The Lord Is Eager to Engage the Battle; Are You?

The Gospel for Thursday of the 29th Week of the Year speaks of a great cosmic battle taking place all around us. In it, Jesus speaks of His mission to engage our ancient foe and to gather God’s elect back from the enslaving clutches of Satan, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning (cf John 8:44).

Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for the final time and describes the battle that is about to unfold. It is a battle He wins at the cross and with His resurrection, but it is one whose parameters extend across time to our own era.

Let’s consider Jesus’ description of the cosmic battle and of His mission as the great Shepherd of the sheep and the Lord of armies.

A Passion to Purify – Jesus begins by saying, I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Fire is both powerful and transformative. It gives warmth and makes food palatable, but it also consumes and destroys. Nothing goes away from fire unchanged!

The Lord has come to purify us by the fiery power of His love, His grace, and His Word. He has a passion to set things right.

Purification is seldom easy or painless, though, hence the image of fire. In this great cosmic battle, fire must be cast upon the earth not only to purify but to distinguish. There are things that will be made pure but only if other things are burned away and reduced to ashes.

This image of fire is important because many people today have reduced faith to seeking enrichment and blessings. Faith surely supplies these, but it also demands that we take up our cross and follow Christ without compromise. Many if not most enrichment and blessings come through the fiery purification of God’s grace, which burns away sin and purifies us of our adulterous relationship with this world. Fire incites, demands, and causes change—and change is never easy.

Therefore, Jesus announces the fire by which He will judge and purify this earth and all on it, rescuing us from the power of the evil one.

This is no campfire around which we sit singing songs. Jesus describes it as a blaze that must set the whole world on fire!

How do you get ready for fire? By letting the Lord set you on fire! John the Baptist promised of the Lord, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11). Indeed, the Lord sent forth His Spirit on the early Church as tongues of fire (cf Acts 2:3) to bring them up to the temperature of glory and to prepare them for the coming judgment of the world by fire.

The battle is engaged. Choose sides. If you think you can remain neutral or stand on some middle ground, I’ve got news for you about which side you’re really on. No third way is given. You’re either on the ark or you’re not. You’re either letting the fire purify you or you’re being reduced to ashes. You’re either on fire by God’s grace (and thereby ready for the coming judgment of the world by fire) or you’re not. The choice is yours. Jesus is passionate to set things right. He has come to cast fire upon the earth.

A Painful Path The text says, There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!

The Lord does not come among us merely come to get us out of trouble but to get into trouble with us. Though sinless, Jesus takes upon Himself the full weight of human sinfulness and manfully carries it to the cross. He accepts a “baptism” in His own blood on our behalf.

In waging war on our behalf against the evil one, Jesus does not sit in some comfortable headquarters behind the front lines; He goes out “on point,” taking the hill of Calvary and leading us over the top to the resurrection glory. He endures every blow, every hardship on our behalf.

Through His wounds we are healed by being baptized in the very blood and water He shed in the great cosmic war.

It is a painful path He trod, and He speaks of His anguish in doing it, but having won the victory He now turns to us and invites us to follow Him through the cross to glory.

The choice to follow is ours. In this sense the cosmic battle continues, as Jesus describes in the verses that follow.

A Piercing Purgation – In words that are nothing less than shocking, the Lord says, Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

The words shock but they speak a truth that sets aside worldly notions of compromise and coexistence with evil. For there to be true peace, holiness, and victory over Satan, there must be distinction not equivocation, clarity not compromise. Fire and water do not mix; you can hear the conflict when they come together: hissing, popping, searing, and steaming. One must win; the other must lose. Compromise and coexistence are not possible.

The Lord said (in Matthew 10:34) that He came not for peace but for the sword. In this there is a kind of analogy to a surgeon’s scalpel. The surgeon must wield this “sword” to separate out healthy flesh from that which is diseased. Coexistence is not possible; the diseased flesh must go. The moment one talks of “coexisting” with cancer, the disease wins. Were a doctor to take this stance he would be guilty of malpractice. When there is cancer, the battle must be engaged.

Thus, in this great cosmic battle, the Lord cannot and will not tolerate a false peace based on compromise or an accepting coexistence. He has come to wield a sword, to divide. Many moderns do not like it, but Scripture is clear: there are wheat and tares, sheep and goats, those on the Lord’s right and those on His left, the just and wicked, the lowly and the proud, the narrow road to salvation and the wide road to damnation.

These distinctions, these divisions, extend into our very families, into our most intimate relationships. This is the battle. There are two armies, two camps. No third way is given. Jesus says elsewhere, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30).

About all this we must be sober and must work for our own salvation and the salvation of all, for while there may not be a season of mercy and patience now, the time is short for us all. The distinction between good and evil, righteousness and sin, will be definitive and the sword must be wielded.

Thus, the Lord speaks to us of a cosmic battle in the valley of decision (cf Joel 3). Jesus has won, and it is time to choose sides. Even if our own family members reject us, we must choose the Lord. The cosmic battle is engaged. The fire is cast, and the sword of the Spirit and God’s Word is being wielded. The Lord has come to divide the good from the wicked, the sheep from the goats. Judgment begins now, with the house of God. Scripture says,

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

If this be the case, how do we choose sides, practically speaking? And having chosen sides, how do we join the fight with the Lord in the cosmic battle?

The Case of the Missing Veil

One of the most consistent appeals to tradition is women wearing veils. (I have written more about it here, here and here.) For the record, I love to see women wearing veils and hats at Mass, but as a general notion, nothing says tradition as much as the veil.

But how traditional is it? I have been collecting photographs from Catholic tradition and was surprised to see that in photos prior to 1960 most of the women were not wearing veils. It seems that the period during which veils were worn was short—not more than ten years (early to late 1960s). Rather, women wore hats. Most but not all the photos were taken in the United States, but they consistently show women in hats, not veils prior to 1960.

Do we need to adjust our notion of what type of headwear is traditional for women? I love veils and think that most women today are more likely to wear a veil than a hat. Veils also link more closely to the biblical tradition. However, the photograph evidence is clear that hats predominated prior to about 1960.

The photograph above was taken in my parish in 1954; it shows hats, no veils. The video below contains photos from various places in the U.S. and Europe as well as various times, nearly all from the early 1900s to the late 1960s. I provide some commentary as well. (The video is quite lengthy (more than 12 minutes long), so I have put the pictures into a pdf document and posted it here: Find the Missing Veil.)

Are You Ready For When the Lord Shall Come?

In the Gospel for Tuesday of the 29th Week, Jesus reminds us to be ready, but what does that mean? Let’s consider four ways that the Lord describes.

READY to WORK – Jesus says, gird your loins,which is the ancient equivalent of saying, “roll up your sleeves.” The Lord has a work for us and wants us to get to it. He’s not thinking of a worldly career, but rather things such as raising children in godly fear, pursuing justice, and growing in holiness. The Lord wants us to work in His Kingdom.

We must commit to prayer, Sunday worship, reception of the sacraments, obedience, and holiness. The Lord has a particular work for each of us based on the gifts He has given us. Some can teach, others work well with senior citizens, still others have a good head for business and can provide employment at a just wage. Some are called to priesthood or the religious life. Some are called to suffering and to offer that suffering for the salvation of souls. Some serve in strength, others in weakness. In some way, all are called to serve, to work. So, work with what the Lord gave you to advance His Kingdom. Part of being ready means doing our work.

READ the WORD – The Lord says, light your lamps.” Taken from a literal standpoint, this refers to getting ready as described in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). In another sense a lamp is a symbol for Scripture. For example, Your Word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Ps 119:105), We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

So, from today’s Gospel we can also understand that an essential part of being ready is being rooted and immersed in Scripture and in the teachings of the Church. In this increasingly secular world, so hostile to the faith, our minds are bound to be sullied unless we read Scripture every day. How can our minds be sober and clear if we are inebriated by the world? Being ready means reading Scripture each day and basing our life on it.

REMAIN WATCHFUL – The Lord says, “and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. … Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

There are different ways to watch and wait. There is the passive watching and waiting such as one might do when waiting for a bus to come, but there are other more active ways such as a waiter might exhibit as he hovers in the background anticipating the needs of the diners. It is this watchful and waiting spirit that the Lord has in mind here. If we have invited guests to our home, we prepare our house and make sure everything is in order as we await their arrival. In a less literal sense, to set our house in order is to sweep clean our soul of sin and all unrighteousness, by God’s grace, and to remove the clutter of worldliness. Regular confession and daily repentance sweep clean the house of our soul; simplifying our life and minimizing worldly attachments de-clutters the house of our soul.

Have you prepared the house of your soul for the Lord’s arrival? If you haven’t, the Lord says that you may experience him as a thief; He is not really a thief, though, because everything belongs to Him. If we have not renounced our worldliness and greed, if we have not de-cluttered our lives worldly attachments, the Lord will come to take back what is His; He will seem a thief to us because we think it is ours. It’s never a good idea to call God, the Lord and owner of all, a thief!

REFLECT on your reWARD – The Lord says, Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.

The Lord is clear that He has a reward for those who are found ready. It is prefigured in the banquet of the Eucharist, wherein the Lord prepares a meal and feeds us. The Lord says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). And I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:30).

For most of us in the Western world today, food is easy to come by and not given a great deal of thought. In the ancient world this was not so, and one of the pleasures people looked forward to most was a hearty meal in the company of friends and family. The Lord offers us the magnificent blessing of Heaven, where we will be with Him and those whom we love forever in unspeakable joy and peace.

Do you meditate often on Heaven and long for its rewards? It seems strange to me that we speak so little about Heaven. Because it is not a place any one of us has been, it’s hard to fully understand what it will be like, but we should be reflecting often on the joy awaiting us there. Part of being ready to go home to Lord is longing for that day. When we want to do something we eagerly prepare for it; we are motivated and make sacrifices to do it.

Last year a group from my parish traveled to the Holy Land. Many of them saved money for two years through a payment plan to be able to go. In preparation, we gathered together periodically, studying maps and reading Bible stories. On the day of departure many in the group arose early and arrived at the airport hours ahead of time. Eagerly reflecting on Heaven and the joy awaiting us there should be similar. If we desire Heaven we will more naturally get ready and lay aside whatever is necessary to make the passage there.

So, here are four ingredients constituting a recipe for readiness. You’d better set your house in order ’cause he may be comin’ soon!

What Happened to Us When We Were Baptized into Christ Jesus?

The first reading for Monday’s daily Mass, from the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:1-10), gives a concise account of our salvation by Christ Jesus. It begins by describing our absolute need for salvation and then speaks to the gifts that come with it. Let’s take a look.

Dead in our Sins – The text says, You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses.

There is nothing more helpless than a corpse. It cannot do anything but lie there and decompose. This was our condition before baptism. No amount of good works, repentance, or spiritual pushups could accomplish a thing. We were dead, helpless, powerless. We had a debt we could not repay.

We were decomposing by following the prince of this world, the Devil. We had the rigor mortis of stubbornness and the stench of disobedience. Dead in our sins, the desires and pride of our flesh won the day. We indulged our passions and impulses. Even keeping of the law was a matter of pride. We thought that we could be righteous by following certain narrowly understood laws. These were just the illusions of a dying man. Isaiah said of us,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, even our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; we all wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind (Is 64:6).

Death was all around us and within us.

Destined for Wrath – The text says, And we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.

Wrath is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sinful state before the holiness of God. It is like fire and water—they cannot coexist; there is a conflict between them that is heard in the hissing of water when it falls onto a fire.

God is a holy fire and we cannot endure the heat and light of His glory in our sinful state. By grace, we must be brought up to the temperature of glory by the Holy Spirit and must become accustomed to the glorious light of God’s truth. Without these gifts we cannot endure the presence of God.

Yes, this is wrath. It is not that God is angry; it is that we cannot endure Him as He is. It is like being exposed to the light after being used to the darkness. We say that the light is harsh, but the problem is that we’ve become too accustomed to the dark.

Before the grace of Christ, we were children of wrath. Only by the light of His grace and the warmth of His love can we hope to draw close to Him who is the light of truth and blazing charity.

Delivered in Christ – The text says, But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, …

On account of His mercy, God the Father sent us Christ Jesus as a glorious gift. Jesus comes to restore us to life, to bring us to the light in stages and bring us up to the temperature of glory!

In His Spirit, who descends like tongues of fire on us, we are set on fire. Through His proclaimed truth, He who is the light of the world accustoms us to the bright light of God’s truth. Yes, we are brought out of the dark, cold dungeon of the tomb and raised up with Christ!

Designated in Honor – The text continues, … and [the Father] seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, we are already seated in the heavens—mystically but truly. As Christ has ascended into the heavens, we ascend with Him as members of His body.

One may wonder how it is that he is “up there” while we are “down here.” When I ride the elevator to the tenth floor, although my head arrives before my feet, I get there. In Christ our head, we are already seated at the Father’s right hand. Where the head of the body goes, the members will follow.

Brethren, this is our future and our dignity if we are faithful: seated with Christ at the Father’s right hand in Heaven!

Diligent in Fruitful Faith – The text says, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Meanwhile, we walk in fruitful faith. Our faith bears fruit in works. Yet even our works are God’s grace. The text says that God prepared them for us in advance so that we should walk in them. All is grace! St. Augustine says that God’s love extends to this, that His graces should be our merits. Thus, our works are our faith working through love (cf Gal 5:6).

Such is our state in Christ and God’s gift: we who were dead in our sins have been brought to life in Him. Destined for glory, we journey upward in fruitful faith and love.

Thank you, Father, for Jesus and your Spirit, who breathes new life in us. We could nothing to accomplish this; we were dead. By your grace we now live and are destined to be with you. Keep us faithful unto death, lest we lose this precious gift and die in the hardness of our heart. Yes, keep us faithful unto death.

Why St. Paul Called Some Disciples Stupid

The first reading for Thursday’s Mass (27th week of the year) contains St. Paul’s provocative assessment that some of us are stupid.

The Greek word used is ἀνόητος (anóētos), which comes from a (without) + noiéō, (to think). Therefore, this refers to not thinking, not reasoning through a matter, being unmindful, or acting in a mindless, dense way. This is rendered in English as “stupid.”

There are three reasons that he calls some people stupid:

1. They have looked away from the Cross. The text says,

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? (Gal 3:1)

Paul engages in a kind of wordplay here. The Greek word translated here as bewitched is βασκαίνω (baskaino), which more literally means to give an evil eye to someone. Hence, they have permitted someone to give them an evil eye even though Christ had been portrayed to their eyes as crucified.

For us, the danger is that we look away from the Cross of Jesus and think that there is some other way we can be saved. Some evil eye looks at us or winks at us to draw our attention away from Christ. The cross is an absurdity to the world, but to us who are being saved it is the power and wisdom of God. Yet, we are too easily convinced to look away to passing pleasures or sinful sights. We adopt the bewitched notion that these can give us the happiness we seek.

St. Paul calls this stupid, and deep down we know that this is so. No limited thing can fill the God-sized hole in our heart. Only through the Cross of Christ can we attain to that place where true joys are found. Only the Cross can purify us and get us to Heaven, where God and God alone can show us joys unspeakable and glories untold.

An eye that looks anywhere else is the evil eye of a stupid person.

2. They think they can save themselves. The text says,

I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so stupid? (Gal 3:2-3)

Thinking we can save ourselves is a stupid though. I can barely perform minor surgery on myself, let alone save myself. Do you have a ladder tall enough to reach Heaven? Do you have a rocket ship powerful enough to soar to Heaven? And even if you did, how would you know the coordinates of Heaven so that you could soar there? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

No, the only way we can get to Heaven is to listen to God by faith and follow Him in the grace of that faith working through love (see Gal 5:6). We often think that we will be well through science, medicine, therapy, wealth, popularity, and so forth. This is stupid. Individually and collectively we have attained to all these things and yet I would argue that we are more miserable than ever. We have never been healthier and yet we have never worried more about our health. We have never been more well fed and yet we have never worried more about what we eat. Despite this, we easily think these sorts of things will fill the bill. St. Paul simply calls this “stupid.”

3. They focus on the flesh not the spirit. The text says,

Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? (Gal 3:3)

We are too easily preoccupied with our bodies and with things related to the flesh and the material world. That’s pretty stupid, really. Such things are dying, rusting, and decaying. In contrast, the things of the Spirit will last forever. A bowl of porridge is just a meal, but the Word of the Lord endures forever; it can be a saving word for us and the joy of our soul even now. We must care for the body, but our obsession with looking good and our pathological fear of the bodily effects of aging manifest a stupid and foolish preoccupation. The soul should be our priority, for our good treatment of it will have eternal effects. Instead, we focus on what passes and ignore what is eternal. Paul has a word for this: stupid.

Don’t be stupid.

On the Problem of Arrested Spiritual Development

Consider a five-year-old child who had not yet learned to walk or talk, who could only lie in his crib, who could not eat solid food. Most of us would consider this a great tragedy, a case of arrested development. Surely as he failed to pass expected milestones his parents would consult multiple doctors in an anxious search for the cause of the problem and its cure. No one would fail to see the problem or shrug it off.

Now, let’s look at a case of arrested spiritual development and compare the typical response:

Consider a young adult—say 25 years old—who has graduated high school and even earned a college degree. Perhaps upon graduation he landed a job in a cutting-edge field. Despite being a highly trained expert in his secular field, his spiritual development is arrested; he has progressed little since the second grade. In some ways he has even gone backward: he can no longer recite an Act of Contrition or even the Hail Mary.

He still goes to Mass, but he is incapable of expressing much of anything about his faith. He knows that there is a God but does not know for sure if Jesus is God—he thinks so, but he’s not sure. He is aware of the Bible but can’t name all four Gospels and wouldn’t even be sure exactly where to find them in it. Names like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Peter, and Judas all sound familiar, but he can’t tell you much about them except that they’re in the Bible—somewhere. He’s heard of the sacraments but can’t name them; he isn’t sure he’s received any of them or if they are only for priests and nuns. Every now and then he thinks to pray, but he really doesn’t know what to say or how to do it. Sometimes he remembers a prayer from Mass, but when he tries to recite it on his own he gets stuck because there aren’t other people around him saying it and helping him along. He can recite the Our Father, though; we have to give him that!

Mind you, this is a smart guy: he has a lot of knowledge in his field and is sought out for technical advice in the corporation where he works. Spiritually, however, he’s an infant.

The interesting question is this: why were his parents and others in his parish not alarmed as they noticed his arrested spiritual development? As he went from second grade to third and then on to fourth, not only did not progress, he regressed. Why were his parents not concerned? Why were the pastor and catechists not shocked that he seemed to show no progress in the spiritual life?

As he advanced to high school his moral life began to slide. Soon his language coarsened, he resented authority, and he began consuming pornography on the Internet. His parents were irritated by this, but not alarmed enough to intensify his recourse to the sacraments or to augment his spiritual training. Spiritually he was frozen in time, but no one seemed to care enough to do anything about it.

But, by God, when he almost failed a math course his parents sprang into action and hired a tutor! After all, a failing grade might threaten his ability to get into a good college. In contrast, his failure to grow spiritually didn’t seem to faze them much. When he went off to college they drove up with him, toured the dorms, met a few professors, and attended orientation sessions—but they never thought to meet the college chaplain or to ask who would be spiritually teaching or pastoring their son. That sort of stuff just didn’t occur to them to ask about.

Well, you get the picture:

  • Expectations are low. Most people don’t really expect that they should grow much in their faith. Advanced knowledge and deep prayer are for priests and nuns. Too many laypeople just don’t expect much and thus are not alarmed that they and their kids know next to nothing about the faith.
  • The faith is a side issue to many people. What really matters is that you study hard to get into a career that will get you access to the “American Dream.” Never mind that worldly things don’t last or that it’s pointless and harmful to climb the ladder of success when it is leaning up against the wrong wall. We’ll think about all that tomorrow.
  • The sense that faith really matters at all is muted.Many people today have the unbiblical view that almost everyone goes to Heaven. This removes motivation to grow in the faith or be serious about living in a countercultural way. They think, why work hard or seek to develop yourself when the “the paycheck has already been deposited and you’ll continue get paid no matter what”?

So, here we are today with many Christians who have a very bad case of arrested development. Scripture says,

  • We have much to say … but it is hard to explain because 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(Hebrews 5:11-14).
  • Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly (1 Cor 3:1-2).
  • Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults (1 Cor 14:20).
  • My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good (Jer 4:22).
  • When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me (1 Cor 13:11).
  • It was [the Lord] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ (Eph 4:11-15).

Scripture is clear that the normal Christian life is this:

  • To be constantly growing in our faith.
  • To go from the mother’s milk of elementary doctrine to the solid food of more advanced understanding.
  • To progress from being young students to mature teachers.
  • To exhibit mature knowledge of the faith and behavior that bespeaks mature Christianity.
  • To go from being worldly in our priorities to being spiritual.
  • To be able to distinguish false doctrine from true.
  • To show forth a stability of life and not be easily carried away by all the latest trends and fads.

Yes, this is the normal Christian life. Maturity pertains to the human person in general and it certainly ought to pertain to men and women of faith. I pray that you who read this blog are well along this path and are seeking to grow. I presume it, in fact.

Many are not maturing, however, and I wonder if enough of us in the Church today see this for the horrifically strange and tragic phenomenon that it is. It is far stranger and more tragic than a five-year-old still lying in a crib, speechless and unable to eat solid food. It is vastly more serious than the high schooler who is failing math. To fail math may affect college and a career, but those are passing consequences. To fail in the faith affects eternity.

Why are we so serious about passing, worldly threats and not so much about threats that have eternal consequences? Arrested spiritual development is by far the most serious of all developmental issues. Parents may give their child every good thing, but if they do not ensure the gift of strong and mature faith, they have given him nothing but sand that will slip through his fingers.

Only what you do for Christ will last. Pray God that we get our priorities straight and make sure that we—and everyone—grow up in the Lord. It is true that we must accept the Kingdom of God like a little child in order to enter it, but this well-known scriptural text refers to our dependence not our ignorance. God made us to know Him and to fail to do so is to miss the whole point and dignity of our life.

I Miss Women Wearing Hats and Veils in Church. A brief reminiscence of days gone by.

I know, I know, I am so hopelessly old fashioned. But I want to say, I miss women wearing hats. I have written before (HERE) of how I miss them wearing the veil in Church. But even before the veil, the hat was more commonly worn by women in 1940s and before (See photo  below left, of my parish taken in the early 1950s, click photo for a larger view). Veils became popular in the later 1950s and 1960s before head coverings for women (and men) all but disappeared in the late 1960s (along with just about everything elegant).

The Easter Bonnet, once a main tradition at Easter, now provokes stares of confusion when mentioned to younger people today. “Easter Bonnet?…What’s that?!” Too bad, gone with the (cultural) wind.

Frankly we have become a very informal culture and we almost never dress up any more. Jeans and a T-Shirt, even for Mass. When I was a kid in the early 1960s I would not set foot in the Church without trousers, a button down shirt, a necktie and (in the cooler months) a dress jacket). Women and girls always wore a dress and a veil or hat. Frankly too, we would not think of going to a restaurant in those years either, without dressing up a good bit.

Yeah, I know, I am hopelessly out of date and some of you feel judged. But I’m just going to say it again, I miss the fact that we almost never dress up any more, and that things like hats, jackets and ties for men, formal and pretty dresses for women, veils (or hats) in Church are gone.

In the African American Community where I have served for most of my priesthood, dressing up for Church and women wearing hats and veils, hung on a lot longer, but it too has largely subsided. I read an article in the Washington Post yesterday that largely read the funeral rites over hat wearing in the Black congregations. There’s still a few with the “ole time religion” but they are far fewer. Here are a some excerpts from the article:

For generations, church sanctuaries across the nation on Sunday mornings, especially in black churches and especially on Easter, transformed into a collage of hats: straw ones, felt ones, velvet ones, every shape, size and color, with bows, jewels and feathers, reaching for the heavens.

But anyone walking into today’s services expecting to see a nonstop parade of women making fashion statements on their heads will be sorely disappointed. Many daughters and granddaughters of the women who made bold and flashy hats synonymous with the black church have not carried on the tradition.

Anita Saunders, 42… grew up watching her mother’s generation flaunt their hats in church. “And I always loved it,” says the Indianapolis resident. “It was part of Sunday, the experience of the hats. We looked forward to seeing what hat Sister So-and-So was going to wear. My friends, we all grew up in the same church with mothers who wore hats, but we don’t. And so, yes, it seems it’s fading out.”

Elaine Saunders…is part of that generation of black women who launched hat-wearing into the stratosphere…..Their style was dignified, elegant, sometimes irreverent and even humorous, but it was always eye-catching. “You have a certain air when you put on a hat. If you put on the whole shebang and you’re satisfied, you walk different. You act different. And people treat you different,” says Saunders….

The whole shebang would be a hat that matches the suit that matches the shoes that match the bag….

Mother and daughter not only wore hats and gloves to church but also donned them for shopping trips downtown. “If you were dressed up, they thought you were somebody important, so you’d get waited on,” Saunders said.

“I guess as I got older, around my teens, I started flirting around with different hairstyles,” said Sylvia Magby, 58, “I started cutting my hair, and I just never found a hat that fit my head.” Her youngest sister, Anita…won’t go near a hat (except the emergency baseball cap for bad hair days). She was much younger when she first rebelled against them. “I was maybe 6, and I was very concerned that the hat would disturb my bangs, and I wanted nothing to do with it,” she recalls.

Many women say, “I have hats from my mother and other relatives, but I don’t wear them,” or “Hats don’t look good on me,” [But] as Saunders sees it, “there will be a set of women who will wear hats forever.”…there, in all its splendor,  that poof of fuchsia and iridescent feathers, … for all the world to see.

Read the Full Article Here: Church Ladies and their Hats, A Fading Tradition

Some will doubtless say, “Well look, it sounds like it was more about pride and getting seen, than worshiping God.” Others will doubtless remark that the Scriptures envision a woman covering her head before God as a way of covering her glory (i.e. her hair) and thus being humble before God. OK fine, but I’d just like to add that there is also something wonderful about the dignity of dressing really well to go to God’s house, something classy, something fitting. And again I’ll just say, I miss it, and always appreciate when I see it.

We men too have let things drop often marching into Church with sandals, jeans and a t-shirt. I regret too that we so seldom wear suits or hats anymore. Priests still wear the suit, but a fine cassock is hard to find and there is a lot of sloppy and poorly set forth liturgical vestments and altar cloths. Finer things are few and far between.

A small boast form your host, I have worn a fedora in the cooler months since my 20s. Not only do I think it looks good, but it is also does a great job keeping the cold away. I am amazed at what a difference a simple hat can make. Think about it men, a good hat can be classy and warm.

And ladies, I don’t DARE tell you what to do, but let me just say it again, I MISS the veils and hats. Yes, a real touch of class. Uh oh, now the comments are open.