Learning to love Heaven – It’s not as automatic as you think

050713It is generally presumed, at least among those who believe in God and the afterlife, that everyone naturally wants to go to heaven.

But of course, “Heaven” is usually understood in a sort of self-defined way. In other words heaven is a paradise of my own design, the place is perfect as I think perfect should be. Yes, for most people, their conception of heaven is merely what they think it should be, and this usually includes things like: golf courses, seeing my relatives and friends, there are my own self-selected pleasures, and the absence of struggles such as losing a job or saying farewell.

Thus, the heaven that most people have in mind is a designer heaven it and is built on the rather egocentric notion that whatever makes me happy is what heaven will be.

The problem with this thinking is that heaven is not of our own design, or merely what we think it should be. Heaven is the kingdom of God and all of its fullness. In heaven are fulfilled and realized all the values of the kingdom of God, values such as mercy, justice, truth, love, compassion, chastity, forgiveness, and so forth.

Further, heaven is consistently described in the Scriptures in liturgical terms, as a place, and a reality rooted in praise and worship. It is a place of prayer and adoration. In all of this is our true happiness, the heart of heaven is to be with God forever, and to be caught up in the beauty of his presence and of his truth.

And heaven, is thus a place that is not merely happy in human terms, but is truly happy on God’s terms. Regarding the liturgical vision of heaven, and the values realized, experience and fulfilled there, it will be noted that many things on the list do not at all appeal to many people. Frankly, many people are dead set against things like the love of enemies, forgiveness, and chastity. Many to find the Mass, and all Church liturgy to be boring and irrelevant.

Imagine showing up at the gates of heaven only to discover that its heart is essentially the liturgy, and that is daily fair is not only hymns, candles, incense and praise, but also chastity, love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion, etc.

Many are averse to such things and even find them odious. God will not force such souls to inherit what they hate. Thus they are free to make other arrangements for eternity. Surely God must regret this deeply, but he has made us free and summoned us to love, and thus he respects, even reverences, our freedom.

But all this reflection, reminds us that heaven is something we must learn to love. It is like many of the finer things in life. Its appeal may not be immediate and obvious, but, having been trained in its ways we learn to love it very deeply.

It was this way for me and classical music. Its appeal was not immediately obvious to me, I was more enamored of driving rock beats and toe-tapping dance music. But gradually, through stages, classical music’s subtlety, beauty and intricacy began to speak to my soul, and I became more sensitive and aware of its majestic beauty. I learned to love symphonic music, and the magnificent patrimony of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony. And OH how it speaks to my soul now.

And so it is also of my soul with God and the things of God. Early in my life, my rebellious flesh was only averse to God and the parameters of his Kingdom. But now I have grown deeply to love the Lord, and appreciate the beauty and the wisdom of his truth. Yes, I am learning to love heaven. I love God, and the things of God, and the people God loves.

So it must be for us all, that we learn to love heaven. And for this purpose, the Lord left us His Church, like a caring mother, to teach us and lead us to learn to love the things of God, and of heaven. He also left us a sacred liturgy as a great foretaste, and his Word as a kind of blueprint describing what he loves and the architecture of the kingdom of love and truth. The Saints too blaze a trail ahead of us show us the way. In all of this God gives us a kind of pedagogy of the heavenly Kingdom and a healing remedy for our darkened intellects and hardened hearts.

But make no mistake, we must learn to love heaven, to love God and the things of God. And here we speak of the true God and the real heaven not a fake God, not some idol we have constructed for ourselves, but the true God and the true heaven which is his Kingdom and all his fullness. We must avail ourselves of his many helps and learn to love him and his kingdom.

If we think it is only natural to love heaven, we must become more sober. The fact is we have very obtuse spirits. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. We tend to love that which is destructive and harmful. And even knowing that it is harmful we still tend to be attracted to it. We tend to esteem that which is foolish and passing, and to glamorize evil. We tend to call good or no big deal what God calls sinful. Yes, we are obtuse and up to 180 degrees out of phase with the Kingdom

GK Chesterton observes  astonishing facts recorded in Scripture and Tradition:

The point of the story of Satan is not that he revolted against being in hell, but that he revolted against being in heaven. The point about Adam is not that he was discontented with the conditions of this earth, but that he was discontented with the conditions of paradise. (New York American, 12-15-1932)

If Satan revolted against heaven even while still in heaven and Adam preferred something to paradise while still in paradise, how much more should we be sober over the fact that we who have not yet seen paradise or heaven can easily despise or hold of little value the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Add to this that we live in a world that is utterly upside down, a world where we are not rich and what matters to God, a world which obsesses over passing and trivial things and pays little mind to eternal and heavenly things. Learning to love heaven can mean some pretty radical things. It means often being willing to be 180° out of phase with the world’s priorities and preoccupations.

To draw free of this and learn to love heaven requires an often painful journey on our part. And many are simply unwilling to make it, or to live out of phase with the world. Perhaps for this reason the Lord recorded with sadness, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mat 7:13-14). Perhaps too we can understand why we need a savior: we are not only obtuse, but frankly not all that bright, and we like sheep tend to be wayward. Only with difficulty are we even willing to be shepherded.

Yes, we must make a journey and learn to love heaven,

Perhaps, to conclude, we might ponder a couple brief details from Simon Peter’s life. At the lakeside Jesus asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Jesus was seeking an agape love (ἀγαπᾷς με). Peter, with uncharacteristic honesty, at that stage, answered the Lord indicating he had only brotherly love (κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε). The triple dialogue seeking agape love ended with the Lord’s respectful acceptance that Peter had but brotherly love.

But the Lord also promised one day Peter would find agape love, one day Peter would finally learn to love heaven and the Lord above all things, above all people, above his very self. How? He had to make the journey and learn to love heaven.

And indeed, the Lord prophesied: When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will lead you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God (Jn 21:18-19)

But in order for that to happen, the world would have to be turned upside down for Peter. Peter would have to learn to see the world 180° differently than he did that day at the Lakeside. Of this we need to turn our lives over 180° GK Chesterton again writes very beautifully as he meditates that Peter was crucified upside down:

I’ve often fancied that [Peter’s] humility was rewarded was rewarded by seeing in death the beautiful vision of the landscape as it really is: with the stars like flowers, and the clouds like hills and all men hanging on the mercy of God. (The Poet and the Lunatics Sheed and Ward p. 22)

Yes, learning to love heaven means learning to see the world as it really its, and to seem to the world to be upside down. But God’s ways are not our ways, his priorities are not our priorities. We have a lot of learning to do. At the end of the day heaven will not change to suit us (if it did it wouldn’t be heaven any more). So we must be changed for it, we must learn to love it even if that means being crucified upside down.

Help us Lord to desire heaven, to learn its ways, to learn of you and love you above all things.

N.B. The Chesterton insights came to me from a a fine book called The Complete Thinker by Dale Ahlquist.

The Word Becomes Flesh

As we prepare to walk with Our Lord toward Calvary, this reflection from Saint Leo the Great for the Feast of the Annunciation helps us to understand what it means that God became man and willingly took on our sinfulness to offer us salvation.

He took on the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, no the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself….He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of  man and the preeminence of God coexist in mutual relationship. (Epistle 28 ad Flavianum).

I Keep So Busy Workin’ for the Kingdom, I Ain’t Got Time to Die. A Meditation on the Readings for the Third Sunday of The Year

The readings of “Ordinary Time” (the Latin is Tempus per annum) focus a lot on the call to discipleship and the living of the Christian Faith. The readings for today’s Mass are no exception as they present us with a number of disciplines for disciples. These disciplines free us to serve Christ and his Kingdom joyfully, energetically and whole-heartedly. Broadly we can group these disciplines into three areas, such that discipleship is: Undefiant, Unfettered, and Untiring. Within these three categories are some other reflections as well. Let’s consider each area of discipline as reflected in the readings.

I.  Undefiant – The first reading today covers the ministry of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. In today’s reading we get only the end of the story. But as most of us know, Jonah was not merely reluctant in accepting his mission as a prophet, he was downright defiant. Recall his story:

  1. His Refusal The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it…” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (1:1-3). Thus, Jonah defiantly runs from God, he refuses the mission.
  2. His Running – Now, Nineveh was 550 miles east of Israel. Tarshish was 2,500 miles west of Israel. Do you get the picture? Jonah was doing some serious running. Rather than go 550 miles to do God’s will, he was ready to travel 2,500 miles out of God’s will. It’s always a longer trip when you defy God. God wants to spare us the extra mileage!
  3. His Resistance – As Jonah runs, great storms arise at sea on his journey away from God. The storms of defiance rage but Jonah slept. And the storms affect not only him, but those who sail with him. Yes, our moral decisions DO affect others around us, despite our individualistic notion that what we do is no one else’s business. And thus for some of us, great storms can come into our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that some of the storms in our lives may be related to a decision where God said, “This way” but we defied him and said, “No, that way!” ? Maybe we need to wake up and say what does this storm mean?
  4. His Return – Swallowed by the great fish, Jonah is brought back to the very place where he sailed away from God (Joppa). And, in effect God says, lets try this all over again. So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s bidding. Yes, Jonah was smart this time.

So the point is that disciples (us) must learn to be undefiant. In effect, God wants to save us some mileage, and obedience to his will is always easier that disobedience.

Consider too the remarkable fact of how Undefiant the Ninevites are as they hear and heed Jonah’s message. And notice how this lack of defiance saves them from destruction and a world of hurt.

It’s always easier to follow God. I did not say it’s easy; just that it’s easier to follow God. Someone may think sin is more pleasurable and easier in the moment. And frankly it may be. But sin unleashes a world of difficulties and complications in its wake. If you do not think this is so, just buy a newspaper and consider how many of our difficulties are directly tied to our sinful attitudes and choices. Frankly, the vast majority of this world’s sufferings and difficulties are directly attributable to a rebellious sinfulness by humanity.

The first discipline of Discipleship is that we be undefiant. And by this discipline was are spared many difficulties and remain teachable and open to God’s wisdom.

II. Unfettered – To be unfettered means literally to be unchained, unshackled and free to move about. The second reading today presents a vivid and sober portrait of what be unfettered and detached looks like:

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world, as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away. (1 Cor 7:29ff)

Now this text does not mean that we have to recourse to these things and people at all, but rather that we live “as” not having them. In other words, we must seek the gift to realize that nothing in this passing world remains, and nothing here, even marriage, is the sole reason for our existence, or the sole source of meaning for us. God and God alone is the source of meaning and the lasting goal of our life. All else will pass.

For most of us, detachment form this world is THE battle, the central struggle we face. On account of our attachment to this world we are strongly hindered from freely following Christ. A couple of passages come to mind.

  1. Mk 10:22ff Jesus, said [to the rich young man], “If you would be perfect, go and sell all that you have, (and you will have treasure in heaven) and then come and follow me. At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
  2. Mat 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money… So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

But the world so easily has a thousand hooks in us, we are chained, fettered, and our freedom to follow Christ is severely compromised.

The fact is, the battle to be free and unfettered, is a process. And God can give us this freedom but it takes time and obedience from us. Little by little God breaks the shackles of this world and all its treasures come to seem as of little concern. Slowly we come to what St. Paul came to say,

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8).

III. Untiring – Consider that among Jesus’ first followers were several fishermen. The text of the Gospel today says, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

But we may ask, is there some meaning in the fact that fishermen were among his first and most prominent disciples? Perhaps so.

Consider that fishermen have some important qualities that are helpful for discipleship:

  1. Patient – Fishermen often need to wait for many hours, even days for a catch. Disciples need great patience, as do evangelizers.
  2. Professional – Fishermen need to spend time learning about the behavior of fish, learning to observe the water and navigate, leaning the right time of day and season to fish. They need to know the right bait, the proper use of the net. They need to understand the different of types and behaviors of fish, and so forth. All of these traits are good for disciples and especially for evangelization, which is job 1 for the disciple.Through growing in practical knowledge we come to know our faith and learn effective ways to be fishers of men.
  3. Purposeful – When fishermen are out fishing, it is a focused endeavor. That’s all they do, and everything is centered on the main task. They are single minded. Disciples surely need more of this attitude. The Book of James says, The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). St. Paul says, But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14). Every disciple needs to be more single minded.
  4. Pursuing – Note simply that they go to the fish. Too many Catholic parishes merely open the doors and hope people come to them. This is not evangelization. The key word for disciples and evangelizers is “Go.”
  5. Partnered – Fishermen work in teams. Thus Jesus sends disciples out, two by two.
  6. Persistent – If fishermen don’t make a catch today, they’re back out tomorrow. Disciples surely need to persist, both in their own journey and in making disciples of others.

Thus, in today’s readings are a number of disciplines of discipleship. The green vestments of Ordinary Time remind us of growth, both our own personal growth and that of the Church. Ultimately a free heart is a joyful heart and a heart that is not easily tired, because it is not divided and not serving two masters. It is a heart that ungrudgingly serves the Kingdom.

Here’s a song that speaks of the patient, purposeful, and persistent action on behalf of God’s kingdom. It is a song that can only come from heart that is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring. A heart that says, I keep so busy workin’ for the Kingdom, I ain’t got time to die!

The Gospel is About You

      Sometimes we can think about the Gospel as Spectator Sport. In other words we just read it as though it was about people who lived thousands of years ago. We are amused at the rigid pharisees, the mercurial Peter, the indecisive Pilate. But the fact is we are those figures. We too can be stubborn, indecisive, uncommitted, dense, sinful and so forth. Read the Gospels as though they are about you. Read all the Scripture this way. The Bible is about God, it is also about us. We are Moses, Isaiah, Job, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Thomas, Paul and, if you are willing to except it, Jesus. We are in the story, it’s about us and how we interact with God. When Jesus asks a question, don’t just wait to see how the apostles answer it. You answer it! Jesus is asking you.

Some time ago I published this list of 100 Questions that Jesus asked and YOU must answer. If you’ve not done it before print the list and pray through it from time to time. Don’t just try and think how some one in the Bible answered it, YOU answer it. Let the Lord ask YOU. The gospel is not spectator sport. You and I are one the field.

Here is a brief three minute sermon by a Catholic Priest reminding us not to be like Pharisees when we read the Scriptures, laughing at or scorning the sins and foilbles of Biblical figures. Rather see that these stories of human struggle and human giftedness are also about us.

The Whole Counsel of God

There is a wonderful passage from the Acts of Apostles in today’s Mass and it comprises a sermon from an early Bishop (St. Paul) to the priests of the early Church.

Paul’s Farewell Sermon – The scene is Miletus, a town in Asia Minor on the coast not far from Ephesus. Paul, who is about to depart for Jerusalem summons the presbyters (priests) of the early Church at Ephesus. Paul has ministered there for three years and now summons the priests for this final exhortation. In the sermon, St. Paul cites his own example of having been a zealous teacher of the faith who did not fail to preach the “whole counsel of God.” He did not merely preach what suited him or made him popular. He preached it all. To these early priests Paul leaves this legacy and would have them follow in his footsteps. Let’s look at excerpts from this final exhortation. First the text them some commentary:

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters  of the Church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me…., and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus…..But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem……“But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God….. (Acts 20:1-38 selected)

Here then is the prescription for every Bishop, every priest and deacon, every catechist, parent and Catholic: that we should preach the whole counsel (the entire plan of God). It is too easy for us to emphasize only that which pleases us or makes sense to us or fits in our worldview. There are some who love the Lord’s sermons on love but cannot abide  his teachings on death, judgment, heaven and hell. Some love to discuss liturgy and ceremony but the care of the poor is far from them. Others point to His compassion but neglect his call to repentance. Some love the way he dispatches the Pharisees and other leaders of the day but become suddenly deaf when the Lord warns against fornication or insists that we love our neighbor, enemy and spouse. Some love to focus inwardly and debate over doctrine but the outward focus of true evangelization to which we are commanded (cf Mat 28:19) is neglected.

In the Church as a whole we too easily divide out rather predictably along certain lines and emphases. Life issues here, social justice over there. Strong moral preaching over here, compassionate inclusiveness over there. When one side speaks the other side says, “There they go again.”

And yet somewhere we must be able to say with St. Paul that we did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. While this is especially incumbent on the clergy it must also be true for parents and all who attain to any leadership in the Church. All of the issues above are important and must have their proper place in the preaching and witness of every Catholic, clergy and lay. While we may have gifts to work in certain areas we should learn to appreciate the whole counsel and the fact that others in the Church may be needed to balance and complete our work. It is true we must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

And if we do this we will suffer. Paul speaks above of tears and trials. In preaching the whole counsel of God, (not just favorite passages and politically correct themes), expect to suffer. Expect to not quite fit in with people’s expectations. Jesus got into trouble with just about everyone. He didn’t just offend the elite and powerful. Even his own disciples puzzled over his teachings on divorce saying “If that is the case of man not being able to divorce his wife it is better never to marry!” (Matt 19). Regarding the Eucharist, many left him and would no longer walk in his company (John 6). In speaking of his divine origins many took up stones to stone him but he passed through their midst (Jn 8).  In addition he spoke of taking up crosses, forgiving your enemy and preferring nothing to him. He forbade even lustful thoughts let alone fornication, and insisted we must learn to curb our unrighteous anger. Preaching the whole counsel of God is guaranteed to earn us the wrath of many.

As a priest I have sadly had to bid farewell to congregations and this is a critical passage whereby I examine my ministry. Did I preach even the difficult stuff? Was I willing to suffer for the truth? Did my people hear from me the whole counsel of God or just the safe stuff?

How about you? Have you proclaimed the whole counsel of God? If you are clergy when you move on…..if you are a parent when your child leaves for college…..if you are a Catechist when the children are ready to be confirmed or have reached college age…..If you teach in RCIA and the time comes for sacraments……Can you say you preached it all? God warned Ezekiel that if he failed to warn the sinner, that sinner would surely die for his sins but that Ezekiel himself would be responsible for his death, (Ez 3:17ff). Paul is able to say he is not responsible for the death (the blood) of any of them for he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. How about us?

The whole counsel of God.

This video contains the warning to the watchmen (us) in Ezekiel 3. Watch it if you dare.

Raising Boys

I recently read an article in First Things by Sally Thomas entitled: The Killer Instinct. The article ponders the modern aversion to the male psyche. Young boys are full of zealous energy, full of spit and vinegar, and have a a proclivity to rough and even violent play. Many modern parents and educators seem troubled by this and often attempt to soften boys, make them behave more like girls. Sadly there is even an attempt by some to diagnosis typically rough-house and energetic boys as having ADHD and they are put on medicines to suppress what is in the end a normal male energy. I do not deny that there can be a true ADHD diagnosis in some cases, but it may also be a symptom of an increasingly feminized culture that finds normal male behavior to be violent and a diagnosable “disorder.”  What I have said here may here may be “controversial” but in the finest male tradition, remember, we can always “spar” in the comments section!

I’d like to present excerpts of the article here and then add some of m own comments in red. You can read the whole article by clicking on the title above.

The default mode of many parents is to be as alarmed by [the] proclivity in their sons [to shoot and stab at things and be aggressive]…..An obvious fascination with shooting things might seem like one of those warning signals we all read about…It used to be that parents waited for Johnny to start torturing the cat before they worried. My generation of parents seems to worry that owning a rubber-band shooter will make Johnny want to torture the cat.  A friend of mine told me that he and his wife had decided not to give their boys guns for toys. What they discovered was that without the toy everything became a gun: sticks, brooms, scissors, their fingers. In the end, they “made peace” with the fact that boys love guns and swords and stopped worrying about latent tendencies to violence. Somehow it was in a boy’s nature and they couldn’t “nurture” it  away.

As a toddler, one of my sons liked to stand behind his baby sister’s chair and pull her head back as far as it would go, to watch it spring up again like a punching bag on its stem….and then she screamed….From my son’s point of view, it was altogether a gratifying exercise. My intervention was always swift and decisive…I implored my son, “Don’t be rough. Be gentle.” …I am struck, now, by the strangeness of what I said to him. We don’t tell someone struggling with lust simply not to want sex; we don’t tell a glutton that his problem will be solved if he stops being hungry. Yet, I might as well have said, “Stop being a boy.”…. What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil. It’s a mistake for parents to presume that a fascination with the idea of blowing something away is, in itself, a disgusting habit, like nose-picking, that can and should be eradicated. The problem is not that the boy’s hand itches for a sword. The problem lies in not telling him what [the sword and itch] are for, that they are for something. If I had told my aggressive little son not, “Be gentle,” but, rather, “Protect your sister,” I might, I think, have had the right end of the stick.(This is a very brilliant insight. It is essential that we not try to destroy the innate gifts that God gives us in order to “control” them. We must learn to harness them and sublimate them so that they achieve the end to which they are intended).

Anne Roche Muggeridge, who reared four boys in the 1970s and 1980s, observes that 

 prevailing society now thoroughly regards young men as social invalids. . . . The fashion in education for the past three decades has been to try to make boys more like girls: to forbid them their toy guns and rough play, to engage them in exercises of “cooperation and sharing,” …to denounce any boyish roughness as “aggressive” and “sexist.” 

Muggeridge writes of a visit to a doctor who urged on her a prescription for Ritalin, saying that a child as constantly active as her two-year-old son must be disturbed. “He’s not disturbed,” she responded. “He’s disturbing.” It is to realize, as Anne Roche Muggeridge did while watching her sons take turns throwing each other into a brick wall, that what you have in your house is not a human like you but a human unlike you. In short, as Muggeridge puts it, you are bringing up an “alien.”  Yes, it has been very frustrating to be a man in the modern age let alone have to grow up under the tutelage of social scientists and education bureaucrats who scorn and suspect your very nature. Boys are aggressive. That is natural and good. They must be taught to master it and focus the energy of their aggression on the right object, but they should not be scorned for who and what they are. Such scorning has become for too many a sense that they are socially “enlightened.” It is time to see this attitude as a the type of bigotry and sexism that it too often is. To many women (and some feminized men)  a boy in his raw state may in fact seem like an alien, but even aliens deserve respect  🙂

[There is an] initiation rite, devised and performed by our parish’s young priest twice a year in the church. This rite involves a series of solemn vows to be “a man of the Church,” “a man of prayer,” and so forth. It includes induction into the Order of the Brown Scapular, the bestowing of a decidedly manly red-and-black knot rosary, and the awarding of a red sash. What the boys look forward to, though, with much teasing of soon-to-be inductees about sharpened blades and close shaves…is the moment when a new boy kneels before Father and is whacked smartly on each shoulder with a large, impressive, and thoroughly real sword.  Great idea. I’m going to work in my parish about initiating something like this.

These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys—sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross seriously requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it’s for, requires the Cross. …A boy’s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It’s not their mothers’ church or their sisters’ church; it is theirs, to serve and defend. Yes, yes! Amen. Greater love hath no man that to lay down his life for his friends. Christian manhood needs to be rediscovered in some segments of the Church. Too many men stay away from Church because it seems feminine to them. Sermons about duty, courage and fighting the good fight have given way to a steady diet of compassion, kindness, being nice, getting along, self actualizing and,  did I mention being nice? These are not wrong virtues but they must be balanced by virtues that call us to stand up and speak out with courage, accepting our duties and fighting the good fight of faith, if necessary unto death. Men respond to the call when it is given in a way that respects their manhood. Balance is needed in the preaching and teaching of the Church and it seems that in recent decades we may have lost this in many settings, IMHO. If you think I’m crazy, remember this is a conversation. Hit the comment button and have it.

Sally Thomas, a contributing writer for FIRST THINGS, is a poet and homeschooling mother in North Carolina.

Here’s a video summoning boys unto manhood:


Exactly Backwards! The World and Our Faith

It really should be “The Faith and our World.” Faith comes first and all things should be seen by the light of Faith. But many people have it exactly backwards. Instead of the world being on trial it is more often our Faith and the Scriptures that end up on trial. For a Christian it should be the world that comes under our scrutiny through the Word of God and the truth of our Faith. We ought to have some pretty tough questions for the world:

  1. Why is revenge and violence your way?
  2. Why do you celebrate promiscuity?
  3. Why do you constantly think that money and power is what makes you great?
  4. Why do you kill the unborn and praise it as a right?
  5. Why do you reject the wisdom of prior years as recorded in the Scriptures and Tradition?
  6. Why do you hate authority and any limits on your behavior?
  7. Why do you struggle so much with addiction?
  8. Why can’t you stay married?
  9. Why are your children’s test scores dropping? Why are they getting pregnant? Why do they have STDs?
  10. Why are your priorities so messed up?
  11. Why are you so worked up about silly things like Hollywood and Sports but not very interested in Faith, truth and justice and your final end?
  12. Why do you trust the shifting opinions of men more than the lasting truth of God?

Most Christians should be asking these sort of pointed questions to a world gone mad. But too many, filled with worldly thinking, put the Church, and Scripture on trial and demand answers only of these.

The fact is, too many Catholics tuck their faith under their politics, under their worldview, under their preferences. Instead of judging politics by faith, faith gets judged based on political views. Most Christians are far more passionate about politics than faith and if there is a conflict between what their faith says and what “the Party” says, guess what gives? A large number of Catholics base their moral reasoning not on Scripture or Church teaching but on what Hollywood stars, politicians, and pop-culture figures say.

And therefore when the Church does speak and/or Scripture is referenced and it goes against any of the modern thinking  from the world gone mad, angry denunciations, or scoffing, laughter and so forth come forth even from Catholics. It is exactly backwards. It is the world that deserves this treatment. It is the world that deserves to come under our scrutiny and answer to our faith. The world should seem downright strange and alien to us, inimical to our understanding. The Book of James makes it plain:

Know you not that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

And God does in fact seem an enemy to many. They may not be able to see it that clearly so they direct their condemnation at the Church or at the Bible. But in the end these are just deflections since the Church and Scripture are merely reporting what God clearly teaches.

In the end, why not put the world on trial? Why not test the world by faith and see all things by the light of faith? Why not store up some pointed questions for a world gone mad? The early Christians who renounced the ways of the world and knew that the Lord had called them out of the world had a saying: Let grace come, and the world pass away. Maranatha! (Come Lord) (Didache, 10)

The following video is an excerpt from a sermon I preached Yesterday here at the Parish. Audio is me, photos are of the parish.

A Pastor and His Cat Explain Suffering

Now this video is very homespun but the point Father makes is actually quite good. It is on the question of suffering and a call to humility. Now ,just like me, Father could have gotten to his point just a bit faster by skipping the part on cat vocabulary etc. but it’s still only 3 minutes so hang in there. I think the main point is excellent. Well done Fr. Jeffrey.