A Nighttime Prayer

A short bedtime prayer from Psalm 4:

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

What a simple, child-like acknowledgment of God’s power and love.

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Fun Catholic Fact

Courtesy of Catholic Culture.org, today’s fun Catholic fact is:

Papal theologian Monsignor Wojciech Giertych states the most common sins for men are lust and gluttony while the most common sins for women are anger, pride, and envy .

Power Is Perfected In Weakness

Catholic social teaching is imbued with an optimism about the our ability to effectively manipulate our world. Guadium Et Spes reflects that joyful hope: we as the People of God working together with God can eliminate structures of sin and bring about a just society. We just need to work hard, seek God’s grace, and all will be well. In many ways, this seems similar to the heady optimism of (at least in the United States) the Camelot generation.

The sociological premise of this approach is that unjust “power structures” exist. An article about individual spirituality put it well:

The optimism and hope of the Fathers of Vatican II that “changes in the economic, political, and social arrangements in our society” can eliminate “poverty and [bring] an end to these injustices” seems to suffer from an internal contradiction. The people who either intentionally or passively adopted the unjust structures which plague society did so because they thought those structures were just, promoted human dignity, and advanced the common good as they saw it. Their understanding, though, was spiritually deficient. Indeed, it is possible to tinker endlessly and get nowhere like some bizarre version of the movie Groundhog Day: we simply trade one oppressive structure for another, trapped in injustice, while congratulating ourselves about our progress. Can we escape?

We can. Escape, though, requires us to recognize the nature of the trap. The trap is that we fight power with power. We fight the assertion of others – that we deem unjust – with the assertion of ourselves – that we deem just. As we seek to be strong, we accept and reinforce the fundamental social injustice: that it is just for the strong to dominate the weak, especially when we are the strong. We tell ourselves that it is all to the good because our intentions and our ends are good. We tell ourselves that this is all OK as we agonize in face of human misery – that of the people who need help and our own need to help them. We also remind ourselves that the weak we are dominating we’re unjust so in some sense they deserve to have our preferences – just as they ate – imposed on them.

Is there a way out? There is. It is hard. It is agonizingly slow. It demands supernatural faith. It demands that rather meeting power with power, we meet power with weakness. It is the way of the Cross.

The Passion was principally a supernatural drama. We can see the root of it in the temptation of Christ in the desert. There, Satan made it easy for Christ to give in. Satan said, in essence, if you acknowledge my power over this world, I will make you King and you can do all the good you want. We know, of course, that this is a trap if for no other reason than the being that was offering the deal. Christ says no. He – the Almighty Master of the Universe – chooses the path of an itinerant preacher, traveling from place to place, proclaiming the Good News and waiting for people to voluntarily accept it. He – the Omnipotent One – chose weakness over power. He refused to play Satan’s game.

But Satan entered into Judas. Satan, through Judas, tried to force Jesus’ hand. “If I force Jesus into a direct, palpable choice between life itself and exercising His power selfishly,” Satan thought, “Christ will surely choose power….giving the lie to all He taught.” The pain of Gethsemene was thus more than fear of physical suffering; it was a battle within Christ Himself about whether to exercise power or to exercise weakness. Christ chose weakness.

Satan’s fury exploded. The physical violence of the Passion that is so shocking is simply the concrete form of Satan’s last desperate attempt to goad Christ into self-assertion. Even at the end, Christ turned away from resentment, refusing to condemn those who had been the instruments of Satan’s plan – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Satan must have known that he had been defeated. Christ had refused to play Satan’s game. Christ showed us that Satan had no power of his own; his only power came from our choice to give Satan that power. When we fight power with power, we invigorate the very structures of sin that so challenge us, so outrage us, so compel us to act. If power is made perfect in weakness, then weakness in imitation of Christ is the path to true social justice.

If this is correct, we need a new approach for the praxis of Catholic Social Teaching. Later posts will attempt, while remaing firmly within the current teaching of the Church, to sketch a way forward that is grounded on weakness, but is not indifferent to the misery we see all around us.

How The Visitation Can Increase Our Eucharistic Faith

The second joyful mystery is the Visitation. Mary visits St. Elizabeth. St. John the Baptist leaps in St. Elizabeth’s womb.

St. Elizabeth’s words – “how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” — can be a key to deepening your Eucharistic faith.

What if you prepared for communion by changing her words just a bit – “How is it that my Lord comes to me? How is that bread becomes God…for me? How is it that God pours all of Himself into what was once bread … for me? How is it that He invites me to receive all of Himself without reservation as food? “How is that my Lord should come to me?”

Intercessory Prayer

Having grown up Catholic, the practice of seeking the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the Saints in heaven has always been second-nature to me, but like many things that are second-nature, not too well understood. Sure, I could explain why intercessory prayer was consistent with Christ’s role as the one Mediator. Sure, I knew where Second Maccabees told us that praying for the dead is a pious thing. But that was about it.

Today, though, I read a Scripture passage that deepened my understanding. The passage is Job 16:19-21. It reads:

19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
my advocate is on high.

20 My intercessor is my friend
as my eyes pour out tears to God;

21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.

Pause for a moment and imagine that. The Blessed Mother pleads for me and everyone else ‘as a friend.’ St. Francis de Sales pleads me and everyone else ‘as a friend.’ St. Joseph pleads for me and everyone else ‘as a friend.’ The entire heavenly cloud of witnesses pleads for me and everyone else ‘as a friend.’ Intercessory prayer will never be the same.

Finishing a post is always harder than starting, but today is easy:

Hail, Holy Queen! Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we lift up our sighs, our mourning, and our weeping in this valley of tears

Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us and after this, our exile, show unto us the the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Amen.

Pride, Vanity, Sensuality, Death

I read recently that pride, vanity, and sensuality lie at the root of all sin. Not only are they root sins, their very nature is such that the attempt to overcome them can easily backfire. The following is perhaps the scariest thing I’ve read in a long time:

The symptoms of vanity, this initial sin: intolerance of criticism, a thirst for praise, a search for easy paths, constant orientation upon others – what will they say? how will it appear? what will they think? …….

The same orientation upon an audience explains the sin of self-justification, which often creeps unnoticeably even into our confession: “I am no more sinful than the rest…. only insignificant sins…. I have not killed anyone or stolen anything.”

The demon of vanity is overjoyed, says St. John of the Ladder, seeing our virtues increase: the more successes we have, the more food for vanity. “When I keep fast, I am vain; when I hide my spiritual labors – I am vain over my piety. If I dress pleasingly, I am vain, and if I put on old clothes, I become even vainer. If I begin to speak – I am consumed by vanity, if I keep silent – I become still vainer. No matter how you turn this prickly plant – it always has its thorns sticking upward.” As soon as a kind feeling or a sincere movement arises in a man’s heart, immediately there appears a vain backward look at oneself, and thus – these most precious movements of the soul disappear, melt like snow under the sun. They melt, which means they die; which means that because of vanity the best in us dies; thus we kill ourselves with vanity and we replace a real, simple and good life with phantoms.

Increasing vanity gives rise to pride.

This is indeed melancholy. How many “precious movements of the soul” have I killed?

Updated: Can An Atheist Be Holy?

We see praiseworthy works all around us. We little acts of charity – St. Thèrese’s little flowers – throughout the day. We see aggressively secular people acting in ways that put many Christians to shame. They do so outside of the Church; indeed, many deny the God even exists. Are these acts good? Are these acts holy? It seems at the very least churlish and disagreeable to say so, but if they are holy, is there anything special about Christian charity?

Over the centuries, there have been numerous profound responses to this question. The Holy Father himself addressed it in his first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est.

Here is a simple thought that seems to cut into it.

Holiness consists of loving obedience to God’s will. An atheist may act consistently with God’s will. But it can be neither loving nor obedient because he does not acknowledge the One to be loved nor the One to be obeyed. We can see the act and praise it because we see God’s will being effectuated. We can hope that those works will generate a greater awareness of God’s love in his heart. We can then look in the mirror and ask what is God teaching us, ask if we are lovingly obeying His will in our lives? And that’s what it is about, after all?

UPDATE:

Pope Francis’ recent comments have brought this topic to the fore again. I think the whole issue presents a philosophical dilemma, but is of little practical significance. We know for certain that Christ came to save everyone. We know that we have the freedom to say “no.” Pondering who is “in” and who is “out” changes our focus from seeing, loving, and following Him to figuring out and applying membership criteria, which He can waive. All we can do is to share God’s desire that all be saved and work toward that end in accordance with our particular vocations.