Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Are We Collaborators in the Culture of Death? (From Nisi Dominus)

Abortion Good, Religion Bad?  

   I don’t like to get into partisan politics too much on this blog, although I do deal fairly often with moral or social issues that have become politicized.  There are times, however, when partisan politics forces itself upon us so insistently that it cannot be avoided (which is happening with greater frequency in recent years).  This is one of those times.   

     I’ll start with a speech delivered by Hillary Clinton last Thursday (story here) – if you read religious blogs or more conservative news outlets you’ve heard about it already (numerous times); if you rely on more established media, probably not. Mrs. Clinton is the (so far) unchallenged Democratic candidate for President of the United States, and she said something that would have been unthinkable just twenty years ago when her husband was president.  First, she opined that: 

Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.  All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. 

Safe childbirth is not really what she’s concerned about, as we shall see; she's really talking about  what she refers to as “reproductive health care”, which is newspeak for abortion.  The interesting part is what she sees as the obstacle to, ahem, "reproductive health care" . . . 

(Please read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

A Church Is Much, Much More Than A Building

The Basilica: A Beacon On A Hill    

Basilica of St.s Peter and Paul, Lewiston, Maine
 Many a visitor to the old textile city of Lewiston, Maine, has been taken by surprise when, driving through a run-down neighborhood of shabby old New England triple-decker tenements, he suddenly finds an enormous and beautiful church looming over him.  This is the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, formally consecrated in 1938.  And its location is not at all as incongruous as it might at first seem: it was the most natural thing in the world for the inhabitants of those cheap apartment houses, mostly French Canadian immigrants who had come to Lewiston to work in the dark red-brick mills that lined the Androscoggin River, to put all their extra money and effort into building the most magnificent church possible.  And yes, it was those poor laborers, not wealthy benefactors or government grants that built the Basilica.   “Religion is the opiate of the people” is not the least foolish thing Karl Marx said.  Opiates deaden the soul and weigh down the limbs: nobody pushes themselves to the limit to build monuments to those.  No, the Faith these humble workers brought with them from Quebec didn’t numb them into acquiescence, it gave them real assurance that they had something worth working toward: admittance to the presence of the living God.

Enormous Sacramentals

     And so naturally it was a Church that they chose as the focus of their devotion.  Churches are much more than just buildings.  They are enormous sacramentals, consecrated objects that can help connect us to the Grace of a God who is pure Spirit; they are iconic representations that teach us at an unconscious level about an ordered Universe with God at the apex, or at least they used to be (see here and here).  They are also places closely connected to some of the deepest experiences of our lives, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, as well as being places where communities gather.  Sometimes these connections are formed over the course of generations.  That’s why the closing of a church is so much more traumatic than the closing of a movie theater, for instance, or a department store.  The local church is, for most people, their concrete connection to transcendent realities.
     The Basilica of Peter and Paul, fortunately, is still going strong, but its community is no longer mostly drawn from the immediate neighborhood.  People have come from miles away to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form every Sunday since then-Bishop Richard Malone designated it as one of two churches (the other being the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland) used by a newly-formed Latin Mass Chaplaincy in 2008.  There is also a Mass in the Ordinary Form celebrated with a reverence that draws worshippers from a wide area, and a French language Mass that is very well attended.   Many other churches, to the great sorrow of parishioners who have been orphaned, have not been so lucky.

The New, New Evangelization

     It’s in that connection that this post on Fr. Z’s blog (here), about parishioners in Buffalo who have enlisted the Vatican’s help in their attempts to keep their parish open, first caught my eye. I was sorry to see Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone, the same man who as Bishop of Portland helped keep the Basilica thriving, is cast as the Bad Guy of the piece.  For what it’s worth, many of us here thought he did a very good job as our bishop: one of his first decisions was to shut down a diocesan newspaper that had become a mouthpiece for dissenters, and he bravely and forthrightly defended human life and traditional marriage, often in the face of fierce public attacks [note: Bishop Malone has continued his strong defense of the faith in Buffalo, as here].  Still, there were many churches shuttered forever, which seems to be one of the first lessons they teach in Bishop School these days.  After reading the post linked above I can’t help but wonder: would it have made a difference if some of the parishes here had thought to appeal to the Pope?
     There are bigger questions, of course.  Fr. Z asks:

What sort of faith in an effort of “New Evangelization” do we evince if, while chattering about it, we are closing the churches we need to fill in the very places where the “New Evangelization” needs to be pursued?

That’s a good point.  Just as all those triple-deckers around the Basilica in Lewiston are still filled with
Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
people, but no longer (mostly) people who actually attend the church that dominates their neighborhood, the same is true of the churches being decommissioned.  The areas around them, with perhaps some few exceptions, are just as heavily populated as they were when the churches were packed every Sunday.  And while bishops and their staffs around the country should certainly learn to think more like Evangelists and less like Administrators, we lay Catholics (I include myself) need to ask ourselves what more we can do invite all those people on the outside into the Church. If earlier generations with fewer resources but great faith could build the basilicas, could we not at least put enough people in the pews?

(This "Revisited" post was originally published last spring under the title, "The New, New Evangelization?" Please visit the linkup for Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at, and Allison Gingras at


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Is The Liturgy Of The Hours? (LOH 2)

 I wrote in a recent post that praying the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office) has had a profound impact on both my prayer life and my spiritual state in general.  I promised to expand upon the Liturgy of the Hours itself and offer some suggestions on how it might be incorporated into the lives of busy laypeople in subsequent posts.

     First of all, what is the Liturgy of the Hours?  It traces its origins back to the very earliest days of the Church, and before that to the formal prayer of the Jewish Temple [for more information, see here and here].  It consists mostly of Psalms, canticles (that is, Biblical songs from books other than Psalms) and other scriptural readings, prayed at assigned times (the “Canonical Hours”) in order to “sanctify the day.”  The Hours, along with their traditional and modern names, are:

Matins (Office of Readings) – traditionally during the night, now any time of day
Lauds (Morning Prayer) – sunrise
Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer) – third hour of the day
Sext (Midday Prayer) – sixth hour of the day, i.e., noon
None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer) – ninth hour of the day
Vespers (Evening Prayer) – toward evening
Compline  (Night Prayer) – nightfall, or before retiring

Matins was traditionally said during the night.  Today, as the Office of Readings, it can be prayed at any time of day (in other words, it is no longer necessary to interrupt your sleep).  In addition to three Psalm readings there is also a longer Biblical reading and a non-scriptural reading, either from the writings of the saints, or the lives of the saints, or magisterial documents of the Church.

Lauds and Vespers are the “hinges” of the Divine Office, the most important prayer periods after the Office of Readings.  They are longer than the others and include two well-known of the Gospel Canticles: the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer (“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel . . .”) and the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary in the Evening (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . “). They contain in addition two Psalm readings, a non-Gospel Biblical canticle, antiphons, responsories and the Our Father.

Compline is prayed at the end of the day.  It contains an examination of conscience, but is otherwise shorter than Lauds and Vespers, with only one or two psalms and a short Gospel Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon (“Now you let your servant go in peace . . . “).

TerceSext, and None are collectively known as Daytime Prayer.  These are shorter than the other offices, containing only three psalm readings and a short scripture reading.  Since the most recent reforms of the Office they are set up so that even if you pray only one of them a day along with Readings, Lauds, Vespers and Compline, you will have seen the entire Psalter (i.e., Book of Psalms) over the course of a four week cycle.

     Along with the Mass, The Liturgy of the Hours forms the public liturgical prayer of the church.   Clergy and religious, and certain lay persons under vows, are required to say these prayers every day (hence the name Divine Office, from the Latin officium, which means “duty”).  These prayers are not the exclusive preserve of  priests and nuns, however.  Paul VI, in the Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1970on the Liturgy of the Hours [full text here] says:

The Office has therefore been composed so that it is the prayer not only of the clergy but of the whole of the People of God, and religious and lay people can take part in it, and there are various forms of celebration so that it can be accommodated to the various groups, with their differing needs. Since the Liturgy of the Hours should sanctify the different times of the day, in its revised form it can be fitted into the actual hours of people’s daily lives.

So, while those who pray the Office under obligation are also obliged to follow certain norms in doing so, the Church is inviting the rest of us to pray along with them in a way suited to our state in life and our other responsibilities.  I will offer some suggestions, and reflect on my own experience, in my next post on this topic.

To read the whole series go here.

     Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Antonio Vivaldi "Laudamus Te" & Roundup from the 3rd Week of Easter, 2015

He is truly risen,  Alleluia!

A beautiful joyful song of praise composed by the incomparable Antonio Vivaldi. And, as an added bonus, links to the week's posts (no extra charge!)

Weekly Roundup, 3rd Week of Easter 2015

Monday – “Cardinal George, Patron of Christian Hope” Chicago’s Cardinal George passed away last week – here’s a farewell to a fine Catholic leader, and another look at his most famous remark.

Wednesday – “St.Paul’s Autographs” St. Paul had a big, expansive personality, and used big, expansive handwriting. Which is rather fascinating . . . 

andAbortion Myth # 11”  Yes, we’re all just clumps of cells in the end, aren’t we? 

Thursday – “The Liturgy of the Hours: Sanctify Your Day” The first installment in a series about the Divine Office for busy, busy, busy lay men and women. 

andWhy Would You Want Satan As A Mascot?” We choose the lion for its courage, the ram for its toughness; what qualities do we admire in the Prince of Lies?   

Friday – “Saint of the Day: St. Mellitus & The Sweetness of the Gospel” One of the most consequential Saints you’ve never heard of.

Saturday – “Those Who Love Him Will Keep His Commandments” How the reductionist approach to Christianity leads, in the end, to only one place and, friend, you don’t want to go there. 

Rubens, The Risen Christ

Those Who Love Him Will Keep His Commandments (From Nisi Dominus)

Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint, 
but blessed is he who keeps the law.   (Proverbs 29:18)  

     Many years ago, shortly after I had returned to the Church after my youthful sojourn among the secular agnostics, I read a book called The Education of Henry Adams.  Although it doesn’t sound like it from the title, it is an autobiography, and the author was  the grandson of U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and the great-grandson of the second President and revolutionary leader John Adams.      The one thing from Adams’ book that made the largest impression on me was the author’s dissatisfaction with (among other things) the spiritual emptiness of the Unitarian churches which his family attended; here, the drama of Salvation had been reduced to little more Christian morality.  It struck me that these same churches, just a few generations earlier, had been peopled by zealous Calvinists fleeing the Anglican Church because it had, in their view, strayed too far from the Gospel.  What had happened?  How had they changed so much, so quickly?

     I realized that the cause of the erosion of their faith was that they had cut themselves off from the Catholic Church, the power of its Tradition and its infallible Magisterium, the Church that St. Paul had named “The pillar and the foundation of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  After all, however zealous our belief, however sincere our intentions, we fallible humans tend to wander off course without direction from above . . . 

(Please read the rest of the post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Friday, April 24, 2015

St.Mellitus: Catching Flies With Honey

         There's an old saying that you catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than you do with a vat of vinegar.  I couldn't help but think of that old saw when considering the life of today's Saint, Mellitus of Canterbury (died April 24th, A.D. 624), whose name in fact means "honeyed".  We see in his mission to convert the Saxon conquerers of Britain in the 7th century (he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to assist St. Augustine of Canterbury) an example of the Church explicitly choosing to put the "Honey Strategy" into practice.

St. Mellitus of Canterbury

     But first, we need a little background on Saint Mellitus.  Despite being little-known today, he was in fact a very consequential Saint. Mellitus first arrived in Britain in the year A.D. 601, bringing with him books and other things considered necessary for Christian instruction and worship.  St. Augustine consecrated him Bishop of London, which at that time was the capital of the East Saxon kingdom.  Somewhere around the years 616-618 the Christian East Saxon king died, after which Mellitus was driven from his episcopal see in London; shortly thereafter the Christian king of Kent died as well, and Mellitus was forced to flee from Britain all together, although he was able to return a few years later after Laurence, Augustine's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, had converted the new Kentish king.  Mellitus never returned to London, which would not see a Bishop again until 654, thirty years after the Saint's death.  St. Mellitus himself became Archbishop of Canterbury at the Death of Laurence in 619, and occupied the see until his own passing five years later.  He is credited with miraculously saving his church from a fire shortly before his death.
     St. Mellitus played an important part in the conversion of the English ; in this capacity he received instructions in the form of a letter from the Pope, called the Epistola ad Mellitum. In this letter St. Gregory urges Mellitus and Augustine to rely on persuasion in converting the pagan English, destroying idols but consecrating the temples that housed the idols for use as churches, and adapting pagan practices to Christian uses so that the English nation might "set aside error from her heart, and, acknowledging and adoring the True God, might assemble more familiarly at the places which she was was accustomed (to use)."  This letter is a particularly explicit statement of an approach that has been more or less the rule (albeit with some notable exceptions) for most of the history of the Church (which I explain in more detail in my Halloweeen post, "Christ Is King Of All . . . Even The Holidays").  And it fits well with the way our Lord works: God breathed life into the mud of the earth to create Adam, and through baptism he makes former non-believers into his adopted sons and daughters; why can't his Church "baptize " what is good in pagan societies and consecrate it for use in His service?
     I think the story of St. Mellitus and his "honeyed" approach has a lesson for us today as we go about our own missions of evangelization.  I know how frustrated I can become when someone just can't, or won't, listen; I find myself brimming over with vinegar, as it were.  I've found that if I stay calm, listen patiently, and try to focus on the love of Jesus (in other words, spread a little honey), I'm more likely to have a fruitful exchange.  St. Mellitus, pray for us, that we might avoid the bitterness of our own pride, and to speak with the sweetness of Divine Love. Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Liturgy of the Hours: Sanctify Your Day (LOH 1)

     There was a time in my life when I was immersed in secularism.  I began to recover in my late twenties, a process given a sudden and decisive boost by a powerful conversion experience in my thirtieth year, as I have related in other posts [herehere].  That was the start of an amazing adventure.  In the first flush of rediscovered faith I experienced an unexpected  joy in prayer, and many problems that had seemed insurmountable before were now, surprisingly, manageable. 

We can't all pray like monks . . .
      I have heard this honeymoon period after a conversion, or reversion, referred to as the “Pink Cloud” phase.  The Catholic tradition wisely tells us that conversion is a process and the pink cloud, like the infatuation at the beginning of a relationship, sooner or later (sooner, usually) dissipates, leaving the long and often hard road that is the only way to true love. 
     So it was for me.  Eight years down the road my wife and I had moved to another state (twice) and had several small children.  Life was good, but my spiritual life was stuck.  I needed something more, but I didn’t know what.  It happened that we were visiting in the state where that first profound reversion experience had taken place, and as I was driving past the church where I had been moved so profoundly years before the bells began to chime (literally).  The clock on the dashboard said 6 o’clock.  “Vespers”, I thought to myself, and then it struck me: I could pray the Divine Office.  In fact, it almost seemed as though I was being told I should pray the Divine Office.  And why not?
     I was excited about the possibility, but had no idea how to go about it.  I had a very vague understanding of the Divine Office: I knew that it was a series of formal prayers said at certain times every day, and I knew the names of some of those prayer times (Matins, Lauds, Vespers), but that was it.  As soon as our car ride was over I looked up “Divine Office” in the encyclopedia (my mother-in-law did not have internet access) and started piecing it together.  I learned that the Divine Office (now called the Liturgy of the Hours) goes back to the very earliest days of the Church, and is built around the praying of the Psalms and certain Canticles (poems or songs) from other parts of the Bible.  The Magnificat, for instance, which is the prayer Mary says when she meets her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55), is always part of Vespers (i.e., Evening Prayer).
     I did not at first feel ready to pray the actual Liturgy of the Hours (I didn’t even know where to find the prayers), so at first I just made a point of praying at some time close to the canonical hours.  Soon, however, I started to find resources online, and eventually bought a fairly inexpensive prayer book.  The Divine Office changed everything: not only did I have a much fuller prayer life, but I found that it really did “sanctify time”, as they say.  I felt closer to Christ and his Church, I was much more aware of the unfolding of the liturgical year, and I became much more familiar with Sacred Scripture in the process.  I also found that some ingrained patterns of sin which had withstood my initial conversion were becoming more tractable.  Praying the Liturgy of the Hours had in fact helped trigger another, further, experience of conversion.
. . . family life can be busy

     I do need to point out that I have never been able to pray like a monk, and have never tried: I have a wife and children and need to work extra jobs to keep them all clothed and fed.   Priests and religious, and certain lay people under vows, are required to pray the Divine Office in a particular way; the rest of us can adapt it to our situation.  I am planning a series of posts discussing various aspects of the Liturgy of the Hours, including how busy lay people can incorporate the Divine Office into their regular prayer life, available resources, the history of the Divine office, and my reflections on some of the particular hours.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

St. Paul's Autographs

 If you’re familiar with St. Paul’s letters, you’ve seen a number of them end with some variation of: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (1 Cor 16:21).  Many people don’t pay much attention to these little passages, as they don’t seem to add to the theological content of the letters; they appear to have served a purpose similar to that of a signature on a modern day letter, a form of authentication.   Most likely, a clerk or scribe wrote out most of the letter from Paul’s dictation, while the Apostle himself put down the closing in his own hand, a sort of “autograph” which would be familiar, we may presume, to the recipients.   Paul makes explicit reference to this authenticating purpose in 2nd Thessalonians: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thess 3:17).
     As I said, many people just pass over these “signatures”.  I suppose they’re included in the Bible, in large part, simply because they were contained in the letters when the letters were formally added to the Canon of Sacred Scripture.  And yet I’ve always had a special fondness for them.
     As I mentioned in a previous post (here), I had a powerful, life-changing conversion of my own on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, although I didn’t realize the significance of the date until some time after the fact.  One of the first things I did in the first flush of revert fervor is resolve to read the whole Bible, starting with the New Testament (a good place to start, as it turns out).  I found all sorts of surprises.  I had been raised in a Catholic family (not devout, really, but more or less observant) and sent to Catholic schools, so some of the surprises were things I had seen many times, but now truly understood for the first time.  Those were exciting.  But there were also things I never expected, and at the top of that list is meeting Paul of Tarsus. 

     There were things in Paul’s story with which I could identify: we were both heading in the wrong direction, until an unlooked-for meeting with Christ turned us 180 degrees in the other direction.  But there was something more: there are other letters in the New Testament, and we can certainly get a sense of the personalities of Peter, John and James, but none of them seemed so real to me as Paul.  His are the only books in the Bible where the human author’s voice is so strong and distinct that I felt, after reading them, that I really knew him.  Sometimes he seems just a little irascible, as in the ironic, almost sarcastic, remarks addressed to the Corinthians (my italics):

I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.  When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.   (1 Cor 11:18-22)

Or the entire letter to the Galatians, St. Paul’s most emotional epistle, where the Apostle has scarcely finished his greeting when he expresses his amazement that they were “so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6), and later calls them “foolish”, (anoetoi, literally “mindless”) for listening to the Judaizers who insisted that ritual circumcision was necessary for salvation (Gal 3:1).  Finally, in his frustration, his expresses the wish that the Judaizers would, as the RSV translation puts it, “mutilate themselves” (Gal 5:12).  Paul uses the Greek word apokopsontai, from the verb apokopto, which means “lop off”. In other words, if they’re so fond of circumcision, why don’t they just take everything off?
     We can see in these outbursts, which form a relatively small proportion of St. Paul’s writing, that his very human frustration springs from his great love for his spiritual children.  They are also more than offset by expressions of great joy, such as:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom 7:24-8:2)

Or by passages of radiant beauty, such as his great and much-quoted hymn to Love (agape) in 1 Corinthians 13.
     My attachment to St. Paul springs in large part from the Catholic Sacramental Imagination, the sense that God is always trying to reach us through his creation: Jesus Christ himself is the prime example, of course, but sacraments, sacramentals, the mission of the Apostles, the lives of the Saints . . . “The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God!” (Psalm 19.1).  And St. Paul’s autographs do, too (you didn’t think I forgot about those, did you?), because they are a tangible reminder  that his Letters, in addition to being the Inspired Word of God, were once also ordinary letters composed by a flesh and blood man, and written down in ink with a stylus.  Consider this from the Letter to Philemon:

If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account - I, Paul, write this with my own hand -  I will repay it, to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. (Phil 18-19)

In his eagerness to assure Philemon that he, Paul, is really offering to pay Onesimus’ debts, he doesn’t wait for the closing, but takes over from his scribe in the middle of a sentence to insert his signature.  That’s the messiness of real life.
     My favorite of St. Paul’s autographs, however, is this one: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand!” (Gal 6:11).  Here, at the end of the Letter to the Galatians, after he has mounted an impassioned defense of his authority as Apostle, told his correspondents they were fools and expressed the wish that the Judaizers geld themselves, we see St. Paul pause to take delight in the sight of his handwritten letters looping across the page.  How can you not love this man?

(Please visit the linkup for Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at, and Allison Gingras at


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Our Eternal Destiny: Armed Robbery, or A Warm Place By The Fire? (from Nisi Dominus)

 Analogical thinking, it would appear, is a dying art.  I recently heard Catholic apologist and scholar Peter Kreeft on Catholic radio, and he was pointing out that brains which spend a lot of time interacting with videogames and various other electronic devices simply don’t develop in the same way as those formed by extensive reading.  Among the those things that are undernourished are linear and analogical thinking.  Professor Kreeft has found that this makes it difficult to teach a subject like Theology that requires dealing with a lot of difficult and abstract ideas.

Is this your image of God?
     Over my own nearly 30 years of teaching high school students I’ve observed the same trend.  Fortunately, we still have a long way to go: while many people, especially young people, may not be as quick to grasp them as they might have been several decades ago, analogies are still the most effective way to communicate many ideas.  They have always been a preferred way of explaining Christian Doctrine: think of the parables of Jesus, or St. Paul's comparison in 1st Corinthians of the Church to a body, with all the members working together at their own assigned tasks; not only that, but one of the four traditional Levels of Meaning in scripture, the Allegorical, relies very heavily on analogical thinking.  Analogy is often the only reliable way for us who are composed of both spirit and matter to understand spiritual realities.
     Not surprisingly, analogies are also an essential tool in any dialogue with atheists and agnostics.  I recently became aware of the following analogy, which is appears to be in vogue in atheist circles: God, as we Christians envision Him, is like an armed robber with a gun to our heads, and he is offering a choice between giving him all our money (i.e., living according to the Gospel and spending eternity in Heaven), or having our brains blown out (which is spending eternity in Hell).
     Now, clearly, there are some very obvious problems with this analogy . . . 

(Please read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cardinal George & Christian Hope

    Cardinal Francis George, one of the outstanding American churchmen of recent years, passed away last week.  Many commentaries I have seen in the Catholic press and blogosphere have, understandably, highlighted the following quote:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.

Cardinal Francis George

     The first part of the quote has generated the most attention.  Some people have dismissed it as overblown or sensationalistic, but I’m not so sure.  George Washington and John Adams warned that a people not grounded in the practice of religion and morality would be unable to maintain a republic as free citizens; our current age seems determined to put that assertion to the test and, quite frankly, the preliminary results are not promising.  And while we here in the U.S. are not facing the sort of violent persecution that our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world must endure, things have nonetheless reached a point that would have seemed unthinkable just a couple of decades ago, when anyone who suggested that American Christians might be forced to lose their jobs and businesses simply for living according to their faith would have been dismissed as a hopeless crank.
     The second part, about a successor who will “pick up the shards” and “help rebuild civilization”, has received a lot less attention, but is, I think, the more important part, the point of the quote.  After all, it is always difficult to be a committed and consistent Christian, even in an age when “everyone else” supposedly is a believer as well.  There is no shortage of saints who gave their lives because their insistence on taking the faith seriously led to conflict with their Christian monarchs (think of Thomas Becket and Thomas More), or even Christian neighbors.  One doesn’t need the gift of prophecy to see our society becoming increasingly hostile, nor is there any reason to believe that the trend is changing in the near future.  It seems to me that Cardinal George is pointing beyond our current troubles, or even worse ones that may come, to Christ’s promise that the Gates of Death will not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18), just as she survived the fall of Rome in the first millennium and and the heavy boot of communism in the second, in each case preserving essential elements of the society that existed before the cataclysm.  And of course the assured survival of his Church in this world is itself a sign pointing to the greatest victory of all, Christ coming again in glory at the end of time.  The assurance of that Triumph is the ground of our Hope as Christians.
      By placing today's sufferings in the context of our final destination, Cardinal George calls to mind what St. Peter said to the first generation of Christians:

Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of you brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (1 Peter 5:8-11)

     I have seen a few people proposing Cardinal George as an intercessor for persecuted Christians, and (not that I'm proposing his immediate canonization) we all could use such an intercessor, both for those of us in the West suffering what is now a fairly mild but still real threat of persecution, and those believers in other parts of the world suffering a persecution as brutal and diabolical as any unleashed on the Church since the time of Christ.  I would add something else: since in the quote above and other statements (see here, for instance, from Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, comparing the successors of the Caesars to the successors of St. Peter), Cardinal George made a point of situating persecution in the context of the ultimate victory of Christ, perhaps,  we should also see him as a Patron of Christian Hope.

This Week’s Links

I’ve grown accustomed to posting a weekly digest of posts every Sunday, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a clever, snappy name for it.  Well, no matter, here’s what I posted over the past week (with a couple of bonus days):

Morality and Poverty” There once was a left-wing rabble-rousing magazine that published an article detailing how immoral and irresponsible behavior exacerbated the problems of the poor, and how government programs incentivized said behavior . . . neither of which follows the part line.   

Is The Church A Political Animal?” There’s politics, and then there’s  Politics.  If you think the Church is just another political party, you need to check in with Prof. Ratzinger. 

Eucharistic Adoration: sitting at the Feet of the Lord”  A quick meditation on why Adoration is good for us and our Church. 

Mozart, Herbert, John The Baptist, and Why We Can’t BeAngels” An eighteenth century composer, a seventeenth century poet, and a first century prophet walk into a bar . . . o.k., not really, but they do join me in a discussion of why what (if anything) angels wear doesn’t matter, but it does for us humans 

Abortion Myth #10” Believe it or not, so-called “counselors” at abortion clinics still tell desperate pregnant women that the child growing inside them is no more than a “clump of cells”, to be disposed of at will. Here’s a quick run-down of some counter-arguments  

Our Eternal Destiny: Armed Robbery, or a Warm Place By The Fire?” According to some atheists, our view of salvation makes God look like an armed robber   

Finally, a couple of beautiful, joful music clips for the Easter Season: “J.S. Bach – Sinfonia, Oratorio” & “King’s College Choir –Thine Be The Glory (Haendel)”