Hell? Yes!

On a quiet Thursday morning (today) in a 6:45 a.m. Mass in a small town (Merchantville, New Jersey), at a Roman Catholic parish (St. Peter’s), with small group of people (maybe 60) a parish priest (Fr. Tim Byerley), gave a homily on the feast day of St. Albert the Great.

The Gospel reading for St. Albert’s feast was from St. Matthew 13. I will highlight the first part of the passage and the portion from which Fr. Tim took his four-minute homily:

Jesus said to the disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Matthew 13:47–50, Saint Paul Daily Missal 

What impressed me this morning is that our pastor did not waste words in getting to the point, nor did he avoid the importance of the message on a very early Mass audience. In a nutshell, Fr. Tim spoke about the subject that Jesus focuses on here and in many of his teachings: the reality of the final judgment and the possibility that due to our actions hell is one destination that could be reached.

Hell is not a popular topic as I have mentioned here before. Not only is it not popular, but it is also hardly mentioned, despite the fact that Jesus talked about it a great deal. Think back to the last time you actually heard hell mentioned in a sermon or homily. I’m thinking many of you dear readers under the age of 40 may never have unless you took part in a series on the “Four Last Things”—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Fr. Tim so rightly pointed out that when final judgment, including the possibility of going to hell by the choices we have made, is excluded from our teaching and practice, then Christianity becomes just another philosophy that you try to live by, but in so doing, you choose what you want and what you don’t want. Since converting nearly three years ago I’ve learned there is a phrase for that: “Cafeteria Catholic.” Honestly, I believe there are not only “cafeteria Catholics,” but cafeteria “Christians” of all stripes.

Is it any wonder then, when the possibility of spending eternity in hell is removed from our hearts and minds, our lives and our practice, our homilies and our catechism, that we begin to live like the Israelites in the book of Judges: “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 RSV). The story of humanity is littered, maybe I should say “trashed”, with our rationale, excuses and defenses for why we do what we do. We alter our vocabulary to fit our chosen lifestyle and then we ask God to bless us and what we do. This can be anything from “blessing” an abortion clinic or seeking to redefine the timeless teaching of the Church in Sacred Scripture and Tradition regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. Once we throw out the doctrine of the possibility of our choices leading to eternal damnation, then the “sky is the limit” as to what we will adopt in our depravity.

Jesus makes it very clear: “Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” I would rather put my faith and confidence in him than in any “theologian” or “church leader” who teaches otherwise with an agenda.

On the Feast of All Saints, St. Albert the Great preached a sermon from Revelation 7:17

After portraying their beatitude, St. Albert explains this passage of the Apocalypse: “The Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life” (vii. 17). 

“In God’s kingdom, there are five fountains, to which the Lamb will lead His elect. The first is the source of consolation; there the Lord shall wipe away their tears. The second is the fountain of repose; for after having dried up their tears, the Spirit, that is the Holy Trinity, will say: ‘Henceforth they shall rest from their labours.’ The third is the source of refreshment; for they who are at rest shall be refreshed and inebriated with the superabundance of God’s house. The fourth is the source of joy. The elect, by reason of the heavenly consolations, the sweets of repose and the most agreeable refreshment, shall be in jubilation. They shall sing their salutations with gladness in the courts of the predestined. The fifth is the fountain of love. How ardently will they not love Him, Who consoles them, Who gives them rest and loads them with every good? Isaias, speaking of this fountain, says: ‘You shall draw water with joy from the fountain of the Lord.'”

“On the other hand, in hell there are, five fountains, to which the infernal dragon thrusts the souls of the reprobate, that they may drink thereof. The first is called Styx. When souls drink of those waters, they conceive a mutual hatred of each other. The second is named Phlegethon. The property of its waters is to enkindle the rage of the damned, first against themselves, then against those through whose fault they are lost. The name of the third is Lethe: scarcely have the reprobate tasted of it than they lose the knowledge and recollection of past joys and pleasures. The fourth is Acheron. The damned on applying their lips to it immediately sink into indescribable sadness. The fifth bears the name of Gocytus. The effects of those waters are such that they who drink of them weep without ever experiencing the least consolation.”

St. Albert the Great, pray for us!

Hell? Yes!

Che cosa?

Pope Francis gestures at the end of the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

With all due respect, I want to ask Pope Francis, “Che cosa?” or as we would say here in America, “Say what?”, in response to his order to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops not to vote on two proposed measures that would have begun to show a modicum of movement to deal with the latest and greatest sexual abuse scandals in our beloved Church.

This scandal is really a continuation of the revelations of 2002, that erupted once again in June like the famous Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The concerns of the Catholic faithful that the Church continues to lose ground in our secularized, humanistic culture were magnified as we realized that too many of our leaders were “in bed” with the permissiveness and promiscuity of mainstream practice.

It’s hard to offer an alternative to a culture that has lost its way, particularly when it seems that many of our leaders are on the same road to perdition. And then our spiritual hopes for purification, reparation and renewal are dashed, or maybe delayed, when our Holy Father, who offered great hopes of reform, has either hoodwinked us or is just as complicit as the rest. His rhetoric toward those who care about this downward spiral in the Church is disturbing at least, and unconscionable at best: “Be careful around those who are rigid. Be careful around Christians – be they laity, priests, bishops – who present themselves as so ‘perfect,’ rigid. Be careful. There’s no Spirit of God there. They lack the ‘spirit of liberty’.”

You and I must continue to pray for our Holy Father, for our cardinals and bishops here in the U.S., and especially for our priests who lead us on the parish level. This isn’t just about the Catholic Church regaining its reputation. This is about the salvation of souls in our nation! This is Jesus’ concern—why He came and died on the cross and rose again—establishing His Church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 RSV).

[Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters]

Che cosa?

Man Up, Veterans Day and USCCB

This morning I will be joining several hundred men of the Camden diocese in an all-day men’s conference called “Man Up.” There will be speakers and Bishop Dennis Sullivan will celebrate Mass at the close of the day.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, significantly the 100th anniversary of the end of the “war to end all wars!” It know that wasn’t true, but we remember and honor the sacrifice of all veterans then and since who have served our nation.

Next week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be meeting in Baltimore for annual conference. This has been a widely-anticipated meeting in light of the “summer of shame” starting with the revelations about ex-Cardinal McCarrick and then the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

We need to continuing praying that our bishops will recognize that they and we are in “the war of the ages” and they need to “man up!”

Man Up, Veterans Day and USCCB

A Funny Thing Happened to Me…

Back in the sixties, Broadway and the silver screen presented a production called “A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum” that tells the story of a slave named Pseudolus who attempts to win his freedom from his master and it is set in Rome.

My life is not a Broadway musical or a movie, but on “the way to Rome” I have had some interesting, even funny things happen to me. Back in July I went to confession armed with a brand new confession app on my phone. I carefully made a list on the app of what I needed to confess. Just as I was ready to make my confession, I hit the wrong button and the app logged me off. I got flustered and got off to a shaky start as I couldn’t remember the phrase “examination of conscience.” I even forgot some of the things I wanted to confess. The moral of that story is don’t trust technology to think for you as you seek to improve upon an age-old sacrament.

I found a prayer I prayed back in August as the World Meeting of Families in Dublin was set to begin. I was concerned as were many Catholics of some of what was going to be presented there regarding the family. I prayed: “Lord, bless all speakers who intend to glorify you, uphold Sacred Scripture and Tradition, edify your true Church and seek the salvation of souls. For those who have other intentions, give them laryngitis, severe diarrhea, or make them otherwise indisposed. Amen.” That’s one I had to trust God with. He knows much better than I.

In September I began reading the book Sacred Story: An Ignatian Examen For The Third Millennium and I came across this phrase: “My Sacred Story takes a lifetime to write.” The author goes on to say:

It is a cliché to say that life is not over till it is over. I doubt anyone would disagree with this fact. Yet often ignored is the fact that we have to work daily on our spiritual growth. Or more precisely, we must work daily to open to the artist who can transform our lives into a sacred story….Christ can take our lives, daily undermined by the weight of bad decisions, selfishness, and our own sin and weakness, and transform all of it into blessing. God, in Jesus, is the artist and it will take a complete lifetime for the Lord to work his miracles of grace in our sacred story. We will always be in need of the merciful forgiveness of the Divine Artist in Jesus. Once we see that Jesus needs to work daily in our lives, we then come to understand why “my Sacred Story takes a lifetime to write.”

Your story and my story are by no means set in stone. There are constant changes and additions to our stories. We are on our way, and many interesting, serious, and even funny things happen on our way to where God is leading. Stay encouraged and never give up.

A Funny Thing Happened to Me…

I Want to See!

In my work with American Bible Society we seek ways to help people engage in Scripture, recognizing that time spent with the Word of God has the potential to impact lives through an encounter with the living God who has revealed His love and His plan for us through the written word.

In the retreat that I was on this past weekend I was given the opportunity to learn more about the Ignatian Prayer Form—a way to engage Scripture, especially the Gospels using the imagination and senses. One of the ways you can do this is to assume a role. You become, through your imagination, one of the characters in the story, such as blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46–52. In the exercise that I did over the weekend I chose the passage that tells of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus which follows on the heels of the story of James and John requesting of Jesus the privilege of sitting at his right and left. I treated that passage here.

Oratio: Mark 10:49–51—Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Meditatio: I can’t help but notice that the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus is nearly identical to the question he posed to James and John in the passage I did with Lectio Divina earlier. When they said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

You could say James and John were asking from a position of strength. They were already Jesus’ followers; they were from a good family, had a profession they could fall back on if the apostleship didn’t pan out. They were young and health, and as it turned out they wanted more to consolidate their upwardly mobile status, you might say. Jesus, knowing this still asked them what they wanted him to do for them.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus has been dealt a bad blow in his life. Because he is named in the Gospel, it seems that he has been someone; we even know the name of his father. Yet he has lost his sight and there is no rehab or blind school for him to attend. He has one valuable possession, a cloak. He uses it to keep him warm at night and to gather the alms given to him during the day. He has had to take on the role of a beggar, the only job open to him due to the catastrophic loss of his sight.

The disciples were annoyed with the brothers because of their request of Jesus, and now they are annoyed because the blind man wants to meet Jesus. They try to hush him up because he is an interruption, an inconvenience. So Bartimaeus cries out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus cannot resist someone who needs mercy and offers him rightful praise. Bartimaeus is no dummy. He knows Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus stops in his tracks and calls the blind man to himself. Here Bartimaeus reacts immediately and throws off the only thing of value he has, his cloak, and standing before Jesus he hears the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems intuitive that Bartimaeus would ask for his sight, after all that is such an important sense to regain, but it doesn’t necessarily make his life easy. He has no job and the only source of income he has is due to his blindness. But Jesus gives him what he asks for. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight. And what does Bartimaeus do? he follows Jesus on the way—to Jerusalem where Jesus will drink his cup and be baptized with the baptism that he must be baptized with.

Oratio: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Lord, let me see again!”

Contemplatio: Bartimaeus does not ask for power or position or security, only sight to be able to follow Jesus. How important it is to see, really see, not just what we think we see or want to see, but what we can only see through the sight that Jesus gives us. Too often I am blinded by my own humanity, my selfishness, my disobedience, my self-preservation. “Lord, let me see again!”

 

 

I Want to See!

Our Civic Duty

Much has been made about these mid-term elections. I have heard so much hyperbole regarding them. And it may be true that the tilt of the political landscape will be set for the foreseeable future by how we vote today.

I was thinking about what has been said about elections in the past. One of my favorite quotes is from John Wesley, an Anglican priest, who is regarded as the founder of the Methodist movement that sired a good number of Methodist/Wesleyan/Holiness denominations. On October 6, 1774, two years before the Declaration of Independence, he said the following:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

What would Mr. Wesley say about 21st century American politics?

“Providence has given our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as privilege and interest of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” — William Penn, founder, Province of Pennsylvania

“When a citizen gives his suffrage (vote) to a man of known immorality he abuses his trust; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor, he betrays the interest of his country.” — John Witherspoon, Minister and Founding Father of the United States of America

“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.” — Daniel Webster, US House Representative and Senator

If you have voted, good for you. If you haven’t and you’re registered, go vote. Charlotte and I voted this morning at 6:00 a.m. and even though we have thought a lot about it, we prayed on our way to the polling station. Don’t forget that important element.

 

Our Civic Duty

Be Still and Know that I Am God

This past weekend Charlotte and I took part in a silent retreat in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The retreat was sponsored by Our Lady’s Missionaries of the Eucharist and led by Sister Joan Noreen, the co-founder of OLME. The nature of the silence was turning off and not using our cell phones, keeping silent throughout the forty hours of the retreat except at the last three meals. We spent the silence either in our rooms or in the chapel. It was a wonderful time to stop, turn off the ever-present reality of our electronics and hear the still, small voice of God.

During the retreat we had sessions of how to grow deeper in our love for God’s Word. We  learned and practiced the Liturgy of the Hours, the Benedictine Prayer Form (Lectio Divina) and the Ignatian Prayer Form. Sister Joan Noreen shared with us a lifetime of love for the Word of God and the practices that draw us deeper into God’s perfects revelation. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum reminds us that “through this revelation…the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”

Oratio: On Saturday afternoon I sat down with the Gospel of Mark 10:35–45 where James and John approach Jesus with the request that they be allowed to sit one on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes into his glory. I focused on the verse 39:

They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”

Meditatio: Obviously James and John did not comprehend what they were asking or how to answer Jesus’ question to their request made in ignorance. They saw their relationship with Jesus as a way to climb the ladder and become the ones to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left. When Jesus asks them if they are up to it, they answer in the affirmative even though they don’t have a clue what that will mean. Jesus then assures them that they will indeed follow his lead in drinking the cup and undergoing his baptism, but that the places of honor won’t necessarily follow.

Jesus does have special plans for them. James will become the first martyr among the apostles. John will be the only apostle to stay with Jesus throughout his passion, standing at the foot of the cross and being asked by Jesus to take in and care for his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He will also be the last apostle to die, enduring torture and exile, and writing the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation). The boldness of the brothers, even stained by a desire to be the most important, put them in a place to truly drink the cup and be baptized with the same baptism.

Oratio: Lord, you are indeed patient, kind and merciful. Even though their passion was misdirected and my is as well, you are able to approach us with love and show us how to fit within your holy plan. I confess that I seek glory, acclaim, position and I posture for it. Help me to learn and live in the spirit of sacrifice so that no human motivation will get in the way of full surrender to the will of the Father.

Contemplatio: Jesus, I trust in you! Whatever may be the cup that I must drink or the baptism with which I must be baptized, I trust in you!

If you are interested in learning more about Lectio Divina, feel free to contact me. I would love to share what I am learning.

 

Be Still and Know that I Am God