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?


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding Safety in the Midst of the Storm

I have been seeing the word "schism" used on Catholic websites and blogs many times in the last couple of weeks since the Synod, and even on secular sources.  Many conservative and traditional Catholics feel that the traditions of the Church are under attack by "liberal" priests and bishops, including His Holiness, Pope Francis.  An "us versus them" mentality has truly taken hold among many who call themselves Catholic, and the tragic part is that it is Catholic against Catholic.

Last spring, Bishop Athanasius Schneider gave an interview [HERE] in which he said, "we are in the fourth great crisis [of the Church], in a tremendous confusion over doctrine and liturgy. We have already been in this for 50 years."  His Excellency said in the interview that if God is merciful to us, this crisis will only last another 20 to 30 years.

According to the linked article, Bishop Schneider "can foresee a split coming, 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."

It surely does seem that many conservative and traditional Catholics are itching to go up against the hierarchy of the Church.  Many on the Internet have no hesitation in calling the Magesterium of the Church "evil".  They attack the Holy Father almost with glee.

Instead of seeing the Internet fueling the growing schism, Bishop Schneider is very grateful for cyberspace.  "Thanks be to God, the internet exists."  His Excellency seems to believe that much of the salvation of the Church lies in Joe Catholic in the pew standing up for "what is right."  The problem is, everyone is convinced of his or her own rightness and the wrongness of anyone who disagrees. The Internet seems to embody the words of Judges 21:25 - "all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

So what is a faithful Catholic to do when bishops seem to be aligning against other bishops, and "conservatives" against "liberals"?  How do we maintain our equilibrium and not lose our faith?  Let me ask this.  When you see a storm approaching, do you run out into the storm and try to fight it?  Or do you find the safest place you can go and stay put until the storm passes?

As storms swirl around the Church, is our spiritual safety to be found in our own righteousness?  Are we competent to pass judgments on others, especially the hierarchy, and accuse them of trying to destroy the Church?  Are we able to understand the ways of God and know exactly how He is working through the Church in bringing the saving message of the Gospel to the world?  Just who can we trust?

The Church herself has given us many safe places in which to hide. First and foremost, we have Our Lord who is present in all of the tabernacles of the Catholic Church everywhere in the world. Archbishop Fulton Sheen never a let day go by without an hour in front of the tabernacle. In fact, he died while kneeling in front of the tabernacle. Bishop Sheen saw many controversies in his years as priest and bishop, and was the recipient of attacks from other prelates. But nothing ever disturbed him. He was never shaken in his faith. What grounded him?

Here are a few quotes about the benefits of adoration from Bishop Sheen:

"The holy hour becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world."

"Neither theological action nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are proceeded by a personal encounter with Him in Adoration."

"During out Holy Hour we grow more and more into His likeness."

"A Holy Hour of Adoration in our modern rat race is necessary for authentic prayer."

"A Holy Hour becomes a magister and teacher.  Theological insights are gained not only from the covers of a treatise, but on two knees before the Blessed Sacrament."

Bishop Sheen was not the only one who saw the vital importance of time before the Blessed Sacrament:

St. John Paul II:  "The spiritual lives of our families are strengthened through our Holy Hour."

"The future belongs to those who worship God in silence."

St. Alphonsus Ligouri - "Our Lord hears our prayers anywhere, but He has revealed to His servants that those who visit Him in the Eucharist will obtain a more abundant measure of grace."

"Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament consoles a soul far beyond what the world can offer."

"A Holy Hour will give you more strength during life and more consolation at the hour of your death and eternity."

Father John Hardon:  "It is impossible in human terms to exaggerate the importance of being in adoration before the Eucharist as often and for as long as our duties and state of life allow."

"During our Holy Hour our souls are fed in two faculties of the spirit - the Mind and the Will.  In the Mind, we need light; in the Will we need strength."

"I strongly recommend that each of us make a resolution, no matter how much the decision may cost us, to make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. . .once a week."

St. John Bosco:  "Do you want the Lord to give you many graces?  Visit Him often.  Do you want Him to give you few graces?  Visit Him rarely.  Do you want the devil to attack you?  Visit Jesus rarely in the Blessed Sacrament.  Do you want him to flee from you?  Visit Jesus often!"

St. Padre Pio:  "A Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament is worth more than a thousand years of human glory."

St. John XXIII:  "There is no doubt that a flood of graces will descend upon your family and the world if more souls would become docile pupils of adoration."

St. Bernadette Soubirous:  "The Eucharist bathes the tormented soul in light and love.  Then the soul appreciates these word, 'Come all you who are sick.  I will restore your health."

Blessed Mother Teresa:  "In order to convert America and save the World what we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Hours of prayer."

These are just a few quotes from saints and other holy people who so obviously benefited from following their own words.  I would offer that regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament are actually vital to our personal spiritual health and the health of the Church.  There is no safer place from spiritual storms than in the presence of Jesus Christ, which is available wherever there is a Catholic Church.

The Rosary is also another great haven in a storm.  Following are just a few quotes about the efficacy and power of the Rosary:
“Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.”
Pope Blessed Pius IX

“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.”
Saint Francis de Sales

“When the Holy Rosary is said well, it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and is more meritorious than any other prayer.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, Our Lady will save the world.”
Saint Dominic

“If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, ‘you will receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 St. Peter 5:4).”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“The Rosary is THE weapon.”
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

“You must know that when you ‘hail’ Mary, she immediately greets you! Don’t think that she is one of those rude women of whom there are so many—on the contrary, she is utterly courteous and pleasant. If you greet her, she will answer you right away and converse with you!”
Saint Bernardine of Siena

“Recite your Rosary with faith, with humility, with confidence, and with perseverance.”
Saint Louis de Montfort
“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.”
Pope Saint Pius X

“Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if—and mark well what I say—if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.”
Saint Louis de Montfort

“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
Sister Lucia dos Santos, Fatima seer
There are many other ways to stay sane in the midst of madness: go to Mass every day or as often as you possibly can. Receive the graces from the Sacrament of penance by going a couple times a month. Read the saints. Read the "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis. This was a favorite book of St. Therese of Lisieux and many other saints. Read the Bible, the written Word of God. Ground yourself in the words of God rather than a lot of blowhards (including yours truly) on the Internet. Read the Bible.  If you can, pray the Divine Liturgy, which can be found HERE.  

In other words, bury yourself in Jesus Christ.  He is the haven in the storm.  He will keep you safe and warm, and nothing will be able to touch you.

Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
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