Category Archives: Theology

Jesus fears…


-Giovanni Bellini, “The Agony in the Garden”, NG726, National Gallery, London, ~1465.

We all worry. We all experience stress. When disease comes, we even face physical suffering. So did the Lord. “For we do not have a high priest Who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”, -Heb 4:15a. “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” -Lk 22:44. “If you would be My disciples, take up your cross, and follow Me!” -cf Mt 16:24


-by Br Ignatius Weiss, OP

“Anxiety develops in three ways: the tidal waves of sudden tragedy, the rising flood of compounded stresses, and that heavy, salty air of ambient anxiety caused by constant tension or worry.

“Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.
I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.” (-Ps 69:2–3)

Anxiety is the fear that builds up when we sense an evil closing in around us. This mental awareness gives rise to a fear that reverberates through the body. We feel a tension, a weight, a darkness, an ache. It begins to hang from our shoulders or coil around our chests. Our thoughts are mottled, and we compulsively tap our feet or drum our fingers to vent our nervous energy; the wringing of our hands embodies the knotting of our heart. Even when we are focused on something else, this trembling sensation lurks just beneath the surface, stirring the waters.

Fear is our natural and appropriate reaction against bad things, but the devil likes to contort it for his own use. Into our healthy caution the adversary plants lies and deceptions to make us feel weak, uncertain, and alone. The tensions persist or form over unimportant matters (the “10,000 little things” of life). He turns fear into worry and worry into despair. Jesus, with complete abandonment to the will of the Father, himself began to experience the torment of anxiety more and more as his hour drew near.

The Gospels describe Jesus before his arrest as being “deeply distressed and troubled,” or literally, “weighed down” (Mk 14:33), and “very sorrowful,” or surrounded by grief, “even unto death” (Mt 26:38). But this fear began well before the garden. “Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me’” (Jn 13:21). Something similar is found when he earlier prophesied his own suffering, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn 12:27). Going beyond the biblical data, one could make reference to the tradition behind the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that the child Jesus saw angels bearing the instruments of the Passion; frightened, he darted to the security of his mother’s embrace, even breaking a sandal in his retreat.

It can be easy to imagine Jesus as some unflinching superhero—He is God after all! Yet He chose the emotional pains of fear and anxiety that come with assuming human nature and its weakness. “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Is 53:4). What is most astonishing, however, is that the Almighty chose to save us through suffering. The same pangs and wounds that we receive were accepted by the incarnate God Who alone could bear them perfectly. Without affecting His sublime divinity, the many pains were really endured in his humanity. He took up not only the cross, but our worries and our frustrations in order to transform these, too, into sources of grace. He takes them up, but not away. He elevates them, lightens their load, and blesses those who bear them; to take them away would be to take away our unique path to holiness and our way to Heaven.

“For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” (-Heb 12:2)

We will suffer. Jesus has promised us this much. But what we do with these sufferings is what really matters in the end. God uses our suffering for His glory. Patience, which itself means “suffering,” is the virtue whereby we endure pains, and longanimity or longsuffering is the virtue of enduring expected pains. God graciously pours these virtues into his children and works with us to strengthen our souls to better imitate Jesus, to remain in the state of grace and grow toward perfection. The Son dwells in the baptized by grace in order to take to himself through us the many stings of life, bearing them in us, and giving us strength enough to face them with Him.

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and He delivered them from their distress;
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and He brought them to their desired haven.” (-Ps 107:28–30)

“It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. (Jn 6:16–21)”

Love, Blessed Holy Week,
Matthew

Human dignity: silent suffering – homosexuality


-“The Creation of Adam – Creazione di Adamo”, Michelangelo, ceiling of Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome, c. 1512, Fresco, 280 cm × 570 cm (9 ft 2 in × 18 ft 8 in). Please click on the image for greater detail.

Every person has an inherent dignity because he or she is created in God’s image. A deep respect for the total person leads the Church to hold and teach that sexuality is a gift from God. Being created a male or female person is an essential part of the divine plan, for it is their sexuality—a mysterious blend of spirit and body—that allows human beings to share in God’s own creative love and life…

…Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them (cf. The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 10).

It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358). They, as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences…

The Christian community should offer its homosexual sisters and brothers understanding and pastoral care. More than twenty years ago we bishops stated that “Homosexuals . . . should have an active role in the Christian community” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life, 1976, p. 19). What does this mean in practice? It means that all homosexual persons have a right to be welcomed into the community, to hear the word of God, and to receive pastoral care. Homosexual persons living chaste lives should have opportunities to lead and serve the community. However, the Church has the right to deny public roles of service and leadership to persons, whether homosexual or heterosexual, whose public behavior openly violates its teachings…

…Nothing in the Bible or in Catholic teaching can be used to justify prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.2 We reiterate here what we said in an earlier statement:

We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment. (Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1991, p. 55)…”
http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/homosexuality/always-our-children.cfm

http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/gay-loneliness/

http://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/john-stonestreet/unspoken-epidemic-silent-suffering-gay-men

https://illinoisfamily.org/homosexuality/national-affirmation-cannot-change-natures-renunciation/

Love,
Matthew

Ramblin’ man


-by Br Damian Day, OP

“The Allman Brothers were onto something with their lyrics, “Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man.” We are wanderers upon the earth. Why? This world is broken and, though it is filled with beauty, it is still a place of loss and impermanence. Yet we have a desire within us for a more lasting home, a homesickness for a place of joy where our wandering hearts can rest free from sorrow. Our hearts yearn for such a home because “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

In this life, we experience the loss of what we once knew and loved. Bereft, we become wanderers. In The Wanderer, an Anglo-Saxon poet considers, with agonizing sorrow and relentless nostalgia, “this dark life” that is now deprived of the joys he had once known. His lord and king has been laid in the earth, his friends and companions slain, while he himself, over the sea “suffers long / Stirring his hands in the frosty swell, / The way of exile.” He has become a weary wanderer in the midst of his life. He has come to know our life as the life of a wanderer. The only road or way that he knows is that of exile.

Mumford & Sons has a knack for writing thought-provoking lyrics. Their song “Hopeless Wanderer” has always struck me as touching on something profoundly true about the human condition. The refrain repeats, “I’m a hopeless wanderer.” Like the Allman Brothers, Mumford & Sons identifies this wandering as part of our condition. Like the Anglo-Saxon poet, they know that they are wanderers. And yet, they have a longing for a time or a place where they will wander no longer. But is this longing a vain hope? Are we but hopeless wanderers?

Salvation history gives us the answer. At the heart of the Pentateuch, the people of Israel admit to God that they are wanderers: “A wandering Aramean was my father” (Deuteronomy 26:5). But God did not abandon his people to wander without hope or direction. He reached into the dark, sorrowful wandering of His people. “He found them in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert. He shielded them and cared for them, guarding them as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10). Lost though we are, wandering in wildernesses of sin or wastelands of shattered lives, God is there to find us and care for us.

God also gave the path on which we can set our wandering hearts and feet to find our way to our homeland. That path is Jesus Christ Himself, Who is “the Way” (John 4:6). Following Him and walking in and with Him, our wandering is guided home. Strangely, this is the Way of the Cross. As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week, we see that Christ endured the sorrow and loss of our condition as wanderers so that He could win for us a city where we could dwell in happiness. He became a ramblin’ man, a weary wanderer, beaten, battered, bruised, crushed, and forsaken, a man without a home, without friends by His side, one who seemed lost, thrown down dead in the dust. But when He rises victorious over death and ascends to His throne, then He gives not a way of exile, but a way home for us hopeful wanderers, us ramblin’ men.”

Love,
Matthew

Value of Suffering

Catholics are often thought of, even by some Catholics, as some kind of Christian masochists.  Untrue. And, it is especially exquisite when done by fellow Christians, Psalm 41:9. YOU STUPID GALATIANS!!! -Gal 3:1 But, where unavoidable, and you know it is, Catholicism can give value and meaning to suffering like no other religion I have ever heard of.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus Crucified, teach me the Science of the Cross; make me understand the value of suffering.

MEDITATION

The Passion of Jesus teaches us in a concrete way that in the Christian life we must be able to accept suffering for the love of God. This is a hard, repugnant lesson for our nature, which prefers pleasure and happiness; however, it comes from Jesus, the Teacher of truth and of life, the loving Teacher of our souls, Who desires only our real good. If He commends suffering to us, it is because suffering contains a great treasure.

Suffering in itself is an evil and cannot be agreeable; if Jesus willed to embrace it in all its plenitude and if He offers it to us, inviting us to esteem and love it, it is only in view of a superior good which cannot be attained by any other means–the sublime good of the redemption and the sanctification of our souls.

Although man, by his twofold nature, is subject to suffering, God willed to exempt our first parents from it by their preternatural gifts; but through sin, these gifts were lost forever, and suffering inevitably entered our life. The gamut of sufferings which has harassed humanity is the direct outcome of the disorder caused by sin, not only by original sin, but also by actual sins. Yet the Church chants: O happy fault! Why? The answer lies in the infinite love of God which transforms everything and draws from the double evil of sin and suffering the great good of the redemption of the human race. When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of mankind, He also assumed their consequences, that is, suffering and death; and this suffering, embraced by Him during His whole life, and especially in His Passion, became the instrument of our redemption. Pain, the result of sin, becomes in Jesus and with Jesus, the means of destroying sin itself. Thus a Christian may not consider pain only as an undesirable burden from which he must necessarily recoil, but he must see in it much more–a means of redemption and sanctification.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, You do not like to make us suffer, but You know it is the only way to prepare us to know You as You know Yourself, to prepare us to become like You. You know well that if You sent me but a shadow of earthly happiness, I should cling to it with all the intense ardor of my heart, and so You refuse me even this shadow … because You wish that my heart be wholly Yours.”

“Life passes so quickly that it is obviously better to have a most splendid crown and a little suffering, than an ordinary crown and no suffering. When I think that, for a sorrow borne with joy, I shall be able to love You more for all eternity, I understand clearly that if You gave me the entire universe, with all its treasures, it would be nothing in comparison to the slightest suffering. Each new suffering, each pang of the heart, is a gentle wind to bear to You, O Jesus, the perfume of the soul that loves You; then You smile lovingly, and immediately make ready a new grief, and fill the cup to the brim, thinking the more the soul grows in love, the more it must grow in suffering too.”

“What a favor, my Jesus, and how You must love me to send me suffering! Eternity itself will not be long enough to bless You for it. Why this predilection? It is a secret which You will reveal to me in our heavenly home on the day when You will wipe away all our tears.”

“Lord, You ask me for this suffering, this sorrow…. You need it for souls, for my soul. O Jesus, since You have made me understand that You would give me souls through the Cross, the more crosses I meet, the more ardent my thirst for suffering becomes.”

“I am happy not to be free from suffering here; suffering united with love is the only thing that seems desirable to me in this vale of tears”

-(Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Letters, 32,50,23,40,58,224 – Story of a Soul).

Love & comfort,
Matthew

Purifying motives


-by Circle of Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430–1516), “Christ Carrying the Cross”,1505-1510, oil on panel, 49.5 × 38.5 cm (19.5 × 15.2 in)Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA


-by Br Norbert Kelliher, OP

“We carry our cross. We do it to be disciples of Christ, to do His will in our life and not our own. But surrendering our own willfulness means more than a determination to obey. The paradox of discipleship is not that we do the will of another and receive a reward, but that in leaving behind our own will we discover it again in Christ. In the end, we will discover that we desire the same thing that Christ does.

St. John of the Cross, a disciple of Christ known for his asceticism, expresses this paradox in one of his Sayings of Light and Love:

“Deny your desires and you will find what your heart longs for. For how do you know if any desire of yours is according to God?” (Sayings 15)

Desire is our will’s attraction to the good. When we are willful in a disordered way, we seize on something that is good but in a way contrary to God’s will and to our nature. We can also have desires that follow reason and are virtuous. Real virtue includes adapting to our circumstances and purifying our motives, which often have been distorted by past sin. As our desires are educated in discipleship, we should question them and see whether they are good here and now.

This saying of St. John of the Cross can help us in our daily discipleship by making us skeptical about some of our desires. It is always necessary to deny innately disordered desires, as well as selfish ways of satisfying innately good ones. At other times we have to let go of good desires by force of circumstance, even though in another case they would be virtuous.

To deny ourselves out of a desire to please God is a way of taking up our daily cross, as Christ says His disciples must do. Just as the man who wishes to save his life ends up losing it, so the man who does not deny his own disordered desires ends up suffering what he does not desire. Rom 6:23 But if we learn the habit of denying our inappropriate desires, we can find our satisfaction in desiring Christ above all things.

By denying ourselves out of humility, we create more room for the One desire that matters. If we doubt whether we will find what we’re looking for along this road, we can imagine querying the saint:

“Was it worth it, St. John of the Cross, to leave behind so many of your own desires for Christ?”

His unequivocal answer would be, “Yes! Now I possess Christ and have all I ever could have wanted.” The willfulness of a saint is greater than that of a sinner, because he clings tenaciously to Goodness itself.

For those of us who are not saints, we can take comfort that perfect self-denial does not come immediately. We may get there some day, but for now, fulfilling our basic duties in life and our Lenten practices is enough. By taking these up faithfully, with a longing for Christ, we are surrendering our own will little by little. This process is painful, but we know that one day it will lead to our greatest joy.”

[Ed. you will know you are doing this correctly if greater and greater peace comes with an ever more intimate relationship w/Him, resting ever more in His sweet, sweet love.]

Love, joy, and intimacy with Him, His growing peace to you,
Matthew

Glamour of evil

In the Fox television series, of which I am a HUGE fan/geek/nerd, “Sleepy Hollow”, witches use a power known as “glamour” to disguise their true appearance, age, and other things they want to hide. This is a much older understanding and sense of the word glamour, here used in that sense in the Catholic baptismal promises below. Sir Walter Scott (1797-1826) wrote, defining the use of the word glamour, “the magic power of imposing on the eyesight of spectators, so that the appearance of an object shall be totally different from the reality.”

Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s Children?
I do.

Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
I do.

Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?
I do.

Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?
I do.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was Born of the Virgin Mary,
was crucified, died, and was buried,
rose from the dead,
and is now seated at the Right Hand of the Father?
I do.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,
the Forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body,
and Life everlasting?
I do.

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
has given us a New Birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and forgiven our sins.

May God also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ
forever and ever.

Amen.

-by Stephen Sparrow, who writes from New Zealand. He is semi-retired and reads (and writes) for enjoyment, with a particular interest in the work of Catholic authors Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Sigrid Undset, Dante Alighieri and St Therese of Lisieux. His secondary school education was undertaken by Society of Mary priests at St. Bedes College and after leaving school in 1960 he joined a family wood working business, retiring from it in 2001. He is married with five adult children. His other interests include fishing, hiking, photography and natural history, especially New Zealand botany and ornithology.

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) is recognized as one of the most important American writers of this century. In her short life, Flannery O’Connor left a small and precious body of writing in which the voices of displaced persons affirm the grace of God in the grotesqueries of the world.

Born Mary Flannery O’Connor in Savannah in 1925, she spent a serene childhood there, although a series of displacements lay ahead in her growing years. Her family were staunch Roman Catholics, a small religious minority in the South. Even as a child in parochial school, she was aware of being regarded as somehow different, although Savannah was where most Georgia Catholics lived at that time. In her mature years as a writer, many of her artistic contemporaries regarded any kind of orthodoxy as freakish, but she never lost her vital connection to her faith and her Church, and never lost the courage of her convictions, whether as a Catholic or an artist.

Her brief literary career was a race against time. The symptoms of lupus appeared just as she was finishing her first novel, Wise Blood. The disease progressed with occasional remissions. But, in fact it was only restrained by a medication that simultaneously damaged her bone structure. Aware of the fragility of her existence, she wrote and revised with tireless intensity. But two collections of stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, and a second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, were all she was able to finish. The Fitzgeralds posthumously published her occasional prose in a collection entitled Mystery & Manners. Some years later Sally Fitzgerald edited and published a selection of her celebrated letters under the title, The Habit of Being. Unfortunately, Flannery O’Connor’s work did not receive its highest honors until after her death, but her reputation has grown steadily and, today, she is everywhere recognized as one of the most important American writers of this century.

During her most creative years, also the years of her physical decline, she lived on a family farm outside Milledgeville, attended by a great flock of peacocks she loved to raise. She was a warmly receptive person who maintained her sharp sense of humor despite poor health. She died in Milledgeville in 1964 and is buried there near her father. Toward the end of her life she wrote:

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.”

Her shocking message was, and is, Behold, the dwelling of God is with men!

(Excerpted from the short biography of Flannery O’Connor on the Georgia Women of Achievement web site)

——–

During an interview granted to Jubilee Magazine, Flannery O’Connor was reminded of something she had once written to the effect that the creative action of the Christian’s life is to prepare his death in Christ. The interviewer then asked how this related to her work as a writer? O’Connor replied, “I’m a born Catholic and death has always been brother to my imagination. I can’t imagine a story that doesn’t properly end in it or in its foreshadowings.”


Flannery O’Connor
(1925-1964)

“I can’t imagine a story that doesn’t properly end in it or in its foreshadowings.”1 Flannery O’Connor was faithful to her own dictum and out of her two published collections of short stories twelve of the twenty end in death, and, of her two novels one begins with death and the other ends in it, and each also features a murder. Untimely death, or its foreshadowing, is the eschatological theme underlying most of O’Connor’s fiction, which, for the Christian, means that the last four things are: death, judgement, heaven and hell.

In her acclaimed short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, O’Connor makes spectacular use of violent death to highlight this theme. The story is about a vacationing family murdered by a trio of psychopaths, and right from the beginning it is filled with portents of doom. First, we witness the manipulative grandmother lecturing her apathetic son on the dangers of heading in the same direction (Florida) as this “Misfit…aloose from the Federal Pen.” She tries unsuccessfully to gain his attention by saying, “‘Now look here, Bailey, see here, read this,’ and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head.” The grandmother has another destination in mind. She would like them all to visit East Tennessee, which the children have never visited, rather than Florida where they have previously vacationed. For their part, the children bicker openly with their grandmother and disparage her to each other, while their father ignores them all, being absorbed by the daily newspaper’s sport section. Meantime, his homely looking wife just sits on the sofa saying nothing as she spoon feeds the baby. The decision to head for Florida stands, and next morning the family get in the car and commence their journey. As they leave Atlanta and drive into the countryside, O’Connor tells us, “the trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.” The trees stand impassively but even the meanest the worst of them sparkle, symbolising the wilderness of good and evil the family is about to enter; a very Dantesque2 image. But, it’s not just the trees that sparkle; so too do the people the family encounter. Even in the Misfit leader of the killers an infinitesimal spark of goodness shows fleetingly right at the end of the story, and this comparison with “mean” trees that sparkle illustrates the uniquely sacramental view of life O’Connor portrays through her fiction.

To get quickly to the crux of the story, we’ll only skim through the remaining portents of doom. O’Connor tells us that in the car the grandmother is dressed meticulously so that “anybody seeing her dead on the highway would know that she was a lady.” The family is not long on the journey when they pass a cotton field with five or six graves in it. “The family burying ground…that belonged to the plantation,” the Grandmother announces, and the children ask what happened to the plantation. “Gone with the wind,” the old lady tells them. They stop for a break at Red Sammy Butt’s barbecue stand and learn in passing how several days earlier, Butt’s was ripped off by three men who filled their car with gas and took off without paying. A short time later we find ourselves with the family traveling along a winding dirt road in search of an old mansion remembered by the Grandmother. The children, in an unruly display, have forced Bailey, against his better judgment, to seek out the place. The last thing Bailey wants is a detour on a dirt road and so before agreeing to search for the mansion, he warns his passengers, “this is the one and only time…we’re going to stop.” Prophetic words indeed. A short time later the Grandmother’s cat panics and springs from its basket in the back, distracting the driver, and the car crashes off the road landing right side up in a ditch. The family emerge from the partly wrecked vehicle and count the cost. The only real injury is the mother’s broken arm.

The crash has been witnessed by the Misfit and within a short time he and his two sidekicks arrive on the scene. The Grandmother makes the mistake of admitting that she recognises the Misfit and he in turn orders his sidekicks to take the mother, father and children into the woods and execute them. Left alone with the Misfit the Grandmother attempts to talk him out of killing her. She prattles on about prayer and Jesus and attempts to bribe him with all the money she’s got, causing the Misfit to respond, “there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.” And on the subject of Jesus he continues, “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.” However, the Grandmother can’t stop prattling on until quite suddenly her head clears and she realises that both she and the Misfit are connected. They are both children of God. “Why, you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children,” she says and reaches out and touches him on the shoulder, and the Misfit retaliates by jumping up and shooting her. She had unwittingly told him the one thing he didn’t want to hear and paid for it with her life. She had touched a raw nerve and reminded the Misfit of his kinship and, by inference, his duty to all other human beings. Immediately afterward when one of his sidekicks talks about the fun they just had, the Misfit, realising the pointlessness of their actions, tells him to shut up and says, “It’s no real pleasure in life.” For the Misfit, it is the first stage on the journey of repentance. Writing about this encounter later, O’Connor said that, “The story is a duel of sorts between the Grandmother and her superficial beliefs and the Misfit’s more profoundly felt involvement with Christ’s action, which set the world off balance for him.”3

For the Misfit (or anybody for that matter) the inconvenient thing about Christianity is its all or nothing character. Christianity is either true for everybody or not true for anybody. Both stances are dogmatic. One states that Jesus Christ is God, the other denies that belief. Neither position is provable, but, if there is no such thing as a merciful God, then how can killing or murder be a crime? Isn’t murder just force? Isn’t this world merely a product of blind force? So what is the big deal? If force is supreme then surely the exercise of the greatest force would be the greatest achievement; greater by far than mercy and justice, which sit at the opposite end of the “Force” scale. If Force is supreme, then Justice is mere folly and, in conflict with Force/Natural Selection/Evolution etc, it should never have got off the ground. But first we had better define Justice. My definition is: the dignity and the freedom for each and every individual to be their unique selves. Now if Justice is really folly, there would be no moral absolutes such as the Ten Commandments and we would then have to agree with what the Misfit told the Grandmother: “If He (Christ) didn’t (raise the dead), then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”

Flannery O’Connor was familiar with the writings of Charles Pegúy, and with a deft touch she used fiction in “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” to echo what Pegúy’ stated in his essay “Clio I”: “You (Christianity) have eternalised everything. You have grabbed all the values on the market. And turned them all into infinite values. And now one can no longer be sure of quiet for a single moment.” 4 O’Connor often plugged this theme in various ways in her lectures, one remark being, “Redemption is meaningless unless there is a cause for it in the actual life we live,”5 and in 1959 she publicly reiterated her raison d’être saying, “I am no disbeliever in spiritual purpose and no vague believer. I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means that for me the meaning of life is centred in our redemption by Christ and what I see in the world I see in its relation to that.”6 The whole thrust of A Good Man Is Hard To Find is consistent with these avowals.

O’Connor had a high opinion of Dante Alighieri’s writings, especially The Divine Comedy, and she could not have overlooked the aptness of the line, “As many coals produce a single heat.”7 What a superb phrase to illumine the social role of Christianity. If we turn that meaning around and imagine the fire of Christianity cooling, all hell (quite literally) breaks loose, making it plain that Christianity should not be respected merely on account of its civilising role in history, but rather the unshakeable fact exists that the social and civil advantages gained by any State from its Christian roots have accrued as a direct consequence of the Missionary Church’s main aim of saving souls.

So, what is it like to be holy? For the individual it is to increase and enhance goodness and happiness wherever he is. It is to arrive in some situation and leave it better than when he entered it. Authentic holiness is all about wholeness, which in turn is about balance in our lives the balance of sensible things and without that balance, joy and happiness become inaccessible. O’Connor touched on this when writing to Betty Hester, “Always you renounce a lesser good for a greater; the opposite is what sin is.”8 To shy away from holiness is to veer toward sin, but, much as we may want otherwise, we human beings are incapable of leaving the transcendental alone. We’re caught in a supernatural tug-of-war; one end of the rope is good and the other end evil. We seem to be scared that holiness might somehow make us miserable, when in fact the opposite is the case, and inevitably we feel drawn to the evil end of the rope.

Flannery O’Connor’s undoubted sympathy for the Misfit in his situation is well covered by a few lines in another letter she wrote to Hester. “We are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness,”9 and still later in the introduction to “A Memoir of Mary Ann” she wrote, “Most of us have learned to be dispassionate about evil. To look it in the face and find, as often as not, our own grinning reflections with which we do not argue, but good is another matter. Few have stared at that long enough to accept the fact that its face too is grotesque, that in us the good is something under construction.”10

However, as noted earlier, that infinitesimal sparkle of goodness from the Misfit shows up clearly right near the end of the story. Talking of the Grandmother he says, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Note the Misfit’s use of that word good: like all of us he instinctively knows about good and evil and his comment applies to each and every one of us irrespective of gender. In other words, who would not be well behaved if there were always a loaded gun pointed at them? The threat of imminent death may be the only way some people will ever understand the deep-seated reason for being good, which is a prime aspect of the Natural Law. Such a threat surely begs the question, should people be good because of the fear of punishment or because of their love for fellow human beings? But we’re given a clue to the answer in the final line of the story where the Misfit utters those famous words showing his freely chosen change of heart, “It’s (meanness) no real pleasure in life.”

The Misfit had a rough upbringing and his behaviour had seldom conformed to the norms of middle class society. He told the Grandmother of how he had once had a “run in” with the so called Justice System (Force masquerading as Justice!), which, as everyone knows, is what governments use to tidy the frayed edges of society. The Misfit got enjoyment from hurting others because his experience of life had shown how others found enjoyment and pleasure in hurting and harming him. St Thomas Aquinas defined all evil as mistaking or misusing the means for the end.11 The Misfit did exactly that. He made enjoyment and pleasure in crime an end in itself. He thought this was his right instead of remembering that rights and duties are intertwined. His killing of someone as old and helpless as the Grandmother certainly opened his eyes and changed him and it is equally certain that the encounter changed the Grandmother as well. With one brutal stroke God’s Grace is shown to cut both ways, causing each of the protagonists to come face to face with the Mercy of God. As O’Connor said, “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.”12 In “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” both the Misfit and the Grandmother are portrayed (albeit covertly) as being restored to a state of grace.13 Truly, Flannery O’Connor was right when she wrote, “and the meanest of them sparkled,” because somewhere deep inside each and every one of us lies the faculty to be good; that capacity to sparkle.”

Love,
Matthew

ENDNOTES

1. Conversations With Flannery O’Connor. Rosemary Magee, ed. Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press. 107.

2. Dantesque: from Dante Alighieri 1265-1321. Italian Poet and author of The Divine Comedy. Dante frequently used sacramental imagery.

3. “Letter to Mr. .” Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988. 1148.

4. Pegúy Charles 1874-1914. French Poet and Thinker. “Clio I” extract from Temporal and Eternal. English edition. Harvil Press, 1954.

5. “The Fiction Writer And His Country.” Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988. 805.

6. Ibid Pages 804-5

7. Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. “Paradiso.” Canto 19: line 19.

8. “Letter to A.” Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988. 978.

9. Ibid Page 1082

10. “A Memoir of Mary Ann.” Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988. 830.

11. The aspect of good is found chiefly in the end: and therefore the end stands in the relation of object to the act of the will, which is at the root of every sin. (St Thomas Aquinas: cf. Summa Theologica, 2.1.72.1, “reply to objection 1”) Put simply this states, “All evil exists in the mistaking or misusing of the means for the end.” (Hilaire Belloc: “The Cruise of The Nona.”) Flannery O’Connor studied Thomas Aquinas.

12. “The Grotesque in Southern Fiction” Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988. 820.

13. State of Grace: The state of being reconciled with God in His Mercy.

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 Nick 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