Atheism’s Evolutionary Reduction of Religion: Moralism

There is an ongoing trend amongst atheists to frame religion in a historical context in order to assert that it was at a time “useful” but is no longer relevant.  This way of framing religion is asserted by taking up one of the principles of Evolution which suggests man’s quest for survival is written deeply in his psychology and anthropology.  Taking this principle and suggesting that the most obvious way for mankind to survive is through creating a civilization that is governed by some type of morality is the principle theory applied to religion.  It is argued that with this instinct to survive, deeply rooted in man’s psychology, man generated religion as a means to foster a type of morality.  Placing a moral structure upon a civilization had to be done with a sense of stability, and thus to place such moral ordering into the constant flux of human-opinion was not as stable as suggesting that morals came from a type of authority; be it all-powerful (to evoke fear), all good (to evoke trust), and all knowing (to evoke in combination with the latter, a sense of integrity).  It was clear that mankind did not trust himself or others, and as a result needed something perfect to appeal to, in order to fasten oneself to some type of moral structure.

                This view does not suggest that man’s creation of religion was somehow intrinsically dishonest.  Rather, man sought to invent religion, but as a result of a deeply subconscious tendency that developed such a narrative (theology) in order to bring about the conclusion he sought (survival through moral-civilization).  In other words, religion may have been believed to have been true, but underneath the impulses of the human heart was actually an impulse to survive by developing a network of relationships that were bound to some type of morality.Moses

                The argument is thus made that mankind has since transcended his need for such a fictitious God, and now has come to a deeper awareness of how becoming “morally-good” does not rely upon a belief and adherence to a moral law dogmatically asserted.  To the religious, this statement certainly comes across as condescending – especially since they suggest we are following something that is ultimately unenlightened in contrast with today’s people “in the know.”  On the other hand, we as religious individuals should be aware of the common experience of condescension when dialoguing with non-believers.  Both expressions of condescension could be the result of a type of defensive posture, where one feels looked down-upon.  Thus, in order to defend oneself, he puts the other down, to raise himself up.  Thus the cycle goes on indefinitely.

                In order to avoid this cycle, I might suggest to both atheists and believers that having a sense of “morality” is a matter of “human-nature” and thus ought to be universally attributed to both atheists and believers.  The quest to be “good” cannot be understood as the quest to be “better than others.”  Typically this type of moral competition makes people arrogant, proud, and selfish, willing to lie, deface another’s good-name, and so on.  Of course, this is a general sentiment in regard to morality, not something I am attempting to defend – but I would think most people would agree in principle. We’d agree that seeking to be morally better than others is self-defeating.

                I would like to however argue some contrary points, and by no means will they be presented in an exhaustive manner.  Prior to these contrary points I would prefer to discuss the underlying assumption that Religion’s central focus is on morality.  These contrary points are particularly in regard to the assertion that “morality” solely springs from man’s desire to survive.  Furthermore, that religion and faith’s credibility hinges upon this well-meaning attempt to survive, but was in reality a fictive creation in order to maintain such survival.  Also, it would be worth voicing concern over the hierarchy of priorities between morality and survival, and where in some situations it becomes a contradiction, making an argument in promotion of amoralism in certain circumstances. 

On the Contrary:  Religion as a Moral Philosophy

I can only respond to this characterization in regard to Catholicism.  While I have studied academically at university various religions, I would not consider myself as having an expert ability to characterize one religion as not adhering primarily or identifying beyond a code of ethics.  That is to say that perhaps this theory should be considered in regard to religions, but each religion should be judged by a standard of research, rather than a mere generalization.  This does not mean that the little information we have about other faiths should not raise concerns or foster a sense of appreciation or agreement; what it does mean is that for the purpose of this blog, I would prefer to stick to what I know best which is Catholicism.

Catholicism is often the first target amongst criticism merely for its historical mark on the various civilizations that the west has built.  Monasteries helped foster scientific advancement during the barbarian invasions in Europe.  The Catholic view of science, philosophy, scripture and Divine-Tradition led to the creation of the university system.  The Church was quick to avoid fundamentalism as it went through the period of “Hellenization” unpacking various dogmas through philosophical categories and language.  This effectively was the baptism over rational discernment, whereby the Church demonstrated a view that faith and reason were not antagonistic dimensions.  In this process, the Church has made mistakes, and the few mistakes that have been made have often been sensationalized or grossly misrepresented, eclipsing the vast majority of advances the Church has offered the world in regard to art, the scientific method, the big-bang theory, and many other well-known developments.   This alone is a subject many atheists, in my experience, are terribly unaware of, and I would encourage a more critical examination of the advancements made by Catholics, as not something to merely gloss over.  The narrative of today seems to assert an antagonism in the Catholic faith, between faith and reason which can be the result of attempting to distance oneself from something people have been trained to sneer at:  faith and religion, especially when they find themselves appreciating something (Reason) in a group of people they are supposedly meant to abhor.

In this regard, the Catholic Religion still remains the largest charitable organization on the face of the planet.  It houses, educates, feeds the poor, and supports countries when in dire need.  Yet, the Catholic Church, while being the one organization that does the most is often also the most criticized for not doing enough.  One must again, be careful to study how the money works in the Vatican and the Church, because if one were to sell everything in the Museums of the Church, they would actually be causing more harm to the poor than doing them good.  Furthermore, it would be good for any individual in any situation to examine what they themselves are doing to help the poor.  The Porn industry, for instance makes much more money than the Vatican, and if anyone who criticizes the Church for her charity work, should probably criticize the porn-industry first, since it grosses much more money than any other institution on the planet and does what for the poor? This might perhaps give some perspective, at least to the money that is spent from the individual currently reading this blog: that is you.

But let me arrive back to the original point, placing all the various misconceptions and false narratives aside, that are boringly recapitulated without any underlying facts or facts out of context.  The original point is to question what the Catholic Religion is for.  Is the Catholic Religion, as purported by us Catholics, invented by God to primarily make us morally good?  The answer is an unequivocal “no.”  The Catholic-Christian Tradition emphasizes in her doctrine vividly that:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” 1 John 4:10

Pope Benedict XVI discussed the problem with treating our religion as if it is reducible to nothing more than a moral philosophy – and encouraged the lay-faithful to understand that religion was not about becoming morally good, but primarily about a relationship with God and our neighbour.  This relationship is not instigated by man-willing it, according to how Catholics self-identify, but rather that God initiated His love for us.  Here is what Pope Benedict XVI said: 

Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism. Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.”

This does not mean that dogmas, moral-truths, and intellectual arguments are absent from Catholicism.  Rather what it means is that there is a broader context that they are meant to be integrated into, which is that all of it is born out of a God who intimately loves us, and the only right and proper response is to love Him back.  Without this context, neither the Christian nor the atheist have begun to understand Christianity as it is in itself.  Rather, in their minds, Christianity is merely an attempt to “be good.”  Thus, the common argument is brought forward that “one doesn’t need to be Christian to be good.”  For the moment I will hesitate to respond to this objection, since I do not yet feel confident enough that the more fundamental truths are yet conveyed.  It nonetheless remains an objection that “assumes” the Catholic Religion is reducible to making “good people.”

Why might this have happened?  If we had studied scripture, those who try to “use religion” to make themselves good are often the ones Christ speaks most sternly too:  they are the self-righteous.  That is to say, those who attempt to “make themselves-righteous.”  Religion becomes nothing more than a means to convey one’s superiority over others, and thus how humiliating it often was when someone was chosen by God from poverty and unpopularity to be closer and more pleasing to God.  Nonetheless it was humiliation well-earned, as the result of using religion in the most perverse fashion:  which is contrary to its original meaning:  to encounter God.

Imagine for a moment if children approached their parents merely to be the best sibling.  They sought the approval of their parents merely to have a sense of worth that was all built on being “better” than someone else.  What is absent in all of this?  Many things.  But one might quickly notice that what is absolutely absent is a love for their parents.  Their parents approval is what they seek, but for completely self-seeking reasons.  They do not simply love their parents, but rather attempt to use their parents “love” to inflate their own ego.   Putting all this aside, it’s worth noting we are entirely focused on the Children’s behaviour and have forgotten to stress the parent’s love. This is why moralism without the context of “relationship” is utterly meaningless.  What is the point of “morality” if it is merely to puff oneself up or to continue one’s existence?  There are higher things being aimed for, and they are “relationships” of genuine love.

incense-and-iconThe Catholic Religion is therefore more preoccupied with God’s love for us, than a moral system that he put into place.  For instance, Jesus teaches during the Sermon on the Mount that it is insufficient to merely avoid murdering our enemy, but that we ought to love our enemy.  His point?  That the interior man has to not only avoid bad-behaviour and bad-actions, but to from the heart, develop an actual relationship with his neighbor.  Likewise, this is most prominently being directed towards God. 

Theological-morality is man’s quest for God, but Catholic-Religion is God’s quest for man.   Christian-religion is about the manifestation of God reaching out to us in deep, penetrating love, a love that is willing to die for us to demonstrate our worth to Him.  While one drop was sufficient, Jesus gave every drop to demonstrate to us that His love isn’t minimalistic.  These types of truths are meant to penetrate the cold indifference of sinful man and arouse within Him a spirit of gratitude, and a willingness to reciprocate to God, exactly what He has done for us: directly to God, and indirectly to God through our neighbour. This is anything but “survival” in any natural sense, since the result leads us to the death of all apostles except St. John, and the early martyrs of the Church.  In fact, Jesus sweats blood in the Garden because he suspends this very natural impulse in Him to preserve His life for something superior, which is His relationship with the Father and His saving love for mankind.  The Catholic Religion was therefore founded on acting contrary to this natural inclination of survival – explicitly – by placing a relationship with God on a greater scale than our natural life-itself.

Often people will say, “yes, but you have to die to get the cookie of heaven.”  As if God would reduce a relationship with him to nothing more than a bunch of moral-hoops to jump through in order to obtain heaven.  But anyone who suggests this has completely ignored the whole premise of Jesus’ teachings which is that the moral law is not some type of “positive-law” that God arbitrarily imposes upon us, but rather teaches us how to objectively love Him and our neighbor.  Therefore, as Catholics when we hear these types of objections we simply understand that the opposing view is merely asserting what logicians would call a “straw man” which is a logical fallacy.  They are asserting that God/religion is merely moralistic – and thus defining it contrary to how it self-identifies and has thus proven itself as such in her dogma and doctrine.  When we read the creed at mass, we are not recapitulating the 10 commandments, but rather who God is and what He has done for us.  This is the essence of our faith, it is not about what we do, but what about God does.  Our receptivity to His love does have moral implications, but those are always secondary to who God is, and what God has done for us.  So we shouldn’t be shaken by such objections, because they convey a false-narrative which makes atheist arguments easy, but inevitably lazy.

dawkinsFurthermore, it might be worth noting that hypothetically guessing what people’s intentions were 2000 years ago, when founding a religion, still does not suffice as a disproof for God’s existence.  Any psychological argument for why people believe of itself does not disprove the object of their belief.  It may cause us pause and concern about the objective criteria for examining our beliefs – but atheists themselves do not transcend the subconscious which may have directed them towards their own conclusions for a slew of separate reasons.  None of these arguments nonetheless prove God’s existence.  For instance, if there was a room full of people activity of debating whether Australia existed, people’s reasons for belief or disbelief would not determine whether the country existed.  Its existence is independent of their own intention.  People can believe the correct thing for the worst of intentions and vice-versa.  Actually discerning cosmological proofs of God’s existence from the stand point of physics and philosophy would be a much more reasonable manner of discussing the subject.

Finally, the notion that evolution develops morality for the sole purpose of helping the human race survive is somewhat of a dangerous statement.  From this view one could conclude that morality of itself is unimportant, but is merely a relativistic mechanism to accomplish the ultimate end which is survival.  If this was the case, when morality suggests something contrary to the principle of survival, one would excuse themselves from this system of morality and merely adopt an amoral view.  I would suggest the same thing that Aristotle taught: what is most fundamental to mankind is not survival but the pursuit of the good or man’s own perfection.  All of this is to say that it is more fundamentally the case that man seeks the good, and derivative of this designation of man’s will include but is not limited to: survival. This view does not stand in contradiction to the theory of evolution, but rather would fit into it quite well.  Survival is “a good” but not the only good.  That is to say that seeking the good is intrinsic to each individual’s own nature, and offers a broader context than a reduction of survival.  While survival is primal, and certainly fundamental to man’s condition, it is not the only thing worth considering when examining man’s nature in general.  The good or reaching one’s own fulfillment or perfection is more meaningful than merely surviving.  To merely survive but to subsist in a miserable state is to have lived an empty life.  In this regard, it might be advantageous for us to understand that the true meaning of man to exist and survive is to bring about a higher and more relatable end which is “happiness.”  Aristotle would assert that man’s quest for survival, food, relationships, and so on is ultimately rooted in the highest desire which is for happiness.  To Aristotle happiness was not merely an emotion, since emotions can be fleeting and changing, but rather to one’s potential being entirely actualized, whereby man would become truly himself in every regard.  Christian humanism assets that God became man so as to restore us to a genuine humanism which his example exhorts is to and His grace enables such actualization. It would later be argued that Aristotle’s notion of happiness, that all men desire, points itself towards something either impossible or possible.  Man’s quest for happiness either ends at death, thereby never being fully secured, or man accomplishes this in some type of eternity.  Here the anthropology suggests that man does not wish to have his happiness end, for to do as such would be to wish he not be happy.  Rather man desires of himself an endless happiness.  This endless happiness is univocal to eternal happiness or bliss.  But this desire and designated end of man does not prove the existence of such an end‘s possibility, but rather merely demonstrates that it is man’s ontological or intrinsic nature to desire eternity.  Therefore the conclusion must be made between two things:  is man’s nature which is inclined towards eternal happiness arbitrary and therefore a reason to despair, or is it possible that his existence is actually rooted in something possible?

Aquinas Mary and Aristotle

Aristotle handing his work to St. Thomas Aquinas, submitting his work to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom

If it is the case that man cannot live on forever and therefore must deny his longing for never-ending happiness, he must not truly be himself, and delude himself with the illusion of purpose (existentialism) or live in the dissonance of desiring what cannot ever be (nihilism).  If it is true for man to be objectively oriented towards happiness that need not end, then mankind becomes religious and thereby is truly who he is, both by evolution and by reason.  Nonetheless, in either case, none of this proves God’s existence.  What it does prove is that man was made for God, and if he doesn’t believe in God, his existence is arbitrary. 

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Why the World is Immersed in Arbitrary Moral Dissonance: Part II

Part II – What is the Spiritual Impact of these Positions?

Absolute Skepticism can lead to a wide array of problems:  despair or anxiety as well as presumption or apathy.  When one does not “know” reasonably what reality is made of, and how it works, he finds himself at a disconcerting place.  There are people who struggle with the absence of absolute certainty, and therefore are wrecked with panic, as they spend 98% of their time focusing on something that is only doubtful by a measure of 1-2 percent.  That is to say, the person is unreasonably looking for certainty, and thereby unreasonably doubting reality as it truly is.  I was once told by a psychologist that there was a man who had acted unchastely (masturbation) in the ocean, and then proceeded to panic because he was uncertain as to whether that act of unchastity  could have accidentally led to a woman being impregnated.   This man, due to his own psychological anxiety disorder, spent time torturing himself inordinately, on something that was virtually impossible to have actually occurred.  He spent years and hours on end wondering if he was a father of a child he knew nothing about, all because of a sliver of “doubt.”  We see today the fruit of a nation that promotes skepticism and doubt beyond what is reasonable, and if it is imitated by parents or the social structures around such children, it can then be socialized into the psychology of children who might be sensitive to such a mental-disorder.    Likewise, some people go in the complete opposite direction when dealing with doubt, and turn into apathetic, indifferent individuals, who are never tethered to any truth about reality, unless of course, in the moment it suites their passions.  This apathy of indecisiveness is their coping mechanism and it often leads to a lack of committed relationships, distrust of individuals, and a total self-isolation as a result.  This can lead to social and sexual relationships that are flippant, uncommitted and not about sacrificial love.

Existentialism – in its traditional format of “going beyond good and evil” as Nietzsche suggests, man is somehow liberated by the perverse social-constructions that limit mankind from having the ability to make his own self-determined decisions:  Who I am, and what I therefore should do.  The whole nature of this thought ultimately is about freeing oneself to do as he pleases or judges, and so man can rationalize his own nature, and thereby call himself whatever he pleases to therefore justify acting accordingly.  We see this today vividly with Transgender issues – as people are no longer defined by actual physical reality, but their passions and desires lead to a self-determination, which thereby justifies behaviour as such.  This type of existentialism is similar to an early Christian Heresy called “Gnosticism” whereby mankind asserts his “will” over his matter/body.  This is why “sex-changes” are being promoted today, but changing one’s orientation is considered heresy.  The will and the dysphoric desires which enslave the will are infallible, but the body is unimportant and malleable.  The spiritual problem with this view is ironically “pride.”  Pride is the deadliest sin, but pride should not be equivocally understood (in this context) to be the same as self-esteem.  Pride in the context of sin, pertains to an exaggerated sense-of-self, in particular, one’s own will-power and judgment.  Man no longer is on a quest of self-discovery, but he evades the difficult work by creating for himself a fantasy according to his own fallible discernment of his desires.

Moral Positivism – existentialism typically exists as a reaction against some type of artificial, socially contrived moral law that emphasizes a type of repression of one’s own willfulness, and moral-positivism best describes that moral-frame-work.  Moral Positivism assumes that the nature of mankind either does not exist or it is not altogether good.  The “state of nature is war” and as a result, nature needs to be controlled, not liberated.  Moral Positivists are typically reacting to lawlessness, and seeing what takes place when individuals self-determine their own moral order, dissolving civilization and bringing the human race back into chaos (which is the fruit of existentialism).  However, the spiritual danger of Moral-positivism as such is that it has a negative view of mankind, and thus fosters inordinate and unhealthy shame.  Positive law is by itself not natural to the individual, and therefore will naturally bind up man’s impulses and desires, implying that who we are or what we are is something to be hated.  Most psychologists claim that one of the contributing factors to repressed deviancies, either sexual or other addictive habits comes from a sense of shame or self-hatred.  If one does not have a healthy self-love, he or she will likely treat themselves according to who they perceive themselves to be.  As a result, if I am evil, I will do evil things.  This shame is harmful to the human race because it only creates the façade of order, but does nothing to internalize it.  Almost as if good behaviour is simply something we cover over our evil nature.

Deistic Moral Positivism – When God asserts a moral law under this purview, he is essentially dictating to his fundamentalist followers a false spirituality that can best be described as the unsanctified white-washed tomb.  Jesus used the term “white-washed tombs” to describe the Pharisees because while they practiced the moral law, their interior spiritual life was left unsanctified (unchanged).  Inside was spiritual death, but the façade of beauty or righteousness was nonetheless present.  This therefore takes on the view that grace is “imputed” but not infused into the very nature of mankind to heal his nature interiorly, but to repress it or “cover it over.”  As a result, one develops into a Puritan, who violently seeks to be obedient, lest they be shunned or a sola-infused-grace advocate, who claims that they need not change the interior man, but merely be a passive recipient of forgiveness.  The problem in both cases, is that the individual remains “in chains” and there has been no interior transformation.    The consequences of the shame are well-known amongst all religions who adhere to this type of moral doctrine.  For some Calvinists, God actually hates the reprobate, because they are “in their nature” evil.  As a result, there is a horrible servile fear that is promoted, that does not view God as trying to heal, but destroy who they are, and replace them with a zombie who is formed by some imputed form of irresistible grace, for which they have no ability or freedom to deny.  In other words, God can only save them by kidnapping and manipulating them.   Puritans act as if “works” will save them, even if their desires are never changed through grace and virtue, and the more lawless, can continue to sin so long as they hold onto the sentiment of imputed grace.

Christian Natural Moral Law – When Jesus gave the sermon on the Mount He did not change the moral law, but deepened it.  In other words, God was concerned about both our behaviour and our self-understanding of the moral law, and our identity.  When Jesus taught that it wasn’t sufficient to merely avoid murdering our brother, but that we had to also avoid hating our brother, He began to teach us that grace is interiorly transforming us.  None of this, under the natural moral law, ought to be interpreted as a criticism from God to our own nature.  Rather, God is simply trying to redirect our hatred towards what is right to hate, and our love towards what is right to love.  The impulse to hate when we see sin is reasonable, as is the impulse to love, when we encounter the good.  But confusion ensues when a good-person (in nature) does something evil.  Sometimes people then label the sinner to be the nature of the sin (evil) rather than differentiating the two.  We must hate the behaviour, but not the person, created in the image and likeness of God.  We are loving what is good in them, and by hating the sin, we can actually make that an act of love as well for God and the other.  So God seeks to sanctify the human person by “infusing” grace into our very nature, thereby transforming the inner-man.  Mankind, who is being sanctified, has his natural desires to hate evil and love the good realigned according to faith and reason.  His nature is being healed, not thrown out.  In other words, the very act of hating sinful inclinations is univocal to loving the healing process and embrace of our objective nature.  In this quest, man is no longer seeking define himself or hate himself, but to allow himself to be loved by God for who he/she truly is.  This true-self is something we discover and surrender to, rather than allow our fallen desires/affect to determine.  If Catholics truly drank this doctrine in, they would not have inordinate shame towards their own nature, but rather would be able to interpret God’s moral law as not only an acceptance of God, but also an acceptance of oneself.

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Why the World is Immersed in Arbitrary Moral Dissonance: Part I

PART I – The various Moral Philosophies

During my seminary formation I had the privilege to study Philosophy, which taught me about all the different ways to perceive reality.  This is not something many people have the opportunity to study in their own life time; however, it is nonetheless fundamental.  Everyone has an “assumed-philosophy” that shapes the way we interpret reality, and from this interpretation comes a moral and spiritual ethos.  I would therefore like to offer you my own summary of the various ways that we can assess morality.  The list is not exhaustive, but summarizes various positions.  There are more positions, but generally they are a mixture of elements from what you see here below.

Absolute Moral Skepticism – this view believes that all moral claims have no actual firm foundation.  There is no moral code written into reality itself.   This is a symptom of a philosophy that actually claims nothing is definitively knowable – and that all truths, both scientific and moral can be doubted.  As a result, humans can only use their best judgment in the particular instance of their time to evaluate the difference between what they think right and wrong is for a particular purpose.  Because reason cannot help us arrive at a particular decision, since all can be equally doubted, it is likely that people who adhere to this philosophy would rely upon their emotions and impulses more than their reason.  Nonetheless, both are unreliable and so  one might think the only thing proper to do is remain locked into uncertainty and never decide anything at all.

Existentialism – this view claims that man and woman can “create” themselves, and flowing from this self-willed created-self they can determine what behaviour ought to flow from their own self-made identity.  Existentialism tends to place the emphasis and moral responsibility in the individual’s hands, to escape the social constructed ethos that is artificially imposed upon them.  Existentialism seeks to break free from artificial moral-expectations and to determine our own purpose and therefore moral behaviour.  What is the basis however for determining one’s own nature?  If it is our preference, would that preference not derive itself from one’s own natural affective desires and inclinations?  If from pure reason, would this not derive itself from our nature to be rational?  Therefore, the existential “freedom” to create oneself cannot reasonably exist in a vacuum, but must stem from one’s actual existence, which therefore has a nature as such.

Moral Positivism – this view suggests that the universe is actually intrinsically disordered, and therefore to create order and therefore peace, moral laws must be imposed upon human communities.  The moral law is not about “cooperating” with human-nature, but violently reshaping it through social-contracts that guide its nature to be conformed to a socially agreed-upon set of rules.  These moral laws are artificially imposed on mankind because they do not cooperate with mankind’s nature.  They might involve the repression or oppression of various desires that would lead a civilization into chaos.

Deistic Moral Positivism – During the protestant reformation, Calvin and Luther both asserted that human nature had become “totally deprived” of the good.  Therefore, the moral law, as divinely revealed by God through scripture must be imposed upon mankind in order to “recreate” this moral being in order to conform his/her nature to the moral order.  The nature of mankind had become “evil” in the minds of many Christians, and therefore the “social-contract” that is asserted is not from the state, but rather from God alone.  Morality was not based upon “who mankind is” and helping man “fulfill his potential” or to determine for ourselves who we might be (existentialism) but rather to violently reshape mankind to conform to the nature of God’s wishes.  Therefore, the moral law that God gives us is not a matter of cooperating with our nature, but changing it.  Thus God’s moral law to some degree is artificially imposed upon mankind, since the moral law pertains to God’s preference, but not according to our nature.

The Natural Moral Law – the Natural moral law is not understood as  a positive-law, a social contract, or a self-determination (existentialism).  The natural moral law is also not fundamentally Christian, but was adopted by Christians from the Pagan philosopher Aristotle.  In its pagan origins, this view asserts that  man has a good-nature that directs itself towards its own perfection or self-actualization.  Mankind does not “create-himself” or his purpose, but rather humbly surrenders to it.  On the other hand, what is his true nature is not determined by popular opinion or social constructs, but rather discovered through reasoning and observing the nature of man, and where he is objectively inclined.  To Aristotle this inclination always led to “happiness.”  But Aristotle was not naïve to believe it was just any happiness.  He distinguished between “real” happiness and “apparent” happiness.  In other words, there are things that make man “feel happy” while also amounting to nothing more than a subjective-illusion (often leading to bigger problems) while there are other types of happiness that involve the actually fulfillment of one’s potential, grounding his/her happiness in reality rather than in something false or illusive.  The “purpose” for mankind is therefore “real-happiness” and the path towards such fulfillment involves aligning the will and behaviour of the individual towards the good, beautiful and true.  This behaviour then turns into virtue, thereby securing one of the delights of being fully human, and being one’s most authentic self.  The self is discovered rather than arbitrary invented by the will.

The Christian-Natural Moral Law – this view developed most adequately by St. Thomas Aquinas asserts that mankind is oriented towards perfection but due to his fallen-nature he cannot obtain happiness without the help of grace.  Aquinas acknowledges that man’s nature is “fallen” but he asserts as well that it is not totally deprived of the good.  In other words, mankind is not evil of itself.  Grace therefore pertains to “healing” and “restoring” mankind rather than throwing out the bad with the good.  Man becomes a “new-creation” by also transcending his original nature that was found in a natural paradise in the garden, but this “new-creation” is more like an “up-grade” rather than promoting a hatred for the “old-self.”  God’s moral law, in contrast to the deistic moral positivistic view, asserts that God is not imposing a morality on mankind that contradicts his nature, but rather asserts a moral framework that heals and restores mankind to cooperate with his true self.  This therefore involves a spiritual enlightenment that moves the soul from being attached to “apparent-happiness” to “real-happiness.”  Because of “original-sin” or the fallen-nature of mankind, he does find his desires to be inclined towards disorder.  This however does not mean that man himself is evil, but rather that the desires are objectively meant to be directed towards an actually good-end, but are tethered to something contrary to the objective criteria.

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Final Days in Fatima!

The end of the retreat was on Saturday, however Sunday and Monday we spent our time touring various areas of significance in Portugal.  If you would like to see some of the pictures and places, you can visit my facebook page here.  What I would like to reflect on are a few things St. Ignatius teaches about retreats, the graces received, and the temptations that often follow a spiritually beneficial retreat.

priestsJesus teaches us in scripture that the seed (which represents His word) is to be planted into our soul in “good soil.” Otherwise, the goodness of receiving His message becomes a grace received in vain.  It sometimes happens that while on retreat there is a vivid spiritual battle that a person experiences, however more often than not, the devil is not able to touch us or distract us or undermine the essence of the graces that God wants us to receive on retreat, so long as we enter into the retreat in the right spirit, and the guides of that retreat are in communion with the Church and God’s will.  This is a “period of grace” which may not always feel good, but often allows the soul to find itself being enlightened, purified and consoled. 

The devil, if he is not permitted to act will attempt to undermine such graces prior to the retreat.  This is primarily why I asked my pastor, Fr. Jim to offer a blessing prior to my departure, as I need that protective grace that enables me to avoid entering into the retreat with the wrong attitude, with a closed heart, or a proud disposition.  None of us will do this perfectly, but there is an overarching type of openness that is necessary for a fruitful retreat.  Furthermore, if such graces are received well, the devil will attempt to undermine such graces after the retreat.  Perhaps the retreatant will return to work with only negativity looming around him from others, or perhaps his own family and friends will not support the changes that the graces prompted in him.  Furthermore, there may be an inordinate amount of temptation, impulsive thoughts and passions aroused.  If the retreat was beneficial in a quiet way, the retreatant might find it unnaturally difficult to sustain that silence to continue to improve his prayer life.  If the retreat offered great fraternity and friendship amongst fellow Catholics, we may find ourselves isolated, betrayed or tempted to unhealthy habits amongst friends.

Adam-and-EveThe devil perhaps was unable to prevent the word from being sown in our own soul, however, he can attempt to undermine its growth, to discourage its development.  This is why we are taught by spiritual masters, like St. John of the Cross, that when a soul finds itself in spiritual consolation, it should not become forgetful of impending desolation.  Likewise, a soul that is desolate, must not forget the previous times of consolation, and therefore hope for future peace.  However, if the soul is excited in such graces, a lack of spiritual sobriety may develop, whereby the soul of that individual may completely revert to a naïve disposition towards evil.  He has become “used to” the good and sweetness of the Christian life, that he never wants to return to the desert where we must confront the devil in all his deceptions.  This is the bitter side of the Christian life! The goodnews is that, whether we are in the dry heat of the desert or the cool refreshing waters of being a beloved child of God, Christ is all the same with us, and willing to help us.  But it is “us” that is being tested in regard to perseverance, especially when the affectively consoling experiences are no longer there and the sacrifice of prayer becomes more real, and more purified.

How can the laity help priests when they return from a retreat?  It sounds odd, but priests depend upon a parish to encourage us towards holiness of life.  Sometimes amongst ourselves, as priests, we enable and water down the graces we have received.  Sometimes we domesticate (in a negative sense) the wild call of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and revert to a luke-warmness.  However, sometimes the laity encourage priests to get drunk at receptions, to buy lofty and expensive items to become “relatable” and to swear or demean the sacred to present themselves as “down-to-earth.”  IN all of these things, we find the counterfeit of humility, which is baseness.  And in baseness we find pride – the true uprooting of God’s mercy and righteousness from within our own soul. 

vocation-directorHow can the laity help then?  Perhaps by first of all not encouraging sin amongst their priests.  Praying for their perseverance as they return from their retreat – and to demand from their priests a greater holiness so that they can truly be confident that the priest is leading them, provided we become as holy as God wants us to be.  Furthermore, holding a priest accountable to a life of holiness is akin to a child correcting a parent.  It stings the parent greatly, especially if there is truth to it – but such a sting is nothing more than the ego being chastened.  If it is done in sour-judgment and the air of superiority, it might not bear fruit and actually encourage sin or further rebellion, despite the words of our Saviour to follow the truth, regardless of the hypocrisy.  Nonetheless, our spiritual children have a right to ask for good spiritual food to be provided for them, and should speak up when they are not being nourished by an adequate spiritual life in the priest.

When I attended a retreat for vocation directors in Boston, one of the themes in discussion amongst priests was a general lack of fraternity amongst brother priests.  It’s a sad reality, but it naturally arises as a result of a Church that is often affected by relativism and individualism.  Both promote a type of isolation amongst clergy, since we are called to be united in “mind-and-heart.”  If our mind is different, we will also love things that are contrary if such a divergence is in contradiction with true doctrine.  That therefore fosters amongst clergy a lack of peace, envy, competition, backbiting, harassment, and gossip.  Just like the rest of the world and every other work-place, the priesthood is subjected to “politics.”  This shouldn’t be a shock to the laity, but it might be for some.  Priests are affected and enslaved to concupiscence just as much as the laity, and yet because of our role in leadership we are automatically (by some) thought to have risen above it.  Yet we merely need to look to scripture to see how this was often the converse.  Priests therefore are not needed in the Church as much as priests need the priesthood for salvation.  It is the high ideal of serving God in such a self-effacing manner, that brings death to our pride, if we do not water down the idea, and replace it with an acceptance of baseness as a sort of compromise. This call, as such, is given to us so that we can confront the beast within that does not want to submit to God’s Church, but rather our own idea of the Church in this very small moment of history. 

In some countries it is different.  One of the topics that came up during our conference pertained to clerical attire being worn in a visible manner in public.  For the Irish this was incredibly important.  For years they had been supressed by the government, and therefore the protestant-government wanted to destroy the Church by first attacking the visible dimension of the clergy, which fostered a greater consciousness about the Church in the public sphere.  We know that even Canon law addresses a duty to remain visible in public. For the Irish priests, this prohibition was a shaming act, that did not promote the good-news, extended thus to all the people.  For some, however, wearing clerical attire is discouraged silently by the witness of some and the laity are at times even indoctrinated to believe that by not wearing one’s collar we are attempting to emphasize how priests are not “better than the laity.”  This of course could send the passive message that the collar means exactly that, which it does not.  It’s a lie. Clericalism isn’t an external, clericalism is an Spirit. True clericalism is defining which laws we’d prefer to follow, even after making an oath of fidelity. We think we are entitled.

NazarWe also spoke about Free-Masons in Portugal attempting to only correlate the visible Church with evil, and then to drive all its good dimensions out of other people’s awareness.  That is to say, that if someone had to think about the Church, it would hopefully be in a derogatory manner, only emphasizing the failures of priests, but not its treasury of grace.  It is a strategy that involves psychological warfare against the Church, attempting to “brand” in other people’s minds that the Church is dangerous, starting with her priests. This would make sense, especially amongst communist groups who would want to undermine the Church as the most significant enemy to communism, as we see in the witness of St. John Paul II, and the intercession of our Blessed Mother after the world was consecrated to Russia.  Quickly after we saw the fall of communism in Russia, the Berlin-Wall’s fall, and so much more.  Yet, many of the lies of communism had already been spread throughout the world.  The devil, of course is the primary agent in all of these attacks, and to attack the Church, one always first attacks the priest, as St. Jean Vianney clarified when offering a Catechesis on the priesthood.  St. Jean Vianney would have grown up in a Church where priests were greatly persecuted, and most definitely not permitted to visibly wear the collar, until later.  He remembered having secret masses celebrated in people’s homes, growing up as a child.  This further promotes isolation amongst priests, placing a target particularly on the backs of those who are visibly present in the public sphere, especially when all that is correlated in the Church in the western world seems to be the sexual abuse scandal.  While such abuse is a terrible injustice, it is also unjust to only understand God’s Church as being correlated to this reality.  Meanwhile, we have the Eucharist, the sacrament of forgiveness (reconciliation), and so much more.  By wearing our collar we can begin to correlate the Church with its good.  How many times have I walked into Walmart, Canadian Tire, pubs, and in various public places, being naturally approached to have someone’s confession heard, a blessing imparted, a prayer request given.  Yet those who wear the collar in public might be few in the regions in the west, not by an oppressive government but perhaps a compromise to the culture’s expectation, a response to the shaming of clericalism and an embarrassment in regard to the sexual abuse scandal.  There could be other reasons as well – perhaps some that are good that I am unaware of.  Nonetheless, it takes courage to wear the collar, but also humility, to insure that it not be worn to be honoured, but rather be at the behest and service of others as a Spiritual Father must.  The collar than can actually prevent clerical isolation as well.  When a brother priests sees one another wearing the collar, he could be comforted and encouraged by his willingness to witness in public, just as when one sees a nun in a habit, or a lay person wearing a visible sign of the Christian faith, such as a crucifix.  Such signs communicate a concrete, visible sign of unity, and being on the same team! We likewise do not accuse Muslim women of being arrogant in wearing a type of veil in public, so why would we have the low-esteem in clergy or religious to assume something entirely contrary to its very signification?   

Another solution to this problem of isolation amongst clergy who find themselves trying to be faithful to the Magisterium was for priests to reach out to lay-men to find that fraternity.  Although the context of the priesthood is not shared, it is nonetheless important for priests to find fraternity with other men, especially those who are of the same-mind in regard to the mind of the Magisterium.  This is crucial when a priest is isolated from other such clerics. It will foster accountability amongst them, where we may be tempted to compromise to “survive” socially within the circle of priests we find ourselves in.  These lay-men can help keep us in union with God’s will, especially if they do not have a naïve vision of the various battles that exist amongst clergy.  While it is nonetheless true that such friendship does sacrifice to some extent the paternal dimension in the priest, by finding himself corrected or encouraged in the light of truth, that friendship is not contrary to the paternity of the priesthood because it will uphold it to be of utmost import to the salvation of the priest-himself.

Some of the American priests I met (in Boston) mentioned how they would be moved to opposite-ends of the diocese to isolate them from each other, and to promote support for one another.  The Irish priests mentioned something similar when I spoke with them during our Fatima retreat.  Such priests must make it their duty to get together when they can, and combat this divisiveness.  It must not degenerate into a negative group of complaining priests, but rather a group that supports and encourages each other to keep remaining faithful.  This will help prevent disobedience to the Bishop and warped view of pastoral practices in the diocese born of cynicism and sour-judgment.  Obedience after all is an important aspect to a priest’s vocation and salvation.  If we do not remain obedient to the Bishop, why would the laity be obedient to the pastor?

Returning to the original point of this blog – as I return to Canada, I do not believe it will necessarily be “easy” and if it were, I would have little to offer at the Altar during mass as a victim-priest.  Anticipation of that difficulty is important, although it is beyond our control.  St. John of the Cross often taught that the cross the person receives will often be something that itself was not anticipated.  That is to say that while suffering can be anticipated in a general way, the actual type of suffering, if deep, will involve an absence of understanding in the mind of such a person.  The reason for this is that suffering must not only be applied to man’s senses, but also his soul, where there is an absence of surrender even on the level of the will in regard to man’s comprehension.  This is where faith can grow, and the pride that clings to one’s own judgment inordinately can become a thing of the past. 

Kneeling path1I may be making some changes – that will likely not be noticed by many – but if they are, might seem threatening to others, as others become comfortable with what I usually did prior to me leaving.  This means that I cannot be summarized so easily and unfortunately others will have to adapt to a (hopefully) better version of myself. 

In summation, when I was ordained five years ago, I had a great deal of zeal.  That zeal became somewhat discouraged by resistance in others and my failure in acquiescing. I am not going into detail about this, because in silence, I think it is better to offer it up as a sacrifice pleasing to God, and in purifying my own self of my pride.  Nonetheless, I think compromises were made in my own spiritual idealism, pertaining to my pastoral work and my own private spiritual life.  I understand the voice of this discouragement not coming from flesh and blood, but ultimately a rather big-bully named Satan.  I seek to defy this negative, discouraging voice, by recollecting in my own calling from Jesus Christ, as a Child of the Father and elect servant of His holy mysteries. It is in this relationship that I find myself protected from his tactics, and therefore, need not fear anything.  For if God is our Father, whom shall we fear?  If I am bold, it is therefore not in honour of my own willfulness, but in honour of our Lord’s own goodness who stands by me in all trials.  And I hope to encourage the laity and brother priests to take up the same weapons and tools that faith supplies.

 

 

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Day 6:  Outside Jesus and Mary, there is no neutral ground!

jeremiah-arts-1Today we wrapped up the content of our retreat-sessions.  We had discussed as priests the importance of an interior life, of genuinely confessing our sins.  The fruitlessness of ministry was often attributed to priests not being willing to carry their cross on behalf of their parishioners.  In other words, it was suggested that we now live in a culture of “self-motivated comfort” whereby we ourselves are unwilling to accept with affection and love, suffering for others.  This ends up being the contradiction the saints, especially figures like St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  When they were not suffering they might have felt abandoned by God, because the sourness of their suffering was accompanied by the sweetness of divine-love.  If we as priests avoid suffering and avoid our cross, it will likely lead us to treat other people the same in regard to how they carry their own cross.  If we do in fact carry our cross, but with resentment, then we will resent those who do not bear the load with us, and lack compassion on them as we preach to them the message of truth, but in the wrong spirit as did those who sat on the chair of Moses.  Or, if we are not carrying our cross because we presume such a right, we then extend that lawlessness to our own parishioners as a means to justify ourselves.  At times this is masked by the word “pastoral” as if carrying a cross was contrary to the Gospel. 

The middle ground of course is a priest who knows the heart-ache and joy of carrying his cross that he may have compassion on those who disciplines to do the same, and also be willing to carry it with them, and take on its weight in as much as he is willing to suffer for that person.

When we crystalize this teaching, we then began to discuss the persecution that some priests undergo in their respective dioceses.  Some were maligned by their own brother priests or bishops for wearing the cassock or even the roman collar in public.  Others were pushed out of the diocese because of a homily on the 4-last things.  We then reflected on how this type of persecution, though different today, also has existed in the past for other saints.  We think of St. John of the Cross who was kidnapped and tortured by his own brothers, or St. Jean Vianney who was almost chased out of town by wayward parishioners, or Padre Pio who had his faculties removed for a period of time, or St. Francis de Sales who was almost forced into an insane asylum. 

When the Church is all about puffing itself up, and “happy-talking” about its own image, and its own good-works, it neglects justice by not condemning the persecution of the saints.  However, despite all of this, priests were encouraged not to become resentful about it, if it had occurred to them.  Rather to silently suffer it and to become “priest-victims” whereby God can transform this pain, rejection, malicious judgment, orchestrated undermining of God’s laws.  It would be transformed into an oblation worthy of making our service of God at the altar or in prayer worthy of being heard, and effective in being answered.

passionIf Christ is being crucified today (spiritually), and we all the while are indifferent to offending him because, “He can take care of himself” as I have actually heard people in leadership say, then nothing consoles his Sacred Heart.  Imagine for a moment that a crowd is beating with cruelty the very flesh of Jesus, and someone responds:  “Don’t worry, He can save Himself, He can take care of Himself” and so they continue to beat Him or continue to walk by indifferently, never speaking up for Him, all this means is we do not, from the heart love the Lord.  If on the other hand we see that Christ is being wounded by our sins, in the very sins we commit today, would we not in righteousness cry out in protest, or ask for the crowd to turn on ourselves rather than the one we love above all else?  For Christ to see that gesture would give Him great consolation as we would fill up what was lacking in His sufferings, which is our thankfulness for it all, but also our willingness to suffer beside Him as a brother.  This seems to be an attitude that has “internalized” what sin really is, otherwise if we gloss over our offence to God as nothing more than something cheaply forgiven, we miss the real pain and suffering our saviour endured for our sake, and we would rather use it to continue to sin, rather than to transform our love for God.

DecisionMakingSo the homily at our Saturday mass ended by asking us the question simply:  You have a choice in this final battle:  Jesus or the Devil.  There is no neutral ground between the two of them – you cannot serve two masters.  When you go back to your parish, will you remain faithful to the Sacrament of Confession, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to the praying of the Rosary, and to the celebration of the Eucharist?  Or will you merely live in comfort, and therefore serve Satan?  Listen to Bob Dylan’s song when you get the chance…he might hit it home for you!  Click here to listen!

It was a troubling question, one that forces a decision that does not seek the comfort of grey, where it is up to my own preference and personal choice.  I suppose in some sense, all of us fall into that Luke-warm spirit.   Perhaps the call to holiness has been demeaned in the priest, perhaps the priest has sinned and is now ashamed, perhaps the priest is lost.  But the fact remains: he is a priest forever – that identity and calling does not change – and therefore we must all hit the “reset-button” on our spiritual life and be willing with great energy, zeal, combative defiance to Satan, pick up our cross and finish the race, as if there is nothing else more important than to arrive at heaven, because we have cooperated with God, in his Sacred Heart conjoined to the Immaculate heart of Mary. 

Tomorrow, we will be leaving the Hotel Grounds and heading on a pilgrimage.  I will again, bring your prayers with me on this journey, but please do not forget me in your prayers.

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Day 4/5: Fatima’s Message of Reparation

First, I’d like to apologize for the late blog, and having joined the two days together.  However, prudence made me take the night off yesterday, as I had needed the time for prayer instead.  Here is my blog, combining, without much distinction, some realizations that have helped me during these last two days.

                Most of Day 4 was filled with talks about the occult and the various strategies, the prevalence and impact of it today in both regards to the various forms of snares that allow people to be infested by demons according to an exorcist and the international committee of exorcists.  We also heard a testimony from a woman who was possessed or oppressed.Slavery

I’d prefer not to focus on much these matters for this blog as I do not want to inspire too much curiosity around those matters.  What I would say otherwise is just avoid anything spiritual that is not Catholic.  Don’t try to harmonize your Catholic faith with any other religions, no matter what your intentions might be.  The devil preys on the vulnerable, and will exploit any open crack that welcomes him in.  We open cracks when we seek salvation by another name than Jesus.  Even when we try to reconcile Christ to another faith, we step outside of the very Church Christ constructed, and thereby at the very least, indirectly or passively choose something contrary to God’s desire for us.

I’d prefer to veer from this topic, and focus on a particular experience I had.  I found out from my newly ordained brother priest that there was an exercise of reparation.  There was a route where we could kneel-walk…that is to scuffle on your knees towards the site where Mary appeared to the three children.  I decided to do it, and I brought to mind any sin in my past that had ever tortured me both because of shame and guilt.  I told Christ that I was going to offer the pain and discomfort up in reparation for my own sins, as well as all those who belong to my parish.  The Irish priests call it “the slippery slope.”  They always have the best 1-liners.  Half way through this exercise I realized that the women ahead of me were wearing knee-pads.  Maybe this is why they made it look easier.  They also slid their knees, while I was banging them into the marble floor.  What do I know?Kneeling path1

When I reached the half-way point, some of the skin on my knee had been rubbed off and the pain became a cause for me to pause in weakness.  Others began to pass me, and I felt humiliated, but in a good way.  I changed my prayer at this point and said, “Lord, I am too weak to even offer you, by my own effort, a small sacrifice such as this.  Please give me the grace to complete this task that I may no longer be the agent of this reparation, but rather your Spirit may grant me that grace.” 

The path was very long – and I continued nonetheless.  The pain never got any worse, but it didn’t ease up either.  I took a pause when I needed to, and felt humbled by it.  Three times I was tempted to get up and walk away from it.  This would have taken humility, but it also would have been a failure.  I decided to continue, nonetheless because I received a grace when I reached 3/4ths of the way on this path.

When I approached a point of great temptation, my guardian angel was likely the one who said, “He suffered even more greatly for you.  This pain that you feel, this pain is what he felt and was willing to do for you.”  My eyes began to fill with tears, as the pain I had willingly taken on, of my own accord, now began to become a symbol that transmitted a more integrated and beautiful realization of Christ’s own suffering for me, even if my suffering was on a much smaller and pathetic scale.  But I was not yet finished.  kneeling path2

Little children who do not have to carry much body-weight began to treat the kneeling-path as if it was a game.  They shouted, pushed others over, and laughed.  I rebuked them gently by using the word, “silence” in Italian, hoping that it was somewhat similar to their language, and if not that because they were European, they would know what I meant.  However, my gentle rebuke was heard by their fathers.  Their fathers, quickly said something about a “priest told you to be quiet.”  After two stern warnings from their parents, they were very well behaved.  One of the sons had to start over.

This helped me meditate on my own priestly call to offer the laity discipline in matters that are spiritual, so that grace can be encountered.  We do not merely treat the sacraments like they are hoops to jump through.  Confession requires real “spiritual surgery” as our Spiritual Director on this retreat often taught. We need to divest ourselves of all the non- invasive ways we go about healing ourselves, and enter into the very “gut-wrenching” experience of “Genus, Species, and Number.”   That is, as St. Bosco would claim after his vision of hell, that there are those in hell who have confessed their sins, but did not accurately divulge to the priest the number of the sin (on purpose), or he sugar coated the particular sin itself (on purpose), or was not truly sorry.  But more profoundly than setting people aright to this real expectation that is involved in obtaining God’s generous gift of priceless mercy, I also thought that if I am truly to be “another Christ” to the people, how can I not also be a victim, one who doesn’t know how to suffer, willingly out of love for his people.  Confession

The theme of Fatima is very much associated with making “reparation” for the sins of others.  In our reparation, we communicate to God our love, while an entire group of people in and outside of the Church offend Him.  Others are willing to demonstrate to God that we, as a human race, in part, still love Him and want Him to be part of our life.  Think of Moses interceding perpetually for Israel as they shunned God’s law, forgot his deeds.  Moses was always interceding for them, pleading for them.  Had he not, God would have respected their freedom, and allowed them to be destroyed in the desert by their own folly.  This sacrifice of intercession by reparation, consoles both the immaculate and sacred heart of Jesus, and it closely follows the example of St. Jean Vianney who proved his love for the people he served by doing difficult penances for them, while giving them lighter penances.  He didn’t just give them “light penances” and then get of scott-free.  Sometimes we priests think we are being generous by giving light penances.  The only time this is truly generous, however, is when we are willing to do penances for those whom we’ve given light penances; otherwise no one seems to care about the grievous demand for justice after offending our Lord.  Rather, we are merely indifferent to His sacred heart and think that “He can take care of Himself.”  In regards to Himself, He can, but in relationship to humanity, if we divest ourselves of Him so completely, the entire human-family is in peril, to our own most grievous fault.

St. Jean understood that amends needed to be made, and that to communicate to God, with his spiritual authority as a Father that he was taking on some of this punishment for sin on their behalf, is truly taking seriously the passage of scripture which tells us that we fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.  That Christ purposefully left something lacking in His all sufficient sacrifice, and that is our “cooperation” and willingness to unite ourselves to the same sacrifice in spirit through mortification (as St. Paul promotes).  Likewise, we also read in the Office of Readings a passage from scripture where soldiers had become corrupt by taking upon themselves pagan items that were forbidden.  Judas prayed for them, by gathering the sacrifice of a few thousand silver pieces, in order to offer as a sacrifice of reparation for the souls of the dead, the soldiers who had died with this sin on their soul.

 The laity are invited, likewise, to take part in this work of reparation – but it means that we first need to understand that our life, and our identity is no longer about ourselves.  We live to and die to the Lord, and we are created to Love God and our Neighbour.  IN this sense, if we truly internalize this as our identity and mission, we will not be reluctant to suffer for the sake of others.  We will not merely present what appears to the world to be suffering, but we will actually suffer, according to the wisdom of prudence and a good spiritual director.

 

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Dealing with Satan:  We are on the offensive, not the defensive! (Day 3)

Today was a heavy day.  We had approximately 4 hours of instruction from two particular speakers on the organized schemes of the devil.  Most of what was said was fundamental theology in regard to the evil one’s schemes, yet I found it helpful to return to the basics.

 From the talks three things that were stressed impacted me the most:  (1) Diabolic-Evil is orchestrated, deliberate, planned, and intentional; (2)  It does not merely exist “outside of the Church” according to scriptural tradition, our history, and our most recent Popes; (3) and finally that we as a Church already have a full arsenal of expertise on how to react to the devil that he may be terrified of us, rather than us having an unholy fear of him.

Pope Francis elevates Eucharist during Corpus Christi Mass

I’d like to walk you through these three particular things that were stressed during my retreat, as I do believe they have a practical impact on our spiritual life.

Intentional-Evil

Because the devil is a person, he shapes the minds of many to ultimately become extensions of his own diabolical will.  As a result, even in the minds of those ensnared in his lies, there is a zeal, planned attempt at orchestrating nothing more than disobedience to God’s will (objectively).  Outside of the Church this is often explicit – especially in regard to free-masonry, Satanism, and secular-humanism or Marxism.  What we require to know is simply that the Church does not in her identity have a “both-and” or “middle way” approach to the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan/Man.  This is strictly either God or the devil.  As the famous singer Bob Dylan already said it, but so did Jesus when he stated that we are either for Him or against Him.  Why is this important to realize?  If the Church is not “on fire” with holy zeal to save souls, that would indicate that the devil has more zeal to ensnare souls into hell than the Church has zeal to save them in Christ.  Christ remains powerful enough to do away with evil, yet without the holy zeal of cooperation, God’s grace is limited in what it can accomplish, since our own neglect of Christ’s mission is within our personal freedom, a freedom Jesus respects.  That absence of zeal can be caused by many things, but one thing in particular that comes to mind is the sin of presumption and despair.  With presumption being a sin against Hope we realize it is this way because of its false-hope that it offers in its place.  To assume all will go to heaven easily is to contradict the words of Jesus and to be naïve to the reality of our own radical freedom we see corrupting the world today.  It is to actually close our hearts to God’s love by only accepting his mercy as if it were owed to us, and in doing this we demand a relationship with Christ that is placing ourselves at the centre, with Him as our servant.  Despair on the other hand also exists where the devil’s power eclipses our own faith in the power of Christ.  Sins are exaggerated or otherwise we think too small of God’s ocean of mercy.  In both cases, we cling to our own fallible judgment rather than what Christ revealed to us on the Cross.  By clinging to our own judgment we exert our pride, and remain in our sin, not humbling ourselves beneath his protective wings.

The Smoke of Satan has entered into the Sanctuary of the Church

Pope Francis upon his first year of being our Holy Father, with Father Benedict XVI, consecrated the Vatican to the protection of St. Michael the Archangel.  The Church knows vividly that evil exists within the Church and that not one member of its leadership is ever impeccable by which he or she cannot spew the same false doctrines the evil one seeks to promulgate to confuse others.  St. Peter of course fell into this trap, but was humble to find himself corrected by Jesus’s own rebuke.  That is to say that the vast majority of schemes from the evil one are peddled by false-ideologies since evil spirits are pure-intellect.  They begin darkening the minds slowly, through compromise and pride, and they lead up to in an organized and orchestrated manner to begin to attack the very faith that offers us protection in God’s sacraments and the community of the faithful.  The vast majority of heretics have been clerics, and the tradition of quoting Gregory the Great never goes out of style when we think of the “road to hell” being “paved with the sculls of priests, having Bishops as their sign posts.”  It’s a stark thing that no one would ever accuse anyone but those in the past, safely removed from the fall-out of challenging those in power.  What was discussed in this regard was the failure of faithful clergy to be willing to preach the Gospel, not because of the world’s temperament, but because of the pressure and worldliness that bullies and frightens us from within the Church.  This idea is safe to think of when discussing the past, looking upon the kidnapping of St. John of the Cross, the plights of St. Jean Vianney by his parishioners, St. Francis de Sales almost being forced to be imprisoned in an insane asylum.  The Church has always had nay-sayers that peddled the darkness that ensnared them.  But in all of this error and darkness, one cannot become bitter, resentful or maliciously judgmental.  One must at the root understand the problem to not be of flesh and blood, as St. Paul insists, but rather of Powers and Principalities.  Therefore, what is required is obedience in all ways to the hierarchy except in cases of sin, kindness, with priests who might rub us the wrong way, as well as parishioners.  Above all, we must pray for evil to be exposed to the light so that which is buried intentionally may be purified either in a true confession or the humiliation of exposure.  Think in particular of the sexual abuse scandal, and while it is certainly depressing to witness it come to the light, it is nonetheless a blessing that it can end because it has been revealed and the Church can now seek Justice and Mercy according to her own sins.  Anti-Christ

It should not be stark, because those who peddle the evil plans of the devil are to be liberated and embraced as they are made in the love and image of God.  They are not our enemy, but the evil one is.  I suppose we must therefore begin to look-inward to our own temple, and examine prior to examining others:  how has the devil sought to use me to undermine God’s law within his Church.  IF we purely externalize this and shift the blame towards others, but do not consider ourselves potentially duped or actually as such, we may esteem ourselves too greatly.  Such humility will force us towards the light of Christ, where we can have compassion on our brothers and sisters because we see our own weakness played out in them.  But to fight not the flesh and blood of our neighbour, but the evil that chains us all.  With Pope Francis, I believe that the Church should be consecrated to the protection of St. Michael on a more regular basis, even if that for the time only manifests itself in private devotion to him and prudent participation in deliverance prayers that the Church already offers us. 

An Offensive Arsenal

The Church is not meant to be “reactive” and respond passively to assaults from the devil.  Jesus sent us out with authority to cast out demons and to wage war with them.  IF we are always defensive, according to our speaker, it reveals that we are likely more afraid of the evil one than we should be.  An offensive, not by our own strength, but according to the grace and power of Jesus Christ.  If we are defensive, it may mean that we have allowed Hollywood to shape our perception of the devil as nothing more than glorified in power in contrast to the truth, which is that to God, He is a speck.  A disconcerting speck, but nonetheless easily rebuked by His infinite majesty.  As a result, as priests we were encouraged to return to the treasury of the Church:  Confession, Adoration, Rosary, and Eucharistic devotion.  These four ways of developing a more authentic relationship with our Lord will most certainly manifest a cooperative zeal with God’s protective and offensive plan to rebuke evil in our own hearts, but also in the hearts of others.  We were encouraged by an exorcist as priests to participate in the deliverance ministry according to what the Canons of the Church allow and to avoid what they disallow, while keeping up with our obedience to the Local Ordinary in this regard.  Brothers

In summary, I was left with a lot to ponder both in regard to my own spiritual naiveté and the work of ministry that stands before me.  For some reason when I see evil, I consider it impulsive and unplanned, unfortunate and tragic.  Yet, in reality, it is the fruit of a cunning, planned, methodical group of fallen angels who also find a way to engage human beings in the same type of methodology and scheming.  When we read about the Pharisees who plotted against Jesus, we see that they were not merely impulsively responding in anger.  Their words were set up to trap Jesus, and they often involved groups of the elect meeting in order to plan and engage Jesus and his followers in something that would cause them bodily and/or spiritual harm.  To me, this naiveté is being stripped away more and more, which is both a sad realization, but one that helps direct my prayer and examine my own motives more deeply.

 For priests, perhaps begin using the prayer below, and involve the laity in offering this for ourselves and the Church.   Please do not allow the laity to say this prayer, and never perform it publicly without the Bishops permission.  Many graces are undermined by the devil who plucks away the seeds of God’s Word, simply because we do not bind him.   The suggestion offered was to pray this twice a day.

Click:  Pope Leo XIII’s Deliverance Prayer 

(Please not this is not a prayer of exorcism, which would otherwise belong solely to a competent and canonically recognized cleric.)

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