Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Keep Your Eyes On The Lord

Lately I have been finding it very depressing going onto Catholic websites and blogs.  It all seems to be just bad news and doom and gloom.  Many seem to think that the Catholic Church is on the brink of implosion and self destruction.  Many moan and carry on about our wayward bishops, priests and religious.  It seems everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else.  The authors of the blogs and websites think they are just fine and everyone else is on the path to hell.

And there certainly are tremendous problems within and outside of the Church.  But this is hardly new.  The Church and the world are populated by sinners, and we tend to have a lot of problems.  It's like looking at a hospital and saying, "Look at all those sick people."

I agree that times are much worse than they have been for several generations.  It wasn't that long ago when it was fairly easy to be a Christian in our society because, at least on the surface, our culture was based on Christian morality.  But that is no longer true for myriad reasons, and the immorality and the loss of the sense of right and wrong has invaded large swaths of the Church.  Just as has happened many times in our 2000 year history, we are at a crisis point for many in the Church, and it is important that we pray and offer up reparations for this situation.

But should we be focusing all our energy and time on looking at all the problems in the Church and in each other?  We are most definitely in the midst of a storm.  But should our focus be on the storm, or should we be looking elsewhere?

One of the greatest Catholics of the 20th Century, and maybe any century, was Venerable Fulton Sheen. He was truly the greatest evangelist of our time, much beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His talks and writings are widely available all over the Internet, and I would highly suggest that you avail yourself of these materials.

Screen shot of the Fulton Sheen app
One of these Fulton Sheen resources that I would recommend without hesitation is  an absolutely wonderful app that is available on the Iphone/Ipod/Ipad and also on Android devices. It is called the Fulton Sheen Audio Library. Click here to view information about this app. Click here for the link to their website.  From their own description:
Almost 300 audio talks from the great 20th Century Catholic preacher and writer, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Includes many of his retreat talks to priests and laymen, his St. T  herese of Lisieux series, and his incredible 50-part catechism series that outlines all the basic teachings of the Catholic Church, as well as many individual talks on so many important topics relevant today. Grow in your own spiritual life and get to know the life and teachings of Jesus Christ from the man loved and admired by people of all Christian and non-Christian religions for his commanding and sincere preaching via radio and television. He died in 1979, and he is in the process of becoming a canonized saint of the Catholic Church. This is an amazing collection you don't want to be without.
This is not hyperbole. This truly is an amazing collection of talks by Venerable Fulton Sheen that, if listened to in a right and prayerful attitude, is guaranteed to strengthen your faith and bring you closer to your Creator. You can download the app for free which gives you a few sample talks, and for about $8 more you can get all of the almost 300 talks. One is better than the other. I cannot recommend this app highly enough. This developer also has several other apps with some great Catholic speakers on them that you can check out as well. Forget the game apps and get this one.

I recently listened to one of the series of talks from this App which was a retreat given by Bishop Sheen. The last talk in this series is entitled, "Peter's Fall & Rise." Bishop Sheen explains how we are all just like St. Peter, our first Pope, in his foibles and weaknesses and that there is much to learn from Peter. At one point Bishop Sheen talks about the time that Christ came out to the disciples on the water. The apostles were in a boat and Our Lord walked across the water towards them. Impetuous Peter got out of the boat and started, amazingly, to walk on the water towards our Lord. From Bishop Sheen:
[Our Lord, to escape the crowds who wanted to make Him king, had gone up to the mountain top to pray. Our Lord did not want the apostles contaminated by those who wanted to make Christ a political king, so he sent the apostles across the lake]. A storm came up. He sees them from the mountain top and the storm is so great . . . that even these fisherman were frightened. And they see someone coming to them on the water. And they think it is a ghost. Despite all the time they have been with our Lord, they still do not know him. They were not absolutely convinced that He was God and they had not given themselves totally to him. Finally, the Lord said, "It is I." . . . Here we get the impulsiveness of Peter. Is it impulsiveness really? He said, "Lord, bid me come to you upon the waters." He so loved the Lord and he had gone through this storm that he wanted to be with Him immediately. So, "Bid me come to you." . . . The Lord said, "Come." Let us not forget that. The Lord said, "Come." . . . And he walked on the water. Then he began to sink. Why did Peter sink? He began to drown, and Peter could swim because we know that he swam 400 yards on the Sunday after Easter. But he began to drown. Why? Have you ever read the gospels closely enough to know the answer? He took his eyes off Jesus. He took account of the winds. In other words, he began to say, "Oh, have you read that latest survey about the priests? Oh, did you see that article about the Church? Oh, did you hear what is happening to the nuns? Oh, did you read those statistics?" He took account of all the currents of popular opinion and he began to sink. He took his eyes off the Lord.

Peter and the apostles were in the midst of a very real and dangerous storm that was threatening to drown them all.  When Peter got out of the boat and started walking on water towards Jesus, he was doing something that is normally physically impossible.  But if Peter and the other Apostles had kept their eyes, mind and heart on the Lord, the storm would have had no effect on them whatsoever.  Peter would have walked on the water as if he was walking on solid granite.  They were walking by sight, not by faith, and the result was they were fearful and in danger of drowning.

We know that we live in a post-Christian society.  But do we have to focus in on every degenerate, despicable and evil thing that is happening both in and out of the church?  Far too often it isn't even the inherently evil and sinful events around us but just things that we don't personally like that consume people's attention.  Recently a lot of people got themselves all riled up over the bishops doing a dance at World Youth Day in Rio.  Here are some comments from the forum at, a traditional Catholic forum:
The most nauseating spectacle so far out of WYD 2013. All of the "excellencies" dancing around like pre-schoolers... there are no words 
All the WYD nonsense I am seeing in the news has been really getting to me!  
I wonder if Cardinal Dolan was the lead dancer. Laughing, as he does,  and getting into the "spirit of Vatican 2" for the whole world to see. Hey we can be just like the Pentecostals.  
The CHURCH of Vac II not only helps you lose your faith and also entertains..the dumb down catholic who think this is what going to church is entertainment. Because their n.o .mass is boring. They the Bishops can  not  help themself to make themself  look foolish.
There actually was one poster who felt this was much ado about nothing, but still doesn't quite get it:
I saw this as well, and while I do find it annoying and frustrating, I am not going to get all up in arms about it either.  It didn't happen in the context of the Mass to my knowledge, or the Divine Office, so there are no teachings or rubrics governing such things.  We might argue about its prudence, but outside of Liturgical Prayer, its hard to argue much more than that.  There are plenty of things to get up in arms about that are much bigger deals than this from my perspective.  Others are, of course, free to disagree. 
Even Michael Voris, who never misses a chance to bash bishops and priests, said there was nothing sinful or even wrong about what the bishops did.  He, like many others, thought it looked foolish and sent a wrong message to the world.  So why are we dwelling on it?  Why don't we hear about the good things that happened at Worth Youth Day?  What about the millions who had a truly spiritual experience and developed a greater love for God and the Church?

Like Peter and the other apostles, we focus on the storm, and like Peter, we find ourselves drowning. What did Jesus say to Peter when he started to fall into the water? "You of little faith. Why did you doubt?" We, as Catholics, are given an ironclad promise by our Lord that He will never leave us. We know that He is with us always in the Blessed Sacrament. We know that our Blessed Mother, Mary, is constantly before her Son's throne pleading and interceding on our part. We have communion with the angels and saints who pray for us constantly, and even the poor souls in Purgatory. We know that Satan will have his hour, but that his time is limited and it will come to an end. We have the Sacraments of the church so that we always have access to the Grace of God and His great mercy and forgiveness. The Lord is as much with us as He was with the apostles during the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  

In another message entitled "Hour of Testing" from the same retreat, Bishop Sheen talked about the troubling times that we live in and the fact that our world has become so anti-Christian.  He says that the time we live in (and this was in the 1970's) the majority opinion, even in the Church, is often wrong and like Gideon in the Bible, God's army on this earth is very small.  From Bishop Sheen:
These days, therefore, our ranks are being thinned. God does not expressly say to the Church tell your cowards to leave. They just leave. God doesn't make some kind of papal decision to say that well, the majority opinion is wrong, those that get the ear of the press. No, but he allows things to work out this particular way. And then will come, not in our time but not far after our time and perhaps in the time of some, then will come the battles and the testing. Our Lord said Satan would sift you as wheat, and we're being sifted as wheat. So we can all thank God that we live in these days. Really, it's beautiful. Now we can say aye or nay. And we can bear up under assaults and criticisms and ridicule because this is the lot of the Christian in the days of the spirit of the world.
How are we bearing up under the assaults of the spirit of the world? Are we just moaning and complaining and saying how terrible it all is? Or are we, as Bishop Sheen said, thanking God for allowing us to live in this time when we can truly shine as servants of God? Are we keeping our eyes on the Lord, or are we concentrating on the storms around us?

Read some of the messages given to us in Holy Scripture:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28-31)
God has said, never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.  (Heb. 13:5)
For those of us who are concentrating on the storm and not on the Lord, remember, we are to walk by faith, not by sight.  

Psalm 3:
Lord, look how my enemies have increased!
    Many are attacking me.
Many are saying about me,
    “Even with God on his side,
        he won’t be victorious.” Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield that surrounds me.
    You are my glory.
    You hold my head high.

I call aloud to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
I lie down and sleep.
    I wake up again because the Lord continues to support me.
I am not afraid of the tens of thousands
    who have taken positions against me on all sides.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
    You have slapped all my enemies in the face.
    You have smashed the teeth of wicked people.
        May your blessing rest on your people. Selah


Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Sorrowful Mysteries: Be It Done Unto Me According To Thy Word

Yesterday, August 3, was the First Saturday of the Month. The First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was first mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima on July 13, 1917. After showing the three children a vision of hell she said, "You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace... I shall come to ask for... the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays..." The First Saturday devotion is as follows:
It consists in going to Confession, receiving Communion, reciting five decades of the Rosary and meditating for a quarter of an hour on the mysteries of the Rosary on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. The Confession may be made during the eight days preceding or following the first Saturday of each month, provided that Holy Communion be received in the state of grace. Should one forget to form the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it may be formed at the next Confession, occasion to go to confession being taken at the first opportunity.
I normally take one mystery of the Rosary, e.g., The Second Sorrowful Mystery, and write a meditation on it.  Today I'm going to do something a little different and take all Five Sorrowful Mysteries and meditate on our Blessed Mother's Role in these mysteries.  The Five Sorrowful Mysteries are:

  1. The Agony in the Garden:  Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane pray and prepare himself for the great passion into which he is about to enter.  He contemplates the entire sin of the world, which causes him so much agony that he literally starts to sweat blood.  At this time, Judas, in the ultimate act of betrayal came into the Garden with the Temple guards to arrest Jesus.  Our Lord is arrested and treated as a common criminal.   

  2. The Scourging at the Pillar:  In an effort to appease the blood hungry crowd, Pilate had Our Lord scourged at the pillar, a most inhumane and cruel punishment, using whips that literally tore into the skin, exposing bone.  Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of any crime, but he nonetheless ordered Jesus to be scourged within an inch of his life.

  3. The Crowning With Thorns:  In mocking our Lord as King of the Jews, the Roman Soldiers took a crown made from thorns and pushed it into our Blessed Lord's Sacred Head.  If you've ever stuck yourself with a rose thorn, you know how painful this is.  Imagine even larger thorns woven into a "crown" and smashed down upon your head and literally into your brain.  The pain must have been beyond excruciating.  

  4. The Carrying of the Cross:  After being scourged and suffering a great loss of blood and enduring the pain and humiliation of the crown of thorns and losing even more blood, Jesus takes up his cross and walks among the taunting crowds to his place of execution.  Some of the women show great compassion for him, such as Veronica who braved the soldiers to wipe the blood from the face of our Lord.  Some of the women of Jerusalem openly wept for him.  But mostly our Lord had to endure such taunts as "Savior of the world, you can't even save yourself!"  No doubt many in the crowds threw things at him and spat upon our Dear Savior.  

  5. The Crucifixion:  Our Lord was nailed to the Cross by his hands and feet where he hung naked for three hours, being bitten by flies and other insects, having to force himself up to breathe, and enduring even more taunting and insults from the crowds while the last of his blood poured out of his body from his innumerable wounds.  

What was the role of Mary, the mother of our Lord in all of this? How did she handle the tremendous cruelty and injustice endured by Her Son? There can be no doubt that she felt each blow herself. There can be no doubt that she would have gladly taken the place of Her Son to spare him this awful agony and torture.  But we can also be sure that our Lord spent a good part of His earthly life preparing His Mother for this moment, explaining to her, just as he tried to explain to his apostles, that this was the very reason he came into the world.  His purpose in life was to die.  Mary carried this pain within herself from the time she took her Son to the temple as a newborn babe and was told by the old man, Simeon, that a sword would pierce her heart.  

Mary suffered every step of the way along with Her Son, starting long before that first Good Friday. She understood in a way that no one else on earth did how those around them completely misunderstood and misinterpreted Jesus. She saw Judas who saw Jesus only as a way to enrich himself. She saw Peter who appeared in many ways to be nothing more than a blowhard, vowing his loyalty to the Lord and then running when there was true danger. She saw the Pharisees and Saducees, the religious leaders of the day, attack her Precious Son, wanting to destroy Him because He seemed to threaten their role in society. She knew, as no one else did, how completely pure and innocent Her Son was and how completely undeserving He was of the barbaric and tortuous death He was forced to endure at the hands of the very ones He had come to save.

If any of the rest of us had been in Mary's place and had to watch such cruelty visited upon our children, we most certainly would have wanted to strike out in some way against the perpetrators of that cruelty.  But we have no record anywhere of Mary ever complaining or speaking against anyone who betrayed her Son in any way.  She lived by her words of the consent she gave to the Angel Gabriel when asked to be the Mother of God: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word".

Mary was the first true disciple of Jesus.  She was the first one to give herself completely and without reserve to Jesus, accepting His rule in her life.  She recognized the Omnipotence of God, acknowledging that He was totally in charge of everything that happened.  No matter how dark and desperate situations in life may have seemed, even at that darkest moment when Our Lord was crucified on Calvary, Mary silently and stoically accepted the Will of God and never once lashed out at any of those who treated her Son so unjustly.  

I am seeing very little of this trusting and faithful attitude in the Catholic Church today.  This lack of trust is not surprising at all from those on the more liberal side.  Liberal is often all about "change" and wanting things the way we want them.  The problem is that far too many on the left want change that is not consistent with Church teaching, such as married priests and women priests.  They are not willing to listen to the Magesterium of the Church and allow the Holy Spirit to guide them but insist on pushing their own beliefs and desires.

What is surprising, at least to me, is that those who call themselves "Traditional Catholics" are really no different from their liberal counterparts. Many traditionalists have very specific ideas about how the Church should be run and they do not tolerate anyone who disagrees with them. Many seem to feel that they have a full and complete understanding of the Will of God and that they, literally, know better than the Pope what is right and wrong. Pope Francis has become a lightening rod to the traditionalists, and even those outside of the Church are becoming very aware of this. There have been more than a few articles in secular publications and websites noting how dissatisfied many Traditionalists are with Pope Francis. Many of these Traditionalists seem to feel that if things are not exactly to their liking, that means the sky is falling and, unlike our Blessed Mother who waited on the Lord, they feel they have to take matters into their own hands and make their own judgments.

Traditionalists are more and more reminding me of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  From Luke 8:9-14:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I received an e-mail from a traditionalist friend recently in which she forwarded an e-mail from a friend discussing Pope Francis.  This is how the e-mail began:
Now, on to the Pope. It is a sad state when one wakes up every day filled with dread as to what horrific thing the Pope is going to say today. I called Bergoglio as a “disaster” literally on day one. And a disaster he is.
The author of this e-mail was very upset with Pope Francis' recent comments regarding "gay" priests in which he said that he cannot judge a homosexual priest who is trying to serve the Lord.  The Holy Father's exact words were "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"  The author of the e-mail called this comment "stupid".  She says she is not sedevacantist, and fully believes that Pope Francis is a legitimate pope, but she sees his role as a "chastisement" to the Church for all the wrong we have done.  And she feels no qualms at all about harshly criticizing him because he does not live up to her standards.  From the e-mail:
Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ and is a chastisement. I am not a sede-vacantist (meaning the See of Peter is empty and Francis is not the Pope). That’s the coward’s way out. If I was a sede-vacantist I wouldn’t care what Bergoglio said or did in the same way I don’t care what the Anglican “archbishop” of Canterbury says or does. No. He’s the Pope alright, and he is an absolute disaster, as I said from the beginning. Expect things to get progressively worse.
The self righteousness and scorn in this e-mail is enough to make my skin crawl.  I am sure this person prays the Rosary on a daily basis, would never think of missing Sunday Mass and probably even goes to daily Mass, and from all outward appearances is an upstanding and faithful Catholic.  But her words belie that fact, just as did the Pharisee's words in the parable.

We don't have to understand everything that goes on around us.  Most likely we won't understand when we are in the middle of a storm, just as I am sure our Blessed Mother did not understand all of the trying and painful circumstances in her life, and most especially the horrendous events on the way to and at Calvary.  But she never struck out at others.  She placed herself completely and without reserve into the hands of God and let Him work it all out.  That is what we must also learn to do.  If we truly believe, as Catholics, that this is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, that the Catholic Church is His Mystical Body upon which the gates of Hell shall never prevail, and if we truly believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the physical representative of Christ on earth who cannot mislead us in faith and morals, then we have no right to sit as judge and jury over anyone or anything.  This is most especially true concerning the Pope.  We must follow the lead of our Blessed Mother in all things.

Many traditionalists are scornful of Pope Francis because he preaches love and acceptance of all people.  He believes in mercy, not judgment.  That does not mean accepting people's sin, but it does mean accepting people.  We are all sinners, and none of us have escaped our sin except through the mercy of God.  Even though we may not struggle with "big" sins such as homosexuality, we could actually be far worse sinners in the eyes of God than those who do struggle with the "big" sins.  Our Lord said to whom much is given, much is expected.  We who have been given and accepted the grace of God and forgiveness of our sins will be judged by a much harsher standard than those who have not received the Grace of God.  As Christ told the chief priests and elders of his time:  "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did."  (Matt. 21:31-32)

Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery

When our Lord walked the earth, many sinners were attracted to Him and wanted to be with Him because he showed them love and acceptance. He didn't wait for them to repent and change. He reached out to them while they were still in their sins, as He did with the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery.  With many of these people, once they felt the love of Christ, that gave them the courage and strength they need to turn away from their sins.  Pope Francis is following in the ways of our Lord in reaching out to the world, and the world is responding. They see in Pope Francis a man who truly loves them despite their sins, and I believe that many will turn away from their sins as the Pope leads them to the love of Jesus Christ.

You may not believe that.  You may be completely baffled by the actions of the Holy Father and not understand what is going on.  But you need to take the attitude of our Blessed Mother when she was in the midst of the storm of Calvary.  Trust in our Lord that He can work out everything.  Realize that it is not your job to save the Church from itself, it is not your job to sit as judge and juror over the Pope or anyone else.  It is your job to trust in the Lord and to allow His love to flow through you to others, just as our Holy Mother did.  

Be It Done Unto Me According To Thy Word.

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