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!

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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.

Rules of the Game

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 Church Is Holy

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.

The Name of God

Does Genesis give us hope?

Not a day goes by that there is not some mention of global warming or climate change. Some refer to it in derision or jest while others accept it as “gospel” truth. Honestly, I don’t know one way or the other. I’m certain there are fluctuations in temperatures over a period of time, but I’m not on the “let’s build an ark” as the seas are rising team. For my Millennial and younger readers, if you’re still with me, I grew up in a period of “global cooling!” Yes, especially after two dangerously destructive winters in 1977 and 1978, the science said we were headed for a new glacial age. If you doubt me here is the first paragraph from Wikipedia on the subject of “global cooling.”

Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth‘s surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciationPress reports at the time did not accurately reflect the full scope of the debate in the scientific literature.[1] The current scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth underwent global warming throughout the 20th century and continues to warm.[2]

My steady response to anything posted in the news or even from the scientific community is a definitive “Well, we’ll see!” Yesterday they forecast snow for today. I said “Well, we’ll see!” Today it’s snowing! A true forecast now gives them slightly above 50 percent accuracy over the long haul.

Other conjectures are still waiting confirmation. But this morning I served as lector at the 6:45 Mass and the first reading was from Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22. This is the account of Noah in the ark waiting for the water from the flood to recede and allow him and his family to escape from their floating zoo. You may be familiar with the story: Noah releases a raven, then a dove, that returns because there is no place to land, then again and the dove returns with a plucked-off olive leaf, and finally a third time and the dove does not return. Noah and his family and all the animals leave the ark. Noah rejoices that he can escape the stench of the ark and put his feet on solid ground. He offers a sacrifice that pleases the Lord and the Lord makes a promise, a promise that I read this morning in a new way.

When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, he said to himself:
“Never again will I doom the earth because of man
since the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start;
nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done.
As long as the earth lasts,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
and day and night
shall not cease.”

Whether “global warming” is a thing or not; whether it’s caused by man or not; God says that he will never again doom the earth because of man. That’s a message of hope right out of Genesis.

Does that mean we can be irresponsible? No, not at all! But what is responsible is to major on the majors and minor on the minors. The major issue facing mankind is our need to reconcile with our Maker, the Lord of heaven and earth. Once reconciled through our Lord Jesus Christ his only Son, how we treat each other and the earth he has given us to steward will have more impact than all the uncertain science we pretend to affirm. And please read much more into that statement on scientific facts than I am saying here for now! I want to hear more about the good news of reconciliation with God and man in homilies and if such is the case I expect God to keep his word!

 

Does Genesis give us hope?

A Gentleman Saint

saint-francis-de-salesYou would assume that all saints would be bona fide ladies and gentlemen, at least by the time they were officially declared saints through the canonization process. Yet saints, even in heaven, are usually remembered for their dominant or besetting personalities and characteristics. Some are fiery, some are gentle, some are reserved, some are bold. What they have in common we find in paragraph 828 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practice heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (Lumen Gentium 40; 48–51). “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (John Paul II, Christifideles laici 16, 3). Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal” (Christifideles laici 17, 3).

To sum it up all saints lived in heroic virtue and in fidelity to God’s grace. We know that many others who have not been officially canonized have also lived in this virtue and grace. Yet those who are canonized do serve as models and intercessors.

When I converted to the Catholic Church I was asked to chose a patron saint at the time of my confirmation. I took this very seriously. I wanted to chose someone who modeled for me not only heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace, but someone who because of what he or she lived and endured and overcame could be a model for the life ahead of me. That saint for me became Bishop Francis de Sales (1567–1622). Not only is Francis de Sales the patron saint of writers (something I aspire to), he was greatly used by God to bring many lapsed Catholics back to the faith after the Protestant revolt (again something my heart burns to see happen!).

I was first introduced to Francis de Sales through a novena I learned of from the Coming Home Network, specifically to pray for those who had abandoned or were not practicing their faith. I prayed this novena before I was even a Catholic, longing to see lapsed Catholics come back to the fullness of the faith. The more I researched I discovered that de Sales had received training as a lawyer, but could not ignore what seemed a persistent call from God to the priesthood.

Today, one of the writers I greatly admire, David Warren, devoted his blog to St. Francis de Sales. He describes the refocusing of his life from law to theology:

“Thrice in a single day, according to the legend, this scion of a noble family, that was grooming him for high station in law and public life, fell off his horse. Each time his sword and scabbard came off — how embarrassing! — and each time they came to rest in the pattern of a Christian Cross. I mention this as if it were important, because it is. We portray saints and mystics today as if they were Triumphs of the Will, heroes overcoming all adversities to win the main prize, each a spiritual Hercules. This tends to leave God out of the account, and thus the Will by which each was actually not only motivated, but directed.”

Sam Guzman, of the Catholic Gentleman, comments on Francis’s vocation of evangelization in a blog six years ago:

“While St. Francis was full of zeal, he didn’t meet with much success. In fact, he got chased out of towns and had many doors slammed in his face. But he didn’t quit. Instead, he began copying out pamphlets containing Catholic teaching and apologetics and slipping them under the doors of the Calvinists. This is the first known example of someone using tracts for religious evangelization (tracts weren’t invented by Baptists!). We can only imagine what he would think of social media. Eventually, through perseverance and creativity, St. Francis was successful in converting thousands back to the Catholic faith.

“At the age of 35, St. Francis was promoted to the Bishop of his diocese. His kind and patient teaching style won him a huge following among the faithful, and he had a special interest in encouraging lay people to live holy lives. He said, “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.” He is remembered for his many writings, especially Introduction to the Devout Life—a guide to the spiritual life for laypeople.”

“St. Francis de Sales is the gentleman saint extraordinaire. He lived a holy life in a very difficult time for the Church—the Reformation. His patience, humility, and above all, gentleness, were his trademarks” (Sam Guzman).

A Gentleman Saint

They dressed in white

61 Million

It seems appropriate to share this post from January 22 in light of Tuesday’s important speech from the chamber of the House of Representatives.

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that made abortion on demand legal in all 50 states. The decision has been hailed as a victory for women and women’s rights. Many feminists regard it as indispensable for a woman to achieve full equality as a citizen of the United States.

A few days ago I came across some quotes from the earliest of “feminists” who advocated for women’s rights, especially the right to vote. These women who called in those days “suffragettes.” Many of them were present at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19–20, 1848. It was “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman,” and it was held at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were two of the more renown women’s rights activists who attended this convention. Seventy-two years later the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to vote to all women in the nation.

Many of today’s feminists harken back to these brave and ground-breaking women for inspiration. As I stated earlier, the right to “choose an abortion” has become just as important as the “right to vote.” How did these 19th and early 20th century feminists compare to their modern-day compatriots? Let’s return to those quotes!

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

We are living today under a dynasty of force; the masculine element is everywhere overpowering the feminine, and crushing woman and children alike beneath its feet. Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children. With centuries of degradation, we have so little of true womanhood, that the world has but the faintest glimmering of what a woman is or should be. (Revolution, January 29, 1868)

Susan B. Anthony

The unifying theme of Susan Brownell Anthony’s life was to speak up for those without a voice. Anthony fought for temperance, the abolition of slavery and especially the enfranchisement of women. She also spoke up for the voiceless child in utero, opposing Restellism,  the term that Anthony’s newspaper and others at that time used for abortion. It’s easy to chalk up Anthony’s (and other early feminists’) opposition to abortion as a relic of their day and age. But these women were progressive and independent; they did not oppose abortion because they were conditioned to, but because they believed every human life has inherent and equal value, no matter their age, skin color or sex.

Anthony’s newspaper, the Revolution, had a policy  of not advertising abortion like other mainstream papers furtively did. Revolution editors like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were explicit in denouncing “child murder,” “infanticide” and “foeticide,” descriptions they used interchangeably for abortion. Indeed, a recent Smithsonian Magazine article discussed news coverage of “infanticide” in the 1860s, a common subject for early investigative reporters of the suffrage era, many of whom were women writing about their concerns under pseudonyms.

It is not hard to imagine that these early feminists and suffragists, Anthony among them, were opposed to the most fundamental human abuse: degrading another human being by claiming to own and destroy it.

In her famous 1875 talk on social purity,  Anthony condemned abortion as a consequence of liquor consumption.

Elizabeth Blackwell

In her autobiography, Elizabeth Blackwell, a suffragist and the first U.S. female doctor, went into medicine to denounce abortionists: “Women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror,” she wrote. “It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women.”

Charlotte Denman Lozier

Another suffragist physician, Charlotte Denman Lozier, said, “We are sure most women physicians will lend their influence and their aid to shield their sex from the foulest wrong committed against it,” that is, abortion.

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president in 1872 said, ““The rights of children, then, as individuals, begin while they yet remain the foetus.” Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, declared, “Pregnancy is not a disease, but a beautiful office of nature.”

These early feminists would be appalled if they could see where we are 170 years after that first women’s rights convention. Legally in the last 46 years, 61 million babies have paid the ultimate price. Their voices still speak to us today about the “foulest wrong committed” against all women, especially those who are yet unborn!

 

They dressed in white