Saturday, March 28, 2009

Great Lent-Week 5

Jesus Dies on the Cross-A Meditation by Luigi Giussani

We are sinners, and Christ’s death saves us. Christ’s death turns any past of ours into good, but our past is full of darkness that is called sin. And it is Christ’s death that saves us. We cannot acknowledge Christ on the cross without immediately understanding and feeling that this cross must touch us, that we can no longer object to sacrifice; there has no longer been room for objection to sacrifice since the moment when Christ died.

Precisely through our gaze fixed on the cross–where hangs the One who looks at us with the fixed gaze of eternity, fixed with pity and the will to save us, having pity on us and our nothingness–through the gaze fixed on the cross, what would be something so foreign as to seem to us abstract, arbitrarily created, becomes the experience of redemption. It is by fixing our gaze on the cross that we learn to perceive experientially the invading Presence and the unavoidable need for grace that gives our life perfection, and gives it joy. It is in Mary that the adoration of our heart finds its example and its form. For the condition of the cross was not just for Christ; Christ’s death on the cross saves the world but not in isolation. It is not alone that Christ saves the world, but by the adherence of each and every one of us to suffering and the cross. St. Paul says it: “In my own body I make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ, in His Cross and Passion.”

With you, o Mary, we recognize that the renouncement that is asked of our life is not a punishment, but the condition for its salvation, for its exaltation, for its increase. Mary, make our offering, the offering of our lives, help the poor world, this poor world, to be enriched in the knowledge of Christ and to rejoice in Christ’s love.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Happiness: Freud v. St. Thomas (a brief discussion)

Bill Clinton: "What is the meaning of is?"

That's modernity for you.

Despite the diversity of definitions, views, beliefs and opinions on happiness, it is difficult not to argue that the "thing" people wish for the most is to be happy.

In pondering why we have such an unhappy world, the question might be posed, what is happiness?

Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) view of happiness follows in the tradition of 18th century Enlightenment empiricism. He accepts John Locke’s view that “the universal human desire for happiness is a desire for maximum pleasure and minimal pain.” Thus, happiness is reduced to something one can metaphorically measure on a scale weighing in the amount of pleasure contrasted with the amount of pain. Freud views human happiness as simply the “satisfaction of instinctual desires." If this view of happiness is true, then humans are reduced to a happiness that can be achieved in animals. Happiness is not, in Freud’s view, and contrasted by the ancients, related in any way to the intellect, but to instinct and to the gratification of one’s passions and appetites.

The highest human appetite in terms of instinct is sexual gratification. Happiness is but the (constant) gratification of sexual impulses. The purpose of reason or human rationality is to limit this impulsive desire by distraction with other pursuits such as art and music. Distraction from fulfilling desired and instinctual sexual gratifications serves to prevent society from becoming violent and destructive.

Freud’s view of happiness then lends itself to the fact that since all our sexual impulses can not and should not be satisfied--for the good of society--then man is doomed to a (sexually) frustrated life and therefore unhappiness. Freud expresses, “Civilization demands the restriction of genital gratification for the sake of a cohesive social existence.” I suppose this is why Freud entitled his work, Civilization and its Discontents. A pretty grim view of life indeed.

Freud is responsible for a lot of modernity's current erred notions of happiness. As with all these modern "philosophers," had he known the "fruit" of his thought, he might have re-evaluated its legitimacy. What would this (ironically!) cultural conservative and moralist have thought about the MTV generation?

Freud's definition of happiness stands in vast contrast with that of St. Thomas Aquinas'(1225-1274). (Surprise, surprise!)

For St. Thomas happiness is not a materialist issue. Happiness is the last end of the human life: the telos, the goal, the whole point. For a Christian who believes that man was created to enjoy eternal happiness with God, salvation equals happiness.

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas first poses the question, "Whether man's happiness consists in wealth?" He answers that it is "impossible for man's happiness to consist in wealth." This is because wealth is not sought for the sake of itself, but for a means to some other good. And since happiness is the last end, it can not consist in wealth.

He also poses the questions, "Whether man's happiness consists in honors? Or glory? Or fame? Or power? Or health?" For the sake of contrasting him with Freud's definition of happiness, St. Thomas' question, "Whether man's happiness consists in pleasure?" is a relevant one.

St. Thomas answers in the negative and quotes Boethius, "Any one that chooses to look back on his past excesses, will perceive that pleasures have a sad ending: and if they can render a man happy, there is no reason why we should not say that the very beasts are happy too."

It is interesting that Freud admits that if man were happy (having his sexual appetite constantly gratified), it would cause destruction to civilization. He would agree with St. Thomas on this point. However, instead of looking at this concrete fact and changing his definition of happiness toward a more truthful positivity, he relegates man to a life of necessary unhappiness for the sake of the common good. Since Freud is a materialist and denies the spiritual in man, he would disagree with St. Thomas and Boethius and affirm that humans are no different than "the very beasts."

St. Thomas would reject Freud's view of happiness because it concerns only one part of man: the bodily. However, man is one composite consisting of body and soul. He expresses, "Now good pertaining to the body, and apprehended by sense, cannot be man's perfect good. For since the rational soul excels the capacity of corporeal matter...(it) has a certain infinity in regard to the body...consequently it is evident that good which is fitting to the body, and which causes bodily delight through being apprehended by sense, is not man's perfect good, but is quite a trifle as compared with the good of the soul. Therefore bodily pleasure is neither happiness itself, nor a proper accident of happiness."

What is happiness?

Both Freud and St. Thomas would agree that in this life, men strive after happiness but that perfect happiness can not be attained by man. That is where the similarity in their notions of happiness ends.

St. Thomas writes, "Man is not perfectly happy so long as something remains for him to desire and seek." Freud rejected faith and religion and would not have accepted St. Thomas' understanding that "the happiness of man is realized in union with the Uncreated Good, which is God."

Mortimer Adler makes an important distinction regarding the current confusion regarding happiness. Happiness is being confused with contentment, as the fulfillment of needs. He explains that both the bad and good man can have their needs fulfilled. But no one would say that the miser who has his needs satisfied is happy. Happiness must be understood as St. Thomas explains as the final end--the quality of a morally good (virtuous) life. Properly speaking then, one can not say he has had a happy life, until the end of his life.

In reflecting about the contrasted understandings of happiness in Freud and St. Thomas, it comes down to a positivity versus a negativity in life. Pleasure, as being happiness, is utterly reductionistic and is inconsiderate of the totality of man's being and existence.

Happiness for St. Thomas is a positive thing to be achieved, for Freud it is a negative thing which can not be attained. For St. Thomas, happiness enriches man and thus civilization, for Freud happiness ruins man and does violence to civilization. For St. Thomas, it is to be lived and embraced, for Freud it is to be suppressed for the common good. For St. Thomas the happier the man, the happier the world, for Freud the happier the man, the unhappier the world.

How will it be known if St. Thomas's understanding of happiness is true? Well, for one thing, experience should verify it. This leads to flourishing of the human person--as Father Giussani might say.

Pope's Address to Movements on Promotion of Women

"We Feel the Need for This Feminine Complementarity"

LUANDA, Angola, MARCH 22, 2009 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today to members of Catholic movements at a meeting on the promotion of women in Santo António Parish of Luanda.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"They have no more wine," said Mary, begging Jesus to intervene so that the wedding-feast could continue, as was only right and fitting: "As long as the wedding guests have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast" (Mk 2:19). The Mother of Jesus turns to the servants and implores them: "Do whatever he tells you" (cf. Jn 2:1-5). Her maternal mediation thus made possible the "good wine," prefiguring a new covenant between divine omnipotence and the poor but receptive human heart. This, in fact, had already happened in the past when -- as we heard in the first reading -- "all the people answered together and said: 'all that the Lord has spoken, we will do'" (Ex 19:8).

These same words well up in the hearts of all gathered here today in Saint Anthony's Church: a building which we owe to the commendable missionary efforts of the Capuchin Friars Minor, who wanted to provide a new Tent for the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God's presence among his pilgrim people. To them, to those who work alongside them, and to all who benefit from their spiritual and social assistance, the Pope imparts his blessing with warm words of encouragement. I greet with affection all those present: Bishops, priests, religious men and women, and particularly the lay faithful who consciously embrace the duties of Christian commitment and witness that flow from the Sacrament of Baptism and also -- in the case of spouses -- from the Sacrament of Marriage. Moreover, given the main purpose of our gathering today, I extend greetings of great affection and hope to all women, to whom God has entrusted the wellsprings of life: I invite you to live and to put your trust in life, because the living God has put his trust in you! With gratitude in my heart I also greet the leaders and facilitators of ecclesial movements that have made the promotion of Angolan women a priority. I thank Archbishop José de Queirós Alves and your representatives for their kind words and for drawing attention to the aspirations and hopes of so many of the silent heroines among the women of this beloved nation.

I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been -- and continue to be -- subjected, paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame. This forms no part of God's plan. In the Scripture reading, we heard that the entire people cried out together: "all that the Lord has spoken, we will do!" Sacred Scripture tells us that the divine Creator, looking upon all he had made, saw that something was missing: everything would have been fine if man had not been alone! How could one man by himself constitute the image and likeness of God who is one and three, God who is communion? "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). God went to work again, fashioning for the man the helper he still lacked, and endowing this helper in a privileged way by incorporating the order of love, which had seemed under-represented in creation.

As you know, my dear friends, this order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the Trinitarian life, the Holy Spirit being the personal hypostasis of love. As my predecessor Pope John Paul II once wrote, "in God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 29). In fact, gazing upon the captivating charm that radiates from woman due to the inner grace God has given her, the heart of man is enlightened and he sees himself reflected in her: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23). Woman is another "I" who shares in the same human nature. We must therefore recognize, affirm and defend the equal dignity of man and woman: they are both persons, utterly unique among all the living beings found in the world.

Man and woman are both called to live in profound communion through a reciprocal recognition of one another and the mutual gift of themselves, working together for the common good through the complementary aspects of masculinity and femininity. Who today can fail to recognize the need to make more room for the "reasons of the heart"? In a world like ours, dominated by technology, we feel the need for this feminine complementarity, so that the human race can live in the world without completely losing its humanity. Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty or devastated by war, and of all the tragic situations resulting from migrations, forced or otherwise. It is almost always women who manage to preserve human dignity, to defend the family and to protect cultural and religious values.

Dear brothers and sisters, history records almost exclusively the accomplishments of men, when in fact much of it is due to the determined, unrelenting and charitable action of women. Of all the many extraordinary women, allow me to mention two in particular: Teresa Gomes and Maria Bonino. The first, an Angolan, died in 2004 in the city of Sumbe after a happily married life in which she gave birth to seven children; she was a woman of unswerving Christian faith and exemplary apostolic zeal. This was particularly evident during the years 1975 and 1976 when fierce ideological and political propaganda invaded the parish of Our Lady of Grace of Porto Amboim, almost forcing the doors of the church to close. Teresa then became the leader of the faithful who refused to bend under pressure. Teresa offered support, courageously protecting the parish structures and trying every possible means to restore the celebration of Mass. Her love for the Church made her indefatigable in the work of evangelization, under the direction of the priests.

Maria Bonino was an Italian pediatrician who offered her expertise as a volunteer in several missions throughout this beloved African continent. She became the head of the pediatric ward in the provincial hospital at Uíje during the last two years of her life. Caring for the daily needs of thousands of children who were patients there, Maria paid the ultimate price for her service by sacrificing her life during the terrible epidemic of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever, to which she herself succumbed. She was transferred to Luanda for treatment, but she died and was laid to rest here on 24 March 2005 -- the day after tomorrow is her fourth anniversary. Church and society have been -- and continue to be -- enormously enriched by the presence and virtues of women, and in a particular way by consecrated religious who, relying on the Lord's grace, have placed themselves at the service of others.

Dear Angolans, since the dignity of women is equal to that of men, no one today should doubt that women have "a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed, also, where necessary, through appropriate legislation. This acknowledgment of the public role of women should not however detract from their unique role within the family. Here their contribution to the welfare and progress of society, even if its importance is not sufficiently appreciated, is truly incalculable" (Message for the 1995 World Day of Peace, 9). Moreover, a woman's personal sense of dignity is not primarily the result of juridically defined rights, but rather the direct consequence of the material and spiritual care she receives in the bosom of the family. The presence of a mother within the family is so important for the stability and growth of this fundamental cell of society, that it should be recognized, commended and supported in every possible way. For the same reason, society must hold husbands and fathers accountable for their responsibilities towards their families.

Dear families, you have undoubtedly noticed that no human couple, alone and on its own strength, can adequately offer children love and a genuine understanding of life. In fact, in order to say to someone, "your life is good even though you don't know what the future will bring", there needs to be a higher and more trustworthy authority than parents alone can offer. Christians know that this higher authority has been given to the larger family which God, through his Son Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has established within human history, namely the Church. We find at work here the eternal and indestructible love which guarantees to each of us that our life will always have meaning, even if we do not know what the future will bring. For this reason, the building up of every Christian family takes place within the larger family, the Church, which sustains the domestic family and holds it close to her heart, giving it the assurance that it is protected, now and in the future, by the "yes" of the Creator.

"They have no more wine" -- Mary says to Jesus. Dear women of Angola, accept Mary as your advocate with the Lord. This is precisely how we see her at the wedding-feast of Cana: a tender woman, full of motherly care and courage, a woman who recognizes the needs of others and, wanting to help, places those needs before the Lord. If we stay close to her, we can all -- men and women alike -- recover that sense of serenity and deep trust that makes us feel blessed by God and undaunted in our struggle for life. May Our Lady of Muxima be the guiding star of your lives. May she keep all of you united in the great family of God. Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Feast of the Annunciation

Today the Church celebrates a special event in history, The Annunciation of the Lord, to Mary.

This event in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary is central to the life of the Christian. It is a celebration of the event of the Incarnation.

Each week, the Holy Father gives his "Angelus" message to a Wednesday audience.

Here is a version of the Angelus devotion:

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.

R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

V. And the Word was made Flesh.

R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Pour forth we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni Per Mariam. (Come Holy Spirit, Come Through Mary.)


The Church looks to Mary as an example of the attitude that produces the most fecundity in life. Having the attitude that Mary had ("Be it done unto me...") and asking her to help us find her son ("Do whatever He tells you...") is the key to approaching life as a positivity. It is the key to freedom. It reveals the reality that we are but receivers of the Other's initiative in our lives. Everything is given.

Mary, you said "Yes," to the Mystery, help us to say "Yes."

Mary, you were obedient without understanding, help us to be obedient.

Mary, you trusted when you were uncertain, help us to trust.

If we allow our experiences to correspond to that of Mary's, we too, like her, will bear Christ within us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thinking alike...

My "American Idol" and friend Dennis Prager, posted an article today which is related to my most recent post. Here's a link to it if you haven't caught it yet:

Why doesn't communism have as bad a name as Nazism?

If I were President of the United States...

Here's what my friend's niece wrote (She's younger than 10 years-old):

If I were President of the United States I would give some money to poor people. I would make everyone even and fair by giving everyone houses and food. I would give kids things they need and don't have. I would bring the soldiers back from the war. I would fight with words and not guns.

I think most people reading this would say, "Aww, that's so cute!" While they are the precious words of an innocent child, it disturbs me how much liberal indoctrination goes on in schools and at such a young age.

What is the point of an exercise like this? Is this really an appropriate question to ask a little child?

Needless to say, the more I learn about the educational system in America, the more I am becoming a fan of the homeschooling program. I used to be extremely judgmental about homeschooling until I realized the smartest and best critical thinkers I knew were home schooled. Interesting. And they weren't socially awkward either, contrary to popular mythology.

Although I wouldn't waste their time with an exercise like this, I would want my future students to write something more along the lines of preserving "liberty and justice for all." (Where have I heard those words before?!)

Communism, (material) egalitarianism, and pacificism...this is not what our children should be taught to value. Especially before they can begin to grasp these ideologies, properly employ their reason and learn the truth about how these systems have, in historical reality, wrought the worst injustice and violence--not to mention the quenching of the unquenchable human spirit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Great Lent-Week 4

Jesus on the Way to Calvary-A Meditation by Luigi Giussani

God who came among men goes to the scaffold: defeated, a failure; a moment, a day, three days of nothingness, in which everything is finished. This is the condition, the condition of sacrifice in its most profound meaning: it appears to be a failure, it appears not to succeed, it appears that the others are right. Remaining with Him even when it seems that everything is finished or has finished; staying next to Him as His Mother did–only this faithfulness brings us, sooner or later, to the experience that no one outside the Christian community can have in this world, the experience of the Resurrection.

And we can leave for another love this Christ who moves into death to deliver us from evil so that we may change, so that the Eternal Father may regenerate in us what the crime of forgetfulness has outstripped! This man throws himself onto the cross to brandish it, to embrace it, to be nailed on it, to die, to be one with that wood: “Will we leave him for another love?”

This Man pours out his blood for us and shall we leave him for another love?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's St. Joseph's Day!

This is a great week of feast days: St. Patrick, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and of course, today, St. Joseph!

St. Joseph is a very special saint. He was the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster father of the second person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ.

He is the patron of the Universal Church--he protects the Church the way he protected Mary and Jesus during his life. He is also the patron of husbands, all workers, and a happy death.

This morning at mass, the Sisters of St. Joseph (their convent is right next to the chapel where morning mass is held) visited and gave us beautiful sun catcher static stickers with the image of St. Joseph holding baby Jesus.

This is a huge holiday in the Church. Today we have a special dispensation to break our Lenten fasts and celebrate the life of this wonderful man.

From my devotion this morning:

Now let us listen to what Saint Bernard has to say about Saint Joseph's intercessory power on behalf of his supplicants: "There are some saints who have the power of protecting in certain specific circumstances; but Saint Joseph has been granted the power to help us in every kind of need, and to defend all who have recourse to him with pious dispositions."

Beloved and kind St. Joseph, pray for us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Feast Day of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

St. Cyril was a major player in the fight against the Arian heresy. He lived from 315-386 A.D.

Here's a great quote from him, regarding the Holy Eucharist:

"Since He Himself has declared and said of the bread: This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any more? And when He asserts and says: This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood? Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Great Lent-Week 3

Jesus is Crowned with Thorns-A Meditation by Luigi Giussani

That little head which Mary, like every mother with her newborn child, would have enfolded close to her without squeezing it, and caressed delicately as every mother does, and looked at in wonder and admiration, would one day have to wear a crown of thorns. Salve caput cruentatum. How the Virgin felt echoing inside her this evil of the world, without details and without accusations, but as an already boundless grief that would culminate in watching her Son die!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The English Accident-Part 2

In 1547, Henry VIII died. He was succeeded by his young, sickly son Edward VI. Since he was only nine years old this was Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer's chance to de-Catholicize England.

In 1548, the first edition of the Book of Common Prayer was published. Of course, the book is entirely Protestant as he was. He sends a copy of it to both Luther and Calvin and they criticize it highly for still being "too Catholic." In 1552, his second edition is published. All references to the mass are now called "the Lord's Supper."

When Edward VI died at the age of 16, the populace was in favor of Mary Tudor (Catherine of Aragon's daughter) ascending to the throne. The people were Catholic and wanted a Catholic queen. They did not consider Ann Boleyn's marriage to Henry legitimate and so neither was her daughter Elizabeth. Parliament, however, was in favor of Lady Jane Grey. The populace revolted and Mary Tudor became queen in 1553. She felt it her mission to restore the Faith in England. Her first step was to send Cranmer to the Tower. In his place, Cardinal Reginald Pole, equally faithful to the Pope, was elected.

"Bloody Mary"

Thanks to anti-Catholic history textbooks, Mary Tudor is remembered in this unfair way. During her entire reign, she was very popular with her subjects. Without them, she would not have been able to take the throne. She did make the mistake of burning 300 heretics; however, her successor, Elizabeth I, burned over 700 Catholics and perhaps even more. Elizabeth, of course, is remembered as "Good Queen Bess."

Another mistake Mary made was to marry Phillip II. He was a very good man and loyal to the Church but he was a Spaniard and this did not sit well with the English people during a time of the increasing use of the vernacular languages and the rise of nationalism.

When both Mary and Archbishop Pole died in 1558 (on the same day!), so did any chance for Catholicism to survive in England.

Her legitimate successor was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was Henry VIII's great-niece. However, through the political shenanigans of Parliament, Elizabeth I took the throne and reigned for 45 years. Raised thoroughly Protestant, she refused to attend mass on her first Christmas or receive the Eucharist at her own coronation mass. This "greatest English monarch" however, was merely a figurehead and was controlled by a man named William Cecil. He is known as the "architect of Protestant England." He wanted to protect his wealth and did so quite cleverly. He supported the Protestant movement in Scotland and in the Netherlands. In 1559, he was the impetus behind the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy and Oath of Loyalty. He was also behind the Act of Uniformity which abolished the mass, mandated Anglican services and reinstated Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer. He made it a capital crime to be a Catholic. In 1563, the Anglican 39 Articles was released. It was also a crime to associate with the Jesuits.

Those who did, like St. Margaret Clitherow, were killed. She was hiding priests and was killed by suffocating from rocks and planks.

In 1570, Pope St. Pius V wrote Regnans in Excelsis. against Elizabeth and ex-communicated her in 1571.

Cecil used the ex-communication to his great political advantage. He called the Pope a "Roman prince" and suggested to the English people that one can not truly be English and Catholic. This idea begins to stick with the populace.

In 1603, Elizabeth died. The mass and the Catholic way of life is deteriorating and some do not know or remember what it was like. James I became King (He is famous for the King James Version of the Bible) in 1603. Although his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was a Catholic and was imprisoned for 20 years and executed because of it, he has been raised as a Protestant and under his reign is the complete eradication of the Faith in England.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Great Lent-Week 2

The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar-Meditation by Luigi Giussani

The companionship of the God-Man in our life has become inconceivable, unimaginable tragedy, one that defies anyone’s imagination. In all the centuries of history there cannot be imagined–not even in play, like a fairy tale–a tragedy greater than this: the companionship of God-made-flesh was forgotten, outraged by man; a tragedy that arises from the cynicism of our pursuit of our instincts. Around this “wood” coagulate the evil of man who fails the call of the Infinite and the disasters caused by this crime, so that the death of the God-Man is the sum and symbol of all these disasters. And, at the same time, here too is met the irresistible power of God, because just that supreme disaster and that evil become the instrument for its conquest and redemption. This is the enigma that God maintains in life, because this great plan of goodness, wisdom, knowledge, and love must be a trial, must put into action the idea of trial. Why a trial? Because the world is in evil, the world lies in the Evil One.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The English Accident-Part I

Catholic thinker Hilaire Belloc posited that the English Reformation (The Reformation in England) was an Accident. He believed this because King Henry VIII and his people were thoroughly Catholic, in both mind and manner, as well as belief. What caused this break was not an attack on the Church-the priesthood, the sacraments, the doctrines-but was a schism in order to obtain a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon of Spain. Belloc also posited that had England not fell, Europe would have been saved from the Protestant movement.
It would have died out as all other previous ones had.

This "accidental" circumstance in England is very different than what was going on at the same time in the Empire (the German nation-states-the Lutheran movement) as well as in Geneva where John Calvin was spreading his brand of Protestantism. The difference between the Reformation in England and in Geneva can be understood by noting that during Henry VIII's "series of unfortunate events," the mass and the whole of Catholic life continued to be celebrated and lived as it had been for more than a thousand years. At the same exact time in history (1530s) in Geneva, the Protestants had taken control of the nation-state and by 1535, the mass was banned. The idea of banning the mass in England, however, would have been a horrifying thought to the monarch.

The impetus in denying papal authority for Henry was his selfishness in wanting Anne Boleyn to be his wife. He had wanted her to be his mistress as her older sister had been, but she refused and insisted on being his wife---and Queen. Church historian Warren Carroll argued that the whole argument of Henry's desire to produce a male heir is exaggerated and that it was his obsession with Anne that led to the schism. Henry had already produced an heir, Mary Tudor, with his legitimate wife, Catherine. The Pope had granted Henry the permission to hold a Tribunal to discuss the marriage case but that the final decision would be Rome's. The fact that the Pope allowed such an ecclesiastical court to gather was novelty in itself!

Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop, convinced Henry that Pope Clement VII would grant him an annulment from Catherine. When he turned out to be wrong, Wolsey was replaced by St. Thomas More.

However, it was not Henry, but his prime minister Thomas Cromwell (see picture), who is understood to be the true creator and architect of the English reformation. Here's his novel contribution: (it reminds me the serpent whispering in Eve's ear...)

"Henry, why does the Church have to be controlled by the Pope? You could be the head of the Church in England."

Besides this idea, Cromwell also convinced Henry to dissolve ALL the monasteries in England. By 1540, Henry, Cromwell, and the avaricious nobility had run all the religious out and had seized the wealth and the lands for themselves. Interestingly enough, that same year, 1540, Cromwell fell out of favor with Henry and was executed. (What good is it to gain the whole world...) The dissolution of the monasteries is what later made it harder to reunite with the Church--they would have to return the lands and money.

Under Cromwell's influence, Henry passed three religious mandates in order to deal with his marital problems, or rather, satiate his sexual appetite:

1. He is the head of the Church, not the Pope.
2. He has the right to approve, reject, modify ecclesiastical laws and books.
3. He must be submitted to by all the clergy and bishops.

"I want, I want, I want, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, now, now now"---for any of you fellow Hook lovers out there.

St. Thomas More refused these mandates and resigned as Lord Chancellor.

Another major player in the English Reformation is Thomas Cranmer. He became the Archbishop of Canterbury and is known to be a wavering and spineless man. (He took an oath of loyalty to the Pope, then recanted, around six times...)

Under his "blessing," in 1533, the beloved and popular Queen Catherine of Aragon is replaced with Anne Boleyn. Anne gives birth to Elizabeth shortly after the wedding. (Once she was "engaged" to Henry, she submitted to him.) It's so classy when your new "Queen" is a pregnant bride. But anyway...within the same year...

Henry is excommunicated by Pope Clement VII and his marriage is declared invalid. In reaction to the Pope, in 1534 (the Pope is now Paul III), Henry passed the Act of Succession and all bishops were required to take the Oath of Succession denying papal authority. In 1535, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were beheaded at the Tower of London for refusing to take the Oath. Also in 1535, Henry passed the Act of Supremacy, which makes the King of England the Supreme Head of the Church of England. (Where is THAT in the Bible? So much for sola scriptura, aye?) Carthusian monks are martyred for refusing the oath.

Irreconcilable Differences

No, I don't mean the Catholics and Protestants. Remember, England is still Catholic at this time.

Much like a celebrity couple, less than two years later, Henry is less than enchanted with Anne and you know what happens: Off with her head! Easy come, easy go.

In 1549, the still-Catholic Henry had Parliament pass Six Articles Abolishing the Diversity of Opinions:

1. Affirms Transubstantiation
2. Communion of both species not necessary (this was a big Protestant demand)
3. Clerical celibacy must be upheld
4. Vows of chastity must be observed by both sexes
5. Private masses are legitimate (Luther wanted these abolished)
6. Regular confession is good and necessary

He reaffirmed traditional Catholic teaching and dogma.

Henry died--as a Catholic--in 1547 and leaving behind his three kids: Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward.

Coming soon: The English Accident-Part II

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Great Lent-Week 1

Jesus's Agony in the Garden-Meditation by Luigi Giussani

“Now my soul is sorrowful; and what must I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour [faced with the thought of sacrifice, the thought of death, of self-denial…]’? But it is for this that I have come to this hour [for this, for this condition have I been chosen, called, lovingly taught by the mystery of the Father, by the charity of the Son, by the warm light of the Spirit. Now my soul is sorrowful and what must I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? ‘Take away this condition, Father, take away this condition.’ Must I say this? But it is precisely for this that I have come to this hour!].” Thus I can say at the end, “Father, glorify Your name [glorify Your will, bring about, realize Your plan], which I do not comprehend [because He did not comprehend the great injustice]. Father, glorify Your name in front of which I stand in fear and trembling, in obedience–that is to say, in love. My life is Your plan, it is Your will.”

How many times–praying to the Spirit and the Virgin Mary–will we have to reread this passage in order to identify with the most lucid and fascinating instant in which the consciousness of the Man Christ, Jesus, expressed itself. We can come upon this by surprise, from its deepest recesses to the highest peaks of His example of love for Being, of respect for the objectivity of Being, of love for His origin and His destiny, and for the contents of the plan of time, of history. “Father, if possible, let me not die; however, not my but Your will be done.” This is the supreme application of our acknowledgment of Mystery, adhering to the Man-Christ kneeling and sweating blood from the pores of His skin in His agony in Gethsemane–the condition for being true in a relationship is sacrifice.


Last night, I went to the Faith Discussion Dinner that my friend JP hosts at his house each month. Here's a link to his new web site for details:

It's a fun night with lots of food and beer. In between the eating, drinking and general merriment, is the discussion. A topic of faith is chosen and the Protestant and Catholic speakers each have eight minutes to present their positions.

After the presentations, it's time for the (charitable) debate or QA session.

The topic was "Who has the authority to interpret Scripture?" Protestants say each believer does, Catholics say the final authority on Biblical interpretation is the Magesterium of the Church.

During the QA session, a woman on the Protesting-side asked a good question. If the Catholic has the Magesterium to interpret for him, why study the Bible at all?

After the debate ended, I went to go talk to her because she seemed very sincere in her question and since I am a "revert" to the Church I figured why not? We started talking. Our faith is not in a book, but in the person of Christ, who left us His Church with the power to "bind" and "loose," etc. etc. And I also quoted from Scripture, "The Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth." Nowhere in the Bible does it say it is the SOLE and FINAL authority. Even if it did, we don't believe it because it says so (for the Koran also says the same thing, but we don't believe in the Koran) but because the Church says so. The Church through her councils is what decided the Biblical canon in the first place. So here I am explaining all this to her and I finally come to the point that the word "Trinity" isn't in the Bible and yet we believe it. Of course, the Trinitarian believer can "find" it in the Bible, implicitly, but it is certainly not obvious, clear-cut, and it took the Church a long time to hash out. And then finally an authoritative council to make official.

She looks at me and says, "Oh, well, I don't believe in the Trinity."

You can imagine my shock as I thought I was speaking to a "Christian" in the Trinitarian-sense and definition.

But you know what? As disturbed as I was, her position is exactly what happens when you embrace what my friend Joe (a recent convert) calls Protestant personalism.

While the Protestant accepts the Church's orthodox teachings on the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Biblical canonicity, etc. he does not accept (or no longer accepts after the 16th C.) what his chosen denomination has decided not to accept.

By accepting the false and un-Biblical (find it for me...) notion of sola scriptura, you make yourself, not the Bible, the final authority and claim it as the Holy Spirit.

Well, then the Holy Spirit is dividing Christendom in 33, 800+ ways.

Obviously not.

As the Bible says, "The gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church."

Are we to gloss over this verse?

If you throw out the Church, eventually, like this woman, you run the risk of throwing out the most basic, fundamental, orthodox tradition of belief: the Holy Trinity.


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