Category Archives: Theology

No such thing as a Christian doormat

“Smells like Marcionism!!!”

My sister, God rest her soul, and ONLY because she was my sister, my second mother, was able to get away with this. She gave me a doormat with “Hello, my name is Mat!” Effin’ hilarious. I still have it and now cherish, as I cherish every evidence of her I ever had. I can’t wait to see her again, as soon as possible, please. 🙂

-by Rick Chui, is happily married and teaches history and Religious Education in a Catholic secondary school in Singapore. He has a Masters in Theological studies from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, Australia.

“There is a very insidious theological idea around, especially among conscientious Christians who dearly desire to love Jesus and follow His teachings, that somehow, Our Lord’s injunction in the Sermon of the Mount to “turn the other cheek” and His shameful death on the cross means that to be a true follower of Jesus, one has a duty to accept without resistance injustice being done to oneself.

That is heresy of the most pernicious kind.

The reason for Our Lord accepting an unjust death on the cross is so as to be able to disable injustice permanently and to establish true justice. To reconcile man to God as the scriptures would say.

He did not accept death on the cross for injustice’ sake but for the sake of justice.

If that is the case, then these parables about turning the other cheek take on a very different light. One accepts the unjust blow of the aggressor and offers the other cheek not so that he can be a doormat, but because that in itself is a form of resistance to injustice.

It is a form of resistance, because others watching will disbelieve the aggressor’s claim to the moral high ground.

It is a form of resistance, because the aggressor, if his conscience has not been totally killed, will hopefully recoil in horror at what he has just done.

It is a form of resistance, because the victim has empowered himself and established the moral high ground, by a conscious act of the will, not to even retaliate by force in self-defense, not because that’s not his right, but because he seeks an eschatological hope, a permanent disablement of violence of any sort.

So I urge my fellow Christians, to remember this. “Doormatism” or “Christian masochism” is a heresy.

It is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you want to truly follow Christ, fighting against injustice (whether done to yourself or to others) by just means is your duty.

And the non-violent teachings of Jesus are simply another and very noble way to establish God’s reign on earth and in your own life.

An essential part of God’s reign is that enemies can be reconciled to each other. That can only happen when justice is first established.”

Love, “Hello, my name is Mat!”,
Matthew

Injury & Prayer


-by Dr. Anthony L. Lilles, STD, Academic Dean of St John’s Seminary

One obstacle to beginning to pray and living within is the struggle to forgive. Whenever someone hurts us in a serious way, there is a spiritual wound that remains. As we begin to pray, we commonly find ourselves going back over these wounds again and again. What is most frustrating is that many times we thought we had already forgiven the person who hurt us. But when the memory comes back, we can sometimes feel the anger and the pain all over again.

What do we do with the wounds so that they no longer impede our ability to pray? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming hurt into intercession” (CCC 2843).

To pray for those who have hurt us is difficult. In scriptural terms, those who hurt us are our enemies, and this is true even when they are friends and close family members. Christ commands us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. Betrayal, abandonment, indifference, scandal, abuse, scorn, sarcasm, ridicule, detraction, and insult — these are all bitter things to forgive. The Lord grieves with us and for us when we suffer these things. He has permitted us to suffer them for a profound reason.

The Lord explained to His disciples that those who hunger and thirst for the sake of justice, those who are merciful, and especially those who are persecuted for righteousness and for the Lord are blessed. Their mysterious beatitude makes sense only when we see through the eyes of faith the injustice and persecution they have endured.

Somehow, trusting in God in the midst of such things makes them in the likeness of Christ. Trusting in God means to pray for those who harm us, to seek to return good for evil. When this act of trust is made, the power of God is released in humanity. For two thousand years, this is what every martyr for our faith has revealed to the Church.

In His mysterious wisdom and profound love, when the Father allows someone to hurt or oppose us in some way, He is entrusting that person to our prayers. When our enemy causes us to suffer unjustly, our faith tells us that this was allowed to happen so that we might participate in the mystery of the Cross. Somehow, like those who offered their lives for our faith, the mystery of redemption is being renewed through our own sufferings.

We have a special authority over the soul of someone who causes us great sorrow. Their actions have bound them to us in the mercy of God. Mercy is love that suffers the evil of another to affirm his dignity so that he does not have to suffer alone. Whenever someone hurts us physically or even emotionally, he has demeaned himself even more. He is even more in need of mercy.

From this perspective, the injury our enemies have caused us can be a gateway for us to embrace the even greater sufferings with which their hearts are burdened. Because of this relationship, our prayers on their behalf have a particular power. The Father hears these prayers because prayer for our enemies enters deep into the mystery of the Cross. But how do we begin to pray for our enemies when the very thought of them and what they have done stirs our hearts with bitterness and resentment?

Here we must ask what it means to repent for our lack of mercy. The first step is the hardest. Whether they are living or dead, we need to forgive those who have hurt us. This is the hardest because forgiveness involves more than intellectually assenting to the fact that we ought to forgive.

We know that we get some pleasure out of our grievances. The irrational pleasure we can sometimes take in these distracts us from what God Himself desires us to do. What happens when all that pleasure is gone, when all we have left is the Cross? Saint John of the Cross sees our poverty in the midst of great affliction as the greatest union with Christ crucified possible in this life: “When they are reduced to nothing, the highest degree of humility, the spiritual union between their souls and God will be an accomplished fact. This union is most noble and sublime state attainable in this life.” In the face of our grievances we must realize this solidarity with Christ and cleave to His example with all our strength.

Living by the Cross means choosing, over and over, whenever angry and resentful memories come up, not to hold a debt against someone who has hurt us. It means renouncing secret vows of revenge to which we have bound ourselves. It means avoiding indulging in self-pity or thinking ill of those who have sinned against us. It means begging God to show us the truth about our enemy’s plight.

Here, human effort alone cannot provide the healing such ongoing choices demand. Only the Lord’s mercy can dissolve our hardness of heart toward those who have harmed us. We have to surrender our grievances to the Holy Spirit, who turns “injury into compassion” and transforms “hurt into intercession” (CCC 2849).

As with every Christian who has tried to follow Him, the Cross terrified Jesus. He sweat blood in the face of it. We believe that it was out of the most profound love for us and for His Father that He embraced this suffering. Because of this love, He would not have it any other way. Overcoming His own fear, He accepted death for our sake and, in accepting it, sanctified it so that it might become the pathway to new life.

Precisely because Jesus has made death a pathway of life, Christians are also called to take up their crosses and follow Him. They must offer up their resentment to God and allow their bitterness to die. Offering the gift of our grievances to God is especially pleasing to Him. It is part of our misery, and our misery is the only thing we really have to offer God that He wants.

This effort is spiritual, the work of the Holy Spirit. In order to forgive, we must pray, and sometimes we must devote many hours, days, and even years to prayer for this purpose. It is a difficult part of our citizenship behavior. Yet we cannot dwell very deep in our hearts, we cannot live with ourselves, if we do not find mercy for those who have offended us. Living with ourselves, living within ourselves, is impossible without mercy.

There are moments in such prayer when we suddenly realize we must not only forgive but must also ask for forgiveness. A transformation takes place when our attention shifts from the evil done to us to the plight of the person who inflicted it. Every time we submit resentment to the Lord, every time we renounce a vengeful thought, every time we offer the Lord the deep pain in our heart, even if we do not feel or understand it, we have made room for the gentle action of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit does not take the wounds away. They remain like the wounds in the hands and side of Christ. The wounds of Christ are a pathway into the heart of every man and woman. This is because the hostility of each one of us toward Him caused those wounds. Similarly when someone wounds us, the wound can become a pathway into that person’s heart. Wounds bind us to those who have hurt us, especially those who have become our enemies, because whenever someone hurts us, he has allowed us to share in his misery, to know the lack of love he suffers. With the Holy Spirit, this knowledge is a powerful gift.

Once the Holy Spirit shows us this truth, we have a choice. We can choose to suffer this misery with the one who hurt us in prayer so that God might restore that person’s dignity. When we choose this, our wounds, like the wounds of Christ, no longer dehumanize as long as we do not backslide. Instead, the Holy Spirit transforms such wounds into founts of grace. Those who have experienced this will tell you that with the grace of Christ there is no room for bitterness. There is only great compassion and sober prayerfulness.”

Amen. Amen. Let justice flow like a river!

Love & Prayer,
Matthew

Tolerance is not a Christian virtue

-from “The Old Evangelization” by Eric Sammons

Jesus Refuses to Tolerate Sin
Sometimes Intolerance is a Virtue

We are required to accept any lifestyle, any choice, and any depravity, all in the name of “tolerance.” This poses a problem when it comes to evangelization, for conversion involves rejecting certain lifestyles and choices; in other words, it involves being intolerant of sin.

We often fear that confronting someone about his sins will seem “un-Christian.” Yet Christ shows is that it is not, as we see from his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

The encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26)

“Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when He comes, He will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I Who speak to you am He.”

Jesus and His disciples are passing through Samaria, whose inhabitants have a strained relationship with the Jews. They decide to take a break in the city of Sychar. As the disciples go off to refresh their supplies, Jesus rests next to Jacob’s well. A woman approaches the well, and Jesus asks her for a drink of water. As is typical for the Lord, he uses this ordinary sort of exchange as an opportunity to dive into deeper, spiritual realities. This tactic is itself a model for those who want to evangelize. We all have basic physical needs that everyone recognizes, but most people don’t recognize their great spiritual needs. So Jesus takes a physical need as an opportunity to launch into a more important discussion about spiritual needs:

Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (John 4:13-15)

Starting with a simple request for a drink, Jesus leads the woman to ask for something herself, something far better: the water that leads to eternal life. She might not yet fully understand Christ’s words, but her interest is piqued. Likewise, within our own circle of influence we shouldn’t browbeat people with theology, but rather use our ordinary interactions with them to lead them to ask us about eternal matters.

What is especially interesting for our purposes, however, is the response Jesus gives right when He has the Samaritan woman on the cusp of discipleship. Before we look at that, think of how most of us would respond to someone looking for spiritual answers. We would bend over backwards to welcome him, and do all we can to answer his questions in a way that satisfies his curiosity but without giving offense. In short, we would strive to do nothing that might turn the inquirer away.

But what does Jesus say to the inquiring Samaritan woman? “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16). At first glance, it may appear that Jesus wants to include the woman’s whole household in this path to salvation. But we find this was not his purpose. The woman answers, “I have no husband,” and Jesus responds, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly” (John 4:17-18).

Our Lord obviously knew that such a confrontation might lead her to reject Him, but His thirst for her salvation compelled Him to challenge her lifestyle.

Notice also that Jesus doesn’t over- or under-react to the woman’s immoral past. He confronts her regarding her marriage history, but He doesn’t launch into full-scale denunciations of it. He simply makes it clear that her lifestyle is not acceptable for one who would follow Him. This balanced approach is all too rare today.

In our evangelization efforts, we too often flee from confrontation. We are, frankly, horrified by the idea of pointing out another person’s faults. In a land where “Don’t judge me!” has become a mantra, we strive for a “live and let live” attitude towards all. This is, of course, legitimate in most cases. After all, if you’re attending your son’s Little League practice, you don’t turn to the parent sitting next to you and point out the spiritual dangers of adultery.

But if you’re guiding someone to a deeper knowledge and practice of the Catholic faith, his or her moral life must become a topic at some point. In the politically incorrect words of St. Paul, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). If someone is living a life contrary to the gospel, he has erected a barrier to God which must be torn down, and as an evangelizer, you need to hand him the tools to begin the process. Gently and lovingly, you must help him confront and correct any lifestyle choices that block him from receiving God’s graces.

Of course, the same standard applies to us as well. If we do not acknowledge our own sins and bring them to confession, then we can’t confront others. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, but it does mean that we must recognize our faults and work to overcome them.

Confronting someone’s sins might lead to their immediate repentance—let’s call that the “Nineveh response”—or it might lead to repentance years or decades later—the “St. Augustine response”—or it might lead to no change in behavior—the “Sodom and Gomorrah response.” The response, however, is not our responsibility; we simply have a duty to show the way to eternal life. It’s up to each individual—my friend Leo or the Samaritan woman or your friend in a sinful lifestyle—to make the decisions necessary to take that path.”

Love,
Matthew

We are all going to die


-“Et in Arcadia ego” (also known as Les bergers d’Arcadie or The Arcadian Shepherds) is a 1637–38 painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). It depicts a pastoral scene with idealized shepherds from classical antiquity clustering around an austere tomb. It is held in the Louvre, Paris.

I volunteer in hospice, and with dementia/alzheimer’s patents. It is a profound understatement to say it is humbling, sobering, heart & thought provoking work. In particular, I volunteer for what is known as “vigil” service. This is providing others human companionship, on a continuous basis around the clock in the last hours or days, typically, of their lives. I would hope someone would do it for me. In particular, we try to relieve family members during non-waking hours, to give them rest and respite. To give them peace that their loved one is not alone, and should they pass when family, if any, is not present no one should die alone. Our work brings relief to both family and medical staff who have too much responsibility for others to offer this human compassion, although they desperately desire to offer it, during their regular duties.

I may read to patients/residents appropriately for their faith or lack of faith persuasion, particularly scripture, both Old and New Testaments, or just Hebrew scriptures if Jewish. But, if not religious, whatever text they may have of their own, that brings them comfort. If Catholic, I may say the rosary or Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours/Office of the Dead for them. Sometimes, I play soft music. Often, those “actively dying” are non-communicative, but not always, most definitely not always. Hearing is known to be the last sense to succumb.

I also teach young people. It is a profound, lived experience in mid-life to spend the day with young people at the prime of their health and beauty, typically, their joyfulness, their silliness, their boundless energy, their certain joie de vivre, their understandable lack of care about the future and their health, their strength, their goofiness, their playfulness, their love of talking to, with, and about each other, constantly, and then to journey just a few minutes to my service for the dying, their diminishment, their humiliation, shame, despair, at their profound inability to care any longer for self, let alone others; they who ruled the world a short time ago. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, which I find myself self-repeating to myself, as I drive.

Ozymandias – by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jan 1818

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

So much for the glory of man.

Or, from my favorite poet, Sara Teasdale’s, “November”: “The world is tired, the year is old, the faded leaves are glad to die.” Yes, they are. Yes, they are. Yes, I will.


-by Br Reginald Hoefer, OP

“We are all going to die.

We were reminded of this on Ash Wednesday when the priest put ashes on our heads saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We need to be reminded about the reality of our death because we forget so easily.

Our culture desensitizes us to the fact of dying. It makes death seem so commonplace as to be almost unbelievable—or, at least, so prevalent that we think it could never really happen to us.

We see this in action movies where the death of combatants costs nothing: sure, a couple of those soldiers got blown up, but we didn’t really know them; they weren’t really central to the story. The good guys win, and we forget about the dead. We also see it in video games where players can continuously get killed and then “re-spawn” at no cost.

The point of receiving ashes, then, is to remind us that we are going to die someday. But do we really let that sink in? If we don’t ignore the question, it should naturally occur to us to ask: “well, if I’m going to die, what’s next? Does my life really have any meaning?”

Obviously, for the Christian, the answer is a resounding “of course.” Our life is given meaning by the promise of an eternity of happiness with God, greater than anything beyond our wildest dreams. But life doesn’t just have meaning because of the promise of something we will eventually receive but currently lack.

Those in the state of grace possess immortality now by sharing in the eternal life of God Who dwells deep within the soul. St. Augustine says that God is “more inward in me than my inmost self.” When we recognize that the Undying One wants to dwell deep within us, we begin to glimpse the true meaning He can give to our lives. But we only arrive at this recognition if we open ourselves to this reality and conform ourselves to His love.

At baptism, this most intimate, immortal indwelling of God is planted in the soul like a seed. Through frequent reception of the sacraments (especially Holy Communion and confession), God cultivates this indwelling presence so that it will blossom into a fruitful tree when the soul reaches Heaven. But we forget so easily that His immortal life can be within us; and, as a result, we also forget the true meaning of our lives.

Our consumerist lifestyle tends to bury the question of our origin and our end: it’s a defense mechanism meant to self-medicate us against the fear of not having answers to such fundamental questions. But Lent is a chance to remember—not only our impending death—but the reality that the God who never dies can live within our souls and can invite us to share that life with Him.

So how does Lent jog the memory? The three pillars of Lenten (and, really, Christian) observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Fr. Francis Martin teaches that we pray so that we can relate to God; we fast so that we can deprive ourselves; and this self-deprivation prepares us for almsgiving.

The idea behind this is that human beings are self-centered. We eat up everything: food, money, time, clothes, TV. But fasting counteracts that selfish tendency of our fallen nature. Depriving ourselves prepares us to give of ourselves and thus grow in charity (that is, love, the life of God within us). Counteracting our own selfishness prepares us, for instance, to be patient with those who annoy us and kind to those we can’t stand.

So fasting prepares us for almsgiving, but neither have a context without prayer—without recognizing and communicating with the God Who dwells deep in the souls of His faithful ones.

The lesson of Lent, then, is to remember death. But remember death so that you also remember that the immortal God wants to live within you so that you may share in His undying life. Doing so will remind you of the meaning of your own life.”

Love, & the joie de vivre,
Matthew

Temptation

-by Jimmy Akin, “A Daily Defense

Born with Temptations

Challenge: Why would a good God allow people to be born with temptations to sin?

Defense: This is a subcase of the problem of evil. It is mysterious, but we can discern the outlines of the solution.

Elsewhere we have covered other aspects of the problem of evil (see Days 7, 38, and 151). Here we look at the specific question of why God allows people to be born with temptations to sin.

One way of putting the answer is: God created mankind in a state of original justice or holiness. However, when our first parents turned away from God and committed original sin, they lost this holiness and human nature was corrupted in a way that made us prone to sin (CCC 375, 379, 405).

Although the causes were on the spiritual rather than the purely physical level, the situation is similar to that of a person with a healthy genetic code who, by recklessly exposing himself to radioactive material, damages his genes in a way that causes his offspring to be born with birth defects. In other words: We are born with temptations because we inherit the damage done to human nature by sin.

Although this answers the question on one level, it leaves the question of why God would allow this to happen. Here there is an element of mystery, because God could have prevented us from inheriting temptations. However, we can say the following:

(1) God takes our inborn weaknesses into account in assessing how culpable we are. Our culpability for sin is diminished when we are under strong internal pressures. “The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders” (CCC 1860).

(2) God will not allow us to be separated from Him except by a truly free choice of the kind involved in mortal sin (CCC 1037).

(3) God gives us His grace to deal with temptations (1 Cor. 10:13).

(4) God subjects Himself to our weakness. In the person of Jesus, He subjected Himself to conditions like those we experience. “For we do not have a high priest [i.e., Jesus] Who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15, NABRE).

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Bad spiritual habits

Ideas have consequences. They do. They are NOT harmless. Ask the victims of the Nazis or the Communists. Be careful what you wish for? Be careful what you think! Bad thinking leads directly to bad habits which lead to bad outcomes.

“Habits—repeated practices—that make us focus on ourselves rather than God, or stoke undue curiosity about the occult, leave us more susceptible to temptation and other demonic attacks.

Emotionalism

Angels and human beings have immortal souls. Two faculties or powers of the immortal soul are reason and free will. Using our reason, we can think about things such as the morality of a proposed action. Using our free will, we can choose whether to do it. Faculties that we share with animals are senses and emotions. Our emotions are more varied and complex than those of animals, though there is no denying that a dog can be happy, sad, or angry.

We can call reason and free will higher faculties; emotions and senses lower faculties. It is a serious mistake, though one that is common in our culture, to allow the lower faculties to govern our actions. This leads us to believe that a proposed action must be good if it is pleasurable to our senses or if it makes us feel happy. I have heard individuals justify immoral acts by saying, “God wants me to be happy.” This is true, but there are acts that will give us momentary pleasure but not long-term happiness. God wants us to live in eternal happiness, and to use reason rather than emotion and sensual pleasure to guide us there.

The same is true of spirituality. It is a serious mistake to think that emotions provoked during a spiritual experience indicate its depth and value. That is why, as we have seen, the Church instructs us that healing services must avoid hysteria, theatricality, and sensationalism. I have been present at such services where, despite this directive, people are encouraged to cry, make incoherent sounds, and even fall to the ground. A better spiritual experience is one that brings a sense of peace and calm, both during and afterward.

Spiritual Pride

The demons were good when God created them, but they fell from grace because of the sin of pride: “You said in your heart . . . ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit” (Isa. 14:13–14). This illustrates the importance of being spiritually humble; we resist demons by avoiding the very vice that brought them down.

Spiritual Sloth

Sloth can refer to laziness in work and other daily obli- gations; spiritual sloth specifically refers to neglect of our obligations to God. Jesus warned us of the dangers of delaying repentance and neglecting to break our patterns of sin (Matt. 5:23–26; Luke 12:42–48). The Bible often refers to this as having a hardened heart (Eph. 4:18). Another way of saying this is: do not wait until tomorrow to make the good moral choices you can make today. Exorcists say that hardening of the heart, or wallowing in habits of sin, can open us to demonic attacks.

In addition to the usual spiritual means of avoiding spiritual sloth, there is a counseling technique that can be helpful in times of temptation. Before committing the sin, we can mentally put ourselves in the future and think about how we will feel about this moment. Will I be glad I acted this way, or will I regret it? What will the consequences be for others? What will the consequences be for me next week, next month, or next year? And what will the effect be on my immortal soul?

For example, if a man who struggles with drunkenness is considering having a drink, he should not dwell on the plea- sure of the drink. Rather, he should mentally put himself in the future and look at what is likely to happen as a result of this one drink. If he can delay the decision to drink—if he can think about the likelihood of getting drunk, the effects on his family and other relationships/obligations, and the damage to his soul—he may be able to excite his emotions in such a way that the drink is not so desirable. These emotions counteract the pleasurable emotions that demons try to provoke in connection with our particular weaknesses. Furthermore, by developing this thought process into a habit, by God’s grace we can break habits of sin that can be a door to demonic influence.

Casual Occult Practices

In artwork, the devil is often portrayed as a red creature with hooves, a pointed tail, bat wings, and a cruel smirk on his face. It would be beneficial if he actually appeared that way; it would be much easier to identify him and resist his temptations! Unfortunately, his operations are more insidious. This is also true of the occult practices that have become common in our culture. There are Catholics who would never consciously set out to worship false gods, but are lured by seemingly harmless spiritual gurus and practices that contradict the Faith. These are subtle means by which the demons try to gain a foothold and lead people away from God.

Playing with a Ouija board violates the first commandment, since it is an attempt to communicate with spirits in a way that excludes God. We can talk to angels, saints, and the souls in purgatory through their union with God, not through a board game. The only spirits that might respond to a Ouija board are demons and (possibly) human souls in hell, with neither of whom we should communicate.

Having said that, certainly many people have played with a Ouija board as children (I confess I am one of them). Many people my age have told me they did the same, and all have said they are not aware of any spiritual problems as a result. Does this mean that no harm comes from playing with a Ouija board? Definitely not, for two reasons. First, more than half of those in my generation who grew up Catholic are no longer practicing the faith. I am not blaming the Ouija board for that, but neither can we rule out the possibility that it had a negative spiritual influence on some people. Second is a comparison: when I was growing up most people were not wearing seat belts, and I didn’t personally know anyone who was seriously injured or killed as a result of this neglect. Nevertheless, that does not mean it was a good idea or a safe practice.

As with the Ouija board, people who have consulted palm readers, psychics, tarot cards, and horoscopes tell me it was just for fun, and deny suffering ill effects. Certainly they did not become possessed by the devil. But these activities, too, violate the first commandment, and they have the potential of opening doors to the demonic.

As we have seen, although psychics and palm readers have no inherent ability to see the future or other hidden events, demons may use these individuals and fool their customers. Demons can put ideas in their heads, such as information about peoples’ personal lives. When they report this informa- tion, they and their customers wrongly believe the knowledge came from psychic ability, palm reading or other activity. The devil would often prefer to hide his presence, and let us sin through pride (claiming extraordinary powers) and invoking false gods (such as tarot cards or the stars and planets).

Demons can also use people’s grief over dead loved ones to influence them, falsely leading them to believe—through objects being moved, or lights turning off and on—that a medium has made them present in the room. But souls do not return from the dead to leave such vague and mundane signs. And demons can use such false episodes to shake peo- ple’s faith in God’s saving power.”

Praying for safety & protection of all,
Matthew

Imputation?

catholic_gentleman
sam_guzman_wife
-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”

“Growing up a protestant, I was taught quite young the theological idea of imputation. That is, that Christ died in our place to bear the death sentence that we deserved, and in doing so, transferred His righteousness to us. It was a grand exchange. He takes ours sins and we get credited righteousness. But most importantly, Jesus suffered and died so that we do not have to suffer and die. We escape the cross because Jesus went there in our place.

The Catholic idea of salvation is quite different. Imputation is largely foreign to Catholic theology. Instead, Catholic theology operates on the idea of participation. That is, Christ came to earth and died on the cross, not so that we could avoid death and suffering, but so that He could transform the inevitability of death and suffering from the inside out. By communion with Him, by participation in His cross, we could receive eternal life.

After all, what is the fate of each and every human being? Death. It is the great equalizer. No matter how rich, famous, beautiful, or healthy we are, we will all die sooner or later. Death is the consequence of sin, for sin is a movement away from God Who is Life itself. Sin is therefore by definition non-Life. It is death by its nature. And because our first parents chose sin, death is the fate of every human being.

Our enemy was gleeful at our demise. He meant for our death to be eternal, and for our physical death to be the gateway into eternal doom. But Christ came and changed all that. He embraced death and death could not hold Him. He transformed it from the inside out, changing it from the gateway to eternal death to that of eternal life. In the words of the Byzantine liturgy, “He trampled down death by death.”

Put another way, Christ did not suffer and die so that we do not have to—he suffered and died so that our suffering and death could be transubstantiated into a means of life. He embraced the cross not to keep us from it, but so that our crosses could be changed from instruments of death into healing remedies that bring life.

As baptized Christians, we are members of the body of Christ. We are incorporated into Him and we live in communion with Him. This communion means that we share in His life—not by making some act of intellectual assent, but by living His life after Him. And living His life after Him requires carrying the cross after Him and sharing in His death. The cross is the price of eternal life.

This is the meaning of Jesus when He said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” -Lk 14:27 Could there be any clearer sign that He did not come to keep us from the cross? No, rather He came to transform our crosses into the means of life.

Having been instructed by Christ himself, St. Paul understood this well. “I die daily.” “I have been crucified with Christ.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” The cross was always in his heart and on his lips, for it was to him, as it is for us all, the means of eternal life.

Suffering is inevitable. To varying degrees, we will all suffer. And with a similar certainty, we will all die. It could be said that a cross lies at the heart of human existence. But the cross need not be a fate to be feared. Our Lord trampled down death by death. In the greatest paradox of all, He changed death into a means of life. What was once our doom is now our salvation.

“You must accept your cross,” said the holy St. John Vianney“If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.” This Lent, let us not fear or flee the cross, but carry it with love and with hope, as the means not of death but of eternal life.”

Love,
Matthew

Only 3 Goods


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“How can I simplify my life? It’s not lacking in good things, it’s too full of them. How can I find space, and time, and simplicity?

The answer is: By realizing that the only things you need are good things, and that there are not as many good things as you think, because there are only three kinds of goods: Goodness is rightly divided into (1) the virtuous, (2) the useful, and (3) the pleasant. . . .

‘Goodness is not divided into these three as something univocal to be predicated equally of them all, but as something analogical to be predicated of them according to priority and posteriority. Hence it is predicated chiefly of the virtuous, then of the pleasant, and lastly of the useful’ (I,5,6).

What is “virtuous” is good in itself. The reason to be virtuous, to do right and not wrong, is simply because it’s right and not wrong. What is “pleasant” is simply what makes you happy. And what is “useful” is whatever is a means to either what is virtuous or what is pleasant.

These are three different kinds of goods. They are good analogically, good in different ways, different senses. They are not the same in rank. They are in a hierarchy. (1) The virtuous good is the “goodest” because it is good absolutely, in itself. (2) The pleasant is next because it is also an end in itself (we seek pleasure for no other reason than pleasure), but it is not absolute but relative (“different strokes for different folks”). Also, not all pleasures are virtuous, though all virtues are pleasant. And the deepest pleasure is an effect of virtue, not vice versa. (3) Finally, the useful is good only as a means to either virtue or pleasure.

Hedonists are fools who seek only pleasure. But these people are never really deeply happy, deeply pleased. Pleasure comes only as a by-product. Pleasure-addicts are like hypochondriacs. They destroy the very thing they seek by idolizing it.

Pragmatists and utilitarians are fools who seek only utility. But as Chesterton says, “man’s most pragmatic need is to be more than a pragmatist”, to have some end to justify all these means, some absolute that all these things are relative to, something all these useful things are useful for.

Most of us are semi-hedonists and semi-utilitarians because we fill up our lives and our thoughts with useful goods first of all, then pleasant goods, then virtue last of all, as a kind of last-minute check. We invert the hierarchy. Especially in modern America, where we idolize our feelings (pleasures) and treat everything else (even unborn babies) as utilitarian, disposable consumer goods.

How can we find more room and time in our lives and our thoughts for the higher goods? By simplifying and minimizing the lower goods, and above all by eliminating everything else that is not really good at all. St. Thomas’ classification gives us a road map for a wonderful simplification of our lives. Everyone needs that today. Everyone complains that their lives are too complex, that there is not enough time, not enough leisure—even though (or perhaps because) we have all these technological time-saving devices, our hundreds of mechanical slaves. We are slaves to our slaves. St. Thomas’ simple common sense can free us from this slavery.

For there are only three kinds of good. So if a thing is not virtuous, useful, or pleasant, it’s not really good. So fugghetaboutit! Simplify your life by throwing out all the things you have that you don’t need, all that’s not virtuous, useful, or pleasant. Don’t do anything for any other reason, e.g., because “everybody’s doing it” or “everybody has one” or just because it’s “expected”, or because you feel a spontaneous desire for it once you see a commercial for it. Do you really need to buy that expensive sneaker or super cell phone, or to read that book that’s on the best-seller list, or go to that dull meeting? Is it your moral duty? Does it give you happiness, or even pleasure? If the answer to all three questions is no, then dump it! A house without a garbage can becomes cluttered and smelly. The same is true of a life.”(1)

Love & truth,
Matthew

(1)Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 698-730). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

“One necessary thing”, Lk 10:42 & Aquinas

Why do we sin?

“Seek what you seek, but it is not where you seek it. You seek Life in the place of death.” –St Augustine, Confessions


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“All created perfections are in God. Hence He is spoken of as universally perfect (“all-perfect”), because He lacks not any excellence which may be found in creatures.

This may be seen from two considerations.

First, because whatever perfection exists in an effect must also be found in the effective cause . . . Since therefore God is the first effective cause of things, the perfection of all things must pre-exist in God in a more eminent way . . .

Second, from what has already been proved, God is existence (being) itself. Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being . . . Since therefore God is subsisting being itself, nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to Him. Now all created perfections are included in the perfection of being, for things are perfect only insofar as they have being after some fashion. It follows therefore that the perfection of no being is wanting to God (ST,I,4,2).

Whatever is desirable, in whatsoever beatitude (happiness, joy), whether true (beatitude) or (even) false (i.e., merely apparent beatitude), pre-exists wholly and in a more eminent degree in the divine beatitude.

As to contemplative happiness, God possesses a continual and most certain contemplation of Himself and of all things else.

And as to that which is active, He has the governance of the whole universe. As to earthly happiness, which consists in delight, riches, power, dignity, and fame, according to Boethius (The Consolation of Philosophy III,10), He possesses joy in Himself and all things else for His delight: Instead of riches, He has that complete self-sufficiency which is promised by riches; In place of power, He has omnipotence; For dignities, the government of all things; And in place of fame, He possesses the admiration of all creatures (I,26,4, “Whether All Beatitude is Included in the Beatitude of God?”).(1)

“All sin, therefore, comes from a lack of faith—faith in this very fact, that God contains all perfections, not just some. God is not an option for “religious people”, whomever they are. God is the only game in town(2).”

“Here, in St. Thomas, is a powerful aid to obeying the first and greatest commandment. (“I AM the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before Me” -Ex 20:2-3. And, “You shall love the Lord, thy God, with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind.” -Mt 22:37) It is the realization that every finite perfection we love and seek in the creation is to be found in an infinitely perfect form in God. What are we seeking in human love, in nature, in creativity, in thought? It’s desirable only because it’s a little like God. All that we love in creatures is a reflection of the Creator. There, and there alone, in Him, can we find everything we are seeking in them. The reflections of His perfections in the mirror of creation should send us away from the mirror, not into it. And when we run into the mirror, seeking our happiness there, the mirror breaks and our happiness shatters. For every truth is a reflection of His truth, every good is a reflection of His good, every beauty is a reflection of His beauty. The reflections are real, but they are only real reflections. They point back to the Reality they reflect. All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. He must contain in Himself the whole perfection of being.

And therefore He is what we need, He is all of what we need, and He is the only One we need. For if we need something else besides God, something in addition to God, then God is not God.

There is a mystery about our desires: they have no limit! We are never totally and absolutely satisfied. Why? Because they are about God.

“The form (nature) of the Desired is in the desire.” St. Thomas means by that saying that there is no such thing as desire simply, desire with no specific object, desire for nothing, or for everything in general, for an abstraction. There is only desire for food, drink, sleep, truth, goodness, beauty, sex, love, friendship, etc. The form of the object of each desire is in the desire itself, and gives it its nature: desire for sex is sexual desire, desire for knowledge is curiosity, desire for friendship is loneliness.

And thus since the form of its object is in the desire itself, and since what we most deeply desire is God, the infinite source of all finite perfections, therefore the infinite nature of God is “in” this infinite desire for God, like a negative photograph, or like a silhouette. When your mother dies, your grief is a mother-shaped grief; when you lack God it is a God-shaped lack, a God-shaped (and God-sized) vacuum. The desire for God has no limit because its object (God) has no limit.

St. Thomas here simply explains, in philosophical language, St. Augustine’s beloved and famous saying that summarizes the whole meaning of life: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and [that is why] our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions I,1).

How this frees us from worry! Jesus tells foolish, fussing Martha the startling good news that “There is only one thing needful!” (Lk 10:38-42). It’s Him. Mary knew that, and Martha didn’t, even though both loved Him. No thought more liberating, more simplifying, more unifying than that thought has ever entered into a human mind. Your life can be one. You can be one. You do not need to be torn apart, harried and hassled, bothered and bewildered. You can become one great person by having one great love.

For you are what you love. Your love is your destiny. Augustine says your love is your gravity (amor meus, pondus meum).

In speaking to Martha, Christ speaks to all of us. He sees us in her, and he wants to liberate us out of her confusions, her illusions, and her worries, and into Mary’s “one thing needful”. He is the One we need to seek, and find, and meet, and love, and serve in all things. Because everything we seek, every good, every happiness, every joy, every perfection, is There.”(3)

Love,
Matthew

(1) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 605-622). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(2) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 627-629). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(3) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 634-663). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross

People suffer horrific things in this life. And, as Jim Morris sang, “Nobody gets out of here alive.” I have long held, if you can explain the contradiction of the Cross, not easy, but then you do understand Christianity; counter-intuitive. It takes the worst, and represents the worst-also, this life can offer…and DESTROYS it, forever. Praise Him. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Praise Him. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. Horrific and horrifying, yes. Absolutely required? Without question or hesitation. Praise Him. Praise Him.


The Triumph of the Cross, ~1380, Agnolo Gaddi (1350–1396), fresco, Santa Croce, Florence (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Ambrose Arralde, OP

“For many Christians, making the sign of the cross can be as mechanical as brushing one’s teeth or clearing one’s throat. On the one hand, it’s beautiful that such a simple sign can contain such profound meaning. It’s very simplicity, however, makes it easy for us to perform without giving its meaning a second thought. A good meditation on this phenomenon can be found in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter.

“But whenever we make the sign of the cross over ourselves or over anything that we want to protect with the cross, then we must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The cross is not a symbol invented by Christians. At the time of the early Church, the cross was already a well known symbol imbued with meaning. The cross was the symbol of death and humiliation, intended to strike fear into the hearts of would-be malefactors. Every body hanging on a cross carried with it an implicit message for the passerby, “Do not cross the state, or this will be you.” The cross, however, lost its former power when it was used to kill Jesus Christ. His followers were not deterred by the threat of the cross, nor would they deny their Lord as they were being led to die his same death. One can only imagine that this must have been quite frustrating for Roman officials. But the cross no longer meant to the Christians what it still meant to the Romans. The cross had become a symbol of life because it had been defeated and shown to be powerless, similar to how the sign of surrender would later become the handing over of one’s sword.

The impotence of the cross, however, could only be revealed after it had been given free rein to do its worst, and its worst had been found wanting. Christ felt the full weight of suffering and humiliation. But the suffering, instead of breaking his mettle, became an occasion for heroic courage, and the humiliation, instead of causing him shame, became an occasion for him to despise shame itself (cf. Hebrews 12:2). It was only by dying that Christ could rise, and in losing all human glory he was exalted above every mere creature (cf. Philippians 2:8-9). It was only after Christ had emptied the cross of all the power it had once enjoyed that he could fill it with a new and greater power. “We must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The sign of the cross has the power to strengthen us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157), and it is good for us to avail ourselves of it often, but it strengthens us precisely to meet the trials of life head on, rather than to keep them at bay. We are called to share in the life and glory of Christ, but only through sharing in his cross. There are still many Christians who suffer death for their faith in Christ, but we who are not so sorely tried can also show our Christian mettle by carrying our daily crosses, strengthened by the knowledge that the cross is the sign that points to the empty tomb.”

Love & glorious, inexpressibly joyful TRIUMPH in Him,
Matthew