Pilgrims

Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see. (Luke 10:24)

A state of mutual incomprehension exists between Catholic and non-Catholic, which I would like to try to clear up.

For instance, regarding baptism. Apparently, many non-Catholic Christians see baptism with water as unnecessary, a purely external ritual. We, or course, revere Holy Baptism as the essential instrument God uses to make us His children in Christ.

baptism-holy-card1The non-Catholic school of thought revolves around the idea that the salvation of my soul ultimately turns on my act of faith in Christ my Savior, my Redeemer. Hence the question, “Are you saved?” And the answer, “Yes! Because I confessed Christ as my Savior, Redeemer and Lord!”

We Catholics recognize, of course, that Holy Baptism entails faith. Baptism is the original sacrament of faith. When infants get baptized, someone must profess the faith and promise to teach the faith to the child as he or she grows up.

But I think the central point of mutual incomprehension is this: We Catholics assume that God exists, and operates, and accomplishes great wonders, beyond the scope of what our minds contain.

We do not understand religion as something fundamentally inside my own mind. Instead, we think of ‘faith’ as: a mind reaching out towards the infinitude of God.

I can say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer,” and, of course, I do. And it pleases God when I believe that and profess it. But my saying something about what I have in my own mind, at this or that moment in my life, doesn’t definitively settle anything. The matter of my salvation won’t get settled until I draw my last breath. And God alone controls when that will be.

The non-Catholic emphasis on what I think equaling religion has a mirror image: the secularist school of thought which holds that it is absurd for us Christians to claim that Christ alone brings salvation to mankind. “How arrogant and provincial to limit God to your own religion!”

Now, it would indeed be absurd for us to think that Christ alone brings salvation, if the salvation brought by Christ depended completely on what this or that individual thinks or says at this or that moment.

But that definition of religion is foreign to us Catholics, and that makes the supposedly absurd and provincial aspect of Christianity disappear. God becoming man, and the Blessed Virgin giving birth to Him in Bethlehem, is the central fact. Not what any individual human being says or does about it. The almighty power of the one, true God accomplished this fact, the Incarnation. The total effect of this fact–namely the salvation of the world—extends way, way, way beyond what my mind can grasp.

What we can grasp is: We walk through life as pilgrims. I think that this idea of us human beings as pilgrims is the key, if we want to try and clear up the mutual incomprehension between Catholic and non-Catholic.

We human pilgrims have a relationship with the unknowable God, based on what He has revealed to the human race by becoming a man in Israel 2,000 years ago. This God Himself knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and set us on our pilgrimage. And our journey leads towards Him.

That’s what we Catholics understand “religion” to mean, I think: Living as holy pilgrims, heading towards the divine mystery revealed by the star of Bethlehem.

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Changing Garments and Straightening Out

nativityThe “cloak of misery.”The Word of God orders us to take it off.

What exactly is this dark and dingy cloak? And which exactly are the crooked and rough ways which we must straighten and smooth?

Maybe the prophet means the robe of a shallow, scattershot, and discombobulated life. A life without a fundamental commitment to give it meaning.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council considered many of the problems of our age. They identified one of them like this:

Many of our contemporaries never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings, nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. (Gaudium et Spes 19)

Never get to the point of raising questions about God? Can we live a consistent life, a steady life, a unified life, without raising questions about God? Can we really even know ourselves at all without religion? Without genuine, faithful religious practice? Regular practice based on solid foundations and not just emotions and sentiments, or my own self-interested preferences?

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Best (Valentine’s) Plan: Holy Mass instead of Cupiditas

On the Mediterranean coast, north of the Holy Land, the Phoenicians worshiped the goddess we usually call Venus.

King Solomon, as we read, fell under the sway of a Phoenician woman. He betrayed his god, the God of Israel, the source of all true wisdom.

Then, as we read, the God of Israel visited Phoenicia. The Wisdom of God calmly walked into Venus’ territory. And another Phoenician woman forsook the pagan goddess and believed in Him. She entrusted the well-being of her possessed daughter to the Holy One of Israel, the Christ.

He came to conquer the demons. He came to deliver us from the shadow of evil, false worship, sin. He came to open up the door of truth.

The truth is: God Almighty, the one and only, loves everyone. He wills everyone’s eternal salvation–by the practice of true religion, the religion Jesus Christ brought to the world.

Let’s humble ourselves, entrust our prayers to Christ–like the second Phoenician woman did—and offer the one genuinely worthy sacrifice to God: Jesus Christ, and ourselves united with Him.

Contraceptives, Medicine, and Conscience

Man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man. According to it, he will be judged. (Vatican Council II)

[Rated PG-13]

Lately I have read somewhat widely regarding the federal-government mandate requiring free contraceptives. Forgive me, but B.S. alarms are ringing in every corner of my poor, little mind.

According to what law does the federal government have the authority to require this? I ask this in earnest, as I am no scholar of the “health-care debate.” Does it pertain to the vigilance of the federal government to control American medicine? Of course we must have laws prohibiting abuses.

But, in fact, contraceptives do not qualify as medicine. Being able to have a baby = healthy, not sick. To go to a doctor and say, “Doctor, I want to have sex and not get pregnant”—this does not qualify as a medical request.

An honest doctor would have to reply to such a request with a laugh and then a fatherly/motherly admonition: “My child, allow me to recommend better ways for you to spend your time…” (e.g. reading, hikes, frequenting church, frisbee golf, etc.)

Using artificial contraception is immoral because of the following fact: It is beneath the dignity of any human being to waste time masturbating.

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No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)

No one can read chapter 11 of Book IX of St. Augustine’s Confessions without tears.

Reading St. Monica’s words so moved Matthew Arnold that he turned this sonnet:

‘Oh could thy grave at home, at Carthage, be!’—
Care not for that, and lay me where I fall.
Everywhere heard will be the judgement-call.
But at God’s altar, oh! remember me.

Thus Monica, and died in Italy.
Yet fervent had her longing been, through all
Her course, for home at last, and burial
With her own husband, by the Libyan sea.

Had been; but at the end, to her pure soul
All tie with all beside seem’d vain and cheap,
And union before God the only care.

Creeds pass, rites change, no altar standeth whole;
Yet we her memory, as she pray’d, will keep,
Keep by this: Life in God, and union there!

Indeed. But the poet has missed the mark. St. Monica begged to be remembered at the altar. Union with God–we find it at the altar.

Some of our beloved separated Christian brethren ask us, How did the Last Supper become the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

The answer is two-fold:

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Coupla Questions (Roman Missal I)

1. S&P downgraded my blog rating from Boring to Boring Minus. Does that seem fair?

2. Of course I will root for the Redskins with limitless devotion. But could they make it a little easier this year?

3. Did you know that President Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Harold M. Ickes‘ father was Harold L. Ickes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior–who refused to sell helium to the Nazis? Did you know that father and son disagree about how to pronounce their surname? (Ick-ess vs. Ick-eez.)

…If Adam and Eve had not fallen from grace, how would they have exercised their religion? Would they have used a prayerbook?

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Is This a Cult?

In the course of his tour through Greece, St. Paul addressed the Athenians. He spoke to cosmopolitan people who knew little of Jewish monotheism. The Apostle observed the numerous pagan altars in Athens.

St. Paul’s address to the Athenians took place within a context that it is helpful for us to recall.

In Jerusalem, in Athens, in Rome, and everywhere in between, the people worshipped at altars. In other words, wherever St. Paul spoke about Christ, he spoke to people who exercised a religious cult of one kind or another.

In our day and age, the word ‘cult’ has come to suggest mindless adherence. But the root meaning of the word is something simpler. A cult is simply the external expression of a group’s religion.

As St. Paul pointed out to the Athenians, people are naturally religious, so people naturally exercise a cult.

The problem is this: All the cults of the world are natural expressions of human submission to the higher power. But only one cult expresses that submission in accordance with God’s express will. In other words, all religion is natural, but only one religion is true.

St. Paul spent his life explaining–to religious people–the true religion, which is the religion of Jesus Christ. And he spent his life practicing–for the benefit of cultish people–the true cult, which is the Holy Eucharist and its attendant sacraments.

St. Paul’s successors have done the same. St. Justin Martyr was one of these successors. Justin explained the true religion to religious people, like rabbis and philosophers. And he explained the true cult of the Holy Mass to the Roman Emperor.

What does this have to do with us? Didn’t the Word of God exhort us this past Sunday to stand ready always to give an account of our faith to any inquiring mind?

Not only that—Don’t we owe it to ourselves to seek solid explanations for the tenets of our religion and the practices of our cult? Catholicism is NOT a ‘cult,’ in the pejorative sense of the term. We are free to ask questions and seek explanations. The more we do that for our own private benefit, the readier we will be to help others.

Sound and Fury Signifying Little + Leontes

Should we bother with the burgeoning “Shakespeare was Catholic” literature?

Peter Milward’s Shakespeare the Papist kept me company last summer. Until I ran out of patience with its inconclusive, fantastical arguments. A subjective analysis of some plays does not an historical proof make.

To summarize: historical documentary evidence about the Bard’s private life demonstrates nothing conclusive about his personal religion. Internal evidence from the plays, like Claudius kneeling down to confess his sins in Hamlet, proves…nothing about Shakespeare’s personal religion.

Now Archbishop Rowan Williams opines that “Shakespeare was probably Catholic.” This is about as convincing as Oprah Winfrey asserting that the shot that killed Kennedy probably did not come from the grassy knoll.*

May God be praised! The real joy lies in the Bard’s oeuvre itself.

Can the genuinely ‘Catholic’ position on Shakespeare be: not to claim lamely that Shakespeare was Catholic but rather to rejoice simply that Shakespeare was awesome?

Like the way in which the Bard created Leontes’ convoluted, suspicious character by using over-wrought vocabulary and syntax in Winter’s Tale

…Leontes is beginning to grow jealous of the friendship between his queen and his old friend Polixenes. So the king asks his servant Camillo if he has noticed anything:

…Was this taken
By any understanding pate but thine?
For thy conceit is soaking, will draw in
More than the common blocks: not noted, is’t,
But of the finer natures? by some severals
Of head-piece extraordinary? lower messes
Perchance are to this business purblind?

Leontes asks Camillo these contorted questions in the second scene of the play. When Leontes reappears in Act V, his strange, jack-in-the-box way of speaking also returns.

One of the courtiers urges king Leontes to marry a second time, but the dead queen’s friend Paulina forbids it. Leontes replies:

Thou speak’st truth.
No more such wives; therefore, no wife: one worse,
And better used, would make her sainted spirit
Again possess her corpse, and on this stage,
Where we’re offenders now, appear soul-vex’d,
And begin, ‘Why to me?’

When Leontes learns that Polixenes’ son Florizel has come to Sicily to visit, he asks, with his characteristic stiltedness:

What with him? he comes not
Like to his father’s greatness: his approach,
So out of circumstance and sudden, tells us
‘Tis not a visitation framed, but forced
By need and accident. What train?

A few lines later, Leontes reveals the mystery of his studied manner of speaking. He urges his courtier Paulina not to refer to Polixenes:

Prithee, no more; cease; thou know’st
He dies to me again when talk’d of: sure,
When I shall see this gentleman, thy speeches
Will bring me to consider that which may
Unfurnish me of reason.

To put oneself forth as a sober man of reason while, in fact, you are a burbling cauldron of jealousy, guilt, and remorse–this might lead a person to speak with Leontes’ robotic patter.

Maybe Shakespeare was Catholic. Certainly he was a veritable god.

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* Just an analogy. I am not familiar with anything Oprah Winfrey ever actually said.

Altars, Pagan and Christian

First of all, let me say this: To see LeBron get sat-down was…SWEET!

…At Holy Mass, after Communion, when the deacon or priest cleanses the chalice, he says this prayer quietly to himself:

Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus: et de munera temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum.

The translation of this Latin sentence which appears in the current English Sacramentary is an utter mush.

But soon we will have a new English-language Missal! This is how the prayer will be translated:

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.

Beautifully put. Speaking of well-written sentences: I have seen Hamlet many times. I have seen all the movies, and I have seen it on stage probably a half-dozen times.

The other night I saw the best Hamlet I have ever seen. At the Folger Shakespeare Library. (Not the Folger Shakespeare Theatre Company downtown, which is to be avoided like a noxious cesspool.)

The Hamlet at the Library was great. Seeing it restored my faith in the art of Thespis. Ophelia stole the show. The play made sense to me in a new way–as the story of ruined love. Do whatever you can to get a ticket.

…Here is a short Ascension Day homily:

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)

St. Paul traveled the world to teach the Good News. When he went to the pagan city of Athens, he observed the many shrines to the many pagan gods. This moved him to explain the difference between pagan worship and Christian worship.

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Parable Comparison

A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them…(Luke 15:11 and following)

Did you know that there is also a Buddhist parable of the Prodigal Son?

Let’s compare the parable of Buddha with our beloved parable of Christ.

In the Buddhist parable, there is only one son. The son departs from the father’s house, but he does not take any money with him when he goes.

In the Lord Jesus’ parable, the wealthy father gives his younger son his inheritance, even though the son has no right to it until the father’s demise.

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