The Quintessence’s Reason

What a beautiful spectacle this, that is thus given to the world, to angels, and to men! How worthy of eternal praise are such deeds! Many individuals, members either of the Knights of Columbus, or officers of the Federation for Religious Freedom, of the Union of Catholic Women of Mexico, or of the Society of Mexican Youth, have been taken to prison handcuffed, through the public streets, surrounded by armed soldiers, locked up in foul jails, harshly treated, and punished with prison sentences or fines. Moreover, Venerable Brothers, and in narrating this We can scarcely keep back Our tears, some of these young men and boys have gladly met death, the rosary in their hands and the name of Christ King on their lips. (Iniquis afflictisque 27)

Pope Pius XI wrote these words in 1926, in his encyclical letter about the persecution of the Church in Mexico.

The question asked by the Mexican authorities was: ¿Quien vive? Who lives? –The Revolution? The supreme government of the socialist republic?

The soldiers asked St. Rodrigo Aguilar Aleman this question three times—tightening the noose around his neck each time they asked, because he did not give the answer they were looking for.

¿Quien vive? Viva…Cristo Rey.

In the geographic center of Mexico, a large hill holds an enormous statue of Christ the King, re-built from the ashes. The Mexican bishops first conceived of erecting it in 1914. In 1923, Father Jose Maria Robles Hurtado led a procession of 40,000 people to pray for peace at the shrine. In 1926, the statue was bombed to smithereens by order of the President. And on June 26 of that year, Fr. Hurtado was hanged.

“We are always courageous,” writes St. Paul, “because we walk by faith…faith in the One Who died for us and rose again.”

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet reflects on human nature: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

Good question, Hamlet. What is this quintessence of dust, man? What makes us make sense?

Are we meant to make everything work perfectly on earth? Right all wrongs, balance all scales of justice—make life easy and comfortable and low-maintenance for everyone?

How could a Mexican soldier in 1928 bring himself to cut the soles off the feet of a 14-year-old boy, just because the boy would not say “Viva la Revolucion?” How could the soldier then bring himself to march the boy through the streets and bayonet him to death, when the boy cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey?”

The soldier could do it because he was certain that the Church stood in the way of Mexico’s progress toward utopia. Because social engineering could lift the poor out of their kneeling stupor. And only the old-fashioned, foreigner-controlled, popish superstition of the rosary-clutching women stood in the way. If we can just get this intransigent, reactionary Catholic Church to knuckle under, then true progress will finally be possible!

…What is this quintessence of dust, man? Fed, sated, rested, lesiured, sensually satisfied—marking the days till the long sleep with amusements and recreations of constant diversion? Is this what we are? Just one more technological advance away from perfect computerized comfort?

Cubilete
Sure. Perfectly comfortable. On the backs of people waiting for the bus by the side of the smog-choked highway. On the backs of children who lost their one chance at reading a book when the local library lost its funding. On the back of our Mother Earth, who groans more and more under the weight of all the noxious compounds we spew out into the air, water, and soil in order to keep ourselves comfortable.

This quintessence of dust. What point can we really have? What makes us the paragon of animals and the beauty of the world?

Only one thing: God. God has distilled the dust of the earth to its quintessence, and produced us, for one reason: that we would know Him, love Him, serve Him, hope in Him.

The dignity of man: to glorify God. What a wretched mess our lives become when we forget this.

This week we begin our fortnight of prayer and fasting for religious freedom. We need religious freedom because we need God. We make no sense without Him. Let’s pray and fast and come together because we know we cannot live without God.

Martyred After the Edict of Milan

Before he became a holy man and a bishop, St. Blase had been a physician.

St. Blase lived through the Diocletian persecution, which lasted for 25 years and is also known as “the Great Perseucution.”

The emperor Diocletian believed that the practice of Christianity offended the gods and caused problems for the Empire. He revoked rights which Christians had previously enjoyed and insisted that everyone offer pagan sacrifices.

This provoked a crisis of conscience, of course. Many Christians embraced martyrdom rather than commit sacrilege. St. Blase was one of these.

Diocletian had established four prefectures to govern the vast empire. The father of Constantine the Great ruled the prefecture of France. As we know, the young Constantine declared Christianity legal after he took over the Italian prefecture in the year 312.

St. Blase, however, lived in the Eastern prefecture. Constantine did not assume control of that part of the Empire until the year 324. In the meantime, St. Blase was martyred, in 316.

As he was led to prison, a woman with a child dying of a throat disease begged St. Blase for his prayers. He prayed, and the child got better.

The Lapsed

During the third century A.D., the Roman emperors repeatedly persecuted the Church. The Emperors Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian ordered that all Christians must renounce the faith and offer pagan sacrifices. Registries of compliance were to be kept in all provinces. Recusants could be punished by forfeiture of property or death.

Human beings being human beings, a mad whirlwind of attempted scams ensued.

By the third century, the Empire was home to many well-to-do Christians. These did not relish the prospect of offending God. But neither did they want to be impoverished or executed.

So they paid their slaves to offer pagan sacrifices on their behalf. Or they bribed officials to produce false certificates, saying they had sacrificed, even though they really hadn’t. Or they lent their identification documents to a pagan, who would then offer sacrifices under the assumed name.

The Christians who employed these stratagems to save their hides came to be known as “the Lapsed.”

The persecutions of the third century came in fits and starts; they lasted for a time, but then the Church would enjoy a few years of peace. St. Cornelius was Pope, and St. Cyprian a prominent bishop, through a couple of these cycles.

During the intervals of peace, a question inevitably arose: Could the Lapsed be forgiven? They had failed to exercise the heroic faith and courage of the martyrs. But, at the same time, they had never stopped believing in the Trinity and in Christ.

Now, of course, neither Cornelius nor Cyprian ever lapsed. Both of them eventually went to their deaths as martyrs. But, before they themselves were killed, they had to deal with the question of what to do with the conniving Lapsed who wanted to go to communion.

Perhaps we might think that, since Cornelius and Cyprian proved to be heroic martyrs themselves, that they would have insisted on Christian heroism. But the opposite is the case. Both of them were roundly criticized by other bishops for being too lax.

Cornelius and Cyprian both taught: We believe in the forgiveness of sins. Let the Lapsed confess their sins, do penance, and be reconciled. The martyrs are our heroes. The Lapsed do not pretend to have been heroes. But they are our brothers nonetheless. Let’s gather around the altar together, so that we can all learn to be heroes next time.

Makes “O Brother,

Where Art Thou” look pedestrian by comparison; genuinely Homeric; funny in every paragraph: The Great Typo Hunt.

I could not put it down. I am in love with Jeff Deck.

The only problem: Split infinitives on practically every page! Really?

The Queen’s English, paragraph 238, FOREVER!!

May we learn wisely to use the language. Latin helped her speakers to articulate themselves artfully. We Anglophones prudently choose to guard slavishly Latin’s precision.

Priests are being murdered in Mexico again, like they were during the Terrible Triangle persecution.

May all the dead rest in peace. The times recall the novel which moved Pope Paul VI to say to its author: “Mr. Greene, some parts of your book are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.”

Here are my favorite passages from The Power and the Glory.

He was a man who was supposed to save souls. It had seemed quite simple, once, preaching at Benediction, organizing the guilds, having coffee with the elderly ladies behind barred windows, blessing new houses with a little incense, wearing black gloves…It was as easy as saving money: now it was a mystery. He was aware of his own desperate inadequacy.

Laurence Olivier as the Whisky Priest

He said after a moment’s hesitation, very distinctly: “I am a priest.”

It was like the end: there was no need to hope any longer. The ten years’ hunt was over at last. There was silence all round him. This place was very like the world: overcrowded with lust and crime and unhappy love: it stank to heaven; but he realized that after all it was possible to find peace there, when you knew for certain that the time was short.

Henry Fonda as the Whisky Priest

When he woke up it was dawn. He woke with a huge feeling of hope which suddenly and completely left him at the first sight of the prison yard. It was the morning of his death. He crouched on the floor with the empty brandy-flask in his hand trying to remember an Act of Contrition. “O God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins…crucified…worthy of Thy dreadful punishments.” He was confused, his mind was on other things: it was not the good death for which one always prayed. He caught sight of his own shadow on the cell wall; it had a look of surprise and grotesque unimportance. What a fool he had been to think that he was strong enough to stay when others fled. What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived. His parents were dead–soon he wouldn’t even be a memory-–perhaps after all he wasn’t really Hell-worthy. Tears poured down his face; he was not at the moment afraid of damnation–even the fear of pain was in the back­ground. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted–to be a saint.

Broadcasts and Interviews

npr-logoHere is a heartbreaking testimony: Reuben Jackson on Football Withdrawal

(Here is another link, if the link you just clicked didn’t work. Scroll down to the bottom.)

A year ago today, we pilgrims celebrated Holy Mass in a chapel at the place where the Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-42).

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