Posted by: Thomas Richard | October 14, 2015

Reflections Upon A Coming Election

Election time is quite a revelation.  Since politicians keep close to the mind and heart of the electorate – at least, close to a majority of the likely actual voters – the political campaigns verbalize and emphasize the national concerns, our actual hopes and fears as a society.  It ain’t pretty.  It is not an encouraging revelation.  It is a mixture, true, but the mix is sounding less and less hopeful as the years go by.

A democratic republic is a beautiful idea!  Representative government, elected by the public, power divided and balanced according to legislation, execution and judicial overview – it sounds good, prudent, rational and reasonable.  Mistakes can be corrected in time through periodic elections, discordant views and opinions and philosophies can be harmonized with fraternal compromise.  It all is a beautiful idea if, that is, if the foundation upon which the edifice is build is solid and true.  Is it a rock?  Is it sand?  Is it true?  Is it fantasy, false and deceiving?

The experiment that was named the United States of America came mostly out of European cultures, and the English tradition of law and justice.  Judeo-Christian morality was as commonly accepted and unchallenged as the air we breathed and the clear water we drank.  Our differences were over the styles and meanings of worship, not the duty of it.  Some might have sought freedom from religion, but the vast majority recognized that men who would deny a divine Creator were lacking in reason and honor.  Freedom of religion was a pervading tenet claimed, even insisted upon as a right worth fighting for and dying for.

One crucial understanding of the moral foundations of the culture was the family: it was one man, one woman, mutually faithful until death do they part.  The family was taken for granted, so obvious it was.  Its roots were clear: created in the very beginning God Himself established marriage, and its definition and universal application among men was affirmed by Christ.

Now, in one man’s lifetime (mine) all this has changed.  Not just changed incrementally: changed radically.  Man has succeeded in marginalizing God – expelling Him even past the boundaries of modern society – such that human morality, and indeed even what is thought of as “human nature” itself, has been redefined.  Man is no longer “created in the image of God.”  Now, God is an idea shaped by the opinions and imaginations of the individual person.  God is now “formulated in the image of man.”

Good and evil, once made meaningful in the truth of Holy God, is now relative, subjective, transitory, “in development.”   Man has seated himself in the Holy Place – and all the while, his very heart is decaying into corruption.

The abandonment of God immediately brings the abandonment of reality, truth, goodness, happiness, peace.  Man’s spiritual suicide immediately pervades all society, with the consequence of national, cultural, social illness – grave, terminal illness.  Like the dog gnawing off his own leg, Western culture is devouring itself and cannot even perceive it.

So the politicians promise whatever it takes, reasonable or absurd, sincerely or deceitfully.  To many of them, it seems, the distinction does not matter: for many, “they rule for the sake of ruling,” as Augustine described leadership in the City of Man that opposes the City of God.  America seems sick of “business as usual” politicians!  Yet without building a government on truth – on rock – on that which is authentic and real and lasting – what substantial change can possibly come?

God sent a light – His light – into this lost and dark world!  That light was His Church.  How has our light become so compromised, so indistinct, so dimmed, so ineffectual – so much a faint echo of man, and not the vibrant proclamation of God?  Church, when will you awaken and sound the alarm?  Without your faithful witness to Christ, what hope remains for this world?

Posted by: Thomas Richard | September 7, 2015

When Law Is Made By The Lawless

When lawless men make the law, there is no law. I write this blog article with deep sadness, because I see great suffering coming on this land.  Now that homosexual marriage is the so-called law of the land, the clash of cultures in America has come to a very sharp point. How is a Christian to participate in secular America, where the Christian now must, under penalty of law, do things anathema to conscience and the righteousness of God? Many situations opposed to conscience can, it is beginning to be made clear, arise and threaten the rights of a Christian conscience. A few have already come to light, and the threat is already becoming a promise of more persecution to come.

From an Aug. 14, 2015 article, the National Review on-line had this:

Yesterday the Colorado state court of appeals upheld an administrative-law judge ruling that the Christian owner of a Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, did in fact have to bake a cake for a gay wedding regardless of the owner’s religious beliefs. The owner, Jack Phillips, had declined a gay couple’s request that he bake a cake for their same-sex wedding because he “believes that decorating cakes is a form of art, that he can honor God through his artistic talents, and that he would displease God by creating cakes for same-sex marriages.” Put in less religious terms, Phillips didn’t want to be forced to help celebrate an act he finds deeply objectionable.

In an article in response to this court judgement, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., commented in Crisis Magazine:

The court said that any “reasonable” person would not say that selling a cake violates one’s religion. The issue, of course, is whether the court’s notion of what is reasonable is itself reasonable.
And if that were not enough, the man has to implement “sensitivity” sessions for his employees evidently to cleanse them of any lingering doubts about the law. The baker also has to send regular reports to the court of why he refused any customer a sale. He can personally “hold” the strange ideas that something [is] intrinsically wrong with gay “marriages.” But he cannot refuse to sell wedding cakes and stay in business.
On hearing this harsh sentence, the baker announced that he was no longer in the business of selling wedding cakes to anyone. Good news, no doubt, for his competition. Similar cases in other states have dealt with photographers and florists, as well as bakers. The baker’s religious freedom under the First Amendment, the court said, could not be used. What has been overturned here is not just a simple baker’s conscience, but, when spelled out, the very roots of our republic.

Another Crisis article (Sept. 1, 2015, also written by Fr. Schall)) focused on the case of Mercy Catholic Hospital in Redding, California which “adjusted” its Catholic policy of not performing sterilizations of healthy men or women, such an adjustment apparently being made reasonable and proper “under threat of a suit inaugurated by the ACLU.” This Crisis article includes this:

… The hospital’s normal practice is not to allow sterilization procedures. The reason for this prohibition is not arbitrary. It is an unnecessary mutilation of a normally functioning human organ and is use[d] simply as another form of birth control. If the organ were diseased, another kind of reasoning would apply. ….
However, this being said, under threat of a suit inaugurated by the ACLU, the hospital in Redding reversed its normal policy. It allowed the tubal ligation requested by one Rachael Miller. A headline in one of the papers or blogs that I saw read as follows: “If You Want to Be Sterilized in a Catholic Hospital, Institute a Lawsuit.” And that, of course, is why this Redding case fits into the other recent cases like the one of the baker in Colorado. Only in this case, unlike the baker, the hospital capitulated. Instead of taking the case to court and perhaps losing, it did something that it itself held to be wrong. Religious consciences and religious sponsored institutions are increasingly required by law to perform acts that they consider immoral.

Now, of course, the latest assault on Christian right of conscience in America at odds with modern lawful sexual immorality is the imprisonment of a county clerk Kim Davis, whose conscience forbade her to allow her name to be affixed to marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples.  A Foxnews report on this summarizes:

LEXINGTON, Ky. –  A Kentucky county clerk has appealed a judge’s decision to put her in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Attorneys for Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis officially appealed the ruling to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Sunday. The three page motion does not include arguments as to why Davis should be released but amends Davis’ earlier appeal of the judge’s order.
Davis objects to same-sex marriage for religious reasons and stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling.

What is the meaning of freedom of religion if one will be jailed for living the religion? The secular culture has redefined freedom of religion to mean merely freedom of worship, meaning singing and praying to your heart’s content on Sundays while confined to an IRS.-approved house of worship. Those brave settlers who crossed the dangerous Atlantic in search of religious freedom, to settle in an unknown New World of America, must be weeping in their graves (poetically – not theologically – speaking, of course).

Persecution can be expected, more and more. The secular culture has become so strong – as the culture of life has weakened more and more, and settled more and more deeply into its couches and recliners of comfort. I’ll close this blog with an article in the UK’s Catholic Herald last spring on Pope Francis, with some quotes from him. This pope here is very conscious of the persisting struggle of the two cities – the City of Man against the City of God – in this present manifestation, the struggle of secularism against the way of the Lord and His Kingdom.

To avoid living like pagans, Christians must guard against the temptation of “slipping toward worldliness and power”, Pope Francis has said. “This is the daily temptation for Christians, for all of us who make up the Church.” …
After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the people in the day’s Gospel account (Jn 6:22-29) seek Jesus not “because of the religious awe that leads one to worship God,” the Pope said, but “for their material interests.” When one tries to profit from following Jesus — an attitude frequently shown in the Gospels — then one “risks not understanding” and even obscuring the “true mission of Jesus,” said the Pope.
“Many people follow Jesus for their own interests. Even among his apostles: the sons of Zebedee, who wanted to be prime minister and finance minister, sought power.”
He added: “That fervour to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and to proclaim a year of favour, becomes obscured. It is lost and it is transformed into something of power.”
The Pope said the temptation to exchange religious awe, “which Jesus grants in his encounter with us,” for profit-seeking has always existed.
Such was the nature of the three temptations of Jesus in the desert, said the Pope: the temptation of food or material goods, spectacle or power, and apostasy or “the adoration of idols.” The Pope also warned that “religious comfort” leads to worldliness, and when this comfort grows, it becomes “that attitude that Jesus calls hypocrisy.”
The result is that “we become Christians in name, in exterior attitudes, but the heart is invested in interests,” the Pope said. The consequence of such attitudes is that the faith, the mission and the Church “are weakened,” he said. However, God “wakes up” Christians with the witness of the saints and the martyrs, “who daily proclaim to us that the path of Jesus to follow is that of his mission: to proclaim the year of favour,” he added.

The suffering of these cases is certainly not that of those thrown to the lions for pagan amusement – but it is not consistent with religious freedom either.  Nor is the legal redefinition of marriage in a way contrary to natural moral law and also to Christian religious faith, and its enforcement as a legally protected human right, thereby sane public policy and governance.  It is insane.  It is an assault on families (the foundation of any society), on innocent children to be adopted, on Christian conscience to be attacked, on this nation to be seduced even further from its righteous foundations as “one nation under God.”  America, will you yet learn to discern true value?  License is not freedom.  Money is not wealth.  Thrill is not happiness.  Lust is not love, and truth is not determined by vote – not of a country, nor of a court of men.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 20, 2015

“Unreal Nation” – Concerning a Nation in Denial

In denial of what?  Well, where to begin – in denial of truth, of reality, of the nature of things, of the existence of right and wrong, of the distinction between sanity and insanity, ….

Unreal Nation” is the title of an excellent article that I strongly recommend to my readers, written by Prof. Anthony Esolen in this month’s Crisis magazine.  I warn you, it is painful to read: painful and I hope sobering to some in our country who fail to see the train-wreck that is approaching the USA, at an accelerating speed.

There is a section of comments after articles in Crisis.  I added this comment to “Unreal Nation,” which may give you an idea of the article:

Prof. Esolen, your article leaves me feeling like a man run over by half of the cars and all the trucks on the freeway at rush hour – and then the bad stuff happened. The article is deeply painful, grieving the soul, but true. The best summary in your own words, it seems to me, is “… even our madness has gone mad, so that the man who has accepted the madness of Monday finds himself unforgivably sinning against the madness of Tuesday….” But the best of all, again it seems to me, is the quote from St. Paul, Romans 1:21-27. God gave our hearts over to our lusts, our idolatries, our blasphemies, our hatred of Truth and our embrace of madness: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…”

Meanwhile, the Church continues to nod off in sleep.

Eze 33:6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes, and takes any one of them; that man is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
Eze 33:7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Mat 26:45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Thomas Richard

Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 14, 2015

Being Present to Holy Worship

It is a discouraging experience to witness apathy, impatience and even boredom among persons supposedly participating in the worship of Holy Mass. Some will admit to “not getting much out of Mass,” but they are willing to endure it each week as long as the whole ceremony is brief enough: less than an hour long, so they can get on with “life” when the Sunday obligation is over. Active members of the parish might lament together how hard it is to get people to “come out” for anything other than Mass! Neither religious activities nor “fun-fellowship” activities manage to attract many members to come out and support the programs – though certainly the “fun-fellowship” offerings are the larger draw. One partial solution I’ve heard is “Feed them and they will come!” But the “food” in mind is sadly NOT the “Bread from heaven” that ought to be the vital center of parish life.

In the celebration of the Mass, for example, how can so many not be completely overcome by the miracle of Holy Communion? The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life! As the Mass is ending, how can so many so quickly begin flooding out of the doors even before the Recessional is completed, the Lord Himself still lingering on their tongues, still being swallowed into their persons? How can so many, of those still in the building, launch immediately into the most banal and secular of conversations, even as the organ is still filling the sanctuary with the closing hymn? In other words, what is happening, in Catholics, during and after and as a result of the sacrifice of Holy Mass? What is really, actually happening?

Something is NOT happening, and the Catechism helps us focus on what is needed:

CCC 1098 – The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become “a people well disposed.” The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will. These dispositions are the precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward.

These four sentences deserve individual attention, with serious reflection:

  1. The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become “a people well disposed.”
  2. The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers.
  3. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will.
  4. These dispositions are the precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward.

One important word written here is “precondition” in item (4): right disposition is a necessary precondition for the fruitfulness that the Liturgy is intended to produce. The Catechism repeats this necessity for right disposition:

CCC 1131 – The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

Again, the sacraments bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

It is my sense – my reflection and observation – that many Catholics who are physically present for the Mass are not rightly present spiritually. In particular, they are not “rightly disposed” for Holy Eucharist because they were not rightly disposed to really hear the Word, in the Liturgy of the Word. The written and spoken Word comes first, to prepare us for the Living Word Jesus Christ! Many physically present in the Mass, however, are not prepared by the words for the Word – they are not prepared for Eucharist by the Liturgy of the Word. And – they were not rightly opened to the words of the Living Word by a heart rightly humbled in repentance at the beginning of the Mass, in the Penitential Rite:

I confess to you, almighty God,
and to you my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…
(And, striking their breast, they say:)
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;
therefore, I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Lord have mercy!
Christ have mercy!
Lord have mercy!

Our vocation into a human part in the blessed Communion of God the Holy Trinity begins with a call to deep and sincere repentance – as the Mass continues to remind us. On the other hand, a soul hardened against true humility – hardened against repentance – is also hardened against the Good News of salvation in Christ: His Gospel. And a person hardened against His Gospel is not rightly disposed for the Holy Communion He offers us in the Eucharist. The Mass is salvation history! The Mass is our salvation story, personally.

Persons apathetic, distracted, bored in the Mass are failing to become engaged in a process designed to carry them from inner emptiness to God – from hunger to banquet – from an interior deadness to a personal participation in divine and eternal life. But if we fail from the beginning to be present spiritually to the Liturgy, it is very difficult to be present to its end, Communion. Those bored and interiorly absent to the process at work as the Liturgy proceeds through its movements, will find it almost impossible to be present to the glory of its end. The Mass is designed to carry us into worship.

Thus it is possible that in the Liturgy of the Eucharist – in the Source and Summit of the Christian life – the hearts of many are not ready, not prepared, not rightly disposed for Him. They do not hear the prayer of epiclesis calling down the Spirit, nor are they aware of the sacrifice of Christ on the Altar, nor are they awake to the supernatural miracle of Christ come before us – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. And thus the great tragedy: the Source and Summit of the Christian life, though a present reality, remains experientially far, far away. Jesus remains distant; the people remain untouched, distant, individuated, isolated. So many remain mere spectators at a ceremony, present but yet absent in the supernatural Liturgy of Salvation.

I would suggest that the way to renewal is plain:

  • We need to repent. We need the ministry of John the Baptist – we need to come face to face with the ugliness and horror of sin: my sin, each man and woman – we have sinned even as the all-holy God awaits us, calling us to our destiny in Him.
  • Such a humbled and hungry heart can hear the good news of the Gospel. Such a heart can hear the message of the New Covenant proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word. Scripture can come alive, igniting the heart with the fire of holy Truth – transforming one’s life! And preparing the heart and soul and body for the foretaste of heaven: Holy Communion.
  • Such a heart could and would fall on its face in worship – worship! – worship in spirit and truth, such worship as the Father seeks.

How beautiful it would be, to be part of such full, conscious and active worship of our God. The Liturgy is “designed” to facilitate such worship: repentance to Good News to the Altar of the Cross, and Holy Communion. Such worship deserves to be offered – but the people need to become awakened to it! The people need to be formed – taught – led to Faith alive, that they (we) might live. Would tomorrow be too soon to begin again, Church, and do what we were sent by Christ to do?

Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 6, 2015

Bishops Standing Firm

Here are only two examples, but they are great encouragements for me personally.  Thank you, all faithful and courageous bishops, who are standing fast on the Rock when so many in the world are sinking in sand.

Bishop in North Dakota breaks off Church ties with Boy Scouts over new … policy

Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, North Dakota has ordered all parishes and schools in the diocese to end their ties with the Boys Scouts of America, after the Boy Scouts changed their longstanding policy to allow openly homosexual adult leaders.
“I regret my decision but, in conscience as the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Bismarck, I cannot permit our Catholic institutions to accept and participate directly or indirectly in any organization, which has policies and methods, which contradict the authoritative moral teachings of the Catholic Church,” the bishop said.
(Catholic World News – August 05, 2015.)

Another example on the same theme, concerning a woman “director of religious studies” at a Pennsylvania Catholic school:

It’s beginning to feel like every week brings a new story about the firing of an LGBT employee from a Catholic institution.
The most recent well-publicized termination happened earlier this month at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia. The school declined to renew the contract of Margie Winters, the school’s director of religious studies, when it came to light that she is in a same-sex marriage.
(7/29/2015, National Catholic Reporter)

Archbishop Chaput commended the school for its action:

Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief. There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty.

I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. 
Archbishop of Philadelphia

Yes, the Church has the theology right. From the Catholic Catechism:

Chastity and homosexuality

CCC 2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,<Cf. Gen 191-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10> tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” [CDF, Persona humana 8] They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

CCC 2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

CCC 2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

I pray that every bishop in the country follow the lead, and leadership, in this matter of Catholic sexual morality set here by such bishops and archbishops. The Church has the theology exactly right: persons battling same-sex attraction deserve our compassion and our help, that they may live righteous and honorable lives. Persons struggling against any temptations of any kind – including sexual temptations of any kind – need the strength that God offers! But no person needs or deserves “enablers” who encourage him in any way, to go ahead and do what is wrong when he is tempted to do so! “Enabling” is not love – it is the opposite of love – such “enabling” is leading a soul into temptation.

Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil. Amen

Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 9, 2015

Yes, He Is A Priest

BillM-smBlog2Bill was different.  He was a unique person – a unique man.  He was a unique priest.  Once, after a stay with Bill at his apartment in the Bowery section of Manhattan – a second floor walk-up over a pawn shop – I was waiting with Bill on the sidewalk, for a ride out of town.  I had made contact by phone with a priest who was driving out of the city that day to return to his parish, who would be driving near a little one-room cabin deep in the woods of upstate New York – a cabin available for times of solitude, hermitage, and prayer, a cabin owned by a parishioner in this priest’s parish.

Bill as usual was dressed in ordinary secular clothes.  We saw the priest drive up to the curb at the address given him on the phone.  He was wearing the clerical collar – a very unusual sight around the Bowery – so we were sure he was my ride.  He was nervous, making it clear to me that he’d be grateful to load me up right away so he could be on his way.  He was not comfortable in that area of the city, and was constantly looking this way and that as he opened the trunk for my shoulder bag.  He wanted to be out of there.  Bill helped open and close the car door for me, smiling at the priest and offering a few words of friendly small talk, but the priest was in the car and driving away.  Bill smiled and waved good-bye, and we were gone.

Once we were on our way, safely out of the Bowery, and the priest and I had exchanged a few words about my upcoming time in the hermitage cabin, he asked me, “Was that man a priest?”  “Yes,” I said.  “He is a priest.”  “I knew it!”  The priest exclaimed this as he hit his hand on the steering wheel for emphasis.  It was a strange “knowing” – he was not expressing happiness at the confirmation, nor at the recognition of a brother priest, nor at the presence of a priest in the Bowery of New York on the street corner in front of a pawn shop.  His face, his tone, his voice was saying something else.  It was as though he did not want it to be true.  It was as though Bill, a priest, in the Bowery of New York in front of a pawn shop made him angry.  Bill was different; a different kind of priest.

BillM.wpipe.smBlog2Bill was always available to me.  If availability is “poverty,” as some consecrated religious now describe the vow of poverty that they take, then Bill was the poorest consecrated religious man that I ever knew.  He wanted to live poorly, and he did in his humble little “over the pawn shop” one-bedroom in the Bowery.  He wanted to live among the bums, the drunks, the street-people who begged and washed car windshields at the stoplights for change to buy more liquor.  He wanted to be with them; he wanted to be for them, and he was.  This was his home.

Bill was a retreat master, a spiritual director, an expert on Augustine, on John’s Gospel, on John’s epistles.  Most of all, Bill was a catechist: he pointed me and others to Christ, he helped me and others listen to the saving Truth of Christ, he “set up our meeting” with our Lord.  Bill was the wisest man I ever knew: he knew, he was submitted to, he “trembled at” God’s Holy Word.

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

It is ironic to me that Bill did not want to be called “Father,” though Catholic priests have that title: he was always simply “Bill,” yet he was in truth a father to me.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Cor 4:15)

Bill led me to Christ, and he became my spiritual father in Christ.  That word, “Father,” is a holy word!  A profound word, a precious and costly one, earned by the Cross!   To this day the title seems diminished far more than honored by too many others!  Words mean things!   The Word of God, the Truth of God ought to cause “trembling” on the lips of men – a trembling that reaches to the heart, that brings worship, and obedience, and life.

Thank you, Bill, for introducing me to the living Word!  Thank you for pointing me consistently, humbly, faithfully, in a truly fatherly way, for many years to the one sure Rock on which to build my life.  Pray for us, and for the whole Church.  We need it.

BillM-Color2edited_smBlog2These pictures were taken 30 years ago this month, in the summer house of one of Bill’s many friends, in Londonderry NH, during a retreat that Bill directed for my wife Deborah, another retreatant Bob, and me.  Finding the pictures today moved me to many memories, to much gratitude and thanksgiving.  I am humbled by him, yet also strengthened.  Maybe someone else reading this had the privilege of knowing him:

William J. Mountain, S.J. – “Bill.”

Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 3, 2015

The Church is Shrinking, the Faith is in Decline

This title’s sad conclusion comes by way of two polls – the Pew Forum, in their polls of American churches and beliefs, and a recent world-wide Catholic poll by Univision. The statistics are disturbing – or they ought to be! They ought to “disturb” our Church – clergy and laity – into action. Things need to change.

First, the Pew Forum Study

Church membership has been changing. The Pew Forum (1) finds that religious affiliation among Americans shows the following changes, in the years from 2007 to 2014: (The percent given is the percentage of the adult American population):

Catholic membership (now 20.8% of the American adult population), has declined 3.1%. Evangelical Protestants (now 25.4%), declined 0.9%. The Unaffiliated (now 22.8%), grew 6.7%. Mainline Protestants (now 14.7%), declined 3.4%. Non-Christian Faiths (now 5.9%), grew 1.2%.

The study reports, from a broader perspective, that America is now less “Christian” than at the beginning of the study in 2007:

“To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.”

This is not a good sign! But even more concerning is that those still in the Church are less “Catholic” than they used to be. We are not only fewer; we are less: less faithful and obedient to the Faith that our name, “Catholic,” proclaims.

Concerning Matrimony

The Pew Forum (2) has more recently reported a 10-year study of attitudes concerning homosexual “marriage.” Pew uses the term “gay marriage”, a term that does such violation to Truth that I cannot bring myself to using it. This study reports the following: Fully 85% of those who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage, up from 60% in 2005. Majorities of white mainline Protestants (62%) and Catholics (56%) support same-sex marriage; a decade ago just 39% of both groups supported it.

Again, Catholics have declined in both numbers and in the Faith of the Church! In the past seven years membership has dropped by 3.1% to now only 20.8% of the American adult population. And in the past ten years our adherence to the Faith concerning (for example) the meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony (i.e. “marriage”) has withered from 61% down to at least 44% faithful, concerning only one issue of Matrimony, that is, whether “marriage” can rightly join two homosexuals! No doubt it is worse than that. No doubt more Catholics have separated themselves from the Catholic Faith concerning Matrimony because of other issues, contraception probably being the most likely divisive issue.

Univision’s Poll on Several Issues

Univision (3) polled 12,000 Catholics in twelve countries across the world on modern issues of contention, to determine whether the Catholic supported or opposed the teaching of the Church. The questions included:

1) Question: Do you agree or disagree with Catholic Church policy that says: “An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion”?

World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 45% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 36% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 18% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

2) Question: Do you think that women should be allowed to become Catholic priests?

Of course, the Church says “No!” on this issue. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 60% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 32% of those who seldom participate at Mass. But in the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 40% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

3) Question: Do you think that abortions should be allowed in all cases, allowed in some cases for example when the life of the mother is in danger, or should it not be allowed at all?

Of course, the Church does not allow direct intentional abortion in any case. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 40% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 17% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 23% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 12% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

4) Question: Do you support or oppose the use of contraceptives?

The Church does not allow any use of contraceptives. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 24% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 8% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 16% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 9% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

5) Question: Do you support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex?

The Church does not support any so-called “marriage” of same-sex partners. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 74% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 45% of those who seldom participate at Mass. But in the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 45% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

So What?

Granted that interpretations of results of polls can be misleading, that important theological nuances can be blurred, and that questions can be leading, these results as they stand are deeply troubling to me, as a Catholic – although I must confess: I am not surprised by them, not any more. But in this Univision poll, in every one of these questions, a majority of Catholics in the U.S. polled – even among those who “attend Mass frequently” – do not accept Church teaching!

I have great joy and comfort in the assurance that the Catholic Church teaches and believes the truth of God in matters of faith and morals – that she has been entrusted with the truth of God’s holy revelation to mankind. But what about Catholics personally? What about the actual faith of members of His Holy Church? What about the witness of Catholics as they carry His Holy Name, and the Name of His Church, as they walk and talk and live among separated Christians and non-Christians and pagans and the lost of this world? What about the mission to be light in this dark world, entrusted to His Church? What about the honor of His Name, which we carry? What about the hope still flickering in the hearts of the lost, as they listen and watch for some sign of God who will save them?

The answer? We cannot make, or force, others to love truth – or to love truly – or even to hope in love and truth. The Church can, and must, proclaim the truth and live authentic love. Her light must be His light, so that men and woman can dare to hope, and to trust, in the saving Gospel that the Church is sent to preach and to teach. A major impediment, in my opinion, to the Church being Church in these dark times is that she is day-dreaming when she ought to be in training. The enemy is at the gate, and she is planning parish picnics. The enemy is advancing against every weak and easy target that can be attacked in the near future, and she is lounging in a reverie of days long past. He has plans, tactics, strategies, and ambition – and she ought to be preparing for the day of battle: it is close. Take a lesson from the rulers of kingdoms of earth: they form armies, they train them and arm them and prepare them for war. We ought to have their prudence.

Eph 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Eph 6:11  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph 6:12  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Eph 6:13  Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Eph 6:14  Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
Eph 6:15  and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
Eph 6:16  besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
Eph 6:17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Eph 6:18  Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,…

Every Catholic adult ought to recognize the need! It may not be too late, not yet. Every Catholic parish ought to have faith formation programs in place for every Catholic of every age – programs evaluated and re-evaluated regularly by clergy, staff and lay parishioners. Do these programs help us to grow, to mature in Christ? Do they lead us to holiness – to Christ?

Eph 4:11  And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Eph 4:13  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
Eph 4:14  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
Eph 4:15  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Eph 4:16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

Church, wake up.


(1) Pew Forum study

Posted by: Thomas Richard | June 22, 2015

Diagnosis of the Heart: The Parable of the Sower – Part 1

A question for the reader: What kind of listener are you, when God is speaking to you? What kind of listener do you want to be? Jesus offers us a crucially important teaching on this matter, in (as it is commonly known) “The Parable of the Sower.” I’ll begin with the parable itself, then I’ll suggest some commentary on its meaning, and finally I’ll offer a suggestion of what Jesus may be teaching us concerning how, positively, we can begin to remove obstacles from our hearts, and our hearing, things that can keep us from Him whom we seek.

1. The Parable

Mar 4:1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.
Mar 4:2 And he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:
Mar 4:3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow.
Mar 4:4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.
Mar 4:5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil;
Mar 4:6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away.
Mar 4:7 Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.
Mar 4:8 And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
Mar 4:9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Mar 4:10 And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables.
Mar 4:11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables;
Mar 4:12 so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.”
Mar 4:13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
Mar 4:14 The sower sows the word.
Mar 4:15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them.
Mar 4:16 And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;
Mar 4:17 and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.
Mar 4:18 And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word,
Mar 4:19 but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Mar 4:20 But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

2. Commentary on the Meaning of the Parable

Mar 4:14 The sower sows the word.

Jesus tells us two reasons for the importance of this parable: first, the seed is “the word” – the saving word of God. Jesus is telling us a parable about the holy and saving word of God. And we know, from Paul, that hearing the saving word of God is necessary for belief in Him – for saving faith – as Paul writes in the Book of Romans:

Rom 10:13 For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Rom 10:14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?
Rom 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.

So, fruitful reception of this saving word, this “seed,” is crucially important to us. How do we come to really believe? How do we come to have saving faith in Jesus? We need to hear Him – we need to hear Jesus. We need to hear His Truth, His Gospel. This parable is therefore a crucially important parable because of what it is about.

The parable is also crucially important for a second reason: it is a “primary” or foundational parable. Jesus asks His disciples in this passage, a piercing question: “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mk 4:13) This question deserves to be considered very carefully by anyone who is concerned for the true good of his own soul! Jesus once asked, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk 9:25) If we want to understand the saving teachings of Jesus, we need to understand the parable of the sower, this teaching. It is fundamental. To understand His other parables, to learn from Him, to be His disciple, we need to understand this parable in particular. Otherwise, how will we understand the rest?

This parable describes several ways – four – that a person can hear the truth of God. The saving word of God is “sown” on the heart of a person as seed is sown on the ground. The person can hear it unprofitably in several ways, but in only one way he can hear profitably, fruitfully, beautifully. Let us focus on the four ways that Jesus describes:

1) A Listener on “the Path”

Mar 4:3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow.
Mar 4:4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.
Mar 4:15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them.

“The path” represents, perhaps, a listener of the word who is preoccupied – busy – and not about the things of God. In his heart he is “on a path,” on the road to somewhere else, to some place he has chosen. He is not focused on the words of God, of His new and different life being offered to him: this man’s mind and heart are elsewhere. It is an easy matter for the evil one – like birds easily feeding on seeds lying on the ground – to take the word out of his mind and heart. This person is a busy soul, a distracted soul, inattentive to what is most important for him: his life. The words of God rest only “on the surface” of his heart, not penetrating into it and into him. He has other matters of concern, on his journey.

2) A “Rocky” Heart

Mar 4:5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil;
Mar 4:6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away.
Mar 4:16 And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;
Mar 4:17 and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

The “rocky ground” represents a listener very different from one “on his own path”. The “rocky ground” person listens and hears and receives the word into his heart! The saving truth does not remain outside of him, but is taken within. However, this person has a serious impediment to the word: his heart has regions of hardness – like rocks in the ground – and rocks are hard; they are sterile. These rocky areas in the heart are grave problems for the word – and of course for the person listening and hearing. He hears, and quickly receives and believes! But the word cannot be sustained in his heart, it cannot mature and grow and bring forth fruit because of the hardness within. When difficulties come because of the word, he falls away like a root-starved plant withering in the heat of the sun. “When tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”

3) A Heart of Thorns

Mar 4:7 Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.
Mar 4:18 And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word,
Mar 4:19 but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

The “thorny ground” represents a still different listener. His heart presents impediments to the word and the life it can bring, in a way different from the path and also from the rocks: thorns are rooted in the heart, and their plants draw sustenance from the ground in competition with the seeds sown by the sower. The thorns “choke” the seeds of the word, and the seeds of the word are thereby starved, and cannot grow to maturity. They are crowded out by thorns, choked by them, starved and retarded in the growth they are intended to produce in the heart.

4) A Heart of “Good Ground”

Mar 4:20 But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Finally, here, the Lord describes good ground that is worthy of the good seed. This heart is not preoccupied with the path from one place in this world to another. This heart is not obstructed but is cleared of rocks and thorns, and its interior is rich and potent. It can receive the potent word worthily and the result is life: beautiful fruit, abundant fruit that can unfold “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Having found the general meaning of what Jesus was saying, about the different kinds of hearers who were listening to Him, we need to consider what this means for us – for each of us personally. Who am I, in these four categories of listeners? Where do I fit into this parable, personally? And more important, what am I to do in the future – perhaps differently – so as to enable me to be a better listener, a better hearer – a more fruitful “ground” in my own heart for the saving word of God?

3. What Does All This Say To Me?

When God looks into our hearts, what does He see? A human heart is pictured by Jesus in this parable – Jesus who IS God – as having four possibilities, and clearly if this were a multiple-choice test, the best answer would be the fourth one, the good ground. The good ground is a pure heart (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!” – Mt 5:8). We can thank God that He has given us in this parable, a list of spiritual “infirmities of the heart” that can afflict us. The three problematic heart conditions for a human person, in the parable, are:

The “path” condition: the heart is deadened by busyness, immersion in the world, preoccupation with one’s journey here and now, toward things to do and places to go to, that are merely of this passing world. Such a heart does not receive the living word into itself – God’s word stays on the surface, where it is quickly taken away and forgotten. The path needs to be plowed, and watered: the heart needs a new “path” – the path to life, to truth, to God.

The “rocks” condition: because of interior hardness, the heart cannot sustain the new life of God it has received. It this case the word, the seed, is received into the heart – very much unlike the case with the path-person, whose heart does not receive the word at all. The word is received, but the ground is shallow and it does not permit the living word to take deep roots into itself. The word is received, but it is not well-rooted. The rocks must be dealt with – and removed. They keep God’s word and life shallow in us, they keep our faith superficial and weak. They make it impossible for the word of God to endure and remain in us through life’s trials and tribulations! We must consider then the cause, or the source, of these rocks in a human heart, and remove them.

The “thorns” condition: the new life of God has been received into the heart, but it is impeded and obstructed by another, a different, and indeed an opposing old life. Two very different “life-forms” are now planted and are growing in the same field – the same human heart. The living word of God has been received and is growing, but alongside useless and harmful thorns that are growing too. And these two “life-forms” – these two lives – are inherently incompatible with each other. One must overcome the other; we must choose one or the other. The thorns must be dealt with – and removed – because they are choking out the living word of God, and rendering Him fruitless in us! We must consider then the cause, or the source, of these thorns in a human heart; they must be removed: “the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

This post will be continued in “Diagnosis of the Heart: The Parable of the Sower – Part 2.”

Posted by: Thomas Richard | June 22, 2015

Diagnosis of the Heart: The Parable of the Sower – Part 2

This is the conclusion to the previous post, “Diagnosis of the Heart: The Parable of the Sower – Part 1.”

4. How Can I Progress to True “Heart Health” and Mature Spiritual Life?

As we have seen, there are three pathologies of the heart that must be corrected:

1) The first pathology is being on the wrong path itself! The sickness is then a heart without its proper direction, lacking (or refusing to recognize) the fundamental human need to return to God who is our Creator, Redeemer, and final destination.

So for this case of the “path,” what is the prescription for heart-health? For those on one of the many wrong paths of life, whether they are church members or not, the one true way is Jesus. One day we will all stand before Him; He is our final Judge. It is to Him that the path of our lives must lead. There is one way to life: Jesus. He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me!” (Jn 14:6) What is the “prescription”? It is conversion. Repent, and believe the Gospel. Life is only in Him. This world is passing, and all its treasures and ambitions will be destroyed with it – but the soul will continue, and every soul will be judged. Now is the time to turn to God, in whom alone can we hope, and trust, and live. Now is the time for a final, definitive and irrevocable commitment to follow Him, and Him alone. To become, seriously, His disciple. To learn from Him, to obey Him, to entrust my life to Him, whatever the cost. To be a Christian.

2) The second pathology is the rock-infiltrated heart. This is the first obstacle that a Christian finds in himself, when he seeks to learn from and to follow Jesus: hardness in his own heart. Such hardness can come, for example, from fears, from smallness of faith, and from failure or refusal to forgive others. The first thing we need, and seek, from Jesus as a disciple is forgiveness. We need to be forgiven! We come to Him in repentance, sorry for our former life, seeking a clean and new beginning! But we learn from Him that forgiveness comes at a cost: we must become persons of forgiveness – we must be forgiving of others, if we would seek the Father’s forgiveness for ourselves.

In His beautiful prayer, the Our Father, we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Immediately after teaching the foundation for prayer, the Our Father, Jesus adds this emphatically:

Mat 6:14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;
Mat 6:15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The consequences are clear. If we keep a heart hardened against mercy for others, refusing to forgive others who have trespassed against us, then the Father will not forgive us either. To be open to His mercy, we must become a people of mercy. You and I must be persons of mercy. Our hearts must be not hardened against others, but merciful and forgiving.

The cure for this pathology, then, is also clear. We must recognize these rocks of hardness in our hearts, and repent of them. To keep hardness in our hearts, refusing to be merciful, is a sin! And it is sin we must see, admit, recognize, and reject. We must cast the hardness of refusal to forgive out of our hearts by His grace, so we can present a heart to Him that is worthy of Him: a heart of mercy, that loves mercy, that seeks and needs and can receive His mercy. In such a heart, His life can grow.

3) The third pathology is the thorn-infested heart. To understand the important distinction between “rocks” and “thorns” in the heart is to realize that one is dead and inanimate – rocks – but the other is living and growing although fruitlessly – thorns. One is a hardness in the heart, but the other is living and growing, and is rooted deep in the heart. We begin to see the difference: rocks are alien to the heart, but rooted plants (even though incapable of bearing fruit, like a thorn-bush) are things loved and welcomed into the heart (even though things, such as the thorn-bushes, that produce only the fruit of harm and injury: sharp and hurtful thorns).

If we would find the “cure” for this affliction of the heart, we must see the cause: false loves. The affliction is common to man, and is deep in him. False loves are rooted so deeply, and can be so many, that we can do little by ourselves to stop loving and desiring things that we should not. We can struggle to resist certain attractions, but we can do little to stop being attracted. We can hate the fact that we desire things that we ought not desire, but we cannot stop desiring them. Such things are thorn bushes, rooted in the heart, and they can choke the living word of God and keep us fruitless in His work. Only God can deliver us from such a deeply imbedded enemy of our souls. But God can so deliver us! Remember Paul’s writing in Scripture:

Rom 7:15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Rom 7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Rom 7:20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.
Rom 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self,
Rom 7:23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.
Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Rom 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The Lord Jesus and only He can deliver us from false loves, but we must do our part and cooperate with Him. We must “hate” that which we ought not love, or that we love in a false and ungodly way! We must cry out to God with the passion we hear in Paul, above, in his struggle against “wretchedness” in him.

John, in his first letter, writes:

1Jn 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.
1Jn 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.
1Jn 2:17 And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.

God will remove these thorns, these false loves, from our hearts – “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” – but it will be a difficult and lengthy process of purgation. God does this work in a kind of darkness, which John of the Cross calls the Dark Night of the Soul, but it is His beautiful will to so cleanse us and make us pure. God wants pure hearts! Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God! For out part, we must want all that He wants, and hate all that He hates. In such a heart, His holy seed finds good ground: good, fruitful and rich ground, ground that brings joy in heaven and on earth.

It must be said, lest the reader wrongly “compartmentalize” these four kinds of heart – wrongly thinking that these must be four different persons! They could be describing the same one person, at four times or stages of his life of discipleship. Healing for a human person – spiritual healing, for a strong and fruitful spiritual life – is a life-long process that is indicated by this wonderful parable. The parable presents four typical conditions of the heart – four which can be discovered in any sincere seeker of the Truth! A person can discover in his adult years that he is a “path person” in whom the Gospel finds no welcome at all! He might even attend Mass regularly, but entirely as a spectator, eager for Mass to be over, eager to get out and return to his more important interests and occupations. He might, late in life, discover this and experience a holy fear of God for the first time – and then, and only then, “turn and become as a child” on a journey at last toward heaven.

Such a person then, and only then, begins to hear the Gospel – and begins to discover with great joy the new life in Jesus Christ! But then later, he might begin to discover some of the costs of discipleship that he had not anticipated. His new-found faith in Jesus may threaten his ambitions for career advancement – or it may threaten an important relationship with a person special to him who does not share at all his new-found religious sensibilities and moral concerns. Or in some other way, he may discover that being a serious Christian can cost. It can cost, and he does not want to pay the price, and so his fervor cools and his faith weakens, and becomes not so important to him as before.

But such a person can wake up from this dark failure – indeed and Peter did, after denying Jesus three times because of fear within him! It is such irony that Simon, renamed by Jesus “Peter,” which means “rock”, should find in himself such a heart. But all is not necessarily lost. Such a person can awaken, and stand up, stronger than before – and yet still the Lord is not finished with him. He can next find in himself an even more humbling truth about himself than hardness of heart: he can discover within, unholy thoughts, unholy feelings, unholy desires, as indeed St. Paul described within himself in Romans, above. He finds an interior battle: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” He discovers “in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” He discovers thorns choking the life of God within him. He cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Such discoveries of inner conflicts, of competing loves, desires against desires, demonstrate examples of the struggle for rooted space in the heart: briars and thorns against holy divine seed, root against root, two ways of life each incompatible with the other, the work of God and love of holiness, against the work of the evil one, and love for sin. The seed sown in thorny ground can be the experience of the same man who once was dead to God on the worldly path, but who repented and began to follow Jesus. This can be the same man who then denied his Lord out of a rocky heart of fear but then repented and returned. The struggle against the thorns can be a deeper and more difficult spiritual battle, on the journey to the purity of heart that God desires.

4) Finally, there is the good ground: a pure heart, purified and purged of the sins and the love of the sins of this passing world. The good ground is not trampled upon, hardened, dried-out and compacted by worldly travel. The good ground has been cleared of hidden and secret rocks within. The good ground has been weeded and tended, all thorn bushes uprooted and discarded. The pure heart is the good ground, hungers for Him alone, and anyone else or anything else only in Him. This is God’s intention for us all: holiness.

Mar 4:20 But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

Footnote: This entire journey is discussed also in my book The Ordinary Path to Holiness, (at Amazon and Barnes and Noble) which may be a helpful resource in your journey of following Christ.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | May 27, 2015

Collapse of Faith in Ireland; Lesson for America

The collapse of Catholic Faith, in the historic stronghold of the Faith, Ireland, ought to send a shudder of shock through us Catholics of America. How did it come to this? How did 62% of the voting public of “Catholic Ireland” vote “Yes” to a redefinition of marriage in the Irish Constitution, to make marriage a union of two persons, and no longer “merely” a union of one man and one woman? This voluntary departure from Catholic Faith to be newly revised in their Constitution is even more stunning, and troubling, in the light of the beautiful and faith-filled Preamble to their Constitution:

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
We, the people of Éire,
Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,
And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,
Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

It is hard for an American to imagine a constitution written “in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity”! I would think I had died and woke up in the glory of the New Heavens and the New Earth! Many Irish I know would say with a twinkle in the eye that my dream would be close to the truth! But that was then, and this is now – a now that hurts deep in the heart of all faithful Catholics who mourn the fall of His Church anywhere in the world. Worse, the radical changes in the Church in Ireland have come fast. A helpful summary is found in a Crisis article “The Joyful Death of Catholic Ireland” – or a secular analysis in the Chicago Tribune, “How Catholicism fell from grace in Ireland.” As a brief summary, I would say that the collapse of the Church and her place in Irish society seems to have its origin in the growth of material success and in secular values, along with a decline in the traditional respect held for the Church (read: sex scandals).

The Tribune article includes an anecdote that seems very telling, and important, regarding the contemporary Irish Catholic reality. It is a comment from a priest in Ireland having a name that was surprising:

For the 8:30 a.m. daily mass at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, an imposing old church just off O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin, you might expect to see Father O’Sullivan at the altar. Or perhaps Father O’Reilly or Father O’Flaherty. Father Owuamanam comes as a bit of a surprise.
But Remigius Owuamanam, a priest from Nigeria, is a good reflection of the changes that have overtaken both church and society in Ireland during the last 20 years.

Owuamanam, the Nigerian priest, joked that parishioners at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral measured his ability as a priest by how quickly he could get through the mass. “Here I try to be very fast. Twenty-five or 30 minutes. In Africa, a mass is two or three hours long,” he said. Anything less, he said, and people would feel cheated. “And in Africa, they don’t just sit and watch. They sing, they dance, they are included.” Owuamanam said he has concluded that the Irish are lacking in “spiritual energy.”

It ought to be a wake-up call to Church leadership, when an important measure of the quality of one’s worship of God is how quickly it is over. In a parish mission I attended recently, the mission priest announced that he asked the parish administrator what we parishioners wanted, and from what he was told, he thus announced to us that his mission talks would be short – out in less than an hour. Revival, in less than an hour. Renew your faith, in less than an hour. Refresh your personal relationship with almighty God, in and out in less than an hour. God have mercy on us.

The Irish Constitution first written and intended “in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity” has been most deeply violated, with a lie that would have been celebrated in Sodom and Gomorrah, and is now being celebrated in “Catholic” Ireland. Welcome to the modern, post-Christian West, with its culture and moral climate more fitting for pre-Christian paganism. The advancing culture of this hour is one called by Pope St. John Paul II “the culture of death” – a culture far from the culture of life and of love given us by Jesus and empowered in us by the Holy Spirit. This Pope wrote in Evangelium Vitae:

24. It is at the heart of the moral conscience that the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly consequences for life, is taking place. It is a question, above all, of the individual conscience, as it stands before God in its singleness and uniqueness. But it is also a question, in a certain sense, of the “moral conscience” of society: in a way it too is responsible, not only because it tolerates or fosters behavior contrary to life, but also because it encourages the “culture of death”, creating and consolidating actual “structures of sin” which go against life. The moral conscience, both individual and social, is today subjected, also as a result of the penetrating influence of the media, to an extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. A large part of contemporary society looks sadly like that humanity which Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. It is composed “of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18): having denied God and believing that they can build the earthly city without him, “they became futile in their thinking” so that “their senseless minds were darkened” (1:21); “claiming to be wise, they became fools” (1:22), carrying out works deserving of death, and “they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (1:32). When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls “evil good and good evil” (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness.

It’s obvious, but it needs to be said: the Church must become light in this growing darkness! In America the increasing number of wholly secularized citizens of the City of Man, hostile to the City of God and to all that is of God, are a growing opposition to a culture of life, of reason and of truth. They are persistent and committed to their cause, while we in the Church seem lazy, sleepy, self-obsessed. We measure our spiritual life by how little it costs us. While they have been busy advancing their agenda, we have been busy dumbing ourselves down in the things of God, desensitizing our hearts to His gentle movements and quiet urgings, minimizing our time in His presence, and dishonoring the Name He put on our souls with shameful and hidden loves that ought not be among us. We have reduced our Church, not in all parishes but in many, to become one more large bureaucratic institution, many of our clergy merely business managers and official dispensers of ritual, many of our laity to part-time members of a nice, friendly social club, hopefully in and out in less than an hour.

Friendliness is not bad, but it does not save. Christ did not die on the Cross so that the world might become more friendly. Martyrs did not suffer death for easy truths that no one disputes or rejects. Indeed, He came not to bring peace but a sword! (Mt 10:34) And many swords drawn in this world today are aimed straight at the hearts of His followers. The Truth of Christ will draw men to salvation! And it will also enflame others in hateful and angry violence. But the Truth deserves to be proclaimed, and needs to be heard. If anything can save this world, and the men who lust to rule it, it is the Truth of Jesus Christ. If anything can expose the dark lies that infect human societies, and that can illuminate the way to lasting cultures worthy of human persons, it is the Truth of Jesus Christ. Ministers of the Church of Jesus Christ, you were entrusted! He entrusted you, and empowered and sent you! And many of you are drowsing and dozing and running out the clock on your careers. Many of you sing not anthems of truth but soothing lullabies to the people. You rock them to sleep, and they can hardly tell what is happening to them, nor what is not happening in them. Look at Ireland, ministers of the Church, and see the ugly fruit of a vineyard not cared for. See the harvest of hired men, who are not shepherds after the Good Shepherd who cares for His own. On that Day, every one of us will answer, will give account, for the fruit of his life. On that Day, all will know the immense value of the precious fruit that endures to eternal life.

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