Monday, December 12, 2016

Grow in Holiness this Advent Wk 3; Confess and Rejoice!

(This is the third in a series of Advent meditations. You can read the first mediation, on the Three Advents of Christ, and the second, on Conquering Covetousness by clicking those links. This week, we're looking at another essential part of Advent -- Confession.)

Picture with Story from Daily Mail - check it out HERE
It's the third week of Advent - Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday. This week we light the pink candle on our advent wreaths, Mass is celebrated by father in pink (sorry, rose) vestments, and we are called to Rejoice! that our Savior is near at hand.

One way to Rejoice! over the last two weeks of Advent is to make a sincere and contrite confession. Unburdening yourself of your sins and hearing the words of Christ, speaking though his priest,
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
 provides, as any Catholic can tell you, a feeling of relief and joy.

Rejoice! for the healing power of Christ is still alive and active in the world.

If you are skeptical, if you are asking yourself why you ought to confess in the presence of a priest, I'll point you to my post:

Yes, that says, "All Christians," not just all Catholics.

Aside from Eastern Orthodox, we also find the value of a good auricular confession maintained, though not stressed as essential, in some Protestant traditions, especially Anglicanism and Lutheranism.

Of course, most Protestant denominations have eschewed the traditional Christian practice of confessing their sins. Some confess only "in their heart," others have abandoned confessing altogether, believing that their Faith in Jesus means they have no need of confessing their sins post-conversion. This is, as I demonstrate in the aforementioned post , is a grave misunderstanding. For, as Jesus Himself assures us
nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. (Lk. 8:16-17, RSV)
Better to have it "come to light" in this life, in the confessional, than hiding it until all things will be dragged into the light after we have time to repent of them. We will confess our sins with repentance now or confess them unrepentant when it is too late, either way we will confess.

This is made wonderfully clear in The Divine Comedy. Dante, upon entering the first circle where he sees the damned being punished, meets Minos - the judge of Hell standing "orribilmente, e ringhia" ("horribly and growling"). The souls, lost for all eternity, having never confessed, having tried to keep their sins from "com(ing) to light," find themselves compelled to do what could have saved them,
Dico che quando l'anima mal natali vien dinanzi, tutta si confessa;e quel conoscitor de le peccatavede qual loco d'inferno è da essa. 
I say, that when the ill-born spirit comes before him, it confesses all; and that sin-discerner sees what place in hell is for it (Inferno 5.7-10)
Their confession is now futile.
vanno a vicenda ciascuna al giudizio, dicono e odono e poi son giù volte.
they go each in his turn to judgment; they tell, and hear; and then are whirled down. (Inferno 5.14-15)
But your confession isn't futile, at least not yet.

Confess, rejoice, and be glad as you come closer to Christmas.

Have a holy Advent!
And behold I am coming soon (Rev. 22:7, RSV)
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Monday, December 5, 2016

Grow in Holiness this Advent Wk 2; Conquering Covetousness

In Dicken's A Christmas Carol we meet the embodiment of Avarice, Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who loved gold more than God. His opinion of Christmas is well known to us all,
Merry Christmas! Out upon a merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will... every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' upon his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his hear. He should! (pp. 5-6)
Scrooge's love for money has replaced not only his love of Christmas, but love of anything else. This love of money isn't just greed, it is a false religion.

Dante dramatically presents this reality to us when he stands before the damned Pope Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini),
Fatto v'avete dio d'oro e d'argento;e che altro è da voi a l'idolatre,se non ch'elli uno, e voi ne orate cento?
You have wrought yourselves a god of gold and silver.
How then do you differ from those who worship idols
except they worship one and you a hundred? (Inferno 19.112-114)
St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the "spirit of Scrooge" in the Summa
man seeks, according to a certain measure, to have external riches, in so far as they are necessary for him to live in keeping with his condition of life. Wherefore it will be a sin for him to exceed this measure, by wishing to acquire or keep them immoderately. This is what is meant by covetousness, which is defined as "immoderate love of possessing." It is therefore evident that covetousness is a sin. (II-II. Q. 118, A. 1)
Or, in the more recent words of Pope Benedict XVI
Material possessions, in themselves, are good. We would not survive for long without money, clothing, and shelter. We must eat in order to stay alive. Yet if we are greedy, if we refuse to share what we have with the hungry and the poor, then we make our possessions into a false god. How many voices in our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can! But this is to make possessions into a false god. (Address to Disadvantaged Youth, in Sydney, Australia.)
How tempting it is this time of year, especially for those who ignore Advent, focusing solely on the "shopping season" of the secular Christmastide - Black Friday through December 24th, to focus overly much on possessions. Indeed, admirably, much of this is the opposite of what Scrooge lived for. He wanted only to take, to increase, while ignoring those others about him. We rather look to purchase things for others, for those we love and cherish. However, this Advent I would recommend to you to take it one step further - give to someone in need. Not just through an organization, great and commendable as that may be, but directly, personally. How can you find such people? Contact your parish, they'll point you in the right direction. For Scrooge himself began to recognize this. While haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past, upon seeing his younger self, he remembers a small boy who had earlier began singing God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay! at his keyhole. Scrooge's reaction?
Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost. (p. 9)
His later reaction to his behavior?
'I wish,' Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: 'but it's too late now.'
'What is the matter?' asked the Spirit.
'Nothing,' said Scrooge. 'Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should have liked to have given him something: that's all.' (p. 26)
We might not have the poor singing carols at our doors, but they might be a lot closer than you think.

If that isn't enough to motivate you, remember how Jesus, "the reason for the season," identifies Himself with the poor,
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you... For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.... Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matt. 25:34-40, ESV)
Have a holy Advent.
Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Rev. 22:20-21, ESV) 
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Grow in Holiness this Advent, the Three Advents of Christ

Yesterday, the Church's liturgical year began anew with the first Sunday of Advent. This is a time of preparation, though not penance, for the coming of the great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Just as Lent precedes Easter, so too does Advent precede Christmas.

We can all understand the power a good Lent has to make Easter truly celebratory. But many Catholics have lost a real sense of Advent as it has been trampled under the shopping frenzy that is the secular build-up to the feast.

What is Advent Anyhow?
As a refresher for those who might not be sure what exactly Advent is and what we are supposed to be doing, I direct you to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
with Advent the ecclesiastical year begins in the Western churches. During this time the faithful are admonished 
to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the coming into the world as the God of love,
thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as, at death and at the end of the world.
Advent, then, is a time to focus on the coming of Jesus. This is made clear in the name itself. "Advent" comes from the Latin "ad-venio" meaning "come to" or "coming."

What Are We to Dwell on During Advent?
With Christmas on the horizon it is easy enough to look back on the first coming of Christ, His birth into our sinful world on the first Christmas.

With the Feast of Christ the King behind us, hopefully, it is easy to keep in mind the final coming of Christ, that as the just judge at the world's end.

How different these advents are!

Perhaps no one has laid bare just what Christ's first advent really was better than C.S. Lewis,
Enemy-occupied territory - that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. (Mere Christianity).
Compare that to Christ the All Powerful King, best presented, perhaps, by Michelangelo Buonarroti,

Not exactly landing "in disguise" this time is He?

There is, however, a third advent of Christ that we all would do well to ponder over the next four weeks. If the Nativity is the First Advent and the Last Judgement is the Final Advent, this other advent is one that occurs not once in the past or in the future, but each and every day in the heart of all believers and thus is the most important advent of all to dwell on during this season.

With that teaser, I'll direct you to: 
a post I wrote on St. Bernard of Clairvaux's description of the Three Advent's of Christ and, once you've digested Bernard, 
And I will encourage you to: 
use Dante' Divine Comedy as an Advent mediation on the Three Advents of Christ, each of which is "hidden" in the poem (don't worry you won't have to find them, I lay them all out HERE). 
How is this Supposed to Make me Holier this Advent?
In a word, meditation. While the word "meditation" frequently brings to mind certain "mind-clearing" techniques used in eastern religions, there is an authentic and very important form of meditation in our Christian tradition stretching back to the first centuries after Christ. This is laid out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a 1989 letter to bishops (under the signature of then Cardinal Ratzinger, our present Pope Emeritus).
The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension. Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization. (Letter on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation).
Advent, being a time a quiet reflection and prayer, is the perfect time to delve into this tradition. As stated by the CDF, Christian meditation differentiates itself from eastern meditation in that the Christian is meditating on some aspect of his faith while the eastern mystic is clearing his mind of everything. GK Chesterton brings out this difference,
No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The medieval saint’s body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real continuity between forces that produce symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. (Orthodoxy, p. 194)
By meditating on this great mystery, the coming of God-in-the-Flesh, you can grow closer to Jesus, the perfect preparation to celebrate His Nativity.

And isn't growing closer to Jesus - i.e. growing in holiness - the real "reason for the season?"

Have a Holy Advent!

For a detailed look at the Three Advents of Christ in Dante's Comedy, I highly recommend Mark Musa's Advent at the Gates.

For a deep meditation of the Nativity of Christ, I highly recommend Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review - Dante: The Story of His Life by Marco Santagata

Dante Alighieri. Poet. Politican. Philosopher. Exile.

Dante lived this multifaceted life while producing the greatest poetry in world literature. He definitely wasn't an Essentialist.

His life has been the topic of countless biographies, essays, talks, and lectures over the last seven centuries. The latest, Marco Santagata's Dante: The Story of His Life, translated by Richard Dixon, continues in this tradition.

Santagata brings a wealth of erudition and study to the task of writing an interesting biography of Dante. Indeed, he manages to break into new ground, which is always impressive when writing about a man written about as frequently and for so long as Dante.  His mastery and clear elucidation of the complex political history engulfing Dante's Florence and Italy is the highlight of the book and alone makes it worth the money.

Not only does he vividly describe the troubled times our poet navigated, but he contemplates into under-explored possibilities. Nothing less would be expected of Santagata, professor of Italian Literature at the University of Pisa.

Some of these theories are more compelling than others. Let us, briefly, examine a few.

Corso Donati
One interesting possibility explored by Santagata is an alleged attempt by Dante to return to Florence, something dear to the poet's heart, through the means of Corso Donati.

Anyone who has spent anytime studying Dante knows that Corso, condemned to Hell according to the prediction of his brother Forese in Purgatorio was one of Dante's prime enemies.
I see him... dragged behind a beast toward the valley where there is no absolution. The beast goes faster with each step, and faster, until it hurls him to the ground and leaves his body horribly disfigured. (24.82-87)
It was Corso Donati, leader of the Black Guelfs, whose ascendancy would prove the proximate cause of Dante's lifelong exile. It would seem odd, then, that Dante would pin his hopes for return on the very man who led the party that exiled and sentence him to death. Santagata sees Dante's marriage to a distant relative of Corso's, Gemma Donati, as a possible bridge between the two.
In my view, Dante and his supporters would first have played the family card. Gemma was a Donati, a third cousin of Corso, and her readmission to the city would have done no harm to the family prestige: indeed, if anything, it would have increased it. By allowing considerations of kinship to prevail, Corso would have shown himself to be the true man of strength in Florence. (p. 191)
This might be too tenuous and hard to swallow. Corso would have "shown himself to be the true man of strength in Florence" without calling back a man he helped exile. In fact, that just as likely would have shown Corso to be a man of great weakness. It could even have contaminated him to association. The time in which Santagata thinks Dante could have used Corso's help was when Corso was losing influence in the Black Party to Rosso della Tosa. While highly unlikely this is an interesting possibility to contemplate.

Another interesting theory explored in the book is the possibility of Dante having been an epileptic. Santagata admits his debt here to Cesare Lombroso and his school of psychiatry's diagnosis of Dante, a disgnosis Santagata readily admits "has never been accepted by Dante scholars." (p. 31)

Despite this, reading Dante's poems has helped Santagata 'rediscover' Dante's illness. He points to the poem E' m'incresce di me sì duramente as evidence. In the poem, Dante relates an experience from the first few months of his life.
"so suddenly... I fell to the ground" as if struck by lightning." (p. 30)
Dante's Amor, da che convien pur ch'io mi doglia is another exhibit as Dante tells us the mere sight of his lady caused him to fall "lifeless" to the ground.

This is certainly a literalist interpretation of these poems, which sounds a bit odd coming from a man who questions whether Beatrice really inspired Dante's writings. Admittedly, Santagata avoids the common error of reading Beatrice as only an allegory of "Theology" to the point where her name could be dropped for the subject, but his suspicion here could call into question his reading into these poems a disease. If Dante attributed inspiration to Beatrice as a poetic device, why ought he not to have used fainting poetically as well?

Nonetheless, Santagata is right on the money when he says this is
an hypothesis to explore with caution, but nevertheless (is) preferable to the idea suggested by one scholar that (Dante) used stimulants or narcotics. (p. 33)
I couldn't agree more.

Dante's Sense of Self
Santagata contends that Dante had a very unique sense of himself and his life.
The most remarkable aspect of Dante's personality is, in fact, his feeling of being different and predestined. In whatever he saw, did or said... he glimpsed some sign of destiny, the shadow of an unavoidable fate, the mark of a higher will.... How can we avoid asking, then, what kind of self-image such an egocentric man, so sure of his exceptional nature, must have possessed in daily life? (p. 4)
Whether this is an accurate description of the inner workings of Dante's personality is, as all such "remote psychoanalysis" must be, highly questionable. No psychologist worth his salt would seek to describe the inner psyche of a man who never laid upon his couch, that, however, doesn't stop (some) historians. Santagata has fallen into this trap. This is particularly jarring as he readily admits,
His contemporaries offer little help to anyone wishing to reconstruct the true Dante. Almost none of those who knew him wrote about him; only a few of the next generation had anything reliable to say about him. (p. 5)
Apparently, eight hundred years after the poet's death, Sanatagata can, based off what he sees as less than credible historical accounts, have something "reliable to say about him."

Was Dante prideful? Without a doubt. This is a man who, based off the Vita Nuova and a few canti of the Comedy, claimed poetic equality with the greatest poets in history: Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Horace, and Lucan when he tells us "I became a sixth amidst such wisdom" (Inferno 4.102) and who feels the heavy weights the penitents on the terrace of pride must bear already.

Can we extrapolate out of his work all Santagata does? That is a bit more questionable, but worth reading his theory in full to decide for yourself.

Dante: The Story of His (Political) Life, Revenge and Patronage
This might well have been a more apropos title to this biography. Santagata tells the story of Dante almost exclusively through a political lens leaving unmentioned or marginalized Dante's relationship with the Church as an institution, with Christian belief, with philosophy as expounded by the Scholastics, with his poetic rivals and predecessors, and with his intellectual development from a servant of "the god of Love" to the supreme poet of the Christian God.

This narrow focus spills over into his interpretation of the Commedia, which is viewed as if it was only a political work. Each event examined by Santagata is seen as either an attempt to gain favor with a potential or current patron or as an act of revenge on those who rebuffed the poet in life.

He calls the first canticle of the Comedy "The Guelf Inferno" (p. 219) contending Inferno is entirely Guelf without a hint of pro-Imperial sentiments. This, according to Santagata, is because Inferno was largely written to assert Dante's loyalty to the Guelf cause as a means to return to Guelf Florence.

He fails, however, to convincingly explain the condemnation of the leading Guelfs in the cantica. Tegghiaio Aldobrandini, Jacopo Rusticucci, Calvacante Calvacanti, the great Guido Guerra and Brunetto Latini are all inexplicably (if we accept Santagata's thesis) met in the "Guelf Inferno". Nor does he address why, if the canticle is stressing Dante's loyalty to the Church Party, we meet Pope Celestine V as soon as we enter the realm of the dead. Hardly an auspicious start to a poem dedicated to prove Dante's loyalty to the Guelf-Papal cause. Celestine is only the first pontiff we meet in Hell. Popes are among the innumerable sinners in the "dismal round" (Inferno 7.31) shouting "Why do you squander" (Inferno 7.30) as they crash into other sinners.
These were clerics who have no lid of hair
upon their heads, and popes and cardinals,
in whom avarice achieves its excess. (Inferno 7.46-48)
And, of course, we meet Pope Nicholas in Malebolgie who predicts that he will soon be joined by Pope Boniface VIII and Pope Clement V, both supports of the Parte Guelfa, especially in Florence, and of the Guelf-Angevin alliance responsible for destroying Ghibelline hopes of ultimate victory. These condemnations hardly would have endeared Dante to the Guelfs back in Florence.

Santagata's claim that there is no mention of a pro-imperial position in Inferno is even weaker. Not only do we meet Julius Caesar, the first Roman Emperor (as Dante's day considered him), among the virtuous pagans, but Brutus and Cassius (traitors to the founder of the Empire) are co-sufferers with Judas Iscariot in the three mouths of Satan. This puts traitors to God's divinely established Empire on par with betrayers of God's divinely established Church. Can we imagine a more pro-Imperial (i.e. Ghibelline) sentiment?

Santagata's go to response to this counter-evidence is to explain away the inconvenient facts as "later rewritings." He doesn't present early manuscripts that lack these passages or other historical or textual evidence to support this claim. Instead he concludes these passages must be rewrites solely on the basis that these episodes put the lie to his theory! This is (historical) pseudo-science at its worst. The theory ought to be disproven or supported by the facts; here we see the facts manipulated to fit the theory. This is a move beneath the dignity of Santagata.

That is not to say Dante's work wasn't at all influenced by the kindness or rejection he met in exile. Nor is it to say that Dante's politics never shifted nor that these shifts are present in the work (as we'd expect them to be). Santagata doesn't get this all wrong. He does overemphasize this element of the work and ignores other, more important, influences on the poem.

Perhaps this is because of his mastery of the politics of Dante's day. Rather, I suspect, it is an effect of the unfortunate "drift" of the humanities in seeking to emulate the hard sciences by emphasizing "new discoveries" over the passing on of accurate, time-tested, dare I say somewhat "traditional" and even "conservative" understandings of the great books.

Professors of the liberal arts are, or ought to be, guardians and transmitters of tradition - critiquing that tradition where necessary and adding new information when possible. When these professors are lauded only when presenting novel theories of interpretation (e.g. a feminist reading of the Comedy) things go astray and can quickly descend into absurdity.

Incredible Historical Vision
Despite this understandable tendency, Santagata proves himself an able historian with a firm grasp on the very complex historical events of Dante's Italy. His explanations of the history and politics of Dante's Florence makes the book well worth reading. This is especially true of the first half of the book in which Santagata's learning shines. When he stays away from postulating theories of interpretation of Dante's works based exclusively on political events and sticks to relating the facts and in exploring various theories based on those facts, Santagata is at his finest.

Final Verdict
The book might be a bit uneven, but it is, in the end, worth picking up and reading. If you are interested in the poet, his life, and his times this is well worth the money. With the reservations noted above, I recommend Dante: The Story of His Life.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Feast of Christ the King

This weekend is the patronal feast of this blog, the Feast of Christ the King. In honor of one of my favorite feasts in the Church, I thought we'd take a closer look...

What is the official name of this feast?
While it is popularly known as the Feast of Christ the King, it's technical name is the Solemnity of Christ the King. It's original Latin title was Dominus Nostri Jesu Christi Regis, which was changed by Pope Paul VI to Dominus Nostri Jesu Christi universorum Regis (Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe).

What is a "solemnity"?
Solemnity is the highest rank given to a feast by the Church.

What color vestments will the priest be wearing tomorrow?
White or Gold as he does for all major feasts. 

When is Christ the King celebrated?
Christ the King closes the liturgical year and is always celebrated on the last Sunday of ordinary time, the last Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. This year the feast will be celebrated this Sunday on November 20th.

Is Christ the King celebrated in the forma extraordinaria, the 'traditional Latin Mass'?
Yes, but on a different date. In the old pre-Vatican 2 calendar the Feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday in October, the Sunday before All Saint's Day. This is one of those areas where we might be better off changing the old calendar to match up with the new. That, however, is well above my pay grade.

Is this an ancient feast?
No. In fact it only dates to the twentieth century. Pope Pius XI founded the feast with his 1925 encyclical Quas Primus. That means no complaining about the change of date after Vatican Two.

Is there any Biblical evidence that Jesus is a King? I thought He was a poor, simple man.
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians tells us that Jesus
"being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (2:6-11)
and in First Timothy he tells us that Jesus
"is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords." (6:15)
and in the Book of Revelations we read that Jesus
"hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords." (19:16)
Examples multiply, but I'll end with my favorite. The unwitting proclamation of Pontius Pilate
"And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews." (John 19:19)

Do any other Christians celebrate this feast?
Yes. Following the lead of Pius XI in honoring Christ as King with this feast are Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, the Church of England, the United Church of Christ, and some Eastern Orthodox Churches all of whom adopted the feast after the Catholic Church. I suppose even high Church Protestants can look to Rome for guidance now and then. I'd call that ecumenism at its best.

What other posts have you written on Christ the King?

Christus Rex Est - being a brief overview of the feast

Quas Primus, Pope Pius XI on Christ the King (pt 1) - being a look at the Papal Encyclical of Pius XI

Quas Primus, Pope Pius XI on Christ the King (pt 2) - being the second part of the same.

Homeless Jesus - being a reflection on a statue blessed by Pope Francis.

The Homeless King - being the second part of the same.

Our World is "Enemy-Occupied Territory. Are YOU Ready to Fight? - being a call to arms of sorts.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Of Milton, Dante, and Shakespeare

Shakespeare, Milton and Dante from Ezra Pound's Dante
The comparison of Dante and Milton is at best a stupid convention.... Milton resembles Dante in nothing; judging superficially, one might say that they both wrote long poems which mention God and the angels, but their gods and their angels are as different as their styles and abilities. Dante's god is ineffable divinity. Milton's god is a fussy old man with a hobby. Dante is metaphysical, where Milton is merely sectarian. Paradise Lost is conventional melodrama, and later critics have decided that the Devil is intended for the hero, which interpretation leaves the whole without significance. Dante's Satan is undeniably evil. He is not "Free Will" but stupid malignity. Milton has no grasp of the superhuman. Milton's angels are men of enlarged power, plus wings. Dante's angels surpass human nature, and differ from it. They move in their high courses inexplicable.... Milton, moreover, shows a complete ignorance of the things of the spirit. Any attempt to compare the two poets as equals is bathos, and it is, incidentally, unfair to Milton, because it makes one forget all his laudable qualities. Shakespear (sic) alone of the English poets endures sustained comparison with the Florentine. Here are we with the masters; of neither can we say, "He is the greater";  of each we must say, "He is unexcelled."... Our knowledge of Dante and of Shakespear (sic) interacts; intimate acquaintance with either breeds that discrimination which makes us more keenly appreciate the other. 

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

If Catholicism is True, Why do Protestants Seem Closer to God?

Image © Bill Fairchild
Over at's forums a Catholic asked:
i am catholic but i feel more engaged by protestant worship and preaching and appreciate the close fellowship offered by some protestant communities. i feel that my relationship with God would become deeper and my discipleship would become more intentional by joining a protestant church. please enlighten as to why this is a sin if my overall relationship with the Lord is improved. 
thank you
To which I answered
An analogy: 
One person has 1 million dollars in the bank but only withdraws $100. 
A second person has $1,000 in the bank and withdraws all $1,000. 
Who has more money in his pocket?  
The second person is the Protestant. He doesn't have the Sacraments and so has less grace available to him. The first person, the Catholic, thanks to the Sacraments has more grace available. 
BUT, the Protestant, being more devout and having a better relationship with God (in your example), has withdrawn and uses more of the grace available to him and thus is closer to the Lord. 
HOWEVER, the devout Protestant, if he were to become Catholic, would be able to access much more grace and grow even closer to God than he is now. The Catholic, on the other hand, might leave the Church for a Protestant community, grow closer to God, and have more "money in the pocket" than he had as a Catholic. Of course, he would have even more had he stayed in the Church and grown closer to the Lord, but he is closer now than he was before. 
That shows (hopefully) why you can feel closer to God as a Protestant than you do in the Catholic Church, but why being in the Church is the best way to be as close as possible to the Lord. 
What say you? How would you have answered the question?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

4 Halloween Mistakes for Catholics to Avoid

It's that time of year again.

Time for the secular world to entirely miss the point of (and forget the Catholic origins of) another holiday - Halloween. As faithful Catholics we know (or should know) that Halloween is the Eve of All Hallows (Saints) Day and should celebrate it as the Catholic holiday it is. That is, sadly, becoming more and more difficult with each passing year. To help you out this year, I thought to give you a handy guide on avoiding a few common Catholics Halloween mistakes.

Adult Halloween Party

Mistake #1 - Think Halloween is "Pagan" Rather than Christian
It is nearly inevitable that we Catholics must listen to those who would rewrite history, replacing the Vigil of a Catholic Feast with all kind of historical fabrications, creating (out of thin air and without any credible historical evidence) links to various pagan holidays (Samhain seems to be a favorite these days). Of course All Saints Day falls near a pagan holiday - every calendar day falls near one pagan holiday or another. It would be like claiming Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving are really Catholic holidays because they all fall near Catholic Feast days - of course they do, every day is near some Catholic feast or another.

The fact, of course, is much less surprising. All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1 (and its Vigil - Halloween on October 31) not to compete with some Celtic pagan feast but because Pope Gregory III (reigned 731-741) consecrated a chapel inside St. Peter's Basilica ("the Vatican") to "all the saints" on November 1. In so doing, he began a feast dedicated to all the saints on the same day for Rome. Eight decades later, Gregory IV (reigned 827-844) decided to bring the feast to the Church Universal.

Not that there would be a problem even if the Church did decide to hold a feast for all the saints to "baptize" a pagan holiday.

Those Protestants who most insist upon a pagan origin for Halloween usually hold "Reformation Day" or "Fall Festival" celebrations and invite people to celebrate those instead of celebrating Halloween. So they replace what they think is a problematic holiday by celebrating a different holiday on the same day - exactly what they accuse Catholics of doing with Halloween. Ah, the irony of the season!

Mistake #2 - Celebrate Exactly Like the Secular World
The problem for us Catholics isn't so much a misreading of the history of Halloween, but with how Halloween is celebrated here in the United States, especially the increasingly semi-undressed female costumes (for ever younger girls) and blood-soaked, gore-filled costumes for even the youngest of boys isn't keeping the Catholic in Halloween. The secular world, with its obsessive focus on lust and violence, is profaning a holy day, something we Catholics must never join in doing. Participating in Halloween - craving pumpkins, trick or treating, etc - is fine, but the darkest extremes must be avoided to stay true to the Church and to who Jesus is calling us to be. Before you select your costume, ask yourself, "is this going to please God?" If not, pick another.

Halloween meme

Mistake #3 - Make Halloween "No Fun"
While it is commendable to bring the focus squarely back onto the Feast of All Saints, opting for only saint costumes might be a step too far. I have nothing against dressing my kids as saints if they so choose (in fact one of my sons is being St. Michael this year), but I also have nothing against a little horror thrown in - such is quintessentially Catholic. The traditional ghouls, skeletons, vampires, and zombies all speak to a simple post-Easter reality - Christ has conquered death. At Halloween we mock death, we laugh in its face, proclaiming with St. Paul, "O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?" (1 Cor 15:55). Such leaves Catholics open to a less completely sanitized version of Halloween (without descending into a demonic display of lust and gore which has overcome the secular Halloween). This accords with our firm conviction that Christ has already destroyed death. Dr. Taylor Marshall sums this up nicely,

"Don’t be turned off by the ghoulish-ness of Halloween. Every great Catholic cathedral has gargoyles carved into its stone work. Illuminated manuscripts are also full of ghouls in the margins. Catholics are into this kind of stuff. Why? Because Christ has conquered death and the devil." (source)

The greatest example of this might be found in my favorite poem - The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. We end in the Empyrean - the highest heaven - outside all space and time, beholding the very Vultus Dei (Face of God),

I believed, from the keenest of the living ray
that I endured, I would have been undone
had I withdrawn my eyes from it....
He who beholds that Light is so enthralled
that he would never willingly consent
to turn away from it for any other sight....
now my will and my desire were turning with
the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars. (Paradiso 33.76-78; 100-102; 144-145, Hollander)

But, earlier in the poem we are faced with images far worse and more terrifying than anything you'll see in your neighborhood or at a haunted house. The entire canticle could be cited, but let this scene from the eight circle's ninth pit suffice to make our point,

Who, even in words not bound by meter,
and having told the tale many times over,
could tell the blood and wounds that I saw now?...
it would be nothing to the ninth pit's filth.
No cask ever gapes so wide for loss
of mid- or side-staved as the soul I saw
cleft from the chin right down to where men fart....
he looked at me...
saying: 'See how I rend myself.'...
Another, with his throat pierced through
and nose hacked off just where the brows begin,
and only one ear left on his head...
And then another, whose hands had been chopped off,
raising his stumps up in the murky air
so that the blood from them befouled his face,...
I truly saw, and seem to see it still,
a headless body make its way...
And by its hair he held his severed head
swinging in his hands as if it were a lantern. (Inferno, 28.13-;22-24;29-30;64-66;103-105;118-119, Hollander)

Gruesome stuff that.

Mistake #4 - Claim Your Way of Celebrating Halloween is the Only Valid One
How to celebrate Halloween is ultimately a prudential decision, one on which good Catholics can disagree with one another. Each person, each parent, has to decide for themselves just what balance to strike between the grotesque display of the secular Halloween and refocusing on the saints. In the end, only you can determine how to best honor this great feast in your family. I just implore you to stay away from the extremes of, on the one hand, the lust and gore that have taken pride of place in the world's celebration and, on the other, of the complete retreat into a "fall festival" that some Protestants opt for. Be Catholic. Claim our holiday. And do it with class - honoring Christ in all things (cf. Col 3:17).

God bless and Have a Happy Halloween (and a Holy All Saint's Day)!

And don't forget to visit the graves of your dearly departed on All Soul's Day (October 2). The dead in Christ are still a part of the Church and need our prayers more than ever.

How are you choosing to celebrate All Hallow's Eve this year? What kind of costumes will you and/ or your kids be wearing?

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Prayers for Norcia (Nursia) Italy

Our prayers go out to those affected by the 6.6 magnitude earthquake that rocked Umbria, the most powerful earthquake to hit Italy in decades.

One casualty of the quake was the 14th century basilica of St. Benedict, built over top of his home and his burial place, and cared for by the (mostly American) Benedictine Monks of Norcia.

From Yahoo News
The destruction of the Norcia basilica was the single most significant loss of Italy's artistic heritage in an earthquake since a tremor in 1997 caused the collapse of the ceiling of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, which is 80 km to the north. 
The frescoed basilica, which is the spiritual, historic and tourist heart of Norcia, was built over the site of the home where the founder of the Benedictine order and his Sister St. Scolastica were born in 480. 
The basilica and monastery complex dates to the 13th century, although shrines to St. Benedict and his sister had been built there since the 8th century.
 The quake was felt as far away as the Eternal City herself.

Thankfully, it seems, the earthquake claimed no lives.

Join me in praying for those living in the area. has some prayers our ancestors prayed in these times and the traditional saints to invoke.

In this case, turning to St. Benedict might be best. From the Novena to St. Benedict:
"O Glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessings be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin." 
"Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen."

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Does Religion Cause Warfare?

Atheist Communist China.

Jimmy Akin, Catholic apologist extraordinaire, published an interesting article yesterday on In it he examines the oft-cited objection to religion that it is the major cause of violence, bloodshed, and countless wars in the world.

An excerpt,
Religion is a human universal, and historically there have been no atheist societies. It is thus impossible to argue that non-religious societies were less violent than religious ones. The officially atheist societies that arose in the Communist world in the twentieth century were not more peaceful than others. They warred, exported revolution, and killed tens of millions of people, including their own citizens. 
If religion predisposed people to violence, we should see this on the small scale, yet violent criminals don’t usually seem to be devout churchgoers.
You can read the whole thing over there: The Myth that Religion Causes War.

Allow me to add few additional thoughts:

 - The most destructive wars in human history have been waged by officially secular states for entirely secular reasons, to achieve exclusively secular goals. States such as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Napoleonic France, Ancient Rome all come to mind. As do wars such as, The American Civil War, the two World Wars, etc. The West in the twentieth century (the most secular continent at it's most secular) killed more people in it's wars than all the wars up to that point combined.

- Most wars are caused not by religion but to advance economic interests. One thinks of the conquests that led to the British Empire, the conquests of ancient Persia, Japanese expansion in the twentieth century, and the Venetian Republic's creation of a Mediterranean Empire all serve as examples.

- Some wars have a religious motivation, but these are rather few in comparison to the overall number of wars. If the argument advanced by atheists was true, religion would have to be responsible for most (or at least a majority) of the wars in human history. This simply isn't the case.

- Many of the wars supposedly caused by religious differences, on further examination, were primarily caused by the advancement of political, economic, or national interests. One needs only think of the most obviously religious wars (the Crusades and the wars of religion in the sixteenth century) to see this. For example, the Crusaders sacked and conquered Christian Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and during the wars of religion, Catholic France oppose the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. These battles between co-religionists during "religious" wars underline that other reasons trumped religious motivations even in the most explicit religious wars.

- Unlike the other major causes of warfare (economic interests and the establishment and expansion dominion over other peoples), religion provides examples of decreasing warfare. In the violent Middle Ages (Catholic on Catholic non-religiously motivated violence there as well), the Church (i.e. religion) banned certain weapons (e.g. the crossbow), banned attacks on non-combatants (The Peace of God), and banned warfare from being enacted during certain times and on Sundays (The Truce of God).

- Many world religions teach non-violence or limit the use of violence severely. Judaism has the fourth commandment (fifth if your using the Protestant numbering system), Christians have the teaching of Jesus to "turn the other cheek," Buddha taught "not to injure living beings is good," and Hinduism restricts all violence to resisting evil.

This "objection" to religion is, simply put, absurd. Whether you are an atheist or religious, we all ought to be able to call out a bad argument. It's the only intellectually honest thing to do and intellectual honesty is something atheists and theists alike should value.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Couldn't God have made Hell a nicer place?

Have you ever encountered someone who struggles with the doctrine of Hell? Many, both Catholic and non, do today. I encountered one such person over at the Catholic Answers Forums who posed the question in a particularly challenging way. He asked why God couldn't have been more merciful in creating an alternative to Heaven and compared Heaven to a tropical paradise where the blessed spend eternity with their loved ones and Hell to a Soviet prison. How would we respond to this line of questioning? One way I employ is to show the questioner that neither Heaven nor Hell is what he thinks it is. Heaven is not just an Earthly paradise spread out into eternity and Hell isn't Auschwitz to the nth degree. So what are they? Let's take a closer look.

Is this your idea of Heaven?

What is Heaven?
Ultimately, not "club med with loved ones" but being in the presence of God. Being with God.

What is God?
The source of all goodness, all light, all love, all hope, and eternal life

What is Hell?
Not being in Heaven.
But Heaven is being with God.
Therefore, Hell is not being with God.
But God is the source of all goodness, all light, all love, all hope and eternal life.
Therefore, being without God is being w/out all goodness, all light, all love, all hope, and eternal life
But Hell is being without God.
Therefore, Hell is being w/out all goodness, light, love, hope, and eternal life
Therefore, Hell is evil, dark, hateful, hopeless, and eternal death

Hell can't be anything less than what it is. It simply is the absence of God. It's not the difference between a Gulag and Club-Med. It's the difference between being with God and being without Him.