As the Church, the Body of Christ, each of us baptized as priests, prophets, and kings, do we keep the worldly powers awake at night worrying about the truth we might unleashed upon the realm? Though fear can be a powerful motivator for getting the right thing done, we no longer rely on ecclesial knights and papal armies to threaten kings with the violence of heaven. In all the ways that truly matter, we have become more powerful by abdicating power, wealthier in abandoning wealth, and holier in surrendering the pretenses of an Imperial Church. But are we stripped bare enough to bring the prophetic word to those who would threaten what we have left? Christ warned his disciples that to be faithful to the end they could prefer nothing and no one before him. Anything and anyone we choose before we choose Christ is something or someone for us to lose when the king gets anxious about our truth-telling. Then, we are forced to choose again and again, each time we are called upon for the sake of unity, or fashion, or convenience, each time we are harangued to compromise or lie or cheat, we must choose. Christ or power? Christ or influence? Christ or celebrity? Christ or popularity? Christ or the family and friends?
The preacher, Qoheleth, infamously laments: “All things are vanity!” Futile, fleeting. For the Church, this is not a lament but an expression of hope. The Good News of Christ Jesus is no thing. Neither futile nor fleeting. And if we, his Body, are to be prophetic in a time of corrupt and violent power, we cannot flinch from speaking veritas in caritate, truth in love.
So, let me ask you: how do you think your head will look on a silver platter?
A personal note and as vague and general as I can communicate it while still making the point.
Things have been happening in my life that have not been fun of late, some of it my fault. Yet time and again, I'm seeing or hearing things from others, to include my most Godly priest, that have brought me a great deal of comfort, affirmation and validation, all of it timely, all of it most needed.
This from Fr. Powell I can now add to the list. He by the way ought to become a regular read.
There is a spirit of violence at loose in the world, in case you haven’t noticed, a true spirit of war and hatred and savage attack on the innocent and the helpless.
I don’t need to go into all the details of this spirit in the world today—if you aren’t aware of the tragic events unfolding in so many places, you probably aren’t the sort of person who reads my blog, I would venture.
I have been aware, though, of a real danger in the midst of all these situations. It is perhaps one that is perpetual in humanity, confronted with true evil and injustice. Namely, there is real danger of belligerence, rage, vengeance, a meeting of violence with violence, hatred with hatred. ‘You want to kill us? Fine – then we’ll kill you first!’ That kind of thing. Bring it on, baby, and let’s see who has the most guns.
I am not a pacifist, properly speaking. There is a time and a place, there are situations where armed resistance to evil-doers is sadly necessary. And in a sense I am not even thinking of those sorts of situations—we may well have to go to war against ISIS, for example—I truly hope not, but it may come to that.
I am thinking, though, more of a general attitude of bellicosity, a tendency to meet force with force, anger with anger, that it seems to me comes up in many places and situations in the world today, not just geo-political ones. And it seems to me that this is a deep spiritual malady which this psalm addresses.
There are people who hate, true. There are people who are set on courses of action that are genuinely wrong and evil. They may have varying degrees of culpability, but the evil done is real and grave. There may be people who hate me, and who are doing evil to me,and of course that is very hard to deal with.
The great temptation is to meet evil with evil, force with force, violence with violence. Anger for anger, blood for blood. It is the great temptation of humanity, and always has been, and has left our world awash in blood, choked with anger.
Psalm 10 opens for us another door, another path, a path which will only be fully revealed in Jesus Christ. ‘I offered no resistance to those who tore at me… turn the other cheek… Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ This is a very serious call in our days of violence, this season of war in the world. We are Christians; we are called to love our enemies, and this love must be real and incarnated, not some vague meaningless abstraction.
Here, for we who believe and call ourselves Christians, the rubber meets the road. And here, is where we, inclusive of me, fail time and again.
Clearly loving our enemy, when he's an ISIS terrorist hell-bent on taking a knife to our necks or to the necks of our loved ones, might leave room for loving him enough to hasten his meeting with Allah. The appropriateness of arranging that meeting needing to match all the criteria for self-defense and/or just war.
It's loving those who in our every day life rub us the wrong way, who make us angry or who offend us where the challenge lies.
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”
The entire interview is just excellent but I especially enjoyed this particular section:
What’s the best thing Pope Francis has done for the Catholic blogosphere?
I think he’s forcing a confrontation with the rest of Catholic social teaching. By that, I mean all of the incredible riches the church has to offer beyond the questions of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research—which in my neck of the blogosphere, started out as the five non-negotiables of orthodox Catholicism, but have mysteriously morphed into the only five things that matter to a lot of American Catholics. It has spawned a curious soteriology in some sectors that often boils down to a theory that can be fairly accurately summarized as "opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world." Francis has forced a reassessment of that reductionist view of Catholic social teaching and I think it’s all for the good.
Why does the Catholic blogosphere need this challenge?
Because we need to become more fully Catholic, but in the sense of personal conversion, not in the sense of purging the church of lukewarm believers. By that I mean helping people to become more fully Catholic, as Pope Francis has been trying to do. This challenge, to me, is what the Catholic blogosphere has most needed for a long time. I’m sure Francis is challenging some people on the left end of the blogosphere as well, but I don't hang out there all that much.
Francis isn’t interested in purging the church for the same reason St. Paul isn't interested in it. When St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians, he doesn’t tell this passel of screwed-up Christians who are sleeping with their stepmothers, getting drunk at Mass, taking each other to court, denying the Resurrection, and dissing him as a fake apostle that “you’re not real Catholics.” Instead, he insists that even the dopiest of the Corinthians arereal Christians.
In short, instead of kicking people out, Paul cries “become what you are!” One of the mythic expectations inexplicably attending gentle and sweet Pope Benedict was the notion of a "Coming Benedictine Purge” where many Catholics on the right dreamed he was going to start kicking people out of the church. But that was never going to happen. And now, under this Pope, that has been confirmed beyond all doubt. What Francis wants is for all of us to accept each other with the all-embracing love of God—which is certainly a challenge for me, because the people he wants me to love and forgive are not people I would normally be eager to embrace.
For me, he’s challenged me to think and live in new ways, to ask myself new kinds of questions about how I spend my money and what I’m doing about the poor, weak and vulnerable around me. To be sure, that includes the very old and very young our culture of death wants to kill. But it increasingly includes others to whom I have been blinded in the past by the reduction of the five non-negotiables to the Only Five Things That Matter. How am I responding to Iraq? How am I responding to what’s happening at the border? What about families being destroyed by gross income inequality? Those are questions that would not have occurred to me 10 years ago because I considered everything other than the five non-negotiables to be matters of prudential judgment—and I took prudential judgment to mean "feel free to ignore the church if it threatens your political ideology in some way." But I’ve learned in the past 10 years that prudential judgment doesn’t mean I can just blow off anything from the church that isn’t prefaced by “Simon Peter says.” We’re called to bedocile to the church so that unless we can give a really good reason why the church’s guidance is absolutely immoral, we should try to do what the church asks even on things which aren’t absolutely essential. We should try to obey the church and the mind of Christ as much as we possibly can. That’s the point of the story of the rich young man in the gospel. Marriage is another example. If a married person asks “what’s the least I can do for my spouse and still call it a valid marriage,” that marriage is already in trouble. Real love never asks “what’s the least I can get away with doing?” It always asks “what’s the most I can do?” That’s what Francis is asking us to consider. What’s the most I can do to love you, Lord Jesus? It’s not about doing the minimum daily requirement to live as selfishly as I can and still squeak into heaven.
What is your impression of Pope Francis?
I love the man. It’s almost inarticulate, but I have nothing but love for the guy. I think he’s the absolute real deal and I feel tremendous hope for the church. As I said before, I’ve loved every pope we’ve had, but I particularly have a soft spot for this man just as a human being apart from whatever he does as pope. I think the world of him. There are some people you just recognize as genuine people and I always respond really strongly to them. There’s no artifice about him and I really like that.
We have lost the willingness to call evil by its rightful name, and the courage to stand in the face of it and say: “No. Not here. Not on my street. Not in my city.” There is no limit to the hells men devise when no one opposes them. “What’s the point?” a Rotherham victim asked investigators. “I might as well be dead.”
The men and women who failed her might ask themselves the same question. We might all ask it. What is the point, really, in preserving our comforts—our lives, even—if to do so we must become so small, so dark-hearted, that we turn our backs on the most vulnerable among us?
I suppose none of us knows whether he will be a coward until the moment demands courage. “Be prepared in season and out of season,” the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy. As far as we are concerned, perhaps this entails recognizing that the season is upon us—an evil season, a season when children worldwide are treated like so much trash, when questions once governed by common sense are now fodder for intellectual word-play, when an army gathering under a black flag is both a reality and a metaphor, for war rages in the hearts of men, and it is coming, is here already, in our neighborhoods and our homes and our own hearts, we good and decent people who are perhaps only better than these cowards because the hour has not yet come when evil stands on our doorstep and demands entrance.
And what then will we say? Will we tell ourselves it’s not as bad as it seems? Will we pretend steadfastness is someone else’s job? Will we promise that this is only a small compromise, that when the situation really demands it, we’ll be brave?
Cowardice has a thousand justifications. But to the wounded, it always looks the same: averted eyes, a turned back, something resembling a man or a woman walking away.
God grant us courage to speak and do that which must be spoken and done.
God grant us guidance as to where and when.
God, might we never avert our eyes, turn our backs and walk away when you call us to action.
Tuesday evening, our youth minister had taken 24 high school and middle school aged kids bowling. In the course of describing the fun they had and how he was able to mix in some much needed religious education, he revealed that none of the 24 kids could give any details as to what took place 13 years ago today and that in fact many of them had not heard of the demise of the twin towers in New York.
It's appalling. Seriously so.
We're failing our children. Parents and school officials are failing our kids. I hope what I heard is an exception, an outlier to what kids are being taught across the country. If not, then little wonder evil seems so rampant, so widespread.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day, may God rest their souls, killed by the evil now forcing the world to act yet again.
May God give us wisdom to help end what seems endless. May God lead us to remember so that we can avoid a recurrence. May God have mercy on us all.
The Obama administration has renewed its attempt to force a Catholic religious order, the Little Sisters of the Poor, to comply with the HHS abortion mandate. The mandate compels religious groups to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.
The government is still trying to force the nuns to either violate their deeply held religious convictions or pay crippling fines to the IRS.
“Religious ministries in these cases serve tens of thousands of Americans, helping the poor and homeless and healing the sick. The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than ten thousand of the elderly poor. These charities want to continue following their faith. They want to focus on ministry—such as sharing their faith and serving the poor—without worrying about the threat of massive IRS penalties,” said Adele Keim, Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters.
Keim told LifeNews: “The government has already exempted millions of Americans from this requirement for commercial or secular reasons, so it should certainly protect the Little Sisters for religious reasons.”
Keim said today’s developments at a federal appeals court in Denver are the latest stage in the government’s attempt to force the Little Sisters and other charities serving the needy to comply with the HHS Mandate. Although the Supreme Court previously required the Little Sisters to do nothing more than notify the government of their religious objection, the government issued new regulations last month in an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s order.
The pro-life attorney explained to LifeNews that today’s action confirms the Obama administration is continuing its fight to use the Little Sisters’ health plan–provided by Christian Brothers Services–to provide potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in violation of their religious beliefs. The new regulations provide that the nuns’ approval can be written on a different form, and be routed through the government to Christian Brothers and any other plan administrators.
“Merely offering the Little Sisters a different way to violate their religion does not ease their conscience,” said Keim. “Adding another layer of paperwork is a solution that only a bureaucrat could love. The federal government has many ways to deliver contraceptives. There’s no reason it should force nuns to do that for them; the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act offer two very good reasons why it shouldn’t.”
Mark Shea has an unmatched way of explaining all things Catholic and in this post, he write about how the Sacraments aren't merely symbolic images of grace but vehicles actually delivering substantive grace to the recipient:
To understand this, we need to think of a kiss. A kiss is both physical and spiritual. Through a kiss we give, not merely an invisible reality, nor yet a merely physical gesture without spiritual content, but a sort of combination: an incarnation of love. A kiss is both physical and spiritual, like a human being.
Now sacraments are the kisses of God. Through them God not only symbolizes His love, He enacts it. Something happens to us through sacraments. Something is given. Something of the "stuff" of God is poured ("infused" to use theological technobabble) into the human soul like water into a bucket. Thus, when the Church speaks of grace infused, She speaks of God himself as if He were made of "stuff." In particular, She is recalling us to the language of the Creeds, which describe God himself as a substance when they say that the Three Persons of the Trinity, while distinct, are "one in being." They are made of the same substance, the same "God stuff" if you will.
To many, this seems crude. But then Jesus never shied from "crude" images (like comparing God to a mother hen) if they got His point across. And this is for a very good reason: Jesus Himself is a physical image--the Physical Image--of the ultimate spiritual reality (Hebrews 1:3). He is God in human flesh (John 1:1). And as God in human flesh he both symbolized God and carried to us His very Life--like a sacrament.
Which this leads us directly back to the Catholic image of grace as a "substance." For according to Scripture, the new life of grace is nothing other than the new life of God himself coming to dwell in a human personality. Thus, when the Catholic tradition describes the bestowal of grace as an "infusion" it is being thoroughly biblical, for it is relying directly on what our Lord himself said when He described the new life as "living water" welling up in the soul of the one who believes in him (John 7:38). Elsewhere, he put the same idea a bit differently and promised, "Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him" (John 14:23). Or to use an even more shocking biblical image, grace is that "seed" which impregnates our souls with Christ as it impregnated the womb of Mary.
The idea, then, is that grace (that is, the very substance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is something which really enters into our being and radically alters it, generating new life. This is in contrast to the idea held by some Christians that grace is merely a sort of legal fiction by which sinners (who remain objectively bad) are simply declared legally "not guilty" and "covered with Christ's righteousness as snow covers a dunghill." To be sure, we are pardoned by the sacrifice of Christ, but this is the beginning, not the end of the Christian life. The rest of the story, which all believers live every day, is the fact that God causes us to "grow in him" to be changed by an increasing "infusion" of his grace into more and more areas of our being. We don't merely stop being sinners and have the heavenly account books zeroed out so we can squeak into heaven. We start being saints and go from grace to grace and glory to glory.
But why then, since this is all image and metaphor, do we need physical sacraments? What good is all this water and oil and laying on of hands and bread and wine and smells and bells if they are only pointing us to the purely spiritual reality? Why not cut to the chase and avoid all this clumsy paraphernalia?
In a word, says the Church, because we are not disembodied angelic spirits. As God reminds us every time we use the restroom or make love or eat a sandwich, we are a peculiar combination of dreams and bones, part angel and part alley cat. So if sanctity is to really permeate our total being (body, soul and spirit, as Paul points out in 1 Thessalonians 5:23) it must be addressed to our total being. As the child said to his mother, curling up to her side during the lightning storm, he couldn't just pray to God in his spirit because "I needed someone with skin on." So do we. Thus, the grace of God is given to our entire being, not just the spiritual part, in the sacraments which are both physical and spiritual "means of grace." We experience, not just a legal "not guilty," not merely a divine attitude of "unmerited favor," but a physical touch and, through it, power from the grace of God so that we may be like the Man (not the disembodied Ghost) Christ Jesus and love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength: that is, with our total being.
That is simply beautiful and underscores why the faithful Catholic looks to the sacraments as something to treasure, something to yearn for and seek often, something to expectantly anticipate.
It explains why the faithful Catholic esteems Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Marriage, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and the Eucharist.
Each are in essence buckets of grace with which God pours out His love.
It makes me think that we Catholics should be participating in and trumpeting a #GraceBucketChallenge.
To deal with a Major Hasan, Americans cannot cite his environment as the cause, at least not poverty, racism, religious bigotry, nativism, xenophobia, or any of the more popular –isms and-ologies in our politically correct tool box that we customarily use to excuse and contextualize evil behavior. So exasperated, we shrug and call his murdering “workplace violence”— an apparent understandable psychological condition attributable to the boredom and monotony of the bleak, postmodern office.
But then suddenly along comes the limb-lopping, child-snatching, and mutilating Nigerian-based Boko Haram. What conceivable Dark Age atrocity have they omitted? Not suicide bombing, mass murder, or random torture. They are absolutely unapologetic for their barbarity. They are ready to convert or kill preteens as their mood determines for the crime of being Christian. In response, the Nigerian government is powerless, while the United States is reduced to our first lady holding up Twitter hashtags, begging for the release of the latest batch of girls.
Is the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab worse? It likes the idea that it is premodern. In addition to the usual radical Islamic horrors of beheadings, rape, and mutilation, Al-Shabaab even kills protected elephants, perhaps thousands of them, to saw off tusks and fund their killing spree. They seem to make the medieval Taliban look tame in comparison.
Now we are glued on ISIS, the Mesopotamian killers who are beheading on video streams American journalists, as they murder, rape, and mutilate their way from Syria to central Iraq. One of the beheaders, Jihadi John, has a British accent, and seems to enjoy shocking Westerners with the fact that he is more familiarly savage than his fellow Arabic-speaking masochists. Apparently his family immigrated from the Muslim world to the affluence and freedom of the United Kingdom for a more civilized life so that their pampered son could one day leave it to seek to destroy all that had enabled him — and thereby find “meaning.”
If a British politician demanded to strip Jihadi John and those like him of their passports or an American senatordemanded that we not let in any more Tsarnaev-like jihadists, the outcry would be such that the crimes of beheading and blowing up people at a marathon might pale in comparison. Cutting off somebody’s head or blowing off a leg is one thing, but casting aspersions on the Other is quite another.
All of the above might once have been lumped under al-Qaeda affiliates, but now Osama’s remnants apparently find monsters like ISIS too “brutal.” In contrast, Hamas only drives Christians out of Gaza rather than beheads them. It also executes unarmed Palestinians deemed insufficiently loyal. It maims those of rival Palestinian political groups. And it positions girls and boys as shields in places where their well-off elite commanders may well be targeted, rather than kidnap and take them out into the bush.
Although most of the savage violence that is plaguing the world today is the dividend of radical Islamists in Africa, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and, yes, Europe, state players are not immune. Bashar Assad has used the government apparatus of Syria to kill tens of thousands — some, in the manner of his old neighbor Saddam Hussein, through the agency of poison gas. He, too, is immune from an accounting — unless the even more evil ISIS catches up with him.
Europe and the United States are baffled by Vladimir Putin. He was supposed to be “reset” a long time ago. Or he should have at least reread Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion years ago, and learned that in an interconnected financial world, starting a war (like World War I) would be so suicidal a business as to prevent its occurrence. Instead, Putin is following the path of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, gobbling up borderlands, but for the idea of the greater glory of Mother Russia rather than the Soviet commune. His modus operandi is as predictable as our Western weepy responses. He eyes some new territory. He cites long historical affinities. He points to oppressed Russian speakers. He sends in paramilitaries. And then he talks of annexing only part of some previous Russian land. Obama compares him to a cutup in the back of the classroom or dismisses his actions as macho “shtick.” Putin counters with talk about his nuclear arsenal or taking Kiev. If a journalist smarts off, Putin warns him of castration. If Putin wishes to let off a nuke, he might well do it — if only for the hell of it.
We can stop the roll call of global orcs here, with the assumption that we all know the nature of the lunatic North Korea nuclear regime, what the Iranians are planning for the children of the Holocaust, or who the sinister sort who run Pakistani military intelligence and fund terrorists in Afghanistan are. As state powers, they all have ways of incinerating tens of thousands rather than beheading hundreds.
Evil is ancient, unchanging, and with us always. The more postmodern the West becomes — affluent, leisured, nursed on moral equivalence, utopian pacifism, and multicultural relativism — the more premodern the evil among us seems to arise in nihilistic response, whether it is from the primordial Tsarnaev brothers or Jihadi John. We have invented dozens of new ways to explain away our indifference, our enemies hundreds of new ways of reminding us of our impotence. I suppose we who enjoy the good life don’t want to lose any of it for anything — and will understandably do any amount of appeasing, explaining, and contextualizing to avoid an existential war against the beheaders and mutilators, a fact well-known to our enemies.
The Europeans are shrugging that Ukraine is lost and will soon sigh that the Baltic states are a far-off place not worth risking the coffee shops of Amsterdam to defend. Westerners lament beheadings but then privately mutter that journalists know just what they are getting into when they visit the Middle East. Murdering and abusing a U.S. ambassador on video is not such a big deal anymore and is worth only a second or so mention on Google News.
So we wait behind our suburban Maginot Lines, arguing over our quarter- and half-measure responses, refighting Iraq and Afghanistan as if they were the Somme and Verdun, assured that we can distract ourselves from the horrors abroad with psychodramas about Ferguson, the president’s golfing, his lectures on fairness, and which naked celebrity photo was hacked on the Internet.
Meanwhile the orcs are busy and growing and nearing the ramparts…
If you're a praying person, this would be a great subject to be praying about.
If you're not a praying person, this would be a great time to become one.