Don’t Cry over Spilt Milk!

Introduction - Idioms and Proverbs

I don’t remember spilling that much milk as a child, but I do remember hearing my parents repeat the proverb often. I’m sure I didn’t fully capture the meaning they were trying to convey as they hoped to teach me how to grow up into a mature, responsible adult. There’s no point to being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed.

Three years ago today I began employment with the company that made it necessary for me and my wife to leave New York City after 15 years of residence there. Three years later I am approaching four weeks of having lost that job due to downsizing and reorganization. How does not crying over spilled milk apply here? I guess there is no point to being upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed. And that is true!

Losing employment at my “tender age”—15 months from the traditional age of retirement—means starting all over again and putting myself back out into the job search world in a very economically unstable time. It means deciding what I want to do, if I get to choose, with the hopefully many productive years still ahead of me. Before losing my job I worked for twelve weeks remotely due to Covid-19. It helped me realize that not all work takes place within the confines of an established work site or office cubicle.

I’ve connected with a “talent transition and development company” thanks to my former employer and I’m taking advantage of the insights and advice being offered. New ideas of marketing my skills are “agitating my gray cells” as Hercule Poirot would say. I hope to keep you posted as I move forward.

During the time I spent working in my former company, work anniversaries were marked with coffee with the president/CEO and coworkers who had the same anniversary month. One of the icebreakers in that social gathering was to write the number of years of employment on a sheet of paper and pose for a picture with the group. I kept those papers marking “1” and “2” years of service. I didn’t get to “3”. That would have been today.

I will not cry over split milk or coffee! The best is yet to come!

Far from the Maddening Crowd

I am spending a week far from the maddening crowd. I find myself in a rural county with less than 15 COVID cases, visiting family.

This slowdown comes on the heels of losing my job due to downsizing by the company I worked for the previous three years. Taking that job in 2017 led me out of the nation’s most populous city to a small borough in a neighboring state.

This week of welcome exile brings me encounters with grandsons, chickens and rabbits, far from the maddening crowd.

Unfortunately, my penchant for staying connected and the responsibilities I have back home inform me of the increasing instability of our time. There will always be those who take full advantage of a crisis for their own aims and not necessarily what is best for the general welfare.

Statue of St. Junípero Serra pulled down in Los Angeles

This becomes especially worrisome when those entrusted with governance and spiritual guidance cower to the maddening crowd. We await our government leaders to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to protect and defend us, yet they seem more focused on safeguarding their political futures.

We look to spiritual leaders to lead us in truth with courage and they respond with sophistries and point out that their hands are tied—it’s up to the laity! That response is honestly worst than the former. That is not what they are called to.

So what do we do? For the first group we have the ballot box. We are no longer silent. We don’t wait around for the next French or Cultural Revolution. For the second group we turn to our Lord, we pray, we take up spiritual arms, and we stand in vigil before our churches and the glorious reminders of the symbols of our faith. We remember those before us who gave their utmost for the kingdom of God and the social kingship of Christ. I think of the Vendeans in France (1790s) and the Cristeros in Mexico (1920s).

As Christians face our own challenges in 2020, hopefully a remnant of our spiritual leaders will come out of hiding, honor Christ, embrace suffering and join us!

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

St. Junipero Serra, pray for us!

Saint Junipero Serra
Catholic Saint Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015 during his papal visit to the United States

At the canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra, Pope Francis said, “Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.” Fr. Serra established nine missions from San Diego to San Francisco. He is know as the Apostle of California.

God most high, your servant Junipero Serra brought the gospel of Christ to the peoples of Mexico and California and firmly established the Church among them. By his intercession, and through the example of his apostolic zeal, inspire us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I’m a doorkeeper

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness
(Psalm 84:10 NRSVCE)

Last weekend our parish reinstated Masses after a three-month hiatus due to the pandemic. Right on the heels of the return of the weekend Mass was a return to daily Mass, something I treasured every day until March 18. The 6:45 a.m. Mass was my daily time to encounter our Lord–Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. That daily meeting with Jesus made the difference in my day. Suddenly that encounter was no longer possible! How my heart yearned for our Lord!

Returning to Mass was not a return to what we experienced pre-March 18. Social distancing must be practiced, masks are expected, and seniors and those who in poor health are discouraged from attending. In the midst of all this I have been heartened to see my brothers and sisters returning with hunger, courage and vigor.

I have a new role at daily Mass in this post-pandemic world. I am an usher, or as I prefer to think “a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” What a joy to greet folks as they walk through the open front door (to minimize touching surfaces) and give them a hidden smile (behind my mask) and open the door into the nave (again to minimize contact with surfaces).

My duties also include dismissing each pew to go forward to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. My heart sings for joy as I watch my fellow parishioners partake of the Bread of Life!

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness! I trust you have had a blessed Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus! And that you have been able to return to the house of our God.

This Catholic cannot join in!

Pope Francis has asked the following to happen on May 14. I take this request from the Holy Father’s Twitter account.

I would like to remind you that on 14 May, believers of every religion are invited to unite themselves spiritually in a day of prayer, fasting and works of charity, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus #pandemic. #HumanFraternity #PrayTogether

I cannot join him in this prayer because the apostle Paul warns us not to do this very thing in 2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1 (NABRE):

Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What accord has Christ with Beliar? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said:

“I will live with them and move among them,
    and I will be their God
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore, come forth from them
    and be separate,” says the Lord,
“and touch nothing unclean;
    then I will receive you
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

Believers of every religion cannot unite themselves spiritually! The only One who can unite us is Jesus Christ!

42 months and counting…

This Sunday, September 29 will mark 42 months since my reception into the Roman Catholic Church. To translate that into years, it has been three and one-half years, and I have not regretted that decision in the least. I consider it a conversion in so many ways. It is not that I wasn’t a Christian, I was. In fact, I grew up in a Christian home with Christian parents who guided my steps several times a week to religious services. I attended a Christian college and then seminary and for more than thirty years served as a Christian pastor and missionary. I married a Christian wife and raised our three children in the Christian faith. Yet I needed a conversion.

What I converted to was the “one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”, the Church that Jesus founded upon the rock of Peter and His confession, the Church against which the gates of hell will not prevail. I converted not only to Christ’s Church that is nearly 2000 years old, but also to the Church that is the “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 DRA). No longer do I have to depend on my own interpretation of Sacred Scripture. I am in the bosom of Christ’s Church—the pillar and bulwark of the truth. I can trust Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church.

I now see quite a few passages that were troublesome and perplexing in the pure light of the Church’s teaching. That especially relates to the “Bread of Life” discourse that Jesus gave in the synagogue in Capernaum in John 6. Jesus said, Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.”

As I daily partake of the Real Presence of Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” in Holy Communion, John 6:54-58 comes alive to me and Communion is not a symbolic remembrance of something Jesus did a couple of millennia ago. He offers himself completely to me and to all who come to him by faith.

So it’s no wonder that I can’t stop talking about the joy I have in coming to know Christ fully in the fullness of his Church. Never has sharing my faith been more enjoyable and necessary. I have a sacred duty that compels me share the depth of Christ’s love for us that we experience as part of his body, the Church.

In light of what I have shared and the experiences of many converts to the Catholic Church, I find myself disheartened as I read the following paragraphs from a meeting of our Holy Father with Jesuits from Madagascar y Mozambique. You can read the full story here. Pope Francis says:

Today I felt a certain bitterness after a meeting with young people. A woman approached me with a young man and a young woman. I was told they were part of a slightly fundamentalist movement. She said to me in perfect Spanish: “Your Holiness, I am from South Africa. This boy was a Hindu and converted to Catholicism. This girl was Anglican and converted to Catholicism.” But she told me in a triumphant way, as though she was showing off a hunting trophy. I felt uncomfortable and said to her, “Madam, evangelization yes, proselytism no.”

What I mean is that evangelization is free! Proselytism, on the other hand, makes you lose your freedom. Proselytism is incapable of creating a religious path in freedom. It always sees people being subjugated in one way or another. In evangelization the protagonist is God, in proselytism it is the I.

I recognize that this was part of an answer Pope Francis gave to a priest asking about proselytism by “prosperity gospel” adherents in Africa—a group that pulls many away from true biblical teaching. But can you imagine how badly the young woman felt after being told that her efforts in evangelization—sharing the good news of Christ in his Church was somehow wrong?

“For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

The Real Meal Deal

During the years that I was in pastoral ministry it was not unusual to hear people express that they weren’t “being fed” at their local church. This realization often led the person to seek another congregation or denomination where it was hoped the spiritual nurture and nourishment that he or she sought would be found.

Since the focus of worship in most churches is the sermon—where the Word of God is expounded—the ability of the pastor or homilist to challenge and keep the hearer’s attention is of paramount importance. I remember all too well agonizing over sermon preparation knowing that my sermon had the potential to be totally forgettable, or to the other extreme, life changing.

With 33 years of ministry and many more total years in worship services I found it hard not to critique the sermons that I heard offered up. Even after coming into the Catholic Church I found myself using the same criteria. That is not to say that the sermon or homily is not important in the Catholic Church, but it is not the centerpiece of the Mass as the sermon is to the Protestant worship experience.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1324) states: The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” This necessitated a shift in perspective for me, away from the centrality of the sermon or exposition of the God’s Word, as important as that is, to the holy Sacrifice of the Mass: the Eucharist, celebrating the Real Presence of Jesus Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—under the appearance of bread and wine.

What I have discovered to my great joy is that I don’t leave church not feeling fed. The homily may be short, even lacking in presentation, but the privilege of receiving our Lord—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—is true food (John 6:55). It is the real meal deal!

Rules of the Game

Watch any sporting event—from football to tennis to Mixed Martial Arts— and you will notice something significant: The inevitable presence of referees. Referees exist to enforce the rules of the game, for any sport worth watching has rules, and sometimes complex rules at that.

Rules ensure fair play, but they also give the athletes boundaries within which they can exercise and measure their skill. A boxing match without the boundaries of the Marquess of Queensbury rules would quickly descend into chaos and mayhem. Ears could be bitten off with impunity and below-the-belt blows would be a common occurrence. Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, and Rocky Marciano were great fighters, not because of their raw, uncontrolled violence or dirty punches, but because they knew how to fight within the rules and even use them to their advantage. Rules make the athlete and they make the game.

We live in an age that despises rules and strictures. We view them as an egregious violation of our unlimited freedom. The word “commandment” sends shutters down the spine of anyone steeped in postmodern ideology, for the dogmas of radical autonomy dictate that no-one anywhere can ever get in the way of what I want; no one can ever tell me no, even if I want to deny or manipulate the fundamental facts of reality.

Chesterton once quipped that, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.” Well, that day is no longer in the future. It is now.

Just as rules make the game, so they make a flourishing life in the world possible. We need boundaries to thrive and be our best selves. Radical autonomy, for all its allure, is ultimately a myth that ends only in anger, violence, and despair. You can call a stone a ball but it will still hurt when you kick it. You cannot fight reality and win.

Likewise in the moral life. Individuals today want to believe that morality is a fable designed to suppress their fun. Doing whatever we please is the sure road to happiness, we think. But just as in the physical world there are laws of action and reaction, so too they exist in the spiritual world. A disordered action will reap disordered results every time.

Yet, oblivious to this reality, most moderns are mystified when their disordered and immoral actions reap painful and unhappy results. Rather than examining whether or not our actions are the root cause of our suffering, we instead use our tremendous powers of science and technology to seek to eliminate the consequences of them. In doing so, however, we only create several new problems and things deteriorate further.

Since the beginning of her foundation by Jesus Christ, the Church has proclaimed moral teachings and given her children rules to follow. To an outsider, these may seem unnecessary and overly-complex. Yet, these commandments of the Church are nothing less than the rules of the game of life. The Church in her wisdom, like any good parent, knows that the human person must be told no from time to time for their own benefit.

There is, of course, a good reason for everything the Church teaches available to all those who inquire, and the Church’s teachings are hardly arbitrary. The ultimate goal of her commandments is not misery, not at all. It is nothing less than Beatitude—joy and happiness that never ends.

Western society, once Christian to its core, has utterly rejected and turned with violent hatred against the teaching of the Church. And yet we cannot figure out why we are suffering. Rather than realizing that maybe the Church was right all along, frustrated moderns blame the church and her teachings for their pain. If only the Church were eliminated, then we could enjoy our disorders with impunity. But just as in the physical world, the spiritual world operates on the law of action and reaction. Disordered actions reap disordered results. We cannot fight reality and win.

Rules are necessary for full human happiness. Rules make a game, and they make a man. Far from living a life of lawlessness, every truly happy man has embraced a creed and a code. He lives by commandments, not because he is a joyless prude, but because he knows that actions have consequences, and just as bad actions reap bad results, good actions bear fruit in joy and lasting peace.

You may be skeptical. The only way to know this for sure, however, is to test it and experience it for oneself. If you would find happiness and peace, reject lawlessness which only leads to misery and with humility embrace the creed and the commandments. For this is the path to lasting happiness, joy, and peace, both in this life and the next.

The post Rules of the Game: Commandments and the Spiritual Life appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

The Church Is Holy

Ever so often you come across a great book that speaks powerfully and succinctly and challenges you in your spiritual life. For me one such book is Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed. The book was selected for our monthly book club. We are actually reading it across two months.

This morning I was reading a chapter entitled “The Visible Church.” In this chapter Sheed takes the four marks of the Church that we find in the Nicene Creed that we recite every Sunday: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Allow me to share with you what Sheed says about the fact that the Church is holy.

“Three characteristics of the mark of Holiness are, as has been said, the teaching, the means, the saints. It may have been noticed that, in treating the first two, the teaching and the means, we brought in the saints; it may be wondered what is left to say of them in the third. But in all three characteristics they are used differently. In the teaching we saw them as the unchanging standard the Church sets; in the means, we saw them as witness to the our weakness that holiness is possible even to us.

“Now, at last, we come to them as evidence to the whole world that the teaching is true teaching and the means are effective means. For the saints are the people who have accepted wholeheartedly all that Christ, through His Church, offers them.

“In other words, it is by the saints, and not by the mediocre, still less by the great sinners, that the Church is to be judged. It may seem a loading of the dice to demand that any institution be judged solely by its best members, but in this instance it is not. A medicine must be judged not by those who buy it but by those who actually take it. A Church must be judged by those who hear and obey, not by those who half-hear and disobey when obedience is difficult.

“No Catholic is compelled—not by the Church, not by Christ—to be holy. His will is solicited, aided, not forced.

“Every man must make his own response. The saints have responded totally, the rest of us respond partially, timorously (afraid to lose some sin in which we especially delight), or not at all. The saints in their thousands upon thousands stand as proof that, in the Church, holiness is to be had for the willing. Every saint is certain evidence that, if you and I are not saints, the choice is wholly our own.

The Name of God

During this Lenten season I have been reading a book by Romano Guardini first published in 1911. The book is called Sacred Signs. With his Italian-sounding name (he was born in Italy in 1885) he was German priest, author and academic, having moved to Germany with his family when he was one. He lived in Germany his whole life until his death in 1968.

The last article in the book that deals with things like “The Sign of the Cross,” “Holy Water,” “Incense,” “The Altar,” and “The Chalice,” is entitled “The Name of God.” I want to share it here with you for your Lenten consideration. Remember it was first published in 1911. It is relevant to the present!

Human perception has been dulled. We have lost our awareness of some deep and subtle things. Among them the zest for words. Words have for us now only a surface existence. They have lost their power to shock and startle. They have been reduced to a fleeting image, to a thin tinkle of sound.

Actually a word is the subtle body of a spirit. Two things meet and find expression in a word: the substance of the object that makes the impact, and that portion of our spirit that responds to that particular object. At least these two ought to go into the making of words, and did when the first man made them.

In one of the early chapters of the Bible we are told that “God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would call them…” Man, who has an ability to see an a mind open to impressions, looked through the outward form into the inner essence and spoke the name. The name was the response made by the human soul to the soul of the creature. Something in man, that particular part of himself that corresponded to the nature of that particular creature, stirred in answer, since man is the epitome  and point of union of creation. These two things (or rather this double thing), the nature of things outside and man’s interior correspondence with them, being brought into lively contact, found utterance in the name.

In a name a particle of the universe is locked with a particle of human consciousness. So when the man spoke the name, the image of the actual object appeared in his mind together with the sound he had made in response to it. The name was the secret sign which opened to him the world without and the world within himself.

Words are names. Speech is the noble art of giving things the names that fit them. The thing as it is in its nature and the soul as it is in its nature were divinely intended to sound in unison.

But this inward connection between man and the rest of creation was interrupted. Man sinned, and the bond was torn apart. Things became alien, even hostile to him. His eyes lost the clearness of their vision. He looked at nature with greed, with the desire to master her and with the shifty glance of the guilty. Things shut their real natures from him. He asserted himself so successfully that his own nature eluded him. When he lost his child-like vision, his soul fell away from him, and with it his wisdom and his strength.

With the loss of the true name was broken that vital union between the two parts of creation, the human and the non-human, which in God’s intention were to be indissolubly joined in the bonds of peace. Only some fragmentary image, some obscure, confused echo, still reaches us; and if on occasion we do hear a word that is really a name, we stop short and try but cannot quite catch its import, and are left puzzled and troubled with the painful sensation that paradise is lost.

But in our day even the sense that paradise is lost is lost. We are too superficial to be distressed by the loss of meaning, though we are more and more glib about the surface sense. We pass words from mouth to mouth as we do money from hand to hand and with no more attention to what they were meant to convey than to the inscription on the coins. The value-mark is all we notice. They signify something, but reveal nothing. So far from promoting the intercourse between man and nature they clatter out of us like coins from a cash register and with much the same consciousness as the machine has of their value.

Once in a great while we are shocked into attention. A word, perhaps in a book, may strike us with all its original force. The black and white signs grow luminous. We hear the voice of the thing named. There is the same astonished impact, the same intellectual insight, as in the primitive encounter. We are carried out of ourselves into the far depths of time when God summoned man to his first work of word-marking. But too soon we are back where we were and the cash register goes clicking on.

It may have been the name of God that we thus met face to face. Remembering how words came to be, it is plain enough to us why the faithful under the Old Law never uttered the word, and substituted for it the word Lord. What made the Jews the peculiar and elect nation is that they with more immediacy than any other people perceived the reality and the nearness of God, and had a stronger sense of his greatness, his transcendence and his fecundity. His name had been revealed to them by Moses. He that is, that is my name. He that is being in itself, needing nothing, self-subsistent, the essence of being and of power.

To the Jews the name of God was the image of his being. God’s nature shone in his name. They trembled before it as they had trembled before the Lord himself in Sinai. God speaks of his name as of himself. When he says of the Temple, “My name shall be there,” he means by his name, himself. In the mysterious book of the Apocalypse he promises that those that come through tribulation shall be as pillars in the temple of God, and that he will write his name upon them; that is, that he will sanctify them and give them himself.

This is the sense in which we are to understand the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This is how we are to understand the word in the prayer our Savior taught us, “Hallowed by thy name,” and in the precept to begin whatever we undertake in God’s name.

God’s name is full of hidden power. It shadows forth the nature of infinitude, and the nature of him who is measureless plenitude and limitless sublimity.

In that name is present also what is deepest in man. There is a correspondence between God and man’s inmost being, for to God man inseparably belongs. Created by God, for God, man is restless until he is wholly one with God. Our personalities have no other meaning or purpose than union with God in mutual love. Whatever of nobility man possesses, his soul’s soul, is contained in the word ‘God.’ He is my God, my source, my goal, the beginning and the end of my being, him I worship, him I long for, him to whom with sorrow I confess my sins.

Strictly, all that exists is the name of God. Let us therefore beseech him not to let us take it in vain, but to hallow it. Let us ask him to make his name our light in glory. Let us not bandy it about meaninglessly. It is beyond price, thrice holy.

Let us honor God’s name as we honor God himself. In reverencing God’s name we reverence also the holiness of our own souls.