Friday, February 28, 2014

God Will Crush Our Enemies Before Us

Let's face it, we Catholics are increasingly under attack from our enemies in secular America. Persecution, given the history of the Church and the situation of our fellow Catholics in other countries, might be too  strong of a word, but under attack we certainly are. And it will probably get worse before it gets any better. When thinking of the forces arrayed against us it can be a bit overwhelming, but we have God on our side, what more could we ask for!

Many of us are very familiar with God's intervention on behalf of His people's defense in the Old Testament. Think of David defeating Goliath, Moses leading Israel out of slavery, or the conquest of the Promised Land. One often overlooked passage that shows us the kind of manly fortitude we ought to display comes from the First Book of Maccabees and is well worth contemplating in our day:

 When he approached the ascent of Bethhoron, Judas went out to meet him with a small company.  But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas, “How can we, few as we are, fight against so great and strong a multitude? And we are faint, for we have eaten nothing today.” Judas replied, “It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great pride and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us;  but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them.” (3:16-22)
This echos the advice of God down through the ages, nolite timere - be not afraid, ego sum - I AM here. We know the Church will survive even against the very gates of Hell (cf Matt 16:18). We know that Christ has already won the war against the prince of this world through His sorrowful passion and death. We know that God will indeed crush our enemies before us.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Do You Have a Prayer Plan?

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, commands us to "pray without ceasing" (5:17). A question immediately arises, how can we, as laymen, do this? We are, after all, called to be "in the world", although "not of the world" (Jn 17:16). Pope John Paul II stressed the "secular character" (as Vatican Two termed it) of the laity saying,
"the lay faithful 'live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven'. They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc" (Christifideles Laici, 15)
Given this particular calling of we the laity it is apparent that we are not called to a monastic existence, but we are still called to holiness and indeed to constant prayer. Which leaves us to ask, how can we do this? How, practically, can we live a more prayerful life?

One way is to adopt a Prayer Plan, something I have done with the New Year and have found to be immensely helpful. Instead of merely praying when the Spirit moves me (although I certainly pray then too), I make sure I pray certain prayers throughout the day. This keeps me coming back to God, makes me pray in a variety of ways, and helps me to actualize St. Paul's teaching.

Here is what I try to do each day.

After Waking Up.
Morning Offering.
Three Hail Marys for purity.
Prayer to Saint Joseph for aid at work (Mon-Fri)
Bless myself with Holy Water.
After Breakfast.
Read a chapter from the Bible.
Pray the Saint Michael Prayer, Angel of God, and to St. Thomas Aquinas with kids before school (Mon-Fri)
Five Minutes of Mental Prayer.
After Lunch.
Pray the Rosary (Mon, Tues, Thur, Fri) or the Divine Mercy Chaplet (Sat, Sun, Wed)
After Dinner.
Pray grace (before dinner)
Pray with my children before bed (bless them with Holy Water)
Pray with my wife.
Before Bed
Spiritual Reading (right now I'm reading Furrow by St. Josemaria Escriva)
Three more Hail Marys for purity.
Examination of Conscience (I use the Seven Deadly Sins)
Bless myself with Holy Water
Night Prayer

It's not a ton of prayer, but it keeps me coming back to Christ throughout the day. I also try to remember to offer up certain tasks at work to the Lord.

Your Prayer Plan might look very different. It might include other prayers, might follow the liturgy of the hours, might include daily Mass, might be longer or shorter, but I strongly recommend setting out some basic prayers to say at various times throughout your day to keep you ever in mind that our true home is not in this valle lacrimarum, but with Christ.

One last tip, don't start with too much. If you don't pray daily, just start with a short prayer in the morning and before bed and slowly work your way up to a fuller daily prayer routine.

What does your daily prayer plan look like?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Does God Want us to be Happy?

Q: Does God really want us to be happy? If so, why do we suffer? Why doesn't He make us happy?

A: Yes! God absolutely wants us to be happy.

St. Irenaenus said "The glory of God is man fully alive" and Christ Himself said "I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance" (Jn 10:10). So God does want you to be happy, or better yet Blessed. Of course, being blessed (happy) isn't always what we tend to think of as "happy." Christ sums up what it means to be happy in His Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew chapters 5 - 7).

Living a stress free, no problems life isn't the key to Earthly happiness. Money, fame, and power cannot, ultimately make us happy (how many Hollywood stars have all these yet turn to drugs and even suicide in their unhappiness?) The key to Earthly happiness is conformity to the Divine Will.

St Josemaria Escriva sums this up when he said,
"If things go well let's rejoice, blessing God who makes them prosper. And if they go wrong? Let's rejoice, blessing God, who allows us to share in the sweetness of the Cross." (The Way, 658)
Which is an excellent expansion on what St. Paul taught to the Philippians, "Gaudete in Domino semper, iterum dico: gaudete! - Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, Rejoice! (4:4)

Or, as our Holy Father has implored us, "Don't be a pickle pepper face Christian!"

We can have this attitude, indeed must have this attitude, because, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Rom 8:28) and, even more so, because "He is Risen!" (Matt 28:6), which is the Gospel, the "good news", and we, as Christians, are people of the good news.  With Christ risen, how can we fail to rejoice?

How can we do this in the midst of death and pain and suffering and failure? St. Josemaria again gives us the answer, this time echoing St. James,
"You ask me to suggest a cure for your sadness? I'll give you a prescription from an expert adviser, the apostle St. James: 'Tristatus aliquis vestrum?' - 'Are you sad my son?' 'Oret!' - 'Pray!' Try it an you will see." (The Way, 663)

Can it be hard to gain this serenity, this happiness, this blessedness? No, it's not hard, it's impossible - without God. But with Christ all things are possible (cf. Phil 4:13), as long as we abide in Him (Jn 15:4).

Therefore, let us REJOICE! and Be Glad! Deus Vult - God wills it!

Monday, February 24, 2014

There is No Christianity!

For our Monday Meditation this week, we turn to the great Anglo-French Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc. This is a great reflection for our age when the temptation to be content with a "mere Christianity" is so strong. We have to remember that Christ didn't come to found a philosophical system or to establish private "personal relationships" between Himself and individual believers. He came to found a new people of God, the Church. (emphasis added)

"There is no such thing as a religion called "Christianity" there never has been such a religion. There is and always has been the Church, and various heresies proceeding from a rejection of some of the Church's doctrines by men who still desire to retain the rest of her teaching and morals. But there never has been and never can be or will be a general Christian religion professed by men who all accept some central important doctrines, while agreeing to differ about others. There has always been, from the beginning, and will always be, the Church, and sundry heresies either doomed to decay, or, like Mohammedanism, to grow into a separate religion. Of a common Christianity there has never been and never can be a definition, for it has never existed." (From The Great Heresies)

Friday, February 21, 2014

5 Great Prayers to Say After Receiving Our Lord at Mass

Last month we looked at 5 Great Prayers to Say Before Mass, today I thought we'd continue in the same spirit with 5 more great prayers, this time to be said immediately before and/or after receiving the Lord at Mass in the Eucharist.

Just like last time, these prayers come from the ever handy missal produced by the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei (get yours HERE), and, thus, are presented for those who attend the "traditional Latin Mass", but, because Christ is just as present in the Ordinary Form Mass at your local parish, they work just as well at any Mass.

These prayers will help you to focus on the Real Presence of Christ and have helped me immensely to grow in appreciation for the Sacred Mysteries (yes, I admit it, I try to ignore the "Communion Hymn" these days, as I find it distracting). Feel free to adjust to a more modern sounding English, if you don't enjoy the Old English feel of the prayers below.

1. Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola
TAKE, O LORD, all my liberty, receive my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. All that I am and all that I have come to me from Thy bounty; I give it all back to Thee, and surrender it all to the guidance of Thy holy Will. Give me Thy Love and Thy Grace; with these I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

2. Anima Christi (Card. Newman translation)
SOUL OF CHRIST, be my sanctification.
Body of Christ, be my salvation.
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins.
Water of Christ's side, wash out my stains.
Passion of Christ my comfort be.
O good Jesus, listen to me.
In Thy wounds I fain would hide,
Ne'er to be parted from Thy side.
Guard me should the foe assail me.
Call me when my life shall fail me.
Bid me come with Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love
World without end. Amen.

3. Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas
I give Thee thanks, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed, not for any merits of mine, but solely out of the condescension of Thy mercy, to satisfy me a sinner, Thine unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that this holy Communion be not to me a condemnation unto punishment, but a saving plea unto forgiveness. May it be unto me the armor of faith and the shield of good will. May it be the emptying out of my vices, the extinction of all concupiscence and lust, the increase of charity and patience, of humility and obedience, and of all virtues; a strong defense against the snares of all enemies, visible and invisible; the perfect quieting of all my evil impulses, both fleshy and ghostly; a firm cleaving unto Thee, the one true God; and a pledge of a blessed destiny.

And I beesech Thee, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to bring me, a sinner, to that ineffable banquet, where Thou, with Thy Son and the Holy Ghost, art to Thy saints true light, fullness of content, eternal joy, gladness without alloy and perfect bliss. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

4. Thanksgiving after Communion
MY GOOD JESUS, I pray Thee to bless me; keep me in Thy love; grant me the grace of final perseverance. Help me to become a saint. Safeguarded by Thee in soul and in body, may I never swerve from the right road, but surely reach Thy kingdom, where - not in dim mysteries, as in this dark world of ours, but - face to face we shall look upon Thee. There wilt Thou satisfy me with Thyself and fill me with such sweetness that I shall neither hunger nor thirst forevermore: Who reignest world without end. Amen.

5. Pour your Heart out to Jesus
After saying a few of the prayers above, simply pour your heart out to the Lord. This moment, right after receiving Him in holy Communion, is the closest you will ever be to Him, this side of Heaven. Unburden yourself. Speak to Him. Even just repeat 'I love you' over and over again. But don't just sit there in silence for, as St. Josemaria Escriva reminded us, "'Minutes of silence.' Leave silence for those whose hearts are dry." (The Way, No.115)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is Being a Good Person Enough to be Saved?

Q. Isn't it enough to be a good person to merit Heaven? I have some friends who are Buddhists and they are very peaceful and very kind people. Assuming they never kill anyone or cheat on their wives or something like that, would they really be kept out of Heaven just for not becoming a Christian? That can't be right. I think it would be better to be a good Buddhist than a bad Catholic! Look at the good thief, he was saved and he was never baptized, never went to church, never did anything redemptive at all.

A. First, no one - not even Mother Teresa - can merit heaven by being "good", we are all saved because (and only because) Christ has merited Heaven for us. Look at the commandments. Do you think your "good Buddhist" (or even a "good Catholic") hasn't broken any of them? Does he Love God (who he doesn't believe in) above everything else (first commandment)? Does he never lie (eighth commandment)? Has he never looked at a woman aside from his wife in a lustful manner (sixth commandment)? Blithely claiming this or that person is "good" fails to recognize a Gospel truth - no man is good, we all are sinners and all need a Savior.

Unfortunately we moderns are more influenced by Immanuel Kant, than Emmanuel (God with us). Kant taught that all religion was reducible, in the end, to morality. That the only important thing was "being a good person." If that wasn't bad enough, since the 60's our society has reduced "bring a good person" to "being someone who doesn't directly harm other people." This is a very watered down view of morality. This isn't Christianity, which teaches that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 3:23). In fact Jesus tells us that none of us can ever even deserve to be called "good!" (cf. Mark 10:18).

As to the thief. He was saved through baptism - baptism of desire. You claim he did "nothing redemptive" but you might want to look closer at the story. The thief suffered with Christ on the Cross. He publicly witnessed to Christ's divinity. He reproached his fellow thief. Far from doing nothing "redemptive" he did a lot more than most suppose or than most of us would! Thus, he was saved. In fact, the thief is a great example disproving everything else you said. He wasn't "basically a good person" (he was an evil doer set to by justly executed by the civil authorities) yet he came to Christ and was saved.

All that being said, God doesn't demand the impossible. If someone can't become Catholic (or even Christian) through no fault of their own, they might still be saved. This, obviously includes Buddhists. But we should never assume that anyone can be saved by their own merits, that is the essence of an old heresy, Pelagianism.

If interested, you might check out a post I did a couple weeks ago titled - CAN CATHOLICS RESPECT OTHER RELIGIONS and the Vatican Two document Nostra Aetate.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Active Participation

We all know that we are called to "actively participate" in the Mass. To better understand what that phrase meant to the bishops gathered by Pope John in 1962, it would be wise to reflect on the following words of St. Pope Pius X who reigned less than 50 years before the start of the Council.
"The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the Altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens on the Altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass."
Pio X
Saint Pope Pius X
This is the spirit in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council called for
But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions... Pastors of souls must therefore realize is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 11) 
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.... In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14)
To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 30)
"Active participation" wasn't something the Council Fathers made our of whole cloth, they were bringing to fruition the hard labor of the liturgical movement - a movement whose goal is summed up perfectly by St. Pope Pius X, "Don't pray at holy Mass, pray the holy Mass."  The Council Fathers, and Pope Pius, didn't want the faithful to pray the Rosary during Mass (as powerful as the Rosary is, it isn't the Mass) or to simply warm a pew to fulfill an obligation. Nor did the Council Fathers, or Pope Pius, want the faithful to sing hymns that are not a part of the Mass instead of hearing or chanting the Propers of the Mass (which are a part of the Mass!). They wanted the faithful to pray the Mass and ultimately to be sanctified by the Mass. Of course, that doesn't mean there is no room for private prayer at Mass - we know there is (we've covered some great private prayers HERE), but should the Mass be dominated by these? Should they replace parts of the ritual itself? I think we know what Pius would have said - "pray the Mass."

The Sacred Council didn't want the Mass to be "dumbed down" (as if we, the laity, are too stupid to understand anything above a 3rd grade level), but wanted we, the laity, to be taken up into the mysteries of the holy Sacrifice. Which is exactly why chant (see SC 116), the organ (see SC 120), Latin (see SC 36) are all to be kept in the Mass and why things like weak homilies, versus populum worship, communion in the hand, and bad liturgical art and architecture were not called for by the Council. Conforming the Mass to the culture it is being celebrated in was never the goal. Rather, Pope Pius X (and Vatican Two) were seeking to conform man (and his culture) to the Mass.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Encountering the Living God

My favorite non-Catholic Christian writer has to be CS Lewis. In his book, Miracles, Lewis sets out to prove that if God exists we have "no manner of security against miracles." In so doing he writes the following brilliant passage, one I never grow tired of re-reading. I thought I'd share it here for your Monday morning meditation. As you read the passage, ask yourself if you've met the same God Lewis had. And if not, why not?
"Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest taproot of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as a man but because it pictured Him as a king, or even as a warrior. The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at anytime Heaven and Earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be purged. It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters – when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive!” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back – I would have done so myself if I could – and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God” – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?" (C.S. Lewis - Miracles, chapter 11)

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Confiteor, A Prayer of Repentance

As we've been talking about sin all week (why we must confess, as an act of the will, recurring sin, and the sinless Mary), I thought we might end the week by taking a look at a prayer that many of us say each and every Sunday, the Confiteor - the  "I confess to almighty God."

The version we say in Mass (since the new translation came out in 2010, thank you Pope Benedict!) is

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
You'll remember that we used to say:

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned
through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord, our God. 
All of which translates the same Latin text from the 1970 Missal:
Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,
et vobis fratres,
quia peccavi nimis
cogitatione, verbo,
opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.
Those of us who also attend the forma extraordinaria will be accustomed to the version as found in the 1962 Missal, which reads (in Latin):
Confiteor Deo omnipotenti
beatie Mariae semper Virgini,
beato Michaeli Archanelo,
beato Ioanni Baptistae,
sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo,
omnibus Sanctis,
et vobis, fratres:
quia peccavi nimis cogitatione,
verbo et opere:
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem,
beatum Michaelem Archangelum,
beatum Ioannem Baptistam,
sanctos Apostolos Petrem et Paulum,
omnes Sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum, Deum nostrum.

And in English
I confess to Almighty God,
to the blessed Mary ever Virgin,
blessed Michael the Archangel,
blessed John the Baptist,
the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
to all the Saints,
and to you, brothers,
that I have sinned exceedingly in thought
word, and deed,
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
Therefore, I beseech Mary, ever Virgin,
blessed Michael the Archangel,
blessed John the Baptist,
the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
all the Saints,
and you, brothers,
to pray to the Lord our God for me.

All of which shows us that our God is a loving and merciful God. Therefore, when we sin, we need just return to our Lord (through the sacrament of confession), embrace His mercy, allow Him to change us to more fully conform to His image and likeness and move forward to, as St Josemaria Escriva would have it, "final victory."

None of this means we can separate God's mercy from His justice. None of this means we can sin without repenting and avoid the fires of Hell. But it does mean that nothing we do is more powerful than this...

Christ on the Cross
The Result of our Sins.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

If Mary was Sinless, Couldn't She Have Saved Us?

I read your post on why we believe that Mary was sinless, but something is still bothering me. If Mary is sinless, then she could have saved us. But then God wouldn't have had to become man, Jesus wouldn't be necessary for our salvation. This is clearly against Scripture! 

While it's true that Jesus never sinned, He didn't save us because He didn't sin. He was able to save us because He was GOD. Mary wasn't God. Even though she didn't sin, she still couldn't save us. Our offense against God was an infinite offense because it offended against an infinite being. No one could pay the infinite price due except an infinite being. The only infinite being is God. Therefore only God could atone for our infinitely offensive sins. Mary is finite. Even being sinless she could not atone infinitely for us. Therefore, Mary (on principal) even being without all sin could not save us.

The Blessed Virgin
Mary Immaculate, Pray for us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recurring sin

Do you struggle with recurring sin? Do you fall into the same sins over and over again? And not just venial sins, like gossip or telling small fibs or getting mad at someone, but mortal sins? I confess, I do. Why? As we saw yesterday it boils down to having a weak will. St. Josemaria Escriva, in his book The Way, has some encouraging words for those of us struggling with sin (which according to St. John is all of us - see 1 John 8).

The first thing we need to do, in order to move on from our sins into a holy way of life, is to stop going over our past falls in our mind. This is something I struggle with myself. I have a tendancy to replay the sins in my mind with a sense of astonishment that I actually did that. But we must learn to shut down this process. St; Josemaria tells us why, (emphasis added) "Besides, overwhelming you and crushing you under it's weight, that recollection may easily be an occasion of future temptation. Christ has forgiven you!" Indeed, he tells us to "Forget the "old man" - your former self." And he even goes as far as saying, "I forbid you to think anymore about it. Instead, bless God who has given life back to your soul."

Following this line of advice, when we sin, we ought to praise the Lord for His great mercy and for the forgiveness He won for us on the Cross. We know we don't deserve to be forgiven through our own merits, but we also know His merits are more than sufficient to blot out any sin we willingly take to Him.

Of course, taking our sins to Christ requires us to repent and to make a firm amendment to "sin no more" (cf. Jonh 8:11). We can't "game the system" and get away with sinning (nor should we want to, as sin always leads to misery, in this life and, if unrepented, eternally).

Christ's mercy is so great that, when we fall, St. Josemaria tells us,"Don't be disheartened. I have seen you struggle. Today's defeat is training for the final victory." That stands repeating, the fall you experienced today, is (if we repent) not a cause for damnation, but instead a "training for final victory".

Which enables St. Josemaria to say, 
"You've done well, even though you have fallen so low. You've done well, because you humbled yourself, because you straightened yourself out, because you filled yourself with hope - hope that brought you back again to his Love. Don't look so amazed: you've done well! You rose up from the ground. "Surge" - "arise" - cried anew the mighty voice - "et ambula" - "and walk!" Now - to work."

I pray that you will always "Surge et ambula" from your sins... and that I may as well. 

Opus Dei
St. Josemaria, pray for us sinners!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is Sin the Result of Ignorance?

Why do we sin? Is it a result of not knowing better or is it the result of weakness of the will?

 Plato answered this question by asserting that all sin is the direct result of ignorance. He asserted (through the character of Socrates in Protagoras (emphasis added):

Greek Philosophy
Plato wise man believes anyone sins willingly or willingly perpetrates any evil or base act. They know very well that all evil or base action is involuntary…when people make a wrong choice of pleasures and pains—that is, of good and evil—the cause of their mistake is lack of knowledge…no one who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course when he might choose the better. To “act beneath yourself” is the result of pure ignorance, to “be your own master” is wisdom.
For a sin to be mortal the gravely evil action must be done voluntarily (see CCC 1857), so Plato's argument amounts to a complete denial of what Catholics would later term "mortal sin." Simply put, if Plato is right, there is no mortal sin.

But, I think we all know better from our own experience. We know when something is wrong. And all too frequently we do it anyhow. Dr. Peter Kreeft explains that we do this because we are all "crazy" because "every sin is choosing misery over joy." Choosing is the operative word. Sin is not a defect in the intellect, as Plato would have it, but in the will (in the "choosing" faculty, not in the "knowing" faculty).

We sin not because we are stupid, but because we are weak. Plato seems to recognize this himself, in another one of his works - the Phaedrus, with his famous "chariot allegory." Plato compares the human soul to a chariot with two horses. The horses represent our "passions" those things we want to do naturally (have sex, eat, etc.), but that may be disordered (a man wants to view porn, a woman who wants to eat ice cream daily, etc). The charioteer is our will and it's his job to keep a tight reign over our passions, making sure they are directed only to good ends and preventing them from charging headlong after the wrong things (porn, binging on ice cream, etc.). If our charioteer (the will) is weak, we will sin frequently and grow in vice. If our charioteer is strong enough to keep a tight grip on the reigns of our desires, then we will sin less frequently and grow in virtue. Thus, it is a weak will, not a weak intellect that is the primary cause of sin.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains, in the Summa Theologiae, explains the root cause of our sins:

... the will lacking the direction of the rule of reason and of the Divine law, and intent on some mutable good, causes the act of sin directly, and the inordinateness of the act, indirectly, and beside the intention: for the lack of order in the act results from the lack of direction in the will.
Common Doctor
St. Thomas Aquinas
According to Thomas, sin is caused by a lack of direction in the will. In other words, a weak will leads man to sin. Thomas goes as far as saying that because "the completeness of the voluntary sinful act appertains to the will, so that the act of the will... is already a sin." Thus, willing to do something evil, even if we can't do it because of some external cause, is already a sin because sin is primarily (although not exclusively) an act of the will.

This all can be seen directly in the account of the very first sin, the sin of Adam. Adam and Eve know, by direct revelation, that eating from the Tree of Knowledge is wrong, yet they are too weak to resist the temptations of the serpent. They aren't too stupid to avoid sin, they are too weak to persevere in the face of temptation (and Satan).

Just like Adam and Eve, we too are tempted. Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, says, " is necessary that temptations come." What ultimately decides whether we will fall to that temptation and sin or stay strong is our will.

For those battling a deep rooted sin, an addiction, it might seem an impossible task to ever strengthen the will enough to overcome their sinful ways. And, indeed, it is... without Christ, but with Christ we can do all things (cf. Phil 4:13).

And that is Good News!

Friday, February 7, 2014

If Christ Died for All Sins, Why Must We Confess?

Q: Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind. If our sins have already been atoned for, why do we have to go to confession?

It's a matter of applying the forgiveness won by Christ on the Cross to a particular person for particular sins.

It's not unlike being given a winning lottery ticket as a Christmas present. You didn't do anything to earn it. The ticket has already been purchased in the past. The drawing is in the past. You've already won. But you don't have the money until you go to the store and collect the winnings.

Similarly, Christ died for the forgiveness of your sins. You didn't do anything to earn it . Christ has already died (and is risen!) and has atoned for all sins, but you still have to go to the store and collect the mercy (i.e. have it applied to you).

If you don't repent and seek sacramental confession (the ordinary means of forgiveness established by Christ, see John 20:21-23) you are like a poor man with a winning lottery ticket in his sock drawer. The freely given gift does you no good if you won't unwrap it.

This is why, even though Christ's death is powerful enough to atone for all the sins of all the people who have ever and will ever live, not all those sins will be forgiven because not everyone is willing to accept forgiveness. Thus, even though God wills all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and even though Christ's death is powerful enough to effect the salvation of all, not all will, in fact, be saved. It takes action on both God's and our part to effect our salvation. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting St. Augustine) says, "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us." (1847)

Sacrament of Reconciliation
La Confessione by Giuseppe Molteni (1838)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Can Catholics Respect Other Religions?

Q: I know the Church condemns what Pope Benedict termed "the dictatorship of relativism"
in light of this, can Catholics respect other religions? 

Absolutely! In fact, we are called to do so by the Church (see Nostra Aetate). We do so by respecting those areas where other religions agree with the Truth (as found fully and without error in the Catholic Church) and disagreeing with the beliefs in other religions that are erroneous.

For example, Muslims believe in One God, the God of Abraham. We, as Catholics, respect that because it is true - the God of Abraham is the one true God. But Muslims also believe many errors, for example that Christ is just a prophet, Mohammed had a true divine revelation, etc, etc, these we don't agree with or respect (error has no right to be respected, although people in error do).

Its also important to note that Catholics are called to respect all people (including members of other religions) not because of what they believe, but because of who they are (beloved sons and daughters of God, made in His image and likeness). We respect them as people, as much as we respect our fellow Catholics, even if we don't respect all their beliefs.

 The key is to separate respecting people (all of whom deserve respect), from respecting ideas (not all of which deserve respect). Whether we are talking about sin (hate the sin, love the sinner) or different religions (respect the person with the beliefs and the truths those religions teach, while not respecting errors other religions teach). We must always distinguish between people and the things they do or believe.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

US Grant on Catholic Schools

Last week we looked at what President John Adams thought of the Catholic Mass. This week we turn to another president to see what he thought of Catholic schools.

To set the stage. Catholic immigration to the United States began to increase greatly in the later half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, first with the Irish, later with the Italians and Polish. Many Protestant Americans at the time found this to be very alarming. Anti-Catholicism spread throughout the country. The Ku Klux Klan added Catholics to its list of targets and employers put out signs dissuading Catholics from even applying for jobs. As more and more Irish settled in the country, they began to open their own Catholic schools (remember the Catholic Church had been operating schools since the Middle Ages, well before any government). When these schools applied for federal funds, a huge uproar went up across the country, fueled by anti-Catholic prejudice.

Enter the Blaine Amendment.
To quell these newly founded Catholic schools, US Grant called for a complete ban on tax payer funds (including the taxes of Catholic Americans) to go to support Catholics schools. This is the beginning of ripping the power of Choice from the hands of American parents and forcing all kids (except the wealthy) into a government run monopoly of education. Grant saw this as a war with "patriotism and intelligence on one side and superstition, ambition and greed on the other." Clearly, Grant was no fan of the Church.

This ban was to be made the law of the land with the Blaine Amendment, which stated:

"No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations."
You'll note that private schools were not entirely barred from receiving federal funds, only religious schools were. At the time, the only religious schools being set up were, of course, Catholic schools. Thus, the Blaine Amendment was clearly an attack on the Church.

Luckily, the Amendment failed to pass federally (missing only 4 votes in the Senate), but all but eleven states passed their own laws to the same effect.

It is in this context that Grant made his famous claim that Americans should:
“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”
 How many Americans still agree with this sentiment?

U.S. Grant, President of the United States of America

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Most Striking Thing in all Tolkien's Letters

The following passage is, according to Dr. Peter Kreeft, "the most striking thing in all Tolkien's Letters." (emphasis added)


"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires" (Letters, no. 43, pp. 53-54 - as quoted in The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft).

Lord of the Rings Author

Do you feel this way when you think about the Eucharist?