Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why I Read So Few Catholic Blogs

I had an interesting run in with a Catholic blogger recently. The blogger is Paul Anthony Melanson and he has a blog entitled, "La Salette Journey." He wrote a post criticizing Pope Francis for his "Urbi et Orbi" message. His post is entitled, "Does Pope Francis offer an authentic Gospel or the 'Social Gospel?' " [HERE].  His answer is that Pope Francis is preaching only a social gospel, and not telling the world about spiritual salvation. Therefore, Pope Francis is preaching a false gospel. Melanson quotes extensively from Dietrich von Hildebrand to show just how wrong Pope Francis is.

It is interesting that Melanson gives no direct quotes from Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi message. He does link to another Catholic blogger, "The Radical Catholic", who is also harshly critical of Pope Francis and - surprise, surprise! - "The Radical Catholic" also does not give any direct quotes from Pope Francis. Neither of these two Catholic bloggers even give any links so that we can read for ourselves the message from the Holy Father.  These bloggers offer only harsh criticism and condemnation.

Since these two self-proclaimed models of Catholicism refuse to play by any rules of fairness, I will make up for their deficiencies. You can go HERE to read the full Urbi et Orbi message from Pope Francis.

ISIS in Iraq
In his message, Pope Francis said, "Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people" and then went on to list several hot-spots in the world such as Iraq and Syria "who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution." The Holy Father prayed for "all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation."

The Holy Father prayed: 
May Christ the Savior give peace to Nigeria, where (even in these hours) more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed. I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.
Victims of terrorism in Nigeria
Pope Francis mentioned the suffering of millions of children in the world:
The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.
I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods.
Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.
Pope Francis concludes his message by saying:
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth.
May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into plowshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.

Then we will be able to cry out with joy: "Our eyes have seen your salvation"
Both Melanson and "The Radical Catholic" are very upset that Pope Francis would equate "salvation" with being concerned and praying for an end to the the physical suffering of so many millions around the world. From the Radical Catholic:
While I wish to distract neither from the horrible plight of so many suffering around the world today nor from the genuineness of the Holy Father's sentiments, I find myself wondering: Did Christ come to save us from these things? Did He come to save us from poverty, famine, persecution and suffering? Did He come in the glory of His power to establish a kingdom in which there is no want, no calumny, no corruption? Is this the reason for His appearance two millennia ago? Is this the meaning of His Advent?
I can only wonder:  are these two bloggers for real?  Did they never read Matthew 25 - "whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me?"  Christ talks about clothing the naked, feeding the starving, caring for the poor.  He said that those who don't do these things will not be in the Kingdom of God.  A Christian never separates concern for the spiritual state of persons from concern for their physical state.  It is just as wrong to not care for people physically as it is to neglect them spiritually.  

I wrote a comment to Melanson's blog in which I said, "I guess Dr. Hildebrand wouldn't like Pope Benedict XVI either. What up with these popes trying to give comfort to the world?! That is something Jesus would never do."  

I then linked to the 2012 "Urbi et Orbi" message from Pope Benedict XVI [HERE].  In this message, Pope Benedict mentions the tremendous suffering of people in various countries, such as Syria and "the Land where the Redeemer was born", North Africa, "the vast continent of Asia", Mali, Nigeria, the "Democratic Republic of Congo" and Kenya.  Pope Benedict ended his message with:
Dear brothers and sisters! Kindness and truth, justice and peace have met; they have become incarnate in the child born of Mary in Bethlehem. That child is the Son of God; he is God appearing in history. His birth is a flowering of new life for all humanity. May every land become a good earth which receives and brings forth kindness and truth, justice and peace.
Eerie how similar these messages are, and yet Melanson has the audacity to say in his comment to me:
Actually, Dr. Hildebrand would have no problem with Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict never advanced a Social Gospel. Read your own link, if you are capable. Nowhere does Benedict hold Christ as the Savior from poverty and all the ills of society.
Oh really?  What do you call this:
May peace spring up on the vast continent of Asia. May the Child Jesus look graciously on the many peoples who dwell in those lands and, in a special way, upon all those who believe in him. May the King of Peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the high task which awaits them. I express my hope that, in fulfilling this task, they will esteem the contribution of the religions, in respect for each, in such a way that they can help to build a fraternal society for the benefit of that noble People and of the whole world.

May the Birth of Christ favour the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians. May the Redeemer bring help and comfort to the refugees from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grant peace to Kenya, where brutal attacks have struck the civilian population and places of worship.
May the Child Jesus bless the great numbers of the faithful who celebrate him in Latin America. May he increase their human and Christian virtues, sustain all those forced to leave behind their families and their land, and confirm government leaders in their commitment to development and fighting crime.
It is obvious that these bloggers hear only what they want to hear and read only what they want to read.  They certainly don't let reality intrude.

I wrote back to Melanson quoting from James 2:16:
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
I cannot remember my entire comment because Melanson refused to post it.  Instead, he alluded to it by writing this:
Since "Catholic in Brooklyn" doesn't care to engage in honest dialogue, I won't be publishing her comments.
She left another comment asserting that men are primarily interested in the food for the body. She misses the point.
Lucifer was the first preacher of the Social Gospel. He said to Jesus, "Turn these stones into bread."

And how did Jesus respond? With the most succinct rebuttal of the Social Gospel: That man does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God.
I guess Melanson's idea of dialogue is that he talks and unless you agree with him - shut up.

I have a question for Melanson, "The Radical Catholic" and all the other radical traditionalists who see Pope Francis as basically a heretic.  Do they honestly believe that Pope Francis is not preaching the message of salvation to the world? Pope Francis wrote a book-length apostolic exhortation which is entirely concerned with preaching the Gospel to the world.  From that document:
Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of these are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.
John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”. Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church” and “the missionary task must remain foremost”. What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7).” (14-15)
Melason, "The Radical Catholic" and others would do well to read carefully the following statement from Pope Francis:
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).” (49)
Are these the words of a man who is preaching only the "social gospel"?  The purpose of "Urbi et Orbi" is to speak to the world.  Should we just ignore the world's tremendous suffering and instead tell them that they had better repent of their sins or they're going to hell?  Is that how we will reach them?  There is a time and place to preach repentance to people.  But that is not the purpose of "Urbi et Orbi."  To accuse Pope Francis of preaching a false gospel because he shows compassion and empathy for the suffering of the world is truly appalling.

Melanson banned me from his "Catholic" blog because I support the Holy Father.   One of those commenting on Melanson's blog wrote this in response to my comment:
Actually Jesus didn't come to bring comfort to the world. He came to bring peace to individual souls who turn to Him and away from their sins with humility and contriteness of heart in complete surrender. And that can only happen if those individuals openly reject the world.

Oh but hey, don't take my word for it, let Him tell you:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’" - Matthew 10:34-36
So what do you think you know that Christ doesn't know?
If this was true Catholicism, I would immediately turn in my card. Is following a Christ a matter of just pointing out the sins of others and telling them to shape up or ship out and disregarding their physical suffering since they brought it on themselves anyway? How can anyone possibly say that because you care about the physical suffering of people, then you obviously don't care about their souls? This is exactly what Melanson and "The Radical Catholic" are saying about Pope Francis. They would do well to heed the words of Our Lord as recorded in Matthew 12:36 - "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,"

For Paul Anthony Melanson and "The Radical Catholic" and so many others whose main occupation seems to be condemning the Holy Father, here are the words of Pope Francis from Evangelii Gaudium:
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.” (85)
UPDATE:  I have invited Paul Anthony Melanson to comment, but he refuses to acknowledge me.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Do I Allow God To Love Me?

The adoration of the shepherds
We are now in the Christmas season in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  God is born as a man, like His Creation in every way except sin.  And how did the great Creator choose to come into the world?  He was born in a dirty, vermin-infested manger surrounded by barn animals and greeted by the lowliest members of human society - shepherds, who spent their lives in the fields with their animals apart from everyone else.  These were men with little to no education who rarely even bathed and were shunned by all of "proper" society.  And not only did our Lord choose to announce His coming to these lowliest members of society, He said that He, too, was a shepherd.  Our Lord is the Good Shepherd who will go to any lengths to find His lost sheep and will even lay down His own precious life to save His sheep.

Moses the Shepherd
Anyone who has spent any amount of time studying the Bible and the Life of Christ knows that Our Lord never does anything in a way that we would expect.  As Pope Francis has told us, He is a God of surprises.  In the Old Testament The Lord tests the faith of the father of his people - Abraham - by demanding that Abraham kill his son.  He prepares the patriarch Joseph to save the known civilized world by allowing him to be falsely accused and thrown into prison for several years.  He chooses a slave nation - Israel - to be the ones by which He will make Himself known to the world.  He chooses Moses to lead this slave nation to freedom.  Moses had been driven from society because he had killed a man.  He then become a shepherd (yes, the lowliest member of society) and was prepared by God to lead the nation of Israel by spending 40 years shepherding sheep in the wilderness.  The Lord chose another shepherd - David - to be the great king of Israel.

We can never know the Mind of God. We can never assume that we know what He wants or how He will act among us. Yet, we continue to seek God on our own terms and in our own ways. The result is that we delude ourselves into thinking that we are serving God when in reality we are pushing God away and serving nothing more than our own egos. This was the warning that Pope Francis gave us in his Christmas message. The Holy Father told us that seeking God means that we must be open and allow God to find us. (Read the entire message HERE.)
On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? "But I am searching for the Lord" - we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant's presence is: do I allow God to love me?
This very much echoes a statement made by the Venerable Fulton Sheen:
We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us.  God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.
In the great classic, "The Spiritual Combat" by Lorenzo Scupoli (a monk who lived from 1530 to 1610), the author begins his book by stating, "If you wish, beloved in Christ, to reach the height of perfection, and by drawing near to your God to become one spirit with Him (and no aim can be imagined or expressed which is greater, or nobler than this), you must before all else gain a true idea of what constitutes spiritual perfection." Dom Scupoli then gives examples of what does not constitute spiritual perfection. It does not consist of "outward mortification, in hair shirts and disciplines, in long watchings and fastings, and in other bodily sufferings and chastisements." Dom Scupoli warns against those "who think they have reached the climax of perfection when they say many prayers, attend many services and offices, and are regularly at Church and at Communion."

Dom Scupoli warns us that those who trust in external actions "are all deceived.  For although these practices are sometimes means of gaining the spirit of perfection, and sometimes are its fruits, yet in no sense can it ever be said that true spiritual perfection consists in these."  Dom Scupoli most certainly does not condemn these actions in and of themselves, for as he writes, these practices "are means most efficacious for obtaining spirituality, when they are properly and discreetly employed" and that "they are also fruits of the Spirit in truly spiritual persons" who follow these external practices "not for the sake of curiosity and devotional feeling, but that they may gain deeper knowledge of their own corruptness and of God's Mercy and Goodness."

This great author tells us that
"to others, however, who found perfection entirely on external practices, such works may bring greater ruin than open sins; not that these works are bad in themselves, for in themselves they are very good, but in consequence of the mistaken use which is made of them they have this sad result: because those who practice them are so wrapt up in what they do, that they leave their hearts a prey to their own evil inclinations and to the devices of Satan."
In other words, our trust in external practices causes us to start trusting in ourselves and our own goodness, and that makes us easy prey for the devil.

Dom Scupoli says those who vainly trust in outward practices
"may easily be gathered from their lives and conversation. For in everything, whether it be great or small, they seek their own advantage, and like to be preferred before others; they are self-willed and opinionated, blind to their own faults, sharp-sighted for the faults of others, and severely condemn the sayings and doings of other men. But if you touch only with your finger a certain vain reputation in which they hold themselves and are pleased to be held by others; if you bid them discontinue any of their regular and formal devotions, they are at once angry and exceedingly disturbed."
Dom Scupoli writes:
It is therefore quite evident that all such persons are in great danger. For since the inward eye is darkened, by which they see themselves and their outward actions which are good, they attribute to themselves a high degree of perfection, and so, becoming more and more puffed up, they readily pass judgment upon others; yet they themselves need a special miracle of grace to convert them, for nothing short of that would have effect. It is more easy to convert and bring back an open sinner to the path of truth, than the man whose sin is hidden and mantled with the semblance of virtue.
This, sadly, is what I find almost universally in the Catholic blogosphere, most especially among those who call themselves "traditionalists."  These bloggers hold themselves out as the models of Christian perfection, and forcefully condemn anyone who disagrees with them.  No one is excluded from this condemnation, from lay persons up to and including, and sometimes most especially, the Pope.

Dom Scupoli tells us what constitutes true spirituality:
You clearly and distinctly see, then, from what I have said, that the essence of the spiritual life does not lie in any of those things to which I have alluded. It consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the Divine Goodness and Greatness, of our own nothingness, and proneness to all evil; in the love of God and the hatred of self; in entire subjection not only to God Himself, but for the love of Him, to all creatures; in giving up our own will, and in completely resigning ourselves to the Divine Pleasure; moreover, in willing and doing all this with no other wish or aim than the glory and honor of God, the fulfillment of His Will because it is His Will, and because He deserves to be served and loved.
Pope Francis succinctly summarized this when he said, "Do I allow God to love me?"  Whenever we start trusting in ourselves and in our own actions, we are cutting ourselves off from the love of God. That is the danger of fundamentalism.  And that is the danger of both the liberal and traditional Catholic movements.  While liberal and traditional Catholics may seem like opposites, in reality they are two sides of the same coin because they are both trusting in themselves and their own righteousness.

And between the liberal and ultra-conservative traditionalists, the latter is actually far more spiritually dangerous. It is easy to point out the sin of the liberal because they are so obviously in contradiction to Church teaching. But those who call themselves "traditionalists" are involved in a much more insidious sin. They look very good and spiritual on the outside. But as Dom Scupoli writes, "It is more easy to convert and bring back an open sinner to the path of truth, than the man whose sin is hidden and mantled with the semblance of virtue."

As I have pointed out before, our ultimate role model is Mary, our Blessed Mother. Satan fears her above all other creatures. What is it that made her so dangerous to Satan? It was her complete abandonment of self, and her total and unquestioning reliance on God. "My soul does magnify the Lord, my spirit does rejoice in God my Savior." Mary accepted God's will into her life. She never resisted Him in any way. Therein lies spiritual perfection. How do we get there?

Dom Scupoli tells us this:
Now you see wherein the real perfection of a Christian lies, and that to obtain it you must enter upon a constant and sharp warfare against self.
Our greatest enemy is our own self will, our opinions, our "goodness."  That will cut us off from God faster and more completely than anything or anyone outside of us.  Yes, we are in a spiritual warfare, and the one we must fight more than any other is ourselves.

Dom Scupoli gives us the weapons we must use:
You must provide yourself with four very safe and highly necessary weapons, that you may win the palm, and be finally a conqueror in this spiritual conflict -- these are:
  • Distrust in Self
  • Trust in God
  • Spiritual Exercises
  • Prayer
Jesus Christ - the great Creator of the Universe - came to us as a small, defenseless infant.  He became the Sacrifice for our sins by dying as a condemned criminal on the Cross, again helpless and defenseless.  If we are to be like Christ, we too must become "helpless and defenseless."

In his Christmas homily, Pope Francis said the following:
When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12).
The "sign" is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.
This statement of Pope Francis echoes that of Our Blessed Mother in her great Magnificat:
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
Truly, one of the most profound and penetrating questions we can ask ourselves is that posed by our Holy Father, "Do I Allow God To Love Me?"


Monday, December 8, 2014

In Praise of the Immaculate Conception

O Mother, how pure you are, you are untouched by sin;
yours was the privilege to carry God within you.

Divine Office
If you wanted to be a great baseball player, what would you need? First and foremost, you need innate talent. You either got it or your don't. But then you would need someone who could help develop your natural talent. Wouldn't you want to be coached and taught by the best? Certainly it is the dream of every wannabe major league baseball player to take the traits of all the best baseball players in history - Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, etc. etc. - and roll them all into one person who would be your own personal coach. And to make the pot sweeter, your coach would have access to the Commissioner of Professional Baseball, and just by his connections, your coach would be able to get you onto any team you wished. When you messed up and didn't have such a good day, your coach would be able to smooth it over with all of the powers that be so that they would barely be aware of your weaknesses and failings. In time, all of your failings would actually disappear and you would become that great baseball player you always dreamed of being.

As Christians, we have been given a much loftier and immensely more difficult goal and even higher obstacles to overcome than one aspiring to be a first rate baseball player.

Jesus Christ laid it out as follows: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). Our Lord requires each one of us to become perfect and sinless sons of God.  And He demands this even though He knows that not one of us has the innate capability or "talent" to do so.  On our own, it is easier for an ant to become an elephant than for a fallen human being to become spiritually perfect.

Of course, Our Lord has given us many ways in which to achieve holiness and spiritual perfection. First are the sacraments - baptism, confession, the Eucharist, etc. We have the Mass in which we present the bloodless sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father in atonement for our sins. We have the written Word of God - the Bible. We have the prayers of the angels and saints. We have the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit Himself as our guide and comforter who will never let us down. These are just a few of the many spiritual aids we have been given.

And yet we stumble and fall constantly.  Our sinful nature keeps pulling us down.  It seems like we fail more often than we succeed.

Just as someone aspiring to be a great ball player would want an expertly skilled coach, so we, as Christians, need an expert skilled in following Christ. We need someone to hold our hand, to guide our every step. We need this someone to be compassionate and understanding of our sinful state. And when we do inevitably fall, we need someone who can go to the Lord and ask Him for the grace we are too stupid and ignorant to ask for on our own.

And that is exactly what Our Lord gave us as He was dying on the Cross.   This was the meaning behind His words to His Mother and St. John as He was dying on the cross (Matthew 19:26-27):
When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 
On this day, December 8, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, declared a dogma by the Church in 1854. This states that Mary was conceived without sin and that she remained in that sinless state for the rest of her life. Mary knew the secret to perfection. Mary lived her life in perfect conformity to God, never once wavering. She was able to live her life untainted by sin of any kind.

Apart from the Holy Trinity, we can find no better teacher and guide than the Blessed Virgin. And that is exactly why Our Lord gave His Most Blessed Mother to us, to be our mother.

St. Louis de Montfort writes ("True Devotion to Mary"):
Poor children of Mary, you are extremely weak and changeable. Your human nature is deeply impaired. It is sadly true that you have been fashioned from the same corrupted nature as the other children of Adam and Eve. But do not let that discourage you. Rejoice and be glad! Here is a secret which I am revealing to you, a secret unknown to most Christians, even the most devout.
St. Louis de Montfort further writes :
As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God's creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus.
That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin, which is the devotion I teach; or in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism.
Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;
draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.
Divine Office
Mary is our role model. She is what we must all attain to - total spiritual perfection. But she is not only meant to be our role model. Our Lord gave her to us as our own personal coach! Our Lord told St. John to take Mary into his household, and He tells each of us that we must take Mary into our "household" and make her a central part of our lives. As St. Louis de Montfort said, just as Christ came to us through Mary, we must go to Him through her. It is through her that we receive all graces. 

Our Lord said that "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist."  And how was John the Baptist sanctified?  It was at the moment when the pregnant Mary, carrying the unborn Jesus, came to see her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist.  And so Mary has done ever since.  It is her role to bring Jesus Christ to each of us.  As St. Louis de Montfort wrote, Mary "is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus."  

The actual tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In just a few short days we will be celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I find this the most amazing of all the Marian apparitions.  At the time of this appearance, the Aztecs ruled the land and were especially barbaric, performing thousands of human sacrifices every year.  The missionaries were despairing of ever converting them, as the Indians seemed to resist every effort made to bring Christ to them.

Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico and told him to tell the bishop that she wanted church built on the site where she appeared. The bishop was, of course, skeptical, and asked St. Juan Diego to bring him a sign. The Blessed Mother appeared again and gave Juan Diego roses to put into his tilma. This was miraculous enough as it was winter time and nothing was blooming. When Juan Diego came to the bishop to give him the roses, the bishop fell back in amazement, not at the roses but at what he saw on the tilma. There was a beautiful portrait of Our Lady. Interestingly, Our Lady was pregnant in this portrait just as she was when she sanctified John the Baptist. 
The Church was built and the tilma put in a prominent place.  As a result, the largest conversion in history took place.  Nine million of the 10 million Aztec Indians were converted in just a few short years.  And how was this accomplished?  By great preaching?  By beating people over the head and telling them what rotten sinners they were?  No.  Our Blessed Mother physically brought Jesus to the Indians, just as she did to John the Baptist.  This happened in 1519.  The Tilma is still displayed in Mexico City, and it is estimated that 20 million people see it every year.  

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel;
you are the fairest honor of our race.

Divine Office
Mary is the greatest of all of creation because she is the most fully conformed to the Trinity. She is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. As St. Louis de Montfort wrote:
Mary is the supreme masterpiece of Almighty God and he has reserved the knowledge and possession of her for himself. She is the glorious Mother of God the Son who chose to humble and conceal her during her lifetime in order to foster her humility. He called her "Woman" as if she were a stranger, although in his heart he esteemed and loved her above all men and angels. Mary is the sealed fountain and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit where only he may enter. She is the sanctuary and resting-place of the Blessed Trinity where God dwells in greater and more divine splendour than anywhere else in the universe, not excluding his dwelling above the cherubim and seraphim. No creature, however pure, may enter there without being specially privileged.
The Lord God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies,
you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring;
she will crush your head, alleluia.

Divine Office
Mary is the supreme enemy of the devil.
Thus the most fearful enemy that God has set up against the devil is Mary, his holy Mother. From the time of the earthly paradise, although she existed then only in his mind, he gave her such a hatred for his accursed enemy, such ingenuity in exposing the wickedness of the ancient serpent and such power to defeat, overthrow and crush this proud rebel, that Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin's, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God. Moreover, God has given Mary such great power over the evil spirits that, as they have often been forced unwillingly to admit through the lips of possessed persons, they fear one of her pleadings for a soul more than the prayers of all the saints, and one of her threats more than all their other torments.
This "supreme masterpiece", this greatest enemy of the devil, is the one whom Jesus Christ has given to each one of us as our own loving mother and guide to heaven.

Mary never left her Son.  She was there from His conception by the Holy Spirit to the moment He breathed His last breath on the Cross.  She is the most loyal of all His creation.  And she offers that same loyalty to each one of us.  She promises never to let go of us.  We are separated from the Lord when we sin. But just as Mary stayed with the apostles even when they ran away in fear, so she will stay with us when we stumble and fall.  And we can be sure that as long as we stay close to Mary, we are close to the Lord.  

St. Louis de Montfort tells us that unless Mary is our mother, God cannot be our Father:
Since Mary produced the head of the elect, Jesus Christ, she must also produce the members of that head, that is, all true Christians. A mother does not conceive a head without members, nor members without a head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth , he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Jesus Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Jesus Christ, her true children.
St. Louis de Montfort also tells us that when we take Mary into our lives, she begins immediately to conform our will to Her Son.
Mary is called by St Augustine, and is indeed, the "living mold of God".  In her alone the God-man was formed in his human nature without losing any feature of the Godhead. In her alone, by the grace of Jesus Christ, man is made godlike as far as human nature is capable of it. A sculptor can make a statue or a life-like model in two ways: 
(i) By using his skill, strength, experience and good tools to produce a statue out of hard, shapeless matter; 
(ii) By making a cast of it in a mold. The first way is long and involved and open to all sorts of accidents. It only needs a faulty stroke of the chisel or hammer to ruin the whole work. The second is quick, easy, straightforward, almost effortless and inexpensive, but the mold must be perfect and true to life and the material must be easy to handle and offer no resistance.
No human being has ever been as perfectly conformed to God as was the Blessed Mother.  She is that perfect mold to which all of us need to be conformed.  Just as she was in perfect union with her Son, so we will also be in perfect conformity with Jesus Christ.
Mary is the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a Man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like to God. No godly feature is missing from this mold. Everyone who casts himself into it and allows himself to be moulded will acquire every feature of Jesus Christ, true God, with little pain or effort, as befits his weak human condition. He will take on a faithful likeness to Jesus with no possibility of distortion, for the devil has never had and never will have any access to Mary, the holy and immaculate Virgin, in whom there is not the least suspicion of a stain of sin.
Mary is truly one of the greatest gifts from Our Lord.  She is the personification of His love and devotion to us.  Nothing in His creation is more precious to Him than His mother, and yet He freely gives her to us.   No saint has ever achieved holiness and perfection apart from her.  As St. Louis de Montfort told us, Our Lord could have chosen another way.  
With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, "I am he who is". Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.
But the fact remains that Mary is the path given to us by the Trinity, and if we wish to become one with our Creator, she is the path we must choose:
However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.
God the Father gave his only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. "The world being unworthy," said Saint Augustine, "to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave his Son to Mary for the world to receive him from her."
Do not neglect this greatest of gifts.  Devotion to Mary, this greatest of God's creation, is without doubt the surest way to Jesus Christ.  St. Louis de Montfort said it best:
The saints have said wonderful things of Mary, the holy City of God, and, as they themselves admit, they were never more eloquent and more pleased than when they spoke of her. And yet they maintain that the height of her merits rising up to the throne of the Godhead cannot be perceived; the breadth of her love which is wider than the earth cannot be measured; the greatness of the power which she wields over one who is God cannot be conceived; and the depths of her profound humility and all her virtues and graces cannot be sounded. What incomprehensible height! What indescribable breadth! What immeasurable greatness! What an impenetrable abyss!

You made Mary our mother. Through her intercession grant strength to the weak,
 comfort to the sorrowing, pardon to sinners,

 salvation and peace to all.
Mary, full of grace, intercede for us.

Picture Credit:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

You Are Either Hanging On The Cross or Banging In The Nails

The ultimate submission to God
Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
Antiphon, Liturgy of the Hours

In the last couple of posts here I have been giving my thoughts on how to keep our spiritual equilibrium in what appears to be a very chaotic time in the Catholic Church.  Catholics are flinging accusations of heresy at one another, bishops are attacking other bishops, many people are even questioning the actions and words of the Holy Father.  As Cardinal Raymond Burke said, many feel the Church is a ship without a rudder.

It is a normal thing to want to be in control of events and circumstances.  We all have an innate need to be in the driver's seat.  We want to plan our own course and be in charge of our destiny.  There is one problem with that.  In order to follow Christ, we have to completely surrender to Him and give up all control in our lives.  "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."  (Luke 9:23-24).  A follower of Christ must learn to stop trusting in himself (Proverbs 3:5-6):
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Far too often we confuse our own will with the Will of God. If something looks right to us, then surely this is the Will of God. In our arrogance, we think we know how God thinks. But any human being who tells you he understands the Mind of God is either a fool or a liar. " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD." (Isaiah 55:8). We can never know the Mind of God, and therefore to follow Him, we must allow Him to take complete control of our lives and, as Revelation 14:4 says, "follow the Lamb wherever he goes." That often means going places and doing things that make no sense to our human, limited minds.

We see this all throughout the Bible. The actions of God are never what a "rational" human being would do. The father of the faithful, Abraham, was 75 years old, he was called by God and told to leave everything that was familiar to him. "The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you." (Gen. 12:1). Abraham could have argued with the Lord, but instead he willingly obeyed with no hesitation. Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold by his own brothers as a slave to the Egyptians and then imprisoned for several years after being falsely accused of rape. It was through these bizarre circumstances that led Joseph to be in a position to save the known civilized world, including his own family, from death by famine. Moses was an 80-year old shepherd in the desert when The Lord approached and told him that he was going to lead the Israelites out of slavery to the Promised Land. David was a young shepherd boy when he was anointed King of Israel. At the time he was anointed, King Saul was still on the throne and, as a result, David became the target of Saul's murderous rage. Esther was a young Hebrew slave in Persia, and yet she was chosen to save her people from genocide. Daniel was a young Hebrew slave in Babylon, and was chosen by God to become one of our greatest prophets.

In all of these examples, those chosen by God were put in circumstances that make no sense to our human minds. They had no control over their lives, and yet because of their willingness to completely submit and put their total trust in the Lord, they were used to accomplish great things. As our Lord told us, "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." All of these biblical examples are of men and woman who were willing to give up their lives, and by doing so, they gained true, eternal life.

One of our greatest role models is Mary, our Blessed Mother. When asked to be the Mother of God, her reply was, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word." She imposed no conditions. She gave no recommendations about how this should be down. Never once do we see Mary pushing her own will upon her Son. When they were both at the wedding feast where the wine ran out, the only words Our Blessed Mother said to the Lord were, "they have no wine." She gave no instructions to Him about what she thought needed to be done to correct the situation. She reported the situation to Him and then got out of the way. As she told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." This is her message to each one of us, her children. Bring your requests to her, which she will relay to her Son, and then "do whatever He tells you." Does pouring water into jars make sense? It doesn't matter. Just do it.

The ultimate example of submission is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. As St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And of course, there is that most famous statement which Christ uttered when He was face to face with the horrendous crucifixion He was about to undergo (Matthew 26:39):
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
As Christ said, (John 6:38):
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
From a human perspective, there is no more helpless image than that of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross. He was completely immobilized, unable to move any part of his body, unable to defend himself in any way. He couldn't even swat the flies away that were buzzing around His wounds or wipe away the blood that was pouring into His eyes. And yet, this is the picture of Our Savior taking away the sin of the world, freeing each one of us from eternal damnation. No human being was ever more powerful than the Lamb of God as He hung physically helpless on the Cross. 

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he begged the Lord to remove a "thorn in the flesh." He said he begged the Lord three times to take away this thorn. The Lord told him,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
There is a beautiful reading from Saint John Chrysostum in the Office of Readings which addresses the issue of how to fight the "wolves" among us.  As this great saint tells us, our Lord could do things quite differently and not send us out among the wolves.  Our Lord could tell us not to be meek, defenseless sheep but instead to be fiercer than lions.  But that is not the path Christ has chosen.  He has told us to be "harmless as doves, but as wise as serpents."    

Second reading
From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostum, bishop
If we are sheep, we overcome, if wolves, we are overcome
As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd’s help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.

What he says is this: “Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. but the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power.” That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. “I intend,” he says, “to deal the same way with you.” For, when he says, I am sending you out like sheep, he implies: “But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you.”

The Lord, however, does want them to contribute something, lest everything seem to be the work of grace, and they seem to win their reward without deserving it. Therefore he adds: You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. But, they may object, what good is our cleverness amid so many dangers? How can we be clever when tossed about by so many waves? However great the cleverness of the sheep as he stands among the wolves – so may wolves! – what can it accomplish? However great the innocence of the dove, what good does it do him, with so many hawks swooping upon him? To all this I say: Cleverness and innocence admittedly do these irrational creatures no good, but they can help you greatly.

What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counselled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.

Do not believe that this precept is beyond your power. More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack.
"Cleverness is useless without innocence." "Moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack." For most people, these statements go against common sense. How does an innocent, defenseless sheep survive the attacks of fierce wolves? Yet, this is what has been commanded by our Savior. Nowhere does Jesus tell us, blessed are the great warriors, or blessed are those who destroy their enemies. He never praises the "mighty and strong." Instead, He tells us this in Matthew 5:3-10:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Our Lord told us that when someone slaps you on the face, not only should you not fight back, you should turn so that he can strike the other side of your face.  If someone sues you and takes away your coat, give him your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to walk one mile, go two miles.  In other words, do not allow concern about self or self defense to play any role in your life.  As Christians, we are to make ourselves as defenseless as Christ was on the Cross.  We are never to fight our own battles, but to allow Christ to fight for us.  The one thing we stand up for is the faith.  But even then, we are to be "as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents."  Even then, we must allow the Lord to lead us and not take matters into our own hands.

Not that long ago, I was deep into the Catholic traditionalist movement.  Like most traditionalists, I believed I had it all figured out.  The salvation of the Church was to be found in the Traditional Latin Mass and in a return to the traditional practices of the Church.  I looked at anyone who did not agree with this as an enemy of the church, whether inside or outside of the Church.  I saw most priests and bishops, and even most Catholics in the pews, as my enemy.  I was very sure that I knew the Mind of God, and there could be no doubt that God is a "traditionalist."

However, when Pope Benedict XVI gave us Summorum Pontificum, he wrote the following:
The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.
I did not really believe that last statement and I can tell you that most Trads do not believe that last sentence. They look at the Ordinary Form of the Mass as barely above a Protestant prayer service. They will only go to a "Novus Ordo" Mass if they have no other choice. Many Trads believe that in 50 years time, there will only be the Latin Mass. As Anthony S. Layne wrote on in a post entitled, "Tradition vs. Traditionalism" [HERE]:
The great danger in traditionalism, however, is the tendency to conflate liturgical and devotional traditions with the apostolic tradition. Doctor Taylor Marshall speaks of “the [radical traditionalist] belief that Latin Mass Catholics are ‘A Team’ and Novus Ordo Catholics are ‘B Team’”, but that’s actually a bit mild: the further you move to the right, the more you run across the sentiment that Novus OrdoCatholics, or “neo-Catholics”, aren’t really Catholic at all — we’re crypto-Protestants with an idiosyncratic fondness for the pope.
I now realize that, as a traditionalist, I was actually boxing God in.  I was telling Him what to do and how to do it.  I was opposing those He had put in authority over me.  I had become Peter telling the Lord that I will not allow Him to be crucified.

I have come to realize that the problem with the majority of traditionalists is that they want to be in the driver's seat.  They are not content to be the harmless dove.  They are not content to let the Lord fight their battles.  They have their own game plan, and no one - not a priest, bishop or even the Holy Father - can tell them any different.

I don't understand everything that is happening in the Church, but the beauty is that I don't have to! Our Lord tells me that I just have to concentrate on submitting my will to His, and He will do the rest, and He will accomplish His Purpose in ways I could never imagine. I have 2000 years of Church history to testify to that fact. I would never think of telling a great artist like Michelangelo how to paint or sculpture, and I most certainly would never think to tell Our Lord how to run His Church.

A few years back Mel Gibson did a typical Mel Gibson movie with lots of violence entitled, "Edge of Darkness", but there was one line in this move that I have made a kind of motto in my life. "You are either hanging on the cross or banging in the nails." The reason Mary, our Blessed Mother, is held in such high esteem is because she suffered a spiritual martyrdom in accepting her Son's crucifixion. Spiritually, she hung on the Cross with him, and she did that because she was completely submissive to the Will of God.

"You are either hanging on the Cross or banging in the nails."  That is the only choice we have.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

In The Day You Eat Thereof, You Shall Surely Die

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
Did you ever wonder why God put the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and then told them not to eat of it?  The whole story, in many ways, seems like a set up.  If God had to leave this deadly tree right in plain sight, the least He could have done was put up big "Danger" signs, or station an angel warning of the danger. Not only didn't God put up any guard around the tree, He allowed Satan into the Garden to actually tempt our first parents to disobey. Here are poor Adam and Eve who had no personal experience of evil but only an academic knowledge which they had received from their Creator, up against the clever and evil Satan.  Adam and Eve in their innocence were no match for this malevolent creature. Certainly God knew this, so why would He allow Satan to tempt them? And if the fruit of this tree was so deadly, then why, as Eve wondered, did it look so good? Surely if something was bad for us, it would look bad. But the fruit of this tree looked as good as everything else in the garden.

On the other hand, since God had told Adam and Eve that they should not eat of the tree of good and evil, why was Eve hanging around this forbidden tree in the first place? The Garden of Eden was a pretty magnificent place with all kinds of sights, sounds and smells to delight the senses. What made her gravitate to the only thing in the entire garden which God had declared off limits?

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the ultimate symbol of sin. Sin is proclaiming that we know better than God, i.e., that we can decide for ourselves the difference between good and bad, right and wrong.  For example, God says we shouldn't lie to one another, but we know there are times when telling the truth just doesn't work, and if God was in our situation, He would agree. And why would God make sin so delightful, e.g. promiscuous sex, and then say it is forbidden? What kind of sadist is Our Creator?

God is not a sadist.  He is also not a controller, unlike our enemy, Satan.  The story of Adam and Eve portrays a God who lovingly instructed His Creation, and then allowed them to decide their own path with no manipulation on His part whatsoever.  If Eve had called out to the Lord at any time, He would have come immediately and rescued her from Satan's devices.  But instead, she chose to listen to Satan and make her own decision, apart from God.  

And so it is with Adam and Eve's progeny. Our Lord has given us minds and the ability to choose. He wants us to come to Him freely because we love Him. But because we are born into and live in a world immersed in sin and disobedience, Our Lord takes that extra step to actually come and live inside of us, showing the way to walk and follow Him. All that is required of us is our "yes", modeled for us by the Mother of God when she said yes to the Holy Spirit.  And just as our Blessed Mother did, we too must say "yes" to God every moment of our lives.  The minute we stop saying "yes" to God, we become targets of Satan.  We must say "yes" to God when we want to, and even more importantly, we must say "yes" when it goes against everything inside of us.  Our "yes" is our power over life and death.  The great Creator of the Universe, the One who gives us every breath we breathe, is powerless against our "no."  Our "no" will block God, allowing Satan to immediately fill that void.  

Mary says yes to Gabriel and the Holy Spirit
Another interesting aspect of the story of Adam and Eve's fall is the deceptive nature of sin. Evil rarely looks evil. It appears as something good and desirable, something that will in some way make us "complete." Genesis 3:6 tells us that, "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."  We should never trust appearances or our feelings. Our physical senses and unenlightened intellect, deformed by sin, will betray us more often than not.  

The Garden of Eden
Why do I bring up this story? It seems to me that the story of the fall of Adam and Eve is the story of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the Garden of Eden in a sinful world. God dwells in the Catholic Church through the Holy Spirit and through the Eucharist. It is where the angels and saints of heaven gather on earth. The Catholic Church is filled with mystical wonders and delights that can raise us up to heaven. The Catholic Church contains the tree of life, which will give us eternal life with God.

However, the Catholic Church also contains the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Our sin is that tree.  It is always there, beckoning to us, enticing us with promises of pleasure, power, security.  If we allow him, Satan will whisper into our ear just as he did to Mother Eve, "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  (Gen. 3:5)

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil comes in many forms, shapes and guises.  But it always amounts to trusting in ourselves over God, taking for ourselves the decision of right and wrong.  

Many Catholics today are looking at the Church and, following in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, deciding for themselves what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. They seem to have forgotten Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. They seem to have forgotten our Lord's promise that He will never leave His Church. They have forgotten that Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us. They never make mention of the fact that Our Lord gave the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter without conditions, and said that whatever Peter binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever Peter looses on earth is loosed in heaven. It doesn't matter if Peter is the greatest of sinners. He may lose his personal salvation, but He will never mislead the Church. We have seen Popes stumble just as our first Pope did, but never have they led the Church astray.

Our Lord has given us 2000 years of saints who have led the way. He has given us His Written Word which is more accessible now than at any time in history. He has given us sacraments filled with His Grace and Mercy which cleanse our sin and draw us close to Him. Jesus Christ lives in the tabernacles of our churches, and we can visit Him every day. He promised that as long as we abide in Him, we will continue to bear fruit, and, in fact, apart from Him we will wither and die. We often hear that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But there is one other thing you can add to that list: the Catholic Church.

Yet, not many Catholics seem to believe this.  There are many Catholics today who, to use biblical terms, tear their clothes and throw ashes on their heads, warning of doom and gloom, telling us that we cannot trust anyone but them.  They tell us that our priests and bishops and even the Holy Father are evil and enemies of the Church.  They tell us that the only thing we can rely on is "tradition."  They tell us that everything happening in the Church today is of Satan.  They tell us that it is actually imperative that we criticize those in authority over us.  

And where do these critical Catholics get their authority?  From their own knowledge and understanding.  A priest, bishop, or the Pope says something that does not fit in with their understanding and views, and they feel they have an immediate right, nay a responsibility, to call out the one who disagrees with them as a heretic and evil.  These critical Catholics feel that they, not Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, are the ones who will keep the Church on the right course.  If they don't say something, Satan will take over completely.  

We even have bishops making this claim. An article in the Catholic Herald contained an interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan [HERE]. Bishop Schneider made the pronouncement that the Church is now in her "fourth greatest crisis", comparing the current situation with the likes of the Arian heresy. Ah, but he sees a great hope for the Church. Is it the prayers, sacrifices and obedience of the faithful? Not quite. According to the article, "he has embraced cyberspace to put over a trenchant, traditional defence of the Church. 'Thanks be to God, the internet exists,' he said."
Bishop Schneider is harshly critical of many of his fellow bishops, accusing them of being "traitors of the faith",  He sees a split coming in the Church, "leading to an eventual renewal of the Church on traditional lines. But, he believes, this will not be before the crisis has plunged the Church further into disarray. Eventually, he thinks, the 'anthropocentric' [man-centred] clerical system will collapse. 'This liberal clerical edifice will crash down because they have no roots and no fruits,' he said."

As can be seen from the above quotes, Bishop Schneider denounces and condemns the contemporary Catholic Church, feeling it is headed for an inevitable collapse.  Bishop Schneider does not seem to see any conflict between his belief and the promises of Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.  Bishop Schneider puts his trust in "tradition."  According to the article, "despite his concerns, Bishop Schneider is not pessimistic and believes that there is already a groundswell of support for traditional values that will, in time, renew the Church: 'Little ones in the Church have been let down and neglected,' he said. '[But] they have kept the purity of their faith and they represent the true power of the Church in the eyes of God and not those who are in administration.' "

To be fair, after making all of these terrible predictions and condemnations, he ends the interview by saying, "I am not worried about the future. The Church is Christ’s Church and He is the real head of the Church, the Pope is only the vicar of Christ. The soul of the Church is the Holy Spirit and He is powerful.” However, I find this statement to be quite troubling, as His Excellency seems to be discounting the importance of the Holy Father.  He is quite right when He says the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.  However, he seems to feel that that way of obedience to the Holy Spirit is through "tradition" aside and apart from the hierarchy of the Church.

Tradition is an important part of the Catholic Church, but to contend that "tradition" is the savior of the Church is putting your faith in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some of the most "traditional" Catholic groups are sedevacantist or headed that way.  Why?  Because they are deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil.

When Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre made the unilateral decision to disobey St. John Paul II, he said it was because he had no other choice. He felt that if he obeyed the Holy Father, his Society of St. Pius X would be destroyed. That is a classic example of those hanging onto tradition and making it into the tree of good and evil. Archbishop Lefebvre mirrored St. Peter exactly when Peter told the Lord that he would not allow Him to be crucified. "Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22).  Peter was taking for himself the decision as to whether Christ should die.  Our Lord's reply to Peter was, "Get behind me, Satan!"

Is it just coincidence that so many of those who stand in opposition to Church hierarchy today look to Archbishop Lefebvre as their role model? Our true role model in following Christ is Mary, our Blessed Mother. I doubt very much that, on her own, she would have made any of the decisions in her life which were made by the Holy Spirit. Would she have thought to get pregnant before marriage, an offense then punishable by stoning? Would she have made the decision to travel from her home in Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was 9 months pregnant and then give birth in a dirty, vermin infested stable? Would she have made the decision to flee with a newborn baby to Egypt, a society hostile to her culture where she didn't even know the language? Would she have made the decision to have her Son beaten, tortured and hung on the Cross as a common criminal? Yet, to all of these things she gave an unwavering, unconditional "yes."

None of us can understand all of the events that are happening around us. We may find it very disconcerting and unsettling. It certainly isn't the path we would choose. I have used this analogy before, but I feel we are like the ancient Israelites, when Moses led them out of Egypt into what seemed a certain death trap, caught between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army. Yet this is exactly where Our Lord wanted them because it was through this situation that He would show them His Glory.

Those who pray the Divine Office on a regular basis are familiar with Psalm 95, which is often used as the Invitatory Psalm.  Part of that Psalm says,
"Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me,
Although they had seen all of my works."
Meriba means "quarreling" and Massah means "testing."  This refers to an event in the travels of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, as found here in Exodus 17:
"1The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

3But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

4Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

5The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
As can be seen from this passage, the Lord places extreme importance on how people act towards those He has put in authority.  The passage tells us that Israel was challenging Moses.  However, in Psalm 95, the Lord says "they challenged and provoked me."  The complaints of the Israelites against Moses seem to me to be very similar to those many Catholics make against Pope Francis, accusing him of spiritually leaving them in the wilderness to die, as can be seen in the statement by Cardinal Burke that the Church is like a ship without a rudder.

We know that The Lord interpreted the Israelites' rebellion against Moses as rebellion against Him.  How do you think He is interpreting those who speak against His Vicar?

Psalm 95 tells us the fate of those who rebelled against Moses:
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
The ancient Israelites, in rebelling against Moses, were following the example of Adam and Eve in that they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, deciding for themselves what was right and what was wrong.  They paid for this decision by missing out on the Promised Land and instead, dying in the wilderness.

Which tree shall we choose?  The Tree of Life, or the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?


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