Many Catholics have married “outside the Church,” for one reason or another.  This group of Catholics includes those who have remained active in the Church, as well as those who have left, and not practiced the Faith for some time.  Also, this article will not explore the many circumstances that may have led these Catholics to marry through secular authorities, or Protestant ministers, or some other pathway.  I want only to urge and discuss some of the reasons why these Catholics ought to get their marriage officially witnessed to, by and within the Church, as soon as they can.  It is something well worth the effort, no matter how many years have passed with the situation as-is.

Christians, and the One Catholic Church

When Jesus first gave to Peter and the apostles authority over matters of the Church, He was giving that authority to them and also to their successors who would follow them – that is, the Pope and the Bishops of the (present-day) Catholic Church.  Jesus certainly did not think that His Church would last for only one generation of leaders!  Authority was passed to popes and bishops for many centuries – but the issue of authority got very confused with first the Orthodox and later the Protestant divisions from the one Church.

The question of who has rightful religious authority today, for Christians, is confused because we have so many different Christian denominations – yet Jesus instituted only one.  The break-up of the Church into denominations was not God’s original plan, intention or desire.  Jesus instituted one and only one Church!  Jesus sent out one and only one Church!  “Denomination” is not a word in the Bible.  Scripture expresses for us all to read, God’s will for the unity of faith, the unity of believers:

1) The one faith – one Lord – one Baptism –

Eph 4:1 I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love,
3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

2) Jesus prayed that all Christians be one!  He prayed first for His apostles, and then for all who would later believe in Him through their testimony:

Jn 17: 20 I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

3) St. Paul also wrote, urging Christians to be and to remain in one mind, in agreement – that is, keeping true in the one Gospel truth:

1 Cor 1:10  I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

Authority was Given by Jesus Christ:

In the beginning, authority was given to the one Church, personally to Peter and then to the other apostles:

1) God gave Peter and the apostles authority to “bind and loose” in the Church He was forming and would send out to the world.  First to Peter (and the future Popes):

Mt 16:18  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
19  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

2) And again, to the Apostles generally:

Mt 18:18  Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Thus  all Christians were intended by Christ to be under the authority of Christ’s one Church, governed and served by one Pope after Peter and with one body of Bishops after the one body of the apostles.  Again, all Christians, not just “all Catholics,” were to be under the same one authority – because God’s plan was for one and only one Church.  Today Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Eastern Orthodox, etc. etc. – all Christians – even though they don’t know it or believe it to be true – all Christians ought to be gathered into Christ’s one and only one Catholic Church, gathered under the leadership and service of the one Pope and the Bishops in union with him in Christ.  Jesus formed, instituted and sent out one and only one Church, with one and only one Gospel Truth in the one and only one Holy Spirit.

The Sacrament of Marriage

Marriage has been in the world since the Garden of Eden, when God Himself brought Eve to Adam, and joined them together, and made them “one.”  The understanding and meaning of marriage was not fully revealed to mankind, however, until the Passion of Christ!  The grace of Christ poured out for the world, to gather men and women into His Church, changed forever the understanding of marriage for men and women.  The grace of Christ poured out made possible for the world the witness and the sacrament of a Christian marriage.  Marriage is a holy sacrament when it is entered by two validly baptized Christians.

For Christians, because of the meaning of Christian marriage, the Church and Christ must have an intimate part and role in their wedding.  For Catholics, this normally means that the Church (represented by at least two witnesses) and Christ (represented by the clergy of the Church, a bishop, priest or deacon) must be present to witness their wedding.  We see something of the meaning of a Christian marriage in Paul’s exhortation for a married couple, in Ephesians.  We hear that a Christian marriage is itself a picture for the world – a model for the world – a proclamation to the world of Christ’s saving love-commitment for His Church, His Bride, His Body.

Eph 5:21 Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22  Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
23  For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.
24  As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
25  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her
26  to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
27  that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
28  So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church,
30  because we are members of his body.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32  This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
33  In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

In Catholic sacramental theology, there are two sacraments whose holy grace given to the ones receiving the grace, is grace given for the salvation of others!  That is, the grace given to a priest or deacon when he is ordained, is grace given to empower him to serve others and help bring those others to salvation.  So also in a sacramental marriage: the grace given to the husband in marriage is to empower him to help his wife enter salvation; the grace given to the wife in marriage  is to empower her to help her husband enter salvation.

As Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  In this way husbands are to love their wives, and by the grace of the sacrament they can do this!  They are empowered in grace to do this, and they are responsible before God to do this.

Wives also are to help their husbands to salvation, and to sanctification, and they can do so in the grace of the sacrament.  They must see to it that they allow him his headship, and in submission to him in love and reverence, to all things true, help form him in the image of Christ who must be the model for his manhood and his role as husband and father.

Conclusion:

Thus the sacramental grace of human marriage is closely bound to the mystical marriage of Christ and His Church, and both marriages, the human and the mystical, are ordered – by the grace made present by the Cross – to holiness, to sanctification, to salvation.  This is why it is so important, and so appropriate, that the Church be present – be an official witness to – a Christian wedding.  And Paul’s writing in Ephesians also makes it clear why it is so important and so appropriate that every Christian marriage, every day after the wedding, welcome Christ and His Church – and His holy truth and grace – into their home and their married life.

And again, to stress why this emphasis on the Catholic Church is so important to every Christian marriage: Christ formed and sent one and only one Church, the one now known as the Catholic Church.  Baptized Catholics have a precious gift from God, in their Baptism and also in their Catholic identity, because His one Church and that one alone has the fullness of His truth, and the full measure of His sacramental graces.  But what a person is given, a person is also responsible for!  Thus Baptized Catholics have also a solemn responsibility to accept all that Christ has entrusted to us, and to honor Him by our faithful obedience to His truth, and His mission.

For the Catholic, the “all” that is held for him or her in the Catholic Church is precious, and sacred, and powerful, and true: all the sacraments, all the Holy Scripture, all the wonderful history and legacy of the saints – all the many spiritual treasures that God has given and that the Church has accumulated over the 20 centuries of her following of the Lord in the Holy Spirit.  But if there were no other benefit in the Church for a baptized Catholic beyond the graces of a Catholic Christian marriage, it would still be worth every effort to return to the Church for that one reason.  The fullness of sacramental grace can empower the fullness of Christ in the marriage – and that would lead to the fullness of the marriage, and indeed of life itself for the husband, the wife, and the children who might bless such a marriage.

And then there is the effect of such a blessed marriage and family on a world very hungry for examples of truth, and happiness, and holy faith.  In a Catholic Christian marriage, the world ought to be able to see a picture, a model, a human example of a supernatural covenant - that holy covenant between Christ and His Church.  Paul reveals this to us, in Ephesians chapter five.  The question for us, and especially for those Catholics who still need to bring their marriage into the fullness of the Catholic faith: Are we prepared to live that truth which God shows us is true?

R. Thomas Richard

Posted by: Thomas Richard | March 8, 2015

Going Beyond “Rediscover Catholicism,” Part I

An internet search for Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly leads to countless glowing reviews of and praises for the book. Many, many Catholics have been greatly blessed and newly motivated in their faith, because of this book. It has proved to be a strong encouragement for Catholics toward a new confidence and a positive attitude concerning their faith, and their Church.

This article, and the next – “Going Beyond ‘Rediscover Catholicism,’ Part II” – are written for those who have already read the book and will not need a summary of it to understand what I write here. I write these articles, however, to point out for those who have read the book, that there are some things missing in the book – serious and important things – that Catholics need to know about, concerning the path to the vocation given us all, and encouraged in the book: our vocation to holiness. These articles, I hope, can build upon what began with Rediscover Catholicism, and can help the reader progress even further toward our holy vocation.

The Self-Centered Context of our Culture

Christ, and His Church, call us to holiness and to the perfection of charity. Mr. Kelly rightly identifies this crucially important call, our Christian vocation: “Holiness is the goal of the Christian life.” (p. 72) He also rightly places our vocation in the midst of a culture set in opposition to the vocation – a culture having prevailing philosophies of individualism (“What’s in it for me?”), hedonism (“If it feels good do it”), and minimalism (“What is the least I can do?”). (pp. 35-39). Mr. Kelly places strong emphasis on the need for Christian discipline, which opposes the prevailing hedonism, and he strongly emphasizes the need to strive even heroically to advance in the Christian life, which opposes the prevailing minimalism of the culture. That much is good. What remains, however, is the matter of individualism: “What’s in it for me?”

Mr. Kelly appeals to, rather than opposes, this prevailing cultural attitude. This is not bad in itself, because God also appeals to our personal self-interest in calling us! However, God does not stop there, and neither does traditional Catholic spirituality. The book Rediscover Catholicism does not clearly help the reader see beyond that initial appeal to self-interest, but Catholics need to know that God calls us far beyond it, to the perfection of charity fitting for the Kingdom of God.

Rediscover Catholicism’s Focus on Self

Mr. Kelly’s most strongly emphasized paths and practices to holiness, surprisingly, are characterized – perhaps unconsciously on his part – not in opposition to but consistent with the prevailing cultural philosophy of individualism, and “What’s in it for me?” The most used measure of all Christian practices that are encouraged in the book, its gold standard of religious or spiritual value for any practice, is whether or not it leads to a “better-version-of-myself.” The self is placed at the center and as the measure of the spiritual life. Some examples:

  • Concerning repentance, turning back to God: “at His side I am a better person… when I turn away from God I am turning my back on my true self.” (p. 153)
  • Concerning Confession: “The journey toward the-best-version-of-yourself is a journey away from the defects of the-present-version-of-yourself.” (p. 154) “Confession is an opportunity for you and God to work together to form a-better-version-of-yourself.” (p. 157)
  • Concerning prayer: Mr. Kelly recounts his own personal advance in prayer this way: At first, he used to pray for his personal problems, “God, I’ve got this problem…This is the situation… These are the circumstances… Then I stumbled onto the question that would change my life forever: God, what do you think I should do?”
  • Concerning participation in Holy Mass: “When you walk into Mass next Sunday, simply ask God in the quiet of your heart, ‘God, show me one way in this Mass that I can become a-better-version-of-myself this week!’… Once it is revealed to you, spend the rest of the Mass praying about how you can live that one thing in the coming week.” (p. 210)

This pervasive focus on the self, on what’s good for me, is summarized well as a spirituality of self-actualization: ultimately, “What’s in it for me?” – the very concern of secular individualism that the author rejected in the secular world. Concerning this “journey of the soul and the quest for love,” as he wrote in the book: “God invites you to embark on the adventure of unveiling and actualizing your unimagined potential.” (p. 123)

Self-Interest in Traditional Catholic Spirituality

It is important to know that the spiritual journey to holiness has been known and recognized by saints, fathers and doctors of the Church from very early days, as a journey in stages. The journey is not one life-long continuous process, as the book Rediscover Catholicism presumes. Instead, the journey to holiness is a process including three defined stages that are clearly distinct and different from one another. Recognition of the three stages is essential to any spirituality that reaches to the full attainment of holiness and the perfection of charity. The three stages have been given names, in Catholic tradition, as:

1) the stage of the Beginner, or the Purgative Stage;
2) the stage of the Progressing, or Proficient, or the Illuminative Stage;
3) the stage of the Perfect, or the Unitive Stage.

In the Beginning or Purgative Stage, the soul is self-centered. This is well-described by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153 AD). Thus it is no surprise that a Catholic book on the spiritual journey would begin with the appeal to self-interest that is predominant for all beginners on the journey. But the journey ought not stop there – and neither should the book. We are all called to holiness – to be saints – as Rediscover Catholicism rightly emphasizes. But the journey cannot continue as it began – we need to grow beyond the self-concerns of the beginning stage, if we are ever to attain God’s intention in this world.

St. Bernard recognized and described four “degrees” of love, on the spiritual journey. I will outline them here (i):

  1. In Bernard’s first degree, the person knows nothing of God. All that he loves is measured by the good it does for him, or the pleasure it brings him. This can include both things and people! He loves things, and he loves people, in the measure that they bring pleasure to him. This pre-Christian kind of love is expected for a child – but tragic in an adult.
  2. In Bernard’s second degree, the person discovers God – and learns that God is his greatest benefactor. God can do more for him, and bring him happiness and pleasures, greater than anything or anyone else! And thus he begins to love God, but he loves God for all the good that God can do for him. His love for God is mercenary, self-focused. This is identified with the traditional “Stage of the Beginner, or Purgative stage” in traditional Catholic spirituality. This is the beginning of the Christian’s relationship with God in Christ: the relationship is expected to grow beyond this stage.
  3. In Bernard’s third degree, following faithful discipleship in God’s ways and truth, following faithful walking with the Lord, the person learns of the great good of God in Himself! God is good, beautiful and true – and worthy of love – far beyond the good that he does for the person himself. God is good, and worthy of the greatest honor because of who God is, in Himself. Thus the person begins to love God as God, and not merely as his personal benefactor of the self. In this stage, however, traces of mercenary love still remain, which the person longs to overcome.
  4. In Bernard’s fourth degree, after faithful and zealous prayer, service to God, and longing to give his all to God, the person sees clearly and in its radiance the great and infinite goodness and glory of God, which overwhelm fear and concern for self. The person begins to love others, and even himself, only in God. Whether he lives or he dies, God is good in all His works. God is all, in all. Here, the love of God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul and strength becomes a human reality.

Discipline and Habit

Another very important factor in the author’s spirituality, is discipline: “The philosophy of Christ is based on discipline…” (p. 89) Mr. Kelly points to the saints – one of our most valuable resources as Catholic Christians – as both examples and teachers of discipline on the path to holiness: “Like Jesus, by their example the saints invite us to a life of discipline.” (p. 89) “The saints’ lives were firmly grounded in discipline.” “ They quietly chiseled away at the defects and weaknesses in their character. They became the-best-version-of-themselves.” (p. 91) The saints thus become examples for us, in our quest for self-improvement. Indeed this is God’s concern as well: “The will of God is that you become the-best-version-of-yourself, or in classical spiritual language, that you live a life of holiness and become a saint.” (p. 126)

The author writes that this saintly discipline must become for us, as for them, a habit of life. “Our lives change when our habits change. Think about all the heroes, leaders, champions and saints. What set them apart from their peers? They just had better habits… Their habits were helping them to become the best version of themselves, and they were acquired intentionally through the effort of discipline.” (p. 128) He continued, citing the many beautiful virtues made manifest in the saints, “patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, and love. Or is it their desire to explore their God-given potential?… Or maybe it’s just that they are focused on loving God and neighbor by becoming the-best-version-of-themselves. I suspect it is some combination of all of these.” (p. 132)

The roles of discipline and habit continue, in the book, with a center and focus on the self, as illustrated here:

“Find your place in salvation history. Be a saint. Be yourself. Perfectly yourself.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to become the best version of yourself. The best thing you can do for your spouse, your children, your friends, your Church, your nation, and God is to become the-best-version-of-yourself.” (p. 141)

Discipline and Habit in Traditional Catholic Spirituality

Discipline and the development of virtuous habits – or virtue itself – are also placed, in traditional Catholic spirituality, within a journey of distinct stages. Discipline is crucial in the Beginner’s or Purgative Stage, but virtue is the fruit especially in the second, the Illuminative Stage of the Proficients. St. Thomas Aquinas emphasized these qualities in the stages which he briefly described, allowing us to see the place of discipline in the first stage, but virtue in the second:

  1. the Beginning stage. Beginning the Christian life, the believer finds that most of his concern and effort is made withdrawing from sin and resisting the appetites which drive him away from charity. Beginners need to nourish and carefully foster charity to prevent its loss, and they need to avoid falling back to the ways they have just left. Attacks of temptation disturb the peace of the soul in this stage, but after struggle and perseverance, the believer can give his mind to making progress.
  2.  the Progressing stage. In this second stage, a certain measure of victory over temptation has been achieved. Most of the effort of the soul is now directed to advancing in virtue, with the concern that charity grow and become strong. This is the stage of those who are making progress in the journey.
  3. the stage of the Perfect. In this third stage, which is not static but which also involves progress, most effort is made cleaving to God, and enjoying Him. In this stage are Christians of heroic virtue, who sincerely long to leave this earth and be with Him. (ii)

St. Thomas’s separation of the growth in virtue (in the “Progressing”, or Illuminative Stage) from the place of discipline (in the “Beginning”, or Purgative Stage) is important because of the radical difference between the two stages. This will be investigated next, in “Going Beyond ‘Rediscover Catholicism,’ Part II,” but after first noting again that Rediscover Catholicism assumes a linear and incremental path to holiness, and does not recognize the crucial existence of stages at all.


notes:

i) see St. Bernard of Clairvaux, The Love of God. This is discussed further by R. Thomas Richard, The Ordinary Path to Holiness, (Alba House, 2003) p. 25 ff.
ii)  St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIa IIae, Q.24, a.9.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | March 8, 2015

Going Beyond “Rediscover Catholicism,” Part II

(This article follows “Going Beyond ‘Rediscover Catholicism,’ Part I“)

Rediscover Catholicism‘s Presentation of the Journey as Linear and Incremental

Integrated with saintliness, virtue and discipline is the assumption throughout the book Rediscover Catholicism that the spiritual journey is fundamentally a linear and incremental one. The author approaches this understanding of holiness, this working toward habitual virtue demonstrated by the saints, as a gradual and incremental process, little by little. In his teachings about prayer, he writes, “In the silence you will find God and in the silence you will find yourself. These will be the greatest discoveries of you life. But these discoveries will not be moments of epiphany; they will be gradual. You will discover a little at a time, something like a jigsaw puzzle being put together.” (p. 184) And again, here speaking of intentionally changing our habits, he wrote: “The spiritual journey is not made a mile at a time. More often than not, the advances in the journey are too small even to measure.” (p. 264)

The assumption of a single linear and incremental path, however, is best illustrated by the silence regarding any other possibilities. He never mentions the three traditional stages, nor the very important spiritual experiences at the doorways, so to speak, of the second and third stages, the Dark Nights of the Soul.

The Normative, Traditional Division of the Journey in Stages

The spiritual life described by Mr. Kelly is fitting, in a sense, for the very beginning of the spiritual journey as understood in traditional Catholic spirituality, but this is incomplete in significant and important ways. It is like giving a roadmap to a distant destination, while failing to mention that there are severe and dangerous road hazards – and great changes in elevation – down the road, far different from the flat highways found at the beginning. The ordinary path to holiness, in traditional Catholic spirituality, exhibits distinct stages: three major stages, with the second and third stages entered only through “dark nights” of profound trial and potency for good or for harm. Also, importantly, the second and third stages of this journey are radically different from the beginning stage, characterized by radical changes in one’s life of prayer, and virtue, and communion with God.

Yes, the first stage, the stage of the Beginners – the Purgative Stage – can be described as a linear and incremental journey when lived rightly, one for which discipline and efforts for right habit are very important. But the second and third stages of the spiritual life are as different from the first, as adolescence and adulthood are different from childhood. The transition from the first to the second stage, however, is not a gradual and incremental one: it is characterized by a crisis for the soul – a “dark night.”

Entry into the Second Spiritual Stage: the Illuminative Stage

Preoccupation with oneself (seeking one’s best version, seeking what most benefits oneself) is expected in the first or Beginner’s Stage of the spiritual journey. But that is a defect that must be corrected, in order to progress in the spiritual life toward the maturity that is our vocation, in Christ. In the framework of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the beginner’s mercenary love for God – that is, love for God because of the good that God can do for me – is radically changed in the next stage (although not completely transformed) when the good that God is in Himself is experientially realized. This change happens when a soul moves from the first or Beginner’s Stage to the second, the Illuminative Stage. In this Illuminative Stage, the soul realizes in himself a love of God and a sense of God’s holy perfection that so to speak takes him out of himself, and brings him to a previously unknown sense of awe and worship of God. This is, again, because of who God is now known to be in Himself, in His infinite and perfect greatness. This entry into the Illuminative Stage is truly and experientially an entry into “light” – but only after the experience of a new and difficult “darkness” of the Dark Night of the Senses. This Dark Night is needed for God to do a work of purgation in the soul that only God can do, and during which the soul can only passively allow God to do this work.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange wrote that persistent spiritual defects remaining even in faithful and zealous Christians in the beginner’s, or purgative, stage, who have been working to rid themselves of sin and seek holiness, may be reduced to three: spiritual pride, spiritual sensuality, and spiritual sloth. Indeed, a preoccupation with oneself, and with one’s own “best version”, can be a persisting defect in the Beginner’s Stage, a possible example of spiritual pride. Such persisting defects, outside of the reach of the person himself, can be removed only by the “outside” intervention of God in the person. In gaining some victory over sin and temptation, the person can cling to a disordered confidence in his blessings in God and his advances in the spiritual life. Thus defects of spiritual sensuality, and spiritual pride, may remain rooted in him. The soul must learn, somehow, that God is to be loved and honored for Himself, because of Who He is Himself as God, and not merely for what He has done for us. The soul must begin to find joy not in the blessings of God, but in God Himself. The soul must begin to love the Giver, and not the gifts. To work correction in the soul, God withdraws His blessings, and His graces, and leaves the soul in a time without consolations, in sensual aridity and darkness.

In such darkness, an opposite reaction can then occur in the soul: when blessings and consolations are withdrawn by God, the soul can feel impatience or even disgust toward spiritual effort, and thus the defect of spiritual sloth or acedia is revealed. These defects are often unconscious and unintended, and come from roots deep in the soul – such that the person cannot, by ordinary grace and effort, see and reach into himself to correct them. Here, at the entrance to the higher second stage in the spiritual life – the Illuminative or Proficient’s Stage – is the experience of what John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Senses. This Dark Night introduces the soul to what is called infused contemplation – a prayer and a relationship with God in which the person is no longer the active agent with his ordinary grace: God is the active agent, and the soul is passive. The work of the soul in this stage is to cooperate with God as God does to and in the soul what only He can and must do, if the soul is to proceed in the spiritual journey to holiness.

Signs of the Dark Night of the Senses

John of the Cross has written explicit signs, that a Catholic can experience in himself, that tell him that he is indeed entering this dark night – this time of privation of the senses, to make way for powerful building of deeper faith in and reliance on God in his soul. It may seem darkness, yet it is an infusion of yet-invisible light! It may seem emptiness, but it is an in-filling of the Holy Spirit. It may seem barrenness, but it is imminent fruitfulness not yet breaking above ground.

These are the signs. They must be all present, all three, in the soul at the same time, for the person to know with certitude that this is the expected dark night. In this night, one must simply trust God, and let Him do His work. One must set aside any fears: “let not your heart be troubled!” One must trust God. Here are the signs:

  • One finds no consolation in the things of God, nor in created things.
  • One keenly desires to serve God, with a thirst for justice and fear of sin. One finds strength in time of temptation.
  • There is great difficulty in discursive meditation, with instead a tendency to the simple affective gaze toward God.

When the darkness of the Dark Night lifts, God makes His presence known to the soul in radically new and unexpected ways – with an experiential sense of the presence of God.  Such new kinds of prayer are known as the beginnings of infused contemplation. Prayer before this time is called ascetical prayer, from vocal prayer through the several grades of meditation. Kinds of prayer after this time include what is called mystical prayer: (infused, given by gift from God in His time and manner) contemplation.

Conclusion: The Crucial Value of Knowing about the Stages

It is important to know about the traditional three stages, because one simply cannot attain his Christian vocation to holiness and the perfection of charity without growing through these stages! In our natural life, no child can become an adult, without leaving childhood and first becoming an adolescent, and then maturing according to our nature into adulthood. So also in our spiritual life, a fifty-year-old still at the “beginning” has yet to properly grow and progress toward maturity – and we are called to spiritual maturity in Christ.

A beginner, in the purgative stage, will – if he is an earnest, faithful, zealous and growing disciple of Jesus Christ – will grow to experience the Dark Night of the Senses, so well described by John of the Cross. When he does, if he does so with no expectation nor knowledge about how to receive it and cooperate with God through it, the chances are great that he will not persevere through it, but will fall back. To fall back would be – and is for the many who do, for lack of knowledge and direction – a real tragedy for them personally, and for the whole Church that is thus impoverished by losing the contributions of a potentially fruitful and vital member, who did not advance. We need to know the road set before us! We need to strive to persevere to the end, to God’s full and beautiful intention for us: holiness, and the perfection of charity.

Further Reading

To help complete what may have begun in a reader of Rediscover Catholicism, I recommend a few of many possible references:

Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 27, 2015

Radical Islam and a Bankrupt West

The world recently saw evil organized as a secular state: Nazism in Germany. Now we see evil organized as a religious state: radical Islam in ISIS. Do a search on the internet – the similarities and connections between Nazism and the radical Islamists are many, and are becoming obvious to many commentators. I continue to ponder the two “beasts” of the last days, in Scripture’s Book of Revelation: there is a beast out of the sea, and there is a beast out of the earth, a false prophet – both animated ultimately by the dragon, satan himself.

The beast from the sea seems to me to be the spirit empowering the secular and godless “City of Man”, the harlot Babylon, “sitting on a scarlet beast” (Rev. 17:3). Although satan hates mankind and its secular city, built by man to glorify man, he allows and guides it for a long while, since it suits his purpose of destroying mankind and defeating the plans of God. But in the end he seeks to destroy man and all that is of man, in his war against God. The City of Man was unmasked – stripped naked – for the world to see, in Nazism and in Communism and in all the godless totalitarian states of history! But man will not see it; it is in his godless and sin-loving heart to build his city, free of God, that he might be his own god. Man’s ambitions continue today, in major nations of the world today, even here. Even America, once a nation that honored God, seems now overrun by those seeking only their own pleasures and pride and glory.

So satan’s assault is two-pronged: he empowers Babylon, the harlot City of Man, with the godless beast from the sea. And he empowers a false prophet with a false god, a beast from the earth, that looks like a lamb but has a heart of darkness and death. This beast seems to be unmasking before our very eyes, in the madness, bloodlust and evil of ISIS. Two beasts, one dark spirit – the evil spirit that hates God and all that is good, holy and true. The civilized and secular, and the religious and fanatical: we see the two beasts, the two sides of the one coin made to deceive man and entice him to abandon the one God in Whom is LIFE, and His holy and eternal Kingdom.

It is remarkable to witness the explosive expansion of ISIS. It is painful to see young men and women leave their families and homes in the “civilized” and “Christianized” West, to travel to Syria to join ISIS, to fight with ISIS against the West, to be part of the brutal murdering of the innocent for the glory of what they call Islam. How can this be happening? Why is it happening?

“For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be a very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” says Matthew Levitt, the director of counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Their online material shows capturing territory, establishing states, beheading enemies: they show that they are the sexiest jihadi group on the block.” (from Time Magazine on-line)

“A lot are young, often teenagers, and a fair percentage of those arriving from non-Muslim majority countries are converts to Islam,” wrote Richard Barrett of the Soufan Group, an intelligence organization. “These and others who share their faith commonly express their motivation as a religious obligation to protect fellow Muslims from attack.”

In detail, perhaps they have many reasons. The French have called their jihadists “disaffected, aimless and lacking a sense of identity or belonging,” Barrett wrote. “Presumably people are seeking a greater purpose and meaning in their lives.” (from The Washington Post on-line)

Barrett also wrote of their desire to witness and take part in a battle prophesied 1,400 years ago.  Maybe they never read of the battle prophesied many centuries earlier in the Bible, the battle at Armageddon (see for example Rev 16:16, and 20:8): God will win! The deceived will lose! Evil will be done away with forever, God’s Kingdom will come. This present creation will come to an end, and the New Heavens and the New Earth will be revealed, where righteousness abides forever.

But I want to return to a possible reason why men and women can be joining ISIS in a war against the West: they are “seeking a greater purpose and meaning in their lives.” There is the greatest of purposes, the fullness of meaning, for their lives awaiting them in Jesus Christ! His Catholic Church has been entrusted with the truth of the human person, and with the graces to empower the full attainment of that purpose and that meaning – all has been given to and entrusted to His Church! His Church has been sent to all the nations of the world to make disciples, to teach them His saving Truth! How can it be that these volunteers for ISIS missed discovering the meaning and the purpose held for them in Jesus Christ? The answer is simple: the Church is not doing what she was sent to do. Too many in the Church are sleeping, and taking their ease.

The world is doing a better job of evangelizing and making disciples of godless secularism and of the false religion of Islamism, than is the Church at its work of evangelizing and making disciples of Jesus Christ. As Jesus taught, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” (Lk 16:8)

The next few verses in Luke are even more explicit, and have relevance for the Church today in the West:

Lk 16:9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.
11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
13 No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him.
15 And he said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.

The Church was sent to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded. Therein lies the meaning and the purpose of a human life: gather, teach, lead into the truth and the eternal life of the one God! We are sleeping. ISIS is growing; the hedonistic, self-obsessed, lustful and proud secular City of Man continues its buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage. Many, many in the Church turn in their beds, and go back to sleep.

“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8)

Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 13, 2015

Update on a Call to Desert Hermitage… Mark Byerly

Back in 9/20/2014 I wrote a blog entry on a man on pilgrimage – Mark Byerly – called, “A Pilgrimage of Penance, Prayer and Sacrifice.”  I recently heard again from Mark, to let me know he is now moving into a desert hermitage, for time for prayer and reparation.   He wrote,

My name is Mark Byerly. Last fall I was interviewed by Michael Voris and Christine Niles at ChurchMilitant.tv. I am the pilgrim that crossed the country on foot to 150 Catholic shrines in reparation for the sins of our world and for the Church. You ran my story on your website afterwards. As I mentioned in the interview, I am going into the desert of Arizona to continue the life of prayer and penance as a desert hermit. The needs of our world are grave and urgent. I will be leaving home for this venture within a couple of weeks.

To help raise some of the funds necessary for the move and its initial costs, I have been persuaded to start a web based fund raising campaign. The campaign is run on Indiegogo. I am trying to send it on to good, orthodox, Catholic websites and blogs since I know that at these there will be many people of the same mind and heart who would be interested and willing to help. If you can do anything in this regard, I am already grateful. Or perhaps you have some other ideas? My email address is: markbyerly@yahoo.com. Here is the link to the fundraising campaign: LINK

Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything else I can do for you. Again, I am very grateful.
In our Lord,

Mark Byerly.

Mark will respond to any questions or thoughts you might have.  Perhaps you will consider helping support him in this initial challenge he faces to get “established” in his desert hermitage.  There is also some information on the “campaign” link.

Our country, the modern West, and the world in general is in great need of men and women of prayer.  We are in need of witnesses, of humble and obedient persons open to the Spirit, persons of Faith.  May the Lord lead us all, into perfect lives of obedience to Him in love.

Thomas Richard

 

Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 2, 2015

The Kerygma

The Church began on the day of Pentecost after Jesus ascended, with a Spirit-filled sermon by Peter to a crowd in Jerusalem. The crowd listened to Peter, and heard something that pierced their hearts! What they heard drove them to repentance, to conversion, to transformation – to faith! What they heard changed their lives, and for many of them – about 3000 – it began in them a new heart and mind, a new beginning. The close of his sermon called the hearers to repentance and to a new life in Christ:

Acts 2:36 “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”
38 Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”
40 He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

What Peter preached that day is known today as “the kerygma” – often meaning the beginning and foundational message of the Gospel. If and when heard – such that the heart is pierced – a foundation is laid in the heart upon which the new life in Christ can be built. That foundation is rock-solid: it is faith in Christ; it endures, it weathers the storms of life, it perseveres through the years and decades and lifetime of a disciple, and is the seal of entry into eternal life in beatitude.

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a concise description of the kerygma on their Archdiocesan Blog (1):

“The basic content of the kerygma emphasizes that Jesus is the chosen Messiah of God, the one who was promised. And though he was crucified, He rose gloriously from the dead, appearing to his disciples, and having been exulted at the right hand of the Father through his ascension, now summons all to him, through the ministry of the Church. This proclamation (kerygma) requires a response from us, that we should repent of our sins, accept baptism, and live in the new life which Christ is offering. This alone will prepare us for the coming judgment that is to come upon all humanity. There is an urgent need to conform ourselves to Christ and be prepared by him for the coming judgment.”

Does this sound familiar? It describes many sermons I have heard, from street-preachers in New York City, to downtown Smalltown, Bible-Belt USA, from TV evangelists, great and not-so-great, from pastors in community bible churches across the expanse of Christian denominations. The kerygma, when preached with power, can be heard with powerful effect in the human heart – with eternal consequences, bringing joy to the angels and saints in heaven, when souls are awakened to saving life in Jesus Christ.

I almost never hear the kerygma in a Catholic Church. Not in a homily, not in a parish mission, not from a pastor, not from an itinerant Catholic evangelist, not in an adult Bible Study, not on a Catholic retreat or Day of Prayer. I say “almost” because I have heard it, on precious but rare occasions, within the Catholic Church. I think it is more often presumed, than proclaimed. Just as the foundation in Catholics of living faith in Christ is presumed, as solid formation in that faith is presumed, as knowledge of Catholic moral teachings is presumed – and thus there is no need to preach or teach what might be offensive or contentious or – heaven forbid – divisive. If the foundation of the house is weak or absent, then the fear of actually building upon it is reasonable! No one wants to stir up the air, around a house of cards. If the foundation of living faith in Christ is weak or absent, then what, exactly, is ground-level in the hearts of the assembly for Sunday morning Mass?

The kerygma is essential, because it is foundational. Faith in Christ as Lord and Savior is essential! But if the 90-90 saying is correct (“90 percent of Catholics receive 90 percent of their information and inspiration from Sunday Mass” – (2)), then 90% of Catholic adults may never – never – have heard the life-changing truth, preached with power, that the first 3000 members of the Church heard from Peter, our first Pope.

Foundational weakness or absence may explain the fact that most Catholics do not have the time or inclination for the life of discipleship in the faith, that followed in the lives of those first 3000:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;
45 they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
47 praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The symptoms beg the question, Why? Why are the foundations so weak or non-existent? Why is the basic, foundational kerygma so rarely preached in Catholic parishes, or retreats, or even “missions”? Why have so many Catholics never been presented – or confronted – with the most important decision of a human life? In the end, there is eternal life, or eternal death. It makes a very big difference, the road taken at the very foundation of the human heart. What – or Who – is the explanation for your life? Who are you? Whose are you?

notes:

(1) http://blog.adw.org/2012/10/what-do-we-mean-by-the-term-kerygma/

(2) Anecdotal – not given as a precise statistic! Quoted in “Laying the Foundation for Forming Disciples in Our Parishes”, Fr. Matthew J. Albright, HPR: http://www.hprweb.com/2015/01/laying-the-foundation-for-forming-disciples-in-our-parishes/

Posted by: Thomas Richard | January 13, 2015

Maternal Martyrdom

Pope Francis, in his Wednesday Audience of Jan.7, 2015, recently quoted Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in which the later martyred Archbishop used this poignant and revealing phrase, “maternal martyrdom.” The Pope reflected on the remarkable, beautiful generosity of self-gift that God put into the souls of women, which is so often seen in mothers. The Archbishop is quoted (indeed at the funeral of a priest killed by death squads):

We must all be ready to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor … to give one’s life does not only mean to be killed; to give one’s life, to have the spirit of martyrdom, is to give in duty, in silence, in prayer, in the honest fulfillment of one’s duty; in the silence of daily life; to give one’s life little by little. Yes, as a mother gives it who, without fear, with the simplicity of maternal martyrdom, conceives a child in her womb, brings him to life, nurses him, helps him grow and attends to him with affection. It is to give one’s life. It is martyrdom.

The Pope thanked and blessed the Church, and all mothers, and of course our mother Mary, for this simple and beautiful and life-long self-giving that demonstrates for us the Christian way.

All of us are called to such generosity, to such heroic self-giving. It may or it may not be to the point of shedding our blood, of giving the last breath of our bodies for others – we usually cannot know the kind of cross that the Lord has provided for us, personally. But we can know that we are called to live and to give for the life of the Church, with all that God entrusted to us for that very purpose.

It is in the context of this Wednesday Audience that I remember another phrase used by Pope Francis, a very troubling one, but one applicable to a Church that does not live her vocation as mother, but rather is self-serving, self-preoccupied, self-advancing. When she is evangelizing, bringing forth children, nurturing and feeding and caring for them, the Pope said,

… the Church becomes a mother church that produces children (and more) children, because we, the children of the Church, carry that. But when we do not, the Church is not the mother, but the babysitter that takes care of the baby — to put the baby to sleep. It is a Church dormant…

Church as Mother – or Church as Babysitter?

The Church today seems to be very much in “dormant” mode – asleep even as the world outside the sanctuary is burning down to the ground. The Church today seems – at the parish and diocesan levels – seems afraid to proclaim the Gospel, afraid to form adult disciples, afraid to teach the crucial moral doctrines that on paper we hold but in practice avoid, afraid to preach the Catholic Faith with the unction, fervor and conviction that might actually wake someone up in the congregation. The Church is afraid to be mother – afraid to be martyr. And so she does retreat to the easier but deadly path of compromise, and the people and the priests slip into sleep. She becomes a babysitter. (See previous post on this subject.)

And the result of generations of babysitting is inevitable: a church of babies in the Faith, and not men, not women, not mothers, not fathers in Christ – but babies in Christ. Those in such poorly-fed congregations that have kept their Faith, and grown in it, and grown to maturity in Christ have in many cases done it on their own, in spite of the formal works and offerings of the parish. The situation, as I have seen it, is dismal. Catholic adults are not being formed in an adult faith; they are being fed pablum, and preached pastoral lullabies. Meanwhile evil is advancing, and the Church slumbers and takes her ease.

St. Paul wrote of such spiritual immaturity in his own day, in the Church in Corinth. He wrote,

1 Cor 3:1 Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ.
2 I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now,
3 for you are still of the flesh.

The New American Bible footnotes comment on this sad characterization of the Christians of Corinth. The Bible editors wrote (I have omitted many verse numbers cited, for brevity):

(1) The natural [unspiritual] person is one whose existence, perceptions, and behavior are determined by purely natural principles, the psychē and the sarx (flesh, a biblical term that connotes creatureliness). Such persons are only infants; they remain on a purely human level.
(2) On the other hand, they are called to be animated by a higher principle, the pneuma, God’s spirit. They are to become spiritual and mature in their perceptions and behavior….
Jealousy, rivalry, and divisions in the community are symptoms of their arrested development; they reveal the immaturity both of their self-understanding and of the judgments about their apostles.

In Corinth, “jealousy, rivalry, and divisions in the community” revealed the “arrested development” of the church there. Our symptoms are different, but are of the same cause nevertheless:
– Common are complaints if the Mass should last more than an hour,
– Many make hasty exits out of Sunday Mass before the priest’s recessional and the closing hymn have hardly begun.
– Most who linger in the Sanctuary after Mass do so to chat in normal voice with friends, apparently unconscious of the occasional few who would remain in silent prayer with the Lord.
– Participants of adult Faith Formation opportunities (Scripture/Catechism studies) number around 2 to 3% of Sunday Mass participants.

I can remember the days when a Catholic sanctuary was held as sacred by the people! Talking, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle, was brief, in a whisper, and it had better be important! No more. Today, in most parishes I have known, Catholic sanctuaries are held in little special regard – even though Christ is “believed” (at least nominally) to be present, Body Blood Soul and Divinity, in the Tabernacle. Yes a quick genuflection or bow is observed, an even quicker sign-of-the-cross is done, but silence and prayer are optional, except when Mass is actually underway. Even during the Mass – sometimes even during the Consecration! – messages between pew-neighbors are not unusual.

A lack of reverence reveals a lack of consciousness of the Holy – a lack of depth, of maturity, in spirituality – an “arrested development” in the spiritual life, as the Bible footnote phrases it of the Church in Corinth. In spiritual terms, the children of the Church are malnourished; their growth and development have been stunted: their “fathers” in the Faith – their “mother” Church – have not done their duty to raise the children to adulthood in the faith and life of Christ. The children have been shuttled off to day-care centers and babysitters, the parents have been concerned for their own careers and ambitions; the children have been neglected, and their growth has been stunted. The children can hardly discern the sacred from the secular, the good from the evil, their holy vocation from mere fleshly “self-actualization.” This must stop. The world is starving for lack of true food, and Christ the Bread from Heaven waits for servants to distribute Him to the hungry.

It was a blessing to hear, recently on the news, a highly-placed call for a “revolution” in a major religion, a major correction needed because of a truly deadly movement in the faith that was destroying the message and meaning of that religion.

Egypt’s president opened the new year with a dramatic call for a “revolution” in Islam to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of “destruction” and pitted it against the rest of the world.

No doubt the influence of radical jihadist Islam on the religion – and on the world today – is very troubling. Egypt’s leader el-Sissi is calling for modernization among Moslems, for “contemporary reading for religious texts to deal with our contemporary reality,” in the words of another leader in the government. These are difficult times for Christians in the West, as well, but for different reasons. We also need a “revolution” of sorts, but not a turn toward the modern secular culture and contemporary popular approval, although such a turn has many proponents today in the West. Christianity needs Christ. The Church needs Christ. We need His life. We need His Truth.

The strange fact for Catholics is, the Catholic Church has Christ! He is not asleep in the boat – we are. He has not abandoned us – we are preoccupied elsewhere. He has not cut us off – we have turned aside to play with a false lover, an enemy of God and of our own souls. Take food now, Church, quickly! Take nourishment, you grow weaker and weaker! Tend to your families, tend to your own souls, help all whom you can that no more fall deeper into this affliction, this famine of the spirit, this bread that does not satisfy nor build up, nor give life. We need Christ! Seek Him, find Him. He is very close, waiting.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | December 9, 2014

The Choice to End Freedom

The title to this article may be puzzling, but it is meant to point to a dark reality that ought to be puzzling to anyone having a mind to think. America today is racing – I use the word carefully – racing toward a complete reversal of the ideals of her youth, to embrace the very ideology she rejected in her beginnings. She proclaimed herself a Republic; she grows and she grows toward self-surrender to dictatorship.

An ominous comment from Benjamin Franklin came at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. A woman asked him, as he left Independence Hall on the final day of its deliberation, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” It is recorded and reported that he responded, simply, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” (Link: http://www.bartleby.com/73/1593.html)

It is a common way of speaking to say, “I am afraid” of this, or “I am afraid” of that. In one sense I am afraid that we are losing our republic, at a rate that is accelerating – racing – us toward “no choice but to end choice.” We seem to be losing the moral strength and competence to have freedom. We cannot be trusted with freedom any more; our society shows itself unworthy of freedom. We lack the moral vision, fortitude, virtue and character to live freely with one another.

America has changed – radically – in my own (it seems so brief!) lifetime. We have lost the sense of “one-anotherness” that allows peace and social cohesion. We have allowed ourselves to be fractured, separated into special-interest groups at odds with one another – victims versus victimizers, perpetually in a stance against one another, pawns on a chessboard of politics. In the reign of our first post-racial President we see not the “one America” that the whole country hoped for, and voted for. We see instead the fracturing and dividing, increasing – and the racial hostility only spreading, multiplying and intensifying. Under a president promoted as a constitutional scholar, we have seen the upending of constitutional process – now distorted almost beyond recognition. Executive-branch, unelected, executive-appointed “Departments” rule over many by Office edict – in mandatory “regulations” imposed without any formal need to be voted into law – while the two elected houses of Congress are frozen in inaction and/or irrelevance.

I came across a simple analysis by a notable preacher and educator – a powerful evangelist – of the 19th century, Charles Finney. (Links: Charles Finney, Human Governments from Systematic Theology. 1851.  )  I cannot endorse his theology, but I appreciate some of his insights. He wrote this of government:

“The particular forms of state government must, and will, depend upon the virtue and intelligence of the people.

(1.) Democracy is self-government, and can never be safe or useful except so far as there are sufficient intelligence and virtue in the community to impose, by mutual consent, salutary self-restraints, and to enforce by the power of public sentiment, and by the fear and love of God, the practice of those virtues which are indispensable to the highest good of any community.
(2.) Republics are another and less pure form of self-government.
(3.) When there are not sufficient intelligence and virtue among the people to legislate in accordance with the highest good of the state or nation, then both democracies and republics are improper and impracticable, as forms of government.”

This last comment is particularly piercing to the heart, concerning the prerequisites of a democracy or a republic (we in America have – or had) a democratic republic. In our morally impoverished culture – that St. Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death” – both intelligence and virtue have been assaulted, attacked, warped, redefined and painted over with the thin watercolors of a new morality. What is this new morality? It is simply today’s political correctness, today’s political needs, tailored to the political advantages needed at the moment. There is an even darker force and presence at work here, however. To that I will return shortly.

Mr. Finney continues his analysis of political systems, and the correlation of form of government needed with the moral stature of the people governed. He writes, concerning societies that do not have “sufficient intelligence and virtue among the people”:

(4.) When there is too little intelligence and virtue in the mass of the people to legislate on correct principles, monarchies are better calculated to restrain vice and promote virtue.

It is ironic that in the case of America, the framers of the constitution giving us a democratic republic, were breaking us free precisely from a monarchy in England. Thus the question having an unclear answer was, does this society/nation being formed as separate from England in fact have the “sufficient intelligence and virtue among the people” to sustain a democratic republic? Dr. Franklin answered that the fathers did set such a government in place – but adding, “If you can keep it.” That Convention was in 1787 – almost 230 years ago. Are we now in need of a monarchy? Or is there a trustworthy monarchy possible? Where would we get such a monarch? Or is the possible replacement for a failed republic, here in America, likely worse a possibility than that? Mr. Finney then continued moving down, on his scale of societies:

(5.) In the worst states of society, despotisms, either civil or military, are the only proper and efficient forms of government. It is true, indeed, that a resort to despotic government is an evil, and all that can be truly said is, that in certain states of desperate anarchy, despotic government is the less of two evils.

The national debt of the U.S. is now over 18 trillion dollars. America is living on borrowed money and borrowed time. The interest alone on such debt could cripple the nation, especially given our current demographics, entitlement costs and economic foundation. The greatest threat to our society, however, is not economic nor is it racial nor ethnic nor any other merely human condition. It is not the growing animus around the world against the U.S. generally, nor radical Islamic terrorism nor a resurgent Russia nor an emerging China. Rather, I say in agreement with Charles Finney, it is the collapse of “sufficient intelligence and virtue among the people,” in America. Possession of those qualities alone, Mr. Finney wrote, can insure stability for a democratic or a democratic-republic form of government. I completely agree. He wrote:

(6.) When virtue and intelligence are nearly universal, democratic forms of government are well suited to promote the public good.
(7.) In such a state of society, democracy is greatly conducive to the general diffusion of knowledge on governmental subjects; and although, in some respects, less convenient, yet in a suitable state of society, a democracy is in many respects the most desirable form of government.”

America has lost her “nearly universal” agreement in principle with the Judeo-Christian ethic, and sense of virtue. America has lost her “nearly universal” sense of what “intelligence” means – what is intelligent in matters of moral conduct, in matters of what ought to be unlawful and what ought to be legally protected, in what is just and what is unjust, in what is socially beneficial and what is socially harmful, in what is socially expected of a citizen and what is irrelevant and no one’s business but the individual, and so on and on. The foundation has been lost, and nothing but political correctness and the power of might to define right, remains.

When anarchy erupts in a nation, many are willing and glad to hand over individual freedom – so abused in eruptions of anarchy, riot and lawlessness – to an entity with the power to restore order. Thus enters a dictator, and thus ends freedom – the end of freedom, freely chosen in the terror of anarchy and lawlessness. There is a dictator waiting in the wings, and his heart is of evil.

Is there another end to this awful scenario? Is there another option? Another answer for us?

The answer ought to be the Church, witness and sacrament in the world to God’s way, for societies and nations, for virtue and intelligence, for the way for human persons to find and to keep one-another relationships. Jesus Christ entrusted His Church with the way, the truth and the life that brings human personal and social harmony and peace! Jesus showed us virtue! He showed us right knowledge, wisdom and understanding! Why does the Church say so little, as the society around us grows in degradation, corruption, lies and deceit? Why does the Church offer so little to a world starving for lack of truth, virtue, and understanding?

Parishes continue with their programs, their fund raisers, their financial appeals for the status quo, their dinners, their socials, their new pipe organs, their school trips and and their committee meetings. Where is the outreach to the world in the name of Christ? Where is the evangelization, the making disciples, the proclamation of the Word with burning and urgent zeal? Where is the life, in the midst of this culture of death?

The answer to the darkness ought to be the light entrusted to the Church. Too many in the Church continue asleep, taking their ease.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | November 15, 2014

Righteousness in a Culture of the Lawless

This culture has been called a culture of death, where might makes right, where power – political power, financial power, military or police power – where power makes civil law and power interprets civil law, and where civil law defines what is moral good and what is moral evil, what is truly just and what is truly unjust. In America, we used to have something of a defense against institutional injustice because we had something of a protection against tyranny. We had a democratic republic, with separation of power into three branches of government: a balance of power, with a standard of law set by a constitution.

But as great as was the prudence of the founding fathers, they were unmatched by the cleverness of corrupt men seeking political power for themselves. We are seeing righteousness turn on its head, virtues redefined to be vices, and evil redefined as goodness. We see moral evils made legal and public rights, due a share in public funding through taxes.

We see, in Biblical terminology, the rising among us of “the man of lawlessness.” Darkness is growing, lawlessness is increasing; it will become more so! It could be seen in the days of the early Church – in the days when the conquest of evil was just beginning, when the Name and the Gospel and the power of Christ was being spread among all men. Even then – and before then – the radical division of humanity into two was at work: those of the City of God, and those of the City of Man who would love self “even to the contempt of God,” as Augustine saw. St. Paul wrote prophetically to the church of the Thessalonians, of the “man of lawlessness”, “the son of perdition”, a self-proclaimed “god” for those men who would reject truth to take their pleasure in unrighteousness.

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition,
who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this?
And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.
The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders,
and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false,
so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thess 2:3-12)

This wisdom from Paul, by the Spirit sent to help him, is a great comfort for me in these lawless times. I hope it can be for you also, if you are grieving as I am to see so many men and women turning to the transient, the trivial and the trite rather than the holy truth of God. The Day of the Lord will not come, unless evil days of a great rebellion come first! The evil one, the lawless one, will supplant God Himself in his own darkened mind and in the minds and hearts of men who refuse to love the truth and so be saved! This will be a profound trial, a time of great tribulation for the people of God who love Him, who live on HIs holy Word, whose hope and faith are in Him alone. In that time the works of the righteous will be made pure – more pure than pure gold could ever be, and glorious with the glory of God’s creation alive in HIs Spirit.

This is the time, as we see the man of lawlessness growing in power and boldness, for the people of God to seek the Holy One of Righteousness with an undivided heart. He is so close to us! He waits in His holy Word, Scripture. He waits in the grace and presence of HIs sacraments. He waits in the quietness and solitude of the prayerful heart, where we can rest with Him and renew our souls. Outside, there may be the noise of carousing and drunkenness, the chasing after all manner of sin and corruption. But within a heart where He dwells and waits, is the sanctuary of peace. Whatever the man of lawlessness will bring upon the world, in his brief moment of apparent victory and power, it will vanish like a vapor. Whatever suffering he will inflict on the righteous, will only refine and make pure that which is holy, that which is of Him. Let us seek Him, as if the days were numbered, and the clock is ticking down, because He is near.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | September 26, 2014

At HPR: “Lest They Receive It in Vain”

I wrote an article for Homiletic & Pastoral Review on-line magazine a while back, which now is published on their site, titled “Lest They Receive It in Vain.”  My hope and intention was to speak to an audience that included priests, deacons and bishops – clerical leadership in our Church – men who can effect change in things in the Church that need change.

Here is a little bit about the magazine:  Homiletic & Pastoral Review is an on-line magazine with the following self-description,

Founded over one hundred years ago, Homiletic & Pastoral Review is one of the most well-respected pastoral magazines in the world. Priests and laymen alike have relied on HPR for decades.
HPR is edited by Father David Vincent Meconi, S.J., professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University. Kenneth Baker, S.J., author of the best-selling Fundamentals of Catholicism and of the popular introduction to the Scriptures, Inside the Bible, served as editor of HPR for almost forty years and is now the magazine’s editor emeritus. His powerful monthly editorials will inform and inspire you. HPR features solid articles on every aspect of pastoral life and eloquent weekly sermons that illuminate through exposition of Scripture.
Faithful to the teachings and tradition of the Church for over a century, our readers know what to expect in each issue. Here are just some of the features of HPR:
~ First-rate articles by great Catholic writers on doctrine, spiritual guidance, morality and authentic pastoral practice
~ Deep insights into pressing pastoral issues of the Church’s life and mission
~ Stimulating homilies for Sundays and Holy Days by today’s outstanding preachers
~ Wise and practical answers to your questions from respected theologian and author Brian T. Mullady, O.P.

My article for HPR points, I hope clearly and strongly, to our need for radical improvement in adult faith formation in our churches.  I hope priests, deacons and bishops will read it!  I hope it will help them see clearly that formation in the Faith is necessary to a ministry that they do rightly consider crucially important: the sacraments and especially Holy Eucharist.

Please read the article – this is the link on HPR directly to the article: Lest They Receive It in Vain. HPR provides a way to leave comments – and of course comments can be left here on the blog as well.

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