Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Kneeling at My First Mass

By guest writer Tasman Westbury.

In the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. – Philippians 2:10

I was raised in the Uniting Church, but never truly grasped any of its teachings, and spent several years as an atheist before a series of events and signs led me to conclude that there was a higher, spiritual power, which I eventually came to accept as God. This Easter Vigil, thanks to Divine Providence, I was received into the Catholic Church.

When I first walked into a Mass, what really struck me was when everyone knelt for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. What encouraged me to kneel when everyone else was kneeling was that it is written in the Bible, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6)

When you feel something inside, you should be able to express that in a gesture, and that gesture should be a clear and concise representation of your belief. Humility is not expressed in big, loud gestures. Humility is quiet and small in physical appearance. It’s not seeking attention or approval, but rather the renouncement of yourself in a moment, for the sake of the good of another.

Kneeling is a gesture of making oneself quiet and small in the face of the presence of God, allowing ourselves to feel small in the presence of God, so that we recognize that we are like grass, which is here one day and gone the next (cf. Psalm 103:15-16; 1 Peter 1:24). Objectively, we can humbly say, without feeling that we are diminishing our worth, “we are absolutely nothing.” But at the same time, we are so special and of great value to God, Who has created us in His image and likeness, Who has suffered and died for each one of us, so that we may share in His divine life of Love.

Kneeling does not come from any culture — it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God. The central importance of kneeling in the Bible can be seen in a very concrete way. The word proskynein alone occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-four of which are in the Apocalypse, the book of the heavenly Liturgy, which is presented to the Church as the standard for her own Liturgy.
— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy

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Image: Joy-Sorrow

Tasman Westbury is a new Catholic who is currently exploring the Church’s treasure trove, which is found within prayer life.

The Apparition that Changed the World: A Review of Jean Heimann’s New Book on Fatima

The following review was originally written on the blog Sacrifice of Love. It is republished here with permission from the author.

With depth and simplicity, Jean Heimann’s new book, Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World (Tan Books 2017), instructs and inspires as it delves into the story of Our Lady of Fatima. However, instead of solely focusing on the apparitions themselves, Heimann provides a holistic view which shows the people and societal conditions that were so drastically affected by Mary’s appearances at Fatima. Heimann begins her work by introducing the three young children whom Mary appeared to: Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. She then continues to discuss the Marian apparitions that took place in 1917 and continue to be important 100 years later.

Used with permission.

Instead of simply discussing each apparition and then moving onto the next one, though, Heimann really dives into the messages of Our Lady. Following the scenes of the first two apparitions, she includes a “Lessons from the Apparition” section. This part of the book connects the faithful, humble “yes” that the three young visionaries gave to God with the fiat of Mary, the Mother of God. Heimann also explores Mary’s words, and how typical, “normal” lay Catholics can live out these messages. Instead of just throwing around terms like “reparation” and “Rosary,” she talks about what these aspects of the Faith are. I found the small section on the Rosary particularly inspiring as it discussed the importance of contemplation in this prayer.

In discussing these apparitions, Heimann draws from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary on Fatima, which helps illustrate various symbols that were in the third apparition. She also provides the historical context of political events that were happening in Portugal at the time. Learning about these historical details was eye-opening, and helped me see how pivotal it was that Mary appeared in Fatima at this specific time period, and helped revive the Catholics there.

After diving into the sixth apparition—the famous incident of the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917—Heimann talks about the lives and deaths of the visionaries in the years that followed. I really did not know much about the events that followed the apparitions, and I was fascinated as I read about Lucia’s life in the convent. The book concludes by discussing the different popes who have visited Fatima, and some miracles connected to Our Lady of Fatima that have taken place in the years since the apparitions.

I really enjoyed this book, and think that Heimann did an excellent job crafting a well-researched, thorough resource on Fatima that is very approachable and engaging. Whether you are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Fatima or grew up watching the animated movie about Fatima, this book is a great read that inspired me.  I found that this isn’t just a book about Fatima as an isolated set of Marian apparitions; instead, it shows us how Mary’s appearances at Fatima are part of the beautiful, rich tapestry of God’s work throughout the centuries.

Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World, by Jean Heimann, is available for pre-order at Tan Books and at Amazon. 

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Charity

O my Jesus, Thou who art very Love, enkindle in my heart that Divine Fire which consumes the Saints and transforms them into Thee.
O Lord our God, we offer Thee our hearts, united in the strongest and most sincere love of brotherhood; we pray that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament may be the daily food of our souls and bodies; that Jesus may be established as the center of our affections, even as He was for Mary and Joseph. Finally, O Lord, may sin never disturb our union on earth; and may we be eternally united in heaven with Thee and Mary and Joseph and with all Thy Saints. Amen.

What do you think of when you see the word “charity”? Is it not works of altruistic love? Mother Teresa said: “The fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is service.” Faith without works is dead,1 and so is love. As St. Anthony of Padua declared, “actions speak louder than words.”2 Love is an act of the will. It is impossible to be charitable without an act. Just try it. When you love, you naturally want to do things or to sacrifice for your beloved. In fact, the word “altruism” comes from the Latin alteri, “to the other.”3 To love is to will the good of the other; and the good of the other is always in accordance with the will of God. Thus, to exercise charity is to become Godlike, to live out our baptismal priesthood as an Alter Christus ministering to the children of God. Charity is thus not only what we do, but the essence of who we are; as the hymn goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” St. Augustine says, “When the question is asked whether a man is good, one is not interested in what he believes or what are his hopes, but only what he loves. For beyond any doubt, a man with a right love also has the right faith and hope. But one who has no love, believes in vain, even though what he believes may be the truth.”4 After all, “the devils also believe and tremble.”5 St. Paul tells us that “the true faith of Christ is… faith that works by charity.”6 Therefore, “charity is not merely the supreme virtue… it is further an abiding condition and state without which any knowledge or other term of the Christian life would be impossible.”7

As the Catechism notes, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.”8 When we are charitable, we see Christ in our neighbor, even the most intolerable one. St. Thérèse recounts that a nun whom she found highly annoying asked, “My dear Sister Thérèse, tell me what attraction you find in me, for whenever we meet, you greet me with such a sweet smile.” The saint explains, “Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul—Jesus Who maketh sweet even that which is most bitter.” Thérèse tells us, “A heart given to God loses nothing of its natural affection—on the contrary, this affection grows stronger by becoming purer and more spiritual.”9 Charity goes far beyond tolerance. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver wrote,

“Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with other people and their ideas. Most of the time, it’s a very good thing. But it is not an end in itself and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil. The roots of this word are revealing. Tolerance comes from the Latin tolerare, “to bear or sustain,” and tollere, which means “to lift up.” It implies bearing other persons and their beliefs the way we carry a burden or endure a headache. It’s actually a negative idea. And it is not a Christian virtue. Catholics have the duty not to “tolerate” other people but to love them, which is a much more demanding task.”10

“Authentic love is an act of the will. Genuine love has two essential elements: self-sacrifice and commitment. Perfect love is total self-sacrifice and complete commitment.”11 Charity is not a one-off thing – it must be an ongoing part of our lives. As Nicholas Sparks wrote, “Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day.”12

The Catechism continues: Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘makes charity the new commandment.13 By loving His own “to the end,”14 He makes manifest the Father’s love which He receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love.” And again: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”’15 St. Thomas Aquinas understood charity as “the friendship of man for God”, which unites us to God.16 According to Aquinas, charity is an absolute requirement for happiness, which he holds as man’s last goal,17 our telos.18 This is evinced in the Last Judgement account of Matthew 25, where men are judged by their works of mercy.19 As St. John of the Cross says, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” Christ tells us: “If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother; he is a liar. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he sees not?”20 We Chinese have a saying: 爱屋及乌 – “love for a person extends even to the crows on his roof”. To love God is to love His family. St. Augustine declared, “Extend your love over the whole earth if you desire to love Christ, for Christ’s members are all over the earth.”21

“The love that is caritas is distinguished by its origin, being divinely infused into the soul, and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up. The infused habit of charity increases any will’s natural ability to love. Furthermore, charity is also responsible for a morally good act becoming meritorious, that is, meriting an increase in grace or charity in this life and beatitude in the life to come. Since this refers to the supernatural order, namely, the capacity to share more intensely in the inner life of God through acts of love, it is a gratuitous gift dependent on what God freely deigns to give as a reward for loving Him. Over and above the added intensity a habit like charity imparts to one’s act of love of God, the habit also serves as a lasting mark in the soul, even when it is not eliciting an act of love. Charity indicates that the nature possessing it ‘is formally accepted by God as habitually able to be beatified and that the acts elicited with its help are accepted as meritorious.’ Using St. Augustine’s simile comparing the will to a horse and habitual grace or charity to its rider, Blessed John Duns Scotus explains that the horse is free to throw its rider (destroy charity through mortal sin) or it may not follow the guidance of the rider (and then its actions are not meritorious, but are either indifferent or venially sinful), or, thirdly, it may choose to follow where charity leads (and then its action is meritorious).”22

Professor William May writes:

“According to Aquinas, the principle of our moral-spiritual life is charity or the love of God, whereby we are ordered to Him as our final end. If charity within the person is lost, there is no inner source within the person to repair the harm he has done in sinning. Mortal sin destroys charity or the principle of our moral-spiritual life.”23 The two precepts of charity, to love God and to love our neighbor, constitute the life of the soul. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’;24 it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice.”25

So, how exactly may we practice charity?

As you well know, St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Charity is patient, is kind: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up; is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never falls away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed.”26

God is love,27 and again, to be charitable is to be Godlike. “[God] is patient and kind; [God] does not envy or boast; [He] is not arrogant or rude. [He] does not insist on [His] own way; [He] is not irritable or resentful; [He] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [God] bears all things…, endures all things. [God] never ends.”28 Here is the template for the Christian life, to love always and everywhere, especially when it is most difficult. The Dominican Fr. Herbert McCabe said, “If you truly love, one day, you will be crucified. If you do not love, you are dead already.” “Christ died out of love for us, while we were still ‘enemies.’ The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.”29

St. Thérèse writes,

I read in St. Matthew: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.” There are, of course, no enemies in the Carmel; but, after all, we have our natural likes and dislikes. We may feel drawn towards one Sister, and may be tempted to go a long way round to avoid meeting another. Well, Our Lord tells me that this is the Sister to love and pray for, even though her behavior may make me imagine she does not care for me. “If you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.” And it is not enough to love, we must prove our love; naturally one likes to please a friend, but that is not charity, for sinners do the same.30

Thus, you can see that true charity is not some feel-good thing, but requires strength, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, and often involves doing what you’d rather not do. Peter Kreeft says:

“God is love. And love is not “luv”. “Luv” is nice. Love is not nice. Love is a fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, a volcano, a bolt of lightning. Love is what banged out the Big Bang in the beginning, and love is what went to hell for us on the cross.”31 God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.32

Moreover, charity fulfills and perfects the divine law given in the Ten Commandments.33 We as Christians live no longer merely by negative moral precepts, but by the positive law written in our hearts; in fact, this life of charity present in our hearts is God Himself, the Divine Law-Giver, the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Since God has first loved us,34 love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”35 He continued:

“The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy.”36

Citing John Duns Scotus, the Pope Emeritus observed, “Just as God’s love, God’s charity, was at the origin of all things, so too our eternal happiness will be in love and charity alone: ‘willing, or the loving will, is simply eternal life, blessed and perfect.’”37

“Charity, as St. Paul writes, ‘is not self-seeking’, meaning that it places the common good before its own. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity.”38 St. Paul told the Romans, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”39 “Charity, especially fraternal charity, is opposed to self-love. As it was self-love that originally destroyed the unity of man and the harmony of his powers, so it is charity, made possible to us in Christ, which restores that unity and harmony.”40 Supernatural charity is, “properly speaking, a ‘catholic’ (universal) love”,41 a disinterested love that moves you to act like the Good Samaritan or like Maximilian Kolbe. This is not a vague affection for the mereological sum of humans. Linus said to Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”42 Supernatural charity moves you to sacrifice even for the particular neighbor you can’t stand!

By this time, you may well be frightened at the demands made upon you by charity. But fear not! Mother Teresa said, “If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own power. Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness and your intellectual pride will inhibit His coming to live in your heart because God cannot fill what is already full. It is as simple as that.” To live a life of charity, you must depend completely on God and be nourished by Christ present in the sacraments. Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est,

eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realised. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to ‘be there for’ the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).”43

Moreover, living by love doesn’t mean just pouring it all out on your neighbor; it is also a great charity to accept and express gratitude for their kindnesses to us, no matter how small or clumsy they may seem. Think of a parent allowing a child to help with the cooking, although he might make a mess and get in the way – that’s an image of how God allows us to participate in His great work of redemption, and how we can respond to others. I read somewhere that when you accept help, you’re actually allowing your fellow man to work out his salvation in deeds of grace-filled love. Love is a two-way street.

One final important point. St. Maximus the Confessor reflected that “Charity unites (us) with God and deifies (us).”44 It draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, as explained by Professor Wadell, charity “makes us like God, but it does not make us God… it makes us more fully ourselves. If charity made us identical to God, then our friendship with God would be over for we would no longer be the ‘other’ every friendship requires… The likeness to God charity brings is really the most radical individuation.”45 Indeed, Jesus declared that He came that we may have life to the full,46 and St. Irenaeus said that the glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. When we live by charity, God’s kingdom will come and His will shall be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. God love you! Let us pray: “Lord God, living light of eternal love, grant that always aglow with charity, we may love You above all else, and our brethren for Your sake, with one and the self-same love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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1 James 2:20.

2 St Anthony of Padua, homily [http://catholicradiodramas.com/saints/a/anthony-of-padua/actions-speak-louder-than-words/] (accessed 12 October 2014).

3 Douglas Harper. Online Etymology Dictionary [http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=altruism] (accessed 12 October 2014).

4 Augustine, Enchiridion De Fide Spe et Caritate. The Newman Press, (Westminster, Maryland, 1952), p. 108.

5 James 2:19.

6 Augustine, op. cit., p. 109, cf. Galatians 5:6.

7 Polycarp Sherwood OSB, STD, St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life; The Four Centuries on Charity. Ancient Christian Writers Volume XXI. The Newman Press (Westminster, Maryland, 1955), p. 92.

8 CCC 1822.

9 St Thérèse, Story of a Soul [http://www.storyofasoul.com/?page_id=18] (accessed 12 October 2014).

10 Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Render Unto Caesar [http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54] (accessed 12 October 2014).

11 Jim Seghers, “The Sacrament of Confirmation” [http://www.totustuus.com/TheSacramentOfConfirmation.pdf] (accessed 11 October 2014).

12 Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding.

13 Cf. John 13:34.

14 John 13:1.

15 John 15:9-10; cf. Matthew 22:40; Romans 13:8-10. CCC 1823.

16 Paul Wadell, “The Christian Life as Friendship with God: What Aquinas Means by Charity” in Friendship and the Moral Life. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, 1990), p. 120.

17 Ibid., p. 128.

18 Ibid., p. 121.

19 Matthew 25:31-46.

20 1 John 4:20.

21 St Augustine, Sermon on 1 John 10:7.

22 Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. CUA Press (Michigan, 1997), pp. 93-94.

23 William E. May, “Sin and the Moral Life”, in An Introduction to Moral Theology. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (Huntingdon, Indiana, 1994), p. 167.

24 Colossians 3:14.

25 CCC 1827.

26 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

27 1 John 4:16.

28 Aaron Ross, “The 1 Corinthians ‘Love Chapter’ Isn’t Just for Weddings” [http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/1-corinthians-love-chapter-isnt-just-weddings] (accessed 11 October 2014).

29 CCC 1825.

30 St Thérèse, op. cit.

31 Peter Kreeft, “Perfect Fear Casts Out All ‘Luv’”. [http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/fear.htm] (accessed 11 October 2014).

32 John 3:16.

33 Cf. Matthew 5:17.

34 1 John 4:10.

35 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

36 Ibid.

37 Benedict XVI, “John Duns Scotus”, General Audience 7 July 2010 [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100707_en.html] (accessed 11 October 2014). Cf. Gérard Gillmen S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 129.

38 Rule for Monasteries 5:2.

39 Romans 13:8,10.

40 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

41 Gérard Gilleman S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 304.

42 Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts.

43 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

44 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

45 Wadell, op. cit., p. 139.

46 John 10:10.

God as Poet

By guest writer LeighAnna Schesser.

Recently, a friend wrote to me saying, “I’m skimming Jesus of Nazareth and Pope Benedict XVI mentions all the mountains in Jesus’ life (temptation, teaching, prayer, transfiguration,) and it just struck me as, well, really poetic. Do you have any thoughts regarding God as a Poet or something similar?”

Perhaps because I am a writer myself, the idea of God as a poet delights me. My first articulate thought was that, of course God is a poet; He is a craftsman and an artist, and we and the universe we inhabit are His great work. But something else came immediately to mind as well, and it was only in writing a response to my friend that I began to elucidate the connections:

Let me begin to reply to that question with another question: have you read the last paragraph of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy lately? Allow me to refresh your memory; it’s one of my all-time favorite passages:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers whoever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomats are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

If God is a poet – and of course He is, as He is all good things – then this is the best encapsulation of how and why that I can think of.

Jesus, the first and final Word, is the foundation and fulfillment of all communication. The universe and everything in it was spoken into being through and by the Word of God. The Source of all poetry and all that with which poetry concerns itself is both Poet and Poem – and reader/audience. 

Poetry is distilled, refined, artful communication. Even if the poet, speaker, message, and audience are a single person, the author, it is genuine communication between parts of the self, ideas, and (usually) an imagined audience. (If that sounds trinitarian, it absolutely should.) All that poets do, in their minds and in their output, is a dim reflection of the self-contained communion of the Triune God, and His awesome creative process recorded in the first chapters of Genesis and the Gospel of John. Thus Tolkien’s word for the artist’s labor: subcreation. Like a nesting doll, our efforts to create – in our souls and in action – are within and depend on the Creation.

Creation of Adam

There are few more potent landscapes within that Creation for encountering sublimity than the mountaintop and the desert. The mountaintop and the desert are archetypical locations, liminal places in reality and imagination, intimately familiar to two very similar types of people: the artist and the mystic. Those who seek Art, find God; those who seek God, find Art. Art, perhaps especially poetry, is – metaphorically – a kind of alchemy. At one time alchemy was understood to be primarily a spiritual process: what one did with metals and physical transformations was only an aid to, and a sign of, the purification of the soul. That’s an apt image for how art works, especially when one understands that the essence of art, especially poetry, is refining: as Chesterton put it, the essence of every painting is the frame – the limitation – where one draws the line. It’s the cutting away and the framing that makes the art. Just so, the mountaintop and the desert are places where the world is refined, reduced, delineated: the extraneous is stripped away in the landscape, and so, in a kind of alchemy, that landscape helps strip away the extraneous in our outer and inner selves, leaving us primed, open, and ready to encounter the elusive Divine. 

On the mountaintop or in the desert, we leave behind the company of the world for the privacy of an intimate relationship with the ultimate Other. But the thing about the poet, often more so than the mystic (though not always), is that urge to communicate which prompted going out and up to begin with, is also the desire to return to the rest of the world – to bring back what one has learned and experienced and sing it out. (In the mystic, this is primarily an evangelistic urge, though art can be its fruit – St. John of the Cross comes to mind – whereas for the poet that is reversed.) Yet even in that return and openness, there is something personal, something private, something kept to oneself, that belongs only to and within that Divine relationship. Chesterton sees that private element of the relationship between the Son and the Father as mirth.

The best poetry is, as Robert Frost so famously said, the kind where the poet learns something by writing the poem; there must be surprise. Whether a new insight, the revelation of something we didn’t know we knew, or the fresh perspective offered by juxtaposition, this surprise is, I believe, the same kind of surprise that is the essence of mirth. When you examine what makes something funny, one or more of those three ways of surprise are usually at the heart of it. 

We have an unfortunate cultural preconception that poets must be black-clad, brooding, and Always Very Serious; it’s tied into the sharply mistaken notion that angst, unhappiness, and suffering are the only worthwhile fuel of art. The concept of the funny in poetry is almost completely restricted these days to “light verse” and doggerel. We similarly conceive of the truly religious person and the mystic as grave. In secular parlance, that would be conflated with joyless and mirthless, solemn. Yet as the world mischaracterizes happiness, so too it does not understand what lies in the depths of “solemnity.”

Here we really come down to it: joy can be painful. Joy and happiness are separate from pleasure. (Whereas the world says only pleasure is happiness.) What should be equally yoked to this concept of “Catholic joy” but is often forgotten, is this: mirth can be solemn. Something serious can be very, very funny, and something that causes laughter can be weighty and awe-full.1

Jesus is the God who weeps, who rages, who suffers. Emmanuel, God-with-us, means not just that he walked the earth but that he shares fully in the human condition (save sin, of course.) In Chesterton’s image of His hidden mirth, I see the sharp outline of His humanity, and, veiled from our weak sight, His Godhead – the surprise of divinity, the divine surprise, the final, satisfying twist and fitting conclusion at the end of the poem. The Triune God, revealed in the person of Jesus, is and delivers the surprise, the whole picture, the final punchline, the definitive communication; the part that takes our breath away, moves us to tears, and delights us. 

Is God a poet? He is the Word who comes to us and goes from us, in continuous dialogue; the Word that seeks the mountaintop and the desert and then returns, to bring us to them, and them to us; He is the Word that absolutely reveals, yet remains mysterious in His essence; the Word that is so beautiful it wounds us,2 and yet, in the wounding, makes us whole.

1 It is important to distinguish this idea from the way it’s appropriated by some comedians. There’s a world of difference between the breathtaking union of the mirthful and the solemn, and laughing at something tragic or making a joke of – stripping the dignity from – something that should not be made light of.
2 Pope Benedict XVI elaborates in several places on the concept of God as the beauty that wounds in order to heal, including in an address at Rimini in 2002, and in his 2009 address to artists from the Sistine Chapel.
Image: PD/US

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LeighAnna Schesser is the author of Heartland, a poetry collection exploring identity, love, and faith through place and landscape. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Virga, Kindred, Peacock Journal, and elsewhere. She holds a B.A. in Theology from Benedictine College and an MFA from North Carolina State University. LeighAnna lives in Kansas with her husband, three children, half-wild garden, and many overstuffed bookshelves. Find her at leighannaschesser.wordpress.com.

Better Off, Not Better

Holy Communion by Angelo Graf von CourtenA long time ago in my college dorm room, I was showing a friend the blog Creative Minority Report. It takes its name from Pope Benedict’s exhortation, “Believing Christians should look upon themselves as such a creative minority and … espouse once again the best of its heritage, thereby being at the service of humankind at large.

My friend commented, “Thinking we’re better than everyone else.”

That troubled me, because I knew that it was not the intention of Christians spreading the Gospel message; the intention, as the Pope said, is to serve others by sharing our inherited riches of the Spirit. However, it is true that zealous Christians are often a pain in the behind, turning people off by their perceived arrogance and know-it-all attitude.

Years later, it came to me: We’re not better than others. We’re better off.

In the Church, we have been given a spiritual family that extends all over the world. It is comprised of sinful, fallible humans; nevertheless, it is a ready-made community, where one feels at home in any country. When I moved from Singapore to Brisbane, it was in the Catholic churches of Australia where I found kindred spirits, all struggling with their own baggage and faults, but still striving to grow ever closer to God, and welcoming fellow travellers on this earthly pilgrimage.

In the Church, we have been given a magnificent treasure trove of sacred art, architecture and music. We have sadly discarded some beautiful masterpieces – I felt robbed of my heritage when I discovered old photos of Brisbane’s St Stephen’s Cathedral, which was rich with murals depicting the first religious men and women who came to serve the fledging colonial community, not to mention a splendid Italian Epiphany altarpiece.

At the same time, I was interviewed by the national paper of Singapore for lodging a police report against a sacrilegious, nun-mocking party slated to be held in the exquisite Gothic chapel of my mother’s old school grounds, which had been turned into a secular venue. The reporter asked why I cared about such a thing when I wasn’t even in the country. It hit me that non-Catholics did not comprehend the feeling of belonging and ownership which we have over our sacred heritage anywhere in the world, even when it has passed into other hands.

We are body and soul united, and our physical Christian heritage is just as important as our spiritual heritage, for both together have been passed down to us as a trust to share with others.

Recently, I befriended an atheist sitting outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. He was a materialist and a determinist, but he still felt drawn to admire the soaring gothic building dedicated to God. He put me in mind of another atheist, who was converted by the beauty of York Minster.1 God reaches souls through the senses – Aquinas said, “The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.

In the Church, we have untold riches of spiritual teachings, from the Church Fathers to the hard-working theologians of today, who strive to display the pearl of great price anew to people of today, distracted and duped by trinkets which the modern world passes off as diamonds. We can never be truly fulfilled by anything on this earth; every earthly joy eventually passes. It is only in the infinite God that we can find our fulfillment and peace, and everlasting love.

With so much goodness to share with others, how can we keep this treasure to ourselves? We are cracked earthen jars holding an indescribable treasure, God Himself! The thing is to help others come to see their own identity as priceless vessels made in the image and likeness of God too. Everyone knows the world is full of suffering and darkness – but here is the Good News, that the suffering can be turned into joy and the darkness into light! We are no better than anyone else – we are all sinners, but the difference is, knowing that you are a sinner is the first step to accepting salvation, just as knowing that you are sick provides the impetus to see a doctor. Knowing our true state prepares us for accepting the gift of God, which is Himself – the ultimate source and fulfilment of all human existence and desire.

Image: Angelo Graf von Courten, Holy Communion (via Joy-Sorrow).

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Advent: The Coming of the Lord

Mary's Ultrasound

Happy New Liturgical Year! With the First Sunday of Advent came a new year in the Catholic Church. Advent is an important time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. Just as we prepare for the glorious joy of Easter with Lenten fasting and penance, so do we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ with the quiet contemplation of Advent.

“Advent” is derived from the Latin ad venio, “to come”. This liturgical season anticipates the Adventus Domini, the coming of the Lord. The sublime secret is that Christ is already here: He has been present in Mary’s womb since the Annunciation on 25 March.

Pope Benedict XVI taught us in his book Dogma and Preaching:

“Advent” does not mean “expectation,” as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means “presence” or, more accurately, “arrival,”, i.e., the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also for the god being worshipped, who bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time.

“Advent,” then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God. Advent reminds us, therefore, of two things: first, that God’s presence in the world has already begun, that He is present though in a hidden manner; second, that His presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing toward its full form.

His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom He wishes to be present in the world. Through our faith, hope, and love He wants his light to shine over and over again in the night of the world.

That night is “today” whenever the “Word” becomes “flesh” or genuine human reality. The Christ child comes in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord.

A beautiful Advent prayer is the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, which encapsulates a deep longing for God’s arrival in the dark night of a world in need of a Savior, a world hungering for Love. This Advent, let us be open to God’s quiet presence amidst the hustle and bustle of life, making room for Him to be born in our hearts so that we may bear Him to every person we meet, irradiating their lives with joy.

St Andrew Xmas novena

In many people Christ lives the life of the Host. Our life is a sacramental life.

This Host life is like the Advent life, like the life of the Child in the womb, the Child in the swaddling bands, the Christ in the tomb. It is a life of dependence upon creatures, of silence and secrecy, of hidden light.

— Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

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Images: National Catholic RegisterYoung and Catholic.

The Chair of St. Peter and the Gift of the Papacy

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, an occasion that has been marked since approximately the fourth century. While a physical “Chair of Peter” remains in the Vatican, today’s feast commemorates more than a revered relic. As Pope Benedict XVI said during his papal audience on February 19, 2012:

The Chair of St Peter, represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity…The Chair of Peter is therefore the sign of authority, but of Christ’s authority, based on faith and on love.

This feast today, then, calls each of us to reflect on the gift and mission of the papacy. Christ bestowed particular authority on Peter, the first pope, and this papal authority has continued to be passed down in an unbroken line. While some popes have harbored faults in their personal lives, through them, the Holy Spirit has continued to lead the Catholic Church. However, oftentimes, people forget about the sacred calling and mission of the pope. Many individuals try to use the pope to further their own agendas. They take the pontiff’s words and try to fit them into a particular box of ideals. Furthermore, if the pope says something about which they do not agree, these same people will disregard him and ignore the doctrine which he preaches. We can easily fail to recognize what a tremendous gift we have in the papacy. Too often, we become like “fair-weathered friends” and only appreciate the pope when his words are easy to accept.

However, on today’s feast, we can stop and think about the gift of the papacy. Christ’s representative is on Earth, leading us closer to God—is this not incredible? Jesus Christ specifically chose a pope in the early days of the Church, and ever since St. Peter, God has guided the Church in unity through the pope. What a great gift and blessing we have been granted! It is beautiful to see how throughout the centuries, the pope has been an instrument of unity. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read about some of the challenges that the early Church faced. One of these occurred at the Council of Jerusalem, where the apostles were arguing about how Mosaic Law should or should not be implemented. As the Scriptures note, “After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them…” (Acts 15:7). He then outlined the truth of God’s saving work, and when he was finished, “the whole assembly fell silent” (Acts 15:12). Then, St. James the Apostle exhorted those present to listen to and follow the words and example of St. Peter.

Even in the earliest days and trials of the Christians, the pope was working to bring them all together in unity and love. This same papal authority and work towards unity continue to this day. The papacy is a gift, by which God holds the faithful together, draws them closer to Himself, and guides them through the humble work of a mere man.  The pope is not a celebrity, superstar, or mere figurehead; instead, he is Christ’s servant, known by the centuries-old title “servant of the servants of God.”

On this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, let us pray for the pope, his work, and his intentions. Countless times, Pope Francis has asked people to pray for him—yet how often do we complete this simple task?  As a humble servant-leader of the entire Church, the pope is continually faced with many tremendous tasks. He greatly needs our prayers, that he may be refreshed and full of God’s love as he serves. Furthermore, today, let us also thank God for the great gift of the papacy, by which He continues to lead us.

Celebrating the “Chair” of Peter, therefore, as we are doing today, means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.
—Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience on February 22, 2006

An Old Saint on a New Acquaintance

Some of us Catholics count our “Catholic credentials” by our knowledge of obscure catholic words; some of us by how many bishops we can name; but most of us use our knowledge of the saints as the absolute litmus test. For me, memories of All Saints Day parties surface each November, and the endless quest to stump our saintly parish priest. My failure to stump him each year, was usually highlighted by another peer actually succeeding, and putting the pressure on all of us to raise the bar the following November. This fun practice taught us much about the saints, from little known martyrs, to the new and very recent.

This past October, I had the opportunity to meet an old saint for the first time – Saint Joseph Cottolengo, or, “Giuseppe Cottolengo. When visiting his hometown of Turin Italy, and following in the footsteps of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, we encountered St. Joseph Cottolengo. From the sprawling hospital complex, and the number of religious sisters, it was apparent this saint’s work continues on in full force today. But who is he? How is it possible that I missed him all of these years?

From Catholic Online, a little bit about him:

“Saint Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo or Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo (3 May 1786 – 30 April 1842) was the founder of the Little House of Divine Providence and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

He was born in Bra, then in the Kingdom of Sardinia, and became a canon in Turin. Don Cottolengo founded the “Little House of the Divine Providence” in Valdocco, wherein he housed all kinds of poor people. He also founded monasteries, convents, communities of priests, communities of brothers, and organized groups of lay volunteers. His colossal of charity stands today at the heart of Turin city as sign of what it means to love and serve others in evangelical way.

Today Cottolengo Fathers, Sisters, and Brothers still work together in activities primarily geared at communicating God’s love for the poorest. They are spread out all over the world: Ecuador, India, Italy,Kenya, Switzerland, Tanzania and United States.

Don Cottolengo died in Chieri, Piedmont on 30 April 1842. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934, and his feast day is celebrated on 30 April.”

I had completely missed the fact that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI mentions this saint in his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est. He notes that, “Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke glowingly of Saint Cottolengo when his visited the Little House of Divine Providence in May of 2010. He says he, “Always kept his serene trust in the face of events; attentive to perceiving the signs of God’s fatherhood, he recognized his presence and his mercy in every situation and, in the poor, the most lovable image of his greatness. He was guided by a deep conviction: “The poor are Jesus” he used to say, “they are not just an image of him.”

The Sisters of Cottolengo at prayer. Photo by Rachel Zamarron
The Sisters of Cottolengo at prayer. Photo by Rachel Zamarron

Charity and Mercy live on today in the work of St. Joseph Cottolengo.  Today, the place is still a buzz of activity and prayer. It was struck, by how many people are still touched by the humble work and prayer of this servant of God so many years later. What a beautiful witness to hold up to imitate during this year of Mercy. May Saint Joseph Cottolengo pray for us, and touch our hearts to be merciful today as Our Lord Jesus is merciful.

Feasting on Advent

In his stunning work, the Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states that worship requires that God “give back” and reveal Himself to us, otherwise we are simply “clutching empty space” when we try to worship God. Despite attempting to move toward God in our mind or will, we will never find God if we do not allow Him to reveal Himself to us. Pope Benedict goes on to say, that if God doesn’t reveal Himself to us and we are anxious for Him, we risk making false Gods.

The Liturgical Year is established so that our worship is rightly ordered all year. God reveals Himself in the Liturgy in unique ways: “Christ is always present … in the Church’s liturgical functions. He is present not only in the person of His minister… but especially the Eucharistic Species,” the sacraments, the baptized, and “in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when Holy Scriptures are read in church” (CCC). Christ is present also in the worship that comes from properly living the Liturgical Year. So, when we “hop over” a large season, such as Advent, we skip over that by which Christ longs to make Himself known to us. Instead of trusting that Christ will bring the joy of Christmas, we establish a celebration which becomes a “feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation” (Spirit of the Liturgy).

This type of inordinate feasting then leads us to that exhausting Christmas Consumerism which plagues this time of year. This Christmas Consumerism threatens us, not merely in the material goods we buy, but in the approach we take to the season. A desire to psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually feast on the season of joy that has not yet come inevitably means that “man is using God” and “instead of being worship of God, [this merry-making] becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry” and “ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources” (Spirit of the Liturgy). This will inevitably exhaust man, for when man removes God from the center of his activities, nothing can be rightly ordered and man’s activities and relationships suffer.

Now, Catholics are all about feasting. It is good, right, and proper to feast at the appropriate times (Easter, Feast days, etc). But that means that there are also inappropriate times of feasting, such as during seasons of preparation. This makes sense; to begin a feast before the preparations are finished is foolish! This early-feasting is why we often feel, as Benedict put it, “frustration, a feeling of emptiness” on December 26th, rather than the peace, joy, holy anticipation, and edification supposed to be present on that day.

After all, the Liturgical Year, and specifically December 25th, is not without reason. When the Church established the Liturgical Year, it placed Christmas on December 25th for specific reasons.

One reason was to replace the Winter Solstice, and get people thinking about Christian holy days in place of pagan ones.

The main reason, however, was because of the darkest day of the year, which is December 21st. This means that the light is only just returning when Christmas occurs on the 25th. This becomes very significant. At the literal and metaphorical darkest time, the Light of the World enters the world. To jump to Christmas too early is to celebrate the Light of the World when the world is still in darkness – and getting darker.Advent Wreath

The great saints speak of how we have to purge ourselves not only of sin, but also of imperfections. Even though imperfections are not themselves sins, they still prevent us from intimacy and total union with God who is Perfection, for we are called to “be Perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect.”

So, just as there are imperfections which prevent us from union with God, so too there are more and less proper ways of living which prevent our actions from becoming means towards our sanctification. For example: while it might not be wrong to have a banjo at Mass, it is perhaps not as proper as having an organ. Or, put another way, the organ is a more proper expression of the liturgy and its solemn celebration than the banjo is. The same is true of the liturgical preparation of Advent. While not sinful to celebrate Christmas early, it’s not the most proper action to take, either. We don’t want to clutch at empty ritual and meaningless joviality. We don’t want to use God to give us a reason for celebration. Rather, we want Him to reveal Himself to us in the proper way at the proper time as the reason for our celebration.

Christ said in Matthew 9:15: “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” The Bridegroom is not yet with us, and won’t be until Christmas! So we must save the feast for His arrival and prepare accordingly! The Christmas season is one of joy and rapt attention to the salvific mission of our God. We don’t want to be spent from meaningless celebration when the Light of the World, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, God, Father, Savior, and Redeemer arrives! Let us embrace this time of preparation and renew in our souls a wonder at the season of Christmas and what it holds for us.

The Necessary Virtue of Hope

hopeDuring any phase of transition, the importance of the theological virtues of faith and love are always emphasized. One is counseled to have faith that God will bring the best result out of the situation, while being reminded to either love those also struggling or to be very loving to the one who is facing the changes alone. While these are very important pieces of advice, often the incredibly important virtue of hope is lost in the mix.

Hope is of extreme importance in a Christian life, especially when in the middle of difficult or confusing times. Though faith in God can help assuage worry, and love can help overcome the sadness over what is being left behind, hope is the virtue which lifts one out of the situation and anticipate the future with joy. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his beautiful encyclical Spe Salvi, “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (2).

Because times of change involve many decisions and actively considering all the possible problems to come, a person leans on faith to take care of what he does not have time to consider, and love to help him feel better in the moment. But ultimately it is hope which is needed to reach that interior peace which allows one to look beyond the present pain, to find joy in the struggle, and to muster the strength to reach for the good that is ahead. Through hope one can be at peace about what is to come, and thus handle the immediate concerns with a clear mind.

Through hope, that person can embrace the trials directly in front nbso online casino reviews of him with the attitude which will bring him to more positive endings, and enable him to weather even the hardest storms of life, for the sake of reaching that promise of joy. Whether it is a time of transition, when hope is especially easy to lose but extremely important to have — when so much of life is uncertain and it is hard to grasp onto anything that brings lasting joy — or a time when the state of politics or a more personal grief are weighing heavily and bringing distress, hope is the calm in the storm. Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI reminds Christians in his encyclical that this necessary hope is imprinted in each one of them, imprinted in the heart of every person, but which Christians have special access to through the Gospels.

“To come to know God — the true God — means to receive hope” (3), the dear Pope counseled the Church. And in these times, it truly is the hope within each Christian heart which slowly but surely transforms the world, by transforming each modern disciple interiorly, enabling each of them to extend the Good News to the lost sheep around them. This hope burns within them because their Shepherd found them first, and wrote a stunning love letter special for them, to encourage them when life is hard by reminding them that there is always a reason to hope, found in Him.

“The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of new life” (2). This is why converts are always so passionate about their newfound faith, and also why the Catholic Church has stood the test of time: because Christ has lit the fire of hope in the souls of His children, and the joy which has filled them empowers them to face each day’s challenges with grace while ultimately praying for the day when all lives will be joined together in Christ’s New Earth.

And that is why, more personally and immediately, I find myself in need of this missing virtue. For “[m]an’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30)” (27). Often in the midst of transition and trials, I start to rely and look only at myself, when ultimately it is the faith in God that will center me, the love of God that will comfort me, and the hope to be found in Him which will empower me to approach the worst of situations with positivity, while bearing them for the sake of the good to be achieved.

So, with Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, through the blessing of our God, I invite you to join me in this journey, to invite hope back into our lives, and rediscover the way God will use it to transform us.

Do Not Fear Gay Marriage

There has been a lot of turmoil over the religious freedom law recently passed in Indiana. Religious freedom activists across the board are celebrating this “step towards religious freedom” while gay “marriage” proponents are in the throes of proclaiming this the end of the world.

It’s the same old run-around that always happens when such a bill is proposed, backed, voted on, or passed. This time, for some reason, it struck me as odd that Catholics seem so surprised by this step.

Perhaps we should be surprised. The law was established by a worldly government, which is (I admit) rather shocking.

However, I don’t think Catholics should be surprised when traditional marriage “wins” a battle. The fact is, the truth will always prevail. What’s more, the traditional marriage debate is not new ground for the Catholic Church. In fact, this is old squat as far as the Church is concerned.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a quick tour through Church history:Saint-valentine-history-lovers-2

St. Valentine. St. Valentine died defending the Catholic view of marriage. In fact, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution consisting of beating, stoning, and finally decapitation because of his stand for Catholic marriage. That was in AD 269.

St. Augustine. In AD 410, Augustine wrote a work entitled Of the Good of Marriage in which he defends the Catholic understanding of marriage. He states: “it is observed, that there be no lying with other man or woman, out of the bond of wedlock.” Want to know why St. Augustine wrote this work? Because there was an attack on the good of traditional, Catholic marriage. Now, this attack came in the form of a monk claiming that there was no difference in merit between celibate marriages and conjugal marriages, so a bit different to what we’re facing today. This point serves to prove, however, that the Church is not only used to defending and fighting for marriage — it has done so in multiple fashions, against various onslaughts, and has always won.

Pedro de Corpa, Blas Rodríguez, Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajóz, and Francisco de Veráscola. These Spanish missionaries were martyred in September of 1597 by the natives in Florida who, as polygamists, could not accept the Catholic teaching of a life-long union between 1 man and 1 woman.

Or, look at scripture. Why was John the Baptist killed? Because he stood for traditional marriage, calling out Herod for an adulterous relationship.

There are other examples, but I think I’ve made my point. We’re seasoned veterans at this. Defending traditional marriage is nothing new for the Church. Every time the world thinks it has found a new course to take, a new argument to make, it hasn’t. The Church has been there before, done it in the past, fought this fight, and will continue to do so with more experience and grace than the “other side” will ever have to offer.

So, we as Catholics, need to have greater faith and trust in the institution Christ left us.

Pope Benedict XVI issued a year of faith two years ago. We were not called to renew or strengthen our faith for just that one year. Rather, it was a call to radically transform our faith into something that does not fear in the face of evil, and does not falter when faced with challenges. We may very well be martyred for our defense of traditional marriage, but the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and our sacrifice will only serve to strengthen the teachings of the Church and the faith of its faithful. We can trust that our sacrifice will not be for nothing; the righteous position will prevail because it always has and always will.

This battle is just that: a battle in the war of Good against Evil. This battle is not the war itself. We already know how the war ends. Christ won it. He overcame the culture of death in the very act we are in the midst of celebrating this week. In His cross and resurrection, He defeated death and sin and all of the cultural manifestations that come with it. His Church will always stand through trials because she is the bride of Christ, Son of the Father, Lord of the Universe.

Pope Saint John Paul II once said, “we are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!” We must proclaim this to ourselves: we are the Easter people. Our entire faith is based on the belief that we will rise above sin and death, as individuals and as a faithful community. Our entire life should be one of celebration, hope, and joy in the resurrection of Christ: the defeat of sin and evil and its clutches on humanity by the Lord who loves His people enough to die on a cross for them.

Our Lord will not abandon His people. If we have faith in that, we can have hope in the eternal happiness He has ordained for us. If we have hope, we will have the love for our neighbor necessary to witness to the truth, bring about conversion, and ultimately, uphold the Church that for 2000 years has stood fast against the culture of death we fear so much.

This is not to say that worldly law does not have a place. Nor do I think we should cease at incremental legislation that will protect our faith and motivate authentic justice. Simply put, we ought to distinguish between Caesar’s law and the deposit of Truth that is the Catholic Church. Just because laws do or do not uphold a specific teaching does not mean that the Church is no longer the receptacle of Truth that will prevail in winning over the culture. This means that when a law is passed, whatever the outcome, we should not fear or become despondent, but remain calm and joyful in the presence of our Lord who has already won the war.

Gay “marriage” will threaten, snarl, huff and puff, but we should not fear. For, upon this rock Christ built His Church. It will not fall simply because evil huffs and puffs a little louder.

Our Lord is with us, and if He is with us, who could possibly stand against us? Let us abide by Pope Saint John Paul II’s famous words: Be not afraid!

A Catholic Valentine’s Day: How to reclaim and retain your sanity

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=32448

If you are a warm-blooded, sentient, and rational American who desires to love and be loved, then you have probably experienced at some point in your life a profusion of emotions in the days leading up to and on Valentine’s Day. How could you not? From the time of our youth and continuing all the way through adulthood, there is a cultural pressure to either judge how well you are loved by another or show your love for your crush/beloved/spouse by the type of chocolate, gift, dinner, or special night that can be experienced together. More to it, what if I don’t receive anything from anyone?

If we take a step back, however, and reflect upon the love of God and the love we are meant to share with others, then we must ask ourselves the important question of “Why?” Why, if I am single, must I judge my self-worth by chocolate delights and the special love of my crush? Why must a special night consist of fancy dinners and pre-written cards? Why must I show my love for that special someone on this particular day and not everyday? These are important questions that we would all do well to take to prayer and our beloved.

It is my belief that we fall prey to these pressures because it is hard for us to see any other alternative to what has been presented to us as normal and ordinary for a 21st century American. In this article, however, I would like to offer some healthy alternative mindsets and practices with which to approach Valentine’s day, whether you are single, dating, engaged, or have been married for a life-time.

 

1. Reflect well upon the love of God for you.
St. John Paul II, a hero to so many of us, was very passionate about teaching the world about the self-identifying love of God. I would like to share with you an excerpt from a particularly powerful and impassioned homily of his that has stayed with me for many years:

We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.

It is in this universe-creating love that we are all called to plant ourselves. It is with this love and this love only that we can identify ourselves, i.e., draw forth our name, our personality, our worth. This is the only love present in and outside of the universe that will never falter, never fail, never change. I believe this is the fundamental reason why the famous John 3:16 quote that we see all over NFL and college football games is so incredibly piercing and powerful — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Furthermore, it is only in this love that we should understand the various human loves that we will experience throughout our life.

 

2. We are all made for communion but not explicitly for marital communion.
God has created us in the image and likeness of love but that does not mean that we are all called to the love shared in holy matrimony between a husband and wife. There are other instances of love that are equally important for each of our own developments into the person that God created us to be. Such loves include that which is shared within a family and between friends.

Love is not limited to marital and dating relationships. For those people who do enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony, however, that love is incredibly important and irreplaceable in their own personal vocations. Nonetheless, the love experienced in family and friendship is invaluable and ought not to be overlooked and taken for granted. Therefore, instead of feeling an intense anxiety about receiving and needing the particular love experienced in marriage or a dating relationship, appreciate and delight in the love of friends and family — for that is true love —  as St. Thomas Aquinas betokens to us:

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.

Carlo Crivelli (circa 1435–circa 1495) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Take time to visit Jesus in adoration.
Regardless of your state in life or relationship status, we would all do well to take time on Valentine’s Day (or any day for that matter!) to visit and commune with our Lord who is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is important for us to keep in mind that discovering God’s will for our life is only one very small part of our life-story. The actual day-to-day living out of his will in love is what is most important of all. To fulfill God’s will for our lives can only come to fruition if we are spending time with him in consistent and authentic prayer. How can we hope to see Jesus in the people around us if we cannot see him where is he fully and substantially present in the Eucharist? The vocations to marriage, religious life, and holy orders, after all, are not ends in themselves but ways in which we are called to grow in love and service to one another. The only way we can grow in love and service, however, is to grow in love and service to Jesus!

Perhaps there is no better way we can spend our time on Valentine’s Day either by ourself or with our loved ones (friends included!) than by spending some quiet, quality time with Jesus in the Eucharist. Bl. Mother Teresa speaks precisely to this point:

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

4. Don’t spend your time trying to find the most expensive or glamorous present for the person you care about.
Instead, spend your time trying to find the perfect way to demonstrate to the people around you on Valentine’s Day that you genuinely and authentically care about them. In this way you can make your Valentine’s Day more person-centered than thing-centered. This will usually take the form of action but could very well include a special gift. The emphasis, however, is not on how much you spend or the “thrill-factor” that accompanies it but the thought and intentionality you put into buying this particular gift for this particular person.

Ultimately, the greatest gift we can each give to someone we care for, whether that be a friend, family member, significant other, or spouse, is our time, care, and attention directed toward their true and lasting good. This love, which opens up and develops our own true identity, in turn has the potential to grow and blossom into even more love than can be given simply on Valentine’s Day. Gaudium et Spes #24 speaks directly to this paradoxically dynamic and multi-faceted experience:

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

When we give ourselves to others, it purifies and perfects us, allowing us to give even more love than was previously thought possible. Bl. Mother Teresa, once again:

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

 

5. Don’t limit love to Valentine’s Day.
We Catholics and Christians don’t need the media and economy to tell us when to express our appreciation and love for the people around us. A very helpful piece of advice I have received once and been reminded of often is to reflect upon the singularity and uniqueness of each day in light of our eventual death. This might seem a bit morbid, but in light of the hope of the resurrection, it grants great freedom. If we live each day with the belief that it might be our last, then we will not allow opportunities to show and express love for those around us to slip by. Instead, we will approach each day with the light-heartedness but seriousness that it deserves — light-heartedness because life and love triumph over evil but seriousness because we cannot re-write or re-live what we have allowed to slip into the past. In love the universe is created by God and through love we allow the universe to be re-created through us.

 

So, my advice is not to ignore or flee from Valentine’s day but to embrace it and purify it with your friends, beloved, or spouse. Let us reflect well upon the love of God, the love of those around us, the preeminent place Jesus ought to occupy in our lives, and how to show true love day in and day out. If and when you feel the nervous tension that will ultimately accompany Valentine’s Day, simply remember what true love is and offer the following prayer to God: “Father, may I be satisfied with your love and the love of others in my life right now. May I love others as you have loved me.” Do not fear love, but instead embrace this most powerful force and allow yourself to be authentically transformed by it. To close, I would like to leave with you a powerful message from our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a personal hero of mine, which continues to inspire my mind, heart, and soul:

My dear young friends, I want to invite you to “dare to love”. Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death for ever through love (cf. Rev 5:13).
Love is the only force capable of changing the heart of the human person and of all humanity, by making fruitful the relations between men and women, between rich and poor, between cultures and civilizations. (Message for the 22nd World Youth Day: Palm Sunday, 1 April 2007)

By [1] (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons