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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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Day 2: Graces in Worship

To me, day 2 feels like a part of day 1, considering I got only a mere nap on the flight to Lisbon and then Fatima.  When I arrived, they suggested two options – either we celebrate mass with the whole community in an hour, or we celebrate the mass at our own preferred time in the chapel.  Because I had so little sleep I decided to celebrate mass on my own.  Nonetheless many of the 3rd order of the Alliance of the Two Hearts joined me for mass.  When I walked into the chapel I realized that the altar was positioned in such a way that I had to face the same direction as the people while celebrating the Novus Ordo.  

It was a strange experience, given that I had never been trained to know how to do this.  When do I face the people, when do I face the same direction?  I got a clear and simple answer from one of the brothers.  The laity definitely did not mind, since they all knelt to receive communion, one could tell they were accustom to the Latin-mass tradition. 

As I entered into the mass, I found myself feeling more united to the people than I often do.  I didn’t have to look at them, and they didn’t need to look at me.  We were both occupied with the prayer of the mass.  Now none of this should be interpreted as a passive slight against “facing the people.”  Nonetheless it has to be said that more often than not, people will criticize the old-way in order to build up the present norm in the Novus Ordo.  To me, it was actually gratifying to be able to focus on Christ during the mass without splitting my attention to the people.  It could be argued that the people reveal Christ, but I experienced that as well, when we were united to each other in the same direction at the mass. 

I have often stated this about facing the same direction, but it was only until today that I actually experienced and internalized it as I actually prayed in this way.  The normal practice in my diocese is to face the people, and I of course will be obedient to that regulation.  Furthermore, the people who attend that mass generally prefer it that way, and so we are talking about a different crowd and culture.  Nonetheless I thought I would offer an example of how true it is for the old-way of orienting ourselves can actually be spiritually enriching, if and only if, we do not project something negative into its meaning.

One of the practices I enjoy, when celebrating mass in the Novus Ordo is to make sure there is an altar cross that is at least visible to the priest celebrating the mass.  The people see the crucifix on the wall behind the sanctuary, however the priest does not.  I have found that the crucifix helps orient my prayer, and gives me something tangible to look upon that reminds me of the dignity of the mass with which I am celebrating.  It helps my prayers become less “performed” and more intentional and affectionately stated to Christ on behalf of the people. 

Mary Procession

After all of this I headed off to the candlelight procession.  It was difficult to follow as there were many languages being spoken.  This was nonetheless a positive experience, where I was able to tangibly united the petitions that so many have asked me to pray for during the recitation of the Rosary.  I am looking forward to hearing Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Mueller speak about the Church today.  Please be assured of my continued prayers.  

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My Journey to Jesus through Mary: Fatima Trip Day 1

Preamble to my Retreat in Fatima

 

When I was in seminary, I had developed a scholarly affection for the Church’s teaching on Mary.  Having been involved in apologetics through social media, I was capable of understanding and comprehending why Mary was honoured with great intensity within the Catholic tradition.  Protestant objections did not phase my faith in the Catholic Dogma around Mary.  However, I always felt as if something was nonetheless lacking with my understanding, as if I had this nagging sensation that my understanding lacked depth.  At best, my relationship with Mary was ideological, and even then, I hadn’t yet crystalized my theological understanding of her importance.  This still continues to develop in my on-going study of the Catholic faith.  But what was more seriously lacking was my relationship with Mary and therefore Jesus.  It was somewhat of an embarrassing thing to admit, especially to my brother seminarians who seemed to be rather devout in their relationship with Mary.  Their perpetual praying of the rosary, images of her on their wall, and many other external behaviour and demonstrations of affection towards her.  Every time I witnessed their faith in Christ through Mary I found myself perplexed, knowing that I understood what they meant by it all, and its importance, but being unable to tap into this type of devotion.  For me, a devotion to Mary was correlated with holiness and a sincere love of the Catholic Faith.  However, there was a failure to integrate Mary into the heart of my worship of God.  And to admit that I had failed in this regard made me feel as if I was a bad seminarian, and somehow a fraud to the Catholic Tradition.  While these feelings were discouraging, they nonetheless were grounded in something nonetheless true:  I had yet to know from the heart our Blessed Mother.

Finally I managed to gather the strength and discuss this with my Spiritual Director while enrolled in my Theological Studies.  At the conclusion of every year in our theology-studies the seminarians would take the time out for a silent-long retreat.  My spiritual director would always ask in advance:  “Think of a particular grace you would like to receive during this retreat.”  That nagging feeling overcame me, where I knew I had to ask for a deeper understanding of our Catholic Tradition in having a relationship with God through Mary.  My heart didn’t understand how to relate to her, although my head understood the external practice and devotions. 

My spiritual director seemed excited at the prospect of my exploration of a relationship with Mary, utilizing the Ignatius Spiritual exercises and deep meditation from the Word of God.  The thing about these silent retreats is that graces are difficult to escape, especially if our conscience is well formed.  We must be honest with our spiritual director, and we must faithfully obey him as we would obey Christ in our spiritual exercises.  Here I had put myself into the desert of my own ignorance and sought to discover the magnifying glass which teaches me about her Son.

As I spent time in quiet meditation, I began to imagine myself walking on the coast of a lake, with Mary.  She pointed towards the waters, and asked me:  “What do you see?”  I responded, “Waves.”  She smiled and then in a spirit of instruction stated:  “The light doesn’t pass through the waves, so you cannot see to the bottom of the lake.  You cannot see what is at the bottom.”  I immediately understood what she was implying, the waves represented my fears, anxieties, and worldly concerns.  As soon as this realization dawned upon me, the waters calmed and rays of light broke through the surface of the water, and now I could see through it, as though the water magnified and clarified the surface of the lake.  This was not an experience that gave me any feeling of peace, but rather it challenged me to seek out inner-peace that comes from a deeper surrender to God’s own will.  I was left challenged by our blessed mother.

Mary never made it about her.  She did not point to me, nor to herself.  Rather she sought to facilitate a situation where the very Light of the World would penetrate the depths of what He sought. 

My second encounter with our Blessed Mother involved me arriving at a somewhat run-down house.  My imagination seems to be a powerful tool that the Holy Spirit can use in prayer.  It was not led by me or my own imagining, but seemed instead to be like a movie flashing before my eyes, nonetheless I remained an active participant within it.  And as I walked towards this house, I saw Mary holding two garbage bags.  She was asking for help, and looking at me.  She had apparently been cleaning up the house, but expected me to assist her.  The garbage smelt terrible, at least that is how I had seemed to react to it.  Jesus than entered the scene, and I became an observer of their interactions with each other.  Jesus grabbed the garbage bag from his Mother, and I held onto another bag.  Jesus put it into a garbage can and gestured to me to do the same. 

“Your house is now clean!”  Jesus stated to me – and I with a gesture of surprise realized immediately that the garbage that stunk, were representative of my own personal sins.  Mary was there to help me clean the house.  It brought me back to a rather embarrassing moment when I was a child.  My room was often a mess, and when it would become more than an hour-job to clean my parents would help me clean it.  That sounds generous of them, but keep in mind, for me it was humiliating.  They would see everything I had shoved under my bed, and item by item I would receive either a frown or a lecture.  My parents were not unreasonable in the way they went about helping me clean my room.  But the humiliation of seeing the fruits of sheer laziness was challenging to experience.  That exact feeling came into my heart when I realized that Mary had been looking through all of my sins, and was intent on throwing them out of my house, which as now you realize, represented my soul.  Mary brought them to light, she in a sense magnified the truth about my sin, and ultimately had me cooperate with Christ in throwing them into the garbage can, where they would be forgotten, forgiven.

Mary without harshness and nonetheless firm resolve sought to purify my soul out of love for me.  She was willing to inspect, touch, and discuss my sinfulness.  Not with harsh condemnation, but rather with a desire to liberate my stinky soul and make it into a place where both Jesus, Mary and I could eat a meal together in enjoyment. 

After these encounters with our blessed mother, I realized I had a lot to ponder and allow to sink in.  However, the consolation I sought, that I saw on so many faces of my brother seminarians continued to lack in my own prayer to Mary.  I was getting somewhat frustrated.  At this point, most of what Mary had done for me was instruct me.  But I had not yet interiorized these encounters on the level of my own affect. 

It wasn’t until a very dry period of prayer, where I experienced no image or scene to facilitate a deeper understanding.  With reluctance and frustration I then began to pray a specific prayer my Spiritual Director encouraged me to pray:

Loving mother of the Redeemer,
gate of heaven, star of the sea,
assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again.
To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,
yet remained a virgin after as before.
You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,
have pity on us poor sinners.


While I was praying this particular prayer, my spirit was entirely overcome with incredible peace.  It was as if every muscle in my heart relaxed as if it had been tensed up for years.  Everything in my body rested, and an incredible peace overcame me.  Without ignorance, I knew at that moment my soul had not only nominally received our Blessed Mother by adoption, but in truth and spirit.  Just as St. John took Mary into his own home, now Mary was welcome in my own soul.  Yet the peace I felt was from none other than Jesus Himself.  It was as if the two dined in my soul, and yet it was the result of Mary’s “yes.”  Jesus had proposed this encounter, Mary said “Yes” and the saviour was more abundantly born within my soul.

Ever since this experience I understood at a deeper level the entangled relationship that happens between the Saints, God and the living.  God collaborates with the Saints.  They reach out to us, more often than we realize, yet it is all provoked and suggested by God.  God makes His will contingent on the “yes” of others.  Although they could all say no, and God could more directly reach out to us, this simply isn’t how God’s providence organizes matters.  You see, he seeks to weave the community together in and through Him.  In theological language we might say that God’s grace is all-sufficient, but our cooperation is nonetheless necessary.  On its own, man cannot cooperate with God without His help, his proposal, and therefore His grace.  But by his will, he wants us to not only cooperate in our own salvation, but in the salvation of others.  You see, Jesus gave his Church a mission, and that mission is to baptize others, preach, and bind and loose.  As the Father sent Jesus, so He sends us!

All of this is answered perfectly by Mary, and thus becomes the supreme example of how to “respond” to Jesus.  Mary is not the initiator of graces, that belongs to God alone, but she is always the first-responder to God’s proposal, our great advocate.  All the terms that are often said of God can be attributed to Mary, not because she is equal to God, but rather that as a result of cooperating with God, she has become more concretely His hands and feet by grace.

This theological distinction is so key in understanding our relationship with Christ.  IF we love Christ, we are not going to ignore his designs.  Rather we are going to love what he loved and hate what he hates.  Christ seeks to use the faithful response of others to bring about our salvation.  Consider the paralytic man who was lowered to the feet of Jesus.  It was because of their faith that his sins were forgiven.  Think of Lazarus, who was resurrected by Jesus but unbound by the crowd.

Mary therefore becomes a living icon of the Church herself.  She is that benevolent mother who opens her arms to Christ for the sake of Him and the whole world.

I am currently traveling to Fatima for the first time, where Mary concretely reached out to the Catholic Church and all of humanity to remind us of the serious need to remember judgment and the dangers of damnation.  She cares for us – and she gave this message to children.  100 years later, I suppose the question is:  have we listened?  If not – have we ignored our Mother who was sent by Christ Himself to speak with us?  IF we ignore her, we ignore Him who sent her. 

annunciation2

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Entertaining Angels and Demons: The Good and the Bad about Dialogue

It may come across as strange to argue that an open mind or dialogue is dangerous, especially considering our culture often asserts the exact opposite.  An education is something highly valued in our culture, and rightfully so, discussion, debate, and demonstrating that we understand the opposing arguments are all signs of integrity.  However, these activities only have integrity when their goal is to arrive at some sort of truth, whether it be admitting what we do not know or what can be demonstrated through logical discourse or the scientific method.  Yet today, it seems that many are content with coming to a conclusion prior to researching an argument, and then seek to facilitate an argument by connecting dots and facts that are pulled out of context, twisted and bent without counter arguments entertained.  St. Thomas Aquinas is a good role model for all students because he carefully studied views that contradicted Church teaching, and fairly represented their arguments prior to arguing against them.  He was not interested in mischaracterizing the opposing position, because he knew that would do nothing to convince others of an alternative argument.  He first validated their position insofar as he recapitulated its own argument, but then began to explain why it was in his judgment not actually reasonable by often offering a broader context.  Yet if he began by merely misrepresenting an alternative position, he would have realized people would have likely tuned out any argument he would propose.  This was the tradition of the Universities at the time St. Thomas Studied; in order to gain a passing mark, they were expected to critically offer arguments contrary to the thesis proposed, thus fostering an intellectual atmosphere that was in a fruitful dialogue that sought to arrive at “truth.”  As G.K. Chesterton asserted, an open mind is like a mouth, it is meant to close down upon something solid.  Or as I’d prefer to say:  don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out!  hard-thinking

What happens however, when we have arrived at the truth and are plunged into a dialogue that causes us to entertain an alternative view which contradicts the truth we already know.  This is precisely the problem Eve experienced when in the garden with the Serpent.  St. Thomas understood the truth of Catholic teaching, and sought to combat error in order to help others arrive at the truth through argument.  His goal was led by wisdom and a firmness in the truth – and thus when he studied the error of others, it was not an error he “entertained” but rather an error that he sought to distinguish from truth.  He was able to isolate the cornels of truth within the argument that made the error appetizing, thus with surgical precision, separating the cancer from the healthy organs.  What St. Thomas Aquinas did not do was entertain the possibility that the cancer growing in the body was good for the health of the body.

Eve, when she dialogued with the serpent sinned, precisely because she listened to the devil.  The term “listen” in scripture often has the connotation of “obedience” meaning that it was not merely the audible experience of hearing ideas different than our own, but rather reflects an interior “entertainment” of such ideas.  It is a type of interior “surrender,” even if momentary, to the thoughts of another.  When parents tell their children not to get into a car or to talk with strangers, we do not endorse them to “entertain” what a stranger says despite what the parents have commanded when an unmarked van swings around the corner.  When Eve entertained the devil’s ideology about who God was, and what the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was all about, she did not merely offend God by distrusting Him, she also offended Truth itself (who is God) by entertaining a prerogative that does not objectively exist within human beings:  the ability to define truth.  Human beings do not create or define truth, we discover it.  Eve’s fault was not entertaining a truth she could discover, but rather a truth she would invent – allowing herself to be deluded to the idea that all of creation revolved around her own free-will – hence:  Pride is the first sin.

Anti-ChristOne thing that I have experienced in the lives of some of the sheep entrusted to my care, is that youth will experience great graces from God, but then when they are thrust into a “dialogue” with the world, they often become ensnared in doubt about their experiences of God in an unreasonable way.  They doubt these experiences because modern psychology suggests that such experiences can be “explained away.”  This truth is so abstract and general, that they begin to doubt the experience given to them for the reason of offering them faith.  Anything can be doubted by a hypothetical truth that is vague and general – but that doubt isn’t necessarily reasonable.  One could have doubted Lazarus’ resurrection, and supposed he was replaced with a body-double, one could doubt Christ walking on water as merely a consensual hallucination of several followers of Christ.  One could even doubt their own existence as we see in the philosophy of Descartes – but all doubts are not necessarily reasonable.  The doubt that Eve experienced pertained to God the Father’s goodness.  Satan sought to imply that God was a moralizing tyrant by exaggerating God’s commandment to refrain from eating the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  By expanding this commandment to all the trees in the garden, he passively sowed the seed within Eve’s heart that God was a moralizing tyrant, an oppressive Father.  The Church likewise is already perceived to be this by many people in the world.  How often does the narrative of the press, and preachers, and legalists, and the lawless all focus on what we “cannot do.”  Almost as if we develop tunnel vision with what we cannot do that we forget about all the good things we can enjoy.  When this tunnel vision powerfully exerts itself, the mind begins to covet what we cannot have, because we forget to channel our desires towards what is truly good.  As a result our affect becomes anchored into sin, without being able to maintain an open mind and spirit to what is true and good.  In fact, our mind has ironically become preoccupied with what we cannot enjoy, and thus is closed to what is good by virtue of such an obsession.  This is why many saints have insisted that sin actually is unhealthy for the mind, darkening the intellect, and closing it to the light of truth.  Sin makes us fools.

Eve sought to contradict the Devil’s argument by stating the truth about what God had actually said.  Yet, by continuing the dialogue one can see that she nonetheless remained open to what the devil said.  When the Devil expressed an unfavourable vision of God, Eve should have simply ended the discussion.  But she kept it going – the devil had already proved himself to be a liar, and to offend the love of her life, God.  Yet she still thought the devil had something to offer her.  The Devil continues this “dialogue” with Eve, whereby she is told that she will not die.  In other words, Satan isn’t the liar, but God is.  How often in arguments about injustice do people quickly deflect criticism by accusing someone else.  Then the ultimate lie comes through the Devil’s words, whereby he convinces Eve that God is actually in competition with Eve, and seeks to prevent them from fulfilling their full potential of becoming “like God” – something they already are (image and likeness of God).

Therefore, what I would like to suggest for your discernment is that there are essentially four dialogues we can have.  According to St. Ignatius, the influential voices we listen to can be defined as:

1)       The world

2)      The self

3)      The Devil

4)      God (the Church, and Sacred Scripture)

We know that the devil can speak through the apostles as Jesus’ own reprove demonstrates that the Apostles, even with good intentions entertain error.  St. Peter sought to save the saviour by the “world’s” political ways.  He trusted in his own judgment. The world, the self, and the devil are all fallible voices, God is not.   In other words, the devil is able to exert his own voice through the world and through St. Peter’s own judgment.  Jesus rightfully rebuked Satan, with which Peter had allowed himself to be entertained within his own intellect.  This rebuke from Jesus, ended the error very quickly – and interestingly enough it might be worth noticing that Jesus identified this as Satan since the words from St. Peter were a recapitulation of the temptation Jesus experienced in the desert prior to entering into ministry.

st-john-of-the-crossThe dialogue we should ultimately be having is with God – when we “listen to Him” in a spirit of faith, our mind is made whole, our intellect is liberated from its obsessions and tunnel vision, and our capacity to be confident about the truth asserts itself.  That dialogue is not a matter of “personal interpretation” as scripture indicates.  Rather that dialogue happens through prayer in tandem with the infallible Institution that safe-guards what the truth is despite its many sinful members.   This becomes a bit of an awkward point, since we know that Popes, Bishops, Priests, and many leaders in the Church have all been incredible sinners.  Therefore, a trust in the infallible nature of the Church is not meant to put our trust in human beings, as if infallibility is a personal capability, but rather a consequences of God’s divine-providence and the work of His Holy Spirit that can bring good out and even perfect out of a sinful genealogy and sinful individual.  As Pope Benedict XVI teaches, Jesus wins in the end.  This doesn’t deny the fact that the apostles of the Church will try to peddle false-doctrine. Nonetheless, Scripture and the Pillar of Truth (the Church) are useless if they are not both infallible – one cannot read an infallible book without an infallible interpreter.  What good is a fallible interpreter of an infallible book?  And so the dialogue we ought to have with God is tangibly experienced through the Divine Tradition of the Church, and the Sacred Scriptures.

Bishop Barron discusses the dangers of maintaining the “Spirit of the Council” in the modern era, simply because once the Church, guided by the Spirit has defined what the protocol should be, constantly revising, debating and entertaining an alternative becomes less about listening to God and more about exerting our own creativity in a lopsided way.  This “creativity” must be under the limits of truth, otherwise we are attempting to create in an infinite manner, as if we can invent truths. The Church becomes an anti-Church when it replaces God as its authority with the wisdom St. Peter sought to express to help Christ avoid suffering.  The temptation we often face is to avoid carrying our cross, and in Peter’s case, an attempt to relieve Christ of His own saving-cross.  This is best called “enabling.”

I think, ultimately the tempter wants to enable us through dialogue.  A concrete example of this might be on the subject of contraception.  The Church, for instance, has explained that Contraception is “intrinsically wrong.”  This means, in theological language, that there is no circumstance where using contraception is ever justifiable.  When this doctrine was being debated, many bishops and priests, along with the “world” were against what Pope Paul VI defined in his encyclical.  “Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong” (HV, 14).  In other words, the many Bishops, priests, and laity who like St. Peter, sought to remove a cross from others were rebuked by God through the infallible office of the Pope. pakistan-christian

In saying all of this, I do not mean to vilify anyone who disagreed with this teaching, prior to the documents publication.  If anything, there are many saints who believed various truths that were later contradicted by the Church.  What matters more is after this reprove, if we listen to God.  If we listen, this is what allows St. Peter, and therefore us, to eventually become a saint.  Once the Church has clarified what God’s command is, do we listen?  Like Eve, once we realize that our ideology or attitude is actually not from God, we sometimes continue to entertain, defiantly “exceptions” to something with which there is none.  It would be better for us to be like our Blessed Mother who rather entertained a good-angel.  Interestingly, many have suggested that Mary, when visited by the Angel Gabriel, sought to discern what kind of message this was.  In other words – was this a dialogue with the devil or with God?  She asked how she was to become pregnant:  in other words by sin or by faith.  The Angel did not tell her to sin, and also gave increase to Mary’s faith by reminding her that God can do all things.  As a result, Mary had discerned that this was a good angel, and thus submitted her will to the word of the angel, knowing it to have come from God.  Mary is thus entitled as the “New Eve” who reverses the error of the first Eve.  Mary entered into the right kind of dialogue.

annunciation2 In order to avoid the error of enabling, I’d like to finalize this blog-post by suggesting how to discern whether we are trying to remove a cross (like St. Peter) or attempting to encourage others to carry their cross, realizing it is actually a gift, if we are spiritually mature.  It might be helpful to realize there is another extreme we haven’t considered.  Jesus rebukes the Pharisees who encouraged people to follow the law, but they did so without compassion.  In other words, while they may have been correct, they did not do anything to help those individuals to carry the heavy burden of the moral-law, and in fact, probably exaggerated the moral law at times to exert their own ego-centric sense of moral superiority.  Christ wants us to carry the cross he has given us, tailored to save us from our addiction to power, wealth, pleasure and honour.
Part of that cross involves depending on others to help us carry our own cross, because others can mediate the graces of God that give us the peace and support we need to carry and endure to the end.  If a couple suddenly develops health problems and wants to use contraception as a way to perpetuate their sexual relationship without the dangers that may come as a result of a pregnancy, the couple is failing to carry their cross.  However, it is insufficient for us to simply say this to another – we also have to help them carry that cross, by first finding people who are also carrying a similar cross.  A celibate might be a good example, one who primarily does not resent his life of abstinence.  Another might be a couple in a similar situation – and to turn to God who also forwent sexual relationships despite being involved in a marriage with the Church.  We should listen to the grief that naturally results from such a sacrifice, but one that maintains the very spirit of the law, which is meant to nonetheless respect the identity of one’s spouse.  In doing the good, it becomes a source of good if interiorized, whereby the sacrifice is an act of love, not of repression.  Contraception, contradicts the dignity of men and women, by compartmentalizing the fertility of one’s spouse, as if it were a disease in need of a pill to supress it, a condom to offer “protection” from one’s spouse, as if it were not a part of the identity of the individual – something to be mutually hated in each other.  The couple needs to not only carry their cross by white-knuckling their way through the moral-hoops of Church teaching, but also to learn how to interiorize the very moral law, so that the cross they carry is actually enabling them to love each other entirely.  Jesus teaches us to interiorize the moral-law during his sermon on the mount – he rails against a purely exterior moralism, and ascribes to the spirit of the law, whereby we love the law, not as a means to an end, but as a revelation of what true love looks like.

This interiorization of the moral law is severely lacking in the members of the Church.  Those who seek an exception to the rule seek an “exception to love.”  If such individuals interiorized this moral law, they would never endorse something that contradicts the very nature or truth to what conjugal love truly is.  Likewise, if the legalists interiorized the moral law, they would not request a cold-adherence to it, but rather encourage interior conversion by accompaniment and patience with the individual as they struggle with letting go of a false type of love.

When we enter into a dialogue about the moral-laws of the Church, this interiorizing of God’s teaching is incredibly important.  It is a sign that we are truly listening to God, both from the mind and the heart, allowing our affect to be aligned to the truth itself.  We are essentially allowing Christ into our hearts and minds.  When we are rebuked by the infallible teaching of the Church may we grow silent and realize that we require interior conversion in regards to what we think love and justice look like.

Bishops and Priests, throughout Church history have regularly fallen into heresy; most heretics were clergy.  We are under attack, and so as a result we must be prudent to whom we “listen to” and to whom we entertain ideology.  Those who surround our leaders throughout the centuries can poison our minds against God’s will, and like St. Peter, become a mouth-piece for the evil one.  No one is exempt from this.  Consider the video below (linked), which is a scene from the Lord of the Rings.  Prior to entering into the keep of the King, the good men are disarmed (mostly) by what might best describe a bureaucracy.   As they are disarmed, they are meant to be intimidated and unwelcome guests.  They are divested of their right to defend themselves, and essentially under the power and authority of the one who sits upon a throne.  But who is really sitting on this throne? Saruman was a Wizard in Tolkien’s mythology, who was meant to depict an angel.  This “angel” of course eventually is revealed to have fallen into the grasp of the evil one.  He later “possesses” the mind of a King, who has been fed the “poison” of Saruman’s lies by the hand of bad-counsel:  Worm-Tongue.    Watch this video carefully and realize that what this instrument of a demon accomplishes is to prevent the mind of the King from seeing the truth as it truly is.  He attempts to “poison the well” of the King’s heart against salvation itself, for his own political and narcissistic agenda.  Worm-Tongue is eventually expelled, after the King is given clarity and space from worm-tongue.  This is what we should pray for, for ourselves, but also for our leaders.  How is the “devil” whispering in our leaders ears?  Are we too naïve to expect the devil doesn’t have a plan to dupe us?  Are we not meant to be on-guard against the devil who is like a prowling lion, looking for someone to devour?  We cannot be naïve to this, while at the same time, we must also be optimistic enough to think that God also is sending his angels to also deliver us from such deceptions, and we should keep our ear to the ground in order to entertain their company instead.  When we encounter others who have forked tongues (they themselves may not even realize it), it might be best to imitate Gandalf, and simply not even dialogue with them.  Sometimes it may so happen that we encounter those who are able to be so crafty with their words that they elicit passionate frustration that leads to our own loss of self-control and charity.  In such a case, even a little dialogue might end up poisoning our own soul, and accomplishing the will of the evil one.  It is better to pray for them, and simply go back to dialogue with what the Church and God have already revealed. 

  

 

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