567, Francis was a patient man. Francis de Sales took seriously the words of Christ, “Learn of Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” As he said himself, it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem, so overflowing with good nature and kindness was his usual manner of acting. His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”

Born in the castle of Château de Thorens to a well-placed Savoyard family, the eldest of twelve children born to François de Boisy and Françoise de Sionnz. His parents intended that Francis become a soldier, then a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche and Annecy in France, taught by Jesuits. Attended the Collège de Clermont in Paris, France at age 12.

Francis knew for thirteen years that he had a vocation to the priesthood before he mentioned it to his family. When his father said that he wanted Francis to be a soldier and sent him to Paris to study, Francis said nothing. Then when he went to Padua to get a doctorate in law, he still kept quiet, but he studied theology and practiced mental prayer while getting into swordfights and going to parties.

In his early teens, Francis began to believe in pre-destination, a heresy, and was so afraid that he was preemptorily condemned to Hell that he became ill and eventually was confined to bed. However, in January 1587 at the Church of Saint Stephen, he overcame the crisis.

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Francis came to the conclusion that whatever God had in store for him was good, because “God is love”, as Scripture attests. This faithful devotion to the God of love not only expelled his doubts, but also influenced the rest of his life and his teachings. His way of teaching Catholic spirituality is often referred to as the Way of Divine Love, or the Devout Life, taken from a book he wrote of a similar name: Introduction to the Devout Life.

Studied law and theology at the University of Padua, Italy, and earned a doctorate in both fields. He returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.  Even when his bishop told him if he wanted to be a priest that he thought that he would have a miter waiting for him someday, Francis uttered not a word. Why did Francis wait so long? Throughout his life he waited for God’s will to be clear. He never wanted to push his wishes on God.

God finally made God’s will clear to Francis while he was riding. Francis fell from his horse three times. Every time he fell the sword came out of the scabbard. Every time it came out the sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of the cross. And then, Francis, without knowing about it, was appointed provost of his diocese, second in rank to the bishop.

It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me.” He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed, especially when he refused a marriage that had been arranged for him. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.

Perhaps he was wise to wait, for he wasn’t a natural pastor. His biggest concern on being ordained that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair cut off. And his preaching left the listeners thinking he was making fun of him. Others reported to the bishop that this noble-turned- priest was conceited and controlling.

Then Francis had a bad idea — at least that’s what everyone else thought. This was during the time of the Protestant reformation and just over the mountains from where Francis lived was Switzerland — Calvinist territory. Francis decided that he should lead an expedition to convert the 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism. But by the time he left his expedition consisted of himself and his cousin. His father refused to give him any aid for this crazy plan and the diocese was too poor to support him.

For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could, but once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. And after three years, his cousin had left him alone and he had not made one convert.

Francis’ unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors. This is the first record we have of religious tracts being used to communicate with people.

The parents wouldn’t come to him out of fear. So Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him.

By the time, Francis left to go home he is said to have converted 40,000-72,000, by some accounts, people back to Catholicism.

In 1593 he was appointed provost of the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland. Preacher, writer and spiritual director in the district of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church. He even used sign language in order to bring the message to the deaf, leading to his patronage of deaf people.

In 1602 he was made bishop of the diocese of Geneva, in Calvinist territory. He only set foot in the city of Geneva twice — once when the Pope sent him to try to convert Calvin’s successor, Beza, and another when he traveled through it.

It was in 1604 that Francis took one of the most important steps in his life, the step toward holiness and mystical union with God.

In Dijon that year Francis saw a widow listening closely to his sermon — a woman he had seen already in a dream. Jane de Chantal was a person on her own, as Francis was, but it was only when they became friends that they began to become saints. Jane wanted him to take over her spiritual direction, but, not surprisingly, Francis wanted to wait. “I had to know fully what God Himself wanted. I had to be sure that everything in this should be done as though His hand had done it.” Jane was on a path to mystical union with God and, in directing her, Francis was compelled to follow her and become a mystic himself.

Three years after working with Jane, he finally made up his mind to form a new religious order. But where would they get a convent for their contemplative Visitation nuns? A man came to Francis without knowing of his plans and told him he was thinking of donating a place for use by pious women. In his typical way of not pushing God, Francis said nothing. When the man brought it up again, Francis still kept quiet, telling Jane, “God will be with us if He approves.” Finally the man offered Francis the convent.

Francis was overworked and often ill because of his constant load of preaching, visiting, and instruction — even catechizing a deaf man so he could take first Communion. He believed the first duty of a bishop was spiritual direction and wrote to Jane, “So many have come to me that I might serve them, leaving me no time to think of myself. However, I assure you that I do feel deep-down- within-me, God be praised. For the truth is that this kind of work is infinitely profitable to me.” For him active work did not weaken his spiritual inner peace but strengthened it. He directed most people through letters, which tested his remarkable patience. “I have more than fifty letters to answer. If I tried to hurry over it all, I would be lost. So I intend neither to hurry or to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can. Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished.”

At that time, the way of holiness was only for monks and nuns — not for ordinary people. Francis changed all that by giving spiritual direction to lay people living ordinary lives in the world. But he had proven with his own life that people could grow in holiness while involved in a very active occupation. Why couldn’t others do the same? His most famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, was written for these ordinary people in 1608. Written originally as letters, it became an instant success all over Europe — though some preachers tore it up because he tolerated dancing and jokes!

For Francis, the love of God was like romantic love. He said, “The thoughts of those moved by natural human love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises. When it is gone they express their feelings in letters, and can’t pass by a tree without carving the name of their beloved in its bark. Thus too those who love God can never stop thinking about Him, longing for Him, aspiring to Him, and speaking about Him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all humankind.”

The key to love of God was prayer. “By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God. Begin all your prayers in the presence of God.”

For busy people of the world, he advised “Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God.”

The test of prayer was a person’s actions: “To be an angel in prayer and a beast in one’s relations with people is to go lame on both legs.”

He believed the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them. Even if we say we do it out of love we’re still doing it to look better ourselves. But we should be as gentle and forgiving with ourselves as we should be with others.  Francis de Sales tells us: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

Friend of Saint Vincent de Paul, he turned down a wealthy French bishopric to continue working where God had placed him. As he became older and more ill he said, “I have to drive myself but the more I try the slower I go.” He wanted to be a hermit but he was more in demand than ever. The Pope needed him, then a princess, then Louis XIII. “Now I really feel that I am only attached to the earth by one foot…” He died on December 28, 1622, after giving a nun his last word of advice: “Humility.”

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Prayers & reflections by St Francis de Sales

“O love eternal,
my soul needs and chooses you eternally!
Ah, come Holy Spirit,
and inflame our hearts with your love!
To love — or to die!
To die — and to love!
To die to all other love
in order to live in Jesus’ love,
so that we may not die eternally.
But that we may live in your eternal love,
O Savior of our souls,
we eternally sing,
“Live, Jesus!
Jesus, I love!
Live, Jesus, whom I love!
Jesus, I love,
Jesus who lives and reigns
forever and ever.
Amen.”

-from Treatise on the Love of God

“Lord, I am Yours,
and I must belong to no one but You.
My soul is Yours,
and must live only by You.
My will is Yours,
and must love only for You.
I must love You as my first cause,
since I am from You.
I must love You as my end and rest,
since I am for You.
I must love You more than my own being,
since my being subsists by You.
I must love You more than myself,
since I am all Yours and all in You.
Amen.”

-from Treatise on the Love of God

“Oh what remorse we shall feel at the end of our lives, when we look back upon the great number of instructions and examples afforded by God and the Saints for our perfection, and so carelessly received by us! If this end were to come to you today, how would you be pleased with the life you have led?”

“We must fear God out of love, not love Him out of fear.”

“To be pleased at correction and reproofs shows that one loves the virtues which are contrary to those faults for which he is corrected and reproved. And, therefore, it is a great sign of advancement in perfection.”

“Two mistakes I find common among spiritual persons. One is that they ordinarily measure their devotion by the consolations and satisfactions which they experience in the way of God, so that if these happen to be wanting, they think they have lost all devotion. No, this is no more than a sensible devotion. True and substantial devotion does not consist in these things, but in having a will resolute, active, ready and constant not to offend God, and to perform all that belongs to His service. The other mistake is that if it ever happens to them to do anything with repugnance and weariness, they believe they have no merit in it. On the other hand, there is then far greater merit; so that a single ounce of good done thus by a sheer spiritual effort, amidst darkness and dullness and without interest, is worth more than a hundred pounds done with great facility and sweetness, since the former requires a stronger and purer love. And how great so ever may be the aridities and repugnance of the sensible part of our soul, we ought never to lose courage, but pursue our way as travelers treat the barking of dogs.”


-please click on the image for a larger view and easier reading

“Our greatest fault is that we wish to serve God in our way, not in His way- according to our will, not according to His will. When He wishes us to be sick, we wish to be well; when He desires us to serve Him by sufferings, we desire to serve Him by works; when He wishes us to exercise charity, we wish to exercise humility; when He seeks from us resignation, we wish for devotion, a spirit of prayer or some other virtue. And this is not because the things we desire may be more pleasing to Him, but because they are more to our taste. This is certainly the greatest obstacle we can raise to our own perfection, for it is beyond doubt that if we were to wish to be Saints according to our own will, we shall never be so at all. To be truly a Saint, it is necessary to be one according to the will of God.”

“All the science of the Saints is included in these two things: To do, and to suffer. And whoever had done these two things best, has made himself most saintly.”

“The greatest fault among those who have a good will is that they wish to be something they cannot be, and do not wish to be what they necessarily must be. They conceive desires to do great things for which, perhaps, no opportunity may ever come to them, and meantime neglect the small which the Lord puts into their hands. There are a thousand little acts of virtue, such as bearing with the importunities and imperfections of our neighbors, not resenting an unpleasant word or a trifling injury, restraining an emotion of anger, mortifying some little affection, some ill-regulated desire to speak or listen, excusing indiscretion, or yielding to another in trifles. These things are to be done by all; why not practice them. The occasions for great gains come but rarely, but of little gains many can be made each day; and by managing these little gains with judgment, there are some who grow rich. Oh, how holy and rich in merits we should make ourselves, if we but knew how to profit by the opportunities which our vocation supplies to us! Yes, yes, let us apply ourselves to follow well the path which is close before us, and to do well on the first opportunity, without occupying ourselves with thoughts of the last, and thus we shall make good progress. “

“To be perfect in one’s vocation is nothing else than to perform the duties and offices to which one is obliged, solely for the honor and love of God, referring to His glory. Whoever works in this manner may be called perfect in his state, a man according to the heart and will of God.”

“A servant of God signifies one who has a great charity towards his neighbor and an inviolable resolution to follow in everything the Divine Will; who bears with his own deficiencies, and patiently supports the imperfections of others.”

“The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: He is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

“Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them.”

“Consider all the past as nothing, and say, like David: Now I begin to love my God.”

“It should be our principal business to conquer ourselves and, from day to day, to go on increasing in strength and perfection. Above all, however, it is necessary for us to strive to conquer our little temptations, such as fits of anger, suspicions, jealousies, envy, deceitfulness, vanity, attachments, and evil thoughts. For in this way we shall acquire strength to subdue greater ones.”

“There is nothing which edifies others so much as charity and kindness, by which, as by the oil in our lamp, the flame of good example is kept alive.”

“As often as you can during the day, recall your mind to the presence of God…Remember frequently to retire into the solitude of your heart, even while you are externally occupied in business or society. This mental solitude need not be hindered even though many people may be around you, for they surround your body not your heart, which should remain alone in the presence of God. As David said, “My eyes are ever looking at the Lord.” We are rarely so taken up in our exchanges with others as to be unable from time to time to move our hearts into solitude with God.”

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and being rebuffed by it you have turned to God. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer. You must live in the world like one in the world. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes, and a thousand similar trivialities. Philothea, all this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. “If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,” says the Savior. We have seen gentlemen and ladies spend the whole night, even many nights one after another, playing chess or cards. Is there any concentration more absurd, gloomy, or depressing than this last? Yet worldly people don’t say a word and the players’ friends don’t bother their heads about it. If we spend an hour in meditation or get up a little earlier than usual in the morning to prepare for Holy Communion, everyone runs for a doctor to cure us of hypochondria and jaundice. People can pass thirty nights in dancing and no one complains about it, but if they watch through a single Christmas night they cough and claim their stomach is upset the next morning. Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God? We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. “John came neither eating nor drinking,” says the Savior, and you say, “He has a devil.” “The Son of man came eating and drinking” and you say that he is “a Samaritan.” It is true, Philothea, that if we are ready to laugh, play cards, or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if we neglect our dress, it will accuse of us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice. “Charity is kind,” says Saint Paul, but the world on the contrary is evil. “Charity thinks no evil,” but the world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf doesn’t hesitate to eat them if he can. Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can have so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything. It will watch all our actions and at a single little angry word it will protest that we can’t get along with anyone. To take care of our own interests will look like avarice, while meekness will look like folly. As for the children of the world, their anger is called being blunt, their avarice economy, their intimate conversations lawful discussions. Spiders always spoil the good work of the bees. Let us give up this blind world, Philothea. Let it cry out at us as long as it pleases, like a cat that cries out to frighten birds in the daytime. Let us be firm in our purposes and unswerving in our resolutions. Perseverance will prove whether we have sincerely sacrificed ourselves to God and dedicated ourselves to a devout life. Comets and planets seem to have just about the same light, but comets are merely fiery masses that pass by and after a while disappear, while planets remain perpetually bright. So also hypocrisy and true virtue have a close resemblance in outward appearance but they can be easily distinguished from one another. Hypocrisy cannot last long but is quickly dissipated like rising smoke, whereas true virtue is always firm and constant. It is no little assistance for a sure start in devotion if we first suffer criticism and calumny because of it. In this way we escape the danger of pride and vanity, which are comparable to the Egyptian midwives whom a cruel Pharaoh had ordered to kill the Israelites’ male children on the very day of their birth. We are crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.” – Saint Francis de Sales, from Introduction to the Divine Life

“Let us submit ourselves to His guidance and Sovereign direction; let us come to Him that He may forgive us, cleanse us, change us, guide us, and save us. This is the true life of the saints!” -St Francis de Sales

“Go to prayer in faith. Remain there in hope. Go out only by love.” -St Francis de Sales

“See this great Architect of Mercy: He converts our miseries into grace and makes salutary medicine for our souls from the venom of our iniquities.” -St. Francis DeSales

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” -St. Francis de Sales

“Calvary is the mountain on which sacred lovers are formed.” – St. Francis de Sales

“It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is, and how much it wins hearts.” -St. Francis de Sales

“In prayer we must not seek the consolations of God, but the God of consolations.” -St. Francis de Sales 

http://www.stfparish.com/Media/Images/Marratta.jpg

-The Virgin Appears to St Francis de Sales, by Carlo Marratta, 1691, oil on canvas,

“O Glorious St. Francis de Sales, model of the interior life, and full of zeal for the salvation of souls!  Obtain for me the grace to employ all my faculties, not for my own sanctification alone, but for that of my neighbor also; that continually spreading abroad the sweet odor of Jesus Christ by my words and works, I may attain with you the blessedness promised to the merciful: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy;” and that I may one day have a share in the glory which you do enjoy in paradise with the angels and saints, where those who edify and instruct to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity (Dan. xii. 3).  Amen.”

“Be at peace.

Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same understanding Father who cares for
you today will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

Collect:  O God, who for the salvation of souls
willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales
become all things to all,
graciously grant that, following his example,
we may always display the gentleness of your charity
in the service of our neighbor.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Love,
Matthew

silencia est pater praedicare = silence is the father of preachers

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I learned this Dominican expression in college as I was getting to know them.  Think about it. 🙂

Find time for intentional silence.  That means no books, no media, no noise or distraction of any kind.  And, yes, that means no reading voluminous emails from Matt.  I knew you were waiting for that one.  🙂

Catholicism has the practice, highly recommended, of retreat – spending dedicated, intentional, focused, valuable time in spiritual reflection.  Catholic or not.  Sinner, saint, or other.  Come and see. Jn 1:39.  I was caught with magazines by Fr. John Haughey, SJ when I was supposed to be on silent retreat!  The temptation of a too active mind that too rarely finds quiet time for reading and reflection. Ooops!  Don’t be hungry or tired.  Get your bathroom functions out of the way.  Turn off all electronics.  That means OFF!, away.

Give this silence your best time of the day.  Half an hour before the day begins, works well for me, or on a long drive, no radio.  Showered, shaved, dressed, coffeed, alert, awake, ready to go, but silent for a period of time.

I’m too tired at night.  Cannot concentrate.  Whatever’s left at the end of the day is not my best offering.  Attend a brief, convenient, early morning Mass during the week if you can.  Make it a habit.  It’s wonderful.  The “others” will wonder where you are when you are not there and will worry about you.  Buy the Divine Office app on iTunes!  Brilliant.  Does wonders if you get in the habit (no pun intended!). 🙂

Even for short periods, moments.  Always be aware.  Awareness is a form of prayer I like and have found, all throughout the day.  I pray constantly throughout the day, mostly by intentional awareness, paying attention.  Sometimes more formally.  Paying attention, in every aspect of life, is so important, wiser persons than I have told me.

I feel like I have ADHD when I try to be silent, find time for silence.  Silence is counter-intuitively difficult & can be unnerving, which is why I think most Americans do their best to try and avoid it.  You might hear yourself think, the voice of conscience.  Unnerving.  Discomforting.  Honest.  Can you handle the Truth?  I try.  I really do try.  I have a problem with the Truth.  I like it too much.  Didn’t say it was easy, just said it leads to eternal life.  That’s all.

Refuse to structure silence or to bring an agenda.  Be open.  Empty yourself.  The Holy Spirit does wonders when we are open, attentive, listening, and silent.  Shut up & listen.  This works with God, too!

Use silence as a form of healthy and invigorating mortification/discipline, like the athlete who trains his body, the scholar who trains his mind.  God wants to fill us up.  How can He do that when we are full of ourselves and our cares and worries and racing thoughts, emotions?  Believe in the possibility of grace and peace; empty yourself, and it will come to you.  I promise.

With it, I have found I have time and peace for everything else, even my abounding shortcomings.  Without it, nothing works.    Before the day begins, after prayer & silence, I say “Ok, Jesus, let’s DO this thing!  Be with me ALL throughout the day!  Be constantly by my side!  Amen!”  “Play like a Champion!” and slap the overhead door frame as you run out of the house yelling “Yeahhhhhhhhhh….”  Oh, that’s Notre Dame.  Got carried away.  Sorry.  You know what I mean.  🙂

How can you hear God talking if you’re not listening?  Who (even God) wants to talk to someone who isn’t listening?  It’s about relationships, isn’t it?  All about relationships?  What about that One, most important relationship?  Lk 13:27/Mt 7:23.
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-by Br. Tomás Martín Rosado, OP, who writes about silence, developing St. Catherine of Siena’s image of religious life as a ship based on his experience with sailboats.

St. Catherine of Siena, O.P., describes (professed) religious life as a ship “ready to receive souls who want to race on to perfection and to bring them to the port of salvation. The captain of this ship is the Holy Spirit, who lacks nothing. His religious subjects who violate his orders can hurt only themselves, never this ship.” This goes not only for the ship of religious life, but also for the barque of St. Peter, the Church. The ship can never be sunk, though it can be steered into hurricanes.

Growing up around sailboats, I learned the cardinal rule that one would never guess from pirate movies: silence is key. This is true for three major reasons. First, without silence you can’t hear the captain’s orders. Silence is not only a lack of external noise, but internal listening. Without it crucial directions can be missed. The Holy Spirit is not usually a yeller.

Secondly, you need to hear your shipmates. They have specific duties that cannot be explained in the midst of a storm. They may need your help with one of their tasks or they may need to get by you to reach their station. At times, it is through your shipmates that you hear the orders of the captain.

Thirdly, you need to hear your ship. The external structures of the ship require attention and the creaks of the ship communicate to the sailor. St. Catherine describes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as ropes that hold up the sails of the ship. Terrible consequences come of a frayed rope in the midst of a hurricane…

In this extended metaphor, silence is correctly seen as a positive aspect of the religious life and of the Christian life in general. It not only provides the space to listen to God, but it is a weapon of the Christian life. As St. Faustina wrote: “Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul.” Storms are not the only danger to a ship, but sea serpents roam the waters too.

We must be prepared to listen past the winds of the world, struggle against the noise of our hearts, and fight the demons of the depths. Silence is the weapon with which we fight the world, concupiscence and demons. It is in the silence of the cross that the ship sails into safe harbor.”

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-Fra Angelico, “St Peter Martyr, O.P., enjoining holy silence”

Silence is rare for parents, but we must try.  Find it where/when we can. 🙂
1 Kings 19:11-13

I have always been awestruck how silent the world is at dawn after a fresh snowfall.  Awestruck.  Absolute silence.  Outside.  I lie in the new snow, look at an azure sky, and “listen” to the silence.  Listen.  Wonderful.  Wonderful…literally.  In this “quiet time” of year, as the din and distractions of the holidays fade, when it “might” be easier to enter into silence, if you dare-you might hear/find God, do so.  Do so.  Do so.

Love and silence, peace, profound peace and silence, powerful silence,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord – St John the Baptist

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“He is the lamp in the presence of the Sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the Firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of Him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of Him Who has already come and is to come again. “I ought to be baptized by you…”; we should also add: “…and for you”, for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.”

-from a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop

Love,
Matthew

Speak the Truth!

To Cardinal Francis George:

 “What is truth?”, Pilate asked.  -Jn 18:38

Eminence, I am definitely not in your shoes, Deo gratias, but I pray you will always speak the truth regardless of the consequences.  Jesus didn’t mince words and didn’t go around apologizing for the Truth as He is the Truth.  They crucified Him for it, as you well know.   We can certainly expect the same if we stand with Him.  The KKK and gay movements are enemies of the Church.  This is not a surprise. This is a well known fact.  There is no mystery here.  I trust this is what you were referring to in your comments, even if unprepared.  Do not be afraid.

“Do not be afraid”
Genesis 43:23
 Genesis 46:3
 Genesis 50:19
 Genesis 50:21
 Exodus 20:20
 Deuteronomy 20:1
 Deuteronomy 20:3
 Deuteronomy 31:6
 Joshua 11:6
 Judges 4:18
 1 Samuel 4:20
 1 Samuel 22:23
 1 Samuel 23:17
 1 Samuel 28:13
 2 Kings 1:15
 2 Kings 19:6
 2 Kings 25:24
 Nehemiah 2:2
 Psalm 49:16
 Proverbs 3:25
 Isaiah 37:6
 Isaiah 44:8
 Jeremiah 1:8
 Jeremiah 40:9
 Jeremiah 42:11 (2 times)
 Ezekiel 3:9
 Daniel 10:12
 Daniel 10:19
 Zephaniah 3:16
 Matthew 1:20
 Matthew 14:27
 Matthew 17:7
 Matthew 28:5
 Matthew 28:10
 Mark 5:36
 Mark 6:50
 Luke 1:13
 Luke 1:30
 Luke 2:10
 Luke 8:50
 Luke 12:4
 Luke 12:32
 John 6:20
 Acts 18:9
 Acts 27:24
 Revelation 1:17

“Do not fear”
Genesis 15:1
 Genesis 21:17
 Genesis 26:24
 Genesis 35:17
 Exodus 14:13
 Numbers 14:9
 Numbers 21:34
 Deuteronomy 1:21
 Deuteronomy 1:29
 Deuteronomy 3:2
 Deuteronomy 3:22
 Deuteronomy 31:8
 Joshua 8:1
 Joshua 10:8
 Joshua 10:25
 Judges 6:10 (You shall not fear the gods of the Amorites…)
 Judges 6:23
 Judges 3:11
 1 Samuel 12:20
 2 Samuel 9:7
 2 Samuel 13:28
 1 Kings 17:13
 2 Kings 6:16
 2 Kings 17:35 (You shall not fear other gods, nor bow…)
 2 Kings 17:37
 2 Kings 17:38
 1 Chronicles 22:13
 1 Chronicles 28:200
 2 Chronicles 20:15
 2 Chronicles 20:17
 2 Chronicles 32:7
 Nehemiah 4:14 (Do not be afraid…)
 Job 21:9 (Their houses are safe from fear..)
 Psalm 64:4
 Psalm 78:53 (He led them to safety so they did not fear)
 Isaiah 7:4
 Isaiah 10:24
 Isaiah 35:4
 Isaiah 40:9
 Isaiah 41:10
 Isaiah 41:13
 Isaiah 41:14
 Isaiah 43:1
 Isaiah 43:5
 Isaiah 42:2
 Isaiah 51:7
 Isaiah 54:4
 Isaiah 54:14?? (you will be far from oppression, for you will not fear..)
 Jeremiah 10:5
 Jeremiah 30:10
 Jeremiah 46:27
 Jeremiah 46:28
 Lamentations 3:57
 Joel 2:21
 Joel 2:22
 Haggai 2;5
 Zechariah 8:13
 Zechariah 8:15
 Matthew 10:26
 Matthew 10:28
 Matthew 10:31
 Luke 5:10
 Luke 12:7
 John 12:15
 John 14:27 (Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful)
 1 Peter 3:14 (Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,
 Revelation 2:10

 (troubled)
 John 14:1 (Do not let your heart be troubled…)
 Acts 20:10

It also says:
Mark 4:40 “…Why are ye fearful? Have ye no faith?”
Matthew 8:26 “…Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?…”
Revelation 21:8 “But the fearful, and … (ext.)… shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_times_does_the_Bible_tell_us_to_Fear_Not#ixzz1ip1GaBzp

In my amateur hagiography, I have come to the conclusion if we are moving towards the Cross, we must be doing something right in imitation of the Lord.  The Lord respected persons, but not popular taboo.  He also was never afraid to point out and acknowledge their sin, regardless of whom they were or what trouble they could cause Him.  I pray you will always imitate the Lord, as His servant.  Pray for me.  Many, many Catholics are praying for you in Chicago.

If the world can’t handle the truth, that’s the world’s problem, the Scriptures tell us.  The world always has and always will have a problem with the Truth.  That’s a good indicator it is the truth.  So, Cardinal, whatever the Truth is, say that.  If its that pedophile priests were protected, say that.  If it’s another hate group taking on the Church, say that.  Follow the example of the Lord, and speak the Truth.

How far we have come?

Sodomy
All European judicial systems of the 13th-mid 17th centuries used torture.  Inquisitorial repression of the sexual offence of sodomy, considered, according to Canon Law, as a crime against nature, merits separate attention. This included cases of incidences of heterosexual and homosexual anal sex, rape, and separately bestiality. Civil authorities at times executed those convicted.

In 1506 at Seville the Inquisition made a special investigation into sodomy, causing many arrests and many fugitives and burning 12 persons, but in 1509 the Suprema in Castile declared that crime not within the jurisdiction of the Inquisition deciding that cases of sodomy could not be adjudicated, unless related to heresy. Alleging that sodomy had been introduced to Spain by the Moors, in 1524 the Spanish Ambassador to Rome obtained a special commission from Clement VII for the Holy Office to curb its spread by investigating laymen and clergy in the territories of Aragon, whether or not it was related to heresy; and proceeding according to local, municipal law in spite of the resistance by local bishops to this usurpation of their authority.

The tribunal of Zaragoza distinguished itself for its severity in judging these offences: between 1571—1579, 101 men accused of sodomy were processed and at least 35 were executed. In total, between 1570 and 1630 there were 534 trials (incl. 187 for homosexuality, 245 for bestiality, and 111 with unknown specification of the charges) with 102 executions (incl. 27 for homosexuality, 64 for bestiality and 11 uncertain cases).

The first sodomite was burned by the Inquisition in Valencia in 1572, and those accused included 19% clergy, 6% nobles, 37% workers, 19% servants, and 18% soldiers and sailors.[45]  A growing reluctance to convict those who, unlike heretics, could not escape by confession and penance led after 1630 to greater leniency. Torture decreased: in Valencia 21% of sodomites were tortured prior to 1630, but only 4% afterwards. The last execution in persona for sodomy by the Inquisition took place in Zaragoza in April 1633. In total, out of about 1,000 convicted of sodomy – 170 were actually burnt at the stake, including 84 condemned for bestiality and 75 for homosexuality, with 11 cases where the exact character of the charges is not known.

Nearly all of almost 500 cases of sodomy between persons concerned the relationship between an older man and an adolescent, often by coercion; with only a few cases where the couple were consenting homosexual adults. About 100 of the total involved allegations of child abuse. Adolescents were generally punished more leniently than adults, but only when they were very young (under ca. 12 years) or when the case clearly concerned rape, did they have a chance to avoid punishment altogether. As a rule, the Inquisition condemned to death only those “sodomites” over the age of 25 years. As about half of those tried were under this age, it explains the relatively small percent of death sentences.[46]
[ <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Spanish_Inquisition&action=edit&section=14> ]

Speak the Truth!

Matthew McCormick
Chicago, IL

Solemnity of the Epiphany: Why did God become a man?

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charles_shonk_op
-by Br. Charles Shonk, OP

“Would God have become man if man had never sinned? An odd question, perhaps, but one which St. Thomas [Aquinas, O.P.] takes the trouble to answer with characteristic intellectual humility:

“Such things as spring from God’s will, and are beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is manifested to us. Hence, since everywhere in Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.”

God’s omnipotence, on the one hand, and the testimony of Scripture, on the other, lead us to believe that, although God could have become incarnate in a sinless world, He would not have done so. Still, we may ask, if He had done so, why would He have done so? St. Thomas does not answer this question directly, but, when considering the Incarnation in a more general way, he does say that it was fitting, not only as a remedy for sin, but also simply as an expression of God’s goodness: “It belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others… [and] it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature.”

It is stupefying, really, to think of God becoming incarnate merely to communicate his goodness to unfallen mankind – even more stupefying, in a certain sense, than God becoming incarnate to redeem us from our sins. It may also seem a rather fruitless piece of speculation. I would suggest, however, that this hypothetical scenario can help us better appreciate at least one aspect of the mystery of Christ’s birth, namely, the humble circumstances in which it occurred.

If Christ had been born into a world without sin, it follows – we might almost say it follows “by definition” – that the whole of creation would have welcomed him as jubilantly as the angels did on Christmas night: “Glory to God in the highest!” There would have been no search for hospitality, no rude feeding-trough for a bed, no flight from murderous Herod. The King of kings would have come into a world that recognized him as such, a world that worshiped and adored His ineffable love and majesty; He would not have silently slipped into a world that had become enemy territory. Indeed, although it is fitting that we now see the stable and the manger through the “rose-colored glasses” of our Savior’s love for us, we must also see them as what they were: the contemptuous rebuff of a sinful and fallen world.

Yet God, by submitting to the indignity of such poverty and obscurity, blesses it. In effect, He tells us that a poor and obscure life is the appropriate, natural, and beneficial condition of mankind after the Fall, the fitting exterior sign of our interior wretchedness, a salutary obstacle to our pride and self-sufficiency. Accordingly, the angels announce tidings of peace, not to the wise and powerful, but to the poor and simple shepherds, because, to the shepherds, who know their own need so well, the coming of God’s kingdom does, in fact, mean peace. Herod, on the other hand, and, with him, all who are persuaded by their power or prosperity that they are not wretched and poor, can only see the coming of God’s kingdom as unsettling, inconvenient, or irrelevant.

We moderns have our own pride and blindness, even if it is less obvious than Herod’s. In this egalitarian, scientific, “information” age, we habitually approach the mysteries of the Faith as so many mere facts, as items to be reviewed in a more or less casual way, analyzed from a critical distance, even evaluated on a strictly evidential basis. We respect, but do not reverence. We are interested, but not ravished. We read, but do not meditate. We experiment, but do not commit. These are signs of a spiritual and moral disease, and, if we would overcome that disease – if we would hear the Christmas Gospel afresh – we must learn from the shepherds, who teach us that the mysteries of God are revealed, not to the proud and the subtle, not to the “well-informed” and sophisticated, but to the humble and to those who suffer, to the innocent and to those who know their own sinfulness, to the teachable, and to those whose hearts are prepared.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Aug 1 – St Alphonsus Mary de Liguori, CSsR, (1696-1787), Bishop & Doctor of the Church, “Doctor Zelantissimus”, Doctor Most Zealous

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Born to the nobility, Alphonsus Liguori was a child prodigy, was extremely well-educated, and received his doctorate in law from the University of Naples at age 16. He had his own practice by age 21, and was soon one of the leading lawyers in Naples, though he never attended court without having attended Mass first.

He loved music, could play the harpsichord, and often attended the opera, though he frequently listened without bothering to watch the over-done staging. As he matured and learned more and more of the world, he liked it less and less, and finally felt a call to religious life.

As a Neapolitan lawyer, he lost a court case in a spectacular fashion, when it turned out that a key document in his case had been misinterpreted by him and in fact proved his opponent’s case instead.

He declined an arranged marriage, studied theology, and was ordained at age 29. Preacher and home missioner around Naples. Noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. Writer on asceticism, theology, and history; master theologian, he was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious.

He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order in Scala in 1730, and founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Liguorians; Redemptorists) at Scala, Italy in 1732. The Redemptorists proved to be a quarrelsome congregation: their formal establishment had been delayed by more than a decade because of internal dissension.

Appointed bishop of Saint Agata dei Gotti by Pope Clement XIII in 1762, Liguori worked to reform the clergy and revitalize the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. He was afflicted with severe rheumatism, and often could barely move or raise his chin from his chest. In 1775 he resigned his see due to his health, and went into what he thought was a prayerful retirement.

In 1777 the royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed in 1773.

Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in thelogy, and his skills as a lawyer, Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king’s approval. However, by this point Alphonsus was nearly blind, and was tricked into giving his approval to a revised Rule for the Congregation, one that suited the king and the anti-clerical government.

When Pope Pius VI saw the changes, he condemned it, and removed Alphonsus from his position as leader of the Order. The Redemptorists split into two congregations, both of whom rejected him. This caused Alphonsus a crisis in confidence and faith that took years to overcome. However, by the time of his death he had returned to faith and peace.

Alphonsus vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life, and lived that way for over 90 years. Declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871.

When he was bishop, one of Alphonsus’s priests led a worldly life, and resisted all attempts to change. He was summoned to Alphonsus, and at the entrance to the bishop’s study he found a large crucifix laid on the threshold. When the priest hesitated to step in, Alphonsus quietly said, “Come along, and be sure to trample it underfoot. It would not be the first time you have placed Our Lord beneath your feet.”

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Novena Prayer to Saint Alphonsus Liguori

GLORIOUS Saint Alphonsus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, devoted servant of our Lord and loving child of Mary, I invoke you as a Saint in heaven. I give myself to your protection that you may always be my father, my protector, and my guide in the way of holiness and salvation. Aid me in observing the duties of my state of life. Obtain for me great purity of heart and a fervent love of the interior life after your own example.  Great lover of the Blessed Sacrament and the Passion of Jesus Christ, teach me to love Holy Mass and Holy Communion as the source of grace and holiness.  Give me a tender devotion to the Passion of my Redeemer.

Promoter of the truth of Christ in your preaching and writing, give me a greater knowledge and appreciation of the Divine truths.

Gentle father of the poor and sinners, help me to imitate your charity toward others in word and deed.

Consoler of the suffering, help me to bear my daily cross patiently in imitation of your own patience in your long and painful illness and to resign myself to the Will of God.

Good Shepherd of the flock of Christ, obtain for me the grace of being a true child of Holy Mother Church.

Saint Alphonsus, I humbly implore your powerful intercession for obtaining from the Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for my spiritual and temporal welfare. I recommend to you in particular this favor: (Mention your request).

I have great confidence in your prayers. I earnestly trust that if it is God’s holy Will, my petition will be granted through your intercession for me at the throne of God.

Saint Alphonsus, pray for me and for those I love. I beg of you, by your love for Jesus and Mary, do not abandon us in our needs. May we experience the peace and joy of your holy death. Amen.

Prayer

HEAVENLY Father, You continually build up Your Church by the lives of Your Saints. Give us grace to follow Saint Alphonsus in his loving concern for the salvation of people and so come to share his reward in heaven. Walking in the footsteps of this devoted servant of Yours, may we be consumed with zeal for souls and attain the reward he enjoys in Your Kingdom. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Prayer of Saint Alphonsus Liguori to the Blessed Virgin

Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin! O my Mother! Thou who art the Mother of my Lord, the Queen of the world, the advocate, hope, and refuge of sinners! I, the most wretched among them, now come to thee. I worship thee, great Queen, and give thee thanks for the many favors thou hast bestowed on me in the past; most of all do I thank thee for having saved me from hell, which I had so often deserved. I love thee, Lady most worthy of all love, and, by the love which I bear thee, I promise ever in the future to serve thee, and to do what in me lies to win others to thy love. In thee I put all my trust, all my hope of salvation. Receive me as thy servant, and cover me with the mantle of thy protection, thou who art the Mother of mercy! And since thou hast so much power with God, deliver me from all temptations, or at least obtain for me the grace ever to overcome them. From thee I ask a true love of Jesus Christ, and the grace of a happy death. O my Mother! By thy love for God I beseech thee to be at all times my helper, but above all at the last moment of my life. Leave me not until thou seest me safe in heaven, there for endless ages to bless thee and sing thy praises. Such is my hope. Amen.  -Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

“When the devil wishes to make himself master of a soul, he seeks to make it give up devotion to Mary.” -St Alphonsus Maria de Liguouri

“Let us will always and ever only what God wills; for in so doing, He will press us to His heart.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

“Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

“My beloved Jesus, Your face was beautiful before You began this journey; but, now, it no longer appears beautiful and is disfigured with wounds and blood. Alas, my soul also was once beautiful when it received Your grace in Baptism; but I have since disfigured it with my sins. You alone, My Redeemer, can restore it to its former beauty. Do this by the merits of Your Passion; and then do with me as You will.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori 

“He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

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Love,
Matthew

Aug 7 – Pope St Sixtus II, d. 258 AD, Martyr

Adult convert to Catholic Christianity and Pope from Aug 30, 257 to Aug 6, 258, Sixtus, who was Greek by birth, is shared with you primarily because he points to another saint, Lawrence, whom, much to your dismay , I am sure, I will share with you in three days time.  

Sixtus dealt with the controversy concerning Baptism by heretics. He believed that anyone who was baptized with a desire to be a Christian, even if the Baptism was performed by a heretic, was truly baptized into the Faith, and that the validity of that faith was based on the person’s own desire and actions to be a Christian, not the errors of the person who performed the sacrament.

While celebrating Mass at the tomb of Saint Callistus, he was arrested as part of the persecutions of Valerian. He was beheaded with six deacons and sub-deacons, and was buried in the same catacomb where he had been celebrating Mass when he was arrested.

“Where are you going, my dear father, without your son? Where are you hurrying off to, holy priest, without your deacon? Before you never mounted the altar of sacrifice without your servant, and now you wish to do it without me?”

-St Lawrence, Archdeacon of Rome, to Pope St Sixtus II, 258A D, calling out to the soon to be martyred Successor of St Peter, as the Pope was being led to his execution.

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The tomb of Sixtus was enscribed thus, by Pope St Damasus I, whom we shall also hear about again later this month:

At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Pastor the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword, but as soon as the Pastor saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Pastor’s merit, preserving unharmed the flock.”

Love,
Matthew