A Triduum for the Three Parts of the Church
All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day make a sort of autumn Triduum. As the dying leaves fall to earth, as the daylight fades, as the wind turns colder, the Church helps her children make sense of the inevitable and confusing fact of death. Each of us will grow older, grow feebler, and die, what the poet Homer 3000 years ago called “hateful old age” and “miserable death.” In the last words of Ecclesiastes: “the silver cord is snapped, the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher is shattered at the spring, the pulley is broken at the well, the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it.” The autumn triduum of October 31, November 1, and November 2 point to a truth deeper than death: the life breath will return to God, who gave it. “For in him,” Jesus declared, “all things are alive.” The saints are those who live and die in Him.
Those of us who still live on this side of the grave must realize that we are only the tip of the iceberg. The Church consists of three parts, of which we are only the smallest. We make up the Church Militant, those in daily combat against the destructive powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But above us, below us, and all around us a great multitude fills the air, invisible to us, but more real than anything on earth. The saints in heaven (the Church Triumphant), and the holy souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering), have entered into real life, and we are shadows compared to them. We are the ghosts; they are the living--substantially alive in Christ Jesus. “After this,” St. John writes in our first reading, “I saw a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” We believe in the other two worlds, and we depend on the strength of their intercession, even as we intercede for the souls in purgatory.
Destined for Purity
And yet earthly death saddens and frightens us. Death is dirty and putrid and loathsome. We avoid it like the plague and scrub our hands after touching a corpse. But, in fact, the carnal impurity of death is only a consequence and manifestation of spiritual impurity. Before sin, there was no death, and after sin, there will be no death.
“Who are these” asks St. John, “wearing white?” The angel replies: “These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We hope that one day we will be so washed, that the sadness of sin will never again touch us. “Everyone who has this hope based on Him,” writes St. Paul in the Epistle, “makes himself pure, as He is pure.” “We are God’s children now,” he continues. “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Jesus directs us to this purity in the eight beatitudes: poverty of spirit, meekness, thirst for righteousness, and cleanness of heart. Only the pure of heart can see God, and can see him in other people. The pornography epidemic, for example, ruins human relationships, especially marriages, because one addicted to pornography can no longer see God or his image in other people. Holiness is first and foremost purity of heart, so as to see God in every person and in every circumstance. One day, in heaven, we will be absolutely pure, absolutely holy, absolutely content.
Saved in and for Community
God reveals himself in the people around us, and God saves us with the people around us. We are the Church Militant, but we are saved with and through the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. We are One Church, and no one is saved in isolation. “There is no isolation in heaven,” writes Pope Benedict, and the Communion of Saints begins on earth, to be perfected in heaven. St. John’s vision of heaven in the Apocalypse is “a great multitude,” crying out with one voice: “blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be to our God forever and ever.” “We are God’s children,” writes St. Paul, all members of his family. We have a Father in heaven, and we have a Mother in heaven. As we think on the fact that we all must undergo our own death alone, and the hope that God will sweep us up into the glorious multitude of saints, we put ourselves into our Holy Mother’s arms. She will lead us over the waters of earthly death and bring us at last to her Son and his kingdom, where we will live with the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, and all of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.
Today is Halloween, and one of my intrepid interlocutors (a mother of ten) suggested with a smile that I weigh in on the day. How could I refuse a mother of ten? (A thousand thanks to the father of these ten as well.)
What does your scribe think of Halloween? I think it’s on the wrong date. Some students asked me to offer a Mass for the Faithful Departed at Santa Paula cemetery on November 2, which I will do. If we are going to celebrate “death,” we should do so on November 2, and we should do it properly. On All Souls Day, we celebrate death in Christ, which is really something to celebrate. We celebrate the fact that these poor souls made it the finish line with their faith intact; they have only heaven to look forward to (usually after a stout stint in Purgatory). We pray for these suffering but holy and blessed souls on November 2nd, and we celebrate Christ’s triumph.
But “Halloween,” as it has been reinvented, has nothing to do with either All Souls Day or All Saints Day. Yes, I am aware that the word “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” but our American holiday is far from anything Christian. Instead of celebrating death in saintly fashion (as a glorious supernatural birth into eternal life), “Halloween” celebrates death in zombie fashion (as a horrifying unnatural extension of earthly life). It’s got it exactly backwards, and this perversion fascinates only the backwards thinking (alas, we all think at least a bit backwards now and then).
But to the point of my Mom-friend’s request: how do good Catholics, especially good Catholics with ten rambunctious children, deal with Halloween? Everyone else is casing the neighborhood for candy, and do we expect our kids to stay inside? All the other kids are charging through the streets in fantastic outfits, and do we expect ours to keep still?
I suggest, as have many before me, that we face Halloween head on. Dress your children up, but dress them up as saints, and send these saints out to battle the zombies. If the neighbor kids can dress up like psychopaths and witches, your kids can dress up like Maximilian Kolbe and Therese of Lisieux. It’s a free country, after all. Do they want something scary? Send them out as St. Lawrence, with a gridiron under his arm, or as St. Denis, carrying his head, or as St. Lucy, with her eyes on a platter. The martyrs not only did not fear death, but they did not fear eternal life, and sold their earthly lives in full confidence of obtaining real life in the next world. While the pagans trivialized death, the martyrs transformed death. We can speak sanctity to vulgarity; your children can proclaim the Gospel of Life on this night of death.
Depending on where you live, and how far the Culture of Death has advanced in your neighborhood, you may not want to send your kids out tonight. In many parishes, such as my last parish, we hold an All Saints Day party on All Hallows Eve. Children dress up like saints, including the martyrs, compete for prizes, pray some prayers, and get some candy. I would always dress up like St. John Bosco, meaning I simply donned a Roman hat to go with my black cassock, but many children put great effort and imagination into their costumes. Many of them were truly inspiring and exciting.
And then some of the children, fortified by Christian fellowship, prayers, and candy, headed out into the world to take on the skeletons and vampires. Good must overcome evil, and if your children are up to the challenge, let the saints march through our streets to overcome fear with faith, to bring Christ’s light into death’s darkness.
I have no doubt that the demonic is behind much of our culture’s fascination with death at this time of year. We must take the perversion of All Saints and All Souls Day seriously. Perhaps the best way to do that is to retake the holiday as much as we can. After all, we Catholics hold the copyright on “Halloween”—it’s our word, and it’s our Solemnity. Don’t let All Saints Day and All Souls Day sink into the Culture of Death and its mire without a fight. Make the effort to celebrate them properly, so as to be a light in your neighborhood on this otherwise night of darkness.
The Feast of Christ the King
Today Holy Mother Church celebrates In Festo Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Regis: Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 to help correct the world’s tilt toward the chaos of secularism. The Great War (which ended in November 1918) made terrifyingly evident that universal devastation is the price we must pay for casting God out of public life. A few years after this war, and foreseeing the next global war to come, Pius XI wrote the encyclical Quas primas: “These manifold evils in the world are due to the fact that the majority of men have thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; [with] no place either in private affairs or in politics: as long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of our Savior, there will be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.” Before Christ, the world knew no peace, but on a certain year in human history, the Son of God became incarnate and established his Kingdom. It is at this moment we enter today’s Gospel reading. Jesus Christ faces Pilate. The Roman king of Judea stands in judgment over the eternal King of heaven.
A King faces the King
Pilate was not a bad king, as earthly rulers go. He had nothing against God—he just didn’t know him. He was only trying to keep order in the best way he knew. He was like most political officials in our day—non-Christian, with no recourse to a higher moral authority—for our social order has lapsed into its primitive, non-Christian state. Like Pilate, Christ has nothing to do with our decision-making, and we are trying to maintain peace without God.
Pilate asks Jesus: who are you? Are you a king? Jesus answers Pilate’s question with a question: “Do you say this on your own?” In other words, do you really want to know who I am, and what it means to be a king? Pilate becomes a little frustrated with these deeper questions, which seem like riddles to his crudely political mind: “Do I look like a Jew to you?” he flings back at Jesus. “How am I supposed to know about your weird religion? Just tell me who you are and what you’ve done to cause a riot in my district.”
Pilate Doesn’t Get It
Then Jesus gives Pilate, and all humanity, the answer we have been longing to hear: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Every worldly political order will fail to the degree that it refuses to have reference beyond the world. We can’t keep order by ourselves. What do you think will happen if you put three children in a room by themselves for five hours? They need an adult to keep from hurting each other. We “adults” need a Father greater than any earthly father. Deep down, we all know this, and we know that the answer to our political conflicts is not found in this world.
Jesus continues: “I came to testify to the truth.” Every politically mature person asks whether an earthly ruler ever be completely honest. And Jesus answers that question: No, he can’t. The world is ruined; it is lost to original sin. Only the ruler who is beyond this world can bring peace and order. Only God bears the fullness of truth, and the only way to rule this world is to refer beyond it. Pilate doesn’t get it, and, with all due respect, Barak Obama doesn’t get it. Few rulers have ever understood this; most politicians who call themselves “Catholic” don’t get it, and I’m not sure how much we get it either. It is enormously difficult for anyone in our society, soaked as we are in secularism, to grasp how empty, how frail, how vain is any attempt at a peaceful order divorced from God’s laws.
Are We Taking Earthly Politics Too Seriously?
Many good Catholics complain to me that they struggle with despair over our country. American leadership, and world politics, becomes more anti-Christian, more irrational and chaotic, more dishonest, every day. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we can’t do anything about it.
But remember this: Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. So why do we expect order, peace, and honest politics from this world? The world as we know it is passing away. Our hopes are not in this world, but in Jesus Christ, the Lord of a Kingdom not of this world. If we are discouraged by earthly politics, we probably think too much of them. If you never miss the evening news, whether it’s Fox or CNN or NPR, but you do miss your evening family rosary, you are bound to be depressed. But don’t you know that the rosary is far more real than the news? Turn the TV and computer off, and pray the rosary together, and you will gain courage and hope.
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to remind us how transitory are this world’s rule. The Lord Jesus Christ reigns over heaven and earth; nothing and nobody can topple him. We put our hope in him, we commit our allegiance to him. With our Lady, we work to bring about his Kingdom in this world, but with our heart set on the Kingdom that is not of this world.
Pope John Paul II
Will I Find Any Faith?
The folks “back home” can hardly believe that at TAC we have four Masses a day with confessions before and after each one. Some people assume we are a seminary—“so you don’t have any females on campus?” Rather than an exception for Catholic colleges, this should be the norm, since, Christ tells us in today’s Gospel to “pray without growing weary.”
The comic irony of today’s Gospel never fails to delight me. Jesus speaks of an unjust judge and an “importunate widow.” She keeps at the judge until he breaks down: “I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” One imagines a little old lady whacking a dignified gentleman with her umbrella, maybe delivering an uppercut with her elbow or a jab in the ribs with her cane. But consider: Jesus portrays our Heavenly Father as an unjust judge. Certainly, he admits, it seems like God is “unjust” at times, that he ignores our prayers. “Why do bad things happen to good people” is the question that has driven many to give up their faith. How can God treat his faithful servants so poorly? Once, when praying about her many trials and sufferings, St. Teresa of Avila heard God say, "But this is how I treat my friends." She replied, "No wonder you have so few of them." If even the great Saint Teresa struggled to keep her faith, what about us? So Jesus asks the terrifying question at the end of today’s gospel: “when the Son of Man returns, will he find any faith on earth?”
Our first reading, from the Book of Exodus, speaks of faith in terms of war. “In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.” We read everything in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, on several levels, the most important of which is the “tropological,” the symbolic or figurative meaning. When we read that Amalek attacks Israel, we understand as the world, the flesh, and the devil attacking us. How often are you minding your own business, studying in the library perhaps, and out of nowhere a lurid and overpowering temptation attacks you? Or, without warning, you get slammed with an insult, a misunderstanding, or a confrontation from someone you love? The struggle to preserve our faith must be total war, and that war begins in this chapel. We carry the fight out into the streets, but only after we have wrestled with God before the Blessed Sacrament. It is here that we struggle to crucify our own lusts and calm our fears, and where we learn to trust Him.
Like Joshua, we can’t afford our enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil—any quarter. Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” The Bible is not telling us to slaughter our enemies, but to kill what is evil in our enemies with love, with the “sword of the spirit.” We must wield this sword against evil: in ourselves; in others; in our society.
How do we learn to wield this sword? We wield it in prayer. The battle for eternal life is essentially the “battle for prayer.” Moses kept his hands raised throughout the battle with the Amalekites, with the help of his friends (not even Moses himself could sustain his prayer without help). At all costs, we must keep our hands raised in prayer, all day long, lest the “Amalekites” get the better of the battle.
The Catechism describes prayer as a “battle.” “Our battle has to confront, finally, what we experience as failure in prayer” (2728). This is perhaps the devil’s most devastating tactic, to convince us that we cannot possibly pray, that we are wasting our time, that no one is listening, that we only talking to ourselves, speaking into the void. But we must insist that every minute spent in this chapel, or in our room, or in our car in prayer is full of grace, no matter what it feels like.
John Paul II on Prayer
In an address to young people in 1979, the young Pope John Paul II called them to pray without growing weary. “It must be humbly and realistically recognized that we are poor creatures, confused in ideas, tempted by evil, frail and weak, in continual need of inner strength and consolation. Prayer gives the strength for great ideals…it gives the courage to emerge from indifference and guilt… it gives light to see the events of one’s own life and of history in the salvific perspective of God and eternity. Therefore, do not stop praying. Let not a day pass without your having prayed a little! Prayer is a duty, but it is also a great joy. Every Sunday, Holy Mass; if possible, sometimes during the week. Every day, morning and evening prayers, and at the most suitable moments!”
We do pray a lot here at TAC. We have a beautiful chapel in which to pray, and beautiful people with whom to pray, and an inspiring campus. When I raise my eyes to the mountains that surround our College, my soul naturally gives praise and thanks to God. But we must also take the time, and the trouble, to pray, many times a day. Begin the day with a morning offering, visit the chapel at least once a day between classes, pray the rosary or a part of the rosary each day, and continually lift up your mind and heart to God. Our Lady will teach us to pray. Begin with the rosary, and stay with the rosary, and you will preserve your faith, so that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on earth.
Pope Francis entrusts the word to the Blessed
Virgin Mary Oct. 13 2013. Credit: Lauren Cater / CNA.
In every culture, and in every age, people admire valiant and virtuous military commanders: men who put their strength, courage, and intelligence at the service of their country. Such was Naaman in the first reading, commander of the military forces of Syria, a giant of a man, expert in battle, loyal to king and people. Valiant though he was, the Bible tells us, he was a leper. A little Jewish slave girl tells him of a man of God in Israel, so Naaman goes with an impressive retinue, loaded with gifts, to Elisha for healing. The man of God, however, refuses even to meet him, but tells him to bathe seven times in the river Jordan. At first Naaman refuses, but then plunges into the waters. “His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child….” If someone asks you why you dip your finger into holy water upon entering a Catholic Church, you tell them this story. It’s to keep your skin as young as that of a little baby. Have you ever seen a nun with wrinkles?
Blessed water is a “sacramental”—a simple element that communicates God’s healing power: a drop of olive oil, a splash of water, a flickering candle flame, a waft of sweet-smelling incense. If we were angels, we would not need sacraments or sacramentals, but we poor human beings learn through our senses, so God gives us these little helps to our faith. In the Gospel, not one but ten lepers come to the Man of God, Jesus Christ, who is God himself. Like Elisha, Jesus does not heal them directly. He tells them to “show themselves to the priests,” to perform the simple sacramental rituals of Jewish law. It was not the ritual that saved them, but their humble obedience, their faith, in God, who gives us these sacramentals. Jesus says to the one grateful leper that returned: “your faith has saved you.”
Many people—Catholics and non-Catholics alike, do not take sacramentals seriously. They don’t put crucifixes and statues in their homes or build little “altarcitos” in their homes. They don’t make the sign of the cross in public, or carry a rosary, or say traditional prayers. But these simple expressions of our faith are most important: at least Jesus thought so; he would not heal without them. My mother used to remove the little holy water font in our house before our Protestant cousins came for dinner so as not to offend, but one day she just left it up and said “I can’t help it if the Catholic Church has all the good stuff!”
Naaman goes back to Elisha, after bathing in the river, to ask for two mule loads of dirt. He intended to bring the soil back to Syria, so he could kneel on holy ground while worshipping the true God. Do we have to go to a consecrated chapel to pray to the living God? Jesus says we should pray not on this mountain nor that mountain but in spirit and truth. And yet Jesus himself goes to Jerusalem for the Passover, and follows traditional rituals, directing his disciples to do the same. Holy things and times and places are important to our faith. Can you pray to God without candles, statues, and rosaries? Yes, but they certainly help. They are biblical, and Jesus uses them.
The simplest and most effective Catholic sacramental is the rosary of the blessed ever-virgin Mary. October is the month of the Holy Rosary (the feast of the Holy Rosary is Oct 7), and a good time to resolve never to leave home without a rosary. If you have a rosary, you are more likely to pray it. It’s a simple prayer, but as John Paul II said, “marvelous in its simplicity and its depth.” In my last parish, I tried many ways to pray with my staff, but nothing worked until we began praying the rosary together once a week.
Pope Consecrates world to Our Lady
Today is “Marian Day” in the Year of Faith, the day the sun danced at the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. Today Pope Francis consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Rome. Let us also consecrate our city and our families to the Blessed Mother today, using the words like he used at St. Peter’s today: Holy Mary Virgin of Fatima, with a Mother’s benevolence we beg you to accept our act of consecration today, which we offer before your image, so dear to us. We are certain that each of us is precious in your eyes and that nothing in our hearts is unknown to you. Bring everyone under your protection and entrust everyone to your beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus. Amen.
The First Mystery of the Rosary
Today Church allows us to celebrate an “external feast” of the Holy Rosary, which the Church celebrates tomorrow, October 7. Also called “Our Lady of Victory,” this feast commemorates the Battle of Lepanto, but more of that later. The Gospel for this Feast is the First mystery of the Holy Rosary, the Annunciation. This mystery announces and contains all the other 19 mysteries within it, and indeed, stands at the center of our creed, which stands at the center of our Mass.
In center point of the Nicean Creed, which is the center point of the Mass, which is itself the center of our lives, we chant these words: “Et incarnatus est… de Spiritu Sancto… ex Maria virgine… et homo factus est.” Indeed, we kneel at these words, because it marks the moment of humanity’s redemption. God reached down from heaven to touch man, but He first asked this man, who was a woman (Mary), if she would allow him. She said yes, and the Holy Spirit rushed upon her. Eternity stepped into time; the infinite, almighty God becomes a tiny, helpless babe; the floodgates of grace burst open; the Word becomes Flesh. This central article of the Nicene Creed mentions the three persons of the Holy Trinity: “Incarnatus est” points to God the Father, creator of the incarnate, material world; “de Spiritu Sancto” points to the Holy Spirit, by whom the Son is made incarnate, and “et homo factus est” points to the Son, who became man. But there is a fourth person named in the Creed: “ex Maria virgine.”
God is eternally perfect, three in one, needing no one to “complete” or perfect Him. But at the center of the Creed a fourth person, a human being, enters into the Trinity. God “needed” her; that is, He wanted to “need” her. In receiving love from this person, God completes the circle of love, because love cannot always give; it must also receive (as Pope Benedict wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift”). What kind of friendship or love is one-sided? What love would spouses share if they did not receive acts of love from each other? In receiving Mary’s love, God reveals the inner life of the Trinity, an eternal exchange of giving-receiving-giving.
The Battle of Lepanto
The First Joyful Mystery captures this encounter between God and humanity in the maiden Mary of Nazareth. The rosary is a sacramental reminder of God’s desire to love and be loved by us. It is a powerful defense against the forces of fear and hate. We celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary because of an epic sea battle at Lepanto off the Greek coast 450 years ago. The Ottoman Turks had attacked Cyprus and positioned themselves to strike deep into Christian Europe. The Christian nations assembled an allied navy to defend themselves, but with fewer ships and soldiers, the Christians had little hope of defeating the seemingly invincible Ottoman navy. Pope Pius V ordered all of Europe to pray the rosary on that desperate day, October 7, 1571. He himself went to St. Mary Major in Rome to pray. Back at Lepanto, hundreds of miles away, the morning wind blew from the east, driving the Turkish fleet full into the Christian ships. But as the day wore on, as Europe prayed the rosary, as the Pope prayed in Rome, as the soldiers themselves prayed as they fought, the wind shifted to the west, giving the Christian ships the advantage. It is said that, about that time in Rome, Pope Pius interrupted a meeting with some cardinals: "Let us interrupt this business!” he exclaimed, peering out a window. “Our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given…." And indeed, after 5 hours of engagement, the Christian fleet had overcome the Muslim navy, and Islam was prevented from enslaving Christian Europe.
The rosary works. It draws us into the mystery of God’s inner life, and replaces fearful hatred with loving trust. Sadly, Christian Europe is all but dead, not from Islamic conquest, but from secular atheism. The Muslims who were stopped at Lepanto in 1571 are now taking over Europe by default, for any faith is better than no faith. But we can still pray to Our Blessed Mother, committing ourselves to God’s will, as she did in today’s Gospel: “Let it be done to me as you have said.” Let us pray the rosary as Americans, lest our own nation be overcome by the irrational forces of God’s enemies. Let us pray for Europe, that it may yet gain victory over the dictatorship of relativism. Pray the rosary, in your families, every day. If you think you cannot pray the entire rosary, pray at least a decade, every day. After the Mass, it is the most beautiful, and the most rewarding, means of spending your time.
St. Michael the Archangel
The Guardian Angels
Today Holy Mother Church celebrates the Feast of the Archangels, especially the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel, along with Gabriel and Rafael. Their very names derive from the name of God, “El” in Hebrew. Micha-el means “who is like God,” his war cry to rally God’s hosts—whom can we serve other than God, for who is like unto Him? Gabri-el means “the strength of God” and Rafa-el “the healing of God.” On Wednesday, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, to whom our Gospel refers today: “I say to you,” Jesus says of the little children, “that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly father.” Those who do not respect children, or any “little ones” who are pure of heart, should keep in mind that, though children may look defenseless, an angel of unspeakable power hovers just above them with drawn sword. One should fear scandalizing, abusing, or even treating them with impatience out of simple self-preservation. “Better,” Jesus says, “to be cast into the ocean with a millstone lashed about one’s neck than to corrupt a child.” Jesus loves the little children. Who preys on children? As the media constantly reminds us, a small percentage of Catholic priests prey on children. In addition to these, however, just about everyone in the entertainment industry makes a good part of their living corrupting children, and all of these will wish they had respected the frailty of a child’s innocence when their guardian angels lay hold of them.
The Catechism tells us in paragraph 336: “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” I consecrated myself to the guardian angels some years ago and renew my consecration each day with this prayer:
Holy Guardian angel, you continually behold the face of our Father in Heaven. God has entrusted me to you from the very beginning of my life. … I beg you: protect me from my own weakness and from the attacks of the wicked spirits. Enlighten my mind and my heart, that I may always know and accomplish the will of God. Lead me to union with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“Enlighten my mind,” I pray each day. Angels are pure spirits, and so understand truth intuitively, not needing to arrive at truth through a laborious exercise of the senses. Again, from the Catechism number 330: “as purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will. They are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.” Consider the most excellent created being imaginable: the body and soul of a great hero, such as we study here in the Greek epics. Imagine the intellect and imagination of a great mind, such as Socrates or Einstein. Consider the heart and will of a great saint, such as Augustine or Aquinas. Imagine any other thing of beauty that amazes us: a spiral galaxy 300,000 light years across, the pacific ocean whose depths dwarf anything we know on earth. Angels surpass in perfection all of these created things. Each angel is a distinct species of itself, and it far surpasses any other species in the visible world.
Angels Help us to Adore Him
There are nine choirs of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Archangels, Principalities, and Angels. Angels help us “to adore Him,” in the words of the traditional hymn: “You behold him face to face.” The principle role of the highest choir (the Seraphim), in fact, is to incessantly cry out the Trisagion hymn found in Apocalypse 4:8: “Holy Holy Holy” we too sing at every Mass. At this Mass, know that myriads upon myriads of Seraphim worship with us.
If we at TAC wish to “carpe veritatem,” we should pray each day to the angels to help us know God and the whole of his creation: to know Him, in order to love Him, in order to serve Him. Your guardian angel not only protects you from physical danger, but defends you from intellectual harm. I recommend praying to your guardian angel every day, as we already pray to St. Michael every day, to defend us in battle, to help us know God and the things of God, so as to love Him, to serve him, and to be with him forever in the life of the world to come.
St. John Bosco
From the Chaplain’s Laptop: Vows
One of my dear priest friends announced to his parish last Sunday that he would no longer be their priest because he had fathered a child. He told Channel 10 the next day that “it has been very hard to live a double life.” To some degree we all live “double lives,” hiding our big and small infidelities from others and attempting to hide them from God (it didn’t work for Adam and Eve). I am sure that my friend will receive all kinds of “support” in this difficult time. The news media will doubtless quote many people saying that priests should be able to marry, that the Catholic Church must change, that this priest did nothing wrong, etc.
But my friend does not need this kind of “support.” He needs true support, in the first place prayer, but also the support of friends who will tell him the truth. The truth is, he broke his vow of chastity. It’s not the end of the world, and not the end of my friend’s relationship to God and His Church. But it is a grave sin, calling for humble penitence and reparation. In breaking his vow, a priest scandalizes the Church (causes people to lose their faith) and scandalizes himself (compromises his relationship with God, for after all it is to God he made his vow). A priest can survive such a breach in fidelity, and indeed become a saint, but he will need to clearly admit his mistake and work to restore what he has stolen. This is the daily work of anyone’s spiritual life.
My friend said in the TV interview that he hopes the Church will change her teaching on priestly celibacy. He implies, I think, that to be true to himself, he had to violate his vows, since the Church expected something unnatural and unreasonable of him. But even should the Church change her discipline of clerical celibacy (I don’t think she will), we priests are bound by the vows we made to God on the day of our ordination. We all knew that to which we were committing on the day of our ordination (we spend 6-8 years preparing for it). We knew that we were committing to a mystical marriage with the Church, to celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We know very well that we cannot keep our vows without His grace.
Priests pray every day that God preserve them from violating their vows. I love my friend, and it is not easy for me to write this. We have shared many beautiful years as brother priests. I am sending this blog to him before I post it. But it must be said that the Church is not at fault in this case. Man’s weakness—his, mine, the woman’s, the bishop’s, the laity’s—is at fault. But Christ’s Church—she is not at fault. Celibacy is difficult, even impossible, for men, but the Church is not wrong in requiring this of her priests. God calls his priests to do the impossible, after the example of His Son, so that we will depend entirely upon his grace. If we fall short, we must simply and sincerely admit our failure and seek to rebuild what has collapsed. God will give us the grace to do so.
A “scholar of the law”—in other words, a lawyer—asks Jesus a tricky question: “Of the ten great commandments of Moses, and of all the 613 commandments found in the Torah, which is the greatest?” he asks. Which is the one God is really serious about? Which is the commandment I really cannot break if I want to get to heaven?
And Jesus takes his question seriously: “This is the One,” he replies: “Love God.” Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Love God with everything you’ve got, from the heart. St. Augustine famously said, “Love God, and do what you will.”
But, Jesus continues, “There is a Second Commandment. You, my dear scholar of the law, didn’t ask for it, but you need it as much as you need the First Commandment.” And that second commandment is this: love your neighbor as yourself. “Neighbor” comes from the German nachbar, meaning, “he who is near you.” The guy next to you at that moment. Could be on a bus, could be in class, could be at home in the living room. Whoever is right there, at that moment: he’s your neighbor, and he’s the one you’ve got to love. You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your “neighbors”—they mostly just show up, and often enough, at rather inconvenient times.
Jesus thinks we need this second commandment; in fact, he insists on it, even though the lawyer only asked for one commandment. I wonder why? Perhaps because, well, how do we know if we are actually keeping the First Commandment? God after all is a hidden God, a God of silence. If I don’t love him, he doesn’t throw a fit. If I don’t visit him at Mass or say my morning prayers, he doesn’t frown at me. But, if I neglect to call my mother on Sunday, she might mention it during our next phone call. If I give my roommate the silent treatment, he will reproach me sooner or later (in fact, I don’t have a roommate, but I speak hypothetically). If I don’t pay my electric bill, someone will let me know. Loving our neighbor can be measured. Neighbors keep us accountable, because how I love my neighbor is how I love God (“whatever you do to the ‘least’ of my brethren,” Jesus said—you know, the ones who always get picked last for basketball teams—“you do to me”). Show kindness to that nerd at school, and you show kindness to me. Love your wife when she’s screaming at you, and you love me, Jesus says.
One Law; Three People to Love
So we have two commandments, two people to whom we must show loving kindness: God, and the guy next door. But there’s a third person, and Jesus names that person too: yourself. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But how much do I love myself? A person who treats others badly might observe that he is loving others as he loves himself. He just doesn’t love himself very much. Each of us, after all, is God’s son or daughter, and we are commanded to love each person God has made, including that person who lives inside my own skin.
So, we have three to love: God, neighbor, and self, in that order. Some people, especially those who have had rough childhoods, may need to learn to love themselves before they can love others, but it is certain that love of God comes before everything and everyone. We fulfill that First Commandment first and foremost by praying. “Love consists in this,” wrote St. John in his first letter: “Not that we have loved God, but that he first loved us.” Love of God is essentially receiving his love, not fighting it—receiving it like a little baby receives milk from his mother’s breast, or like a little girl lets herself be scooped up into her daddy’s lap. And that happens in prayer, in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, or in our room with the iPod turned off, or even on a freeway stuck in traffic, listening, and loving Him back.
This is how Our Lady received God, when the angel came to her. She listened, and she asked a few questions, and she surrendered her whole heart, her whole soul, her whole mind to God’s perfect will. “Let it be done to me according to your word,” she said. Easier said than done, but not impossible for anybody. So let’s follow Our Lady, and give ourselves to God, as he gives himself to us.
Don’t I look like a cat today?
A friend asked me to comment on August’s California ruling abolishing same-sex bathrooms in public schools by January 1st. The new law allows a male high school senior, who decides that day that he is a “female,” to change, dress, and shower in the girl’s locker room.” It’s lunacy, of course, and a recent newspaper article on women in the military illuminates the issue.
The article showed a photograph of a beautiful young lady dressed in military camouflage smiling shyly into the camera. She had entered the Marines, and against traditional wisdom, had been trained to destroy life rather than to conceive and nurture it. When the vocal minority began promoting women in combat a few years ago, many objected that killing is not consistent with a woman’s nature. The intelligentsia, of course, laughed in their superior intelligence. Others pointed out, more practically, that putting females with males in close quarters would certainly disadvantage the females. Again, the elites scoffed, insisting that if a modern woman wants sex, she gets it, and if she doesn’t want it, she refuses it.
And so, the title of last week’s article, buried on page 13A: “Female Veterans: Sexual Trauma haunts 1 in 5.” They are getting raped, and they don’t want to talk about it. The solution to this explosion of military rape couldn’t be simpler (separate the women from the men), but it will escape the grasp of most policymakers. That’s because the elites didn’t read the memo on Original Sin. They insist that “I’m OK, You’re OK.” They blithely maintain that hawks will always treat doves with respect and dignity. They imagine that their petty “sexual revolution” has liberated man’s nature, which has remained bound to cruel lust these last 5000 years. Or perhaps, these policymakers know well what is in the heart of man, but wish to take advantage of the naïve.
And now to California schools’ co-ed bathrooms: the elites in California have recently exercised their power over another set of simple and innocent doves: schoolgirls and schoolboys. Governor Jerry Brown signed the law for all public schools, effective Jan 1. What do we expect will happen? Do we imagine that high school students, glutted with sexual stimulation from the time they could talk, will respect each other’s dignity? Do we think that 16-year-old public school students will modestly avert their eyes and their comments? What do we think will happen when an overweight and insecure girl squeezes into the stall behind the row of urinals on a crowded school day? What will happen, I wonder, when three beefy high school seniors declare they are “female” and demand entrance into the girls’ showers after a game?
What I expect is that in a few years, or a few months, we will see an article on page 13A of the local newspaper: “Teens Traumatized in School Bathrooms.” Who will be the loser? Governor Brown? I expect he has his own private bathroom in Sacramento.