Scared of the Devil?

Robert de Niro Louis Cypher Angel Heart

There was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon. Luke 4:33

Possession by demons. Scary. The other day the Youth Director at one of my beloved parishes told me some of her plans for the fall. She intends to hold a party on Halloween. They will watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” I told her to count me out. Too scary.

When I was in high-school, I pretty much ran with the jocks. We considered ourselves tough and manly. In 1987, another movie about the devil came out, called “Angel Heart.” The title makes the movie sound sweet, but it was about the devil taking a person’s soul. Mickey Rourke starred, and Robert de Niro played Mr. Lou Cypher. Anyway, when we came out of that theater at about 11:00 at night, five or six tough members of the varsity basketball team, we went together to my house. We all bedded-down for the night on the floor of my room, nestled-in together like 10-year-old girls at a slumber party. We were scared out of our minds.

Demonic possessions. Scary for the movies, sure enough. But the truth is that Satan has a far-scarier trick up his sleeve. He tried to use this trick on the Lord Jesus Himself, in the desert. If possessing people were Satan’s best shot at capturing souls for his nasty, horrible domain, he would use it all the time. But he doesn’t. The demons use their other weapon much more often because it is a much quicker and easier way to destroy a soul. Not possession, but…temptation.

How can we protect ourselves? The gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass has the clear answer. We human beings naturally can and should fear the demons of hell. But, as we read, the demons themselves fear someone. They fear Jesus Christ, because He is the Holy One of God.

So we protect ourselves from the powers of evil by staying close to our protector, the Lord Jesus. And how do we do that? Daily prayer, of course. And by using the guaranteed means of keeping Christ at work within us, namely the…sacraments.

Which are the two sacraments that we use over and over again, to keep Jesus within us and scare away the devil? Mass and confession.

Raise your hand if the idea of having to fight the devil scares you. Me, too. A lot. So let’s be smart and pray every day, go to Mass at least every Sunday, and go to Confession every month.

Morally Serious

“If you would be my disciple…”

If you would be my disciple. Lord Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, asks us: Do you want to be My disciples?

Anybody? Show of hands.

Ok. Why? Why would we want to be this man’s disciples?

Because He is God, the Almighty Creator revealing Himself to us. So, in fact, we owe Him our discipleship. Giving Him anything less than our discipleship means ingratitude, irreligion, dunderheaded self-centeredness.

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My Iraq Thoughts

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil.

Two alternate versions of reality: 1) the Iraq situation in current American discourse, and 2) the Iraq situation as described by the prelates of the Assyrian Christian churches.

1. The American media appears to be allergic to referring specifically to the Christian refugees. Perhaps for fear of painting a “Christians vs. Muslims” picture and provoking violence against innocent Muslims? If so, I don’t think that fear has a real basis. The American reportage leaves a person with some information from other sources wondering: What world do these journos live in? It ain’t the real one.

2. Some important things I myself learned in the past few days:

Consensus seems to be that ‘Assyrian’ is an ancient ethnicity, marked by the use of the Aramaic language. ‘Chaldean’ can refer to Catholic Christians with Assyrian usages.

The Assyrians have pressed for autonomy from the Baghdad regime for at least the past decade. For years the Assyrians have voiced their fears about the grave danger they face as a defenseless minority.

A decade ago, the U.S. painted the picture of Saddam Hussein as a menace to the world, basing the portrait on assertions that he had stockpiled dangerous weapons. Those assertions proved to be untrue. Now, a genuine danger has arisen, an epic catastrophe is underway, and we do not seem to have the intellectual and rhetorical resources needed to identify it and deal with it justly.

WeAreNIMHO, the theoretical construct of “a politically united Iraq” gets in the way of a realistic assessment of the situation. Whether or not Iraq endures as a nation-state is really not the issue. Also, the idea that more-local authorities should deal with this problem: that would be perfectly reasonable–if there were any real prospect of it. Will the Turkish or Saudi cavalries ride in? Who could expect that?

The real operative fact is: Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been forced from their homes and live on the edge of destruction. Cruel barbarians have savaged a peaceful people.

Is the Islamic State an enemy? Who could doubt it?

The civilized people of the world have no honest choice other than to work together to address the crimes against humanity that have been committed. This crisis has unified the Assyrian Christians, making Catholic vs. non-Catholic a non-issue for now. May it also unite the civilized people of the earth in co-ordinated action. We need a leader who can articulate both the reality of the situation and the goals that need to be achieved in order to defeat the enemy and restore justice.

Lord, please: Send us such a leader!

Beheading of the Baptist

Hardly want to celebrate the Memorial of John the Baptist’s martyrdom today, since we have already heard about one beheading too many lately.

May St. John the Baptist intercede for Mr. Foley, that he may rest in peace. And may the Lord’s cousin pray for all who suffer, as he did, at the hands of depraved and violent Middle-Eastern despots.

head-platterSt. John the Baptist said many wise things. The wisest of them all, perhaps, came when one of his disciples asked him about the Lord Jesus’ growing popularity. Anyone remember how John responded? “He must…”

He must increase; I must decrease.

Speaking for myself, I often grow impatient with what I see as other people getting in the way of my accomplishing good things. I could achieve such-and-such glorious success—if only so-and-so didn’t get in the way!

Then it struck me that the most-guilty so-and-so in this scenario is…me. No one gets in my way more, when it comes to doing good, than me myself. My preening ego, my desperate grasping for petty prominence.

He must increase; I must decrease. St. John knew—because it constituted the entire prophetic message that he had been consecrated to deliver—the Baptist knew that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer. The Lamb of God has been slain, has conquered the evil over which all of the rest of us are utterly powerless, and now reigns on high, the one true Lord.

Which means that John the Baptist knew during his pilgrim life, better than anyone, that he himself is not the Messiah and one true Lord. I myself stand like a will-o’-the-wisp, armed with nothing but dust and wind, a pathetic tinker-toy of a workman, without Jesus working in me. I can do nothing without Him.

So let me get out of His way! May I count myself nothing, a pencil in someone’s hand, desperately in need of sharpening—that is what I am.

But what the Lord Jesus can do! That’s another thing; that’s an awesome prospect. May I be small enough so that He can use me to big advantage.

Prophets’ Memorials

In the last of His imprecations of the Pharisees, the Lord condemns them for building memorials of the ancient prophets.

‘See how learned and pious we are! We frequent these memorials of the divine men of old! They were totally holy, and so are we! Since we have these stone memorials, we can show everyone that we have more religion than the common people.’

Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley

Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley

Christ insists that the monuments stand as empty shells. They had been built on earth to honor martyrs who never basked in any earthly glory. The prophets never reveled in their holiness by frequenting little monuments. The prophets languished in cisterns, or faced exile, or death–solely because they preferred the truth to currying favor with the rich and powerful.

I think we can say that the Lord’s point is:

The only real ‘memorial’ to the holy prophets is a conscience as pure and upright as theirs, a heart as honest as theirs, a religion as humble and obedient as theirs.

The ancestors killed the prophets; they did not honor them. The prophets spoke uncomfortable things, which made the rapacious hearts of the half-pagan kings violently angry. Better to snuff out the voice that accuses my unclean conscience. Because I have grown too attached to selfishness to admit the truth and change my life.

In the subsequent passage of the gospel, Jesus weeps for hard-hearted Jerusalem. ‘I would have gathered you to Myself, like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. But you prefer your petty egotism.’

Christ cursed hypocrisy and shallowness with even more pitiless rancor than the ancient prophets did. But the Lord wept with a gentle and aching heart for the love that could have been, the love that He would have shared with His people, if only they had been willing to let go of their grasping self-righteousness.

Humble honesty about myself will cost me my ego. But, in its place, I will be able to find the joy of communion with God. To defend my delusions of superiority, I would have to kill the prophet, and make up for it by putting a pretty sculpture over his grave. Better just to listen to him, and humble myself before God.

Student Resolutions

We got some MUSHROOMS in SW Virginny!

We got some MUSHROOMS in SW Virginny!

May our Lord Jesus Christ, and God our Father, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Let’s make four quick resolutions for this school year.

1. Whenever I open my mouth to speak, my words will be both true and kind.

2. When I get home, I will work on my homework before I watch t.v. or play a video game. No matter what. ‘Oh, but today, I’m tired, and and I don’t have all that much homework…’ No. ‘Oh, but that assignment isn’t due for two weeks, a week, a couple days, so I can put it aside and watch Judge Judy.’ No. Homework first–before t.v., before games.

3. Every day, I will pray. Every day. Even if it is just, ‘Lord, I’m sorry I didn’t pray earlier today, and now I’m tired and it’s time to go to bed. Help me do better tomorrow. Our Father…’

4. Now, I know pretty much everyone had these three resolutions in mind already. 1. Speak kindly and truthfully. 2. Diligently do my homework. 3. Pray every day. But here’s a big one to work on this year. We’ll work on it together. Here is it:

‘This year, I will go to Confession at least once…’ At least once? No. At least once a… semester? No.

This year I will go to Confession at least once A MONTH.

Starting from Caesarea-Philippi

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Christ took the disciples to a remote place in the north, and they discussed an interesting question. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Who do we say that He is?

catechismNow, few people pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church looking for drama. But the transition from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 offers some drama. Chapter 1 had ended with the fall of Adam and Eve. The Catechism quotes Vatican II, “the whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil.”

Then, drama. Paragraphs 422 and 423:

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. …We believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew of a daughter of Israel at Bethlehem at the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus, a carpenter by trade, who died crucified in Jerusalem under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, is the eternal Son of God made man. He ‘came from God,’ ‘descended from heaven,’ and ‘came in the flesh.’ For ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. . . And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.’

The exchange between Christ and Peter, which we hear recounted in this Sunday’s gospel reading–this exchange serves as a kind of spiritual fountainhead for the Church of Christ.

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Bagpipes at the Ocean, Dogs, and Fr. Louis

This lovely morning I heard a bagpiper saluting the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean, and I thought:

We all live in the household of the Almighty Father, where the board overflows with food. Some sit at the table and eat their fill, and some of us linger like dogs underfoot. But we, the curs of the divine household, eat plenty, too, from the scraps that fall. The only thing that matters is to be inside the house.

Merton Seven Storey MountainClick HERE for a short homily on Matthew 15:21-28. Click HERE for an even shorter one…

Okay: Seven Storey Mountain

Thomas Merton entered the Catholic Church at age 23, while a student at a big-city university. As did I. Before leaving the house to go receive his first Holy Communion, Merton worried whether brushing your teeth violated the prescribed fast. I did, too.

During his first year as a Catholic, Merton undertook the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, sitting on the floor of his bohemian downtown apartment. Me, too. He found a way to quit smoking and felt like a new man. Yes.

During his twenties, Merton made a retreat at a Trappist monastery, and the indulgent love of the heavenly Father wrapped him up like a silent blanket. Ditto.

Merton visited Rome. “I started with the misconception common to Anglo-Saxons, that the real Rome is the Rome of ugly ruins, the Rome of all those grey, cariated temples…then I began to haunt churches…And without knowing anything about it I became a pilgrim.” Sounds familiar.

After joining the Church, Merton had to wait to embark on the path to the priesthood, so he taught school. Me, too.

Merton wrote a lot of religious poems. Merton could not stay away from the tabernacle. Merton adored Christ crucified. Merton kept copious journals. Merton rode a lot of trains and took a lot of walks by himself. Merton wondered if a real Christian had to go live in Harlem or East Baltimore like the Catholic Workers. Merton loved Shakespeare and Dante and admired T.S. Eliot. Merton studied Spanish. Merton had one sibling, a brother, a couple years younger. Merton fell in love with St. Therese. Merton did some hitch-hiking in upstate New York. Yo tambien. Yo tambien

I have read Seven Storey Mountain three times. Each time, it seems more familiar.

But the differences are much starker:

Thomas Merton was a real writer, genuinely brilliant. Merton was born in France and grew up on Long Island (It is wonderful to imagine rural Long Island, as it was in the 1920’s!) and England. No one in Merton’s family frequented church regularly. When WWII came, he submitted to the draft, but he didn’t have to go, because his teeth were so bad.

Woody Allen ZeligOn the other hand, I have some of the best teeth I know of. And I grew up going to church. And, even though Merton and I both visited the Trappists and thought of staying there to live in our coffins until the final bell, I knew I was really supposed to be a parish priest–in spite of how difficult this would make things for the poor people of the parishes.

Seven Storey Mountain contains not a few jeremiads, tirades against the world–the world that deserves damnation. At 22, I did not understand these passages. At 29, I loved them. At 44, well…

Merton always includes himself among the guilty. He practically blames himself, all his youthful sins, for the eruption of World War II. But: While this book contains stunning, enormously consoling interior honesty, it, meanwhile, contains precious little human connection with other people.

(For example, without getting into anything disedifying here, my dear reader: I read with not a little disgust the cursory manner in which Merton dismisses the young ladies with whom he had been in love–without so much as a trifling description of any of them as recognizable people. Were they not his friends? It seems odd that they pass like inhuman props through the storyline. I promise that I will never write my own One-and-a-half Storey Mountain, because it would itself provoke the divine wrath for its tediousness. But, if I did, there is a woman or two who would receive more fulsome and respectful treatment.)

Fr. Basil Pennington wrote in Thomas Merton, My Brother, that Fr. Louis changed significantly, and disavowed Seven Storey Mountain, because of an experience in Louisville.

Here’s how Merton describes the experience. (From his private journal, March 19, 1958):

Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream–the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race–and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are–as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth.

Beautiful. But Pennington gets carried away with this, I think. After all, Merton had profound experiences as often as most people drink coffee. If we all had a nickel for every profound experience Thomas Merton had, we would have some money to give away if and when we became Trappists.

To be altogether blunt: I think the idea of invoking “later” Merton against the “pre-Vatican II piety” of the genuinely famous Merton (Seven Storey Mountain has never gone out of print) is patently stupid. Statements like the following, which can be found in a “Note to the Reader” by a Mr. William H. Shannon in the 1998 edition of Seven Storey Mountain, simply boggle the mind:

The pre-Vatican II church into which Merton was baptized was a church still reacting–even three centuries later–to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Characterized by a siege mentality, wagons-circled around doctrinal and moral absolutes, it clung to its past with great tenacity.

Can this man have possibly read the canons of the Council of Trent? Anyway, the idea that Vatican II gave us a New World Order in our Church–this idea has been thoroughly exposed as a fraud. Time has made mincemeat of the idea. And if we look at the whole question of early vs. later Merton that way, our thoughts will linger on altogether too shallow a plane anyway.

Let me speak solely for myself. Yes–I can say, “Me, too,” to an awful lot of what Thomas Merton wrote in Seven Storey Mountain. I found enormous consolation in my twenties from Merton in his twenties. But, now that I am older than Merton was when he went to Louisville to for a doctor’s appointment in 1958, I find the jeremiads of Seven Storey Mountain somewhat uncharitable and pretty pointless. So let me say:

I love being a secular priest. I am no good at it, interiorly or exteriorly. But I love God, His Christ, His Church, and His world. I love the fact that the second Vatican Council gave us not a New World Order in the Church, but the mandate for the New Evangelization. Which we pursue, in the immortal words of Woody Allen, in the exact same place where you can get a good steak.

Ave, Regina caelorum

Sixth anniversary of the ridiculous Fr.-Mark-White weblog! 811,000 visits so far.

The hope held out by the Gospel is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like a cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent, yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness. Upon how many of our young has this despair taken its toll! May they, the young who surround us in these days with their joy and confidence, never be robbed of their hope! (Papa Francesco at Holy Mass today with the youth of Asia)

Pope Francis is greeted by well-wishers as he is flanked by South Korean President Park upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam

…Click HERE for my defense of Mariolatry. I heard a sermon today which claimed that we don’t pray to Mary. But I beg to differ…

…For all the catechists who will soon get back to work, here’s an insight from Fr. Louis’ (aka Thomas Merton’s) book about his early life, Seven Storey Mountain. He recalls his visits to the parish rectory on W. 121st St. in New York, to receive instruction in the faith, prior to his baptism in the fall of 1938.

If people had more appreciation for what it means to be converted from rank, savage paganism, from the spiritual level of a cannibal or of an ancient Roman, to the living faith and to the Church, they would not think of catechism as something trivial or unimportant. Usually the word suggests the matter-of-course instructions that children have to go through before First Communion and Confirmation. Even where it is a matter of course, it is one of the most tremendous things in the world, this planting of the word of God in a soul.

Much more to come here re: Fr. Louis. And very much looking forward to seeing you in the various classrooms soon, dear fellow catechists!