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St. Bathildis

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 23:00

Bathildis was born in Britian in the seventh century. She was a slave to the wife of Erchinoald, who was mayor of the palace of Neustria. Erchinoald was very impressed with Bathildis. She was not only beautiful and intelligent, but also very virtuous.

When the wife of Erchinoald died, he showed great interest in marrying Bathildis, but since she had no interest in marrying him, she left until he remarried someone else. After Bathildis had returned to the mayor’s service, she met King Clovis II of France who came to visit the mayor. Clovis, like Erchinoald was very taken with Bathildis’s beauty and grace and all the good things he had heard about her. In 649, Clovis freed Bathildis and took her as his wife.

Her new station in life did not change Bathildis, but did give her greater opportunities to be generous to the poor. Only seven years into their marriage, Clovis died, leaving Bathildis with three children. Their five-year-old son, Clothaire, was proclaimed king under the regency of Bathildis, his mother. With the aid of others to counsel her, Bathildis was able to carry out some reforms, one being the abolition of Christian slaves. She also repressed simony among the clergy and was soon founding religious institutions such as hospitals and monasteries. The abbeys of Corbey and Chelles were two such institutions that were founded due to her generosity.

Bathildis became the first abbess of Chelles. She wanted very much to enter into the religious life; however, as queen she was bound to her duties at court. Later in her life, however, when her sons were ruling in Austrasia and Thierry in Burgundy, she did carry out her desire and withdrew to the Abbey of Chelles. Bathildis renounced her royalty and asked to be treated as a lowly inmate among the others in the abbey. After 15 years in Chelles, mainly spent in prayer and serving others, Bathildis died on January 30, 680.

Bathilde is buried in the Abbey of Chelles. She was canonized by Pope Nicholas I.

Prayer

St. Bathilde, your life on earth was much like a Cinderella story. But while so many who experience “overnight” success by the standards of the world become arrogant and prideful, you show us the importance of humility and prayer and demonstrate that true success is becoming a saint by living for God and others and not for ourselves. Please pray for us, St. Bathilde, that we may never forget this. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Martina (228), Virgin, Martyr

St. Francis Bianchi (1815): Born in Arpino, Italy, in 1743. He joined the Congregation of the Barnabites, his teachers. After his ordination he taught at the University of Naples; then he zealously ministered to the people by preaching and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, works of mercy and spiritual direction of the clergy, religious and laity. Because of his apostolic zeal he was called another “Philip Neri” and “Apostle of Naples.” He was gifted with outstanding charismatic gifts: he predicted Napoleon’s defeat in Russia and the return of Pope Pius VII to Rome; he stopped the flow of lava when Vesuvius erupted; for years he endured “fire and thorns” in his legs. Tirelessly he ministered with fatherly care to the penitents lining up at his door. He died in Naples on January 31, 1815. His memorial is on January 30, not to interfere with the one of St. John Bosco.

image: LPLT / Wikimedia Commons

The Virtue of Magnanimity in Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale”

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 03:30

“The Knight’s Tale” introduces four knightly figures who epitomize the ideals of their moral code. The narrator, one of the pilgrims traveling on the pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas a Becket, and introduced by Chaucer as “a worthy man,/ Who from the very moment he first began/ To ride, searching adventure, held chivalry/ In his heart, and honor and truth, and courtesy / And grace,” wins the honor of narrating the first tale as the merry company engage in their storytelling contest to pass the time to and from their journey to Canterbury rather than “To ride in utter silence, dumb as a stone.” In his tale the Knight presents three other noble men who also embody the virtues of gallant knights who live and fight with honor.

Duke Theseus, returning home to Athens from a victorious war against Scythia, the land of the Amazons, encounters a number of weeping women lamenting the loss of their husbands who die at Thebes and bewail the cruelty of Creon who not only forbids burial of the dead “But sends out hounds to eat the bodies, turning/ Law and decency all upside down.” Like the chivalric knight who serves and defends women, Theseus is moved by the pleas of the morning widows, for, according to the medieval proverb Chaucer frequently quotes, “Pity runs quickly in gentle hearts.” Changing his destination from Athens to Thebes, Theseus, even while recently married to Hippolyta, goes to Thebes to seek justice for the cause of the women, slaying Creon, destroying the walls of the city, and bringing the widows their husbands’ bones for honorable burial. In his chivalry to defend the suffering women and honor their just cause, Theseus fearlessly goes to war again and demonstrates the fortitude of the honorable knight in battle who fights for a moral cause, not for vainglory or revenge.

In the aftermath of his victory at Thebes, Theseus sees two young wounded soldiers among a mound of corpses, members of Theseus’ army whom he spares rather than kills. Instead of exacting revenge upon the enemy, “Theseus sent them/ To Athens, to be locked in prison and kept there forever.” The moral code of a knight demands mercy as well as justice, and his sense of honor extends to the humane treatment of enemies as well his chivalrous treatment of women. A magnanimous man, then, never stoops to petty vengeance or lets small-minded meanness conquered his large soul and noble mind. The true knight, though as bold and brave as the Knight who narrates the story who has returned with blood-stained garments from the Crusades and “fought in fifteen deadly campaigns,” remains ever the gracious man, not the barbarian or the brutal soldier whose triumph means plunder, slaughter, and retaliation. Chaucer thus praises this large mind and large soul of the honorable knight in describing the narrator of this tale: “Never in all his life had he been churlish/ Or mean to any creature on earth—a true/ A graceful, perfectly noble knight.”

The two imprisoned enemies who are cousins and friends, Palamon and Arcite, also illustrate the ideals of knighthood as they uphold their oaths and remain true to their promises regardless of the vicissitudes of Fortune. As they suffer the miserable lot of their imprisonment with no prospects for freedom, the two cousins both behold from the window the sight of Theseus’s beautiful sister-in-law Emily and feel the pang of love at first sight. Palamon wonders, “Is she a woman or goddess?” Arcite proclaims that he would rather die than live without the love of Emily: “…unless/ She graces me with her lovely glance … I am as good as dead.” From being devoted cousins and true friends the young knights become rivals in love, a contest that tests their knightly character to the utmost. Both Palamon and Arcite had sworn to assist each other in love and in every other aspect of their lives, and now Arcite acts as Palamon’s enemy rather than his friend. Palamon complains that Arcite cannot love Emily because Palamon loved her first. Arcite would degrade his knighthood and lose his honor: “No Arcite, you liar, you cannot love her…. Or else renounce your honor, as a true man would.” Each cousin accuses the other of falsehood and treachery, the mark of false knighthood.

Though noble knights, bonded cousins, and true friends Palamon and Arcite appear to disregard the moral ideal of “truth” and flout their vow of loyalty that distinguishes a knight’s words and promises when they compete for the love of Emily. Despite their unresolved argument about who loves Emily more and deserves her hand in marriage, the young knights find an opportunity to settle the issue. After Arcite is released from prison on condition of a death sentence if he returns to Athens and Palamon escapes from prison with the threat of punishment if discovered, both knights fearlessly return to woo Emily, risking death for love. By accident the two cousins meet in a grove and resume their quarrel, Palamon accusing Arcite of betrayal: “Arcite, you traitor, you liar, you slave/Of evil” and swearing that they must fight to the death to determine the lover of Emily: “And either you or I will have to die/ To keep you from loving my Emily.” Arcite, however, refuses to fight his rival in the present circumstances because of his sense of honor. Arcite, riding and carrying weapons, sees that Palamon is not equipped for battle in fair competition. He proposes that they meet again in the grove the next day in fair combat with both knights having the same advantage and identical weapons. A true knight, Arcite will not stoop to win the hand of Emily by taking advantage of the weakness of his opponent and wants a just, honorable test of arms. A large-souled man never seeks victory by dastardly deeds.

On the day of the contest Theseus, enjoying the sport of hunting on a beautiful May day with his wife Hippolta and sister-in-law Emily, accidentally finds the two knights in combat with flashing swords and intervenes, only to discover that he has found the two cousins who have both violated the law and are subject to punishment. Again Palamon and Arcite pass the test of knighthood when, questioned by Theseus “But tell who on earth you are,” they reveal their identity as an escaped prisoner who broke the law and as a released prisoner who violated the terms of his freedom. They speak the truth and do not resort to the small-minded trickery of lies to escape punishment or death. The noble Theseus, who earlier magnanimously spared the lives of his enemies and showed mercy to the suffering victims of war, now enforces justice: “You both must die, there are no questions/ To ask, no need for torture to pry out the truth.” As Theseus hears the reason for the cousins’ battle and learns of their love for Emily as the cause of their rivalry, the queen and Emily begin to weep and plead for mercy to temper justice, crying “For pity quickly stirs in gentle hearts.” All three knights, then, manifest their large hearts and souls—Palamon and Arcite chivalrously willing to fight and die for love, Arcite refusing to gain victory by dishonorable means, the two cousins rejecting any form of deception to lie about their identities, and Theseus courteously pleasing the wishes of the weeping women who plead the cause of love and mercifully forgiving the young knights for their violations.

Instead of a private battle in the grove Theseus proposes the public event of a tournament before the entire city as the just, honorable way of ending the conflict. In another display of largeness of mind Thesseus practices the virtue of magnificence, the generosity of spending large sums of money for worthy causes and splendid high occasions. He undertakes lavish expenses to construct an amphitheater, a marble gate, and altars to the gods of Venus, Mars, and Diana. He uses the best, choicest materials and hires the most skilled craftsmen to provide elegance and the splendor of beauty. The equipment and arms also display gems and jewels of great value, “Beautifully embroidered helmets, and steel/ Armor on their heads and horses, as bright as their shields….” He hosts and houses thousands of spectators with overflowing hospitality and entertains them with music, arts, and lavish displays. The liberality of Theseus expresses the large-heartedness of the magnanimous man who expends wealth for great causes like marriage.

In the tournament between the two cousins, Arcite wins the joust and earns the hand of Emily in a fair contest. After his courageous victory with his formidable foe, however, Arcite falls from his horse that stumbles and hurls him head foremost in a fatal accident. Though Arcite defeats his rival in war, he loses the love of Emily as the fickle wheel of Fortune suddenly precipitates his fall from high to low. Always true to the vows and ideals of knighthood, Arcite’s final words to his beloved capture the essence of magnanimity when he advises Emily to requite the love of Palamon, a rival deserving of her love and the paragon of chivalry: “no man so worthy to share your heart/ Than Palamon, my beloved cousin.” Arcite lives, fights, dies, and sacrifices like a noble knight, a man generous to friend and foe with the large heart that offers his bride to his dearest friend, the large soul that cherishes truth and love above self-interest and deceit, and the large mind that forgives and forgets small grievances and quarrels in the name of honor.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Crisis Magazine.

Living Christ

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 02:35
Living Christ

Presence of God – O Jesus, deign to imprint Your likeness on my poor soul, so that my life may be a reflection of Yours.

MEDITATION

The imitation of Christ should not be limited to some particular aspect of His life; it means living Christ and becoming completely assimilated to Him. The life-giving principle of our resemblance to Christ is grace: the more grace we possess, the greater our resemblance to Him. The principal characteristic of Christ’s soul is the unlimited charity which urges Him to give Himself entirely for the glory of His Father and the salvation of souls. This same charity increases in our souls in the measure in which we grow in grace and live under the influence of Jesus, who is the source of grace, and to the degree in which our souls are directed by the same divine Spirit that directed the soul of Jesus. Each one of us will be an alter Christus (another Christ) in the measure in which he receives Christ’s influence, His grace, His virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, above all, the motion of the Holy Spirit, which urges us to make a complete gift of self for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. However, in order to accomplish this fully, we must continually die to ourselves, “always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest … in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11). Jesus lived a life of total abnegation in order to save us; we too must follow in His footsteps that He may live in us and we in Him. “For to me, to live is Christ” (cf Philippians 1:21) is the cry of the Apostle who had so lived Christ that He was able to say, “I live, now not I but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20).

COLLOQUY

“O my Christ, whom I love! Crucified for love! I long to be the bride of Your heart! I long to cover You with glory and love You … even until I die of love! Yet I realize my weakness and beg You to clothe me with Yourself, to identify my soul with all the movements of Your own. Immerse me in Yourself; possess me wholly; substitute Yourself for me, that my life may be but a radiance of Your life. Enter my soul as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior!

“O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, descend upon me and reproduce in me, as it were, an incarnation of the Word; that I may be to Him a super-added humanity wherein He may renew all His mystery!” (Elizabeth of the Trinity, Elevation to the Most Holy Trinity).

O my Jesus, this is my great desire: to be an extension of Your humanity, so that You can use me with the same freedom with which You used the humanity that You assumed on earth. Now in Your glory in heaven, You continue to adore the Father, implore Him on our behalf, give grace to our souls; You continue to love us and offer the merits of Your passion for us; but You can no longer suffer. Suffering is the only thing that is impossible for You, who are glorious and omnipotent, the only thing which You do not have and which I can give You. O Jesus, I offer You my poor humanity, that You may continue Your passion in me for the glory of the Father and the salvation of mankind. Yes, Jesus, renew in me the mystery of Your love and suffering; continue to live in me by Your grace, by Your charity, by Your Spirit. I want my humble life to be a reflection of Yours, to send forth the perfume of Your virtues, and above all the sweetness of Your charity.

You know O Jesus, that the world needs saints to convert it—saints in whom it will be able to recognize and experience Your love and infinite goodness, saints in whom it will find You again. O Lord, although I am so miserable, I also want to be of the number of these Your faithful followers in order that through me You may continue to win souls for the glory of the Blessed Trinity. O Jesus, give us many saints and grant that many priests may be counted among them.

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Note from Dan: This post on living Christ is provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contains one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.

Art for this post on Living Christ: Mirror of Portrait visage d’Elisabeth de la Trinité portant son habit de carmélite (Face portrait of Elisabeth of the Trinity in Carmelite habit), Willuconquer, undated, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer, speaker and pilgrimage director who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

 

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This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

The Biblical Quest to See the Face of God

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 23:07

One of the most extraordinary moments in the beginning of the Gospel of John is when Jesus attracts his first followers.

Unlike the other three gospels, where Jesus goes out looking for disciples, here the disciples take the initiative. Here is the account in John:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (John 1:35-39).

What is most striking about the above vignette is that Jesus asks them, What are you looking for? This seems surprising to us because it’s obvious what the men were seeking: Jesus! On one level, Jesus is interacting with them as any normal person would — if someone starts following you around, you would ask them what they’re doing. But we can also read his question on a deeper level: in following Jesus, were the two men looking for the right thing?* In other words, were they looking for a worldly messiah who would liberate Israel? Were they looking for a mere prophet? Were they even truly seeking?

What should we really be seeking?

As Christians, we know the answer is God.
But the Old Testament offered a more specific answer than this.

One of the most memorable expressions of this seeking is in Psalm 27:

One thing I ask of the Lord;
this I seek:
To dwell in the Lord’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the Lord’s beauty,
to visit his temple.

“Come,” says my heart, “seek His face”;
Your face, Lord, do I seek!
Do not hide Your face from me;
do not repel Your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off;
do not forsake me, God my savior! (vv. 4, 8-9).

The psalms are full of variants of this plea for God to show His face to His people. For example, Psalm 4:7 states, “Many say, ‘May we see better times!/ Lord, show us the light of your face!’” And Psalm 44:25 says, “Why do you hide Your face;/ why forget our pain and misery?”

This petition to see the face of God is driven by a related set of desires and concerns. First, asking God to turn his face is another way of beseeching God to listen to him. Intriguingly, research has shown that for humans our inner ears move with our eardrums. Of course, God is a spirit, not a body, but the psalmist is speaking through metaphor.

Second, the turning of the face is a sign of favor. This is a universal fact of human interaction. Think about what happens when you do the opposite: what does it mean to turn your back on someone? It indicates that they have fallen out of your friendship — that you won’t share in fellowship with them or extend any favors.

Third, there are specific favors that are sought. Often the prayer to see the face of God is accompanied with a cry for redemption from sin or relief from some misery.

But, above all this, the yearning to see the face of God reflects the deep-seated desire to ‘behold the beauty of God,’ to experience His presence, to enter into communion with Him.

This seeking out of God’s face can be traced back to Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai:

Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!” The Lord answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “Lord,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live (Exodus 33:18-20)

This veiling of God’s face can be traced back even further, to the Genesis account, after Adam and Eve had sinned. The description of God in the aftermath of this event is among the oddest of the Old Testament. According to Genesis 3:8, Adam and Even ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden.’ In fact, a more literal reading of the Hebrew is even stranger. It would go something like this: ‘They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden.’ (This is how the Douay-Rheims Bible, among others, renders it.)

Here God’s presence is limited to His voice. Though God might appeared to Adam and Eve in some kind of pre-incarnate bodily form, such communion is no longer possible.† All that remains is His voice and the sound of His footprints.

In the Incarnation, this is all reversed. The voice of God, his Word, takes on flesh. Likewise, whereas Moses had only been permitted to see God’s glory from behind, Christ made His face visible to men.

Is this interpretation one that is actually grounded in the text?

I believe so. First, it is a reasonable and obvious inference from the text of John that Jesus turned around and faced the disciples. There is no other way to really construe the physical circumstances of their encounter. Second, a number of Church Fathers noticed Jesus must have shown His face to them and attributed theological significance to this fact.

Third, the whole chapter seems arranged in such a way to bring us to just this conclusion. We tend to bracket off John 1 into three sections: the majestic prologue (vv. 1-18), John’s testimony (vv. 19-34), and the invitation to the first disciples (vv. 35-51). That’s how a typical Bible will break down the chapter—and it’s completely valid—but not at the expense of forgetting the beginning.

Listen again to the earlier verses, keeping in mind their potential bearing on our discussion.

First, there is John 1:14,

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

In this reference to God’s glory, commentators see a particular allusion back to Moses’ story in the exodus. Pope Benedict XVI, for one, makes the connection, declaring that,

Something completely new happened, however, with the Incarnation. The search for God’s face was given an unimaginable turning-point, because this time this face could be seen: it is the face of Jesus, of the Son of God who became man.

(This is a major theme for Pope Benedict. He describes his book, Jesus of Nazareth, as “an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’”)

Indeed, John 1:18 reminds us that ‘no one has ever seen God’—to reinforce the extraordinary reality that through the Incarnation God can now be seen, even though in the past He could not. This is confirmed in John’s testimony which concludes with this statement, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (v. 34). We then go from this to reading about how the first disciples ‘beheld the Lamb of God’ as John the Baptist called them to do.

This truth—that Jesus makes manifest the face of God—is affirmed later in the Gospel of John, in chapter 14, when one disciple asks to see the Father. Jesus responds, “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (verse 9).

Likewise, Colossian 1:15 declares that Jesus is the ‘the image of the invisible God.’ A lesser known verse, 2 Corinthians 4:6, is even more explicit, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,”’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ.”

Since the fall, the search for God had been a search for His face, His presence. It’s what Adam and Eve lost in the garden and it’s what Moses and the Israelites were ultimately seeking in the Promised Land. This quest was fulfilled by Jesus. When Jesus turned to the disciples and asked what they should seek, his question came with the answer and the answer was the light of his face as He turned to speak with them.

*I’m particularly indebted to the commentaries by Frederick Dale Bruner, D.A. Carson, and the Greek Expositor’s New Testament for understanding how to interpret this portion of the verse. Carson also is another source who confirmed the connection between the exodus and the prologue to the Gospel of John.

†In exactly what manner that Adam and Eve previously enjoyed communion with God is an interesting question that seems largely unanswered. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that they experienced something on a level with the Incarnation. A more likely view is the theory of many commentators that Christ appeared in the Old Testament in a ‘pre-incarnate’ form. For more, see here. And, for a commentator who says this about the Genesis account, see here.

The Catholic Mind

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 23:05

What is “the Catholic mind”? One of the leading lights of our time, James V. Schall, S.J., worked out this idea of what a Catholic mind is in a book of essays, “The Mind That Is Catholic.” Throughout this collection of philosophical and historical articles, Fr. Schall continually strove to reach the heart of the matter: what separates the Catholic mind from any other mind?

In an excellent 2009 interview with ZENIT discussing the book, Fr. Schall stated, “The mind that is Catholic is open to all sources of information, including what comes from Revelation.” He also points out differences from a secular, atheistic, or Protestant mind, for example, to what it means to be a Catholic mind.

Fr. Schall is suggesting that the Catholic mind does not enclose itself in limited thinking or superstition, as if Catholicism is a mere religion of rigidity and narrowness, but through an openness toward both faith and reason this mind is led to a new, exciting direction, a direction leading upwards to something greater than the individual—God.

“The ‘primary’ source of the Catholic mind is reality itself, including the reality of revelation,” Fr. Schall said. Any student, then, of Pope Benedict XVI, would know what reality itself is, none other than Jesus Christ. Benedict posited the fundamental question in Jesus of Nazareth, “Is He real, reality itself, or isn’t He?”

In the Catholic mind, the purpose of existence thus becomes crystalized: reality, then, is not just the sole existence of the universe, but a Christocentric, Trinitarian perspective on that universe—as well as every thing and person within it. If reality is God, we live in that reality to know, love, and serve God. Every thought, decision, word, and action from the Catholic mind is from that perspective.

This is why the Catholic mind is so bountiful in curiosity and demanding of knowledge; why it’s so adept in so many different vocational callings and careers; why it embraces the beauty of the world while knowing its goal is in the eternal hereafter with the Beatific Vision. “What is peculiar to Catholicism, I have always thought,” Fr. Schall mused, “is its refusal to leave anything out.”

This is why the Catholic mind is one, when in its state of grace, of living not for itself, but the other. Fr. Schall uses an example to make this point, speaking of the Church’s great spiritual minds, “I read with great profit everyone from Justin Martyr to Aquinas and Benedict. But they take me not to themselves but to the truth.”

“They take me not to themselves but to the truth.”

Such is the great dilemma of our time. How to balance the demands and joys of everyday with the greater task of enduring life’s trials in the quest to become saints? Basically, how to be Catholic in such a world as today?

It is a difficult needle to thread. The war may have been won by Christ on the Cross, but engaging in our own battles remain. As such, there is little doubt “lapsed” or “recovering” Catholics comprise a large part of society. To some, the Catholic perspective, the Catholic mind, may seem unrealistic, antiquated, or downright dangerous. On the other hand, one may see secularization as assaulting the Catholic mind to the point of capitulation. Should the Catholic mind continue to succumb to the homogenization of secularism, what becomes of the endurance of the great Catholic tradition that has defined cultures and shaped civilizations?

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,” Jesus in Luke 12:48 warns, “and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

What exactly separates the Catholic mind from any another kind of mind?

Fr. Schall, the good Jesuit that he is, understands inherently the Jesuit adage of “finding God in all things” and the Jesuit directive of being “men and women for others.” These also describe the mission of the Catholic mind.

The Catholic mind has:

  • Access to the Sacraments, and is expected to live and think accordingly to the graces prompted by reception of those sacraments
  • A spiritual treasure trove from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and prayers
  • Intimate knowledge of the Mother of God
  • Appreciation for both fides et ratio, faith and reason. Pope St. John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical on the subject quotes Gaudium et Spes: “[O]nly in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” The great pope continues, “Seen in any other terms, the mystery of personal existence remains an insoluble riddle.” The Catholic mind, therefore, demands not a wandering faithful, but a tireless flock, a church militant.
  • Capacity to grasp and articulate universal principles (see another Jesuit’s work, Fr. Spitzer’s Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues)
  • Art, music and aesthetic beauty exemplifying the sensuous Catholic imagination
  • Unparalleled educational resources
  • A powerful bioethical tradition
  • A proud history of global charitable giving
  • The pantheon of saints
  • Appreciation for dynamic cultural traditions
  • The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Yet, given the Catholic mind’s identity struggles in the contemporary milieu, some of these gifts have not registered as they are intended. The greatest and most tragic loss visible today is a disassociation of a uniquely Catholic identity. Fr. Schall, a longtime philosophy professor, points out a large-scale failure in education, for instance. “Catholic institutions of higher learning, as they are called, simply gave up what was unique about themselves and the reasons for having Catholic universities in the first place,” he said. As a result, he believes, “In the modern world, we find no group more deprived of the glories of their own mind than young Catholics.”

It is the responsibility of the Catholic mind to no longer let that young Catholic be deprived of the eternal promises of the very faith that can separate them from the individualism of today’s world. Kowtowing and accommodation will not suffice; when the young Catholic wonders what is so great about her Catholic faith, how will we respond?

The Catholic mind cannot take for granted it will remain a robust mind—or even a wholly Catholic mind—if it fails to nurture itself as a mind directed towards God, and not the self, no matter whatever noble purpose it think it might be pursuing.

Back, for a moment, to Fr. Schall’s note about reading Catholic writers: “They take me not to themselves but to the truth.” It is a sacrifice to embrace a Christocentric perspective in today’s world. One sacrifices the illusory prospect of “fitting in” to what Fr. Spitzer has called the “in-crowd.” Catholic faithful, then, need to support each other, not unlike the kind of friendship expressed in the support system of Tolkien’s hobbits surrounding Frodo, as we together undergo the harrowing but ultimately salvific journey of authentic Catholic spirituality.

The Catholic mind must identify itself first and foremost as Catholic before any other adjective supplants it.

“The mind that is Catholic seeks the source of what is and to delight in it,” Fr. Schall concluded. “This is its glory.”

Finding Peace in An Age of Distraction

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 23:02

Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild have co-written the book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction. The digital age, ushered in by the scientific revolution, discombobulated by the Enlightenment dictum that “man is the measure of all things,” makes any child of this age an heir to confusion. Confusion is of course the enemy of peace as well as the enemy of order. The authors repeat the wisdom of St. Augustine who tells us that “peace is the tranquility of order.” The brilliant lights of technology increasingly obscure the intellectual and moral shadows engulfing our world. We are progressively distracted and increasingly numbing to the realities which have always flowed from the nature of man and our place in the cosmos. Without a recovery of a proper understanding of the created order and the nature of man in that order, we are destined to be confused, agitated and anything but at true peace.

We are more susceptible than ever to that falsity of fallen men decried by the Hebrew prophet who abjured deceivers who proclaim “peace, peace, when there is no peace.’” There is little true peace in the world today. However, there are extravagant claims to peace made by the world which lies incessantly. Blum and Hochschild have penned the antidote to the agitated ravages of this age. They do not provide a pop-psychological balm of self-esteem building magic, but a plea to return to the philosophical anthropology in order that we might come to know ourselves, not as we wish to be, but as we actually are so that we might experience the harmony that follows a proper ordering of things.

What makes this book so valuable is that all of its wisdom proceeds from an authentic understanding of the created order and particularly from the nature of the human person. Its instruction is informed by the Great Church Doctors, the great philosophers and other faithful souls. They combine to elucidate not only divine revelation as it relates to human action and our common destiny, but the best of unaided reason propounding the ultimate virtues as they correspond to our intellectual and moral formation. This order they clarify is the intellectual and moral order for which we have all been made as we discover our place in the cosmos.

A Mind at Pace is broken down into three parts. The first is on living well, the second on sensing well and the third on thinking well. These three segments illuminate the three orders we must master if we are to attain to the peace for which we were intended; the moral order as it is lived out is the first; the order of reality in the created cosmos as it is intelligible to our senses and experience is the second; and the order of right thinking is elucidated by the third. Each of the three parts of the book has six chapters that expound six characteristic attributes on how to understand each particular aspect of that order. Each of the 18 chapters has a meditation and several reflection questions that help center the reader for contemplation on the deeper levels of what was read.

For an example, in part one on Living Well, chapter 1 is entitled “Self-Aware.”  It is explained that the first act of self-awareness precedes reconciling oneself to order and requires the virtue of prudence to see what is really there. “The power to choose and to act is the key to achieving peace,” but this cannot happen until we are self-aware. As the authors note, “peace is a perfection, a gift from God, a positive, dynamic, and healthy state-either between people or within the soul.”  Whether political, relational or internal, “peace is the presence of harmonious action.”

After illustrating the importance of self-awareness and the fact that “the power to choose and to act is the key to achieving peace,” we are instructed rightly that “peace is a perfection of human agency.” We are alerted to the present dangers of technology and social media and the devastating effects of these increasing distractions on true peace. At the end of the short chapter, as of all the chapters, we encounter a short meditation. This one is called “Blessings on Those Who Choose God’s Way.” It is Psalm 1 which begins “blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” Questions for reflection end the first chapter and one who slows down enough to truly contemplate what he has read will have much upon which to reflect. The rest of part one winds its way through beatific and eudemonian virtues required for peace such as purity of heart, steadfastness, poverty of spirit, reliability and nobility.

Living well requires the right use of our faculties comprising our senses in the effort to subordinate the passions to the right use of reason. We have suffered a privation of grace by the Fall which darkens our intellect, weakens our will and inclines our appetites to evil. Relying on that reality, there has been a particular recent set of attacks on the right order of things since the advent of Ockham’s nominalism in the 14th century. The attack on universals and concomitant increasing distrust of human apprehension has led to increasingly radical skepticism.  In the end, this was an attack on the first act of the mind, that of apprehension which precedes that of sensing well. Our five outer senses and four inner senses are cultivated and sharpened by the six topics in part two. The authors implore us to be resilient, attentive, watchful, creative and experienced. These aspects of our sensing well are the beginning of all learning if we come to see by apprehension what is really in front of us.

If all learning begins in the senses, it must not end there. That image of God imprinted on our souls is the image of intelligence gifted solely to man on this mortal coil. After sensing well, we are called to think well about what we experience. As nominalism afflicted the first act of the mind, apprehension, the Enlightenment philosophers initiated a set of attacks on the second act of the mind, proper judgement. Perhaps most prominent of them all was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who drew us away from right judgement and down the path of subjectivism, rendering sound judgement about objective reality a relic of antiquity.

Blum and Hochschild rightfully encourage a recovery of right judgement by the series of six vital topics. To be purposeful is to discover final causality. To be truthful is to adhere to the objective order of reality. To be reasonable is trust in that image of God imprinted on us all. To be decisive is to take a courageous stand for truth and order. To be wise is to see things as they are. To be Humble is the prerequisite of wisdom. There is no substitute for thinking well, but it must surely be preceded by sensing well.

These three orders covered in the three parts of A Mind at Peace correlate as well to the tripartite human soul; the will, appetites and intellect. All three are intended to be understood as three aspects of the integrated composite whole of the human person. These truths are obscured by the artifacts of the Fall which make it difficult to navigate any human era, particularly the present. The authors zero in on the predominate fault of this age known as “the unnamed evil of our times” is the sin of acedia. The authors recognize and assert that acedia is not just “some kind of laziness, but truly a kind of discouragement, torpor, or despair, a sense of purposelessness and powerlessness.” Strange indeed are these times. Disorder and disharmony are proliferating aided and abetted by mass media, education and politics. It is difficult to know where to turn.

In the middle of Tolkien’s masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, there is a conversation between the future king Aragorn and the Third Marshal of the Riddermark, Eomer, son of Eomund. Eomer called his days in Middle Earth “days of doubt” and we might say the same of today. He goes on to say “the world has grown strange….  How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” Aragorn answers, “As he ever has judged, good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” Blum and Hochschild remind us as Aragorn would, that even though these are strange and confusing times, we are to judge as we always have. We must apprehend what is; discerning what is good, true and beautiful according the objective standard of truth by that natural law written on our hearts.

The authors write an afterword concerning the “peace beyond.” In it, they summarize the intention of the book which is to survey the “range of the soul’s powers and virtues (of bodily appetites, and exterior and interior senses) in service of the higher (the properly intellectual)- not only because they are the higher, but because the modern condition poses particular challenges to the mind’s discipline and peace.” They want the reader to understand that mastering the proper order from our lower to higher faculties and putting those in the right order assumes the help of God’s grace. And although our efforts are required, there is the peace beyond that this book points towards, that peace which is pure gift from God and our part in attaining it is merely humble disposition to receive the gift. Peace is a gift that follows order. Let Blum and Hochschild instruct us in the ways of preparing to receive that gift by subordinating our lower faculties to our higher faculties and our higher faculties to the providence of God.

Overall, A Mind at Peace is a worthy meditation sorely needed by this generation. We are in dire need of a recovery of the ability to live well which must be preceded by the proper apprehension of our capable human senses, followed by the right judgments in thinking well. All this in order that we might come to make decisions for our lives that lead to the “tranquility of order.” This order is not asserted for the sake of the individual alone, but as a preparation for the community life of the domestic church which is the source of the common good.  This book is valuable as an accessible primer to the great Church Doctors, the faithful and wise philosophers whose voices echo with truth across the ages about how we ought to order our lives to encounter true peace.

We have never been as distracted. The

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 23:00

We have never been as distracted. The defeated devil is as real as our victorious Jesus. The devil is the father of all lies. The devil’s simple trick is to convince people that he doesn’t exist. To believe in his lies is to be in chains. The largest chain that has crippled us is the chain of indifference. Fears and lies have led us to be indifferent to the pains of our brothers and sisters. Is it fear of being taken advantage of? Afraid of not having enough and losing one’s comforts? Or is it just a lack of concern for others? The more we become insensitive, the more we are like beating ourselves with stones. Just like the man possessed with evil spirits “bound with fetters and chains.” No man will be truly at peace doing nothing with the knowledge that many people are hurting.

True peace and joy comes from allowing the unconditional love of Jesus in us to flow freely to our brothers and sisters especially to those who are in pain and who feel neglected.

St. Gildas the Wise

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 23:00

Gildas, surnamed “the Wise,” was born in Scotland around the year 516 to a noble family. He was educated under St. Iltus in Wales and was a companion of St. Samson and St. Peter of Leon. He was drawn to the monastic life and moved to Ireland to pursue such a life.

While in Ireland he was ordained to the priesthood. He apparently spent some time in Armagh and north Britain. King Ainmire invited him to return to Ireland where he built monasteries and churches and greatly inspired others by his teaching. He is compared to David and Cadoc by the Irish annalists in his giving a special Mass to the second order of Irish saints.

There are recordings of a pilgrimage he made to Rome. On his return, he decided to spend time alone and retired to the Isle of Houat, off Brittany, where he lived in solitude praying and studying. When it was discovered that he was there, he was asked to establish a monastery at Rhuys on the mainland. It was at this monastery that Gildas wrote his famous epistle to the British kings. He died at Houat, Brittany, in 570.

Lessons

Gildas is the patron of churches and monasteries in Brittany and other locations. He is regarded as the earliest British historian. Copies of his writings are preserved in the Cambridge University Library.

Prayer

Saint Gildas, we thank you for your wisdom and the legacy you left for your countrymen and brethren in the faith. We pray for your intercession to help us live saintly lives so that when our days are done here we may join you and our Lord for eternity. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Francis de Sales (1622), Bishop, Doctor, Patron of Writers

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sat, 01/27/2018 - 23:00

Thomas Aquinas was born at the family castle near Aquino, Italy, in 1225. He was the son of Count Landulf of Aquino. When he was only five years old he was sent to Benedictine Monte Cassino Monastery to be educated. When he was 14 he went to Naples to complete his education and while there joined the Dominicans.

His family was so outraged by this that they actually had him kidnapped and held captive at Roccasecca Castle to try to keep him out of the Dominican order. He spent 15 months in the castle, and when released, rejoined the Dominicans and went to study in Paris. He was ordained in Cologne around the year 1250. While studying there under St. Albert the Great, he was nicknamed “The Dumb Ox,” due principally to his large size and quiet manner. But Thomas was anything but dumb. He became a master of Theology at Paris in 1256, and taught not only in Naples but also in Anagni, Orvieto, Rome and Viterbo.

It was during this time that he was writing his Summa Theologia and finishing his Summa Contra Gentiles. When he was only 22 years old he was sent to teach in Cologne and he began to publish his first works. He received his doctorate at age 30.

Thomas was a personal friend of St. Louis, the King of France, and they spent a lot of time together. Pope Clement IV offered Thomas the archbishopric of Naples, but he declined the offer. He spent much time writing and eventually his writings filled 20 hefty tomes. Unfortunately, his greatest work, Summa Theologia, was never completed because on his way to the second Council of Lyons in 1274, Thomas fell ill and died at the Cistercian monastery there.

Lessons

St. Thomas was not only brilliant, but also very humble and holy. He is one of the greatest and most influential theologians of all time. Even seven centuries after his death, his thought still dominates Catholic teaching. His writings are characterized by the interconnection of faith and reason. He points out that even though many Christian doctrines are impossible to establish by reason, they are not contrary to reason and reach us by revelation. However, he also believed that truths such as the existence of God, His creative power, and His Providence, could in fact be discovered by natural reason. St. Thomas also wrote hymns, commentaries on Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. He was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, and was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V in 1567. St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron of all universities, colleges, and schools. All theological students are required to study his thought and the substance of his work has become the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we pray that St. Thomas Aquinas is being richly rewarded in heaven as he richly endowed us while on earth. His brilliant and beautiful writings have inspired countless souls and we are eternally grateful for his legacy. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Peter Nolasco (1256), Priest, Religious, Founder of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom

Second Feast of St. Agnes (304), Virgin, Martyr

Saint Angela Merici

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 23:00

Angela was born in Lombardy, Italy, on March 21, 1470.  At the age of 10 she was orphaned and went with her sister to live with an uncle. While living there her sister died, leaving Angela saddened by the fact that she died without first receiving the sacraments.

Angela received no formal education. After the death of her uncle she returned to her hometown and was distressed to see so many poor girls with no opportunity to receive an education. In those years, schooling was only available for wealthy women and nuns. The nuns were cloistered so they could not go out and teach, nor could poor women come to them. So Angela brought together some Franciscan tertiaries she knew (fellow unmarried women associated with the Franciscan order secular group), and together they endeavored to reach out to young women and teach them themselves. Angela headed a group that was so successful that she was asked to do the same thing in other cities.

Even the pope heard about what Angela was doing. Clement VII was so impressed with all she had accomplished in educating women that he asked her to take charge of a religious order of nursing sisters. Not feeling this was God’s will for her, Angela declined the offer. However, she did decide to formalize her group into the Company of Saint Ursula, or the Ursulines, as they came to be known. They dedicated themselves to the service of God under the protection of St. Ursula. They were the first group of women religious who were not cloistered nuns, and became the first teaching order of women.

Angela experienced many visions throughout her life and one foretold that she would found the Ursulines. She died in 1540 and was canonized in 1807.

Lessons

It took years of frustration and a great many challenges to bring about formal education for all women, but Angela was patient and persevered.  She once said, “Beware of trying to accomplish anything by force, for God has given every single person free will and desires to constrain none; He merely shows them the way, invites them and counsels them.” On her deathbed she reassured her sisters by telling them, “I shall continue to be more alive than I was in this life, and I shall see you better and shall love more the good deeds which I shall see you doing continually, and I shall be able to help you more.”

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

Mothers and sisters most dear to me in Christ: in the first place strive with all your power and zeal to be open. With the help of God, try to receive such good counsel that, led solely by the love of God and an eagerness to save souls, you may fulfill your charge. Only if the responsibilities committed to you are rooted in this twofold charity will they bear beneficial and saving fruit.

— St. Angela Merici, Spiritual Testament

To what extent are the responsibilities committed to me rooted in the twofold charity St. Angela Merici recommends? How can I help these roots to grow?

Prayer

St. Angela, we pray for many teachers, especially in our Catholic faith. We need good catechesis today in the Church and it is apparent that the Lord is calling many to this mission.  Please pray, Saint Angela, that many will answer and that through education, many will come to better know, love and serve our Lord.  Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. John Chrysostom (407), Bishop, Doctor, Patron of orators

St. Thomas Aquinas & the Culture of Life

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:07

Upon this 45th annual March for Life, I read a line of attack against the Church’s pro-life stance that I had not heard before now. Some pro-choice advocates use the Church’s greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to argue in favor of abortion. Nicholas Kristof did it in a May 2017 N.Y. Times column about Dr. Willie Parker, an oxymoronically called “Christian Abortion Provider.” Mr. Kristof falsely claimed that St. Thomas Aquinas “believed that abortion was murder only after God imbued fetuses with a soul, at 40 days or more after conception.” Moreover, Aquinas even made it into the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, citing “the 40-80 day view, and perhaps to Aquinas’ definition of movement.”

What they are both referring to is the mistaken notion that the unborn baby receives its soul (“ensoulment”) 40-80 days after conception depending upon gender. In the pre-scientific mind, this was generally thought to be recognized in the baby’s movements, or “the quickening” around 20 weeks after conception.  Aquinas’ apparent false opinion was based upon the primitive science of his day (13th century), which was notably still rooted in the ancient writings (4th century B.C.) of Aristotle.

St. Thomas actually never wrote anything explicitly on abortion. So, to say that he approved of abortion is utterly false. In fact, he did condemn it implicitly in his magnum opus, Summa Theologica. For example, in his commentary on murder, he states: “He that strikes a woman with child does something unlawful: wherefore if there results the death either of the woman or of the animated fetus, he will not be excused from homicide.” (ST II-II, q.64, a.8)  In another section he addresses various scenarios of whether to baptize a baby in the mother’s womb, saying: “If, however, the mother die while the child lives yet in her womb, she should be opened that the child may be baptized.” (ST, III, q.68, a.11)

St. Thomas’ underlying philosophy is correct: to kill an unborn baby is murder. He ran into some ambiguity with his era’s limited understanding of embryology. It is very clear that if St. Thomas had lived in the modern scientific age of biology, genetics and sonograms he would have concluded beyond a doubt that life begins at conception. Natural science clearly demonstrates the existence of a new genetic individual at fertilization. He was, in this respect, a victim of his time.

Nevertheless, St. Thomas did touch on this indirectly again in the third part of Summa Theologica while discussing the Immaculate Conception of Mary. He certainly argued that the human soul is present by the time of the quickening.  On the other hand, he did not think philosophy itself could say definitively whether or not the soul is present before any observable body movements in the fetus.  To reiterate, he did not say the soul was definitely not there, only that he could not prove it was there.  In the case of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, he argued that we do not know exactly when she was sanctified (i.e., received her soul), so the Church correctly celebrates her sanctification from the time of conception. (ST, III, q. 27, a.2, ad.3)  We can infer through his conclusion that he considered ensoulment possible from the moment of conception, and thus, making any abortion tantamount to murder.

The idea of “delayed ensoulment” is a red herring, however.  The Church has always taught that abortion is intrinsically evil, and is not dependent upon the idea of ensoulment.  The Church’s position is built upon Scripture, Tradition, and natural law, which St. Thomas surely knew and accepted.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) The prophet Isaiah similarly wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb.” (Is. 44:24)  The Didache, a vade mecum written sometime near the end of the first century states, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” Abortion is similarly condemned throughout the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, from Clement to St. Jerome, and so many more.  St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century that those who have “deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder.” St. Thomas knew extraordinarily well all of these ancient Church teachings on abortion, and that it was forbidden at any stage of development.

The Catechism too is clear on this: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.  Direct abortion . . . is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (CCC 2271)  St. Pope John Paul discussed ensoulment too as a red herring in Evangelium Vitae: “Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.” (EV, 61) In our era today, with the force of modern scientific evidence of D.N.A. analysis and 3D ultrasounds, we can understand without question a person is a person from the moment of conception.

This is why in light of modern science the permissive acceptance of abortion is so scandalously pernicious. This callous perniciousness of the culture of death is crystallized in the fascinating case of Dr. Stojan Adasevic. Dr. Adasevic was an infamous Serbian doctor who performed abortions in the communist country of Yugoslavia for a couple of decades, killing in utero somewhere between 48,000 to 62,000 babies. His abortion mill even killed up to 35 babies in one day.

That all changed one night when he began to have a profound reoccurring dream that haunted him for weeks and weeks on end. In the dream he was in a beautiful sunlit meadow full of flowers with many children playing and laughing. All of the children were from four to 24 years of age. Whenever he would try to approach and speak to the children they would run away screaming in terror. Despite the idyllic setting of the dream, he felt oppressed and would wake up in a cold sweat each night. The recurring scene was watched over by a figure in a black and white habit who would stare silently at him.

Eventually one night, he was able to catch one of the children, and the child cried out in terror: “Help! Murderer!” At that moment, the man in the black and white habit turned into an eagle and swept down to pull the child away.  The next night the doctor decided to ask the man who he was. The man replied, “My name is Thomas Aquinas.”  Stojan then asked, “Who are these children?” St. Thomas answered, “These are the ones you killed with your abortions.” With that, Stojan woke up in shock, refusing to participate in any more abortions. There were many other details involved revealing this as something more than just a dream. Since that time, Dr. Adasevic became heavily involved in the pro-life movement and reverted back to the Orthodox faith of his childhood. Stojan has since apparently had a great devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas. He wonders now, having read the Summa Theologica and St. Thomas’ ambiguous writing on Aristotle’s idea of ensoulment, if “the saint wanted to make amends for that error.”

Whether or not that was, in fact, one of St. Thomas’ errors remains debatable.  Clearly, he thought ensoulment was possible from the moment of conception, but he left some ambiguity in regards to the provability of that belief.  Unfortunately, the primitive “science” of St. Thomas’ day could not establish that as empirical fact.  Yet, he unquestionably followed the Church’s teaching on the evils of abortion, so that those who use him to promote the culture of death are wrong.  We can infer that St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, was unwaveringly pro-life, condemning abortion as murder.  And, if he were alive today, St. Thomas would clearly stand with those who accept modern science that life begins at conception.

image: Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Authority over Demons

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:05

I’ve read many term papers in my day.  Most of them are no more than a patchwork of quotes.  That’s because college students are smart enough to know that they really can’t say much on their own authority–to make their case, they have to lean on the authority of others more learned than themselves.

That’s exactly how the scribes and Pharisee’s taught in Jesus’ day.  “Rabbi Abraham says this. . . Rabbi Gamaliel says that . . .

So when a new young rabbi appears in Capernaum, this is what people expect.  They are in for a surprise: he quotes no one else except God’s Word.  That’s because there is no one more learned than He.  In fact, he happens to be God’s Word made flesh.

But he doesn’t just speak to the humble townspeople this way.  When he encounters superhuman forces that strike fear into the hearts of men, he is unruffled.  There are no incantations; he does not plead.  Rather than Jesus being afraid of them, the demons are afraid of him.  Upon seeing them, they shriek.  He calmly commands — “shut up and get out.”  A moment later all is still.  A former victim is now a free man and bystanders marvel.  Word easily travels fast — little Capernaum happens to be right on a caravan route from Syria all the way to Egypt.

But isn’t all this talk of demons just a relic of the mythological world view of pre-scientific people?  After all, these primitive folks don’t know about mental illness, chemical imbalance, viruses, and bacteria.  Surely they just explained what they could not understand in terms of the supernatural.

That sounds very sophisticated, but it’s dead wrong.  First of all, demons are not supernatural at all.  Super-natural means above and beyond nature or creation — in other words, uncreated and transcendent.  Only God qualifies for this label.

St. Thomas called the realm of angels and demons “preternatural” since it escapes the sensory knowledge that we can have of the rest of creation.  We human beings were created by God as enfleshed spirits.  But divine revelation tells us that God also created pure spiritual beings with the same freedom we have.  Spirits who have chosen to use that freedom to serve God we call “angels” or messengers.  Those who used their freedom to defy God are called demons.  Pride and envy lead them to hate not only God, but us who are made in God’s image and likeness.

So people in Jesus day had good cause to fear demons–they are hostile and powerful.  Plus, their intelligence is superior to ours–note that the demon in the story, unlike the humans, instantly recognized who Jesus was.

OK, the ancients may have attributed too much to demonic influence, but moderns tend to make the opposite error.  The existence of the angelic and demonic realm is part of the ordinary teaching of the Church’s Magisterium, clearly reaffirmed clearly by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis In fact when we say in the Creed that we believe in the Creator of heaven and earth, “of all things visible and invisible,” the invisible things refer precisely to this world.

So why is it important to believe that such creatures exist?  Because the first rule of warfare is to know your enemy.  Paul tells us clearly in Ephesians 6:12 “Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers . . . the evil spirits.”

Only God has power over this world.  Jesus, in commanding the demons, as he later in the Gospel commands the wind and the waves, does what only God can do.  Once we are joined to Christ, the enemy has no more authority or power over us.  Unless, of course, we give it to him through sin.  If we cling to the Lord and listen to him, we have nothing to worry about.  If not, we have much to worry about. 

This is offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle B (Deut. 18:15-20,10; Psalm 95, I Cor. 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28).  It appears here by permission of the author.

image: By Rolf Kranz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Scripture Speaks: Christ Conquers Demons

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:02

Right after Jesus’ baptism, He tangled with the devil.  In St. Mark’s account of His first teaching mission, an unclean spirit confronts Him.  Why this assault from the forces of darkness?

Gospel (Read Mk 1:21-28)

After Jesus assembled His disciples, He began His itinerant life of preaching the Kingdom of God.   Today, we read about His visit to the synagogue in Capernaum.  The impact of His teaching was immediate:  “The people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”  The people recognized that there was something unique in the way Jesus spoke about the Scriptures (which is what happened in synagogues).  Surely the townspeople, at this early point, could not have much of an understanding of who Jesus was.  However, there was one man in the crowd who did—“a man with an unclean spirit.”  We might wonder why this man was in the synagogue at all.  Was he a regular participant in this pious Sabbath observance, even though he was demon possessed?  That seems unlikely.  Had word gotten out that Jesus would be present?  Even if the townspeople didn’t know much about Jesus, the unclean spirit clearly did: “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  How did the unclean spirit get this information?  We have to assume Satan, who had already had a personal encounter with Jesus in the wilderness, spread the news throughout his minions—the other fallen angels whom we call “demons.”  Many times throughout the Gospels, the demons know and fear Jesus.  They are never permitted to speak about Him, just as we see here:  “Quiet!  Come out of him!”  Why did this man, in the grip of a demon, make his way to the synagogue where Jesus was teaching?  Why did he disrupt what must have been an exquisite experience of hearing Jesus speak?

When we see this early and persistent contact between Jesus and the fallen angels, we are reminded of God’s promises in the Garden of Eden.  When His enemy, the serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to the disobedience that shattered the joy and harmony of all Creation, God pronounced a judgment on him immediately.  “The woman” and “her seed” would someday do battle against him and defeat him (see Gen 3:15).  When Jesus shows up in a synagogue in Capernaum and casts out an unclean spirit, we know that the battle has begun.  Our enemy must be defeated if we are ever to live free of the fear of him.  In Capernaum, Jesus showed Himself to be both an authoritative teacher and a man powerful enough to command obedience from demons.  No wonder “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”  Israel — indeed, the whole world — had waited a long time for this One.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me live this day in the victory You won over my Enemy.

First Reading (Read Dt 18:15-20)

In this reading we learn that not only was Israel waiting for a Warrior to do battle with God’s enemy, she was also waiting for another prophet like Moses, and that is saying a lot!  Moses was the leader God appointed to deliver His people out of bondage to an enemy who enslaved them.  He spoke for God, performed miracles, fed the people supernatural food and drink, gave them God’s Law, and guided them to the brink of the Promised Land.  Near the end of his life, Moses spoke these words to the people of Israel:  “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your kin; to him you shall listen.”  This was a treasured promise throughout all the centuries of their history, right up to the appearance of Jesus.  Moses had been the definitive voice of authority when the tribes of Abraham’s descendants formed a nation at Mt. Sinai.  In fact, the people there preferred Moses’ voice to God’s.  When God came down on the mountain to meet with His people, speaking to them with thunder, lightening, and earthquakes, they were terrified and said to Moses, “Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God…lest we die.”  God then promised to send another prophet like Moses to them, putting His words in the prophet’s mouth.  Surely they would listen to a man speaking God’s own words!  This helps us understand why Jesus so often made a point of saying that He spoke only what the Father wanted Him to say:  “For I have given them [the apostles] the words which You gave Me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from You” (Jn 17:8).  Jesus wanted His kinsmen to know that God’s promised prophet had arrived.  Mary, too, knew that her Son fulfilled this much-loved promise of a new Moses.  At the wedding at Cana, she told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you,” just as Moses had once said about the prophet-to-come, “to him you shall listen.”

The people in Capernaum heard in Jesus that wonderful authority that had once belonged only to Moses.  What they likely didn’t know was that a New Exodus was about to begin as well.

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, thank You for sending us Your Son to speak to us in words we can understand and a voice that does not terrify us.

Psalm (Read Ps 95:1-2, 6-9)

The psalm highlights for us the fact that hearing God’s voice should be met with two responses:  joy and obedience.  To know that God speaks to His people in Jesus, the Scriptures, the sacraments, the liturgies and magisterium of the Church—this should produce the joy of thanksgiving:  “Let us joyfully sing psalms to Him.”  However, men have always had the freedom to disregard God’s voice.  The psalmist (like Moses) warns against this:  “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”  How long God has been speaking His love to His Creation, which began with His words, “Let there be light!”  Now, He speaks to us in His Son, a Voice kept alive through the charism of the Church.  How foolish we would be to cringe in fear from His words (like the unclean spirit did), or, worse, be indifferent to it.  Instead, “let us bow down and worship…for He is our God, and we are the people He shepherds.”

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 7:32-35)

If we wonder what these verses have to do with our other readings, we must remember their context.  They come from a portion of St. Paul’s epistle in which he is answering questions about marriage from the Corinthian church.  St. Paul anticipated a difficult time for Christian converts as the Greco-Roman world was evangelized.  He was writing primarily to suggest that those not yet married would be better able to have undistracted devotion to the Lord if they remained unmarried.  He speaks realistically about husbands and wives, by the very nature of marriage, having more “anxieties” than the unmarried.  See that he gives this as prudential advice, “not to impose a restraint upon you … but for the sake of … adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

What lies at the heart of St. Paul’s instruction here?  It is his conviction that Jesus, the One about whom Moses said, “to Him you shall listen,” the One about whom the psalmist said, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” and the One about whom the people in Capernaum said, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority”—this Jesus deserves our undivided attention.  St. Paul is making a practical application of a Gospel truth.  He is explaining how to best live something God said on another mountain, at the Transfiguration:  “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (Mt 17:5).

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, distractions clutter my every day.  Grant me Your grace to listen to You instead of them.

image: By Meister Konrad von Friesach (year 1458 A.D.) (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Spirituality of Waiting with Jeannie Ewing

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:00

While the world seems to always be moving at full speed, many of us often have quiet moments of waiting. Whether it’s in our car or on a train on its way to work, the grocery store line, or even on a walk, we are often confronted with quiet moments that we tend to fill with more noise. But there’s also a spirituality of waiting that allows us to use these moments to grow in love, faith, and to learn about ourselves and what God might be calling us to.

Today on the CE Podcast, Michael is joined by author Jeannie Ewing to discuss the spirituality of waiting and how we can be more proactive in these moments. Jeannie brings a lot of wisdom and experience, especially about those extended times of waiting where we are asked to exercise more patience. If you want to know how you can turn passive waiting into an active moment of prayer and reflection, today’s episode is require listening.

Resources We Discussed

Jeannie Ewing is a frequent contributor to Catholic Exchange and you can read her articles here. Her latest book, Waiting with Purposeis available through En Route Books and Media. Also, check out her website, Love Alone Creates, and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out Jeannie’s past appearances on the CE Podcast, Moving From Grief to Grace and Grief, Grace, and Lent with Kids.

Books we discussed in the podcast include:

St. Timothy

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:00

Born at Lystra, Lycaenia, Timothy was the son of a Greek father and Eunice, a converted Jewish woman. He joined St. Paul when Paul preached at Lystra replacing Barnabas, and became Paul’s close friend and confidant. Paul allowed him to be circumcised to placate the Jews, since he was the son of a Jewess, and he then accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.

When Paul was forced to flee Berea because of the enmity of the Jews there, Timothy remained, but after a time was sent to Thessalonica to report on the condition of the Christians there and to encourage them under persecution, a report that led to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when he joined Timothy at Corinth. Timothy and Erastus were sent to Macedonia in 58, went to Corinth to remind the Corinthians of Paul’s teaching, and then accompanied Paul into Macedonia and Achaia.

Timothy was probably with Paul when the Apostle was imprisoned at Caesarea and then Rome, and was himself imprisoned but then freed. According to tradition, he went to Ephesus, became its first bishop, and was stoned to death there when he opposed the pagan festival of Katagogian in honor of Diana. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, one written about 65 from Macedonia and the second from Rome while he was in prison awaiting execution.

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

— 2 Timothy 4:5

How can I fulfill my ministry of evangelization today in at least one way?

The parable of the growing seed is one

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:00

The parable of the growing seed is one of the many parables Jesus tells us about the Kingdom of God. A man scatters seed on the ground and, without having to do anything, the seed sprouts and grows. According to the parable the Kingdom of God is such: one need not do anything, yet, like the seed, it will grow and flourish.

There are many things we do not really understand in our lives. There are times we work so hard and yet gain so little; or times when we hardly do anything but experience great success; or sickness and sorrow, and death.

The Lord is powerful and his ways mysterious. In moments we do not understand, we are left to trust and have faith that he remains in control.

God is a God of surprises and in all his surprises only one thing remains true: that his purpose is that we feel his love and concern for each one of us. We need God and not the other way around.

The creation story tells us that God’s creation is self-sufficient. In the Sermon on the Mount we are reminded that the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are well cared for. And “are you not worth much more than birds?” (Mt 6:26) “Set your heart first on the kingdom of God and all these things will also be given to you. Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Mt 6: 33- 34)

The Gospel reading tells us to trust that God has beautiful plans for each one of us. Are we patient enough to wait for it to unfold?

“Faith, however, is not only a

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 23:00

“Faith, however, is not only a blessed certainty; it is also a matter of practice and self-conquest. You must therefore learn to speak to God as Father. You must learn it from the attitude of Christ.”

Romano Guardini, The Lord’s Prayer

Conversion of Saint Paul

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 02:35
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul*

Editor’s Note: St Paul’s conversion is the only conversion the Church celebrates as a feast.  Today, we meditate on the impact of that event on Saul of Tarsus and, by extension, on us as well … as presented by St John Chrysostom.

 

For love of Christ, Paul bore every burden

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead [Philippians 4:13]. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! [cf Philippians 2:18]. And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution [cf 2 Corinthians 12:10]. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.

Thus, amid the traps set for him by his enemies, with exultant heart he turned their every attack into a victory for himself; constantly beaten, abused and cursed, he boasted of it as though he were celebrating a triumphal procession and taking trophies home, and offered thanks to God for it all: Thanks be to God who is always victorious in us! [cf 1 Corinthians 15:57]. This is why he was far more eager for the shameful abuse that his zeal in preaching brought upon him than we are for the most pleasing honors, more eager for death than we are for life, for poverty than we are for wealth; he yearned for toil far more than others yearn for rest after toil. The one thing he feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; nothing else could sway him. Therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.

To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture.

So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.

Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats.

Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.

* From Homily 2 de laudibus sancti Pauli: PG 50, 477-480 by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop; second reading from today’s Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours.

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Art for this post on the conversion of Saint Paul: Conversión de Saulo (Conversion of Saul), Guido Reni, 1615-1620 (circa), PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Liz Estler

Editor, SpiritualDirection.com. Liz holds a Master of Arts in Ministry Degree (St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts), Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Theology (Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation), Liturgy Certificate (Boston Archdiocese), and a BS degree in Biology and Spanish (Nebraska Wesleyan University – Lincoln). She has served as hospital chaplain associate, sacristan, translator and in other parish ministries. She was a regular columnist for a military newspaper in Europe and has been published in a professional journal. She once waded in the Trevi Fountain!

 

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This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

Saint Paul and the School of Conversion

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 23:07

Of the Church’s expanse of saints, St. Paul has the distinction of a feast day celebrating his conversion. As with all the rest of her liturgy, the Church seeks to teach through her feasts; such is the case for St. Paul’s Conversion.  What, then, does the Church desire to teach us?

Let us look at three possible themes.

The Mystical Body of Christ

The Conversion of St. Paul begins when Paul was Saul, a devout son of Israel (Phil. 3:6).  Saul hunted his theological enemies, the Christians, wherever they resided.  He witnessed and approved of the murder of St. Stephen.  He was on the way to Damascus to arrest more Christians when a bright light knocked him to the ground.  A voice asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  When Saul asked this victim’s identity, the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  This was the moment of conversion, the moment where Saul ceased and Paul proceeded.  No argument convinced this master of the Law; it was an encounter with the risen Christ, whom Saul had been persecuting in his war against Christians.

The effects of this encounter appear in every epistle of Paul’s, where we hear the echo of Christ’s identification with His Church.  From this encounter, Paul developed his theology of the Mystical Body of Christ.  In Paul, we learn that we are “one body” in Christ, adopted into Him by our baptism, with our Eucharistic communion as the sign of our spiritual union (see Romans 12, among others)

That is the first lesson the Church seeks to teach us in this feast. No matter who we are, sinners or saints, we are all united in Christ.  Our Church has continually, since the cross, faced division and disagreement. Such was not the wish of He who prayed that his disciples “be one” (John 17:21).  So the Church holds up this feast of Paul’s Conversion as a reminder that we are meant to be united in Him who suffered and died for us. It is a reminder that we should offer prayers for Christians throughout the world who unite their sufferings with those of Our Lord. “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Continual Conversion

Whether born into the Faith or converted later in life, this story of Paul’s Conversion reminds us of our continual need for conversion.  Paul’s life prior to the Damascus road point to this fact.  Saul was as upstanding as one could be in first century Judaism.  A Pharisee, Saul followed the Law with devotion, learning from the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).  Yet despite this devotion, he needed to turn back to God.  He knew the teaching of the Law, but did not yet know the Lawgiver.  Thus his need for conversion (he said as much in Philippians 3).

Now most of us will not have as dramatic a conversion as Paul did.  However, at some point we need a return to God.  For many, this will be a sort of second conversion, a deepening of our life in Christ.  Yet these conversions do not happen in some grand moment of Faith.  We have continual smaller conversions, little turns towards the Lord every day.  It could be as simple as taking to heart the words of a profound confessor or as searching as contemplation during a solitary Holy Hour.  Either way, these continual conversions will bring about a stronger love of God in us.  Like the conversions of Paul, our little conversions will prepare us for God’s call and His sending forth.

Don’t Worry: God is in Control

Paul’s Conversion is filled with reminders that God, not man, is in control of the universe.  In an age so obsessed with new achievements of humanity, we need to remember that, ultimately, we do not control our lives.  We do not beat our hearts nor work our lungs.  God keeps us alive in His love.  His hand guides the momentous in history and the intimate in our own experiences.

Both of these facets of what we call Providence appear in Paul’s Conversion story.  On the one hand, Paul’s conversion is pivotal to the spread of the Gospel.  Paul is, after all, the “Apostle to the Gentiles” who spread the Faith throughout the Mediterranean world, from Greece to Spain.  In his preaching and his epistles we have the inspired (not merely inspiring) words of a master theologian reflecting on the role of God in preparing the world for His Incarnation.  It is because of his Conversion that Paul could connect the Old Covenant, the love of his youth, and the New Covenant, for which he died in his old age.  He saw his Conversion as part of God’s plan “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) to bring to others the Gospel, the “good news” that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11).  His Conversion, thus, had macro-historical significance.

Yet Paul’s Conversion also provides clear examples of a person’s reliance on God for our daily concerns.  Paul’s blindness, the result of his vision of Christ, dramatically shows this need for trust in God.  Christ sends Saul forth (“Now get up and go into the city,” Acts 9:6) to Damascus not in anger but in love, reminiscent of His sending Balaam in Numbers 22 and the prophet Jonah (both of whom were sent to do God’s will after a conversion of sorts).  Christ calls on Ananias to heal the blind man, but Ananias is hesitant, worried because of Saul’s reputation.  Our Lord’s response is telling: “Go, for this man is a chose instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites” (Acts 9:15).  Paul’s Conversion is a lesson not only for the convert but also for all Christians, who need to be reminded that God can transform even an enemy into a great saint.  So we trust in Our Lord, for He, ultimately, is in control.

“Nothing but You, Lord”

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 23:05

Centuries before the Angelic Doctor wrote the Summa Theologiae, St. Augustine of Hippo proclaimed in his Confessions: “…cor nostrum inquietum est donec requiescat in Te (our hearts are restless until they rest in You).” St. Augustine, who had spent his youth and early adulthood lost and restless in the goods of this world, came to understand that we are made for God and only in Him can we find our ultimate home, rest, peace, and happiness. St. Thomas Aquinas avoided the temptations of the flesh and donned the Dominican habit early on. St. Thomas — continuing in Augustine’s footsteps—brought the world of Greek philosophy and Christian thought to new depths. He spent his life meditating on the mystery of God. These two very different men — who are both Doctors of the Church and holy saints — came to the same conclusion. It is the conclusion that all saints come to.

After writing on the Eucharist, St. Thomas entered into a great ecstasy. He then heard a voice from the crucifix on the altar say: “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” St. Thomas’ reply was: “Non nisi Te, Domine. Non nisi te. (Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you).” In the end, none of the goods of this life, even profound intellectual genius, wealth, talents, power, and all other manner of things can bring us our ultimate fulfillment. These are goods that reflect the goodness of God, but they are not God. It is God who we long for. It is God who made us for happiness. And it is God who will ask us at the end of our lives the reward we desire. The hope is that we will answer: “Nothing but you, Lord.” St. Thomas’ answer is the answer of a saint. God is our ultimate reward.

Can most of us honestly say that in our daily lives we live as if we long for nothing but God? Can we see clearly the restlessness within us and know that the solution is God? I think the vast majority of us — those who are not yet saints, such as myself — can see that there are areas of our lives where we do not live with God constantly in mind. There are goods in our lives that we have allowed to become inverted and they take the place of God, rather than being a good that draws us closer to Him. In order to find out these false gods, replacements, or distortions in our own hearts — and they are there — we have to ask ourselves some rather painful and honest questions. The primary being: Do I love [name the sin] more than God?

This exercise, by the light of the Holy Spirit, will reveal to us the areas where we are not placing God first in our daily lives. These are the areas that need serious work, prayer, fasting, frequent Confession, and perseverance. All of us have our pet sins. We all have vices that we struggle with and we can easily convince ourselves that they don’t matter, but they do matter because they are a hindrance to growing in greater love of God and deeper communion with the Blessed Trinity. The Christian life is a constant pruning away of dead shoots, leaves, and flowers that are no longer productive and that rob us of energy. These are the areas where we are called, albeit slowly, to improve. In pruning away at these areas within ourselves, we will become better equipped to love God and give our whole selves over to Him and to desire Him fully.

We live in a restless age. Everyone is constantly on the move. One of the false idols of our time is busyness. We mistakenly believe that in being busy we are accomplishing something, anything. In reality, this busyness can keep us from pursuing the true meaning for our lives, which is to love and serve God through holy lives and in so doing find the happiness God created us to experience. The happiness we long for can only be found in Him. The goods of this life, while they are meant to be enjoyed, are temporary and they are not mean to replace God. When we use money, power, food, drink, sex, or technology to attempt to lessen the restlessness we feel in our hearts at times, we mistake the goods of this life for the ultimate Good. There is not a single job, man or woman, sexual encounter, trip, car, paycheck, or television show in this universe that can squelch this restlessness.

St. Augustine tried to calm his own restless heart through the lusts of the flesh, but found himself miserable. It was only in realizing that happiness dwells in God that he was able to find true peace and joy. St. Thomas Aquinas spent his life contemplating the face of God through Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Greek Philosophers. St. Thomas and St. Augustine walked very different paths, but both came to understand through conversion of heart, prayer, virtuous living, the Sacraments, and study that happiness can only be found in God. We are made for God and by God. Our answer to God each day is meant to be: I want nothing but you, Lord. Like these two great saints, we have our own paths to walk as we come to enter into deeper love of God. In giving ourselves to Him and accepting His immense love, we will find that day-by-day our own hearts become less restless and our desire for God alone grows greater. We will find ourselves a little bit closer to our goal of becoming a saint.

image: Disputation of Holy Sacrament by Raphael / Wikimedia Commons

The mission of St. Mary’s Parish is to proclaim and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ,our pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith community is nourished by our sacramental life, especially the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. With Mother Mary as our model, we demonstrate our faith through worship, education, vocations and service.