Archive for the ‘G.K. Chesterton’ Category

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the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date.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

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The Heights of Holiness

April 12, 2016
Tall G.K. Chesterton shakes a girl's hand

Servant of God G.K. Chesterton

How tall have the famous Catholic men and women of past and present been? Precise figures can be hard to find, but here is a sampling:

6’ 4” — Servant of God G.K. Chesterton

6’ 0” — Venerable Pope Pius XII

5’ 10” — Our Lord Jesus Christ (based upon the Shroud of Turin) , Pope St. John Paul II

5’ 9” — Pope Francis

5’ 8½” — Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen  (or 5’ 7” according to his niece )

5’ 8” — Blessed Pope Paul VI

5’ 7” — St. Peter the Apostle (based on the bones found beneath St. Peter’s Basilica’s high altar) , Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

5’ 6” — Pope St. John XXIII

5’ 5” — Servant of God Pope John Paul I

5’ 4” — St. Therese of Lisieux

5’ 2½”— St. John Neumann

5’ 2” — St. Joan of Arc , St. Junipero Serra

5’ 1½”— St. Ignatius Loyola

5’ 0” — Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Rejecting Reincarnation

April 6, 2016

G.K. ChestertonA friend once told me his flirtations with belief in reincarnation ended by reading two good points by G.K. Chesterton. If all people were (re)born into the blessings or curses of their present lives on account of their good or bad actions in the past, then:

  1. We could expect nearly all well-born persons to be honest, given their long track records of virtue.
  2. Those who are born into bad circumstances would merit their own suffering and unhappiness.

Buddhist reincarnation beliefs may vary, but Hindus in India have traditionally believed that their top castes merit their nobility (and the untouchables their servitude) due to reincarnation’s Karmic justice.

However, as Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed that men die once, and after this the judgment…”

Heeding Our Earthly Mother & Heavenly Father — 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 5, 2014

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

A Wall Across the Road

Imagine an wall built across a road which has stood for as long as anyone can remember. The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton suggested that when confronted by such a peculiar sight:

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.”

It is said that human history has been constantly repeating two phases, summed up in two concise phrases:

First, “What could it hurt?
And second, “How were we supposed to know?

All of us are children of the same holy Mother, the Church. And she is united with God, our loving Father. Moms and dads sometimes tell us, “Don’t touch that–it will hurt. I know it glows enticingly, but it will burn you. We’re not saying this in order to control you or to make you miserable, but because we love you. We want you to be safe and happy.

Red_Hot_Coiled_Stove_Burner_3_by_FantasyStockWe then have three options in how we respond: Either we can touch the forbidden thing for ourselves and experience the pain firsthand. Or we can observe others who have touched the thing and learn from them (though they sometimes hide their pain and tears, even from themselves.) Or, and this is the best response, we can trust in the words of our Mother and Father and never get burned.

Sometimes the wise and the learned of this world refuse to see the truth, but to the little ones, to the childlike, the truth is revealed and they welcome it. In our first reading from Zechariah we find a prophesy about the Messiah. The Savior is not coming on a warhorse, but on a donkey—not as a conqueror imposing his will upon the earth by force, but meekly, inviting us to trust in him and freely embrace his will.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

This week’s Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case comes as good news for religious liberty. However, we must keep praying. Though the five-to-four decision is a positive sign, religiously affiliated non-profit groups are not safely out of the legal woods yet. Many people of goodwill support Catholic institutions in their conscientious refusal to facilitate things they consider gravely immoral, but I wonder how many observers understand why Catholics have any objection to contraception and sterilization to begin with?

People fail to realize that contraception is not something new. For thousands of years, people have used various barriers, chemicals, and techniques to prevent the marital embrace from being fruitful. And most have never heard that before 1930 all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching in condemning contraception as sinful. Most people have not realized what could be wrong with putting asunder what God has joined in the marital act; separating love-making from an openness to life. And though few recognize the harmful impact that contraception has on families and society, its consequences were not entirely unforeseen.

Pope Paul VI

In 1968, in the midst of a sexual revolution made possible by the birth control pill, some believed the Catholic Church would “update” its consistent teaching on contraception. (“What could it hurt?”) Instead, Pope Paul VI shocked the world with orthodoxy. His encyclical, Humanae Vitae or “Of Human Life,” was one of the most controversial documents of the twentieth century, yet the pope’s four predictions of what would happen if contraceptives gained widespread use have proven true:

  1. A general lowering of moral standards throughout society.
  2. A rise in infidelity.
  3. A lessening of respect for women by men.
  4. The coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

What is more, a contraceptive mentality has so pervaded our culture that healthy fertility is treated like a disease and conceived children are treated like a cancer. Because of procured abortion, in any room of people under 40 years old, there is on average one person missing for every three people you see. This is the fruit of a contraceptive mentality. (“How were we supposed to know?”)

Whether the Catholic Church teaches on indecent images, fornication, cohabitation, same-sex relations, divorce and remarriage without annulment, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, drug use and drunkenness, euthanasia or suicide; for every “no” in her teachings the Church proclaims a greater, more foundational “Yes” to love and life and true happiness. As St. Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Will we be childlike enough to listen to our Father in heaven and our Mother on earth? Learn from Christ and take his yoke upon you, for according to his promise you will receive rest. His ways require sacrifice, yet compared to the yoke of sin and death which comes with the ways of the world, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Join the G.K. Chesterton Club

September 30, 2013

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a prolific British author and columnist, a convert to the Catholic Faith and a married layman whose cause for canonization has just been opened. I often allude to him because his often-witty wisdom is enduringly insightful for our world and souls today.

Thursday, October 10th I will be hosting a gathering of The G.K. Chesterton Club of La Crosse in Eastman. All are welcome. We will meet at the rectory around 7:10 PM for conversation and beverages. Even if you have never heard of Chesterton before, a fruitful experience is guaranteed. These are the readings we will be discussing:

“The Continuing Power of Christianity” (3.5 pgs.)
“Self-Expression and Political Views” (3 pgs.)
“The Alternative to the Family” (3.5 pgs.)

Alternatively, here are the readings as a PDF file.

The Ever-Timely G.K. Chesterton — Wednesday, 24th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 18, 2013

Today’s readings remind me of things said by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936,) the British journalist, writer, husband, and convert to the Faith, whose cause for canonization has just been opened.

In the Gospel, the same critics who rejected John the Baptist, who came “neither eating food nor drinking wine,” as too extreme are rejecting Jesus for being too lax, on account of his “eating and drinking.” This is akin to something Chesterton noticed about criticisms of Christianity while he was still a non-believer. Christianity was supposedly too meek, and the cause of countless wars. It was condemned for its penitential austerity, and condemned for its opulence. The Church imprisoned women, yet was criticized as being “too feminine.” The Church promoted celibacy against the good of marriage, and it promoted marriage, forcing the shackles of marriage and family upon us. The Church feared sexuality, and Catholics had too many children. (Though this was a century ago, similar arguments are still made today.) Chesterton eventually concluded that Christianity was sane and all its critics mad—in various ways.

Why did Chesterton go on to become a Catholic? Partly because he did not see how the Bible could be wielded as a weapon against the Catholic heritage:

The ordinary sensible skeptic or pagan is standing in the street (in the supreme character of the man in the street) and he sees a procession go by of the priests of some strange cult, carrying their object of worship under a canopy, some of them wearing high head-dresses and carrying symbolical staffs, others carrying scrolls and sacred records, others carrying sacred images and lighted candles before them, others sacred relics in caskets or cases, and so on. I can understand the spectator saying, “This is all hocus-pocus”; I can even understand him, in moments of irritation, breaking up the procession, throwing down the images, tearing up the scrolls, dancing on the priests and anything else that might express that general view. I can understand his saying, “Your croziers are bosh, your candles are bosh, your statues and scrolls and relics and all the rest of it are bosh.” But in what conceivable frame of mind does he rush in to select one particular scroll of the scriptures of this one particular group (a scroll which had always belonged to them and been a part of their hocus-pocus, if it was hocus-pocus); why in the world should the man in the street say that one particular scroll was not bosh, but was the one and only truth by which all the other things were to be condemned?  Why should it not be as superstitious to worship the scrolls as the statues, of that one particular procession? Why should it not be as reasonable to preserve the statues as the scrolls, by the tenets of that particular creed? To say to the priests, “Your statues and scrolls are condemned by our common sense,” is sensible. To say, “Your statues are condemned by your scrolls, and we are going to worship one part of your procession and wreck the rest,” is not sensible from any standpoint, least of all that of the man in the street.

What is the “pillar and foundation of truth?” Most Protestants would say “the Bible,” yet Sacred Scripture (in today’s first reading from St. Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy) answers “the Church.” The Bible cannot be trusted more than Catholic Church, which wrote and canonized its books (not to mention taught, revered, and preserved them for two millennia.)

(May the works and prayers of G.K. Chesterton aid us in the world today.)

November 11 – Veterans Day

November 11, 2009

Pearl Merchant

In the Gospel today, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as being like a treasure buried in a dirt field, or like a ridiculously underpriced pearl in a market place. These are valuable things that take great personal sacrifice to obtain. Jesus’ lesson in this for us is that a wise person should be willing to trade away everything else they have, and do it joyfully, because of the desirability of what’s before them. So it is with the Kingdom of God.

But these parables are not only about us, and how we should go after God’s kingdom. They also tell about how God has sought after for us for His kingdom. The Lord saw us as the treasure buried in a field, the field being the world. He was like the pearl merchant, who saw us as a precious pearl whose great worth was unrealized by others. And out of love for us one could say that He joyfully sold everything that He had to possess us.

“For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again,” ‘giving us a new birth to a living hope through His resurrection.’ Through Christ’s poverty, He made us rich, giving us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].”

Whenever something is truly valuable, it is worth one’s great personal sacrifice to possess it and to protect it. Today we are honoring those men and women who have done just that; who have made great personal sacrifices to serve our country in the military. Today is Veterans’ Day. While we would be mistaken to identify our country as being the kingdom of God, it would also be a mistake to dismiss the good our country and its veterans have done around the world.

We can we be so proud of our country’s veterans because they are true soldiers. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” This is reflected in how we have treated those we have defeated. We forgive them, rebuild them, and let them have their freedom. We may need to fight some enemies, now and in the future, but we have no need to hate them. Our power is not in our hatred, but our love. In this we follow our model, Jesus Christ, who loved the world so much that sacrificed everything He had for it. And let us remember that He conquered the whole world for us without firing a single shot.

Thursday, 29th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

October 28, 2009

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the British Catholic writer, lived one hundred years ago, but his writings are still witty, insightful, and relevant today. Once he wrote in answer to the question, “Why I am a Catholic.”  Chesterton explained, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, ‘It is the only thing that…’”  One of the examples of this he gave was that Catholicism “is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

Why is it that after so many centuries we remain divided, three against two and two against three, on so many important matters?  We may be far more technologically advanced than they were in Jesus’ time, but every generation seems to repeat falling into the same, or slightly differing, forms of foolishness.  While science and technology is cumulative, part of every generation thinks they have to rediscover wisdom from scratch.  That’s why we still have ethical debates about questions that Jesus has settled.

Can we do evil in the hopes that good will come of it? [This is Ethics 101.  St. Paul teaches about this to the Romans, “And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.”] What if we’re [almost] certain that really good things will come from the evil we do? [Even if the evil does result in some good, what does freely-choosing evil make us?] Should we let the progress of science be bogged down by questions of morality? Should morality and private conscience have a place in politics and public life? [If not, then what will science, public life and policy be guided by beyond base desires and power?] Is it really always wrong to intentionally kill the innocent? What if intentionally killing 100,000 civilians will end a war?

If this is how things are when the wood is green in our country, then what will it be like when the wood is brown, dry, and dead, as it may well be in years ahead? What is the Christian to do?  Remain closely rooted to Christ, the source of our wisdom and waters of life. To borrow the words from the psalmist today:

The Christian “is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.”

Even if he is martyred, whatever the faithful Christian does prospers; for he is not a child and a slave of his age, but a child of the age to come.

Tuesday, 19th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 17, 2009

The disciples ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus says, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” In fact, Jesus teaches us, becoming humble is essential to entering into His kingdom.

So what is humility?

“Now humility is nothing but truth,” says St. Vincent de Paul, “while pride is nothing but lying.” He says, “The reason why God is so great a lover of humility,  is because he is the great lover of truth.”

Now humility is not about believing we are garbage. It’s a lie to say we’re of little worth. Even the seemingly least person among us is attended to by angels and bears a likeness to the God whom those angels ceaselessly worship. We are of great worth, but to be humble we need to know where our true treasure is.

We must abandon over-confidence in our own faulty and limited powers and trust in our reliable Rock—“how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways.” In Christ, our Rock, we are secure; and as G.K. Chesterton notes, “It is always the secure who are humble.”

To strip away our illusions and to know our true treasure let’s pray today for the two gifts which it is said God always promptly gives whenever we prayer for them: Humility and Faith.

We can be leery of praying for humility, because when you pray for humility, humility shows up. I myself cannot recall a time when my prayer for humility was not answered by the end of the next day. But let’s have courage, and not allow our entry into Christ’s Kingdom be delayed by our disordered self-love or timidity.

What Moses said before the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land is just as true for us: “It is the Lord who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you.  So do not fear or be dismayed.”