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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False Mercy is False Hope:  Despair and Presumption 

Part of the challenging role as a priest today is preparing others for the Final Judgement in a culture that broadly acts as if all types of judgements are evil. The reason this is challenging will likely result in a long post. Nonetheless, I do think it is worth time to reflect on, because this applies not just to priests, but all the faithful. confession

There are two sins against hope, and both are equally dangerous. In my view, one sin is more dominant than the other, more prevailing within our culture, and even the culture of the Church. Nonetheless both need to be addressed, because moving from one extreme can often lead to moving into the next.

The two sins are the sin of presumption and the sin of despair. I believe that most people who operate from a position of presumption do so as a false-coping mechanism in reaction to despair.

What occurs in most conversations, in any polarized arena, is that at the condemnation of one extreme, the alternative extreme is perceived to be advocated for. I believe this is often due to the fact that the “middle position” (in this case, the theological virtue: hope) is not genuinely understood.

Because of “truth” there is a meaning to hope that is defined, and consequently a meaning contrary to hope that is also clarified. These clarifications can cause the soul to take attention, and awake from whatever snare we might fall in.

Despair is of itself a sin, when we look at it from the perspective of one who denies God’s own goodness. We fail to see, as a victim culture, why this is offensive, because for whatever reason we find ourselves preoccupied with our own wounds. These wounds may of themselves be deep, but it is unjust to project a lack of faith on others, most especially God, as a coping mechanism. I do think in such cases, we ought to distinguish though for those who have undergone trauma and may not have the tools to do otherwise from a psychological point. But it nonetheless remains a type of judgement on another that is unfair and unwarranted. Have you ever been judged as arrogant, hateful, mean-hearted? Well as sinners, these judgements aren’t always unwarranted, so we must take them to prayer. But for God, who is not a sinner, to project them upon Him is blasphemous, and gravely offending. If someone died for you, would you doubt their sincerity, or find a way to become a victim, when they in fact were the victim for you?

Jesus teaches us not to be afraid of Him, precisely because He is good, but for us to insist otherwise is to simply not give credit where credit is due. God deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his own goodness, while fellow sinners might involve a bit more of cautious discernment. It nonetheless remains a fact that if we consider ourselves more benevolent than God, we have effectively condemned and judged God. This is the nature of why despair is primarily wrong. Most think it is wrong because of its effect on the individual, but all sin is primarily condemned for its offence against God, then the community and finally the dignity and destiny of the individual. We experience to some degree that offence against God when our good actions and intentions are interpreted as evil. It seems to us that another prefers to see us as a hateful person. If this displeases us, why do we sometimes act as if God is fair game? Perhaps to rebuke this accusation against God’s own goodness, we should simply gaze on the crucifix and remain silent.
Because our culture seems to be far more occupied with “feeling good” than “being good” those who hate the feeling of despair may run so far away from it, and find shelter in the sin of presumption. Yet, while avoiding despair ought to be done with zeal, it must also be done in a way that is not unintelligent but rather wise. We must avoid The spirit of despair, but not necessarily the bad-feelings of being lost, or in need of salvation. These feelings can be blessings and in fact signs of humility. Yet how quickly our culture comes to soothe these wounds with sentiments of a false hope. “It’s okay, it’s not a sin, keep doing what you are doing.”

We cannot stand to admit that all sinners are justly condemned before God on account of our sinfulness. We feel entitled to view ourselves otherwise. As a result we begin to imitate an error in despair, where we ourselves begin to treat God with less respect than he deserves. We believe ourselves entitled to His gift of mercy, rather than seeing ourselves as beggars who need it. We no longer demand of ourselves repentance and seem to imply that God’s mercy is more of a tolerance or licence to sin rather than a condemnation of our choice but a persistent love of the person nonetheless. Yet we think that we can still be married to our sin, while also trying to Marry God in Heaven. We are like a man proposing to his future wife, while asking to continue a relationship on the side with his other girlfriend-friend. Christ in our Gospel this week says that such a mixing of priorities is in fact “not worthy of me.”

God forgives. Nonetheless we have to repent and be sorrowful for sin, otherwise we are mere exploiters of mercy, like the thieves and bandits trying to enter the sheep-fold. This repentance is not something servile, it is done because by it the soul proves its commitment to the way of love. That it is not merely avoiding just-punishment, but rather attempting to reform one’s life, by ceasing acts that offend. But to be married to offensiveness (sin) of itself, is to naturally exclude ourselves from heaven. Heaven is not a place to enter and de facto become joyful. Heaven is a relationship with God, whereby man’s heart is fully given over to God. If our choice is to give ourselves over to something created, God respects this freedom, and we as a result of having a desire for the infinite, yet a choice for the finite, experience perpetual and eternal emptiness.

Hope does not free us from the obligation of repentance, but finds the activity of repentance hopeful. God’s mercy is without conditions, but mercy of itself is conditioned on one thing: Truth. That is to say that mercy is only found when we spiritually subsist in the truth. We cannot create a false-mercy, because it contradicts the very nature of God’s love. What do I mean? Mercy is the forgiveness of sins, to those who repent. Forgiveness does not exist for those who are without sin. One does not forgive God, Because he has done nothing wrong. If those who sin do not repent it is because we would be justifying our non-compliance. This justification, the belief that I am entitled to hold onto this way of life in sin, is of itself a declaration to God that we do not consider it sin. We have thereby dictated to him the truth, and thus made ourselves-righteous. This self-righteousness is what God meant when he taught us that He came for the lost, not the righteous, not those who consider themselves righteous.

No one is actually righteous, all have sinned. And it isn’t enough for us to admit this in a general and abstract way. There are concrete sins we have done, specific examples which occurred. In history. Yet today claiming to be a “fellow sinner” can be more of a sentiment than a real act of humility. It sounds like something a humble person would say, so we say it, yet rarely actually do the uncomfortable thing and Name our sins, especially the ones we love.

The Hope, scripture teaches us comes from those who have the courage to confront their sin, and work to turn away from it. These are those who God is pleased with. When we truly see the horror and malice of our own sin we are weighed down, in truth. Yet, we do not make God out to be evil by interpreting His laws as unjust. Nor do we make Him out to be evil by suggesting he holds grudges. He forgives, and so we trust in that manifestly generous and benevolent act, whereby we actually pay him a compliment. As we become mesmerized by Him, from His goodness, the weight of our sin departs, and joy embraces our soul. This joy is different from the mere relief of freedom from condemnation; it is in fact a type of joy where we become even less aware of ourselves experiencing the joy itself, but are consumed by awe in God. We are no longer weighed down, not because of our own goodness but rather His, and now we seek to imitate Him, rather than seeking Him to imitate us.

God’s mercy is humbling- because our rebellion draws out the best quality in him: mercy. When we are at war with another, it is common for us to search for reasons to despise our enemy. Yet when they return a blessing for a curse, we are doubly wounded in our pride. We are wounded for our malice, but also wounded by having no reason to hate God, since His generosity, in contrast to our own, becomes a humiliation. We see this vividly, like a mirror, that God is in fact good, and we in contrast are wicked. And so we become silent and humble before his mercy, with nothing to boast, but Him.
“For I will re–establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never again open your mouth because of your disgrace, when I pardon you for all you have done—oracle of the Lord GOD.”
Ezekiel 16:62-63 | NABRE

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Relativizing Sexual Pronouns: A Passive form of Hatred

“The young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” since believing we have “absolute power over our own bodies” might lead to the belief that “we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
– Pope Francis

                As a child I always enjoyed playing RPG games.  Role-playing-games offer us a world of our own making, and often an opportunity to “create a character” as we would prefer them to be.  In the fantasy genre, you not only had the opportunity to pick your gender, but you could also choose a race, your hair-colour, your skills, your class, et cetera.  This world of self-creation is of course attractive but it is also an illusion – a game, but not a reality.  The issue of transenderism today is not totally unlike this, except that an RPG game can be turned off, but for those experiencing gender dysphoria, their affective preference remains, and can weigh heavily upon them.  Their subjective experience is not trivial like a game, but such affective inclinations are also not grounded in an ontological reality, either.  Today however, instead of helping others find self-acceptance in the context of reality, psychologists are entering into their patient’s own delusion or dysphoria, thereby doing harm.

                It is my philosophical view that today the world has now erased that line between preference and reality – and no longer bothers to make such a distinction.  Even within the scientific field where once transgenderism was considered gender-dysphoria, now it is merely a matter of catering to the person’s subjective/affective preferences and allowing them to dominate or violently impose themselves upon reality.

                Bishop Robert Barron has discussed this as nothing more than a recapitulation of the early heresy of Gnosticism, which ascribes to the view that one has a type of “knowledge” that does not necessarily manifest within concrete reality.  In other words, “mind over matter.”  Instead of reality informing us on what the truth is, our mind dictates to the matter what the truth is – and as a result one can slice and dice at our own world in order to conform it to our own affective preferences.

                Another term for all of this could be existentialism.  Existentialism ascribes to the view that things of themselves do not have any intrinsic worth or even a definition or nature.  Rather, man has the capacity to create for himself his own definition, simply by willing it.  This type of philosophy is predominantly expressed by Mr. Nietzsche.  Nietzsche believed that terms such as “good” and “evil” were merely social constructs, typically proclaimed to be “objective” by the powerful as a way of allowing the state or Church to impose its own “will” upon the people.  However, this notion of “objectivity” was merely itself a social-construct, having absolutely no real value.  For Nietzsche, in order to become enlightened man had to transcend the concepts of good and evil, and decide for himself right from wrong.  The man who could accomplish this was termed the “Superman.”Nietzsche187a

                Often what is true of the individual is true of the social momentum within a movement.  When there is an objective reality to morality, there is a specific way to think and argue a point.  However, when one proposes a view that is only elicited by personal preference or an affective inclination there is no real ground to develop an argument.  Therefore those who seek to impose their own will, which is not grounded in logical discourse (that of itself appeals to the logos, or objective reality), only can do so with violence or logical fallacies (sophistry).  What means, therefore, does such a group have to impose its own affective preference upon the society it belongs to?  The answer is simply violence.  It has been a long-time view of classical philosophers that those who begin to personally attack others or interpret arguments as personal attacks, they have already lost the argument. 

                Recently there has been an increase in not only seeking what are considered “rights,” but imposing this way of thinking upon others, without an argument.  There is nothing objectively wrong with imposing upon a society laws which safe-guard the rights that belong to individuals, but those rights need to be grounded in something more than consensus and individual preference.  Rather, the rights should be grounded upon rational discourse and logical assessment of what reality for itself says about what it means to be a human person.

                What I would suggest however is that society’s approach to logic and preference is disingenuous.  Rarely will you find a person who is willing to admit that they reject objectivity in every sense of its possible meaning.   This conclusively means that the good instinct to cling to reason over gnostic preference still remains within man – except man offers himself an exception when his preference or inclination would have to be sacrificed to spirituality subsist within reality/reason.  That is a common-plight – we all have moments where reality is challenging, and love demands of us to let go of our preferences and immediate desires for the good of another.  A parent who hears a child crying is objectively in need of their parents, and despite the fact that the parent would rather rest, he or she gets up to care for that child.  A good parent does not define the reality of their children’s need, subordinating to what is comfortable to them – they know that the needs of their child remains nonetheless the same, regardless of whether they return to sleep. 

                hard-thinkingRationalization, however is a common-tendency within the human person, when reality clashes against our preference for what is not real (an illusion).  Rationalization often can be done by an individual, but when he clashes his views against a society, it can become more difficult to maintain the weak arguments that are constructed not from reason but from preference.  As a result he can attempt to lie, deceive, and convince others of his views in order to gain their own consensus.  Once he has their approval he reinforces the rationalization and subjectively begins to convince himself that what is an illusion is actually a reality, even though deep-down he knows otherwise.

                When a Christian community continues to boast of what the truth is, what the objective criteria is, it naturally creates and fosters conflict.  And this naturally wounds others for many reasons.  One of the reasons could be a misapplication of the argument.  For instance, often the narrative within the LGBT is that Christians view those who experience a same-sex attraction are automatically going to hell.  Therefore, when Christians speak about the subject, the natural responses for such individuals to take offense, and therefore to not realistically entertain or even discern the logic in such arguments.  There is a fear and dread at the prospect of being condemned so arbitrarily.  However, with the exception of a few forms of Christianity, this simply is not a true narrative of Christianity.  Catholicism for instance speaks about the acts of homosexuality as being gravely sinful, but does not suggest that if a person has a same-sex attraction they are “de-facto” condemned to hell.  People are held accountable for choices, not for things that they did not choose, such as a sexual orientation.

                These false-narratives often foster or compound a victim-culture.  This does not diminish the fact that many are factually victims of discrimination, which the Church also condemns, and rightfully so.  But in replacement of an argument, appealing to being a victim often is nothing more than a recapitulation of the logical fallacy of an “appeal to emotion” whereby an argument is shut down, not because it lacks merit, but because it doesn’t make another person feel good.  I once encountered a religious leader who wanted to share wisdom from his diseased mother, wisdom she offered on her death bed.  However, what his mother said was not wise, but to voice disagreement with her view would have seemed insensitive – and therefore he was able to facilitate within the venue he offered an argument that everyone was timid to disagree with publically. 

                Please do not misunderstand this point to imply that we should not be concerned with those who subjectively perceive themselves to be victims.  If a person truly believes this, even if it is not grounded in an objective experience, they are nonetheless still wounded, and wounded as a result of the false-narrative. 

                Applying everything I have said before now I would like to apply to the whole question of pronouns being relativized to cater to the preferences or affective inclinations, specifically for those who decide for themselves what their pronoun ought to be.  Specifically transgenderism.  In this regard, an argument can be made that the Canadian government has passed a bill which will necessarily interpret those who do not cooperate with this relativistic philosophical system of pronoun-assignment as a form of hate.  But I would argue to the contrary.  While it may cause pain to a person to know that someone disagrees with them on a subject as sensitive as this, it does not denote hatred. 

What we have, in an objective world that insists upon its own ordering subordinate to consensus and individual preference is a consensual hallucination.  When a voice speaks to the contrary it comes at a great cost.  When St. Thomas More did not compromise on his faith toward Henry VIII, he, as a friend to the King did not endorse the rationalized course of behaviour that he wanted to have validated.  As a result he was imprisoned and eventually killed.  In this regard, I would say that a healthy Christianity is not one that compromises with the government or the mob or the powerful, but rather the one that is willing to be imprisoned with Christ and St. Paul and all the saints before us.  Selling out Christ for 30 pieces of silver is perhaps just another recapitulation of the dark-side of the gospel that continues to be re-echoed to this day and is found in God’s providence, but this doesn’t denote that we ought to find it favourable or even cooperate with it.  As a Church we need to resist this way of living.  Of course, one needn’t even appeal to matters of faith to understand why morally speaking one should not subordinate pronouns to cater to the preferences of others.  While it might be considered in some cases to avoid offending someone, we must not see this as the supreme good of a healthy relationship.  If reality is itself what is offensive, than it is truth that is unjustly offended by those who promote such an illusion.decisions

Furthermore, for a person to passively reject their own ontological configuration as a man or woman is to passively hate themselves.  The irony here, therefore is that hatred is actually being endorsed by the government, on behalf of those who would prefer they were a different sex than what they truly are.  One, as a Christian or a man or woman of philosophical logic, cannot cooperate with such an illusion precisely for reasons of love.  When one fosters the illusion that truth is always subordinated to our own personal preferences there is no limit to what this type of thinking can accomplish.  At this point in time, man knows he does not existentially dictate to himself that his eyes are for the purpose of seeing, or that his ears are for the purpose of hearing.  These are truths grounded in the very anatomy of the body.  Yet, in our civilization, when it comes to matters of sexual organs these are relativized even though biologically we know better.  This inconsistency must be attributed to the fact that remaining in the truth of this, with an affect that does not line-up with the nature of the body (for whatever reason) requires integrity to nonetheless subsist, spiritually, in truth.  For such an individual, subsisting in this type of truth would likely require sacrifice, and that sacrifice is painful and uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, to subsist in reality is what permits one to have any authentic (truthful) experience of joy and interior freedom.  Man is not a beast.  Beasts get “fixed” because they cannot control themselves, whereas mankind also gets “fixed” because he begins to resemble less of an intelligent being, and rather one controlled by impulses.  Why else do we have people turning into a stampede, killing other humans in a shopping mall on Black-Friday? 

St. Thomas Aquinas defines pride as a problem precisely because man clings to his own fallible judgment that is enslaved to his impulses and affective preferences rather than what is true.  Pride is therefore an exaltation of our own will and intellect beyond what is actually reasonable:  beyond what is good or evil.  What Nietzsche espoused was nothing new, in fact, it was already written about in the book of Genesis when discussing man not having the prerogative to decide for themselves good from evil (eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil).  The humble disposition that requires self-mastery and interior strength is not to subordinate reason to our preferences, truth to our subjectivity, but rather to examine reality and allow ourselves to discover it, rather than invent an illusion and coerce others to follow it. 

Therefore, I cannot cooperate with any notion of referring to a person to another gender than what they are objectively – precisely because who they are, as an ontological reality is worth loving, even if they cannot. This is the type of love that offends, and actually makes love seem like something that is desirable to crucify.  Yet, it must be done anyways – because if no one loves such individuals, who will?  The whole culture, collectively wants us to mutually hate each other, and label it as love.  We consider legalizing prostitution as a liberation of women (and men), and yet all it is, is the commodification of one’s sexuality – reducing their dignity to something that can be sold.   Our culture really has, in many ways turned away from love, while nonetheless nominally labeling hatred as love, and love as hatred.  In a purely subjectivist society, this is possible – anything is possible, except truth.  Truth is not something merely exterior to the individual, the individual themselves is a truth, is a reality.  That reality is made up of matter and soul – and that individual must be loved as who they are – not in a gnostic way, but ontologically (who they objectively are). 

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5 Years a Priest: Still Wearing My Collar

Whenever my parents got into an argument, as a child it was somewhat of a confusing experience.  I didn’t understand how two people who loved each other could disagree, especially when they seemed unanimously in agreement on my own behaviour and how I was to be punished…lol.   They were a united front in most things, and so an argument was an experience that was out of the ordinary and an unexpected experience of observing my parents relationship.  However, arguments happen often because we “care” and we are willing to discuss the issues we think matter and the issues we are passionate about.  I would think that most healthy marriages demand an argument from time to time to demonstrate a spirit of indifference hasn’t taken root, and that our own perspectives are going to continue to be perfected and purified by dialogue and discussion.  But as a child, knowing that divorce was a possibility in many people’s homes, my immediate thought, when I observed arguments fostered a devastating fear that my parents might get a divorce.  As a child I didn’t have the tools to realize that arguments, even heated arguments do not imply that love is absent.  And so I remember asking both my mom and my dad, separately:  “Are you getting a divorce?”  Their response was exactly the same, and it has made a rather large impact on my own priesthood.  Their response was unequivocally, and unconditionally:  “never.”

For our culture, to say “never” is to place limits on our own personal autonomy and freedom.  It is to close off possibilities in the near future, possibilities we feel entitled to preserve for ourselves.  But in reality, love requires a sacrifice of personal liberty, because it recognizes that liberty is not an end in itself, but is there primarily to give way to love.  When we slam the door on unfaithfulness and never allow even the thought to be entertained, we are committing ourselves to love.  But the moment we begin to reserve for ourselves the hypothetical possibility of going back on our word, we have already lost the deeply rooted spirit of faithfulness, as we have built within our soul an escape-hatch that will always remain a cause of temptation and lead to a lack of interior freedom to say “yes” to our commitment to love.

This April marks my 5th year in the priesthood – and it is has been an incredible adventure.  There has been a great deal of hardships, humiliations, failures, arguments, and other things that are best kept between me and those to whom it concerns.  There have also been incredible graces, moments of encountering God in a new way through ministry, and also incredible moments of watching others encounter God in miraculous ways.  I have seen people experience ecstasy in prayers, grade 8 students receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit during Adoration, having faith become borne in their own heart.  I have heard confessions where massive wounds and heavy burdens have been lifted or healed.  I have made relationships with many people in time of death, sickness and joy and sorrow.  I have been greatly encouraged by those who have returned to the faith or returned to confession as a result of something I said or did that God blessed with grace.

Whether it was a moment of desolation or consolation, it matters not – my love for Christ and the priesthood has not changed, it has grown.  This is simply another way of saying that the Priesthood does not “need me” but that “I need the priesthood.”  This vocation is changing my heart every day, humbling it, giving me tougher skin, helping me to put others before my own needs, and above all, placing God in the centre of my life’s priorities, because it is “Truly Right and Just.”  If anyone would ever think I would waver, let me re-echo what my own parents said without qualification, without conditions:  I will never leave the priesthood.

One of the blogs I posted earlier on in the beginnings of this call of the priesthood pertained to my wearing of the Roman Collar.  I still fervently practice this because the level of my commitment and love for the priesthood has taken on this particular means of tangible expression.  That is to say, my commitment to being available in serving others has taken on the tangible sign of being visibly present in public, wearing my collar.  This is both a chance for consolation and desolation, but it is a commitment not to an external practice itself, but through this external practice to achieve the very spirit behind the ministry I am called to.  Not only do I continue to adhere to the wearing of the Roman Collar, but I also maintain boundaries with most people, gently and politely hoping they will refer to me as Fr. Chris, and not the familiar “Chris.”  This comes with some challenge, as people often interpret this to mean that I want respect, personally.  I have, however, never called my own father “Mike,” and I never plan to.  Not because I consider my father as having more dignity than I, and not because “Dad” is a title – but rather because it is a type of relationship that I am called to have with him, and one that I cherish.  I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the type of relationship I have with others, and with a few exceptions, I always realize that I am to be first a Father to others, not just in name, but in the manner of relating to others.  This means I am called to provide for their spiritual needs; I am to not ask them to serve me, but I am meant to serve them.  I am to die for them, and stand in the way of anything that could harm their spiritual life.  These are the things that come to my mind when I hear “Father Chris.”  What does not come to my mind is, “special me.”  This paternal role is not meant to be denigrated to mere authority and power as some begin to believe it is or some have twisted it to mean for clericalist purposes.  Rather, it is more deeply and profoundly a call to love those whom God has entrusted to me, as my own Heavenly Father has loved me.

                People have been most receptive of this – with a minority of exceptions.  The exceptions normally come from those who have been taught by others to interpret these external signs to only communicate something pejorative.  The most enjoyable experience I have of the collar is not when people scorn you publically for being a priest, as I experienced a few times.  Rather, I enjoy the times that I have walked into a Pub in Windsor and had people ask me, right there, to hear their confession.  Or as I walk through Wal-Mart, the same takes place, with a person who hasn’t been to confession in years.  Sometimes at the mall, youth ask for a blessing or simply say hello, and request prayers or we simply share a laugh.  These are not exceptional cases, they happen quite often, and it always makes me wonder how much good would I not accomplish today, had I hidden this simple white tab in my shirt?  More importantly it has made me deeply aware of how to penetrate the secular culture we live in, by simply being visibly present, showing up, and communicating to others that I am willing to drop everything for them – that is to be:  Salt and Light for the world. 

It has been five years since I was ordained, this month, and amongst the failures, successes, and the fruitfulness of ministry, harsh remote-judgments and odd canonizations (others oddly think I’m a saint) – all I can say is I’m in it for the long run.  And with my brother priests who have proven time in again that they have my back, and that I have theirs, we march forward.  To five years in ministry, God I say to you, thank you for this tremendous gift and I will never abandon it:  never.

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