All posts by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Catholic convert, husband and father. He is a Catholic writer and speaker on matters of Faith, culture, and education. He teaches, theology, philosophy and Church history at Holy Spirit Prep in Atlanta. Steven is a member of the Teacher Advisory Board and writer of curriculum at the Sophia Institute for Teachers and contributes regularly to several Catholic websites. He is a contributor to the Integrated Catholic Life, Crisis Magazine, The Civilized Reader, The Standard Bearers, The Imaginative Conservative and Catholic Exchange.

St. Peter’s Fall

Have you ever wished that you had been born in Ancient Israel and had been of the age to see Christ in person? Can you imagine being a disciple of Christ and witnessing all those miracles from turning water into wine, to multiplying the loaves, to exorcising demons, to healing the sick and perhaps even the transfiguration of Christ our Lord? Do you believe that if you had left everything and picked up your cross to follow Him and after witnessing countless miracles that you would have doubts about the divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? We are apt in this age to believe that we would be irrevocably convicted by this irrefutable evidence of experience, but we need look no further than the example of our first Pope to learn of the reality of the situation.

ShepherdIn Mark’s Gospel 14:27 we learn that Christ foretells of the “scattering of the sheep.” Our Lord said to the Apostles: “you will all fall away; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” Peter, being convicted in the presence of the Christ, spoke bravely when he said “even though they all fall away, I will not.” But Christ corrected Peter’s misapprehension by telling him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter vehemently protested: “if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” In spite of Christ’s foretelling, all the disciples said the same thing. If we had been there we too would no doubt have proclaimed our fidelity to Christ, and we too would have been wrong.

How is it that the man we know as the first pope, the “rock” upon which Holy Mother Church is built, the very man to whom our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ handed the keys of the Kingdom, how is it that he collapsed into cowardice even after witnessing the public life of Christ? The answer is simple, but obscured in this empirical age. The Venerable Bede tells us that “the Lord foretells to His disciples what is about to happen to them, that when they have gone through it, they may not despair of salvation, but work out their repentance, and be freed.” This is universal, that by the flesh we all fall, but in falling it is for us to get back up. We might ask how.

561073_263803943724623_1861791865_nThere are at least three ways of knowing and they occupy a hierarchical structure of importance. There is the most basic way to know, by the experience provided by our five senses. This is verifiable by repeated experiments and an examination of data to make reliable predictions about the nature of the physical world. Although this is a fine way of knowing, it is not the finest, nor is it even the second best, but perhaps it is the lowest way of knowing. Unfortunately, this way of knowing has captivated this age as the best way of knowing and many people contend that this is really the only way of knowing and in general we rely on our experiences to determine what we do and do not know.

3243835_f520A second way of knowing is by the cultivated use of our intellects as we attempt to use reason rightly. This is known historically as philosophy, that seeking after wisdom by speculative understanding. Often times we must attain to universal truths from abstractions while contemplating truth goodness and beauty. Although this kind of knowing is not confirmed by the five senses it is a more powerful way of knowing. By the right use of reason, we are able to discover the principles of being capable of providing deep insights that the empirical science can never discover, but is able to verify.
Antonio_Rodríguez_-_Saint_Augustine_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe third and by far the best way of knowing is by revelation inspired by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is embodied by the Wisdom of the Saints who live the best human lives. One graced by the gifts of infused knowledge and virtue by the Holy Spirit possess the most comprehensive form of human knowing. In the order of knowledge, revelation subsumes philosophical knowing and in turn, philosophical knowledge subsumes empirical knowing. In reality, a proper understanding of philosophy and empirical science do not contradict revelation, but confirm it.

If we look back at St. Peter who fell away from Christ in his most desperate hour, despite his protestations that he would stay with Christ to the bitter end, we must realize that he was a man gifted with the most direct experience of Christ in the material sense. He was witness to countless miracles, healings and unending wisdom. He was present for the most brilliant exposition of revelation ever gifted to man. His direct experience with Christ surpasses all imaginings, and yet, in spite of all this experience, he denied Christ three times.

We rely in this age almost exclusively on the five senses, our experience and then our own interpretation of the data. We are deceiving ourselves if we really believe that by experiencing Christ in a physical and material way that we would acquire by that experience an unassailable faith. Faith is a supernatural gift from God infused by the Holy Spirit to souls who submit their wills to the will of the Father in imitation of Christ. Let us not trust our five senses and instead put our trust in the Lord and His revelation that we may come to believe without wavering or falling as did our first Pope.

Meditation on Friday Observance

Friday is a day to fast, a day to mourn and a day to repent. It is the day upon which Christ died for the sake of our salvation. We Catholics have from the very beginning of the New Covenant always set apart Friday as a penitential observance. On this day we offer up our sufferings to be joined with the suffering of Christ so that perhaps one day we may be glorified with Him by our redemption. Every Friday we are to remain mindful of the sins of the world and our own sins making every Friday a day of mortification as we remember the Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

A ScribesChrist gifts us words of wisdom as we consider our great need for penance during our Friday observances. In Luke 12, when Jesus was with a multitude of a crowd He said first to His disciples, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” As St. Cyril explains, the Pharisees “were false accusers” and Christ calls their hypocrisy a “leaven” that rises up in men and changes them irrevocably for the worse. We are inclined to this leaven of hypocrisy by the defect of our fallen natures. We have the saints as our models for the way to overcome the inclination just as we have the Pharisees as the example to be avoided.

Christ follows this warning with a more ominous one, He tells us that “nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” St. Ambrose calls this a “most forcible argument for preserving simplicity, and being zealous for the faith.” In avoiding the hypocrisy of the Pharisee’s we must also be vigilant about our words and actions to make sure they are ordered to Christ’s twin commandments to Love God and neighbor in the right respects.

It is frightening to remember that God knows and remembers all things in all times. There is nothing we can hide from Him and as Christ explains, at the end of time, all things will be revealed as we stand accused on Judgement Day. All of our deeds shall be proclaimed publically for all men to hear, and this eschatological fact ought to curb our tongues and hearts when we desire to do things in secret we would not have the world know. The darkness in which our hearts desire evil things is only a temporary cover until that day when all will be revealed.

There is only one thing to do rid ourselves of the guilt and shame we accumulate by giving into temptation and hypocrisy and that is the a Stefan_Lochner_006sacrament of penance.  Christ calls out a further warning which becomes an exhortation to reconciliation when He says “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell.” Death of the Body is nearly inconsequential when compared to the prospect of an eternity separated from God in Hell.

St. Chrysostom presses us to “observe how our Lord makes His disciples superior to all, by exhorting them to despise that very death which is terrible to all. At the same time, he brings them proofs of the immortality of the soul adding, “I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him, which after he has killed has power to cast into hell.” St. Ambrose goes on to explain that “our natural death is not the end of punishment.” If we choose ourselves over God, the punishment will extend into eternity. We must become Christ’s disciples so that our judgement will see our heroic acts of virtue perfected by God’s graces and not the shameful acts flowing from our fallen natures.

signorellicrucifixionToday is Friday. We mourn the death of our Lord as we remember His supreme sacrifice for us. Let us fast, pray and make reparations for the multitudinous hearts that have turned away from Him. Let us avoid the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and never forget that our sins of which we fail to repent will remain on the permanent records of our souls. Let us also remember not to fear those who can kill the body, but the powers and principalities who roam around the world seeking to ruin souls for an eternity. We must heed Christ our Creator and say yes to His infinite mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation as we seek holy absolution by Christ’s vicar seated in the confessional waiting patiently to do God’s work here on earth to colonize heaven. Today is Friday. Let us mourn our sins and the sins of the world as we embrace God’s mercy and in the final hope of the world to come.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

 

One of the most difficult aspects of human existence to understand is the nature of love. We are born out of love and called to return to love and yet because we “see through a glass darkly” it is very difficult to discover what constitutes authentic love. Nearly all human art, poetry, and literature is an attempt to treat love in some form. Of all the virtues, it is the only one that will remain beyond human time. It is the single most important consideration of human existence. God is love. But still, the public talk of love has been diverted and now means nothing even remotely similar to what Holy Mother Church teaches us about love.

One of the most often cited reasons to attempt to justify an illicit redefinition of marriage is love. It goes like this: “people should be able to marry whom they love.” This is not only a misuse of the word love, but a grave misunderstanding of the nature of marriage and a categorical falsehood. Even proponents of “same sex marriage” set limits on the pool of possible marriage arrangements based solely on the claim of “love.” For an example, a five year old girl cannot marry her grandmother. As Catholics, we ought to turn to Holy Scripture to begin to understand the nature of love for the Bible is the book that explains love in the most complete terms.

In Mathew 22:36 we pick up a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee lawyer who asks Jesus a question to try to trick Him. He asks: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” So our primary concern with love is to love God first and foremost and secondarily, to love our neighbor in all proper respects. It is not readily apparent that these two commands not only embody the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, but properly understood, draw our hearts and minds to the fact that when it comes to love there is a public aspect of justice that calls us to consider God first and our communities second as we will to act in love.

self-emptying loveThere is a simple definition of love that has the potential to eliminate confusion, but the explanation following it would have to be quite extensive to make things crystal clear. Love is willing the good of the other. When it comes to the nature of married love it is best to follow up on St. Paul’s exhortation to men that they “love their wives as Jesus loves the Church.” This captures the embodiment of the true nature of married love. Christ emptied Himself completely for the sake of love. He loves us so completely that he humbled Himself to become one of us, and further willingly gave Himself over to be crucified for our sakes that we might end in heaven. This most profound self-emptying is the model of authentic love we are all called to cultivate for our spouses. It is self-donation in its highest possible form. It is the embodiment of divine love and fulfills Christ’s twin commandments.

St. Paul elucidates the nature of love in Corinthians 13:4-7 when he explains “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” These truths about the real nature of love hardly resonate in the world today and especially not concerning the public debates about the nature of marriage. Opponents of authentic marriage often cite love, but never in the way understood by the Church.

When the world asks us to accept that two same-sex people might be joined in matrimony for the sake of love, they mean no such thing as explained by Christ Himself and St. Paul. There is no possibility of self-donation or self-emptying where there is no complementarity. It cannot be loving to participate in the marital act, or any other sex act outside the bonds of marriage. Marriage is a natural and divine institution made by and gifted to us by God to have us participate in the twin commandments and the miraculous process of procreation. Self-emptying and self-donation can only take place between two eligible complementary souls open to the possibility of life and sacramental unity as one flesh by sacramental grace within the bounds of Holy Matrimony. Any sexual liaison outside of the bonds of marriage is not an act of self-donating love but an act of objectification.

256px-El_Greco_-_Jesús_con_la_Cruz_a_cuestasWhat’s love got to do with all the modern debates on the nature of marriage? When it comes to the opinion of the world and the true nature of love expressed by Christ, it has nothing to do with it. When it comes to Holy Mother Church, it has everything to do with it. Though it has become the law of the land to sanction what is impermissible in the eyes of God, we must remember that it is an act of charity to tell our brethren the Gospel truth about the nature of love and the nature of Marriage. To do otherwise is not willing the good of the other, but “going with the flow” for the sake of false peace. Let us strive as Christ would command us to empty ourselves so that we may speak and live out Christ’s truth as we live out the twin commandments to love God and our neighbor.

Lord I am not Worthy!

self-esteem-and-perceptionThis is an age plagued by self-esteem issues. At the behest of the public schools, the Mass media and the field of psychology, this topic has been front and center for several generations. The general consensus in the City of Man is that everyone needs high self-esteem, deserves high self-esteem and must make high self-esteem the number one priority if we are to attain “happiness.” It is generally believed in this benighted age that one cannot love others unless one loves himself first. However, this type of self-love is an inversion of the self-love Christ calls us to in the second of His twin commandments when he says “love your neighbor as you ought to love yourself.” A proper love of self elevates the Truth above the self because even if the truth hurts, it is better for the self in the long run.

centurion-1In the Holy Mass we are quite counter cultural when we truthfully say before we receive the Blessed Sacrament “Lord, I am not worthy that
you should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” In the most profound sense we are unworthy to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior. The merciful graces bestowed upon us by the holy presence of Christ in the Eucharist are truly unmerited gifts for the faithful who can recognize their unworthiness in the presence of perfection.

How can we reconcile the secular quest for high self-esteem and the holy ordinance that we are in fact unworthy? Is this not a cognitive dissonance unsettling to our modern sensibilities? Until we sort out the kind of happiness we seek and the kind of esteem we embrace, this is a terribly confusing concept. Let us first look to the Biblical origins of our claim of unworthiness in the Holy Mass.

In Mathew 8:5-13 we read of the centurion who has an ill servant. The centurion is a rich and powerful man possessing all the trappings of material success, authority over many others and surely respected by many more. It would seem by the standards of his day the Centurion was very successful and by the standards of our day we might assume that he had very high self-esteem. He told Jesus of his ill servant and Jesus said that He would go to the Centurion’s house to heal him.

The centurion was a man of great faith and as faith purifies the eye of the soul, he could clearly see that he was in fact not worthy to have the Son of God enter his home. He demonstrated this by his words to Christ when he said “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Christ marveled at his faith and his clear understanding of his unworthiness.

In a similar way, when we are at Holy Mass, like the centurion we are in the presence of Christ. Because of the after math of the fall of our first parents, we too are “in terrible distress” concerning our spiritual health. At the moment of communion it is as Origen once explained “when we drink and eat the body and blood of our Lord, he enters under our roof.” We too are therefore humbling ourselves as did the Centurion by publically claiming that we are unworthy that Christ should enter us that we might be healed.

narcisismo-caravaggio-narcisoWe ought to desire it that God says of us what Christ said of the Centurion in Mathew 8:10, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” What is better for us, to esteem ourselves? Or to have Christ hold us in high esteem? Do we proclaim our own worthiness? Or take steps that Christ may eventually approve of us? This is our choice. If we are our own standard and we seek our own approval and the approval of others by way of human respect, we may end self-satisfied for a time, but it is sure to be temporary.

Serve_With_HumilityLet us let God be our standard. The Centurion had all the worldly goods and powers, servants, riches, respect, but this he counted as nothing in the sight of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our worth comes from Christ our creator and what is incalculably valuable about us is the gift of His image and likeness imprinted on our souls by way of intellect and will. Accidents of birth, material riches, human respect, these are all fleeting and ephemeral. Christ’s love is real and permanent. Let us abandon our quest for self-esteem and acknowledge with Holy Mother Church that indeed we are not worthy to have Him enter under our roof, and in doing so accept His gracious invitation to be healed as we prepare for eternal beatitude.

Are You Happy?

One thing all humans have in common is that we all want to be happy. In America, it is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right to pursue happiness along with the rights to life and liberty. It seems like all our energies go into pursuing happiness in these strange times. Everyone today seems to do what they do because it will make them happy, hardly anything could be more normal. It has always been this way. Can you imagine someone saying to themselves “I am going to do this because I know it will make me unhappy?” It is unlikely.

The pursuit of happiness is big business in America and it probably always has been. All of technology is geared towards making things that make us happy. All popular entertainment is directed at making us happy. Our schools, the mass media, politicians, psychologists and even our lawyers would like to help make us happy. We ourselves are encouraged nonstop to pursue happiness. What a great irony it is today to notice how unhappy everyone seems to be. The world can be a miserable place, especially considering the efforts we make to be happy. Have you ever wondered why so many people are so unhappy these days? We ought to try to figure out why. First, we must define the term happiness.

What is happiness?

money_bundlesThere are at least three different ways to understand happiness. There is modern American happiness we associate with wealth and health. We can call this appetitive happiness because it is grounded in our sense appetites. Winning the lottery is most likely to make us happy. We are content to get the new iPhone, or a new car, or a good job etc. The difficulty with this definition of happiness is that it is really more like contentment and it is temporary. The things that make us happy by this definition fade quickly and we must be off to pursue the next thing that will kick-start our serotonin production. If we take a step back from this kind of happiness we begin to notice that nothing really ever satisfies us for very long and no matter how much we end up getting, it is never enough.

Picture1A second kind of happiness we can associate with what the Ancient Greeks called “eudaimonia.”  This is a very good kind of happiness associated with the acquisition of virtue. Eudaimonia translates as a good and lasting spiritual state resulting from developing habits of excellence. This kind of happiness is particularly associated with the right use of the intellect and is grounded in the moral and intellectual virtues discovered and elucidated by the greatest minds of Ancient philosophy. The primary virtues associated with eudaimonia are the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance. The Greeks understood that to pursue and achieve excellence was the way to live the good life. Those who are able to achieve excellence in virtue are generally very happy, and the happiness is lasting and fulfilling.

Christ on the Cross by Diego Velazquez, 1632The third kind of happiness is blessedness. Christians call it beatitude. It is associated with the rightly ordered will. While eudaimonia obtains happiness in this life, beatitude aims at eternal happiness. The one who teaches us about this kind of happiness is Jesus Christ, the one true teacher in the Sermon on the Mount found beginning in Matthew 5. Beatitude is achieved when a soul submits his will to the will of God and cooperates with grace to become perfected. A soul inspired by the beatific vision is one who seeks excellence not only in the cardinal virtues mentioned above, but seeks to be perfected by the acquisition and infusion of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

What is the problem today?

We might easily observe today that the world encourages us to pursue worldly happiness. We ourselves may pursue this kind of contentment and wonder why all of us seem never to be content for very long. Even if we are pursuing the wrong kind of happiness, and even if we know it, and even if we can’t seem to stop, there is a much deeper and more difficult problem that lies at the root of our restlessness today. This is in our misunderstanding of the nature of how things work. We are likely to invert the right order of things concerning being and doing.

photographer Carl Warner
photographer Carl Warner

C.S. Lewis described a principle of first and second things. First things are permanent and lasting, like the virtues and God. Second things are temporary like cars and iPhones. He explained that we ought to put first things first and second things second because if we put second things first and first things second we will lose both first and second things. He goes on to explain that if we put first things first we will get both first and second things. To use an agricultural metaphor, we might see agricultural labor, seeds and roots as permanent things while the fruit that is produced from the tress as the second things. You can see that if we seek the second things of the fruits, as we often do today, that we may get the fruit, but whether we eat it or let it rot, it will not last long. On the other hand, if we focus on agricultural labor to create the proper conditions for the trees, the trees will grow, produce fruit, and continue to produce fruit.

Our problem today is that we put second things first. Perhaps our most fundamental mistake is that we have inverted being and doing. Being is a first thing and doing is a second thing. We believe that what we do will determine who we become, but this is exactly upside down. It is who we are that determines what we will do. So instead of doing things that we think will make us who we want to become, we ought to cultivate the habits of being constituting the moral and intellectual virtues acquired by the saints. When we have become what God intends for us, then we will do good works. If we try the opposite, our attempts at good works cannot be fruitful, we will not become saints. It is when we become like the saints that we can produce good works.

So we might understand by analogy that what the tree is (being) produces (doing) its fruit. If a tree is an orange tree it will not produce an apple, and it had to be an orange tree first before it could even produce oranges, not the other way around. In Matthew 7:16, Christ said “you will know them by their fruits.” What we do comes forth from who we are. We are not what we do, what we do comes from what we are.

Which kind of happiness will you pursue?

Jesus Christ Preaching the Sermon of the Beatitudes, by Henrik Olrik
Jesus Christ Preaching the Sermon of the Beatitudes, by Henrik Olrik

When the world talks about happiness, it is not the same kind of happiness God intends for us. The world’s notions of happiness are about the acquisition of second things. The Ancient Greeks and Jesus speak about the habits of being constituted by first things. Of course, the best kind of happiness is beatitude. It requires eudaimonia, the right use of the intellect, to serve in the acquisition of the truth in order to see rightly what is good and what is evil. It also requires that our contentment with second things be subordinated to the right use of reason that supports the rightly ordered will.

The grand irony in all this pursuit of happiness business is that those who seek primarily material happiness may end up getting what they want temporarily, but they always end in loss and despair. Those who seek beatitude also get what they seek, and it is a difficult endeavor, often beginning in loss and misery, but ending in glory. Job lost all the goods of second things and suffered greatly in the process, but because he maintained excellence in the virtues by his habits of being, he ended not only happy with his relationship with God, but contented by restoring the second things he had lost. It is a difficult thing to pursue virtue. It is not terribly difficult to pursue money. As we live out our inalienable right to pursue happiness, let us be wise in which kind of happiness we choose to pursue.