The Basis of Psychological Health

[written 2/3/20]

The good Lord wills our integrity as human beings, our physical/spiritual health, our interior unity—however you want to put it.

The angels and demons perceive the divine power of Christ by some means of perception that we don’t have. For us, it’s a matter of… Faith.

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croceInterior unity, genuine psychological and spiritual integrity, human virtue; a reasonable, honorable, and steady life–it all starts with faith in the Incarnation, in the divine love of the triune God.

We don’t wear red vestments today in honor of the Kansas City Chiefs. Much as they deserve congratulations. The red represents the blood of the martyr St. Blase.

Christ died in utter physical degradation, but with perfect interior virtue, total loving communion with the eternal Father. The martyrs have died likewise: Physically crushed, but interiorly as healthy as a human being can be. That is, united with God by faith in the Christ.

What Makes for Peace

APTOPIX Turkey Syria

If you only knew what makes for peace. (Luke 19:42)

One of the genuinely heartbreaking ironies of our time: “martyrdom” and hope.

Every two years we read at Holy Mass the accounts of the heroes of the Maccabean revolt. The fidelity of the Maccabean martyrs inspires us. But Mattathias, and the Zealots who imitated him, did not fully reveal the face of the Father. Open impiety and irreligion moved Mattathias to kill. But open impiety and irreligion moved Christ to submit to suffering.

We do not know what makes for peace. But Christ teaches us. Holding fast to “the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising not its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)

“The joy set before Him.” The fulfillment for which we were made, the kingdom of true happiness–it cannot be anything less than God. Christ teaches us that this kingdom, this happiness is real. We can, should, and must hope for it.

“He endured the cross.” Christ and the martyrs of Christ do not do violence. They endure violence. The holy martyrs whose memory the Church keeps alive through all the vagaries of history–they counted the joy to come more precious than this passing pilgrim life. So they submitted themselves to an unjust death.

We can and do say that the martyrs have held the world “in contempt.” But a true martyr’s contempt for the world aims only at the falsity and emptiness of a shallow life. In no way does this contempt move a true martyr to acts of violence. To the contrary, a martyr patiently and calmly awaits the coming of the Lord, living a genuinely spiritual life in this world. He becomes a martyr only when violence finds him.

Syria Patriarch YounanNow, if we think that only jihadists make a mockery of the word martyr, then we deceive ourselves.

The Catholic Patriarch of Syria said yesterday: “It is inconceivable to think that [ISIS] can be defeated with air raids: this is a big lie.”

Practically every time we Western powers drop a bomb from the sky, over the land where our father Abraham once walked–every time we do that, we make real martyrs. Innocent bystanders, patiently waiting on God, meaning no harm to anyone, get killed. ISIS is a bunch of unbelievable bad guys, to be sure. And the people who drop bombs that incur “collateral damage” as a matter of course: Also bad guys.

Christ teaches what makes for peace. Staring calmly at death, not to bring it about, but to accept it. Because the joy set before us is greater.

Holy Apostles’ Moment

Georgetown Hoyas season kinda in a shambles. Big man academically disqualified for the season. On the road tonight in Omaha (the real place, which is wonderful–as opposed to the barking of that annoying quarterback). The Creighton Bluejays enjoy double-digit favor. Never thought I would live to see the day when the Hoyas would tip-off against Creighton–much less as 10-point underdogs. Pray for me.

Edward Armitage Call of Apostles fishermen

Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Come, follow me.”

He came to them, and invited them to put Him first. They had made their living on the water, pulling up redbelly tilapia by the dozens, in big nets. We know from reading later portions of the gospels that this particular day did not mark their absolutely last fishing trip. They would fish again. But Jesus beckoned in that moment: Let it all go for now, and put Me first.

Continue reading “Holy Apostles’ Moment”

The Real Birthday

St. Irenaeus

I love balloons as much as the next guy. And I very much appreciate the little bouquet of balloons tethered at my parking place when I arrived at church this morning.

But I really think we ought to celebrate St. Irenaeus’ birthday today.

1,811 years ago today, this catechetical and evangelical genius gave his life for Christ, preferring to die, rather than offer pagan sacrifice at the compulsion of the Roman authorities. Irenaeus died alongside a great number of fellow martyrs in the city of Lyons, on the day before the 135th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Peter.

Let’s celebrate their birthday today. Their birthday into eternal life. The birthday of a saint is the day he or she leaves this earth, headed to the kingdom of God.

The labor pains of such a birth do not come by conjugal union of man and woman, but by persevering faith in the eternally fruitful Word of God. When we believe—when we believe in Christ, no matter what—He gives us a birth into a life that never ages and never ends.

John Paul II’s Martyr-Predecessors

Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow
Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow

One of Bl. Pope John Paul II’s greatest sources of pride and joy was the fact that he had the unusual privilege of serving as the successor of not one, but two bishop-martyr-saints.

Of course, he served as the successor of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome. Peter, the leader of the Apostles, suffered martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and thereby consecrated the Church of Rome with his blood. Since ancient times, the Pope has celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at the tomb of St. Peter, on the Vatican hill.

Before being chosen to succeed St. Peter, John Paul had already served for a decade and a half as the successor of St. Stanislaus. Cardinal Wojtyla had celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at Stanislaus’ tomb, which is in the cathedral church of Krakow, Poland.

Like St. Peter, St. Stanislaus suffered death at the hands of a wicked monarch. It happened 934 years ago today. The Bishop had excommunicated the king for kidnapping another man’s wife. The king accused Stanislaus of treason and killed him.

Time Magazine John Paul II Poland 1979John Paul II returned to Poland during his first year as Pope in order to visit St. Stanislaus’ relics for the ninth centenary of the saint’s martyrdom. This was the famous visit credited with beginning the demise of communism in Europe.

Preaching at the cathedral in Krakow, the Pope referred to St. Stanislaus as the “patron of moral order” for the Polish people. The Pope recalled how Stanislaus had faced a great test of faith and character, and, by God’s grace, passed it. Stanislaus emerged victorious as a faithful Christian, even in the face of death. Bl. John Paul went on to say:

In the final analysis the moral order is built up by means of human beings. This order consists of a large number of tests, each one a test of faith and of character. From every victorious test the moral order is built up. From every failed test, moral disorder grows.

We know very well from our entire history that we must not permit, absolutely and at whatever cost, this disorder. For this we have already paid a bitter price many times.

This is therefore our meditation on…St. Stanislaus’ pastoral ministry in the See of Krakow, on the new examination of his relics, that is to say his skull, which still shows the marks of his mortal wounds—all of this leads us today to a great and ardent prayer for the victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history.

President Brad Pitt?

Your faith has saved you. (Mark 10:52)

Last Sunday we began to discuss the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church.

Actually, it’s not true.

I mean, that we started discussing Vatican II’s portrait of the Church last week. In fact, we began to discuss it two weeks ago, when we reflected on the conversation the Lord Jesus had with the rich young man.

We wondered how we camels will get ourselves through the eye of the needle and into the kingdom of heaven. Chapter V of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church teaches the means by which every Christian person can seek holiness. Intentionally to choose poverty, chastity, and obedience ranks high among those means. And the Council taught that yet a higher means of attaining holiness beckons the chosen few, namely martyrdom.

In the spring, we talked about the federal Affordable Care Act, and how we would love it, were it not for the parts of it that we hate. I hope all of us grasp the responsibility we have as Christians to consider the politics of our country from the point-of-view of the weakest and most defenseless people, the people who have no voice, no money, no power, especially the thousands of innocent unborn children who die by violence every day.

So we covered our pro-life principles back in the spring. Now let’s consider something else…

The history of our nation has seen admirable civil-rights movements. Inspiring leaders have helped us to perceive the fundamental dignity of every individual human being. Thanks to these movements, we wonder now: How could any of our ancestors have held our other ancestors as slaves? And how could our forefathers have regarded our excellent foremothers as anything but perfectly capable and intelligent?

Crusades for justice fought by earlier generations have given us liberating clarity and insight. But we also have to acknowledge that such crusades tend to oversimplify things. Social movements paint the world with a very broad brush, dividing it into two forces: the noble, aggrieved class and their advocates on one side, and the villainous enemies of change on the other.

Now, let’s consider: Do you or I sin against justice by saying to a homosexual person: Dear homosexual brother, dear homosexual sister, God wills something better for you than to do unnatural and unfruitful things with your body?

Is this statement oppressive and unjust? We disciples of the chaste and pure Christ freely acknowledge that the “something better” God has in mind for homosexual people is also something harder. God wills something harder for the homosexual person, just like He wills something harder for anyone who has cancer, or for a young widow or widower, or for a handicapped person.

Getting sick is hard, losing a spouse before their time is hard, being celibate is hard. All involve carrying a cross heavier than what anyone wants to have to carry. But when we carry our crosses in faith, we become the people God made us to be.

We Catholics say to any person with homosexual desires: God wills something better for you than to give in. Stand right here beside us. We will carry our crosses together, with the help of Christ’s grace. We do not consider you to be “gay.” We call you a brother or a sister Christian. Let’s fight the good fight for chastity together.

Does saying this make us the enemies of a human right? We call it love to try to inspire people to have noble aspirations and seek God’s help in rising above the concupiscence of the flesh. But we have to face the sobering facts: A strong and self-assured social movement, with tons of money and prestige, calls what we say not love, but hate.

Let’s ask ourselves: If things continue to move in the direction in which they are headed, will there be room left for the Catholic Church as a mainstream institution in los Estados Unidos in twenty years? Or will the administration of President Brad Pitt have gotten our official teaching on homosexuality declared illegal by Chief Justice Ted Olson’s Supreme Court?

If we do not have the guts to think clearly now about the meaning of marriage, and find a way to stand our ground—if we do not offer our contemporaries a strong and loving answer to the Same-Sex Marriage Movement, an answer that springs from what we know about the sacredness of the human body, made male and female, and the beauty of lifetime marital fidelity—if we do not paint a picture of something better and truer than what the captains of our culture peddle these days, and then give ourselves over completely to the truth we believe in—if we fail to shine the light, in other words, then if we find ourselves outlawed and operating clandestinely and ineffectively out of someone’s basement in twenty years, we will have only ourselves to blame.

Being against “gay marriage” means defending the interests of children. But even more important is that we know, understand, and love what we are for. We are for Christian chastity, faithfulness, and fruitfulness.

If it becomes illegal to be for what Jesus Christ is for, then bring on the handcuffs! We will sing in our jail cells. For the sake of all the confused and misguided souls who have never heard of Christian chastity, we cannot afford to be wimps about this. We are living through a decisive time, and we have to be ready and willing to be fed to the lions—if that’s what it takes to stand with the chaste, loving Christ.

Cosmas and Damian’s Justice and Temperance

Saints Cosmas and Damien were brothers, Arabians, physicians. During the persecution of Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century, they were beheaded. Their relics were eventually brought to Rome, where Pope St. Felix transformed an ancient pagan temple in the Forum into their church. The names of Cosmas and Damian are invoked in the ancient prayer of the Roman church.

The apse of their basilica has a famous mosaic, depicting Saints Peter and Paul presenting the martyrs Cosmas and Damian to Christ.

King Solomon prayed that the Lord would spare him both poverty and superfluity. “Provide me only with the food I need” (Proverbs 30:8). Better to have only the necessities, with nothing added. After all, the Lord told us to “take nothing for the journey” (Luke 9:3).

Wise king Solomon wanted to focus on other things than his material needs and desires. Namely, praising God and seeking the truth. Saints Cosmas and Damian offered medical treatment for free. Because of this, everyone knew them. When the persecution came to Asia Minor, the gun-sights were immediately trained on the magnanimous Christian doctors of Cilicia.

Seems to me that three key points emerge:

1. The Lord provides enough for everyone to eat and drink, and not starve, and not freeze to death in the cold. He has no plan for anyone to luxuriate in this world. Not because He doesn’t want us to be happy; He actually has better things planned for us than bon-bons on the divan.

2. The wise person cultivates the cardinal virtue of temperance. The temperate person fasts and feasts, according to reason, proportion, “appropriateness.” Temperance allows us to focus on spiritual pursuits, leaving us to eat, drink, sleep, exercise, and have sex according to what makes sense, given the realities of our particular individual lives.

3. In the mosaic in Rome, Saints Cosmas and Damien hold their crowns in their hands as Saints Peter and Paul present them to Christ, waiting for Christ Himself to place the crowns on their heads. The crowns Cosmas and Damian hold are crowns of martyrdom. But, of course, they only became crowns of martyrdom because of external events beyond the saints’ control. The generous physicians would have been glad to continue to try to heal the sick on earth, if such had been the divine will.

If we hold in our hands crowns of justice and temperance, if our consciences do not accuse us of self-indulgence or abuse of this world’s goods, then we can stand up straight before the Lord and live the life He gives us to live. We can say to St. Peter and St. Paul, to St. Joseph, St. Francis, and all the saints: “Denizens of the court of heaven, I stand ready to serve. Please present me to Christ. If it be His will that I remain on earth today, then give me the grace to serve well here. If today is my day to suffer death, let it come.”

The just, temperate person can live life as God made us to live, starting now, and never ending.

The Conscience of the King

If you would like to pray for reprieve from hurricanes (especially on the feast of the Martyrdom of the Baptist), click here.

…In the Old Covenant, the Lord established a monarchy in the person of King David and his descendants. This institution possessed unique characteristics—unique characteristics of many different kinds. One of these, which made the throne of Judah different from all of its neighbors was this:

As we read, at one point during his reign, King David undertook a manifestly corrupt and evil course of action. He plotted to have Uriah the Hittite killed, so that he could marry Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. When David undertook to do this, the king’s evil orders were indeed obeyed by his subordinates. But not everyone stood by quietly. The prophet Nathan came to David. The prophet confronted the king and managed to convict David out of his own mouth as an unjust villain who deserved death.

No other kingdom in recorded ancient history had prophets who would humiliate the king, if the cause of truth required it.

…There is a higher King, and the higher King has His will and His plan—and His will and plan are true. The wills and plans of all of us here below, from the most- to the least-powerful: they all must be measured, and they can be found wanting.

Nathan confronted King David. Nathan, God bless him, got to sleep in his own bed that night. David had been wrong, but he was not so wrong as to blame the messenger of truth when condemnation came. St. John the Baptist likewise confronted Herod. But St. John did not get to sleep in his own bed on Herod’s birthday night or any other night after that.

Both King David and King Herod had given into lust and sinned against the sacred marriage bond. Both were measured by truth and found wanting. Both of the prophets who had the guts to confront these kings—both of them were prepared to die for it.

Can we imagine for a moment that John the Baptist hesitated for even a millisecond before accusing Herod? The Baptist did not hold his life on earth at a pin’s fee; all he cared about was the truth; he certainly did not hesitate.

If we say to ourselves, “Well…John the Baptist is John the Baptist. Living in the desert, wearing camel hair, eating locusts, etc. Of course he never thought twice about confronting the powerful; of course he was ready for death. He was John the Baptist, after all!

“But I don’t know if I am cut-out for such death-defying truth-telling missions. I’ve got commitments in this world; I’ve got to compromise and find a way to get along…”

Okay. Alright. No one wants to be an obtuse egomaniac who styles himself a latter-day John the Baptist.

But let’s ask ourselves this about the man himself, about the real John the Baptist: If simply being John the Baptist meant that he would denounce the king for an unholy marriage–without a thought for his own safety; if ‘being John the Baptist’ meant as much, then what does ‘being a Christian’ mean?

If John the Baptist had not done his duty and accused the king; if instead he had retired from his calling, or never followed it in the first place, and instead kept a little shop and had a wife, and then died in his bed an old man; when he went to meet God, wouldn’t God say, “Look here, man. I made you to be a mighty prophet. But you blew it off, blew off your mission because you wanted a little comfort for a few years. For crying out loud, I made you to be John the Baptist, but you crumbled and became John the baker instead! Geez.”

If we can see clearly the incongruity of such a scene, then why can’t we see this clearly: If I die and go to God, and He says, “Look here, man. I made you to be a Christian. I consecrated you in truth to live for heaven and never fear death. But you didn’t have the guts to stand up!”

…We also have to ask ourselves one other question. Who do we have the duty to confront? We have to go after the most dangerous tyrant of all.

Of all the kings of the world, which is the most difficult one to confront with the truth? Before which potentate does it require the most guts to stand up?

The star chamber that requires the most courage for sticking solely to the truth is the little room where I stand alone in front of the mirror. If I can accuse the tyrant I see there of all his sins, then there’s hope for me. Then I can look forward to sharing the reward which John the Baptist now enjoys.

Maria Goretti, the 20th-Century Famine, and Us

One hundred ten years ago today, St. Maria Goretti suffered martyrdom rather than consent to sexual impurity.

She became one of the first of the countless martyrs of the 20th century. One historian estimates that the last century saw 45 million martyrdoms, out of a total of 70 million over the whole course of the last twenty centuries. This would mean that two-thirds of all the martyrdoms that have ever occurred took place in the twentieth century. Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote, “At the end of the second millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs.”

In the first reading for today’s Mass, the prophet Amos warns of a famine. “Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but of hearing the Word of the Lord.”

A famine of hearing the Word of the Lord. The blood of the innumerable martyrs testifies to the fact that the last century endured just such a famine. The hard soil that did not hear God’s Word extended to many corners of the globe.

But God brings good out of evil. A lustful young man killed Maria Goretti out of willful malice. But he repented and turned to God. He attended her canonization Mass, at peace with her family.

If the twentieth century began with such a beautiful testimony to God’s all-conquering mercy, then only He can know all the good for souls that can come from the quiet suffering of so many millions of faithful Christians.

As the Lord teaches us, every faithful life bears fruit. Every earnest Christian bears witness in his or her little way. More good than we can know comes from it.

St. Maria Goretti feared sin more than death; she loved Christ more than she loved her earthly life. If we can say the same, then the famine of hearing God’s Word won’t last. We ourselves will water the soil with our faith.

Believing Like Martyrs Have Believed

When the hemorrhaging woman touched Christ, power flowed into her body from His flesh. No wonder it did—the flesh of Christ is divine. The flesh of Christ conquers all sickness, conquers even death.

If you recently flipped through your copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you may have noticed a reproduction of an ancient painting on page 277. A painting of the woman touching Christ appears at the beginning of the section on the sacraments.

The man that the woman touched dwells in heaven. He touches us through the sacraments of His Church. The same power that cured the woman works in the Church now. The same power that raised the dead—that power lives, and breathes, and gives life, even now, in Christ’s Church.

…Some of us spent last Friday evening watching a movie about St. Thomas More. The script for the movie comes from a play called “A Man for All Seasons,” by Robert Bolt.

Continue reading “Believing Like Martyrs Have Believed”