Faith Sharing

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...

There is much talk these days about ‘faith sharing’ (this is especially true in catechetical circles) and far too little thought regarding the meaning of these words. Admittedly, most of us think that we understand this phrase to mean that we are to share stories about our faith with others, though some might come to think that this ‘faith sharing’ somehow creates faith in others or perhaps increases their faith. There are a number of things that are fundamentally wrong with such notions.

First, paragraph 153 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.’”

To reiterate, faith is a gift from God – we do not give someone else what faith we might possess. Likewise, it is faith that makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth. Faith “is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (CCC 150)  Since Christ has said that He is Truth (Jn.14:6), it follows that the truths of the faith need be presented to all who are interested in the Catholic Faith in order that they have the opportunity to make this necessary but free assent. Should one come to believe and hold to all of these truths you can bet that he or she has received this gift of Faith by the working of the Holy Spirit, a sharing in Christ’s Spirit, and wholly by the grace of God. (see CCC 152)  The Church, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth,” faithfully guards “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (CCC 172)  It therefore becomes imperative for those who wish to “share their faith” with others, to teach only that which is in full-agreement with this pillar and bulwark of the truth – the Church.

Secondly, the Catechism makes clear that the transmission of “faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him.” (CCC 425). Christ is the center of all catechesis which “is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . .” (see CCC 426 and 427)  It seems that the Church advises us to teach or, if we must use the vernacular of today, share the teachings with others – not the faith for that is impossible for man.

There is always a danger, when relating our personal and subjective spiritual matters to one another, that we might veer into a forum of “faith sharing” inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Faith.   It is vitally important that in our individual spiritual reflections we submit our spirituality to all of the Truth as taught by the Church. It should be scrutinized under the magnifying lens of Sacred Theology and made to conform to God’s Revelation of Himself through His Catholic and Apostolic Church. If our reflections and spirituality are found faulty, we must amend our views (no matter how wonderful our musings might make us feel) and trade them in for inclinations and reflections that are totally and 100% in conformity with the Church; for if we are not sharing the teachings of the Catholic Faith faithfully, we are only presenting a counterfeit faith of our own making.

Who are the Meek?

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

We have heard or read this word countless times in our lives but do we really understand what it is? In the Old Testament it is usually used regarding the poor, the humble and the afflicted. But that does not get completely to the heart of the meekness that Christ speaks of in the New Testament.

The Sermon on the Mount uses the word in Christ’s second example:Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.”[1] The word in the New Testament Greek is praus which expands the OT understanding to: that disposition of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and therefore without disputing or resisting it. It is not unlike the virtue of long-suffering which allows us to bear patiently with ills knowing that God’s will is being done. There is the hope and understanding that God is accomplishing something for the Good though we cannot see it or understand it at the moment. So we bear with it patiently.

When I was younger I used to think of meekness as being humble but somehow construed to mean apathetic as well. So when Christ says to the Apostles that they should “learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart,”[2] it always made the words of Christ seem a bit too contrived or a bit prideful (though He is God with every right to boast of His virtues). Maybe that was just me. But it did strike me as being a bit different from the usual statements I was used to hearing from Christ.

However, when I look back to the Book of Wisdom I find the following: “Let us see then if his words be true, and let us prove what shall happen to him, and we shall know what his end shall be. For if he be the true son of God, he will defend him, and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him by outrages and tortures, that we may know his meekness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a most shameful death: for there shall be respect had unto him by his words.”[3]

Now that passage seems to foretell the meekness that our Lord was talking about. For He was going to His death on the cross without a whimper, without crying out for mercy or declaring His innocence for the crime He was sentenced. No, He went as meekly as a Lamb to the slaughter.[4]

Now this is not apathy. For if apathy were a virtue, this country in its present age would be a utopia overrun with saints. But meekness is not a virtue you find very much of in this country or in any developed country. It resides mostly in the Third World.

I wonder if we are too far along in our belief in Utilitarianism to ever find meekness as a positive virtue to be practiced. Perhaps, as we continue our slide into the ocean of oblivion which swallows our wealth, freedom and pride, leaving us with shackles and chains of debt to eat the scraps that our lords throw us, we can once again find that God will respect His promise and return the land to the meek.

[1] Matthew 5:4

[2] Matthew 11:29

[3] Wisdom 2:17-20

[4] Isaiah 53:7 He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.

When Does Life Begin?

Detail - Glory of the New Born Christ in prese...

Some, thinking that I might be addressing the abortion issue, may answer this question with, ‘at birth’ or ‘at conception.’ But such an answer would only speak to the physical reality of our human person and its enfleshed temporal existence. But there is an answer that goes to the heart of all true spirituality. It is an answer that has been revealed by God through Holy Scripture. The surprising answer is that God has known our individual ‘being’ from the beginning – before time itself began. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4, “… he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.” So in essence our existence, our very personalities were known and loved by God from the beginning: from the depths of eternity. He has brought us forth at our appointed time according to His will but nevertheless known and held in the bosom of God before time began. Did not Christ Himself reveal that our eternal home, the kingdom, has been prepared from the beginning? In Matthew’s gospel Christ prays for unity, revealing the following in chapter 25, verse 34: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Having this knowledge is indispensable to a proper understanding of humanity, self-knowledge, and the knowledge of God. We can never truly plumb the depths of this mystery but even so, can acquire much fruit in our meditation upon it.

God has loved each of us individually and by name, loving us like children who might reflect His glory and carry out His holy will from eternity. Can we fathom the love that God has for each of us? Do we grasp the love that moved God to take on our human flesh? Do we really understand the participation of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us after Baptism and urges us to all holiness and love? In any spiritual journey, the logical starting point is the love of God while the consummation of this love is the end.

To grasp the fact that we are each, individually His: created from nothing, and destined to live in His glory forever, is fundamental to our belief and the basis of all Christian hope and love. Having been given the grace to live, as God would have us live, is a dignity that we cannot seem to grasp. To live in a way that would bring God glory seems to be a task that is superhuman at best. But God is not dissuaded by our proclivity to chase rainbows and turn from Him at every seeming whim. Instead, He quietly and steadily pursues each of us until the end, not unlike Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. No soul would exist that did not have the potential to become a blessed in heaven and God will spare nothing in His pursuit of each and every soul. Should we fail, we have no one to blame but our obstinate refusal to accept His grace and a conscious avoidance of His presence in our midst: for God has left His fingerprints on everything in the cosmos. But His indwelling in our very soul is a formidable mark of grace. We are never without Him nor are we ever separated from His love.

What can we possibly do to ensure that God might reach us and that we might not fail to live up to His plan for our lives? The constant teaching of the Church is prayer and detachment.

Through prayer, especially silent prayer, we discover God hiding in the recesses of our souls, beckoning to us while keeping constant vigil. Having found Him so near, allows the soul an opportunity to willfully increase the room we have allotted Him in our hearts. It also allows Him to fill us with all necessary grace for the rooting out of unhealthy attachments: primarily our attachment to self. Finally the soul is once again reminded of the life that God has desired for us: a life of eternal love – love of Him and love for all creation – including each and every soul that was so lovingly created and known before the foundation of the world.

Saint Padre Pio Gives Us Sound Advice for Spiritual Advancement

Saint Padre Pio

Catholic saints and spiritual writers have always agreed that the quickest and easiest method of advancing in the spiritual life is in the practice of obedience. The simplicity of this method as thus stated belies the difficulty in the actual living out of this dictum. The reasons for this are many: pride, anger, sloth, and just plain old Americanism. For in our country a pioneering spirit of unbridled individualism and self-actualization is an ingrained commandment that cannot be violated without tearing asunder the very fabric of our self-worth and respect. This is associated with our misguided understanding of one of the very foundation stones of our country; namely, freedom.

How can we feel free if we are to cow-tow to another’s whims and directives especially when we are sure that we are smarter or better equipped to make our own decisions? But that is exactly what we are asked to do in order to become saints ourselves. Note the following quote from the newly canonized Saint, Padre Pio: “Obey promptly! Do not consider the age or merit of the person. And in order to succeed, imagine you are obeying the Lord.”  And should you wince at the mistakes that your superiors make and seethe from the unfairness that permeates this world one must also keep in mind another of his councils: “Do not disturb your soul at the sad spectacle of human injustice…. One day you will see the inevitable triumph of Divine justice over it.”

Why is obedience to those in a position of authority a necessity for spiritual progress? Why should we take our direction from those who seem incompetent or those who we know are simply wrong? Saint Pio responds, “Where there is no obedience, there is no virtue; where there is no virtue, there is no good. Where good is wanting, there is no love; where there is no love, God is absent; where God is absent, there is no heaven.” Therefore, obedience is directly connected to our salvation by its relationship to the theological virtue of charity or love. Says our Saint: “Charity is the queen of virtues. As the pearls are held together by the thread, thus the virtues are held together by charity; as the pearls fall when the thread breaks, thus virtues are lost if charity diminishes.” Obedience it seems is the epitome of self-denial: correcting inordinate self-interest and self-love, for the love of God. Christ counseled us on precisely this same point: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” __Luke 9:23

Obedience in little insignificant things is necessary in order that we might become prepared for more important things. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little is unjust also in that which is greater. If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?” __ Luke 16:10,11

So according to Padre Pio we are told the following: “Try always to advance more in charity; enlarge your heart with confidence for the divine gifts which the Holy Spirit is anxious to pour into it.” Because, “To fail in charity is like wounding God in the apple of His eye. What is more delicate than the pupil of the eye? To fail in charity is like failing against nature.” In order to gain this virtue, obedience leading to humility is needed. Our Saint makes this connection when he says: “Humility and charity go hand in hand. The one glorifies, the other sanctifies.” Since, “The pivot of perfection is love; he who lives in love lives in God, because God is love, as the Apostle says.”

If you think that glorifying God by your obedience and humility is foolishness, our Saint reminds us that: “The time spent for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is never spent badly.” For, “God can reject everything in a creature conceived in sin and of which it bears the indelible impression inherited from Adam. But He can absolutely not reject the sincere desire to love Him.” Your desire to love Him is proved by your everyday practice of obedience for love of Him.

Conversing with Atheists about God is Difficult at Best

I must admit that I have little interest in debates between atheists and those who adhere to a belief in God. Primarily it is because in my limited exposure to atheists or agnostics (which I profess was a position held in my youth) I find most of them to be almost gleeful in their disparagement of those who believe. For most the sole adherence to science, as if it was an indisputable truth to be believed without question, is an axiom written in stone. Most harbor an equal disdain for anyone who has the nerve to question the validity of some scientific ‘fact’ to which they find absolute. Believers are usually belittled as unenlightened, superstitious Cretans that undermine and inhibit their utopian vision for life. I’m sorry that we make your life so miserable. But believe it or not we do not wish to destroy science and reason. In fact faith and reason are inextricably linked to faiths such as mine: Catholic. By the way, did you know that it was a Catholic, Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, who first came up with the big bang theory?

The atheist’s unhappiness and almost frenzied defense of a meaningless existence leads me to have some sympathy for them primarily because they seem to have developed into an anti-religion of sorts: peopled by  1) arrogant and rebellious youth who want to think themselves smarter than anyone else 2) those who have suffered loss or pain and cannot accept that a loving God could allow evil to exist or 3) embittered people who disdain the lives of those who seem so much more happy and fulfilled than are they.

I am not as smart as any of the atheists because I am one of those who believe in God, so bear with my unintelligent remarks or humor me: it might be a good laugh for those of the enlightened class who hold the highest ranking positions of intelligent thought. After all an oaf like me will never see the inside of an ivory walled institution of higher learning which should disqualify me from even voicing an opinion at all: though I will for humor’s sake.

The following are questions, observations and ponderings of one of the regular schleps that don’t know any better:

However, isn’t it true that science itself has no basis as a discipline unless it is founded upon the mysterious foundation of intelligence? If the universe has no intelligibility then our beloved science could not even exist: it would be an unintelligible hodgepodge of chaotic happenings without any hope of replicating an event in a lab or even within a mathematical model. Does an intelligent universe with mathematical rules point toward an intelligent creation or can intelligence be simply a random circumstance that we were fortunate enough to be privy to?

Is it also not true that in every age scientists felt that they had divined the secrets of some previously unknown phenomena just to see those theories overturned and replaced by their descendants? Am I to postulate that in this age things are different?  Or, have we reached the final truths? Or are we at the very brink of ultimate knowledge? If we are so much smarter than everyone who ever lived before us, can we foresee with any certainty that a glorious day will dawn when science will finally understand all things perfectly and no mysteries remain unsolved? For the atheists I have known had no taste for mystery, unless it was in the context of a completely intelligible event (in their estimation) that science will one day uncover.

Will we understand how the bombardier beetle came into existence (the scientific postulation for this is pretty weak from the answers I have read) or more fundamentally how does an organism develop sex organs with egg cells and sperm cells from a mass of single cell amoeba who might have banded together in a body of sorts? When these first sexual organisms evolved there must have been many billions of them morphed all in unison or how else could they find one another and create new little mutants of the sexual order? Had the first male organisms develop in the Pacific and the first female organisms develop in the Atlantic would they be able to find one another? I guess they are smarter than we give them credit. And since life is evolving by the law of the survival of the fittest, why didn’t all the lower forms evolve into the higher forms? Even the first 1 cell life forms still exist. How can that be? Further, if it is all about survival, why don’t some of the higher life forms devolve back into simpler forms of life when under stress instead of adding more complicated solutions to their quest for survival? Wouldn’t that make more sense to climb back into the ocean rather than evolve wings and take to the air? Maybe we will devolve back into apes someday if the banana trees start overpopulating the planet. Evolution is an accepted principle but devolution does not seem to be: I wonder why not.

To superstitious persons such as me, it seems that some kind of intelligence moved creation history along in a most intelligent way. I may be foolish but it seems that completely stupid creatures can do some incredibly complex, intelligent things: building nests, keeping their nests cleared of feces etc. This in my view is what you call instinct (a change in their genetics). But to us uninformed it seems more like a stupid animal acting in an intelligent and unexplained way. It remains a mystery to me and it only magnifies the mystery that is God in His creation. Many more mysteries exist in every science one can imagine. Are all these mysteries going to unfold before our god-like minds or will they continue to persist throughout all the ages?

And no, I am not a strict creationist. I only believe that God’s hand is everywhere present in shaping it. In fact it adds greatly to His Mystery that by His grace and His will one animal species might develop into a completely different species of animal or plant. If I see a building I know that a architect built it. When I read a novel, I know that a writer penned it. If I see a computer, I know that electronic engineers designed it. But when the simplest forms of life are viewed, which no brilliant scientist can replicate, the obvious question is: who is the designer – who is the architect – who is the author? The same holds true for us little people when we behold the wonders of the cosmos. How great thou art.

I for one accept mystery as a fact of life and would not like to live in a world devoid of mystery; especially the divine mystery of God which allows me to feel awe struck every time I look upon his wonders, whether of this world or out of this world: from the subatomic to the massive quasars and black holes. It is uplifting to live in a world and a universe that creates so much awe and wonder in the human heart and mind.

The fact that we creatures of stardust, as Carl Sagan loved to call us, have the ability to think and reason, feel joy and sorrow, love and be loved is a mystery to me. To know ourselves and have cognizance of existence itself is either a fantastic dreamscape or a mystery: it’s like saying a rock can come to know itself and its surroundings and has aspirations for a better and more fulfilling life in a few million years but that it is not a mystery how this came to be. How awesome is the gift of consciousness and more so, a reasoned consciousness!

For atheists to say they have no need of answers to mysteries so deep is to live in a vacuum of numbers, theorems and postulations without truly living and experiencing the best of human life. Such a life would render me a person without hope. Mankind becomes nothing more than another animal or created object. It is a purely utilitarian view of man’s worth. Is it no wonder that Marx, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and all the major ideological leaders who murdered 100’s of millions of people were atheists who happened to hold utilitarian views of mankind? They were going to make ‘life better’. For society should be more in keeping with their enlightened personal ideology and the rest of mankind should be forced to adhere to a life that they are just too stupid to appreciate or understand. Elitists always have a solution for the rest of us though we never asked them for one.  Abortion, euthanasia, forced work camps all come from utilitarian views of humankind and sadly it makes them more beast-like than human.

Speaking only for my unenlightened superstitious self, I would prefer to continue to live a life with purpose than to spend my time criticizing people for living good, wholesome, productive lives while fostering family values and instilling hope and love in everyone they can. Where does empathy, sympathy, and love reside? It was built into the fabric of a man’s beating heart and that is what the mystery of a firm faith in God excels in fostering. There are many reasons for faith but first you must come to desire it and seek it. I cannot give it to you like a book containing the Pythagorean Theorem so that you might analyze it. Some will find the need of God’s mystery screaming from their heart and others will not. I only pray that the emptiness of these persons might someday be filled with more than scientific models that explain how an existence that came from non existence can spontaneously happen without a creator.

That’s why I find it hard to discuss God with atheists. I’m far too shallow, happy and amazed at the wonders of this life to understand them at all.

Are Catholic’s Too Rigid In Their Beliefs?

Recently much confusion has been spread in Catholic circles concerning our need to be less rigid in the religious views that we hold. There could be some truth in such a statement if one held these beliefs based solely on personal desire or prejudice and without the aid of reason or logic. Such rigidity would likely make a person obstinate to truth should it be presented to him.

However, true rigidity in Catholic thought might be better described as the persistent refusal to accept a truth of the faith even though it is recognized and understood to be true. The reason for this stubbornness might then be the result of personal sin or a disordered attachment to the world and may find its root in pride or sloth etc. Such a reluctance to adhere to truth would certainly qualify one to be categorized as rigid.

But for those who have been confronted with the truths of the faith, submitting these truths to reason and prayer ought not be slandered for persistence in their beliefs. Instead they ought to be praised when seen clinging to truth in the face of adversity and at times faced with a martyrs death. This is the nature of truth: it is worth dying for, it gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe, and it transcends the world and its conventions. Truth transforms the believer and gives meaning to all of his actions and is thereby the whole of what the believer seeks: for Christ is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ and the Truth is inseparable from Christ.

The Catholic today is more likely to hear a challenge to his beliefs from another Catholic than he is from a person of another faith. He will hear theologians claim that Christ did not know that He was God, though Pope St. Pius X taught definitively the opposite to be true in the Condemnation of the Error of Modernists, 1907. Was Pope St. Pius X guilty of rigidity? Or was he merely persistent in the truths of the faith as taught for 2000 years?

When we are confronted by novel theories, though presented by reputable scholars, one must always understand that theories and hypotheses are only that: theories and hypotheses. But if Christ was God (which we believe to be true) and if Christ established a Church to carry on His ministry in the world (which we also believe to be true), real truth must necessarily be consistent with Church teaching. Without these beliefs there is nothing that could be fully accepted as true: a Christ who is nothing but our projection of what we desire, could not be the Authority that we seek. Likewise if Christ is our creation, there could never be a Church that would possess true Authority given Her by Christ. Such thought makes a mockery of Christianity and places us back into the ranks of agnostic or atheistic belief.

Therefore being persistent in our faith is a virtue that is not to be confused with ignorance, prejudice or rigidity. Let no one convince you that adherence to the truths of the Catholic faith is the same as being intolerant of other credible ideas and thus close-minded. If such is the case, remember that we are in good company; never forgetting the countless saints and martyrs that died for these same beliefs. “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).”

Evil Incarnate: the Iniquity of our Political Elite

If I were to suggest to you that it is right and good that we should extend the freedom of our countrymen to include the execution of certain classes of people you would likely say to me that I should either have my head examined or be locked up for the good of society. Yet we have gone so far as to enact a law to protect the right of each and every woman to willfully murder the infant in her womb if that should be her wish.

 Supporters of such rights will argue incessantly about when this life form becomes a person but that is only a futile attempt to justify to the rest of society the immorality of their personal desires – or worse yet, a way to curry favor with others and empower themselves. We can all agree, at least, that a fetus is certainly a “life form” because it is absolutely certain that should we find such a thing on the Moon or Mars the headlines would immediately inform us that we had found life on another planet.

 Indeed if we can only find a single cell bacteria on another world it would be heralded and protected, studied and loved for all the potential good that might result from our study. Yet whatever the resulting good might be for these extra-terrestrial bacteria, the potential of a human life might certainly overshadow this scientific discovery: for each human being has at least the potential to become something wonderful or diabolic – but it is the individual’s choices that form them. They could become the next Einstein, Mother Teresa or Stalin. I dare say that bacterium from Mars will be more protected than a child in his mother’s womb.

 It is also a great wonder that we Americans spend more money and have more laws protecting the eggs of sea turtles than we do for the destruction of a child’s life. Is this to say that the potential life of a sea turtle is somehow sacred but the potential human life is of no consequence whatever? Have we lost our minds – or at least our moral sanity?

 I’m sure some naysayers would insist that this is not the same at all. After all, a rational human mother has the “right” to make these kinds of decisions and a sea turtle does not. So we conclude that we have a right (or even a moral responsibility) to protect her eggs because she can’t tell us whether she wants them to live or die. Naturally, our decision is that any mother would want her offspring to live and therefore we must do all in our power to make sure that these eggs remain safe. But if we somehow conclude that it is our proper role to protect a sea turtle’s potential offspring then why is it not acceptable to use the same logic to protect an unborn child? Any mother should want her offspring to live – natural law is proof of this fact.  So the mother that wants to abort her child must be insane.

 These same pro-abortionists are quick to pass laws to protect habitats and stop the extinction of a species as a ‘moral’ mandate. Violation of their laws can get you a hefty fine if you’re lucky or a lengthy stay in jail.

 If we as a society have a right to make decisions regarding sea turtles and other protected wildlife and we can give the right of abortion to a human mother then why can’t we as a society start making additional decisions for mothers: we could restrict the number of births to 1 child as in China. We could tell a mother that she must have an abortion if she wants to live in our quiet little upscale community or we might restrict her from giving childbirth due to her age or intelligence. Why not? After all, having a child past 30 can cause expensive medical costs, raise the chance of having a downs syndrome baby or worse. The liberal bureaucrat can simply claim that the child, in all probability, will not have a life worth living: a divine decision with eternal consequences made by a fool who bases life and death on actuarial tables and at the end of the day goes home to snug apartment and sleeps very nicely, thinking that he has done society a great good.

 The sanctity of human life and the dignity of human life have somehow been monstrously degraded. When we are too old and feeble I am sure that we will eventually follow suit and legalize euthanasia. What then: eliminate those who are handicapped, incapable of work or useless to society?

 How did we arrive at this juncture in a supposed civilized society? The news reporters and commentators have worked hand in hand with the self-proclaimed elite of this country to proclaim evil for good and to denounce good for evil. We have been given the country that we deserve by electing presidents, congressmen, senators and judges that do not respect people except as a source of power.

 They make laws for the people while exempting themselves, they establish rights that don’t exist so that they might be seen as true champions of the people. All the while they continually usurp our rights and buy our votes with entitlements to further their own selfish elitist power.

 We might apply the following scripture to our new elite taken from Matthew 23:25-33.

 “Woe to you scribes[1] and Pharisees[2], hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine[3] and uncleanness. Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside may become clean. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; that build the sepulchers of the prophets, and adorn the monuments of the just, and say: If we had been in the days of our Fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. You serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of hell?”

[1] scribesAlso called sopher, sofer. Judaism. one of the group of Palestinian scholars and teachers of Jewish law and tradition, active from the 5th century b.c. to the 1st century a.d., who transcribed, edited, and interpreted the Bible.

[2] PhariseesA member of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st century b.c. and 1st century a.d. and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah.

[3] rapineThe violent seizure and carrying off of another’s property; plunder.

The Lowest is the Foundation for the Highest

In an adult apologetics class some years ago we spoke of how God uses “fallen man” in His plan for our Salvation; that through the Church, God works through ordinary human beings in order that His Holy Will might be brought to fruition. It might even seem that God is relying on “us” for the success or failure of His Divine Plan and that He exercises great patience while He awaits “our” obedience and labor in this regard. It is obvious that God wants us to participate in the great battle (and the eventual triumph) of good over evil. Not unsurprisingly, each and every one of us has been given the opportunity to heed His call to arms. God wants to share His victory with us and by our obedience to Faith, we will. Such a humbling of the Most High to allow the very creatures, who have continuously shown themselves unworthy of the task, to partake in this struggle is a lesson in theology that we must take seriously. “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross.”__ Philippians 2:5-8

By this same principle one can solve many conundrums, which are certain to arise in the spiritual life. No one can doubt that the heart is of a higher order than the mind, though the heart when unregulated by the mind is given to flights of fancy and will soon lead a soul astray. God has therefore given us the gifts of heart and mind, or in theological terms, the gift of faith and reason, in order that we might have balance. Both are necessary to a proper spirituality: A spirituality that is capable of soaring to the highest reaches of Heaven but at all times solidly grounded in Truth.

Likewise, theology is the Truth that has been garnered from God’s Revelation to man and developed by the Church with the aid of the Holy Spirit.  This Holy Indwelling has created for us an indispensable library of maxims that are sure to keep our spirituality on track and discourages any flight of fancy that might stray from the Truth. In this way, the well-reasoned theology of the Church (the lesser of the two) becomes the servant or handmaid to our spirituality or faith. Spirituality can take many forms (as many as there are individuals) but in order that our spirituality remains valid, it must always conform to holy theology.

The same applies to the gift of “the fear of the Lord” in relation to the gift known as “the love of God;” a much higher principle. Let us not forget that “the fear of the Lord” is also a virtue. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is prudence.”__ Proverbs 9:10     It is hard to imagine that one might ever attain the higher virtue of “love” without first regulating our lives by means of this lesser but vitally important virtue. It is a slow maturation of the mind, the heart and the soul, which at first fears retribution for the acts that she has committed but slowly gains a delicate and refined conscience, which feels deep sorrow whenever she might happen to injure the object of her love. The lower virtue transforms itself into the higher, teaching us to be remorseful and deepening our respect and love of God: not unlike a child who at first fears the punishment of a father and eventually, out of love, feels sadness for the hurt they might cause the father.

Freedom is a higher principle than obedience, though we can only find true freedom in lawful obedience: especially in obedience to faith and the truths that are foundational to True Faith. I am sure we can all think of other applications of this principle. It seems to be an important one.

You cannot boast of a robust and vibrant spirituality when you ignore basic theological reasoning. Sound theological principals are essential or, better yet, the guidance of an experienced spiritual advisor grounded in good theology. This will give you assurance that you have not lost both your spiritual life and your quest for the truth: both are equally needed for true progress in the spiritual realm.

Prayer’s Twofold End

Prayer has a twofold end: worship and petition. The prayer of worship can be divided into three distinct sentiments that are offered to God, adoration, thanksgiving and reparation, while the prayer of petition is principally a request for the effective operation of God’s Grace.  Therefore, even petition is an act of confidence in Him and can be viewed as a form of homage to a loving God Who hears His creatures and pours His Grace upon them.

Prayer further can be distinguished by its form: mental, vocal, private or public. Mental prayer has no outward expression but is a silent conversation of the soul with God. All interior acts that tend to unite us with God can be considered mental prayer. This includes, recollection, consideration, reasoning, self-examination, loving thoughts of God, contemplation or a simple longing of the heart for God. These acts deepen our convictions, exercise our virtue and train us for our heavenly life: the eternal, loving contemplation of God. (See Chapter V, Sect. IV of Tanquerey’s, The Spiritual Life)

Vocal prayer expresses itself in word and in act stimulating devotion by the very sound of the words or the use of pious gestures. Therefore, we are called to be serious, attentive, and pious in the recitation of our prayers and the use of prayerful gestures; genuflection, kneeling, bowing, etc. One must be constantly aware of Who it is that this conversation is between. Further, such attentiveness helps our neighbors, who become more devout when exposed to people who are especially devout in their prayer. Therefore, devout and pious prayer is contagious; an act that reinforces one another’s faith and confidence.

As mentioned earlier, vocal prayer can be either private or public according to whether it is offered by an individual or by a group of individuals. “The prayers of the many cannot go unheeded when they unite in one.” __ St. Thomas’s commentary on Matthew 18:20. It is for this reason that we are urged to join in common prayer frequently and why the Church calls us together for Holy Mass and other religious liturgies every day of the week. The Church has always recommended our participation in Her daily prayer to God for Her people. Even so, a priest is urged to say Holy Mass even though the faithful cannot be present. Even so, this prayer is offered for all the people. Further, priests and religious recite daily the Divine Office, often in private, but always for the entire Church. We too are urged to join this prayer of the Church privately or publicly with a prayer group.

We are prodded to practice all types of prayer on a continuing basis: to offer God our homage and thanks, to make amends for our sins, and to ask for help with our special needs. We are invited to make our prayers mentally throughout our waking day and to join our voices and gestures to public acts of worship whenever possible. The purpose of our prayer life should reflect the reality which St. John the Baptist declared so aptly in John 3:30, “He must increase: but I must decrease.” For prayer is the soul’s preparation on Earth for our life with God in Heaven: a focus necessary to our eventual realization that God is All in all and we are merely unprofitable servants in dire need of His Divine Mercy.