On Blaming Others, as Seen in a Humorous Video

in the CourtroomWe live in a litigious culture, especially here in America, where we think of most things in terms of the law and legislation. If there is a problem, one of our first thoughts is to have lawmakers or judges craft a solution.

This is also true with assessing blame for things. Not long ago, perhaps fifty years or so, we were more accepting of the fact that accidents sometimes happen, and that they are the fallout of many factors, including the involvement of human beings in the situation. I use the word “fallout” deliberately, since the word “accident” comes from the Latin accidens, meaning “that which ‘falls alongside’ of something.” Many unfortunate events have complex origins, a kind of witch’s brew or perfect storm of factors that come together. For example, an accident at a processing plant might involve a combination of human error, improper maintenance, lax safety precautions, poor training, a sleepy employee, a rush order, etc. It is almost never just one thing.

In the absence of malice or extreme negligence, we were once more willing to admit that sometimes accidents just happen and that we should concentrate on improving the situation. Today the more frequent response is to look for someone (hopefully someone with deep pockets) to blame so that lawsuits can be brought.

Further, there was more acceptance of so-called “acts of God” such as storms and earthquakes. These, too, were things we chalked up to unfortunate circumstances, which we all had to expect and factor in. For example, if it snowed everyone was expected to use caution by walking more carefully, discerning whether work or other activities should be cancelled, and generally factoring in the presence of snow and ice. Today, however, if someone slips and falls on my sidewalk it is assumed to be my fault for not shoveling it well enough. Even if I made some effort to clear it, if I didn’t achieve a perfect surface I might be sued.

I remember one bitter cold morning when an angry parishioner pointed to ice in the parking lot and said, “Look at your parking lot; it’s covered with ice!” I responded to her with some mirth, “I swear I didn’t do it!” She smiled, realizing that we all too often look for someone to blame. Sometimes ice just can’t reasonably be removed in time or even at all. So we all need to adjust and proceed with caution.

Today we frequently look for someone to blame; we expect comfort and a sort of perfection without any difficulties or dangers. Life is a little more complex than that.

In this post, I do not propose to find the definitive answer as to what should be punished/fined and what should be chalked up to unfortunate circumstances. This is more of a light-hearted reflection that occurred to me as I watched this video, which I hope you will enjoy.

An Image of Grace in a Paul Simon Song

gospel musicI’ve got my Gospel glasses on and my holy hearing aids in; I’m seeing and hearing God in strange places. There are several Paul Simon songs that bring holy thoughts to me, even if he didn’t mean them that way. One them is this one (followed by my commentary):

When I was a little boy,
and the devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consecrated boy

Singer in a Sunday choir

Refrain: Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Oh, she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And she loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

When I was grown to be a man
and the devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man
I can snatch a little purity

Refrain: My mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Oh, she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

And if I was President
and the congress call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?”

I’ve got the presidential seal
I’m up on the presidential podium

Refrain: My mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
And she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

Here’s my commentary, wearing my Gospel glasses and with my holy hearing aids in:

When I was a little boy, and the devil would call my name. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, with fallen natures. And even the youngest find that these thrice-fallen forces reach them. Scriptures are clear in saying that the devil is prowling through the world like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour. We are to resist him, solid in our faith (cf 1 Peter 5:8).

I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?” There is a power within the soul to refuse Satan’s voice. Where does this power come from? It comes first from our freedom, from our will. It also comes from the voice of our conscience, the voice of God that echoes in the depths of our soul saying, This is the way walk in it (Is 30:21). Even the youngest children know basic right and wrong. It is not hard to appeal to them to understand what they’ve done wrong. But because of the weakness of our human nature, our inclination to selfishness, and our tendency to justify sin, we need additional help.

I’m a consecrated boy; singer in a Sunday choir. This describes a young man who has been consecrated in Baptism and is walking within the life and sacraments of the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism and the life of the Church give us additional insight to understand that the voice of the devil is seeking to deceive us. But human soul and intellect—illumined by the consecration of Baptism, the other sacraments of the Church, and strengthened by the fellowship of the Church —further strengthen us to be able to say to the devil,

“Who do you think you’re you fooling? I’ve been consecrated and I’m living my life in the light of God’s truth as expressed in the Church. I see your darkness for what it is and I’m not fooled. It is error; it is deception. It is darkness, not the light! I am no fool because, consecrated in baptism, the wisdom of God has reached me.”

Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me. She get down on her knees and hug me, oh she loves me like a rock. She rocks me like the rock of ages, and loves me. She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me. And this “mama” is Mother Church, who loves us as a mother. She is our mother because we have come forth from her womb, the baptismal font, having been conceived by the chaste union with her beloved spouse, Jesus.

She is Mother Church, Christ’s bride, and oh, how she loves us! Down on her knees in prayer for us, she reaches out and embraces us. Yes, she loves us!

It will be noted, that the word “love” occurs seven times in the song’s refrain. Mother Church loves us sevenfold. Is it the seven sacraments? Is it the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is it the seven corporal works of mercy? Is it the seven spiritual works of mercy? Yes, and more besides! It is love in all its perfection.

And in her sevenfold, prayerful love that embraces us, she loves us like a rock. This is the rock of Peter upon whom Christ, the rock of ages, builds His Church.

When I was grown to be a man – All of us are called to the maturity of Christ.

  • We [must] all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So may we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of erroneous doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:13-14).
  • Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults (1 Cor 14:20).

Our Mother Church raises us to be mature in the fullness of Christ’s truth.

And the devil would call my name – Still the devil calls. He does not give up, hence we must remain ever-vigilant. So the song still says, “… who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man. Yes, we are called to full maturity in Christ, as stated above.

I can snatch a little purity. The strength to resist the devil comes from the maturity and purity that come to us in our walk with Christ and by the ministry of His Bride and our Mother, the Church. The purity and maturity of our faith help us to see even more deeply how the devil tries to fool us. Then we can reject him in strength, and with certainty and clarity.

Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me. Yes, she does! The Church just keeps on loving us. Sadly, many walk away from the Church in young adulthood. For those who come to maturity in Christ, the ever-stronger devil requires an even stronger capacity on our part to say, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” This comes through our maturity, wrought in us by our Mother, the Church. She raises us up in the faith to be strong and mature, teaches us the Word of God, bestows His sacraments, and gives us Holy Teaching. Thank you, Mother Church, for loving me like a rock!

The last verse gets a little strange and must be interpreted allegorically, not politically.

And if I was President – In other words, even if I should rise to the highest worldly power, even should I become a great leader.

And the congress call my name – While to modern American ears this refers to the people gathered in Washington, D.C. (the U.S. Congress), the word “congress” itself comes from two Latin roots: con (with) and gradi (go or walk). “Congress” means “coming or being together with,” or more literally, “going with.”

Scripture often warns of those who gather against us, telling us that they are often gathered by Satan himself. Jesus warns of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 3:9; 2:9). “Synagogue” is just the Hebrew word that means gathering or “congress.”  The Book of Psalms also warns of those who gather against us:

Rise up Lord against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples (Synagogus) gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. Let the Lord judge these people (Psalm 7:7-8).

The devil often calls our name through pressure groups, through our desire to be popular, or through those who are together against us tempting us to do wrong. And thus this verse reminds me that even should I rise to the highest places, with many gathered about me pressuring me to do wrong or trying to intimidate me, yet still will I say to the devil, “Who do you think you’re fooling?”

I got the presidential seal. In other words, I have the highest seal, the seal of the Holy Spirit!

I’m up on the presidential podium. That is, I have the highest office, the office of prophet. I am one who speaks for God by this office! And despite the hatred of the world that comes to me from proclaiming God’s Word, and despite the gathering of my enemies all around me, yet still will I proclaim God’s Word as God’s prophet!

And through whatever hatred comes from those who gather against me, my mama loves me, she loves me like a rock. Yes, I have the love of my Mother, the Church, and my Lord, Jesus Christ, who is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.

You may say, “Well, this is all a bit much. And your interpretation is surely far from what the lyricist probably ever intended.” That’s fair enough, but with my Gospel glasses on, I see Christ everywhere. With my holy hearing aids in, I hear Jesus all the time.

 

A Simple Directive from God in Times Like These

A silhouette of a young Christian woman is bowing her head in prayer, and desperation outside during sunset.

Beginning in 721 B.C., after repeated warnings from the prophets, terrible waves of destruction came on the Jewish people. The Assyrians invaded and conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel. The survivors were exiled and in a certain sense were not heard from again. (They are often called the “Ten lost tribes of Israel.”)

Small, feeble attempts at reform in the south for Judah and the Levites were mostly unsuccessful. Again, despite repeated warnings from the prophets, 587 B.C. was witness to another wave of destruction: the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Jerusalem. The city lay in ruins, the temple burned and looted. The survivors were exiled in Babylon and for eighty years the Promised Land lay in ruins.

How could this be? Why would God allow His people to be conquered? Worse yet, how could He allow the temple to be destroyed?

But He did. God does not care about buildings and land. He cares about the temple of our soul and a harvest of justice.

Even though His people were severely pruned and waiting for a spring of new growth, God did not forsake them utterly; He nurtured a remnant in Babylon. Through His prophets, God taught them to remain faithful and to await the day of liberation that would surely come.

We do well to look at a repentance text, a simple and humble text with very few moving parts. Why? Because many of us, especially the older of us, remember a once-flourishing Church that had enormous numbers and was influential in the culture. Back then over 80% of Catholics attended Mass every Sunday. Our schools and churches were packed and the faithful were generally respectful of Church teaching. Poor laborers and immigrants built glorious monuments to the faith along with schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages. While we ought not to idealize those times, it is hard to argue that they did not produce a remarkable legacy of buildings, institutions, and large Catholic families.

But a cultural earthquake in the West shook us vigorously and many were lost to us. Today only 20-25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. Once-packed churches have closed or been merged with others. Schools and seminaries have been shuttered and a flock that was once largely obedient has been infested with dissenting voices up to some of the highest levels. Birthrates have plummeted, liturgy has widely degraded, and catechesis seems ineffective against a secular juggernaut. Even those who have tried to stay faithful feel lost, weak, and discouraged.

It is not 587 B.C. by a longshot, but we cannot help but see some similarities. It may be good to recall this simple, humble text summoning all to repentance and encouraging the faithful remnant to stay true:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).

Well, what do you think? Is this really so complicated? The Lord seeks a humble, broken people who seek Him and His truth. Are you among them? Be careful, the Lord is not seeking a people who are proud and who denounce others; He had that in the Pharisees. What if changing others were not my primary task? What if repenting more deeply of my own sins were my focus? What if humbling myself were to come before finding fault in others? What if turning from my own sins were what would get God’s attention and bring healing on this land?

It’s pretty hard to change the world, but when it comes to my own life I stand a chance to be able to affect my acreage and claim it back for God.

King Jesus is listening all day long to hear a humble sinner pray. Too often we assess the problems in others, in the rival political party, in secularism, in culture. All of these areas certainly need help, but when do we ever get around to following what God asks of us: that we humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and repent of our sinful ways?

I don’t know how or even if our land will be healed. Better cultures and empires than ours have fallen. But empires and cultures consist of individuals, and among us God seeks those who will humble themselves, seek His face, and turn from their sinful ways. Why not me? Why not you? Why complicate things? It is easier to wear slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. What is God asking you to do to change this Hell-bound, sin-soaked world? Why not do it? What if the change of the whole world were to begin with you and me?

Compare and Contrast! Two Pictures from Different Ages – Which Age Looks Healthier?

blog10-25-001A couple of years ago I was  in Burgos, Spain and saw the splendid cathedral there. My first views of it came at night and I took the photo at the upper right. What a magnificent building; such proportion and symmetry! To me there is the echo of tall trees in a forest, majestically reaching up to the heavens. There is also evident a great advance in building technique in the flying buttresses that support the soaring walls and towers.

These were the skyscrapers of the middle ages. Such angular, geometric, and vertical beauty; a fair flower of the 13th century echoing God’s creation and pointing to  Him in a great work of human praise.

Two medieval phrases come to mind in the beauty of this building. Beauty is:

  1. Beauty is id quod visum placet – (Beauty is) that which pleases when seen.
  2. Pulchra dicuntur quae visa placent – Things that give pleasure when seen are called beautiful.

blog10-25-002 A mere thirty yards from this beautiful cathedral in the town square was something that is not beautiful in any traditional sense. I took the photo of it that is here on the left. It was not lightsome; it seemed to correspond to nothing in creation (unless one were to imagine a dinosaur dropping or some giant stumbling block). Frankly, like most modern abstract art, it looks more to me like someone’s nightmare. It seems to have little to say other than “Try to figure me out, you ignoramus.” For indeed, that is what I am usually called by art critics when I express dismay at these sorts of ugly blobs that clutter too many of our public squares and “art” museums today.

There are some who mistakenly call the Middle Ages the “Dark Ages” and smugly call our age “enlightened.” Certainly no age is perfect, but compare and contrast the two items in the photos here: one is lightsome, soaring, and inspiring; the other is dark, brooding, and opaque as to its meaning. One is a lightsome building from the 13th century, the other a dark “who-knows-what” from the 20th century. Based on representational art, which age seems more inspiring? Which seems more enlightened? You decide. But I’ll take the 13th century.

St. Thomas Aquinas (also from the 13th century) spoke of beauty as consisting of integritas, consonantia, and claritas.  He writes,

For beauty includes three conditions: “integrity” or “perfection,” since those things which are impaired are by the very fact ugly; due “proportion” or “harmony”; and lastly, “brightness” or “clarity,” whence things are called beautiful which have a bright color (Summa Theologica I, 38, art 8).

In applying these criteria to human art and architecture, we might consider the following:

 Integritas (integrity) – This speaks to the manner in which something echoes the beauty of what God has done. Thomas says that every created being is beautiful since God gives beauty to all created beings by a certain participation in the divine beauty. Therefore, human art and architecture are said to have integrity insofar as they participate in and point to the divine beauty of things. This need not mean an exact mimicry but at least a respectful glance to creation, holding some aspect of it forth so as to edify us with better and higher things. The cathedral above points to a majestic forest as its form, its soaring stone to the mountains. Its colored glass allows the natural light to dazzle the eye and tell the stories of the Gospel. It is a sermon in glass and stone. As such, it has integrity, since it tells forth God’s glory. I’m not sure what the dark metal blob says. To what does it point? I have no idea. As such, it does not have integrity, since it is not integrated into the glory of creation in any way that I can discern. It seems rather to mock creation. If you think it is beautiful and has integrity, I invite you so explain why and how. But I am at a loss to see any meaning at all in it.

Consonantia (proportion) – This refers to the order and unity within a given thing. What God creates has a unity and purpose in its parts, which work together in an orderly fashion to direct something to its proper function or end. Thus art and architecture intrinsically bespeak a unity and functionality or they point to it extrinsically. They make sense of the world and respect what is given, reflecting the beauty of order, purpose, and design that God has set forth. The cathedral is beautiful because its parts act together in an orderly and harmonious way. There is balance, proportion, and symmetry. There is a recta ratio factibilium (something made according to right reason). As such, the building participates in God’s good order; that is a beautiful thing. As for the dark metal “thing” (I don’t know what to call it), it doesn’t seem to me to have any proportion. It is roundish, but not really. Does it have parts? Do they work together for some end? If so, what end? I cannot tell. Rather than pointing to order, it makes me think of chaos. As such, I see no beauty echoed or pointed to.

Claritas (clarity) – It is through clarity that we can answer the question, “What is it?” with an ample degree of precision and ready understanding. Claritas also refers to the brightness or radiance of a thing. Something of God’s glory shines through; something about it gives light; something teaches and reminds us of God, and God and light are beautiful. The beautiful cathedral reflects the light shining on it, even at night. During the day it proclaims the glory of God by its soaring majesty, its sculptures, its windows, its order and proportion. It is a bright light showing forth the brightness of God and participating in it. As for the metal thing, it seems more to suck the light out of the room; it broods. I see no clarity, no brightness. I still cannot answer the question that clarity demands: “What is it?” There is no clear message. As such, it lacks beauty.

The criteria of beauty discussed here cannot be used for labeling things “beautiful” with absolute certainty, as if by applying a formula. They are more like guidelines to help us pin down some notion of beauty that is not purely subjective. Not all these criteria must be present for an object to be considered beautiful, and the presence of one does not guarantee that the object is beautiful.

So again, you decide. Each item pictured above is emblematic of its age. Were the “Dark Ages” really so dark? And is ours really so enlightened? Compare and contrast!

Our Lady of Fatima – Her Prophecies and Warnings Remain as Essential as Ever!

fatimaThis week on October 13 and 14th I am in Fatima. Such a profound apparition occurred there, and so accurately prophetic of our times!

Our Lady’s warnings of the consequences if we did not pray and convert have proven to be sadly accurate. She warned of another, more terrible war (World War II). She spoke of great lights in the sky that would serve as a final warning before the terrible war. (They appeared all over Europe just before Hitler invaded Poland, in the form of a stunning display of the Aurora Borealis.) She said that Russia would spread her errors, that the Church would have much to suffer, and she warned of a pope who would be struck down.

A final and belated prophecy from Fatima seems to have come in the form of a letter written by Sister Lucia to Cardinal Carlo Caffara. He had written to her asking for her prayers as he had been commissioned by Pope John Paul II to establish the Pontifical Institute for the Studies on Marriage and the Family. The year was 1981. According to Cardinal Caffara, she wrote back with the following:

[T]he final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, she added, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. And then she concluded: however, Our Lady has already crushed its head. [*]

Thus, from Fatima comes one accurate prophecy after another. Here we are today, locked in a terrible battle over the most basic units of any civilization: families and the marriages that form them. Fatima, the great prophecy of our time and a summons to sobriety and prayer!

Something else that has always intrigued me about Fatima is the name of the town itself. Fatima is a town bearing the name of the daughter of Mohammed; this is so stunning! Why of all places would Mary appear there? Is it just coincidence? If you think so, you have not pondered that everything about the apparition of Fatima is prophetic.

The great Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book The World’s First Love, reflected on its significance and posed a few questions. Please note that the book was written in 1952 and therefore some of the spellings are not the modern ones. Here are some excerpts:

The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth … The Koran also has verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying, Oh Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth. In the 19th chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran in the fourth book, attributes the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatima is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too.

Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

Missionaries, in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ himself is born. In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which the people already accept. Because the Moslems have devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and develop that devotion, with the full realization that our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a “traitor,” in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, bit will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son.

A beautiful reflection by Archbishop Sheen and one we can surely hope will come to pass! Relations are much tenser between Christians and Muslims today than in 1952. But Fatima is the apparition that just keeps prophesying.

It is nothing less than astonishing that Mary should appear in a town with the name of Fatima. Surely this is no mere coincidence. As Sheen points out, Heaven does nothing without purpose. It is very clear to me that we are not to pass over this detail. “Our Lady of Fatima” has a different ring to it when we consider that Fatima is more than a place; Fatima is the daughter of Muhammad and the greatest woman in Islam. “Our Lady of Fatima” sounds and feels so different when it is heard in this context of person rather than place. It is hugely significant.

It seems clear that Mary will play an important role in the years ahead as the Muslim/Christian conflict likely grows sharper. Perhaps, as Sheen notes, she will be the bridge that connects two vastly different cultures; the common mother who keeps her children talking. Right now this connection seems little pursued, even (as far as I can tell) by the Vatican.

The Guadalupe connection – I wonder, too, if the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe presents some historical parallels to our current struggle with the Muslim world. In the early 16th Century in Mexico, missionaries had made only meager progress in bringing the Aztec people to Christ. This was a combination of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the indigenous people by the Spanish soldiers, and also of the fearful superstition surrounding the Aztec gods. The people were locked in with the fear that unless they fed these gods with horrific human sacrifices, their greatest god, the sun, would no longer shine.

Into this fearful and suspicious setting entered Mother Mary. The miraculous image she left in 1531 was richly symbolic. Her face is that of a mother: gentle and compassionate, unlike the appearance of the frightening Aztec gods, who wore fierce masks. Her features seem to be both Aztec and European, two cultures combined in kindness and peace. Her attitude is one of humble prayer, so she is clearly not a god(dess). She is a merciful mother who consoles and prays for us. She is to be honored but not adored. The black band around her waist means that she is with child and offers Jesus to the people. Her message is about Him. The sun was the greatest of the Aztec gods, so by standing in front of it, Mary shows that she is greater than even their greatest god. To the Aztecs, the moon represented the god of darkness and death. That Mary is standing on the moon is a sign that these powers, too, are defeated by the Son she bears.

Mary brought the breakthrough. Within ten years, over twelve million Mexicans came to Christ and entered the Catholic Church.

This history is paralleled in many ways today in the current tensions with the Muslim World. In many Muslim lands today, conversions are few. Part of the reason for this is a strong aversion to the Western culture from which Catholicism comes. Many Muslims also hold grievances due to alleged American and Western “mistreatment.” Finally, a large factor is fear. In many parts of the Muslim world, leaving the Muslim faith is likely to get one killed. So, it is a combination of a wide cultural gulf, grievances, and fear that keep conversions low. All of this is not unlike the situation in 16th century Mexico.

Is Mary key to this? It took Mary to bridge all these similar gaps between the Aztecs and the Christian missionaries. Might Mary also be that bridge today when similar gaps divide people? Time will tell, but one of her greatest modern titles is “Our Lady of Fatima.” And then there is the crescent moon, upon which Mary stands in the image of Guadalupe. In modern times the crescent moon is the symbol of Islam. By God’s grace, and with love and humility, Mother Mary of Guadalupe was victorious in overcoming the false religion of the Aztecs.

Might this crescent moon on which Our Lady of Guadalupe stands also point to our times and the crescent moon of Islam? Might it indicate that her victories, by God’s grace, are not at an end? Perhaps we can hope that what our Lady of Guadalupe was to the Aztec people of Mexico, Our Lady of Fatima will be to the Muslim people of the world.

As always, I invite your comments and answers to my questions.

Here is “Immaculate Mary,” sung in Arabic:

Men Are More Disinclined to Marry Than Ever – A Reflection on a Serious Problem

A 2012 report on men and marriage by the Pew Research Center shows statistically what many of us have noticed anecdotally: men are finding marriage less desirable than in the past and are now marrying later, if at all.

In today’s post I want to present some excerpts from a hard-hitting article that appeared at Lifesite News in 2013, commenting on the Pew study. The full article can be read here: Men Giving Up on Marriage.

As usual, I present the text from the original article in bold, black italics, while my own poor commentary is in plain red text.

Fewer young men in the US want to get married than ever. … The number of young adult men saying that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent [since 1997].

The latest census data showed “barely half” of all adults in the United States are currently married, a “record low.” Since 1960, the number of married adults has decreased from 72 percent to 51 [percent] today and the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by five percent between 2009 and 2010.

Moreover, the median age at first marriage continues to rise, with women getting married the first time at 26.5 years and men at 28.7 [years]. The declines in marriage are “most dramatic” among young adults. Just 20 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960.

In my mere 26 years of priesthood, I have seen the number of weddings I perform each year decrease from 35 to 5, and the average age of engaged couples increase from 24 to 31. These are startling changes, and they largely match those experienced by other priests with whom I have discussed the matter.

29 percent of young adult men desiring marriage is an amazingly low figure. The article notes that the things that once motivated men to marry in the past are largely in eclipse now. Men once enjoyed the esteem they garnered by marrying, and were motivated by the challenge of being breadwinners. Getting married was once a proper and approved way of attaining status, and legitimately enjoying sexual intimacy. It was part of the passage to manhood.

But today, many (if not most) women don’t need (or don’t think they need) men to provide for them economically. It’s goodbye to any notion of the esteem of being a provider.

Further, in an age of promiscuity, most men don’t need marriage to open the door to sexual encounters. Only a few “old-fashioned” Catholic priests and traditionalist Catholics raise any eyebrows at men’s “playing the field.” And women as a group (with certain notable exceptions) seem less insistent on expecting men to connect sexual intimacy and marriage.

Add to this the financial bondage introduced by the racket that college education has become. Many young people graduate from college with six-figure debt. And when undergraduate degrees no longer open doors, advanced degrees became necessary, bringing on even more debt.

And finally, add one more thing: pornography. It is more available than ever before. And though it is theoretically more privately accessible than previously, I would point out that there is nothing private about the Internet; Internet service providers know every site you have ever visited.

Sadly, many young men honestly admit that they prefer pornography to real women. Pornography doesn’t talk back or have preferences or moods. Real relationships are complex and require navigation and negotiation. Pornography, it would seem, is a narcissistic paradise. Click through to your current preference; it’s all about you and what you want. And at the end, the object of your fantasy disappears and does not have issues or attitudes with which you must deal.

The overall image is of a cauldron, filled with a witch’s brew or a satanic stew. That men and women marry at all today is increasingly miraculous. I always make a point of congratulating and thanking engaged couples that get to my rectory door for beating the odds and having the gumption to swim upstream.

Pew’s findings have caught the attention of one US writer who maintains that feminism, deeply entrenched in every segment of the culture, has created an environment in which young men find it more beneficial to simply opt out of [marriage] entirely

Suzanne Venker [in her] article, “The War on Men,” … points out that for the first time in U.S. history, the number of women in the workforce has surpassed the number of men, while more women than men are acquiring university degrees. …

With feminism pushing them out of their traditional role of breadwinner, protector, and provider—and divorce laws increasingly creating a dangerously precarious financial prospect for the men cut loose from marriage—men are simply no longer finding any benefit in it. …

“When I ask [men] why, the answer is always the same: women aren’t women anymore.” Feminism, which teaches women to think of men as the enemy, has made women “angry” and “defensive, though often unknowingly.” 

“Men are tired,” Venker wrote. “Tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Tired of being told that if women aren’t happy, it’s men’s fault.”

Most men I know perceive that they are often considered by the wider culture as deficient, even depraved. The “men are stupid” commercials and sitcoms abound. Men are often presented as buffoons, who need women and children to “set them straight” on the simplest of things.

Schools, dominated by feminist ideology, have made a pathology of the normal behavior of boys, which includes competition and roughhousing. They seek to feminize boys, going even so far as to encourage medication for them. Most of these boys merely have the spit and vinegar that was once considered normal, needing to be curbed somewhat rather than suppressed with drugs.

It is little wonder that fewer young men make it to college and are falling behind young women in almost every category. Being told (even indirectly) on a regular basis that you are fundamentally flawed has a significant effect over time.

The article says that feminism has emboldened many women to direct suspicious anger toward men and generally presume that they have bad or evil motives. But it has also caused a lot of men to draw back from the healthy confidence that once bolstered them to go out and seek a wife and to take a leadership role in the community, the Church, and the family.

A feminist culture in effect shames these desires as being “patriarchal.”

This is a situation that should not be celebrated by feminists, Venker says. “It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex … The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals … in order to live the balanced life they seek.”

Yes, in the end it’s usually the biology that kicks in. Truth be told, men and women are meant to be complementary not competitive. Our very body bespeaks a difference that requires the opposite sex to complement it. The design of women’s bodies speaks to bearing children and nurturing them.

A woman who wants to have and raise children well needs time and flexibility. The 9-to-5 career world does not facilitate that. Thus her husband complements her need by taking up the linear and less-flexible career world, leaving her freer to nurture the children.

This used to be obvious to us. But ideology is often disinterested in the obvious. It may be true that we were once too restrictive, limiting certain jobs and careers to men. But for most women, the freedom to work has become the duty to work, even in the childbearing years. It’s a raw deal for everyone: women, men, and especially children.

The bottom line is, it’s never good for anyone, or for civilization as a whole, when huge numbers opt out of or find no access to our most fundamental building block: the traditional family. We must save traditional marriage if we stand any chance of saving our dying civilization.

For further reading, consider Men and Marriage by George Guilder and Eggs are Expensive, Sperm is Cheap by Greg Krehbiel.

“God Wants Me to Be Happy” – A Reflection on a Deeply Flawed Moral Stance

One of the questionable, and unfortunately common, forms of moral reasoning today is the rather narcissistic notion that God wants each of us to be happy. Sometimes it is put in the form of a rhetorical question: God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He?

And this sort of reasoning (if you want to call it that) is used to justify just about anything. Thus, in pondering divorce, a spouse might point to his or her misery and conclude that God would approve of the split because God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He? Many seek to justify so-called same-sex marriage, and other illicit sexual notions in the same way.

Further, other responsibilities are often blithely set aside as too demanding, under the pretext that God would not make difficult demands because, after all, He wants me to be happy. Since getting to Mass is difficult for me, God will understand if I don’t go; He wants me to be happy, not burdened. Forgiving someone is hard and God does not ask hard things of us; He wants me to be happy. Refusing to cooperate with some evil at work would risk my income; surely God would not demand that I withstand it since He wants me to be happy, content, and financially secure.

The notion that God wants me to be happy thus becomes a kind of trump card, some sort of definitive declaration that obviates the need for any further moral reflection. Practically speaking, this means that I am now free to do as I please. Since I am happy, God is happy, and this is His will … or so the thinking goes.

There are, of course, multiple problems with the “God wants me to be happy” moral stance. In the first place, happiness is a complex matter that admits of many subjective criteria including personal development, temporal dimensions, and worldview. For example, a spiritually mature person can find happiness simply in knowing that he is pleasing God by follow His Commandments. On an interpersonal level, many are happy to make sacrifices for the people they love. To others who are less mature, even the smallest sacrifice can seem obnoxious and bring on unhappiness; pleasing God is not even on their radar, let alone something that would make them happy.

Happiness is also temporally variable. Most of us are well aware that happiness tomorrow is often contingent upon making certain sacrifices today. For example, the happiness one gets in taking a vacation is usually dependent upon having saved up some money beforehand. Making sacrifices today enables happiness tomorrow. If all I do is please myself in the moment, insist on being happy right now, my ability to be happy in the future will likely be seriously compromised. Setting no limits today might mean that I am broke tomorrow, or addicted, or unhealthily overweight, or afflicted with a sexually-transmitted disease. True, lasting, deep happiness in the future often requires some sacrifice today, some capacity to say “No” right now. Without any consideration of the future or of eternal life, “happiness” in the moment is vague, foolish, and meaningless, if not outright destructive. God desires our happiness, all right, but the happiness He wants for us is that of eternal life with Him forever. He has clearly indicated that this will often involve forsaking many of the passing pleasures and the “happiness” of this world.

More troubling still is the self-referential and narcissistic aspect contained in the simple little word “me.” God wants me to be happy.

Those who expresses this “me” notion might be surprised to discover that God has bigger things in mind. God actually cares about other people, too! He also cares about future generations and about the common good. Yes, there’s just a little more on God’s radar than you.

So the divorced man who might say, “God wants me to be happy” should consider that God might actually care about his children too; He might care about the culture that suffers due to rampant divorce; He might care about future generations that would inherit a culture shredded by destroyed families.

Wow, God might actually want others to be happy besides me! Even more shockingly, God might want me to sacrifice my happiness for them! He might actually want me to consider them and even regard them as more important that I am.

As a moral reference point, “me” is remarkably narrow and usually self-serving. And yet many today use this almost reflexively and authoritatively. “God wants me to be happy, so all discussions and further deliberations are over. God has spoken through my desires. He wants me to be happy. Who are you to dispute that? We’re done here; I will not be judged by you.”

“God wants me to be happy” is not a legitimate moral principle. It bespeaks a narcissism that is, sadly, too common today. Call it “Stuart Smalley theology.” You don’t know who Stuart Smalley is? This video shows it plainly enough. The bottom line is, don’t be Stuart Smalley.

On Being the Adult in the Room

Happy dancing people silhouettes

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St, Paul has this to say:

And [Christ] gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ (Eph 4:11-15).

Coming to maturity is a basic task in the Christian walk. We are expected grow and come to an adult faith. The Letter to the Hebrews has something very similar to say:

You are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:11-14).

However, we live in times and in a culture in which maturity is often significantly delayed. In fact there are many in our culture who never grow up. I have argued elsewhere that one of the defining characteristics of our culture is its fixation on the teenage years. In psychological terms, a person with a fixation is one who has not successfully navigated one of the stages of childhood and thus remains stuck to some degree in the thinking and patterns of that stage. Our culture’s fixation on teenage issues and attitudes is manifest in some of the following:

  1. Irrational aversion to authority
  2. Refusal to use legitimately use the authority one has
  3. Titillation and irresponsibility regarding sexuality
  4. General irresponsibility and a lack of personal accountability
  5. Demanding all of one’s rights while avoiding most of one’s responsibilities
  6. Blaming others for one’s own personal failings
  7. Being dominated by one’s emotions and carried away easily by the passions
  8. Obsession with fairness, evidenced by the frequent cry, “It’s not fair!”
  9. Expecting others (including government agencies) to do for me what I should do for myself
  10. Aversion to instruction
  11. Irrational rejection of the wisdom of elders and tradition
  12. Obsession with being and looking young, aversion to becoming or appearing old
  13. Lack of respect for elders
  14. Obsession with having thin, young-looking bodies
  15. Glorification of irresponsible teenage idols
  16. Inordinate delay of marriage and widespread preference for the single life

Now it is true that some of the items in the list above have proper adult versions. For example, the “obsession with fairness” can mature and become a commitment to work for justice; aversion to authority can mature to a healthy and respectful insistence that those in authority be accountable to those whom they serve. You may take issue with one of more of the above and may wish to add some distinctions. It is also true that not every teenager has all of the issues listed above. All that is fine, but the point here is that the culture in which we live seems stuck on a lot of teenage attitudes and maturity is significantly delayed on account of it.

Some may also allege a kind of arrogance in my description of our culture as “teenage.” I accept that it is a less-than-flattering portrait of our culture and welcome your discussion of it. But if you reject my categorization then how would you describe our culture? Do you think that we live in a healthy and mature culture?

The call to maturity and the role of the Church – In the midst of all this is God’s expectation (through His Scriptures) that we grow up, that we come to maturity, to the fullness of adult faith. Further, the Church is expected, as an essential part of her ministry, to bring this about in us through God’s grace. Notice that the Ephesians text says that Christ has given Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to equip the holy ones unto this. The Church is thus expected to be “the adult in the room.” She is to summon us to live responsible, mature lives. She summons us to be accountable before others, to be sober, serious, and deeply respectful of God’s authority over us by living lives that are obedient to the faith. She teaches us, by God’s grace, to master our emotions and gain authority over our passions. She holds forth for us the wisdom of tradition and the teachings of the Scriptures, insisting on reverence for these. She insists on correct doctrine and (as the text from Ephesians says) that we no longer be infants, tossed by the waves of the latest fads and stinking thinking, and that we not be swept along by every wind of false teaching arising from human illusions. We are to be stable and mature in our faith and judge the world by it.

Yes, the Church has the rather unpleasant, but necessary, task of being the adult in the room when the world is mired in things teenage, often exhibiting aversion to authority and rules, and crying out that orthodox teaching is “unfair” or “old-fashioned.”

But here we encounter something of an internal problem. The Church has faced the grave temptation to “put on jeans” and adopt the teenage fixations. Sadly, not all leaders in the Church have taken seriously their obligation to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry … until we all attain to the unity of faith and … to mature manhood and the … full stature of Christ.” Preferring popularity to the negative cries that our teachings are “unfair,” many teachers and pastors have succumbed to the temptation to water down the faith and to tolerate grave immaturity on the part of fellow Catholics. Although it would seem that things are improving, we have a long way to go in terms of vigorously reasserting the call to maturity within the Church. Corruptio optimi pessima (the corruption of the best is the worst). Clergy and other Church leaders, catechists, and teachers must insist on their own personal maturity and hold one other accountable in attaining it. We must fulfill our role of equipping the faithful unto mature faith by first journeying to an adult faith ourselves.

The Church is not composed only of clergy and religious. Lay people must also take up their proper role as mature, adult Christians, active in renewing the temporal order. Many already have done this magnificently. But more must follow and be formed in this way. Our culture is in dire need of well-formed Christians to restore greater maturity, sobriety, and responsibility to our culture.

By God’s grace, we are called to be the adult in the room.

I realize that this post may cause controversy. But remember, this is a discussion. I am not pontificating (even though my name is Pope). I am expressing my opinion and trying to initiate a discussion based on a text from Scripture. What do you think?

Here’s a video (from a more mature time) on one aspect of maturity: proper self-reliance. It’s a little corny, but it does model something that is often lacking in families and in youth formation today. We should not usually do for others what they can and should do for themselves. Learning consequences as well as the value and need for hard work is part of maturing. And while there is an appropriate reliance to have on others and a complete reliance to have in God, there is also a proper self-reliance in coming to maturity.