Tag Archives: Religion

Why we should read “Gaudete et Exsultate”

Back in March, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation all about the call to be holy, Gaudete et Exsultate. Within just a few days, the online world was discussing (and debating) the document. As often happens in our world of constant news and digital engagement, a few weeks went by and conversations about this exhortation died down. People began arguing about other topics. The release of this apostolic exhortation seems like a distant memory, and if you haven’t read it yet, you may be reluctant to do so. We often like to read and discuss whatever is trending in the world, so if the world has seemingly moved on, what good can come from perusing these words of Pope Francis?

1. Gaudete et Exsultate is a loving note of encouragement from our Holy Father.

As an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate does not seek to define dogma or lay out a detailed analysis of the Church’s teachings about one particular topic. Instead, it is an apostolic exhortation that seeks to encourage us in our mission as Christians.  In this document, Pope Francis clearly states that his aim “is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis did not write this document for a few scholarly people to pull apart and debate; he wrote it for all of us to read and learn from. 

2. This exhortation takes us back to the basics of holiness.

In five pithy chapters, Pope Francis’s words remind us to stop over-complicating things and just be holy. As someone who tremendously enjoys learning about the intricacies of our Faith – especially as manifested in the liturgy – I sometimes face the temptation of forgetting the heart of Christ’s message. Like a Pharisee, I grow overly legalistic and proud, and let this overshadow the message of transformative love that floods the Gospels. In Chapter Three of this document, Pope Francis walks us through the Beatitudes, reflecting on how – looking at the Scriptures and the lives of the saints – we can embrace our call to holiness through this path that Christ lays before us.  Pope Francis notes that:

“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (#63).

3. There are some beautiful and profound one-liners. 

I can always appreciate a succinct, thought-provoking statement that I can ponder for a while. To my delight, I found that Gaudete et Exsultate is full of these! No matter if he’s talking about the universal call to holiness (“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious”), the importance of cultivating peace in our world (“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”), or the command Christ gave us to forgive others (“We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven”), Pope Francis bluntly calls us forth to be holier men and women.

If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this document because it seems like “old news,” read it anyway – the reflection Pope Francis presents about holiness is needed in our modern world.

If you haven’t read this document because you think that it’s just for theologians and scholars, read it anyway – Pope Francis wrote it for us. In the conclusion, he states: “It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness” (#177). He wants to help the whole Church, not just a privileged few.

If you’ve neglected to pick up this document because (based on opinion articles, headlines, and social media posts you’ve seen) you think it is chock-full of faulty teachings, read it anyway – the pope is not laying out incorrect teachings or false doctrine; he is encouraging us to be holy. While yes, there are some passages that seem a little vague and could be twisted in a variety of ways, I invite you to reflect on the pope’s words as you examine how you can practice sanctity in your own life.

Image credit: “Pope Francis” by Mikedev, via Pixabay (2017). CCO Public Domain. 

An Indonesian Miracle of Muslim-Catholic Friendship

One of my friends was a Buddhist when she and her family narrowly escaped being raped or killed by riots against the Chinese in the May 1998 riots of Indonesia, which saw over 1000 murdered. She told me about the miraculous survival of a Catholic family living in the vicinity. They tied a rosary to their gate and hid in the house, praying fervently. The rioters looted and burned the homes on either side of their property, but passed by their house as if they could not see it.

My friend escaped to New Zealand to build a new life in safety. After much heartache and struggle to find a job so that she could remain in the country, she knelt before the crucifix in a cathedral, begging God for help. The very next day, her last possible day before she had to leave the country, someone helped her carry her suitcase up the stairs of a hotel, and when he heard of her dire situation, he mentioned that he was the manager and in search of an accountant – which just so happened to be her profession.

Tensions are still high in parts of Indonesia, and Christian clergy are advised not to wear even a cross. Hence it is remarkable to see how a young Muslim lady recently sang a beautiful Ave Maria at her dear friend’s funeral. Indonesia has a policy of assimilation where Chinese have to take on Malay surnames, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the races, when individuals happen to have similar skin tones. People of different religions grow up cheek by jowl in this populous nation of over 260 million souls, and it is always heartening to see acts of friendship and love bridging racial and religious divides.

You can watch the video here.

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Image: PD-US

Fr. Douglas Bazi: Praying the Rosary in ISIS Captivity

Fr. Douglas Bazi (a.k.a Abouna Douglas Joseph Shimshon Al-Bazi) recently spoke at the 2017 Spirit in the City conference in Brisbane. He spoke of how his people, our Christian brothers and sisters, have been systematically killed or driven out of their homeland since the 2003 Iraq War destabilized his country. He told us how his church in Baghdad was bombed while he received a gunshot to the leg; he carries the bullet in his leg today.

He said, “I am going to tell you my story, of how I was captured by ISIS. It is not easy for me to tell.”

In November 2006, Fr. Bazi was kidnapped by ISIS militants (“Maybe because I look like Robert De Niro”, he joked). They bound him in chains, blindfolded and gagged him. In a room where the Quran was broadcast on television all day long, they broke his nose, tortured him with cigarettes, and smashed his face, knees and back with a hammer. He was deprived of water for four days.

Yet, like St. Paul, Fr. Bazi continued his priestly ministry in his chains. One of the terrorists came to the bound and gagged priest for advice about his wife, who kept sending him multiple messages a day. The blindfolded Fr. Bazi calmly advised the terrorist to be more loving and attentive to his wife.

Fr. Bazi realized that the chains binding his hands had exactly ten links. He admitted that under normal circumstances, he sometimes found the rosary tedious, but as he lay aching in the darkness, the scriptural prayers of the rosary illuminated his imprisonment, bringing comfort and sustenance amidst the uncertainty and pain. He was prepared to die.

Using a chain he had bought upon arrival from New Zealand, Fr. Bazi demonstrated to us how he had prayed the rosary, kissing the lock that kept him at the mercy of his kidnappers.

He also showed us his bloodstained shirt.

After nine interminable days, Fr. Bazi was released.

He said to us, “You must be our voice. You must tell our story. Our children go to school, and we don’t know if they will come back. We go to church, not knowing if that is the day we will die.”

Here in comfortable Australia, it was sobering to think of our Middle Eastern brethren living from day to day in fear of death or the loss of their family members, or their homes.

Fr. Bazi has started Project 52, aimed at bringing 52 disabled Iraqi children to New Zealand. With our donations and prayers, we can help make his dream a reality.

Degrees of Sin — Separation from God

Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment.
— Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity

It should have been better that all the stars should have fallen from Heaven than that one soul should have ever committed a single venial sin.
— Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

Recently, some friends and I were discussing an interview with Milo Yiannopoulos, in which he said:

“Sins of the flesh, let us remember, are at the bottom of the scale. The Church says self-righteousness is at the top. Therefore, I’m in a lot better shape than some of my feminist and establishment Republican enemies.”

That part made me wonder about his grasp of Holy Scripture and the Catechism, not to mention Our Lady of Fatima’s sobering warning:

More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

A friend of mine chimed in: “Sins of the flesh rank lowest in Dante’s Inferno and also Bishop Barron agrees in his CD Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Lively Virtues.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I replied: “Indeed, lust of all the sins is most akin to love, Dante notes. But when you really love someone, offending them in any way is just downright bad. And no matter what degree of Hell someone is in, it’s all really bad ‘cos it’s eternal separation from Love. So on one hand it may be technically right to say one sin is not as bad as another… On the other hand, they’re all terrible and we ought to scram from every one!

Sometimes when we are in a state of sin, it is tempting to compare ourselves to other sinners, thinking, “At least we’re not as bad as they are!” But isn’t that really the pinnacle of self-righteousness? Isn’t it akin to the attitude of the Pharisee who thought himself better than the publican? (Luke 18:11)

It’s like a sick person comparing himself with others in hospital: “At least I’m not as poorly as that man!” or worse, “What’s the point in getting well, we’re all going to fall sick and die in the end anyway.” He’s still stuck in hospital, and comparing himself to another patient just creates a false sense of consolation. Instead, it would be better to focus on his recovery, comparing his current condition with the healthful one he hopes to be in.

When in sin, therefore, let us take the example of Christ and the saints as our standard, and lean ever more on God for the strength to strive for holiness: confessing our sins, performing penance, and amending our lives.

For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus…
Romans 3:23-24

To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.
— Frederick Buechner

God does not judge Christians because they sinned, but because they do not repent.
— St. Niphon of Constantia

To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
— St. Anthony the Great, Cap. 150

Be ashamed when you sin, not when you repent.
There are two things: sin and repentance.
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness.
Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.
— St. John Chrysostom

Image: PD-US

The Church Embraces All People: Thoughts on the Beatification of Fr. Stanley Rother

“They must be going to the beatification!” I yelped happily, as I pointed towards a well-dressed group of people walking down the sidewalk. It was early in the morning on Saturday, September 23rd, and I could not contain my excitement. Several minutes later, I found myself also walking down the sidewalks of downtown Oklahoma City. My husband, myself, and our toddler joined the massive throng of people who wrapped around the Cox Convention center, waiting to enter the arena. From around the state of Oklahoma – and around the world – we all came together for this historic event: the beatification of Fr. Stanley Francis Rother.

The view as we rushed through the arena, looking for open seats.

After bustling around, trying to find seats, we wound up sitting in the overflow section behind the altar. I was expecting many people to attend the beatification Mass, but the sight of so many people was incredible. Over 13,000 people crammed together to pray and celebrate the life and legacy of the first U.S.-born martyr to be beatified.

Throughout the beatification Mass, I kept thinking of how this event showed that the Church truly is universal and all-embracing. There were hundreds of priests and consecrated religious, and over 50 bishops. There were thousands of lay people. These individuals came to Oklahoma from all parts of the country – or from other countries, like Guatemala, where Blessed Stanley served and was martyred. The petitions during Mass also reflected the universality of the Catholic Church; they were read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Comanche, Tz’utujil, and Korean.

As I looked out on the massive, diverse crowd of people, I thought of how Blessed Stanley Rother gave his life as he ministered in love to others. He didn’t stay in his comfortable little hometown in Oklahoma, but he went out to embrace and guide those in another country during a tumultuous time. He helped translate the New Testament into the language of the people there, Tz’utujil. He lived simply, joining in solidarity with the men and women around him. In his life and work, he sought to serve and love others.

There have been many times where I have found myself becoming self-absorbed. I’ll think that “my way” is the “best way” when doing different activities. Or, I’ll narrow my field of vision and think that a Catholic must look or act in one particular way. At times like these, I forget that Christ welcomes all people into His Church – those who have cultural differences from me, those who have backgrounds different from my own, and those who pray in ways which I do not. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). As I saw during the beatification Mass of Blessed Stanley Rother, there is a beautiful diversity among the members of the Catholic Church. Let us rejoice in the unique gifts that each person brings to the Church, and let us remember to embrace and welcome all people with the sacrificial love of Christ, so that we may all grow closer to Him together.

Sacramentals: holy gifts

The lady on the bus

Since watching Touch, my boyfriend has had a habit of reading number plates and, now that he’s Catholic, relating them to the faith. One day he was riding a bus when he noticed “MAS” on a car, and chuckled to himself, seeing it as a reminder to go to Mass. His seatmate asked what he was chuckling about, and after he explained, a little old lady piped up.

“Are you Catholic?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“This is for you,” she smiled, handing him a laminated cruciform prayer card.


The Orthodox in the Holy Land

While I was on a Lenten pilgrimage in the Holy Land early this year, my parish group stayed at the Saint Gabriel Hotel in Bethlehem. It was my childhood dream to visit the lands where Jesus walked, but now that I was there, I was constantly troubled by a deep regret from the past; I couldn’t put it out of my head, even though it was really stupid and futile.

At breakfast, I was wearing my Annunciation leggings from a hipster store in Melbourne. An Eastern Orthodox priest (probably Serbian) came up and gave me two holy cards: one featured an icon of Christ, and the other, Mary. He couldn’t speak English, but through those holy images, he communicated a world of meaning to me: though things might seem bleak and disordered, Our Lord and Our Lady are with us always, and so are our brothers in Christ, including our separated brethren. It was a warm dose of heavenly joy amidst grotty modern-day Bethlehem.

Some days later, at Jacob’s Well, after venerating all the icons in the Orthodox church, I followed my tour group to the bus. I waved goodbye to the portly Arab gentleman manning the book store, and he beckoned me back.

“This is for you,” he said, handing me a jewelled Jerusalem cross, set with red and white stones.

“Shukran!” I gasped, giving him a bear hug, and sprinted up the courtyard stairs to my waiting group. I didn’t ask his name, but I wear that cross each day, and pray for him and his people.

Sacramentals: Binding us to Christ and one another

Jesus’ existence was a scandal: how could the transcendent, omnipotent God lower himself to become man, bound by the limits of earthly existence? Yes, the Incarnation is a mystery of love, and central to our faith. We are enfleshed souls, not Gnostics who spurn the body for the spirit; Christ has redeemed our flesh, and God touches us through our senses. That is why Catholics, the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox have always expressed our faith through physical objects. God created the world good, and everything can be sanctified and become a means of growing closer to Him.

As secular gifts are tokens of love and reminders of those who love us, so are sacramentals tokens of the heavenly love which binds those who live in Christ. What are some sacramentals which are important to you? And can you find people in your life who may appreciate a spiritual boost through a physical reminder of God’s grace?

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The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

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References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

God’s Rose-Coloured Specs

Conrad von Soest, ‘Brillenapostel,’ (1403), Wikimedia Commons.

To say that someone sees through rose-coloured or rose-tinted glasses is a common idiomatic expression by which we describe someone as seeing something as being more pleasant than it is.[1] The idiom implies that someone’s perspective on a particular reality, or on reality itself, is overly optimistic—rose-coloured, tinted, and glossed, softening the cold hard truth.

The Saying

The origins of this idiom are unclear.[2] It was clearly in common usage in the English language by the mid-19th century, and even then, it was used with various nuances of meaning.[3]

For example, in Mary Boddington’s Slight Reminiscences of the Rhine, Switzerland, and a Corner of Italy (1834), the phrase is used positively in regards to a sunny youthful outlook:

O the joy of blossoming life! What a delicious thing it is to be young, and to see everything through rose-coloured glasses; but with a wish to be pleased, and a certain sunniness of mind, more in our power than we imagine (p.185)

Although, perhaps more commonly, the phrase would be used negatively to describe an outlook that has fallen prey to a rosy deception because of stubborn superficiality and an avoidance of the truth in its darker shades. See Fewell: A Series of Essays of Opinion for Churchmen (1846).

The phrase might also be used to speak of a blatantly false kind of optimism stemming from alleged naivety. Concerning the latter, the author of “The Ideal and the Real,” Mary Davenant, writes in Godey’s Lady’s Book (1843):

A man in love is easily deceived. I have seen more of life than you have, my dear, simply because I look at people with my own eyes, instead of through rose-coloured glasses as you do, and I never see a woman who appears so very soft and gentle that she cannot raise her voice much above a whisper, and whose every word and look betrays a studied forethought of the effect they are to produce, that I do not mistrust her sadly. Half of them are shrews, and the other half obstinate intriguers‚ I am much mistaken if Mrs. St. Clair is not a little of both. (p.160)

Reading that last excerpt, one almost wants to encourage the author to find herself a pair of rose-coloured glasses, and quickly at that! or at least to stop looking with her own eyes and to pull the shutter on those cynical lids.

Yet aren’t we all a little bit like this? For, at least from time to time, we judge others harshly—perhaps even ourselves; and as Catholics we may even look at the state of the world and of the faith in the world, and slip on the sunglasses of the cynic. To be sure, distinct from cynicism, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy critical outlook, in the sense of a rational and realistic perspective; but whatever the case, the rosiness of charity should always win-out.

The Rosy Blood of Christ

After all, through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, everything has been painted with the rosy, redeeming love of the Precious Blood (Col 1:19-20)—and for this reason nothing in the created order can fail to be used for the glory of God and the sanctification of the human person (CCC 1670). In sacramental theology, this is called ‘The Principle of Sacramentality’.

Thus, in all truth the Christian is both a realist and an optimist. For even if the perceived reality is dark and terrible, reality itself originates and culminates in Christ who is Light and Life itself, who shines in the darkness of each valley of death, offering the unshakable hope of joy in communion and beatitude, in the trudge of the workshop, the silence of prayer, the noisiness of the family home, and from the solitude of nature to the oppressiveness of the gulag.

We know that whilst God can see our sinfulness, in sending His Son to die for us, He has chosen to see us through the rosy blood of His Son in whom as new creations He beholds us as being “very good” (Gen 1:31).

To See as God Sees

To see as God sees, as Love Itself sees, is something to long for. The way St. Francis was able to see all people and creation like this is an encouragement to us; that by God’s grace we too can begin to see things through the rose-coloured glasses of God—through the Blood of Christ which has redeemed reality.

Putting the shades of meaning (pun intended) the world associates with the idiom rose-coloured glasses aside, we might define the rose-coloured glasses of the Christian, as looking with the eyes of faith, through the frames of hope, and the rose-tinted lenses of charity, by which we see as God sees, seeing things not so much as they appear to be, but as they were made to be, are called to be, and already are in some mysterious way in the Person of Christ.

Mary: God’s Rose-Coloured Glass

No one did this better than Mary—the supreme typus of the Church, whose faith, hope and love are the nourishment of the Church. In fact, the theological virtues were so perfect in Mary to such a point that she participated in the Paschal Mystery as completely and perfectly as it is possible for a creature. This brought Her into complete communion with the sufferings of Christ and thus in the work of Redemption as a helper par excellence, just as Eve was the helper of Adam in the work of creation. Hence the title, Co-Redemptrix; the prefix co- from the Latin com- meaning “together, mutually, in common”.[4]

If we think of God’s rose-coloured glasses as being the veil of the Precious Blood which covers all created reality, it is inescapable that we recognise how Mary too is the rose-coloured glasses of God; for Jesus’ Blood came wholly and entirely from the virginal body of Mary, who alone was the proximate source of Christ’s human nature.

Therefore, when God looks at us in His Mercy through the Blood of His Son, He looks simultaneously through the Blessed Virgin Mary who from the moment of Her conception was preveniently redeemed by the Precious Blood, being fired in the charity of the Holy Spirit, and infused with His Sacred Breath, imparted through space and time, from the exhalation of Christ’s burning breath on the Cross and at the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost—just as a glassmith or glassblower fires glass and breathes into the molten mass during production.

Additionally, in the crafting of glass only those pieces that are free from defect, without any fractures, make it through the production line. Mary was indeed without defect—being free of the fracture of original sin and personal sin, thanks to the excellent craftsmanship of God.

Of course, we’re stretching the analogy here, as glassblowing isn’t a technique used in the fashioning of the glass used in eye-wear (in fact high-tech plastic is commonly used today), but nevertheless, on the created side of things, Jesus in His human nature together with Mary, form the two lenses which make up the rose-coloured glasses through which God sees the world in His Mercy.

God’s Rosy Bias

In another text from the 19th-century, rose-coloured glasses were used in reference to the bias stemming from affectionate ties in “personal kindness”.[5] Perhaps this is the best reason we can give as to why God wears His rose-coloured glasses—crafted as Mary Immaculate and as the Word Incarnate: simply because of God’s freely chosen, outrageous and wonderful bias of personal kindness, by which He sees us through Mary, in the image of His Son, and in the likeness of His Triune Self.

Thank God He sees us through rose-coloured specs.

Putting on the Specs

May we too, especially in this month of May, through our Marian devotion, see through this Blessed Rose-Coloured Glass who is Our Lady, tinted by the Blood of Christ, so that with a hopeful gaze we might see the rosy presence of God flourishing in our lives and in our world. A world which is sorely in need of the glasses on offer from the Optometrist on high.

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[1] The Free Dictionary, http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/rose-coloured+glasses

[2] The Baroch, Chzeck classic, Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart (1623) by John Amos Comenius is often posited as an early example (or even as the source) of the phrase—minus the rose-colour: “Just then Delusion on the other side remarked: ‘For my part, I present you with these glasses through which you must examine the world.’ After he fixed the glasses on my nose, everything immediately assumed a changed aspect… As I learned later, the lenses were ground from the glass of Assumption, and were set in horn-rims called Habit.” (Chp 4).

However, this saying may have older origins, since it is known that using transparent stones as reading aids was practiced at least since the 10th century, and magenta glasses were at least used in the 15th century.

[3] Thanks to Sven Yargs for the following gathered references, Origin of Rose-Tinted Glasses, https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/257566/origin-of-rose-tinted-glasses

[4] Dictionary.com, “co-,” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/co-

[5] “Elliotson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine,” in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (December 13, 1843), p.19, accessed from Google Books, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=oLo1AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA 369&dq=%22rose+colored+glasses%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=5OacVY3LLoauyQTq94fQBg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22rose%20colored%20glasses%22&f=false

The Church of Jesus Christ

To love and believe in Jesus is to obey Him.1 When one searches the Scriptures, it is readily apparent that Jesus established a Church founded on the rock of Peter,2 a corporeal and spiritual community to which all His followers were to belong. Examining history,3 we see that it is the Catholic Church which alone fits the description of this Church founded by Our Lord, handing down the Faith in an unbroken line of visible apostolic succession and dispensing divine graces through the sacraments instituted by Christ. God has given us the Church as the preeminent means of encountering, knowing, loving and serving Him. Obedience to Christ demands full communion with His Church, the Mystical Body and Bride of Christ. To try and seek Jesus in isolation would be to arrive at a defective understanding of and union with Him, His saving mission, and the Kingdom of God.

Being a person of faith entails being part of a community of believers, those who are ek-kaleo, called out by God, a people set apart,4 united in the covenantal bond with God.5 We are the Body of Christ,6 incorporated in Him through Baptism,7 partaking of the Eucharist,8 sharing in the one Priesthood of Christ and participating in the common worship of the one Divine Liturgy.9 The Church does not merely stand for Christ but is Christ;10 as St Jeanne d’Arc said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.11 The Risen Lord identified Himself completely with His Church, saying to Saul on the road to Damascus: “Why do you persecute Me?”12 Saul had never encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry, but was persecuting members of the early Church. Therefore, to love and obey the Church is to love and obey Jesus; they are one and the same. Conversely, to deny the Church is to deny Christ Himself, to separate oneself from the life of the Body of Christ and cut oneself off from the Living Vine.13 Those who claim to have a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church, at most have only an imperfect communion with Him.14

Christianity, being the religion of the Incarnation, is a faith manifested in the physical reality of the Church,15 which Jesus instituted to perpetuate the faith.16 The magisterium or teaching authority of the Church gives us the guarantee that the teachings of our faith are orthodox and apostolic;17 it also possesses the capability to iron out doctrinal controversies with conclusive pronouncements,18 instead of descending into disunity.19 Jesus said to His disciples: “He who hears you, hears Me, and he who despises you, despises Me; and he who despises Me, despises Him that sent Me.”20 Christ has endowed the presbyters of His Church with divine authority to “teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”21 In particular, Christ ensured the unity of His Church by centering the community on the rock of Peter,22 giving him administrative authority over His Church symbolized by the keys to the Kingdom;23 the Vicar of Christ is given a share in Christ’s own nature and office as the Rock and Cornerstone of faith.24 Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eterna: where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is Life eternal,25 which is Jesus Christ. Christ spoke of the apostles’ function of being judges or rulers over His Church.26 This applies to the successors of the apostles – the bishops,27 who are pastors (literally, shepherds) of Christ’s flock, guiding and serving believers in the life of faith. It is based on the papal and collegial authority of the Church “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”,28 that we have the Holy Bible and apprehend the articles of faith;29 it is by the preaching of the Church, the “pillar and ground of the truth”,30 that we have the Gospel through which we know Jesus.31

The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood,32 enabling believers to encounter Christ through the sacraments of the Church:33 particularly in Baptism, where one is incorporated through the working of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Mystical Body; in Confirmation, where one receives the Holy Spirit again in order to be more fully configured to Christ and participate in His saving work; and most especially in the Eucharist, where one is physically and spiritually united with Jesus.34 One cannot have a more personal relationship with Jesus than in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, where He becomes our very food,35 our spiritual nourishment. Jesus commanded his apostles to perpetuate the Holy Sacrifice in memory of Him,36 and this has continued to the present day through the Church’s liturgy, which is also the principal setting where the Scriptures – telling of the life and message of Christ – are read and meditated upon. Only the Church possesses the true sacraments through which God is encountered and His grace outpoured on this earth for His redemptive work;37 and the priests of the Church are uniquely configured to Christ, acting in persona Christi so that the faithful have immediate access to Christ through them.38 The Church is not an end in herself,39 but always directs the believer to Christ and the Kingdom of God,40 through the working of the Holy Spirit.41 The Church herself is a Sacrament,42 being a symbol and means of union with God and humanity,43 manifesting Christ in the same way that He was physically present during His earthly ministry, taking on a particular human form and living among men.44 The Church and her members are not barriers between oneself and Jesus; instead, participating in the life of the Church brings one closer to Jesus in the way He intended,45 and leads to salvation.46

One’s faith is sustained by the community through its rites, symbols and customs.47 Belief must be externalized through habitualization and ritual,48 then institutionalization;49 this externalization strengthens faith, embedding it in daily life. An individual’s growth occurs in tandem with the development of the society he belongs to.50 Without the support of a community, it is easy to lose faith in times of difficulties and distress. Even Protestants, who tend to emphasize one’s personal relationship with the Lord to the exclusion of the communion of saints, in practice still end up forming ecclesial communities where the members edify and encourage each other. Catholics have an incredible source of solace in the invisible members of the communion of saints, the Church Triumphant; through them, believers are given particular models of sanctity in living Christ-like lives, as well as heavenly assistance through their intercession, perfected by their union with Christ.51 Living in Christ entails living in communion with His saints, in Heaven and on earth.52

Divine revelation was public,53 not private in character, and the deposit of faith is necessarily passed on through the public witness of the ecclesial community, the Mystical Body of Christ.54 It is not a matter of indifference as to what faith one subscribes to; it is not sufficient simply to believe in God; if so, even the devils would be saved.55 One’s belief must be backed up by genuine divine authority and the authentic witness of a Christian life lived for God and for others.56

St Cyprian affirmed: “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”57 Jesus is never found in isolation, and one cannot be a Christian alone. The very Godhead is a community, and the Christian life, being modeled on Trinitarian life,58 is by definition a communal way of life.59 The Lord commanded His disciples to love one another as He loved them, for by that shall all men know that they are His disciples.60 To love and imitate Jesus is to love those dear to Him – His family, His Church. This shared bond of love unites believers in a common witness to the world. Jesus’ prayer before commencing His Passion was that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one,61 so that the world may believe that the Father sent Him.62 Life in Christ is characterized by harmony and unity;63 authentic Christian faith is summarized by the four marks of the Church: One,64 Holy,65 Catholic and Apostolic.66

In conclusion, it is only through the Catholic Church, the Barque of Peter, that one is assured of receiving the genuine apostolic faith handed down from the time of Christ through Scripture and Tradition. In the sacraments, one truly encounters the Crucified Christ, not only spiritually but physically as well. To divorce oneself from Christ’s Church is to impoverish one’s faith, robbing it of the support and nourishment of the true Vine. It is possible to approach Christ outside the bounds of the visible Church, but to enjoy the fullness of life in Him is to be a member of His Holy Church, which is animated by His Spirit and fulfills His salvific mission from the Father.

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Image: Facebook

1 John 14:15.

2 Matthew 16:18.

3 John Salza, “What is the History of Your Church?” Scripture Catholic (updated 2004) http://www.scripturecatholic.com/history.html [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

4 Deuteronomy 7:6.

5 Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”. Communio 22, 3 (Fall, 1995) pp. 418-432, at 419.

6 1 Cor. 12:27.

7 Dulles, op. cit., p. 423.

8 Fr Friedrich Jürgensmeier, The Mystical Body of Christ. Sheed and Ward (New York, 1954), p. 236.

9 Paul VI, 1964, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium), 34-36 [henceforth referred to as LG]; John XXIII, 1963, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium), 14.

10 Jürgensmeier, op. cit., p. 29.

11 “Acts of the Trial of Joan of Arc”, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 795 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p2.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

12 Acts 9:4.

13 Fulton Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ. Sheed & Ward (London, 1935), p. 239; John 15:5.

14 Paul VI, 1964, Decree on Ecumenism (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio), 3; Dulles, op. cit., p. 421.

15 Fr Timothy Radcliffe O.P., “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (updated 10 April, 2010) http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/14543 [accessed 6th May 2013].

16 Fr Arnold Damen S.J., “The Church or the Bible” (updated 2013) http://www.drbo.org/church.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

17 Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, “The Magisterium of the Vicar of Christ”, L’Osservatore Romano, 4 April 1968, p. 7 http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/MAGVICXR.HTM [accessed 6th May 2013].

18 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 60.

19 Damen, “The Church or the Bible”, op. cit.

20 Luke 10:16.

21 Matthew 28:19.

22 Henri de Lubac, The Motherhood of the Church. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 1982), p. 276.

23 Scott Hahn, “Scott Hahn on the Papacy” (updated 2007) http://www.catholic-pages.com/pope/hahn.asp [accessed 14th May 2013].

24 Dr Thomas Mor Athanasius, “Primacy of St Peter” http://www.syrianchurch.org/Articles/PrimacyofStPeter.htm [accessed 14th May 2013].

25 St Ambrose of Milan.

26 Matthew 19:28.

27 Vat. II, LG, 28.

28 Ephesians 2:20.

29 Council of Rome, Decretum Gelasianum.

30 1 Timothy 3:15.

31 Fr Jules Lebreton, S.J., and Jacques Zeiller, The Church in the New Testament. Collier Books (New York, 1962), p. 83.

32 Vat. II, LG, 10.

33 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 431.

34 Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., A Church to Believe In. The Crossroad Publishing Company (New York, 1982), p. 44.

35 John 6:5-6.

36 1 Corinthians 11:25.

37 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Some Questions regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church, Fourth Question http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html [accessed 14th May, 2013].

38 Vat. II, LG, 28.

39 Yves Congar, This Church that I Love. Dimension Books (New Jersey, 1969), p. 97.

40 John Paul II, 1990, Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of Christ the Redeemer), Encyclical on the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, 18; Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. Geoffrey Chapman (London, 1984), p. 51; Fr Geoffrey Preston, O.P., Faces of the Church. T&T Clark (Edinburgh, 1997), p. 67.

41 Manuel Urena, “The missionary impulse in the Church according to Redemptoris Missio”. Communio 19, 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 94-102, at 101; Vat. II, LG, 4; Ephesians 1:17; Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 50.

42 Richard R. Gaillardetz, The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Paulist Press (New York, 2006), p. 43.

43 Vat. II, LG, 1.

44 Francis A. Sullivan, “The Evangelising Mission of the Church”, The Gift of the Church. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, 2000), p. 235.

45 Matthew 16:18, 18:18.

46 Congar, op. cit., p. 51.

47 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 419.

48 Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller and Michael J. Puett, Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. Oxford University Press (2008), p. 37.

49 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. Doubleday (New York, 1966), p. 53.

50 Ibid., p. 52.

51 Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, “The ‘Communion of Saints’ as three states of the Church: pilgrimage, purification, and glory”. Communio 15 (Summer, 1988), pp. 169-181, at 176.

52 Congar, op. cit., p. 97.

53 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 49.

54 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 425; Pius XII, 1943, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, 1.

55 Fr Arnold Damen S.J., “The One True Church” (updated 2013) http://www.drbo.org/church2.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013]; James 2:19.

56 Luke 10:27; James 2:20.

57 St Cyprian, Epistle 43.

58 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 47.

59 David S. Cunningham, “The Trinity”. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2003), p. 199.

60 John 13:34.

61 Lebreton and Zeiller, op. cit., p. 145; Congar, op. cit., p. 109.

62 John 17:11, 21.

63 Vat. II, LG, 1.

64 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 58.

65 Vat. II, LG, 39.

66 First Council of Constantinople, The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

The New Evangelization: What’s new, why now?

Evangelization: Why is the Gospel good news?

The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek “Euangelion” meaning the announcing of good news. St Paul and the apostles were excited about the person and message of Jesus. They had encountered Jesus as a Savior, who by His cross and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death, and who has sent His Holy Spirit to accompany His followers in all things. The command by Jesus to “go teach all nations” was not felt as a burden imposed upon them, but as a joyful obligation. They had experienced true freedom in the Gospel “for freedom Christ has set us free”, and they wanted to proclaim this to the world, that God has made adoption as His children possible in Christ.

Through the preaching of the apostles, those who became Christian in the early Church felt the same freedom. St. Justin Martyr felt that Christ was the fulfillment of his vocation as a philosopher. St. Agatha felt herself to be a spouse of Jesus. To preserve her vow of virginity, she refused marriage to a pagan noble and suffered martyrdom as a result. St. Augustine, after living a chaotic life, famously declared after his baptism, “You have made us for ourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The ancient world was stirred by Christ and His message. The human person has a royal dignity and a direct link with the Creator. God in Jesus Christ is the friend of the human person. And the countless Powers—gods, spirits, demons—weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust.

Why a “new” evangelization?

If evangelization is the announcing of good news, why the need for a new evangelization? John Paul II, who first coined the phrase “new evangelization”, clarified that the message of the Gospel has certainly not changed. What has changed however was the fact that

i. A growing number of Christians, in traditionally Christian countries, no longer experience Christianity, especially its moral teaching, as liberation but as a burden. They practice their religion “as if they have just returned from a funeral.”

ii. Increasingly educated and exposed to science and reason, the doctrines of Christianity were also experienced as somehow pre-scientific and having no rational basis.

Two convenient options

Faced with these two challenges, a Catholic can take the “soft” option. He can (at least in his own mind) “water down” the Church’s moral teaching, especially its difficult and inconvenient ones. Faced with accusations that he is being “pre-scientific”, he could also discard the seemingly incomprehensible “supernatural” doctrines of Christianity (the resurrection or the virgin birth, for example) and focus on what seems to be “reasonable.”

He can also take the “hard” option. In the face of a hostile world, he can retreat into his private Catholic space, with other like-minded Catholics, viewing the “hard” teachings as a necessary burden to attain heaven in the next life and diagnosing Catholics who have difficulties in believing as somehow lacking in faith. “If only they pray more and have more faith and don’t question too much.”

The teaching of the New Evangelization proposes a third option. John Paul II declares that the new Evangelization must be new “in ardor, methods and expression.” Let’s look at these in turn.

New in Ardor

Ardor refers primarily to enthusiasm and excitement. This is something that cannot be “faked”. It has to be real. It has to flow from an encounter, or a re-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, Singapore Archbishop William Goh’s emphasis on the “conversion experience”, where one recognizes that he is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus Christ is experienced no longer as simply a great moral teacher but one’s personal savior. To continue fanning the flame of conversion, the Archbishop insists on the cultivating of an intense prayer life and on-going formation so that the converted disciple can better share the Gospel with others.

New in Method

There is a move away from teaching Catechism as simply “doctrines to be learnt” or “moral teachings to be followed.” Rather, at the heart of Catechesis is to facilitate for the child an encounter with the person of Christ. Doctrines and the Church’s moral teaching flow from that encounter. They liberate the person to live a new life in Christ. They point to Him. They are not ends in themselves. The catechist is not “the teacher” but a “facilitator.” Christ is the Teacher. The catechist is there to facilitate the encounter. He is not “God’s lawyer.” Rather, he is a co-pilgrim with his students in the journey of life. He has nevertheless found Christ in his pilgrimage of life and is thus there to share this with his students.

I remembered one incident that might illustrate this new approach. I bumped into my student who was hanging outside church and not attending Mass. In my earlier years as a Catechist, I would actually have focused straight away on his non-attendance at Mass and tell him that what he is doing is very wrong and that he should go for confession and then for Mass the next time. This time, I did something different. I said hello and asked him if he would like to chat a while as he seemed to have things on his mind. What followed was a 30 minute conversation where he shared about how he felt that Church teaching is restricting his freedom and that his family situation is unhappy. I acknowledged his feelings as very real and shared with him how, in my own experience, I too had these feelings but had gradually found Christ to be a source of freedom. I did not focus on what he “did not do.” A year later, while preparing another batch of students for confirmation, he waved at me and said that he too has decided to get confirmed. He too had experienced the love of Christ for him and found in the Catholic faith a source of true freedom. While I would never dare to take any credit for his conversion, I nevertheless shudder to think what might have happened if I had “scolded” him for not attending Mass during our first encounter, out of a sense of misguided zeal.

New in Expression.

Icon written by Br. Claude Lane, OSB, Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, OR, USA

It is easy to simply reduce the phrase “new in expression” to the need for Catholics to be “up to date”, especially in the use of social media (Facebook etc). While social media is certainly an important means of evangelization, the call for a “new expression” is deeper than that. It is a call to re-present the person and message of Christ in a manner that is comprehensible, challenging and compelling to a new generation. It would be no use for instance to say “Jesus Christ saves you from sin” when the culture has lost a sense of sin. Rather, a patient dialogue about the nature of right and wrong would be an important first step in precisely recovering such a sense, and then showing how Christ saves us from the burden of an overwhelming guilt. The art of learning how to understand the cultural situation in the light of Christ would require formation. But the acquiring of such knowledge is not simply “book knowledge” but flows from the fervor to make Christ known to others.

Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization

On 27th Sept 2014, Archbishop William Goh consecrated Singapore to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation. In this, we ask not only for our blessed Mother’s powerful intercession, but also through the studying of her life, we will know how to go about our tasks of evangelizing. As the Archbishop declared in his pastoral letter, it is from Mary that we learn i) that the New Evangelization is urgent. That it is ii) principally a witness of love. That it must iii) begin from a contemplation of the Word of God and that iv) it must possess a spirit of poverty and the recognition of the primacy of grace.

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Image: Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

A Journey Home

By guest writer Louis Felix Figueroa.

My body was strung out on the couch and pain filled every part of me. This was the changing point of my life. I had thoroughly been a product of modern society, relativistic, an adherent to indifferentism, a modernist in many respects. Many until this point had regarded me as a very understanding guy, compassionate, knowledgeable of the world. In reality, I knew nothing. I was arrogant, filled with pride, and though I had love it was incomplete. I had to be completely humbled to realize my true identity and see the greatness of God who created me.

As a child, I learned like most Catholics through Sunday school. I had been baptized at birth, received First Communion, but I wasn’t instructed much beyond that. I can remember having a deep love for God, but I wasn’t taken to Church very often and I was exposed to the occult. My parents practised Santería, a practise as a child that I abhorred, but this would be my entrance into the world of the occult and my confusion about religion. As I grew up, my parents left Santería; however, my father avoided church like the plague and my mother, fearful of saints from her exposure to Santería, rejected Catholicism for what would seem like ages. I still had a love for God and would walk into the neighborhood Church on weekdays on my way home from school and pray, but I never attended Mass on Sunday. I never went to confession; in fact, I began to know less and less of my professed religion.

At the age of 13, I left home and attended school in a town in Connecticut. It was a big change from my hometown of Bronx, New York. I still felt some connection with God and prayed quite often, but wandered further and further from Him, as I had no real foundation. I took what I had learned in school and constantly applied it to my life. I was fortunate enough to have a host family with whom I stayed with on occasion and they would include me in their church-going activities. It was marvelously wonderful to be exposed to the Bible, but I had no clear or definitive understanding of it. I became ambiguous about homosexuality, premarital sex, masturbation, and many other sensitive topics. I also saw God as a method to obtain things and no longer my close friend whom I had known in my childhood. Times were becoming darker.

As I went through my high school years, I became more deeply involved in the occult, though there was always a voice trying to keep me away. I remember, looking back now, something telling me that this was all wrong. I was stubborn to say the least. I wasn’t a malevolent fellow and wished no one any evil, as best as I could remember I was just horribly confused. I practiced tarot cards, and I guess you could say that there were things which were around which gave me answers to the questions I wanted answered. That is putting it simply.

I eventually joined the United States armed forces. The branch is not important. It was here that I became more familiar with aspects of Wicca and Satanism. There were actually servicemen and women who practiced both, and no, I was not a Satanist. However, I had become vastly interested in Wicca. At the same time, I was becoming an excellent soldier. I excelled in many aspect of war fighting and leading. Slowly, but surely, I began to develop a sort of hubris about me. I felt there was a power that controlled something, but I became further from it. Years had passed and I began to look at myself and I didn’t like what I had become. I was kind at times, but I could flip a coin and become utterly ruthless. What I found more disturbing was that I longed to cause damage. I had less and less peace in my life and a voice could be heard very faintly. This voice told me to turn to God, but I was too powerful or so I thought.

My life began to slowly unravel and I sought respite. I didn’t trust Christianity, yet! I began to read works by the Dalai Lama and about different aspects of Buddhism, but something deep down told me that I wasn’t supposed to give up Christ. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, but this was how things were happening. I began to hang out with Protestant friends and attended services with them, but I wasn’t convinced or moved. I felt like it was more acting than anything. They were kind to have shared their faith with me, but it would have impressed me more if they had been living it. I had some Catholic friends whom I associated with and they brought me to Mass. As I went to the Mass, I was distressed. I said to myself: “I am Catholic? I know nothing of my religion!” Still, I hadn’t been motivated enough to do anything solid, except read the Bible on occasion.

It was toward the end of my military service that I said to myself, I have to change. I have to find God. I have to go back to the Catholic Church. The voice in me was yelling now; it was no longer a whisper. Yet, I was still obstinate. I came home from service and was contemplating entering Special Forces and in the midst of this I was struck ill. In my illness, my mind was made clear. It was like an intimate conversation with God. I knew then that I could not return to what had help make me what I was, but had to become something new. I started to read and read and read. Every book that read was inexplicably linked to the next without my intention and before I knew it, I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. I was digesting the Bible and swallowing books on the saints and I just could not stop. I was like starving child eating a long overdue meal. Then the moment of truth came, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Over 18 years of sins upon my chest to offer to my Lord with sincere contrition. It wasn’t too long after this that I considered the priesthood, but one step had to be completed first. I was finally confirmed at the age of 24. However, I did not become a priest. I found my vocation was to be a husband, but this was not a decision that was taken lightly; rather I fought with myself for almost 3 years. Nevertheless, I now strive to serve in any way that I can.

I can honestly say that my life finally has light in it. The world makes sense and my place is understood, as is the infinite mercy of my Lord. Many who knew me as a soldier and know me now would say that they don’t know me. I am not the same person.  I was still the guy they had known who would listen to the multitude of their problems for hours on end, but my approach toward helping them resolve their problems had changed. I looked deeper than the superficial considerations that I had previously focused upon. I now understood that there was more to the world, and what I had once held to be true held partial to no validity. They could see that I loved, but my love extends further now. They don’t understand my view of the world and why I reject so much of what modern society holds true now. My only reason is that Divine Truth demands it, and once you see it you can never go back to darkness.

I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains: the bars of the earth have shut me up for ever: and Thou wilt bring up my life from corruption, O Lord, my God. When my soul was in distress within me, I remembered the Lord: that my prayer may come to Thee, unto the holy temple. They that in vain observe vanities, forsake their own mercy. But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice to Thee: I will pay whatsoever I have vowed for my salvation to the Lord.
(Jonah 2:7-10)

I live each day now and I am grateful. There is much more to my life than what I have shared, but sometimes we must endure that ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and it is through the humbling of ourselves that we truly begin that conversation with God. My ignorance, my arrogance, me… I kept myself from God. I thank God for all I have been through, much of which I will probably never pen, but I am most grateful for God humbling Himself so much as to talk to me. It has been partly through this that I have begun to ponder how great His love really is.

Deo Gratias.

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Louis Figueroa is a father and a husband. He sees everything in life as pointing to something greater than himself. He is a cancer survivor, and suffers from a rare neurological illness, but sees that all things are opportunities to live our faith.

Certainty

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
– Will Rogers

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
G. K. Chesterton

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Silence actor Andrew Garfield said, “Certainty about anything is the most terrifying thing to me.”

Colbert responded, “If you knew there was an afterlife, would that be comforting, or terrifying?”

“How would I ever know?” Garfield retorted. “I think it’s healthy – you think about Thomas Merton, the great Trappist monk, and philosopher really, his doubt was his greatest ally, and he was always constantly doubting, and I think a life of faith is not a life of certainty. I think a life of faith is a life of doubt, and I think it is so healthy to doubt, it is so healthy to doubt oneself, it is so healthy to doubt any assumption we make about how to live, and I think what I mean when I say certainty scares me – certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology; certainty – the ‘I know, you don’t’, that’s the scariest thing to me.”

Really, Garfield? Au contraire, I hold that doubt is scarier (and less reasonable) than certainty. Christian certainty comes with humility, the humility of submission to the Truth which is greater than you. The humility of placing yourself completely at the disposal of that great mystery which is God, certain that He will be constant throughout the vicissitudes of life.

Two of my friends are terrifying drivers. However, one is more terrifying than the other. The latter drives too fast – he has accumulated countless speeding fines. One evening, in exiting a carpark, he had three near-misses with two cars and a bus. But I still feel safer as his passenger than with the former friend, who drives too slowly. She is a very hesitant driver, prone to stopping in the middle of oncoming traffic while making a turn. “GO!!!” I once yelled, not wanting to meet an untimely demise. My speeding friend is at least pretty certain about his directions and in control of his car, although not altogether observant of road rules.

It is certainly healthy to examine our assumptions about how to live, but one must come to a conclusion and stick to it. How would your boss like it if you were uncertain about turning up for work? Or how would your spouse like it if you were uncertain about your commitment to one another? It was the Benedictine vow of stability that enabled monastery towns to flourish, developing agricultural technology, education, and ultimately the civilization of Western Europe. When you plant a seed, it is not advisable to keep re-potting it. It needs a definite place to grow. Without certainty, we remain immature, vacillating between competing rules of life. This ultimately results in a fragmented, incoherent mess.

“Certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology” – that is such a cop-out statement. Just because some people have been very certain about erroneous ideas doesn’t mean you should remain uncertain about excellent ideas. Some people are brought up badly, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try to inculcate some standards of behavior in your own children. If someone is dead certain about taking the wrong path, should you therefore be deadly uncertain about taking any path?

It is not arrogance to claim certainty when you have good reasons. Would you like your surgeon to be uncertain about where to place his scalpel? Or your dentist to be in two minds about which tooth to pull?

Should we be like Adam and Eve, or Cain, who doubted God’s loving providence?

A life of faith is not a life of doubt. There will be tough times, yes; there will be times of doubt and darkness, yes – but a life of faith transcends the times of doubt, because it is a life of faithfulness and radical trust in the One Who loves us so much that He died for us. Christ’s death and resurrection – that’s a Certainty. Let us imitate Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and say with complete sincerity: “Lord, not my will, but Your will be done.” For we know that is the Way of everlasting life.

All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
– Matthew 5:37

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Etymology: faith (n.)
mid-13c., faith, feith, fei, fai “faithfulness to a trust or promise; loyalty to a person; honesty, truthfulness,” from Anglo-French and Old French feid, foi “faith, belief, trust, confidence; pledge” (11c.), from Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” from root of fidere “to trust,” from PIE root *bheidh– “to trust”.

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI

Images: “Fork in the road“/PD-US; CatholicGag; Signum-Crucis