Words Do Not Make Reality, As Seen in a Commercial

The situation of the man in this commercial reminds me of modern life in general. We talk a lot about freedom, but compulsiveness, addiction, and lack of self-control are more the case with the average person.

We have collectively rejected the “Ten Big Laws of God,” declaring our freedom from being told what to do. But the result has not been that we have fewer laws; rather we now have thousands of “little laws,” imposed upon us through oppressive government, by which we are told what we must do under penalty of law.

Many cultural revolutionaries have marched under the banners of freedom and tolerance, but once having gained a foothold they have tyrannically forced their agenda on others by law. The talk of tolerance and respect for differences turned out to be just that—talk.

The man in this advertisement talks a lot about how important mobility is to him, but the reality of his life is far from his self-description. In fact, he seems quite unaware of his condition. Does he not seem familiar?

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Words Do Not Make Reality, As Seen in a Commercial

Adoration 2.0 – A Unique Insight from a Spiritual Master

When we think of the word “adoration,” we think of a high form of love, perhaps the highest. Theologically, we equate adoration with latria, the worship and love due to God alone. In the vernacular, to say “I adore you” is to indicate an intense and elevated form of love.

Liturgically, adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament indicates a period during which one enters into the experience of loving God and gazing upon Him in that love. The Lord, too, extends a gaze of love to us. This is beautifully stated in the Song of Songs: Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the window, peering through the lattice (Song 2:9).

In these examples there is an intense yet resting love expressed, a love that is tender and deep, quiet and fixed.

However, the greatest act of adoration the world has ever known exhibited little of this quietude or restfulness. Indeed, one might call it quite stormy; though intense, it was certainly not restful. You might not consider it adoration at all, but consider this reflection by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.:

Adoration of infinite value was offered to God by Christ in Gethsemane when he prostrated himself saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as though wilt.” Christ’s adoration of the Father recognized in a practical and profound manner the sovereign excellence of God … The Savior’s adoration continued on the cross (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol 2, p. 251).

At the root of this most perfect act of adoration was obedience. Not only did Jesus love God, but he wanted only what His Father wanted. True adoration of God includes both a loving acknowledgment of His excellence and a submission of our will to His in loving obedience. Out of love we offer our whole life to God.

Thus, adoration is more than mere feeling, no matter how intense. It is sacrifice; it is the willing offering of one’s very self as an act of love to God, who has so loved us. No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for God and for those we love in Him.

Is obedience and sacrifice what you and I mean when we say that we are going to Eucharistic adoration or when we say that we adore God? The most perfect act of adoration was love expressed as obedience and sacrifice.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Adoration 2.0 – A Unique Insight from a Spiritual Master

What Conscience Dreads and Prayer Dares Not Ask

The Collect (Opening Prayer) for this week’s Masses (27th Week of the Year), though directed to God, teaches us that our prayer is not always about things with which we are comfortable. It sometimes leads us to examine areas of our life in which we struggle with sin or we struggle to desire to be free of sin. Here is the prayer:

Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

After asking for God’s mercy and acknowledging that He offers us more than our minds can grasp, we make the following two requests:

(1)  [May you] pardon what conscience dreads.

(2)  [May you] give what prayer does not dare to ask.

[May you] pardon what conscience dreads.

The Catechism states the following regarding our conscience:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (# 1776).

Our conscience is not merely what we think or what it pleases us to think; it is the voice of God echoing in our depths. Whatever rationalizations we use to try to suppress our conscience, the voice of God still calls us deep inside. Deep down, we know very well what we are doing, and we know when it is wrong. No matter how many “teachers” we find who will tell us what our ears want to hear, that voice is still there.

I suspect that this is why the world and its devotees are so angry at the Catholic Church—we remind them of what God says. If our teachings were merely regarded as outdated opinions, the world would not hate us; it would not be at war with us. No matter how emphatically people deny that their conscience troubles them, deep down they know better. The louder these denials, the less we should be convinced. Why are they forever insisting that the Church change her teachings? If we’re just a pathetic and outdated institution, why do they care what we teach? Because deep down they know that we are right and do not like to be reminded of it.

Our words, the words of Christ, touch something; they prick the conscience and remind people of things they know inside but would rather forget. The voice of God echoes within, convicting them and inciting within them a godly dread of sin and its ultimate consequences.

This is true for believers as well, who, though not as openly hostile, would still prefer to avoid the voice of their conscience and do not enjoy the holy dread of sin it engenders. Note that not all sorrow for sin is from God. St. Paul distinguishes godly sorrow (which draws one to God for healing) from worldly sorrow (which deflates the sinner and has him despair of God’s healing love or of being able to change). The proper dread that conscience arouse is always a call of love from God, who bids us to repent and return to Him.

Still, we avoid what conscience dreads. Who likes to experience fear or negative feelings?

However, prayer must often ask us to look honestly at the less pleasing things in our life. This prayer bids us to listen to the dread of conscience (dread of sin and of its due punishments) and to seek pardon.

[May you] give what prayer does not dare to ask.

Some argue that the translation of this clause is not a good one. The Latin used is quod oratio non praesumit. Some prefer a softer translation in which the phrase asks God to give us the things that we are not worthy of requesting, things we do not presume to ask for because it would be too bold for us to do so. Such a translation does not offend the Latin text but does seem to miss the overall context: asking God to help us to overcome personal resistance.

We have already seen how and why many of us resist what conscience dreads and would rather not hear the voice of God echoing inside, but consider that we are hesitant to ask for many things out of fear.

The classic example of this is St. Augustine’s request that God make him chaste … but not yet! Though he could see the value of chastity, Augustine enjoyed his promiscuity and was afraid to ask the Lord to take it away.

There are many things we dare not ask for because we fear actually getting them. It’s the “be careful what you wish for” attitude. For example, many are not ready to be chaste or to be more generous because they fear the changes that such things would bring. In such situations perhaps one could pray, “Lord, if I’m not chaste, at least give me the desire to be chaste,” or “Lord, if I don’t share sufficiently with the poor, at least give me the desire to do be more generous.” If we begin to desire what God is offering, we will be more chaste and more generous because we want to be. The fear of what prayer does not dare to ask abates. Then we are ready to ask God for what He really wants to give us.

The prayer is asking us to look at our resistance and fear and to pray out of that very experience rather than suppressing or denying it.

Consider well, then, the beautiful though difficult and daring invitation of this prayer. Though directed to God, it also bids us to look within and to admit our fears and our resistance.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Conscience Dreads and Prayer Dares Not Ask

Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation

There is a fundamental precept among climate change activists and radical environmentalists that man is an interloper in the natural world. All would be pristine if it weren’t for us. There seems to be little appreciation that humans are part of creation, that we are supposed to be here, part of the interplay among living organism in which there is both giving and taking.

The role of the human person in creation is developed quite explicitly in the Bible. In the very opening pages of the Scriptures we read of Adam and Eve:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:28-31).

Man is no mere observer or denizen of creation; he has the authority of a steward. The Hebrew word used in this passage is a strong one: kabash (subdue). It means to bring something into submission, to impose a kind of order. Scripture also says, Then the LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (Gen 2:15).

It is remarkable that these things are said even before Original Sin. Thus, even in the paradise of Eden there is something imperfect, something undone. Man was to work with God in the ongoing work of maintaining creation and helping it reach its potential and achieve its goals.

Original Sin harmed both man and the rest of creation. God said to Adam, Cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field (Gen 3:17-18). In spite of this, God reiterates the role of the human person:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:1-3).

It is this sovereign stewardship that is celebrated in Preface Five for the Sundays of the year:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For you laid the foundations of the world and have arranged for the changing of times and seasons; you have formed man in your own image and set humanity over the whole world in all its wonder, to rule in your name over all you have made and forever praise you in your mighty works, through Christ our Lord.

And so, with all the Angels, we praise you,
as in joyful celebration we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy …

All these texts are an answer to the modern, secular, extremist notion that reduces man to an unnatural intruder in the created world. We are not. We are meant to be here. The world was made for us by God, and we are to exercise a dominion that brings order and greater productivity to the created order by God’s grace.

In our best moments, we have done this beautifully. Advances in agricultural science have almost miraculously raised crop yields such that abundant food can be made available worldwide for billions. Forest management has permitted us to reap the benefits of trees while keeping our forests from being depleted through replanting and other measures. Fisheries, animal husbandry, wildlife management, nature conservancies, and national parks bless millions and encourage appreciation for the natural world. We have developed an amazing ability to use the raw minerals and materials of the earth to build and make wonderful things.

Further, the rise of hospitals in the early Christian era and medical study that followed in the West has driven back disease, dramatically lowered infant mortality, and relieved an enormous amount of human suffering. Modern Western economies have raised the standard of living for huge numbers of people, drawing many out of crushing poverty and subsistence living and making food and consumer goods available in rich variety.

There surely have been times when we have polluted, been wasteful, destroyed forests, and engaged in agricultural policies that contributed to crises such as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However, we have also learned much, especially in the modern age.

It is unjust to demonize humanity in the name of environmentalism. We are tasked by God to take the world He gave us and make good decisions about how it should be used: some land for farming, some for forests, and some for cities and other developments. It is our role to help unlock the full potential of the natural world by using its resources to make everything from medicine to food, from paint to steel, from grapes to wines and jellies.

It is important to resist accepting the premises of an increasingly radicalized movement. Man is not the enemy. Too many activists propose morally unacceptable solutions such as abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia in the name of “population control.” Other proposals include heavy-handed government intrusion to limit family size, eliminate entire industries, and ban certain fuel sources violate subsidiarity and are likely to have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Creating hysteria about climate change and warning of impending extinction is an old tactic of this movement. I have been hearing similarly dire predictions all my life, but here we still are. Believe what you want about climate change and its causes, but be careful to note what this movement has become and the dramatic, anti-human policies it has adopted.

Humanity is the crowning glory of this planet. We are not intruders into the world of nature. God made this world and put us here in it. Irresponsible stewardship is a sin, but extremist solutions are also a sin—against the dignity of the human person.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation

The Decline of the Church in Europe

In yesterday’s post we pondered the decline of the Catholic faith in the United States. For us, the exodus began in the late 1960s. In Europe it had begun long before. Hard figures are difficult to come by, but in most Western European countries today, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly. C.S. Lewis lamented the great collapse of the faith in Europe in writings going back to the late 1940s.

Of all C.S. Lewis’ works, a collection known as The Latin Letters, is one of the least well known. They are his correspondence, in Latin, with Rev. Fr. Don Giovanni Calabria. Part of the reason for their relative obscurity is that they were not translated into English until 1998. The full collection of these letter can be found here: The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis.

The letters covered a variety of topics over the years, among them the decline of faith and the erosion of moral life in Europe. This was linked to the horrifying experience of two world wars, which seem to have both resulted from and further exacerbated the decline of faith there.

At Fatima in 1917, Our Lady warned,

The war [World War I] is going to end, but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father (Second Secret of Fatima).

Of course, we know what happened: the repentance did not take place. Following one of the most vivid displays of the Northern lights ever recorded (Jan 25, 1938), Germany annexed Austria in March of 1938 and invaded Poland in 1939; World War II was engaged.

Most Americans today do not fully appreciate the horrifying blood bath that was the 20th century. Conservative estimates are that 200 million people died in wars or were exterminated for ideological purposes. Loss of faith was a lasting effect of a century marked by amazing invention but at the same time an almost unimaginable body count.

These letters of C.S. Lewis open a window to that mid-century period of European history. Indeed, I would call his insights stunning in many ways. Lewis argued that Europe was in a far worse state in 1950 than she was under paganism. Would that she were even pagan, for at least the pagans accepted Natural Law. Europe, having cast off the faith, was and is in a state far worse than before she had ever heard of Christ.

In the excerpts that follow, Lewis makes the case and then proffers a solution we may wish to consider in these times that are even darker. The following passages are from the English translation by Martin Moynihan. The text is shown in black, bold italics, while my comments are in plain red text.

Let’s begin with Lewis’ assessment as to how and by what stages Europe lost the faith:

But (this) did not happen without sins on our part: for that justice and that care for the poor which (most mendaciously) the Communists advertise, we in reality ought to have brought about ages ago. But far from it: we Westerners preached Christ with our lips, with our actions we brought the slavery of Mammon. We are more guilty than the infidels: for to those that know the will of God and do not do it, the greater the punishment. Now the only refuge lies in contrition and prayer. Long have we erred. In reading the history of Europe, its destructive succession of wars, of avarice, or fratricidal persecutions of Christians by Christians, of luxury, of gluttony, of pride, who could detect any but the rarest traces of the Holy Spirit? (Letter 20, Jan 7, 1953).

This is a remarkable, sobering description. In effect there grew an appalling lack of love for God, for the poor, and for one another. Greed and sloth also took their toll. To some, even Communism seemed more virtuous than this “lip-service” faith.

The wars of which Lewis writes include not only those of the 20th century but throughout the Christian era. Consider this shockingly long list of wars, most of which involved Christians killing other Christians: European Wars of the Christian Era.

To be sure, the 20th century dealt a mortal blow to Europe. These terrible things happened on the Christian watch. However, good, even wonderful, things happened during that time as well: the building of universities and hospitals, the great flowering of much that is best in Western culture. It can be argued that the faith also prevented things from being far worse. A gradual internecine lack of love also took its toll and after the bloodiest century the world has ever known, Europe woke up to a largely faithless landscape.

Next, Lewis describes the depth of our fall:

What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the Law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery perjury, theft and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors, but the Pagans and Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say: “The world is turning pagan again.” Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow … there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away (Letter 23, March 17, 1953).

Powerful analysis indeed! The modern European (and I would argue the modern American) is in a state below paganism. At least the pagans believed in the supernatural, had some respect for Natural Law, and accepted what reality plainly teaches.

The pagan world was a virgin waiting for her groom; the modern West is an angry divorcée: cynical, angry and “so through” with Jesus. What will be the fate of the secular West? Will she die in her sins or will the miracle of a broken, humbled heart emerge? Pray! Fast!

Lewis reiterates and adds a stunning, biblically based insight:

I certainly feel that very grave dangers hang over us. This results from the great apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith. Hence, a worse state than the one we were in before we received the faith. For no one returns from Christianity to the same state he was in before Christianity, but into a worse state: the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulteress …. Therefore many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light, but also the natural light which the pagans possessed (Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953).

This is a powerful reminder that leaving the faith does not simply put one back to where he was.

Jesus made a similar warning: When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-25). Having found the house bereft of the Holy Spirit, quite empty of true faith, Satan returns with seven more demons.

St. Peter makes the same point: For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first (2 Peter 2:20).

Calling for hope, Lewis considers a way back:

But God who is the God of mercies, even now has not altogether cast off the human race. We must not despair. And among us are not an inconsiderable number now returning to the faith. For my part, I believe we ought to work not only at spreading the Gospel (that certainly) but also to a certain preparation for the Gospel. It is necessary to recall many to the law of nature before we talk about God. For Christ promises forgiveness of sins, but what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned? Who will take medicine unless he knows he is in the grip of a disease? Moral relativity is the enemy we have to overcome before we tackle atheism. I would almost dare to say, “First let us make the younger generation good pagans, and afterwards let us make them Christians.” (Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953).

To some extent, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said the same: we have to begin all over again. Lewis’ point goes even further by pointing out that at least the apostles found a Europe where people accepted the testimony of reality as a reliable guide, where people respected the spiritual realm.

We in the post-Cartesian and existentialist West have retreated from reality and into our minds. Reality and Natural Law are no longer common ground on which to meet. There is no accepted reality, only thoughts, opinions, views. Existentialism is everywhere! There is no objective meaning outside ourselves to which we owe allegiance. No, we live not in reality but in a world of thoughts and abstractions.

Think I’m exaggerating? Try telling a “transgender” person that sex is an unalterable reality, that the body manifests our sex. “What’s my body got to do with it? It’s what I feel that matters.” Apparently, our bodies have nothing to say to us (nor does anything else in the real world).

Our task in reintroducing the West to reality, to Natural Law, will not be easy, but C.S. Lewis thinks we need to begin there.

Lewis’ insights are powerful and thought provoking; please use the comment box to let me know what you think.

There were some in America who wondered why the Second Vatican Council was called, believing that there was no crisis that needed to be addressed. That was a uniquely American view, however, flowing from the fact that our churches, schools, seminaries, and convents were filled to overflowing. Not so in Europe, where a crisis of faith was underway, as C.S. Lewis described.

Clearly this condition has reached the Church in the U.S. At some point we could have reached over and drawn our European brethren back to the faith, but instead we chose to imitate them; now we are suffering the same consequences. Perhaps the Church in Africa can help reground us.

Meanwhile, I await a day of redemption from the Lord, when He will, perhaps miraculously, buy us back from the slavery to which we have consigned ourselves. I know only one path to follow: Preach the gospel, celebrate the sacraments with devotion, and wait for the Lord until this storm passes. With the disciples, who in fear woke the Lord during a storm, I cry out, “Save us, Lord. We are perishing!” (Matt 8:25)

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Decline of the Church in Europe

A Lament for the Diminishing Church

I suspect that experiencing the suffering and diminishing Church of today is more difficult for those of us who are older. There are two reasons for this: First, the scandals, decline, and disorder happened on our watch; we clergy especially have a lot of repenting to do over what we have done and what we have failed to do. Second, we remember a time when things seemed better, when the Church was strong and growing, when she was more certain of herself, more dignified. Obviously, it was not a sinless time, but things seemed more unified and orderly. This is not mere nostalgia; the numbers bear out the truth. By nearly every measure, Catholics were more cohesive and more loyal to the Church. Consider Thomas Reeves’ description of the Church in the 1940s in his 2002 book America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen  (a book well worth reading):

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Catholic Church in America blossomed. Traumatized by the blatant anti-Catholicism of the 1928 presidential election, Church members had responded by creating separate Catholic scholarly organizations, professional societies, book clubs, trade unions, even summer camps. … The hostility evidenced by Protestants stemmed partly from the fact that the Catholic Church was thriving.

In 1940, there were nearly twenty-three million Catholic communicants in America, almost three times as many as the Methodist Church could claim, and the Methodists were by far the largest Protestant denomination in the country. Catholics outnumbered any single protestant denomination in thirty-five of the forty-eight states.

Mass attendance was in the 75 percent range or better (in contrast to the flagging attendance in increasingly secular western Europe). In Philadelphia churches, for instance, especially those with second and third generation American families, attendance at Sunday mass hovered around 90 percent. Charles R. Morris, an able historian of American Catholicism, described the appeal of the Mass: “The total experience—the dim lights, the glint of the vestments, the glow of the stained-glass windows, the mantra like murmur of the Latin—was mind washing. It calmed the soul, opened the spirit to large, barely grasp Presences is and Purposes. For a trembling moment every week, or every day if they chose, ordinary people reached out and touched the divine.”

Latin liturgy, Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, meatless Fridays, fasting before Mass, the rosary, the Baltimore Catechism, retreats, the novena (in 1938, 70,000 people attended 38 novena services at our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago every week), kneelers, large families dressed in their Sunday best, mantillas, and chapel caps, religious in habits, statues, large gothic or baroque churches with dark, quiet places and side altars, elaborate priestly vestments, the smell of incense, the sound of bells at the Consecration, the feeling of awe at the miracle of Transubstantiation—these were all common features of the American Catholic world in the time of the Church’s fastest growth and greatest self-confidence.

Parochial education was booming; in 1943 there were over 2 million pupils in almost 8,000 schools, and 16,838 men in Catholic seminaries. Some nine million people subscribed to 333 Catholic newspapers in 1942. More than a hundred publishing houses were linked with the Catholic Press Association. There were 726 Catholic hospitals.

Protestant paranoia was in some sense justified by the strong spirit of evangelism reflected in the “Make America Catholic” movement. Catholics reported about 86,000 converts annually in the United States. A serious attempt to reach African-Americans was underway. Urban laborers were increasingly attracted to the pro-labor teachings of Leo XIII, the “Pope of the working man.”

Many liberal intellectuals were outraged by the Church’s prosperity during this period. … Attacks reached their crescendo in 1949 and Paul Blanchard’s best-selling book American Freedom and Catholic Power. Begun as a series of 12 articles in The Nation, Blanchard’s book called the Catholic hierarchy rigid, medieval, fascist, totalitarian, tyrannical, bigoted, un-American, arrogant, dishonest, and the enemy of science and objective learning. He said that Catholicism conditions people to accept censorship, thought control, and ultimately dictatorship. There is no doubt the parochial school, whatever may be its virtues, is the most important, decisive instrument in the life of American children. Blanchard called for a “resistance movement” to prevent the Church from taking over America and crushing “western democracy and American culture” (pp. 163-167).

Yes, those were, at least to an external observer, the halcyon days of the Church in the United States. Tomorrow’s post will center around the Church in Europe, where in this same period the situation was quite different: the two horrifying World Wars had severely shaken the faith of Catholics there, and the number of practicing Catholics was plummeting. In America, a similar decline would wait another twenty years.

Something must have been going on under the surface for the Church to have collapsed so quickly. As a Church we were certainly ill-prepared for the cultural tsunami that hit in the 1960s. Wave after wave rolled through, sweeping away all that was familiar. The waves of the sexual revolution, radical feminism, rebellion against authority and tradition, drug use, no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, the normalization of fornication and homosexual acts, cohabitation, and now the bizarre world of “transgenderism.” Yes, wave after wave; it was a rapid destruction.

The roots of modern ills stretch back philosophically to the close of the Middle Ages, as the rise of Nominalism spun an ugly, though intricate, web through Descartes, Locke, and Hume, and ultimately to Nietzsche and Nihilism or Sartre and Existentialism. In effect, we increasingly stepped back from reality, either in nihilistic madness declaring that nothing has meaning, or in existential hubris claiming that we make up our own meaning. Like a witch’s brew, this was bubbling in the background.

In the Church, we sought to resist this through the Counter-Reformation and later through resistance to Modernism, but during the bloody and revolutionary 20th century we lost ground and increasingly compromised with the world. We allowed our ancient, distinctive Catholic faith to slip through our fingers.

While the Second Vatican Council was surely a major battlefield, the war was bigger and older than that (for a thoughtful treatment of this period I recommend reading Roberto de Mattei’s book The Second Vatican Council, an Unwritten Story). For, truth be told, the ones sowing revolution inside the Church were raised in the “old system”: the Latin Mass, the old Catechism, regimented seminary formation (usually in Latin).

The college students sowing the cultural revolution were also raised in the old system: prayer and the pledge of allegiance in the schools, and for Catholics, the Latin Mass, parochial school with uniforms, and solid catechetical foundations.

So, even in those halcyon days, something was brewing. It seems that the external glory of the Church in America during the 1940s and 50s was three thousand miles wide but only two inches deep. When the earth shook with our indignation in the 1960s, things broke up quickly. Angry rebellion was everywhere; iconoclasm was widespread, and we congratulated ourselves as the wrecking balls hit just about everything.

Something came over us that was bigger and went further back than this four-year council. Some of us like to point to the vision of Pope Leo XIII in 1884 and the hundred years of trial that God permitted for the Church. As the years tick on well past one hundred, I wonder if the explanation isn’t more complicated and mysterious; God’s providence is often paradoxical. One thing is clear to me: we are under a period of pruning and punishment for our sins. Ten years ago, I had no idea the rot was so deep. It is so much worse than I ever thought then, and I am convinced we are going to see a lot more exposed in the next few years.

I sit before the cross in the rectory chapel frequently these days. Even as I type this, I am near it. Often, I just sigh. There are no words to express the grief I feel for the Church, the Lord’s Bride, and my Mother. How we, her children, have soiled her beautiful garments and torn at them! But she is always the Bride and never the widow; her Groom lives forever.

Here in this chapel, in the Eucharistic Presence of the Groom, I await the renewal He will surely bring. I am aware that more purification may be needed first, and so I wait, I sigh, and I accept my share in the purifications.

The following motet is by William Byrd:

Ne irascaris Domine, satis,  
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae.
Ecce respice populus tuus omnes nos.

 Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.
Sion deserta facta est,
Jerusalem desolata est.

Be not angry, O Lord; enough.
and remember our iniquity no more.
Behold, we are all your people.

Your holy city has become deserted.
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem has been made desolate.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Lament for the Diminishing Church

Ignoring the Poor Is a Damnable Sin—A Homily for the 26th Sunday of the Year

This Sunday’s Gospel about the rich man and Lazarus contains some important teachings on judgment and Hell. We live in times in which many consider the teachings on Hell to be untenable. They struggle to understand how a God described as loving, merciful, and forgiving could assign certain souls to Hell forever. Despite the fact that the Doctrine of Hell is taught extensively in Scripture as well as by Jesus Himself, it does not comport well with many modern notions and so many people think that it has to go.

The parable addresses some of the modern concerns about Hell. Prior to looking at the reading, it is important to understand why Hell has to exist. I have written on that topic extensively here.  What follows is a brief summary of that lengthier article.

Hell must exist for one essential reason: respect. God has made us free and respects our freedom to choose His Kingdom or not. The Kingdom of God is not a mere abstraction. It has some very specific values, and these are realized and experienced perfectly in Heaven.

The values of the Kingdom of God include love, kindness, forgiveness, justice to the poor, generosity, humility, mercy, chastity, love of Scripture, love of the truth, worship of God, and the centrality of God.

Unfortunately, there are many people who do not want anything to do with those values, and God will not force them to. Everyone may want to go to Heaven, but Heaven is not merely what we want it to be; it is what it is, as God has set it forth. Heaven is the Kingdom of God and its values in all their fullness.

There are some (many, according to Jesus) who live in a way that consistently demonstrates their lack of interest in Heaven. They do this by showing that they are not interested in one or many of the Kingdom’s values. Hell “has to be” because God respects people’s freedom to choose to live in this way. Because such people demonstrate that they do not want Heaven, God respects their freedom to choose “other arrangements.”

In a way, this is what Jesus says in John’s Gospel, when He states that judgment is about what we prefer: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). In the end, you get what you want: light or darkness. Sadly, many prefer the darkness. The day of judgment discloses our final preference; God respects that even if it is not what He would want for us

This leads us to the Gospel, which we will look at in three stages.

I. The Ruin of the Rich Man – As the Gospel opens, we see a rich man (some call him Dives, which simply means “rich”). There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.

It is clear that he lives very well and has the ability to help the poor man, Lazarus, who is outside his gate. But he does not do so.

The rich man’s sin is not so much one of hate as of indifference. He is living in open rejection of one of the Kingdom’s most important values: love of the poor. His insensitivity is literally a “damnable sin”; it lands him in Hell. His ruin is his insensitivity to the poor.

The care of the poor may be a complicated matter, and there may be different ways of approaching it, but we can we never consider ourselves exempt if it is within our means to help. We cannot avoid judgment for greed and insensitivity. As God said in last week’s reading regarding those who are insensitive to the poor, The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done (Amos 8:7). God may well “forget” many of our sins (cf Is 43:23; Heb 8:12), but apparently disregarding the needs of the poor isn’t one of them.

This rich man has repeatedly rejected the Kingdom by his greed and insensitivity. He lands in Hell because he doesn’t want Heaven, where the poor are exalted (cf Luke 1:52).

Abraham explains the great reversal to him: My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.

II. The Rigidity of the Rich Man – You might expect the rich man to have a change of heart and repent, but he does not. Looking up into Heaven, he sees Lazarus next to Abraham, but rather than finally recognizing Lazarus’ dignity and seeking his forgiveness, he tells Abraham to send Lazarus to Hell with a pail of water to refresh him. The rich man still sees Lazarus as beneath him (even though he has to look up to see him); he sees Lazarus as an errand boy.

Notice that the rich man does not ask to be admitted to Heaven! Although he is unhappy with where he is, he still does not seem to desire Heaven and the Kingdom of God with all its values. He has not really changed. He regrets his current torment but does not see Heaven as a solution. Neither does he want to appreciate Lazarus’ exalted state. The rich man wants to draw Lazarus back to the lower place he once occupied.

This helps to explain why Hell is eternal. It would seem that there is a mystery of the human person that we must come to accept: we reach a point in life when our character is forever fixed, when we can no longer change. When exactly this occurs is not clear; perhaps it is at the moment of death itself.

The Fathers of the Church often thought of the human person as clay on a potter’s wheel. As long as it is on the wheel and moist it can be molded, but when the clay is taken off the wheel and placed in the fiery kiln (fire is judgment day (cf 1 Cor 3:15)), its shape is forever fixed.

The rich man manifests this fixed quality. He is unhappy with his torments, even wanting to warn his brothers, but apparently he does not intend to change or somehow he is unable to change.

This is the basis for the teaching that Hell is eternal: once having encountered our fiery judgment, we will no longer be able to change. Our decision against the Kingdom of God and its values (a decision that God, in sadness, respects) will be forever fixed.

III. The Reproof for the Rest of Us – The rich man, though he cannot or will not change, would like to warn his brothers. He thinks that perhaps if Lazarus would rise from the dead and warn them, they would repent!

We are the rich man’s brethren, and we are hereby warned. The rich man wanted exotic measures, but Abraham said,They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

This reply is dripping with irony, given Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

We should not need miraculous signs to bring us conversion. The phrase “they have Moses and the prophets” is a Jewish way of saying that they have Scripture.

The Scriptures are clear to lay out the way before us. They give us the road map to Heaven and we only need to follow it. We ought not to need an angel or a ghost or some extraordinary sign. The Scriptures and the teachings of the Church should be sufficient.

Their message is clear enough: daily prayer, daily Scripture, weekly Eucharist, frequent confession, and repentance all lead to a change of heart wherein we begin to love the Kingdom of God and its values. We become more merciful, kind, generous, loving toward the poor and needy, patient, chaste, devout, and self-controlled.

Hell exists! It has to exist because we have a free choice to make, and God will respect that choice even if he does not prefer it.

Each of us is free to choose the Kingdom of God—or not. This Gospel makes it clear that our ongoing choices lead to a final, permanent choice, at which time our decision will be forever fixed.

The modern world needs to sober up. There is a Hell and its existence is both reasonable and in conformity with a God who both loves us and respects our freedom.

If you have any non-biblical notions in this regard, consider yourself reproved. Popular or not, Hell is taught, as is the sobering notion that many prefer its darkness to the light of God’s Kingdom.

The care of the poor is very important to God. Look through your closet this week and give away what you can. Look at your financial situation and see if it is pleasing to God. The rich man was not cruel, just insensitive and unaware. How will you and I respond to a Gospel like this?

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Ignoring the Poor Is a Damnable Sin—A Homily for the 26th Sunday of the Year

Life Is Hard, as Seen in a Commercial

The following commercial illustrates the truth that “life is hard.” In this case, it comes in the form of being pelted with items ranging from broccoli to rubber duckies to an entire wedding cake. These sorts of things are only important in a decadent, privileged cultural environment. In less privileged parts of the world people struggle with basics like getting enough to eat, finding shelter from the elements, and avoiding fatal diseases. Most of the “problems” we have in the modern United States are ones others wished they had.

Nevertheless, the basic truth remains: life is hard. Its challenges are many, and God permits them to humble us and to help us grow. You have to be tough to endure. The Lord expects us to “man up” to our challenges.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Life Is Hard, as Seen in a Commercial