We Create the Culture We Live In

During the eight and a half years I lived in Rome, I witnessed a visible culture shift in the values of the local society. My first year or two there, it was common place on any given weekend to see families picnicking in Villa Doria Pamphili Park, or out shopping together on a Saturday afternoon. But as the years passed, it was too evident that the family life of the city seemed to be getting lost, and I wondered, “where did the families go?”

It doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens, that a society finds itself looking around wondering, “how did we get here?”, despite warnings from those around them that were voicing the alarm that went unheard.

Today, we hear a lot being discussed about the degradation of our American values, and many are asking this very question, “how did we get here?” and “Was it something that happened overnight, or did we too have voices pointing to the signs, that we simply chose to ignore?”

The central part of the answer to these questions is addressed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in his discourse on the defense of human dignity at the University of Pennsylvania last November. His discourse was built around four points.

Man’s Special Dignity.

…the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it…. But the greatest difference between humans and other animals is the grave. Only man buries his dead. Only man knows his own mortality. And knowing that he will die, only man can ask where he came from, what his life means, and what comes after it…When Christians and other people of good will talk about “the dignity of the human person” and “the sanctity of human life,” they’re putting into words what we all instinctively know—and have known for a very long time. Something elevated and sacred in men and women demands our special respect…We live in a society that speaks persuasively about protecting the environment and rescuing species on the brink of extinction. But then it tolerates the killing of unborn children and the abuse of human fetal tissue as lab material.

Beware of Technology without Moral Compass.

Science and technology have expanded human horizons and improved human life in vital ways over the last century. They’ve also, at times, done the opposite…Knowledge without the virtues of wisdom, prudence, and, above all, humility to guide it is not just unhelpful. It’s dangerous. Goethe’s poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice—which some of us probably know from the Mickey Mouse cartoon based on it—sticks in our memories for a reason. We’re never as smart as we think we are, and we have a bad track record when it comes to preventing the worst uses of our own best discoveries.

Science involves the study of the material world. But human beings are more than the sum of their material processes. Trying to explain the human person with thinking that excludes the reality of the spiritual, the dignity of the religious, and the possibility of God simply cripples both the scientist and the subject being studied—man himself.

In other words, scientists too often have a divided heart: a sincere desire to serve man’s knowledge, and a sincere disdain for what they see as the moral and religious delusions of real men and women. If this doesn’t make us just a little bit uneasy, it should. Both faith and science claim to teach with a special kind of authority. One of the differences is this. Most religious believers accept, at least in theory, that they’ll be judged by the God of justice for their actions. For science, God is absent from the courtroom.

God is not mentioned in the Constitution, but not because He’s unwelcome.

In effect, God suffused the whole constitutional enterprise. Nearly all the Founders were religious believers, and some were quite devout. Their writings are heavily influenced by biblical language, morality, and thought.

America could afford to be secular in the best sense, precisely because its people were so religious. The Founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival. In his Farewell Address, Washington famously stressed that “religion and morality are indispensable supports” for political prosperity. He added that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” For John Adams, John Jay, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Carroll, George Washington, and most of the other Founders—including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin—religion created virtuous citizens. And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as delicately balanced in its institutions, moral instincts, and laws as the United States.

Here’s my purpose in mentioning this. The American Founders presumed the existence of natural law and natural rights. These rights are inalienable and guaranteed by a Creator; by “nature’s God,” to use the words of the Declaration of Independence. Such ideas may be out of fashion in much of legal theory today. But these same ideas are very much alive in the way we actually reason and behave in our daily lives…

The irony is that modern liberal democracy needs religion more than religion needs modern liberal democracy. American public life needs a framework friendly to religious belief because it can’t support its moral claims about freedom and rights with secular arguments alone. In fact, to the degree that it encourages a culture of unbelief, liberal democracy undermines its own grounding. It causes its own decline by destroying the public square’s moral coherence.

Dignity of the Human Person goes beyond Religion.

The pro-life movement needs to be understood and respected for what it is: part of a much larger, consistent, and morally worthy vision of the dignity of the human person. You don’t need to be Christian or even religious to be “pro-life.” Common sense alone is enough to make a reasonable person uneasy about what actually happens in an abortion. The natural reaction, the sane and healthy response, is repugnance…

Rejection of abortion and infanticide was one of the key factors that set the early Christians apart from the pagan world. From the Didache in the First Century through the Early Fathers of the Church, down to our own day, Catholics—and until well into the twentieth century all other Christians—have always seen abortion as gravely evil…

Working against abortion doesn’t license us to ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant. It doesn’t absolve us from supporting women who find themselves pregnant or abandoned. All human life, no matter how wounded, flawed, young or old, is sacred because it comes from God. The dignity of a human life and its right to exist are guaranteed by God. Catholic teaching on abortion and sexuality is part of the same integral vision of the human person that fuels Catholic teaching on economic justice, racism, war, and peace.

These issues don’t all have the same content. They don’t all have the same weight. All of them are important, but some are more foundational than others. Without a right to life, all other rights are contingent….Society is not just a collection of sovereign individuals with appetites moderated by the state. It’s a community of interdependent persons and communities of persons; persons who have human obligations to one another, along with their human rights. One of those obligations is to not intentionally kill the innocent. The two pillars of Catholic social teaching are respect for the sanctity of the individual and service to the common good. Abortion violates both.

In the American tradition, people have a right to bring their beliefs to bear on every social, economic, and political problem facing their community. For Christians, that’s not just a privilege. It’s not just a right. It’s a demand of the Gospel…Believers can’t be silent in public life and be faithful to Jesus Christ at the same time. Actively witnessing to our convictions and advancing what we believe about key moral issues in public life is not “coercion.” It’s honesty. It’s an act of truth-telling. It’s vital to the health of every democracy. And again, it’s also a duty—not only of our religious faith, but also of our citizenship.

The University of Pennsylvania’s motto is Leges sine moribus vanae. It means “Laws without morals are useless.” All law has moral content. It’s an expression of what we “ought” to do. Therefore law teaches as well as regulates. Law always involves the imposition of somebody’s judgments about morality on everyone else. That’s the nature of law. But I think the meaning of Penn’s motto goes deeper than just trying to translate beliefs into legislation. Good laws can help make a nation more human; more just; more noble. But ultimately even good laws are useless if they govern a people who, by their choices, make themselves venal and callous, foolish and self-absorbed.

It’s important for our own integrity and the integrity of our country to fight for our pro-life convictions in the public square. Anything less is a kind of cowardice. But it’s even more important to live what it means to be genuinely human and “pro-life” by our actions—fidelity to God; love for spouse and children; loyalty to friends; generosity to the poor; honesty and mercy in dealing with others; trust in the goodness of people; discipline and humility in demanding the most from ourselves.

These things sound like pieties, and that’s all they are—until we try to live them. Then their cost and their difficulty remind us that we create a culture of life to the extent that we give our lives to others. The deepest kind of revolution never comes from violence. Even politics, important as it is, is a poor tool for changing human hearts. Nations change when people change. And people change through the witness of other people—people like each of you reading this. You make the future. You build it stone by stone with the choices you make. So choose life. Defend its dignity and witness its meaning and hope to others. And if you do, you’ll discover in your own life what it means to be fully human.

Please read Archbishop Chaput’s discourse in its entirety here.

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The points made by Archbishop Chaput are applicable looking at the fabric of our society as a whole. How has our society changed over the years? Are we living with a moral compass to guide our decisions as individuals and as a nation? Or, are we as a culture beginning to abandon natural law that governs the human heart, despite religious affiliation or lack of one?

The key for the future of our country lies in what our Founders knew, and I believe we are fast approaching a pivotal point of no return. Chaput said, “America could afford to be secular in the best sense, precisely because its people were so religious. The Founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival. … And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as delicately balanced in its institutions, moral instincts, and laws as the United States.”

The point of no return will arrive when secularism is no longer reigned in by virtue and an interior disposition of the individual to want to do good for self and for other. Do you see it creeping in?

I pray we will take to heart the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and reclaim the delicate balance that has made this republic stand for the last 236-plus years, that the culture we create may sustain future generations.

May God be with us all.

Choices: Its Not About Us

One of my encounters with a teenager who had gotten himself into some serious trouble, led to a serious discussion about the choices we make from day to day and how they impact our tomorrow. I shared with him, that although he can’t take back what he’s done, his choice does not have to define him and his future. He can accept the bad choice and its consequences and use the rest of his life to do good. History has shown us heroes whose character had been defined through the pattern of choices they made, and how they lived up to their mistakes and worked to live good and virtuous lives. And in the process, maybe do something that changes – or saves – the life of another:

The video does a good job of telling a story in three minutes. The boy has to make a decision to either help the girl live, or let her perish. Because he helps her escape, he is reprimanded harshly. He could have chosen differently and received reward, but to what end? To whose sacrifice?

This month of September has two important feasts dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. On the 8th, we remember the Birth of Mary; and on the 15th, we commemorate her under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows. In the example of her life, she was willing to make a choice that changed her life forever; and in her offering of her life to God in this way, she became an instrument that changed our lives too.

What choices do we make? Whose lives are made better because of them? Can we, like Mary, put ourselves aside and realize its not about us?

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

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Artwork by Tahnjah

Bright Maidens: Catholic Modesty

The Bright Maidens posed this theme for this Tuesday: “Catholic Modesty”.

At Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, I found it odd when people entered wearing tank tops for an usher to hand them a disposable shawl, made of paper fiber, triangular in shape, and bright yellow. No bare shoulders, and no shorts allowed within the Basilica’s walls. That’s pretty much standard procedure for all of the major basilicas throughout Italy, and most of her Churches.

Outside of Saint Peter’s Basilica, one can’t miss these signs warning that those wearing shorts and/or tank-tops, they will not be allowed to enter.

I’ve witnessed the refusal many times. A tourist arrives at the steps of the Basilica, and is pulled aside, and told she cannot enter unless she has something to cover her shoulders (or legs). The well-informed tourist will whisk out of her backpack a long shawl and tie it around her waist as an instant skirt. If the tourist can’t comply, they are turned away.

At times, I wished there was such a dress code in our Churches here in the States. Just this past weekend, I attended Mass where a baptism was being performed. The mother of the child was wearing a mini-skirt and a single shoulder tank top (sporting a tattoo no less!). The godmother was sporting an even shorter dress and a tank top with her black undergarments showing. The women were constantly adjusting their skirts, aware that they were a bit short. This, of course, distracted from the beautiful moment of baptism.

However, it appears the trend for greater modesty is on the rise.

Rev. Fr. Lino Otero - Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Sacramento Diocese-CA

In today’s local paper, it was reported a priest began sending the message to his parishioners that shorts, tank tops, tight skirts and low-cut necklines would no longer be welcome in the Church. The article explains:

“The idea for the posters came from longtime parishioner…(a) homemaker, mother of four, and chair of the Parish Council, said she became tired of her teenage daughter asking why she couldn’t dress like some of the women she saw in church and her teenage son not concentrating on the Mass. 

“We are trying to teach our children certain values, and people are showing up in skimpy outfits,’ ” she said. ” ‘We have to do something.’ “

As with everything, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are arguments that such a dress code would turn people away. Fr. Otero commented on this, saying that ‘getting to church is more important than what you’re wearing, and he understands if parishioners have to dress informally once in a while. “But they should make the effort to give God their best.”

An aside to the above, and yet very central to the discussion, is the VIRTUE of Modesty. Fr. John A. Hardon’s definition of modesty is as follows (Taken from Hardon’s Pocket Catholic Dictionary, 1980):

“The virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station of life.  There is internal modesty (humility and studiousness), and external modesty (dress and general behavior)…Modesty in dress and bodily adornments inclines a person to avoid not only whatever is offensive to others but whatever is not necessary. Modesty in bodily behavior directs a person to observe proper decorum in bodily movements, according to the dictum of St. Augustine, “In all your movements let nothing be evident that would offend the eyes of another.””
 

Sometimes we forget that what we wear and how we act can impact others. A priest once wrote (sorry, I can’t recall where) how difficult it is for him to give communion to women who wear revealing clothing. He has taken a vow of celibacy, and yet he is subjected to immodestly dressed women almost every day. One associate pastor, Father John Lyons, wrote for the parish bulletin outlining the new dress code to counter the problem:

“At this time we most especially need to remind girls and women to not wear immodest low-cut dresses or blouses. Women and girls should be careful that their dress is not revealing at all, even when they bend over or kneel down. Maybe some women do not know that revealing clothing is a source of temptation for most men.”

What do you think? Is Fr. Otero over the top to suggest a dress code? Should our churches strive to challenge parishioners to ‘give God their best?’ by being more conscientious in how we dress?

Here’s some posts that might be good to review:

10 Reasons Why Men Should Practice Custody of the Eyes

10 Reasons Why Women Should Dress Modestly

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Past Bright Maidens Posts:

Three Reasons for Mary

Mary, Teach Me to Pray

Abram’s Faith

Today’s first reading, taken from the book of Genesis 12:1-9, is the narrative of God’s promise to Abram (before given his new name, Abraham):

“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.”

What impresses me in this reading, is Abram’s response: he trusts that God’s words are true. The passage tells us:

“Abram went as the LORD directed him.” 

Abram received these instructions when he was seventy-five years old. He took all he had, along with his family, and set off for a foreign land. It’s hard enough today, with all of our conveniences, to pick up and move. It’s difficult to imagine the arduous journey through wilderness that Abram made. He was well established, had a wife and holdings, and had to pull up stakes and go.

Actually, Abram didn’t have to go. He could have stayed where he was, continue his life right where he was, but he chose to go ‘as the Lord directed him.” It is no wonder that he is called the Father of Faith (Romans 4:3):

“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

There are moments in our lives when we are called to make life choices. As Christians, we bring these choices to God in prayer, asking Him to help us, to shed light on what he wants of us. Today’s reading shows how when one stays close to the Lord, they are willing to choose His design over their own. This is repeated again and again in the scriptures:

Moses is sent to Egypt to lead Israel to the promised land (Exodus 3);

Elisha is called while plowing a field, burns the equipment and slaughters the beasts of burden as a farewell feast (1 Kings 19:19-21);

Prophet Nathan sent to King David (2 Samuel 7);

Call of Isaiah (Isaiah 6);

Call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1);

Call of Mary (Luke 2);

Call of Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John (Matthew 4:18-22); and

Call of Saul (Paul) (Acts of the Apostles 9).

– – –

And what about us? How do our daily decisions reflect our relationship with God? We too are called to a deeper faith, a deeper seeking out of His will in our lives. Are we, like Abram, ready to turn our world upside down to do what God wants?

After all, the promise we have received is even greater than that given to Abram — Eternal Life.

Love Stands By Weeping

To love like Christ, there is no room for self-love.
Well, one cannot embrace herself and have her arms outstretched
to embrace her neighbor at the same time.

Love for self exists, only because God loves His creation.
Thus, we care for what He has created.

To go beyond this, one becomes a Narcissus, who loves his own reflection
when opportunity for greater, more enduring Love,
stands by weeping.

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Footnote: Self-love: “Inordinate regard for self to the neglect of others and indifference to their needs. In narcissism the attention is centered on the body, especially sexual self-satisfaction.”

Definition from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary

Saint Joseph, the Silent Servant

On the feast of Saint Joseph, the Husband of Mary, I went to the Parish of St Joseph’s, hoping to find a Mass, but all was quiet. There are no Masses usually on Saturday morning, but being the Church’s patron saint, I hoped. Instead, I decided to pray before the statue of St Joseph in the courtyard, meditating upon his role in the life of Jesus.

Praying the joyful mysteries of the Rosary, I marveled how, unlike Mary whose words resonate in the telling of the salvific story in the Gospels, a constant fiat to God’s will, Joseph’s voice is not heard. We hear, perhaps what he was thinking (‘Mary was found with child…(he) decided to divorce her quietly’), but never do we hear Him, but in silence obeys in his own service to God. Though his actions, he proves the mettle of his character. A faithful servant of the Most High.

My thoughts turn back to the silent servant of Saint Joseph, too, reading with sadness the allegations charged against Fr. John Corapi, S.O.L.T.. He posted a message, “A Call to Prayer” on his website:

On Ash Wednesday I learned that a former employee sent a three-page letter to several bishops accusing me of everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women. There seems to no longer be the need for a complaint to be deemed “credible” in order for Church authorities to pull the trigger on the Church’s procedure, which was in recent years crafted to respond to cases of the sexual abuse of minors. I am not accused of that, but it seems, once again, that they now don’t have to deem the complaint to be credible or not, and it is being applied broadly to respond to all complaints. I have been placed on “administrative leave” as the result of this.

I’ll certainly cooperate with the process, but personally believe that it is seriously flawed, and is tantamount to treating the priest as guilty “just in case”, then through the process determining if he is innocent. The resultant damage to the accused is immediate, irreparable, and serious, especially for someone like myself, since I am so well known. I am not alone in this assessment, as multiple canon lawyers and civil and criminal attorneys have stated publicly that the procedure does grave damage to the accused from the outset, regardless of rhetoric denying this, and has little regard for any form of meaningful due process.

All of the allegations in the complaint are false, and I ask you to pray for all concerned.

There is a lot of speculation about Father Corapi’s case on the web, some coming to his defense, while others plant seeds of doubt of his innocence. And in this, I only look to Saint Joseph whose feast we celebrated as this story unfolded. Would he be sitting around speculating on this matter? How would this ‘righteous man’ respond to this sad news? His example in the Gospels, perhaps indicates, he probably would say very little, if anything, but at the same time, be a man of action, placing all in God’s capable hands. And perhaps, this is a message for us too.

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To understand the character of Saint Joseph, you may want to reflect upon the Seven Sundays Devotion to Saint Joseph, with each day’s consideration taken from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation “Redemptoris Custos” (Guardian of the Redeemer).

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Related Posts:

March 31 – An Update via National Catholic Register: What is known, and what isn’t.

An efficacious way we can help Fr. Corapi and other accused PriestsA Novena for Fr John Corapi via www.couragiouspriest.com

The Anchoress demonstrates the proper attitude we need to have right now.

Pat Archbold has a statement from Fr. Corapi’s superior, Rev. Gerald Sheehan.

Happy Catholic looks at it in the Lenten context

Fr. Dwight Longenecker reminds us to be wary of adulation of priests, and to not place them on pedestals.

What is known, and what isn’t.

A Prayer of Humility – A Path to God

Going through some of my things, I came across a prayer card I received many years ago. The front of the card had a picture of our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. On the back was this prayer:

O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being loved, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being honored, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being praised, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being approved, deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being despised, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me Jesus

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others become holier than I,provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.*

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Oh, the happy Path of Humility! Some say such an introspection is dangerous; that such a prayer as this can lead to a narcissism; a self-focused prayer. In actuality, it has the effect of leading one to look upon the Crucified One, who “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

For looking at the Cross, we find the lesson of self-emptying is one and the same a lesson of loving going beyond oneself, back to God and extending itself in fullness to the other. Jesus lived what he preached. He spoke of such a love as the path leading to holiness:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

The Gospel of John drives home the inter-connectedness between the love of God and that of neighbor: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).

“The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbour or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbour is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God.” (P. Benedict XVI – Deus Caritas Est)

The prayer, then becomes one of learning to have our neighbor in our daily equation, and in doing so, find our hearts open also to encounter God.

*The Prayer is credited to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

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Related Posts:

Which Way to Holiness

Foundations and Safety Nets

Worship of Christ Crucified

Always a Way Back to God

I’ve seen this video before, Lifehouse’s Everything Skit, and it always touches a cord in me, so I am sharing it with you (please click picture to watch):

Like all of us, the young woman has life breathed into her by God, created for intimacy with Him. And so starts out our own human existence, innocent and playful, intimate…but somewhere, we fall into various traps: the skit portrays the traps (temptations) of lust, avarice, alchoholism, vanity, depression, despair, which can lead to suicide. The skit was designed to pull at the emotions: the music is hauntingly beautiful, the words could be a love letter from us to our beloved. It is meant to make us question, “what is my ‘Everything’?” and “What are the traps that bind me, keeping me from the One who loves me as I am?”.

One viewer of the skit observed: “The skit itself bothers me as it portrays Jesus at one point as being powerless to intervene. Come on, this is the Second Person of the Trinity, God Himself, and he is powerless to stop what is happening?”

Watching the story unfold, it does seem as though Jesus is powerless, no? One moment He is dancing with his creation, and at some point lust pulls her away from this union; and with it, her created innocence. In real life, this happens, but in much more subtle ways. Most of the time full-blown sin enters the soul by seemingly innocent curiosity… wanting to fit in, or the surrounding culture says tells us a television show or activity isn’t harmful. And by this very curiosity the soul lets down its guard and opens a window that allows something else (fill in the blank) be entertained. In the Gospels when Jesus says ‘one cannot have two masters’ (Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24), this wisdom is applicable to more than money and greed; whenever we make a choice to compromise just a little bit, we open the window just a little wider for something other than God to enter in, and in doing so, we let ourselves walk away from that union with our Creator that we were designed for. Each time we lower our standards, or tell ourselves, ‘just this time’, we create another barrier between us and that perfect union with God. The helplessness portrayed by Jesus, as the girl goes from one temptation to another is the result of the gift of our free will. He has made us free to choose, so in a way, we make Jesus powerless to help us when we choose a lifestyle contrary to His love.

The way back begins with a decision that we need God first and foremost in our lives, but it isn’t a magic trick that corrects itself automatically (although I do not rule out Divine intervention through special grace in some cases – I know this occurs). It requires our determination and will to return, or convert. Convert – the Latin convertere – means, “to turn around, transform”. What we see happening in the skit when the girl throws down the gun and starts trying to get back to Jesus, is this process of conversion taking place. It is a struggle of the will trying to overcome learned behavior – including how her mind and body have learned to respond to stimuli – takes a lot of her own effort. The skit shows her moving back and forth between different indulgences she’s experienced, as they ‘rear their ugly heads’ to again keep her from the One person who will shut them out for good. Just as it takes a soul a long time from that first instant she entertained a small step away from her union with God, so it takes a soul quite a bit of effort to put the acquired vices and sin behind her, and be free. She falls and fails, she gets up and tries again, until eventually, the hold of the old temptations on her life are less and less a threat to her goal – her renewed relationship with God. Seemingly, as in the skit, she has to go at it by herself, but true to scriptural teaching, she’s never alone.

There’s another important aspect conveyed in the skit. As she’s struggling, Jesus seems to be pulling her toward him by an imaginary rope. This pulling effect is the working of grace in our lives. Whenever we are struggling to overcome sin or vice, and call on God to help us, He comes to our aid. Our problems do not miraculously disappear, but there is a hidden resolve or strength that keeps us from giving up. This is grace at work. This is why people who are struggling to overcome addictions and vice need to ask for prayer, and to stay close to the Sacraments. The simplest definition of a Sacrament is ‘an outward sign of an inward grace’. Thus, when we partake in the Sacraments – especially Reconciliation/Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion on a regular basis – we receive spiritual help and support to strengthen us in the daily battle to grow in holiness and continual conversion. Little by little we find the hold of our vices and addictions on our lives less and less, as we slowly reunite ourselves with the One we were created for.

Saint Bakhita

Today I was reminded of our great Sister and Saint Josephine Bakhita through the eyes of two mothers. One, on preparing her daughter’s Saint Day costume, contacted me for information about about the medal worn by our Sudanese sister. This communication led me to My Little Flower blog, who also posted on this lovely Daughter of the Church. I took this as my cue to say a little about St Bakhita too.

In brief the introduction to her Liturgical Feastday – February 8 – explains: “Josephine Bakhita was born near Jebel Agilere, in South Darfur, Sudan. Kidnapped when still very young, she was sold several times in the slave markets in Africa and experienced the cruelty of slavery. Finally, in Venice, after having become a Christian she became a Religious in the Institute of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. She lived the rest of her life in the joy of Christ in Schio, Vicenza, in Italy, where she died on February 8, 1947.

There’s much more to this saint, and I will post those links at the bottom of this post. Here, I will let the words of Pope Benedict XVI speak to us from his encyclical Spe Salvi (In hope we are saved, paragraph 3) he says (emphasis mine):

In what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians (“without hope and without God in the world” – Eph 2:12): the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II.

She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

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Bakhita – a name given to our Saint by those who abducted her from her home – means “Lucky One”. She was considered as nothing but a commercial good to the slave traders. But in becoming a Christian, she became an heir with Christ, a child of God. The story goes on to say that she was once asked what she would do if ever she encountered anew those who captured her. Her response:

“If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today…”

Quite an example of how God permits evil, but always brings about good from it. Let Bakhita continue to be an example for us too, of deep hope in the Salvation we have in and through Christ Jesus. And in the small sufferings we bear, we may unite them – like Bakhita – with our Lord on the Cross.

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What others have said:

St Josephine Bakhita Parish

Vatican

Father Z

Catholic News Agency

The Hidden Pearl – Blessed Margaret

“It is time”, Captain Parisio thought to himself. “Today, a son shall be born to me.” He long anticipated this day when an heir would be born, and his hope was dashed in finding out that not only was he not the father of a son, but that the daughter born to him was badly malformed, one leg shorter than the other, her head grossly disproportionate to her body, and blind. There, on a day of anticipated joy, Parisio’s heart was hardened, and no name was even given to this poor baby girl. One of the servants took pity on her, and named her Margaret, which means ‘pearl’.

Margaret was hidden away by her parents. Those who came inquiring about their new child were told that she was stillborn. At the age of six, she was locked away in a one-room cell added on to the small parish church. For the next fourteen years she remained there, hidden away from the world, with only the kind maid-servant who named her and the parish Priest for company. When Margaret was about twenty years old, her parents took her to a church in Castello, where they heard miraculous healings were taking place. Toward the end of the day, as they came to collect their healed daughter, seeing no change in her, they abandoned her there at the Church and returned home.

Margaret, after being hidden away for twenty years, was left to fend for herself. I recommend reading her whole story here.
* * *
The idea of parents hiding their children happens today. It is just as tragic now as it was in 1287. But something beautiful happened to Margaret while in captivity, hidden from the world. Through the kind family Priest, she learned of God, and the great love God had for her. She nurtured her heart with this truth, and made room to believe that even she, in all of her suffering and deformity, there was a purpose. In faith, she accepted this, and in being thrown out into the streets to fend for herself, her faith was tested. All who met her were struck by her kindness and her great love, even deep love she professed for the parents who abandoned her!
Margaret’s parents hid her away, ashamed that they could produce such a horrific looking child. Today, we think their actions as cruel. How cruel would they be, if Margaret was conceived in today’s climate, would she have been born at all? How would a doctor, seeing in the womb the malformed child, counsel his patient? Our society is impoverished. With all of its technology, and modern means, it chooses to embrace another kind of cruelty masked as compassion. Margaret’s life most likely would have been aborted.
Fortunately, the world has known such a kind heart as Blessed Margaret of Castello, who has given us a model of love with which to love those who wished she didn’t exist at all. She in her deformity truly is a pearl of great treasure.

Late have I Loved You

A question on the Twittosphere today by NoWealthButLife: “What do you think is most romantic line in all of literature?”

Right away to my mind come the words of Saint Augustine from his book, Confessions:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

These words for Augustine are thought after living a life involved with much pleasure seeking, trying like many young people today, to find his happiness in what the society of his day offered. He had a live-in girl friend, he partied, and had a child out of wedlock.  He was educated at some of the finest universities of his day, and was recognized as an intelligent young man. He allowed his ‘wisdom’ to get the best of him, and fell into error of the Manichæans, all the while dismissing the Catholic faith of his childhood as being intellectually lacking.

His quest for truth was confronted in listening to a sermon by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, noting how the bishop reasoned his case for Christ without contradiction. This won the young Augustine to question more deeply the faith of the Christian life under the instruction of Bishop Ambrose.

This pattern is confirmed too in the words of the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et ratio:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves”

The Confessions is a book in which Saint Augustine describes this process of coming to know himself through reconciling his understanding of God, and how that reconciliation led him to give his life in service to God and His Church. May we today live these words of Saint Augustine, and may we too ‘hunger and thirst for more’, and find ourselves won over by God’s immense love.


What America do You Want?

There has been a lot of buildup this past week for the Restoring Honor rally that took place today along the Washington Mall in D.C. Media speculated what kind of event it would be: political? ideological? racist? religious? anti-government?

The Restoring America Facebook page described the event in these words:

Throughout history America has seen many great leaders and noteworthy citizens change her course. It is through their personal virtues and by their example that we can live as a free country. On August 28th, come celebrate America by honoring our heroes, our heritage and our future.

From the beginning to the end of the day, the event held true to these words. The participants used their time together to remember God, giving Him due praise and place in their celebration; honoring our military, past and present; and reflecting on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. The content of the day’s rally notwithstanding, the real testimony to the people in attendance came as the day came to a close and folks went home. It is here that the participants demonstrated the kind of people they are, and the kind of America that they live in.

Discussing this on Facebook, one of my friends noted the contrast with this taken following the inauguration of President Obama in 2009:

The orderliness, the spotless grounds of today’s sizable crowd versus the disorder, the filthy aftermath of that day which was suppose to proclaim an era of ‘change’. These images side-by-side make me reflect which group of people – by their actions – represent the America that I love and the America I want all nations to experience.

Foundations and Safety Nets

Today, many of us look upon our faith as a safety net – something to fall back on; rather than what faith should be – the foundation upon which our Christian lives are built.

The Gospel of  today sets up the question to challenge us:

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival…You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Luke 12:37, 40)

We’ve all experienced it. We’re expecting a friend or relative, and they arrive much earlier than planned. We find ourselves scrambling to accommodate them. We feel uncomfortable – out of our element. Naturally, our friend/relative is gracious, and lets us off the hook  pretty easily. But in reading today’s Gospel, several questions came to mind: Am I ready for the day of the Son of Man’s coming? What if the Lord came today? Or in my sleep? Or while I’m at the grocery store? Would I be ready to receive Him?

A growing mentality in our society approaches such questions like a trapeze walker with a safety net. She knows if she falls, her injury will be limited, and she will be able to climb up the tower and walk again the fine line. Do we live our faith in this way? Society tells us to do what we want, what feels good; what is convenient. For instance, the media propagates, “go ahead, have sex”; “worried about pregnancy – use  contraception”; “what? got pregnant anyway? there’s always option of abortion”.   And when an so-called “inconvenience” becomes a consequence of our choices, society gives us a solution for that – anything to allow us to get back on the tightrope and enjoy the “good life”.

The problem with such a way of thinking, is that our actions always have consequences outside of ourselves. There is more damage done than the so called “problem” at hand. Something that, unfortunately, not even our national leadership understands. This safety net mentality has stretched beyond societal issues, but has become a modus operandi for how many approach their relationship with God. At times of trouble, we get on our knees and turn to God for assistance. We see examples of this on large scales (Churches were full after 9/11; and people in Haiti put aside their voodoo practices and sought out the “Big God” of their fallen away Catholic faith following the earthquake). We see it on the individual level too, when serious illness strikes, or a loved one is in an accident, our hearts turn to God begging for his help. In these moments, we are shaken from our apathy, but overtime we find ourselves reverting back to the way things were before. It is not enough to turn to God until things seemingly get better; this only makes God a safety net – not your foundation. What must we do to strengthen our foundation of faith?

As anyone who has built structures will tell you, you build a shoddy foundation, you get a building that may be beautiful, but will not hold up under stress. A good foundation takes time and effort. So it is with building a firm foundation in faith.

  • Prayer. Talk with God often. Daily. Hourly. Like any relationship, our relationship with the Lord must be cultivated. Use simple prayers, one-liners, to accompany you throughout the day: “Jesus, I Love you” works well. As does, “Have mercy on me, Lord, a poor sinner.” The point of these small prayers is to turn our spiritual compass back back towards the Cross – the Spiritual North, which leads our feet closer to the Lord.
  • Read the Bible. Know the Lord through listening to His Word. This becomes a way to know what is pleasing to God, and to become more aware of His Divine purpose for your life. The Sacred Scriptures are also a good prayer manual, full of words to instruct the heart; edify the soul; teach the mind the way of prayer and praise.
  • Become Sacramental. Go to confession and communion often. These two fountains of grace will assist you in unexplainable ways to grow in your spiritual life. Be attentive of the presence of Christ in the sacraments, and make small acts of faith, such as, “Jesus, I do believe  you are truly present in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Altar”.
  • Become Marian. Mary is the perfect example for the Christian life, having embraced so fully in her own life the Will of the Father for all humanity. Mary taught us obedience in her words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) When we pray, asking Mary to intercede for us, we have a strong advocate on our side, who prays according to the will of the Father.
  • Read/Watch wholesome stuff. This goes hand in hand with saying small prayers. We progress on the path of true holiness with the rate we feed our minds and hearts and souls with good, nourishing Christian food, in images we see, dialogue we hear, words we say.

Little by little these small things will open the door of the heart, so that it knows how to embrace what is good and reject what is evil. And a byproduct of these efforts to grow in our faith will be an increase of our openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit directing us, helping us to construct a foundation that will withstand the toughest of storms.

Many today won’t take up the invitation to give themselves over to Jesus until tragedy strikes close to home. They know that God is there when they need Him. It is true, God showers his gifts upon the good and the bad (Luke 5:45). But it is also true that the day of reckoning will come when we least expect it – “like a thief in the night” Saint Peter tells us (2 Peter 3:10).  But if our feet are not firmly planted on a foundation of faith on that day, we can hope all we want for our safety net to catch us. This is a pretty presumptuous position isn’t it? Yes, too often we presume God is there for us, but we are only fair whether friends in reverse. We are the grown child who only speaks to his father when we need something from him. What shall our inheritance be in the end? Are we sure our safety net will save us?

pharisee & publican

Which Way to Holiness?

In many spiritual writings I am often struck by the paradox involved in our call to holiness. Words often used to describe this quest linger in my mind: progressing, striving, climbing, self-discipline, reaching heights or levels, with each of these expressions of action able to mislead us. They suggest a physical movement, an effort we make to obtain holiness through our deeds and acts of piety. If we are not careful, we can leave our ‘ascent’ towards God at this level – a self-made, false, holiness and forget the true source of our sanctity which lies outside of our human grasp.

Let’s use the scene from Luke, chapter 18 as an example. We have the Pharisee on one hand, who was probably a model citizen, well respected, and externally a tower of piety. He gave to the poor, fasted and prayed, was honest in his dealings with others, and yet, he fell short before the eyes of Jesus. Our culture today, like the Pharisee, often determines one’s worth by his accomplishments and status. It is easy to look upon others, such as the publican, who externally seems less, with contempt or simply presuming they ‘got what they deserved’.  But how does Jesus see the publican? He doesn’t look at him on the basis of his status in society, nor in the eloquence of his prayer, nor by the works he has done, but solely in his reverence of God and his humility before the Almighty. “O God, be merciful to me, a poor sinner”. No eloquence here. The publican sees the truth of who he is in the light of God, and clings to God’s mercy as his hope. This is the power beyond our own capacity; we remain small and allow God to be great.

Imagining these two figures in a dark room makes their contrast a stark one. The publican is bathed in light as he ‘humbly ascends’ towards God. The Pharisee, only feet away, is stumbling in the dark trying with all his might to illumine his own greatness so that others may see how high he has ascended. As was a common theology of his day, the Pharisee believed that his obedience to the law and man-made perfection equate with sanctity. The thrust of Jesus’ praise of the publican’s prayer opens a before-concealed door to the heart of God; it reveals how much God doesn’t want us to be self-made saints, but rather made holy through Him who is refuge and mercy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that perfection passes through the cross and that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (CCC 2015). Renunciation is evident in the publican’s display of humility. It was once described to me that the spiritual battle as filled with often imperceptible barriers which mask themselves under the name of virtue; a virtue that in the end deceives us into climbing up the rungs of the wrong ladder disguised in our prayer and works of mercy. The problem with going up the wrong ladder is when we meet with obstacles of fatigue and unpleasant situations, we have nothing solid to stop our fall – it crashes down like a house of cards. We begin to think like the Pharisee that believes he has done everything right, so “why is this happening to me?” Our failing in these circumstances lead to discontent, envy, and maybe even despair. These feelings are signs we are going in the wrong direction. The right direction is pointed out to us by the publican whose prayer is focused solely on God, and who was perfectly comfortable to admit his lowliness.

It is in moments such as these, we can choose to be the Pharisee and cling to our external shows of piety, hoping all will notice our virtue. Indeed, the world will congratulate us for our ‘goodness’. We have a choice, and can dare to follow the publican’s ascent down, off the ladder of external practices and perfectionism, into the depths of true humility where we risk to lose position and esteem before others. It is here, before God, we are not afraid to cry out, “Have mercy, O God, I am a sinner” and be wrapped in his grace. Here we can place ourselves before the Lord, in His light which reveals how truly small and broken we are…and not be afraid to be home there.

There Really are Dangers in not Reading the Bill!

As the healthcare debate heated up through the Summer and into late Winter, I remember my agony watching the size of the healthcare bill grow to the monstrous 2700 page bill that was signed into law in March. Many had warned of the dangers of not knowing what was in the bill, and I guess Congress may finally be catching on to that.

The New York Times reports that “the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program””. Uh oh. Does that mean that Congress, who probably “likes their healthcare plan, can cannot keep their healthcare plan” ?

Allapundit points out that that this not the first blunder of after-the-fact realizations that there were mistakes in the bill, but only another in a series of “Uh oh” moments (pre-existing conditions of children and college students on parents’ plans). And it probably won’t be the last.

This recent comedy of errors, of Congress voting themselves out of their own federal healthcare plan, has a very good lesson for all of us.

Haste makes waste. All of the intense rush to pass something in order to bring about an ‘historic moment’, has revealed an extreme lack of virtue in those sent to Washington to represent the American people. Congress demonstrated a lack of prudence – a willingness to do good in a good way – replacing it with impatience that drove them to do anything at any cost to pass an healthcare bill.

If they had practiced prudence, they would have been wary about consigning a sixth of the economy for a healthcare bill that they hadn’t even read.

If they had practiced prudence, they would have welcomed opposing views so that they could do something good for the American people – not to gain a memory in time.

If they had practiced prudence, they would have had the humility to admit that the bill wasn’t ready, and according to the will of their constituents, they would not have even considered bringing it to a vote.

If they had practiced prudence, they would have dug down, and looked at what was good in the long run, and with fortitude (perseverance) would have kept at it until it was done right.

If they had practiced prudence, they would have tempered their own desires and ideologies and not have allowed them to ride over the top of the voice of reason (common sense).

If they had practiced prudence, they would have looked to the natural law which tells us that God is our provider, not government. This is to exercise the most basic form of justice: respecting God’s role and respecting the liberties granted man through God’s providence. It is this kind of justice that our Constitution was built upon. What surprises me is that one does not need to be a Constitutional lawyer to know this: he has only to read our Declaration of Independence.

The above outlines only some of the examples of the problems along the road of healthcare ‘reform’ that should have been seen as warning signs that those who were pushing for the passage of the bill were misguided. Congressional and Executive leadership allowed their passions to rule their hearts. In the history of the world, this has proven to be the fall of kingdoms and empires. It is also the reason the Founding Fathers foresaw the need of a restricted government. They understood that man, although has great potential to be very virtuous is flawed, and that even the best of them can easily can be led by his carnal lusts (desires) if not held in check.

This has led us to where we are now. We are now on a path created in haste that jeopardizes our way of life, our economy, our status in the world as a champion of democracy and freedom, and for what?   For an historic moment in time – perhaps, God forbid, a moment when the greatest free-market economy in the world collapses. What a waste.