Archive for the ‘Chrisitian Virtues’ Category

“Egyptian Christians are made of Steel!”

April 23, 2017

Last Palm Sunday, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in a Coptic Christian church. 27 were killed and 78 wounded. Then, just hours later, there was another bombing at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Coptic patriarch had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when another terrorist attempted to get inside that church. At least 17 were killed and 48 wounding, but many more may have been murdered if the killer had not been prevented from entering by security guards at the gate.

These attacks are a reminder that Christian persecution and martyrdoms are very much alive today. An Egyptian TV news show interviewed a Christian woman whose husband, AmNeseem, was one of those gatekeepers who restrained the second terrorist and died in the blast. The mourning widow’s words and the reaction of the Muslim news anchor in the studio are remarkable:

Stories from a Saint’s Diary

April 19, 2017

St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) was a nun in Poland who experienced visions of Jesus Christ later deemed by the Church as worthy of belief—though (as like all private revelations) not required to be believed by the faithful. The Divine Mercy Image, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and Divine Mercy Sunday all stem from of her apparitions. St. Faustina detailed her experiences in a diary she kept from 1934 until her death. It is an episodic but fascinating read. These are just some of her stories:

●  Once [at age 19] I was at a dance with one of my [biological] sisters. While everybody was having a good time, my soul was experiencing deep torments. As I began to dance, I suddenly saw Jesus at my side, Jesus racked with pain, stripped of His clothing, all covered with wounds, who spoke these words to me: How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off? At that moment the charming music stopped, [and] the company I was with vanished from my sight; there remained Jesus and I. I took a seat by my dear sister pretending to have a headache in order to cover up what took place in my soul. After a while I slipped out unnoticed, leaving my sister and all my companions behind and made my way to the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka. It was almost twilight; there were only a few people in the cathedral. Paying no attention to what was happening around me, I fell prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament and begged the Lord to be good enough to give me to understand what I should do next. Then I heard these words: Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there. I rose from prayer, came home, and took care of things that needed to be settled. As best I could, I confided to my sister what took place within my soul. I told her to say goodbye to our parents, and thus, in my one dress, with no other belonging, I arrived in Warsaw. (Diary paragraphs #9-10)

●  Once, I desired very much to receive Holy Communion, but I had a certain doubt, and I did not go. I suffered greatly because of this. It seemed to me that my heart would burst from the pain. When I set about my work, my heart full of bitterness, Jesus suddenly stood by me and said, My daughter, do not omit Holy Communion unless you know well that your fall was serious; apart from this, no doubt must stop you from uniting yourself with Me in the mystery of My love. Your minor faults will disappear in My love like a piece of straw thrown into a great furnace. Know that you grieve Me much when you fail to receive Me in Holy Communion. (#156)

●  Once the Lord said to me, Act like a beggar who does not back away when he gets more alms [than he asked for], but offers thanks the more fervently. You too, should not back away and say that you are not worthy of receiving greater graces when I give them to you. I know you are unworthy, but rejoice all the more and take as many treasures from My Heart as you can carry, for then you will please Me more. And I will tell you one more thing—take these graces not only for yourself, but also for others; that is, encourage the souls with whom you come in contact to trust in My infinite mercy… (#294)

●  Once, when I was visiting the artist who was painting the [Divine Mercy] image, and saw that it was not as beautiful as Jesus is, I felt very sad about it, but I hid this deep in my heart. When we had left the artist’s house, Mother Superior stayed in town to attend to some matters while I returned home alone. I went immediately to the chapel and wept a good deal. I said to the Lord, “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” Then I heard these words: Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace. (#313)

●  On the evening of the last day before my departure from Vilnius, an elderly sister revealed the condition of her soul to me. She said that she had already been suffering interiorly for several years, that it seemed to her that all her confessions had been bad, and that she had doubts as to whether the Lord Jesus had forgiven her. I asked her if she had ever told her confessor about this. She answered that she had spoken many times about this to her confessors and… “the confessors are always telling me to be at peace, but still I suffer very much, and nothing brings me relief, and it constantly seems to me that God has not forgiven me.” In answered, “You should obey your confessor, Sister, and be fully at peace, because this is certainly a temptation.” But she entreated me with tears in her eyes to ask Jesus if He had forgiven her and whether her confessions had been good or not. I answered forcefully, “Ask Him yourself, Sister, if you don’t believe your confessors!” But she clutched my hand and did not want to let me go until I gave her an answer, and she kept asking me to pray for her and to let her know what Jesus would tell me about her. Crying bitterly, she would not let me go and said to me, “I know that the Lord Jesus speaks to you, Sister.” Since she was clutching my hand and I could not wrench myself away, I promised her I would pray for her. In the evening, during Benediction, I heard these words in my soul: Tell her that her disbelief wounds My heart more than the sins she committed. When I told her this, she began to cry like a child, and great joy entered her soul. I understood that God wanted to console this soul through me. Even though it cost me a good deal, I fulfilled God’s wish. (#628)

●  After Holy Communion today, I spoke at length to the Lord Jesus about people who are special to me. Then I heard these words: My daughter, dont be exerting yourself so much with words. Those whom you love in a special way, I too love in a special way, and for your sake, I shower My graces upon them. I am pleased when you tell Me about them, but don’t be doing so with such excessive effort. (#739)

●  February 6, [1937]. Today, the Lord said to me, My daughter, I am told that there is much simplicity in you, so why do you not tell Me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details? Tell Me about everything, and know that this will give Me great joy. I answered, “But You know about everything, Lord.” And Jesus replied to me, Yes, I do know; but you should not excuse yourself with the fact that I know, but with childlike simplicity talk to Me about everything, for My ears and heart are inclined towards you, and your words are dear to Me. (#921)

Loving Mercy Overcomes Error

January 10, 2017

Reflections on John 1:43-51

philip-and-nathanael     In the early days of his public ministry, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he found his future apostle Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip, from the same town along the northern coast of Galilee as Peter and Andrew, was so awed at encountering Jesus that he tracked down his friend Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew.) Philip told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” (Philip is sharing happy news, “We’ve found the promised Messiah, the Christ, and he’s not too far from here!”) But Nathanael is unimpressed and unconvinced, saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip winsomely replies, “Come and see.

When Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward him he says of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” Jesus replies to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Jesus tells him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Why did Nathanael’s opinion about Jesus, that man from Nazareth, change so suddenly? Perhaps Nathanael was sitting under a particular fig tree when Philip found him and Nathanael, believing that there was no natural way Jesus could have known or guessed this, was instantly persuaded. Another explanation is that Jesus is referring to a memorable dream Nathanael has recently had. It’s strange that Jesus would describe an honest man as a son of Israel—that is, as a son of Jacob—whose duplicitous deeds are detailed in Genesis. But recall how Jacob once had a dream in which he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to Heaven while the Lord God stood beside him. (Genesis 28:10-19) Jesus alludes to that event in this encounter. Now if a stranger were to tell me about a conversation I thought no one else had witnessed, I’d be intrigued; but if someone were to accurately describe my dream from the night before, that person would have my full attention. Whatever the reason behind Nathanael’s change of heart it was the style of Philip and Jesus’ approaches that made it possible.

The Gospels show us through numerous episodes how the apostles started off as far from perfect. When told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This story presents Nathanael’s prejudice and how that bias nearly made him reject the Christ out of hand. What did Nathanael hold against those Nazarenes living some thirty miles away? Did he think them unfriendly, lazy, unrefined, impious, unscrupulous? Whatever the reason, he looked down on them and it showed.

Nathanael’s rash dismissal of the Nazarene maligns someone Philip regards as a great and holy man. Yet Philip does respond in anger. Instead, he urges Nathanael to learn more. “Come and see.” Nathanael is persuaded by his friend to give this Jesus guy a chance—a fair hearing—and this modest openness eventually leads to him being won over. Still today, one of the best means for dissolving prejudices of every sort is through experiencing “the Other” firsthand.

As Jesus sees Nathanael approaching he demonstrates a penetrating supernatural knowledge of him. Jesus probably knew what Nathanael had previously remarked in secret but Jesus does not reproach or condemn him for it. Instead, Jesus compliments what is good in Nathanael: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Though they do not yet see eye-to-eye, Jesus affirms his sincerity. This opens a door to dialogue that not only changes Nathanael’s mind but his entire life, as he goes on to become an apostle for Christ.

We could imagine a pricklier Philip or a different Jesus rejecting and condemning Nathanael for his initial disrespect toward the Christ of God; however, we see both practice tolerance toward him. Christians are commonly caricatured as easily offended but I have found that the more faithful variety show extensive mercy—which is very different than indifference. We are called to loathe error, but to love everyone. True tolerance does not hate others for holding wrong beliefs but loves them while trying to lead them to the truth.

It would be an oversimplification to say that forceful confrontation is never called for. Jesus occasionally denounced others, like “that fox” King Herod, the hypocritical Pharisees, and the evil spirits. Sometimes Jesus manifested his displeasure through bold prophetic acts, like flipping money-tables at the Temple or cursing the fig tree. Yet Jesus possessed perfect wisdom and a clear vision into others’ hearts. “Jesus knew their thoughts” and “did not need anyone to testify about human nature.” (Luke 5:22, John 2:25) We, however, must guard ourselves to be “slow to wrath,” for apart from the Holy Spirit’s prompting, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

In this era of division, let us promote unity in advocating for the truth. In our disagreements with friends or strangers, online or face to face, let us shun anger, sarcasm, and revilement and presume the other’s good faith and sincerity. This manner of winsome mercy won Nathanael’s mind and heart for Christ and it can be just as powerful today.

Thy Kingdom Come — Tuesday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 11, Luke 10

While recently visiting the Sea of Galilee in Israel I saw something in the skies I had never seen before. There were miles-wide concentric cloud rings with the occasional sound of long, rolling, man-made thunder. Though these things were interesting to behold, I hated the reason behind why they needed to be there. Northwestern Israel borders Syria and these high-altitude contrails and jet-engine sounds were from the Israeli Air Force’s U.S.-made F-15’s or F-16’s on defensive air patrols to ensure their neighbor’s civil war did not spill over into their own country.

The coastline of the Sea of Galilee is beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous. We were able to celebrate a Mass in an outside chapel near the site where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and had breakfast with his disciples (as recorded in John 21.) But while we were free to tour and worship without threat or fear, the people of Aleppo, Syria were under siege just 250 miles north. There the Russian bear and the Syrian wolf are allied against the ISIS serpent in a battle for the right to rule over the suffering lambs and little children caught in the middle. The prophet Isaiah’s poetic vision of the radical peace the Messiah (or Christ) would someday establish has not yet fully come:

       “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
       The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
       The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
       The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
       There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”  (Isaiah 11:4-9)

The Infant Child of PragueOn one occasion, turning to the disciples in private, Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24) Many great Old Testament figures longed for the promised Messiah but died before his coming. We are blessed to live in an age which has seen his arrival and blessed to have heard his message. Yet further blessed are we if we pray and prepare the path for the New Creation Christ promises to bring.

Along the sea of Galilee, it is possible to give no thought to the suffering and death happening not so far away. Likewise, in our beautiful, peaceful, prosperous country it is possible to ignore that there are grave evils in our midst, happening just out of sight. But blessed are we if we choose to long and labor for the life of the New Heavens and New Earth.

        “Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
        …Blessed are they who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
        …Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
        …Blessed are they who are persecuted for
    the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the
    kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5)

What Remains of Capernaum Today — Monday, 1st Week of Advent

December 1, 2016

Readings: Isaiah 4, Matthew 8

galilean-sunrise-at-tiberius-november-2016Capernaum was a home base for Jesus Christ during his ministry in Galilee. Josephus, the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that 30,000 people lived in Capernaum. Josephus has a bad reputation for exaggerating his figures but even if the true number were one-third that, Capernaum would still be a major city on the ancient trade route. But today, if you visit Capernaum (or Kfar Nahum “Nahum’s village” in Hebrew), you will find very little standing there. There are the ancient ruins St. Peter the Apostle’s home and of  a fourth-century synagogue, a couple of Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, but not much else. The nearby surroundings are dry orchard fields and rocky barrenness. Capernaum is no longer a great, impressive city. Jesus had once foretold of its desolation:

        “And as for you, Capernaum:
‘Will you be exalted to heaven?
       You will go down to the netherworld.’
       For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”  (Matthew 11:23)

One thing remaining from Capernaum are the Gospel accounts of this encounter between Jesus and a centurion. Once, when Jesus entered the city, the centurion approached and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” Jesus told him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith….” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed. (Matthew 8)

The centurion does not do very much in this episode. According to Luke 7’s telling, he actually communicated with Jesus through intermediaries. So what about him impressed Jesus so much? The centurion’s few words reveal his reverent humility and confident trust before Jesus, and his loving concern for his suffering servant. Jesus is not impressed by world wealth and power, by great cities or empires, but by acts of faith and love, which remain before him always.

Catholics Who Moved Mountains

September 29, 2016

        Jesus said his apostles, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” On another occasion, he told his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

        Though I have yet to come across any historical accounts of saints transplanting foliage or excavating stones by faith-powered miracles, there are many historically-documented incidents of Catholics achieving the seemingly-impossible on earth through their faith.

St. John Paul II and the Soviet Union’s Fall

        Karol Wojtyła barely survived the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, but once that evil was defeated the Soviet Union replaced them. As parish priest and later as an archbishop, Wojtyła championed the Catholic Faith against the atheistic communists’ religious persecution. Upon his election as pope in 1978, John Paul II’s first papal journey abroad was to go back to his homeland.

        While there, he celebrated an outdoor Mass before millions, proclaiming Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid!” The crowd shouted in reply, “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Speaking in defense of human dignity, he encouraged all people to peacefully pursue true freedom. The threat posed by this Polish pope (armed merely with his words, example, and prayers) was so potent that the Soviets may have ordered his nearly successful assassination in 1981.

        On the 1984 Feast of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul consecrated Russia (along with the whole world) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as she had requested in her appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. On Christmas Day, seven years later, a miracle was realized. Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. The ‘Evil Empire‘ ended not by a thousand Sun-bright nuclear blasts, but through the peaceful power of God and the faithfulness of his holy, humble servant.

St. Joan of Arc’s Liberation of France

 joan-of-arc-at-the-coronation-of-charles-vii       In the 15th century, France was delivered from English domination by history’s most-unlikely military commander; a teenage peasant girl. Joan had no military training, but she was compelled by visions and the voices of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret to lead the French forces, drive out the English, and see prince Charles VII crowned king at Reims. With divine help, she achieved all these feats before her martyrdom at the hand of the English at the age of nineteen. Mark Twain (though not generally a fan of historic Christianity) wrote of her:

Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it. …It took six thousand years to produce her; her like will not be seen in the earth again in fifty thousand. …  She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

        St. Joan of Arc was indeed great, but her glory was but the mere reflection of God’s infinite splendor.

Fleming’s Discovery of Penicillin

        History has seen many great Catholic scientists, including Copernicus (Sun-centrism), Bacon (the scientific method), Descartes (modern geometry), Mendel (genetics), Pasteur (microbiology), and Lemaître (the Big Bang Theory) just to name a handful. But one Catholic scientist’s search for effective antibiotics in the early 20th century saved an estimated two hundred million lives. Through insights occasioned by providential occurrences, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In this, he saw himself employed as an instrument by God:

I can only suppose that God wanted penicillin, and that this was his reason for creating Alexander Fleming.”

St. Patrick’s Conversion of Ireland

        In the 5th century, a 16-year-old boy was kidnapped from Britain and sold into slavery on a distant, pagan isle. There he experienced a spiritual awakening. He tells us:

I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.”

        Lead on by this faith, he went on to become a priest, a bishop, and a missionary to the land of his former bondage. Today we think of Ireland as a very Catholic country, but it only became so through the courageous faith of St. Patrick.

Our Lord’s Redemption of the World

        In the 1st century, by his short three-year ministry in a backwater of the Roman Empire, this poor man from Nazareth transformed the world forever. Jesus Christ is the pattern for all fruitful disciples who have followed him since, achieving the impossible through faith and the power of God. One anonymous author describes Christ in these words:

Greatest man in history, named Jesus.
Had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
He had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.


Jesus on the Cross

3 Interpretations of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward

September 17, 2016

Luke 16:1-13

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, Biblia Ectypa, 1695.#1: The previously-dishonest steward is merely writing-off his own commissions. Likewise, we must forgive our debtors’ debts (or sins) so that we may be shown mercy. (Matthew 6:12) But why would his commissions be 20% for one debt and 50% on another? Perhaps the dishonest steward is actually covering his thievery’s tracks. Which brings us to…

#2: The steward is giving away what belongs to the rich man, his boss. Likewise, everything that we possess belongs to God, but we win favor though sharing these blessings with others. Both Mercy and Generosity win welcome into eternal dwellings, for Jesus says ‘whatever you do for the least of these you do it for me’ and ‘the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.’

#3: What would have become of the dishonest steward without his decisive plan and action? Disaster. Likewise, we must be intentional about our own religious/spiritual growth. “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” What excuse do we have? More importantly, what is our plan?

The Prodigal Us — 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2016

Readings

It has been said that there are two kinds of people in this world: sinners who think they’re saints, and saints who know they’re sinners. Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. We all have been the Prodigal (or wasteful) Son at various times in our lives. Whether for years, for days or hours, or just for moments, we have each strayed from and returned to our Father-God who delights to have us back. When we are being tempted to sin, we are being tempted to leave our Father’s house and no longer keep his company. In sinning we say, even if in a small way, “You may not be dead, but I want it to be as if you were. Give me an inheritance now. I can have an easier time, or a more enjoyable time, misusing your stuff than I can have by remaining with you.”

The Prodigal Son took his father’s things and went off to a distant country. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World are countries distant from each other, and yet they exist side-by-side. Sinners and saints live side-by-side together here below, but the difference between them is vast. A life of sin may be easier for awhile. The Prodigal Son enjoyed sensual pleasures and was free of his duties, like working in the fields with his older brother. But sin soon leaves us spent and depleted, as in drought and famine. If honest with ourselves, we sense our dire need.

At first, the Prodigal Son attempted his own coping-mechanisms short of repentance. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the pigs. (For Jews, tending ritually-unclean pigs would be one of the most degrading things a person could do.) The Prodigal Son longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. (His boss provided for the swine better than for him.) A sinner’s life is slavery. It’s unsatisfying, it’s unhappy, and they feel unloved. This does not excuse away the bad and harmful things they do, but hurting people hurt people. And knowing this, we can feel compassion for sinners.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, St. Petersburg, 1662.Coming to his senses, realizing how much he has lost, the Prodigal Son decided to go back home. He knew his unworthiness, so he prepared a speech to persuade his father to show mercy. But his Father needs no persuasion. While his son was still a long way off, the father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I imagine the father saw him from a long way off because he often looked to that road hoping his son would return. This day, he did. The father ran to his son—even though in that culture a dignified men would not run. Men might walk or let others come to them, but this father ran to his son. Then the father restores his son, with robe, sandals and ring, and declares a feast.

The son had decided to leave and decided to return home. The decision to dwell in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this world is our choice. We are free, to wander or return, because God’s offer of grace (including his invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation) is always there. Though we wander in sin, averting our eyes from God, we can never escape his sight. Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in the underworld, there you are.” And when we turn back to him, he runs to us, as the same humility we saw in the Incarnation. And then the celebration begins. As Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven [and among the angels of God] over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

As St. Paul declares in our second reading, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. In this Year of Mercy, let us each trust in God’s mercy, respond to his mercy, and practice mercy as Jesus would have us do.

Perspective for Our Times

August 9, 2016

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Our time is a mixture of good things and bad. In some ways we’re progressing, while in others we’re in decline. Some despair, but the trials of past generations were far worse than ours. As St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) observed:

“Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bears comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors–would we not still hear them complaining?  You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.”

There has been no perfect “Golden Age” since Eden. We learn from the New Testament that even the first-century Christian communities had controversies within and persecutions from without. Yet pining for a romanticized past pairs with an opposite, pervasive error today: thinking that “old things” have nothing to teach or offer us. C.S. Lewis noted this modern disposition in 1955:

“…Chronological snobbery [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

The ignorant dismissal of the past leads to foolishness today. All advocate for change, but not all change is progress. For example, naively tearing down the wrong fences can permit evils to get in. G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1929:

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

We live in a time filled with serious problems and great blessings. We have grave reasons for concern, such as the present threats to religious liberty and the persistent Culture of Death, but we should not despair. Not only do we know Who wins in the end, but even today’s broken world has good things to offer. Computers are facilitating new technologies and improved communications. Healthcare advances are saving and enhancing lives. International economic development is helping billions rise from poverty. Imagine how these modern-day advances in communication, healthcare, economic wealth, and other fields could be utilized for the Kingdom of God. Jesus once asked his disciples:

“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

To keep proper perspective today we must be neither naive nor despondent. We should be conscious of both the dangers and the opportunities around us. These present times will surely try us, but there has yet to be an era of the Church that has not tested the saints. Our generation is called to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s Church and Sacred Tradition. As Scripture says:

Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; [but] whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.”  (2nd John 1:9)

The world may refuse to heed us as it recklessly marches on but we can still benefit ourselves, for this life and the next, by holding on to  timeless truths. Our Church has persevered through controversies and persecutions from its beginning. It challenged the Roman culture while making use of the best things it had to offer to introduce and spread the Kingdom of God on earth. That Kingdom endures to our day. By keeping what is good and rejecting what is evil, let us remain ever-faithful to Jesus Christ in our times.

O Jerusalem by Greg Olsen

Be Rich In What Matters — 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 30, 2016

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

A large crowd surrounds Jesus as he preaches and teaches. During a brief pause, a man in the crowd says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!” Presumably, his brother is there amongst them as well (otherwise how could Jesus reprove him?) Yet the Lord replies to the man, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” That seems like an odd response from Jesus. Is Jesus denying his own authority?  On a different occasion, Jesus stated, “If I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.” Imagine if the man in the crowd had answered Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” The man might say, “Well Teacher, we think you’re God’s prophet, so you speak for God.”

To this, Jesus could reply, “Indeed, the words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. But if you accept that I am God’s prophet, that I speak for God, then listen and heed all that I teach, not just the things you want to hear. On the last day, when I return in my glory with all the angels with me, I will sit upon my glorious throne with all peoples assembled before me and I shall judge and separate the righteous and the unrighteous, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Yet, my Father God did not send me into this world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through me.

In our Gospel, Jesus goes on to tell the crowd (including those two feuding brothers): “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Jesus is warning the crowd, the brothers, and us that ‘personal bitterness and earthly greed will hinder you from entering the Kingdom.’ Rather, we must keep a heavenly perspective. As St. Paul urges in our second reading, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Of course, we all have material needs as human beings here on earth —we’re not angels and we need our daily bread. So Jesus teaches us to practice prudent stewardship, marked by frugality, generosity, and a trust in the Lord that frees us from worthless worrying. However, both Jesus in our Gospel and King Solomon in our first reading note the futility of amassing riches for ourselves.

Jesus tells a parable of “a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’” (Notice how “He asked himself, ‘What shall I do?” The man does not look beyond himself for holy wisdom or guidance.)

And [then the rich man] said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” (Why does he need to tear down his old barns? Does not the rich man, who just reaped a bountiful harvest, own plenty of land on which to build more barns? It seems his vanity desires to tear down the old barns so that his new barns may be huge and impressive.)

The rich man continues his conversation with himself, “[In my new barns] I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’” (He shows no thought for his family or friends, his neighbors or the needy, only his own personal pleasure.)

The rich man has made grand plans for himself, but God says to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you!” If this man is only interested in his own will, his own glory, and his own happiness in this life, then how will he love his neighbors, hallow God’s name, or desire God’s will in the next life?

To find ourselves at home in Heaven someday we should seek and follow God’s will for our time, talents, and treasure today. We should practice faithful stewardship, with prudence and trust, frugality and generosity. And this stewardship should include tithing and supporting worthy causes—not to buy Heaven (for God cannot be bribed or bought) but in order to become more virtuous and loving, to become more fit for Heaven. Those who store up treasure for themselves on earth profit nothing in the end. Let us not be foolish. Let us instead become rich in what matters to God by becoming more like Jesus, who has been so generous to us.

History’s Ten Wealthiest People and the Vanity of Riches

July 27, 2016

In estimated billions of present-day dollars

  1. Cornelius Vanderbilt ($185, died 1877)
    This railroad tycoon’s only large philanthropic gift gave about 1% of his fortune to build Vanderbilt University.
  1. Henry Ford ($199, died 1947)
    This deceased automaker’s name survives on vehicles seen upon every road and junkyard.
  1. Muammar Gaddafi ($200, died 2011)
    This dictator of Libya, after being discovered hiding in a desert culvert, was killed by his people.
  1. Jakob Fugger “the Rich ($221, died 1525)
    While he lived, this German merchant-financier declared, “The king reigns, but the bank rules!
  1. William The Conqueror ($229, died 1087)
    After killing many to capture England, this Duke of Normandy, France joined the dead.
  1. Mir Osman Ali Khan ($230, died 1967)
    As head of the state of Hyderabad, India, he used a 185-carat diamond as a paperweight.
  1. Czar Nikolas II ($300, died 1918)
    This Russian ruler was assassinated along with his family by communist revolutionaries.
  1. Andrew Carnegie ($310, died 1919)
    This steel magnate and philanthropist said, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
  1. John D. Rockefeller ($340, died 1937)
    He sold oil drawn from Ohio’s earth and now lays buried in the same.
  1. Mansa Musa I ($400, died 1337)
    This African king of Mali was the richest man to ever live. But have you ever heard of him?

Psalm 49:7-12 :

“No man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end, nor avoid coming to the grave. He knows that wise men and fools must both perish and must leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling place from age to age, though their names spread wide through the land. In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed.”

 

Scripture Passages for Judges

July 11, 2016

Today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker appointed my father, Charles V. Feltes, as the new Circuit Court Judge of Trempealeau County. Judge Feltes will be sworn in this August. If he wins election in April 2017, he will serve a six year term. Our family is very proud and I offer him these timeless passages from Sacred Scripture containing wisdom for judges:

Deuteronomy 1:17

In rendering judgment, do not consider who a person is; give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, fearing no one, for the judgment is God’s.

Leviticus 19:15

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly.

Bas-Relief of Moses in the U.S. House of Representatives ChamberExodus 23:3

You shall not favor the poor in a lawsuit.

Exodus 23:6

You shall not pervert justice for the needy among you in a lawsuit.

Exodus 23:7

You shall keep away from anything dishonest.

Exodus 23:8

Never take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and distorts the words of the just.

Exodus 23:2

You shall not follow the crowd in doing wrong… you shall not follow the crowd in perverting justice.

1st Kings 3:4-15

The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, because that was the great high place. Upon its altar Solomon sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings. In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: Whatever you ask I shall give you. Solomon answered: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne. Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act—I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased by Solomon’s request. So God said to him: “Because you asked for this—you did not ask for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies—but you asked for discernment to know what is right—I now do as you request. I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you. In addition, I give you what you have not asked for: I give you such riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days. And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Solomon awoke; it was a dream! He went to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, sacrificed burnt offerings and communion offerings, and gave a feast for all his servants.

The Catechism on Current Events

June 19, 2016

On June 12, 2016, a gunman murdered 49 persons at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Discussions of terrorism and new gun control laws have followed. Below are teachings from The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

On Murder & Terrorism (CCC 2268, 2297)

The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.

Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity.

On Persons with Same-Sex Attractions (CCC 2357-2359)

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

On Government Authority (See CCC 1897-1927)

Every human community needs an authority to govern it. … Its role is to ensure as far as possible the Common Good of the society. The authority required by the moral order derives from God… (see Romans 13:1-2.) [Authority] must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the Common Good as a moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility. A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. … If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.” (Pope St. John XXIII) The Common Good consists of three essential elements: respect and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person; development of the spiritual & temporal goods of society; and the peace & security of society and its members.

On Legitimate Self-Defense (CCC 2263-2264)

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. … The one is intended, the other is not.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: “If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. … Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

The Eight Beatitudes at the Movies

May 2, 2016

At the start of his Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5) Jesus lists qualities which describe the blessed in his Kingdom. These eight Beatitudes are models for living our lives. On the silver screen, the fictional characters in these eight classic films manifest the Beatitudes:

Phil Connors in Groundhog Day: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The arrogant self-sufficiency of Bill Murray’s character must be humbled before he can turn the corner towards living the perfect life by loving truly.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Most characters in The Sixth Sense: Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. In this film, both the living and the dead suffer great losses, but they ultimately receive their peace.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life:Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” Jimmy Stewart’s character repeatedly sacrifices his big dreams (of college, of riches & fame, of an around-the-world honeymoon) to save the little Building & Loan of Bedford Falls. By the end of the story, George realizes that he is truly “the richest man in town.”

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

“Juror 8” in 12 Angry Men: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. The eighth juror (played by Henry Fonda) shows how a principled advocacy for the truth can change minds and bring about true justice.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Jean Valjean in Les Misérables: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Having received mercy, the former criminal Jean Valjean practices mercy, and so is saved.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Forrest in Forrest Gump: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Forrest is “not a smart man, but [he] knows what love is.” His simple virtue and true devotion toward his friends blesses their lives together.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Mary & Bert in Mary Poppins: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Julie Andrews’ Mary (with assistance from Dick Van Dyke’s Bert) delights in serious play to help heal the Banks Family.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Terry Malloy & Fr. Barry in On the Waterfront:  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”  The courageous actions of Marlon Brando and Karl Malden’s characters prevail against the mob and manifest that ‘Jesus Christ is here on this waterfront.’

+  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Islam Cross Examined

April 26, 2016

View From the Cross by TissotOnce, at a picnic in college, I learned from a Muslim professor about what Islam teaches regarding Jesus — that he is not the divine Son of God but a prophet of Allah. Of course, my own Christian beliefs differed but I sat patiently listening — until he told me something about ‘Jesus (peace be upon him)’ which left me manifestly incredulous. He said Jesus was never crucified; Allah only made it appear as if he suffered and died. Reportedly, most Muslims (like this professor) believe that Allah gave someone else Jesus’ physical appearance to die on the Cross instead.

The relevant portion of the Quran [4:157] says:

That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not…

I began asking the professor clarifying questions on this point to make sure that I understood and after a while he asked me why. I replied that if the eyewitnesses to the Crucifixion were not merely mistaken but actively deceived by Allah, then Allah is the author of a lie. God is Truth and “can neither deceive nor be deceived.” (CCC #156-157) So how could Islam’s doppelganger explanation for denying the Crucifixion of Jesus be true? (Similarly, creationists may argue that evolutionists are misinterpreting the ancient fossil record, but they may not say that God has planted false evidence to test our faith.) The now-ruffled Muslim professor retorted that Christianity’s belief in ‘the three gods of the Trinity’ did not make any sense, and we let our interfaith picnic dialogue end there.

But what if Allah can lie? If Allah acts against Truth then his omnipotence would be unlimited in every sense, transcending beyond both logic and goodness. But if Allah transcends good and evil, if God is not absolute goodness in a way that human beings can recognize, then what is our motive to worship him besides submission before his power? C.S. Lewis wrote in opposition to Calvinism’s doctrine of mankind’s “Total Depravity” with words which are just as applicable here:

[I]f God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white,’ we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what.’ … If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend.”

In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates asks the title character, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Or, put another way: “Is morality right simply because God declares it so, or does God acknowledge it as right because it is right independently of Himself?” Christianity answers that Euthyphro’s dilemma is a false choice. Goodness comes from God’s eternal nature; nothing could exist without Him. God’s word calls forth the good from Himself. He creates good things, sustains them, and sees that they are good. This is the good God we know; the true God “who does not lie” (Titus 1:2); the God who is supremely revealed by the death on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for all people.