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My special thanks goes to Mary Walker for lending her voice to this project.
Please enjoy, and freely Like and Share this video.
My special thanks goes to Mary Walker for lending her voice to this project.
The U.S. Constitution establishes that the president, “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: —“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Typically, presidents-elect take their oaths upon open or closed Bibles — sometimes two or three stacked one atop another under the oath-taker’s hand — but there have been exceptions to this custom. John Quincy Adams (1825) and Franklin Pierce (1853) used law books, while John F. Kennedy’s Catholic missal was found on a side table in Air Force One’s presidential bedroom for the mid-flight swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson in 1963.
History has often recorded the verses to which the presidents’ Bibles were opened. In 1789, George Washington’s Bible was opened “at random, due to haste” to Genesis 49:13. (“Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.”) However, most presidents have intentionally selected their passages.
William McKinley (1897) and William Taft (1909) chose separate accounts of one Old Testament quote. Young King Solomon, invited by the Lord to request a wish, asks for wisdom to lead God’s vast people and it is abundantly granted him. (2nd Chronicles 1:10, 1st Kings 3:9-11)
Hebert Hoover’s (1929) verse, Proverbs 29:18, notes the importance of right purpose: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt selected 1st Corinthians 13’s teaching on love for all four of his inaugurals (1933, ’37, ’41, ‘45): “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
Dwight Eisenhower’s (1957) verse, Psalm 33:12, acknowledges our shared dependence on God for our blessedness, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.”
Jimmy Carter (1977) and Warren Harding (1921) chose Micah 6:8: “…What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Ronald Reagan (1981 & 1985) twice-chose 2nd Chronicles 7:14, where the Lord invites conversion to gain His blessings: “If my people… shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
We, like all people, must beware of idolizing our presidents and other earthly leaders. (Even among popes only around 30% have been canonized and none of them have been sinless.) But we do well always to ask God’s grace for our leaders and for his blessings on the times in which we live.
For other presidential inaugural oaths’ Scripture passages, check out this list.
Reflections on John 1:43-51
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.
I have not seen and cannot recommend the recently-released Martin Scorsese film Silence, but reviewers describe it as haunting and unsettling for believers and non-believers alike. It is set in Japan during a fierce persecution of Roman Catholics in the mid-1600’s. In one scene, a Jesuit missionary is forced to watch arrested Japanese Christians be cruelly tortured before him. The young priest is told that these men and women’s sufferings will cease if he would only step on an image of Christ and renounce his faith. What does Jesus want his followers to do if faced with such a choice?
A person might think there is little harm done in trampling the crude likeness of someone, or by insincerely mouthing a few words, but Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (1) At the very start of his ministry it seems that Jesus himself was confronted with the film’s test; the temptation to deny God so that human suffering would end.
After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (2) But Jesus firmly refused. What was so wicked about the devil’s suggestion? What could be wrong with alleviating hunger? Imagine if Jesus had relented, waving his hand over a nearby brown stone and then biting through its soft crust. Then the devil could accuse him, “So, you have provided food for yourself—how can you now refuse to wield your power to feed the whole world!?” Satan also pressured Jesus to insist that the Father spare him from death: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from this great height]…” But Jesus again refused. The tempter preferred Jesus to be a messiah who would give people an abundance of material wealth and safety while leaving them in their sins, separated from God forever.
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus accepted suffering with and alongside us as a crucified savior-king and never surrendered to the temptation of becoming an earthly ruler who had denied God and bowed to Satan. Jesus Christ understood that he would be Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as St. John the Baptist proclaimed him. (3) Even as his desert tempter invited him to end all earthly hardship, Jesus in some sense foresaw the multitude of suffering martyrs who would follow his path after him. Jesus did not waiver. Jesus refused to capitulate to evil for this world’s fleeting, lesser goods because was not the will of God, his Father.
These reflections came to mind last week on the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones who died in place of Jesus Christ. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (4) Modern biblical scholars estimate Bethlehem’s population was around 1,000 at that time, which means that up to about twenty infants were slain. (5)
These babies and toddlers have been venerated in the Church since the first century. Early Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyon and St. Augustine, and the liturgical tradition of the Church have celebrated them as saints and martyrs. (6) This pair of titles is remarkable for those “who, though still unable to profess [Jesus] in speech, were crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth.” (7) None of these young Jewish boys were baptized or made a conscious decision to die for Jesus, but they were all saved through Christ.
Jesus spoke of the importance of baptism for salvation, for instance saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (8) Yet he also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (9) The Church, lacking an explicit teaching from Christ about children who die unbaptized, “can only entrust them to the [great] mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (10) Perhaps the Lord, knowing his own provisions for their salvation, has kept us in our uncertainty lest we employ the twisted logic of Herod, Pharaoh, or Pilate to rationalize the intentional killing of little ones. In any case, it has been the firm conviction and long tradition of Christ’s Catholic Church that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem now dwell with him in Heaven.
Jesus Christ and his martyrs, from Bethlehem to Japan, reveal and witness to strengthening truths: That this life, however long or short, is not all that there is. That God can bring salvation out of evil, even from crimes and disasters that break our hearts and surpass our understanding. And the martyrs affirm that, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Suffering is better than sinning. There is more evil in a drop of sin than in an ocean of affliction. Better [to] burn for Christ, than [to] turn from Christ.” Whatever terrible crosses may afflict us or those we love we can remember that our crucified Lord has suffered likewise and is always with us. Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (11)
(1) – Matthew 10:32.
(2) – Matthew 4:1-11.
(3) – Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 1:29 & 1:36.
(4) – Matthew 2:16.
(5) – Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp.104–121.
Donald A. Hagner, World Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1–13, pg.37.
“Holy Innocents” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
(6) – Hugo H. Hoever, Lives of the Saints, pg.525.
(7) – Opening Mass Prayer for The Feast of the Holy Innocents.
(8) – Mark 16:16.
(9) – Matthew 19:14.
(10) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261.
(11) – John 16:33.
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)
On 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)
Catechism of the Catholic Church #668-679
I. HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY
Christ already reigns through the Church…
“Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” for the Father “has put all things under his feet.” Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled.
As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,” “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.”
Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at “the last hour.” “Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.
…until all things are subjected to him.
Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the king’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, “until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God.” That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Marana tha! “Our Lord, come!”
Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love, & peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.
The glorious advent of Christ, Israel’s hope
Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent, even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed.”
The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel,” for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles,” will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” in which “God may be all in all.”
The Church’s ultimate trial
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.
The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.
II. TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.
CCC #1906-1909, 2239-2240
By “common good” is to be understood the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists these “essential elements” as comprising the common good:
The Church teaches it is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community. Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.
Election Day is this Tuesday, November 8th.
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
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.
St. Paul asked “that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority.” To what purpose? “That we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” The Roman ruler at that time was the Emperor Nero and his later persecutions of the Church proved the timeliness of Paul’s request.
When I was in seminary, some of my peers predicted bloody persecutions against the Church in America, but I have always thought that our trials would be more subtle; not martyrdoms, but diminishments, exclusions, and humiliations. No law will forbid Catholics from being public officials, business owners, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, teachers or any other occupation, but the law could require each of these to act in ways contrary to our Faith. People increasingly-dubious that our churches and religious institutions serve society’s good and could cripple them by stripping their tax-exempt status, and they would do so with the approval of their own consciences. Some people, like those the Lord denounces through Amos the prophet, care most about their pocketbooks, but we are called to always keep our Faith first in our lives, and we will, no matter what.
Jesus says “the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones,” and Psalm 146 says, “Put no trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is not help… [but] blessed is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD, his God.” So no matter who wins election this fall, let us pray to the Lord that religious freedom may be preserved in our time so that we may lead quiet and tranquil lives in all devotion and dignity.
“When Whistler painted the picture of his mother, did he not have the image of her in his mind before he ever gathered his colors on his palette? If you could have preexisted your mother (not artistically, but really), would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever lived—one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women, and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise? When Whistler was complimented on the portrait of his mother, he said, “You know how it is; one tries to make one’s Mummy just as nice as he can.” When God became Man, He too, I believe, would make His Mother as nice as He could—and that would make her a perfect Mother.
She existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of mothers — she is the world’s first love.”
—Venerable Fulton Sheen (1895–1979 A.D.)
in The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God
“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.
“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.”
Can you catch sight of each of the following persons or things depicted in the interior of St. Wenceslaus Church?
Holymon Go! Answers
(Highlight to reveal):
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:
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.
You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly.
You shall not favor the poor in a lawsuit.
You shall not pervert justice for the needy among you in a lawsuit.
You shall keep away from anything dishonest.
Never take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and distorts the words of the just.
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.
Twelve score, or 240 years ago, our American forefathers began a revolution for freedom. For eight years, they fought to secure their independence from tyranny. They would go on to establish a national government; not meant create rights from nothing, but to help ensure and keep safe the human rights that “We the People” have from God. At the close of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a lady asked Dr. Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
The Framers established a government with three separate branches: a Legislative branch to create laws, an Executive branch to enforce the law, and a Judicial branch to resolve conflicts of law. This separation and balance of powers was designed to protect liberty against our fallen human nature. In the words of James Madison, who is called the architect of U.S. Constitution: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The Framers knew how leaders tend to consolidate power around themselves as dictators and the tendency of majorities to trample the rights of weaker minorities. James Madison adds, “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Our American republic depends not merely upon its laws but on the virtue of its people. George Washington said, “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Ben Franklin said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Our representative government is made in our image, and unfortunately it reflects and shares our errors and flaws today. For example, we live beyond our means. The average American household owes $7,400 in credit card debt. And our government in our likeness cannot repay its debts, which are approaching $20 trillion, or about $60,000 of debt for each one us. We end the lives of our unborn children, almost one million of them each year. And our three branches of government are either unwilling or unable to safeguard in law every innocent human being’s God-given right to life. We are increasingly non-religious, leading people to think that churches serve no spiritual or social good and that their tax-exemption should be stripped. And we see our religious freedom diminishing, such that you can be financially-ruined for exercising your religious conscience in your occupation. We think it’s OK to do whatever it takes to win, we see parents and coaches encouraging kids to cheat or siding with them when they get caught. Meanwhile our political leaders are so brazenly lawless and tell such transparent lies, yet there are no consequences for any of it. How can our country remain free if virtue and our respect for the rule of law dies?
It appears that trying years are ahead for Catholic Americans, but there are (at least) three things we can do: pray, prepare, and keep perspective.
We pray the St. Michael prayer near the end of our Masses to ask his help as the leader of the heavenly armies. We do this because evil spirits are real and active in our day. They are smarter than us and more powerful than us, but they are not more powerful than God and His angels. We should pray for our country. I cannot see how our country’s bad trends will be reversed, but God is cleverer and mightier than our imaginations so hope for a rebirth of virtue and freedom for our country remains.
In addition to prayer, we should prepare, beginning with ourselves. The final words before the signatures on the Declaration of Independence say, “[F]or the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” How much are we willing to sacrifice in obedience to Christ? This is important to consider, for Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” We should also endeavor to prepare our children, be they youths or adults, for a future living as “lambs among wolves.” For if the things we see now are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
Besides prayer and preparation, we should also keep perspective. This American experiment has been, on a whole, a blessing for its people and the world. However, there is no guarantee that the United States will endure until Jesus returns. Only the Catholic Church is assured to remain until the end, even if as a small, beleaguered remnant. One of the benefits of studying Church history is that you realize how the Church has always appeared to be going down the drain, with troubles and persecutions in every age, and yet she endures. Let us remember that this is not our eternal home. In not so many years, each one of us will shake the dust of this earth from our feet to leave for our true homeland. As Isaiah says in our first reading, “In Jerusalem [that is, the heavenly Jerusalem] you shall find your comfort.” We are citizens of Heaven, and as for this country, we are only passing through.
So let us pray, prepare, and keep perspective. Things look bad for our country in the years and decades ahead. Nevertheless, do not despair at the advances of evil around us, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven, and we know who wins in the end.