The suicide of Europe

The suicide of Europe

This week, one hundred years ago, the Great Powers of Europe were hurtling towards a war which would eventually draw in the entire Western sphere.

We know it as the First World War, which may be a bit parochial, because the theatres of war were largely confined to three continents, though there’s no denying its impact was global. Pope Benedict XV called it “the suicide of civilised Europe,” which is a better appraisal.

The war changed Europe and the West forever, and not for the good. It gave rise not only to totalitarian communism, the Nazi Holocaust and the Second World War, but also to the hedonism of the 1920s and 1960s, and to the moral and spiritual decline which has afflicted western civilisation since 1914.

Catholic News Service has produced an excellent 20 minute documentary which examines the origins and the aftermath of the Great War, and what lessons we can draw from it 100 years later. As Mark Twain famously observed, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

Are you Catholic? Then prove it!

This is pretty good. From the people at Outside da Box — an online video production company which specialises in youth ministry resources.

The friendship of Christ

The friendship of Christ

“Don’t neglect your spiritual reading,” one of the saints advises us. “Reading has made many saints.” (Straight from the horse’s mouth!)

I guess the most beneficial spiritual reading either inspires us to make new aspirations, or challenges us to renew existing ones. But every now and then, spiritual reading is astounding for its sheer resonance. “I could have written this!” I’ve occasionally thought to myself. “It’s like the fruit of my own prayer.”

Today was just such a moment, when I read a meditation by Robert Hugh Benson on divine friendship. It moved me very much. And since Benson’s work is in the public domain, I can reproduce it here.

(I especially like the third part. The frustration Benson describes is very honest, very like my own, and like yours too perhaps.)

It seems inconceivable at first sight that a relationship, which in any real manner can be called a friendship, should be possible between Christ and the soul. Adoration, dependence, obedience, service, and even imitation — all these things are imaginable; but until we remember that Jesus Christ took a human soul like our own — a soul liable to joy and to sorrow, open to the assaults of passion and temptation, a soul that actually did experience heaviness as well as ecstasy — the pains of obscurity as well as the joys of clear vision — until this becomes to us, from a dogmatic fact apprehended by faith, a vital fact perceived by experience, a full realisation of his friendship is out of the question.

For just as in the case of ordinary persons the plane of real friendship lies in the communion of the two souls, so it is between Christ and a man. His Soul is the point of contact between his divinity and our humanity. We receive his body with our lips; we prostrate our whole being before his divinity; but we embrace his soul with ours.

I. The beginnings of friendship

Human friendships usually take their rise in some small external detail. We catch a phrase, we hear an inflection of a voice, we notice the look of the eyes, or a movement in walking; and the tiny experience seems to us like an initiation into a new world. We take the little event as a symbol of a universe that lies behind; we think we have detected a soul exactly suited to our own, a temperament which either from its resemblance to our own, or from a harmonious dissimilarity, is precisely fitted to be our companion.

Then the process of friendship begins; we exhibit our own characteristics; we examine his: in point after point we find what we expected to find, and we verify our guesses; and he too, no less, follows the same method, until that point is reached (as it is reached in so many cases, though not, thank God! in all), either in a crisis, or after a trying period, when we discover either that we have been mistaken from the beginning, or that we have deceived the other, or that the process has run its course; the summer is come and gone, and that there are no more fruits to gather on either side.

Now the Divine Friendship — the consciousness, that is to say, that Christ desires our love and intimacy, and offers his own in return — usually begins in the same manner. It may be at the reception of some sacrament, such as we have received a thousand times before; or it may be as we kneel before the crib at Christmas, or follow our Lord along the way of the cross. We have done these things or performed those ceremonies dutifully and lovingly again and again; yet on this sudden day a new experience comes to us.

We understand, for example, for the first time that the Holy Child is stretching his arms from the straw, not merely to embrace the world, but to embrace our own soul in particular. We understand as we watch Jesus, bloodstained and weary, rising from his third fall, that he is asking our own very self in particular to help him with his burden. The glance of the divine eyes meets our own; there passes from him to us an emotion or a message that we had never before associated with our own relations with him.

The tiny event has happened! He has knocked at our door, and we have opened; he has called and we have answered. Henceforth, we think, he is ours and we are his. Here, at last, we tell ourselves, is the Friend for whom we have been looking so long: here is the Soul that perfectly understands our own; the one Personality which we can safely allow to dominate our own. Jesus Christ has leapt forward two thousand years, and is standing by our side; he has come down from the painting on the wall; he has risen from the straw in the manger — my Beloved is mine and I am his. . .

II. Now begins its process

The essence of a perfect friendship is that each friend reveals himself utterly to the other, flings aside his reserves, and shows himself for what he truly is.

The first step therefore in the Divine Friendship is the revelation by Jesus of himself. Up to this point in our spiritual life, however conscientious or dutiful that life may have been, there has been a predominant element of unreality.

It is true that we have obeyed, that we have striven to avoid sin, that we have received grace, forfeited it and recovered it, that we have acquired merit or lost it, that we have tried to do our duty, endeavoured to aspire and to love. All this is real, before God. But it has not been real to ourselves.

We have said prayers? Yes. But we have scarcely prayed. We have meditated — set the points before us, reflected, resolved and concluded — but the watch has been laid open before us to mark our progress, lest we should meditate too long.

But after this new and marvellous experience, all is changed. Jesus Christ begins to exhibit to us not merely the perfections of his past, but the glories of his presence. He begins to live before our eyes; he tears from himself the conventions with which our imaginations have clothed him; he lives, moves, speaks, acts, turns this way and that before our eyes. He begins to reveal secret after secret hidden in his own humanity.

We have known facts about him all our life; we have repeated the Catholic creed; we have assimilated all that theology can tell us. Now, however, we pass from knowledge about him, to knowledge of him. We begin to understand that “this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (Jn 17:3) Our God is becoming our Friend.

On the other side he demands from us what he himself offers. If he strips himself before our eyes, he claims that we should do the same. As our God he knows every fibre of the being which he has made; as our Saviour he knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from his obedience: but, as our Friend, he waits for us to tell him.

It is tolerably true to say that the difference between our behaviour respectively to an acquaintance and to a friend, is that in the first case we seek to conceal ourselves, to present an agreeable or a convenient image of our own character, to use language as a disguise, to use conversation as we might use counters; and in the second case that we put aside conventions and makeshifts, and seek to express ourselves as we are, and not as we would have our friend to think us to be.

This then is required of us in the Divine Friendship. Up to now our Lord has been content with very little: he has accepted a tithe of our money, an hour of our time, a few thoughts and a few emotions, paid over to him in religious intercourse and worship. He has accepted those things instead of ourselves. Henceforth he demands that all such conventions should cease; that we should be entirely open and honest with him, that we should display ourselves as we really are — that we should lay aside, in a word, all those comparatively harmless make-believes and courtesies, and be utterly real.

And it is probably true to say that in practically every instance where a soul believes itself disillusioned or disappointed with the Divine Friendship, it is not that the soul has actually betrayed the Lord or outraged him or failed to rise to his demands in other matters; but that the soul has never truly treated him as a friend at all; the soul has not been courageous enough to comply with that absolutely necessary condition of all true friendship, namely, a complete and sincere straightforwardness with him.

It is far less injurious to friendship to say outright, “I cannot do this thing that is asked of me, because I am a coward,” than to find excellent reasons for not doing it.

III. The myriad course

Roughly speaking, then, this is the course which the Divine Friendship must take. We must consider later in detail the various events and incidents that characterize it. For it is an immense consolation to remember that there is not one such incident that has not been experienced by other souls before us. The Way of Divine Love has been trodden and retrodden already a thousand times. And it is useful, too, to reflect, before going further, that since this Friendship is one between two human souls, it will follow in a great degree the regular lines of all other friendships.

There are moments in it of bewildering bliss, at communion or in prayer — moments when it appears (as indeed it is) to be the one supreme experience of life; moments when the whole being is shaken and transfused with love, when the Sacred Heart is no longer merely an object for adoration, but a pulsating thing that beats against our own; when the Bridegroom’s arms are about us, and his kiss on our lips. . . .

There are periods too of tranquillity and steady warmth, of an affection at once strong and reasonable, of an esteem and an admiration satisfying to the will and the intellect, as well as to the sensitive or emotional parts of our nature.

And there are periods, too — months or years — of misery and dryness: times at which it seems as if we actually needed patience with our divine friend; cases in which he appears to treat us with coldness or disdain. There will actually be moments in which it needs all the loyalty we have not to cast him off as fickle and deceptive. There will be misunderstandings, darknesses, obscurities.

Yet, as time passes, and as we emerge through these crises one by one, we come more and more to verify that conviction with which we first embraced our Friend. For this is indeed the one Friendship in which final disappointment is impossible; and he the one Friend who cannot fail. This is the one Friendship for whose sake we cannot humiliate ourselves too much, cannot expose ourselves too much, cannot give too intimate confidences or offer too great sacrifices.

It is in the cause of this one Friend only, and of his Friendship, that the words of one of his intimates are completely justified:

“I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)

False doctrine is toxic bread

False doctrine is toxic bread

On Tuesday, Ballarat’s Courier published an article about St Columba’s Parish in Ballarat North.

Hundreds of parishioners were surveyed. Almost half had no objection to homosexual behaviour and supported gay marriage. An overwhelming majority supported IVF and favoured divorce and remarriage without annulment.

I bet this article resonates with every one of us. We all struggle with the “hard sayings” of Christ and his Church. That’s why they’re called “hard sayings.” The parable of the wheat and the darnel addresses this.

Darnel is a common weed in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even the farmer’s practiced eye cannot distinguish it until the stalks begin to mature. Darnel is toxic to humans, and if mixed with wheat flour, it will ruin bread.

Many Church Fathers understand the darnel to be a metaphor for false doctrine, which is not easy to distinguish from the truth, especially at the beginning. But when error is allowed to flourish, it has catastrophic effects on the people of God.

We can see how relevant this parable is today. While Christians have slept, the enemy has sown bad seed with impunity. There’s practically no truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn’t been undermined.

The Courier quoted a parish spokesman, whose words are a good mix of wheat and darnel. Consider this quote from the article:

I’ve always found the Catholic Church to be a rather broad umbrella in which a multitude of views are contained. It seems to me that some non-Catholic commentators see Catholics as unthinking automatons, blindly following decrees from the top. I don’t think it’s ever been like that, to be honest. People have always made up their own minds, and continue to do so.

The Church is a broad umbrella. Catholic means, “here comes everybody.” And Catholics can’t be unthinking automatons. Blind servility offends God. He gave us reason, and He gave us freedom, and we honour God when we exercise these gifts.

But, as Catholics we are also obliged to assent to our Lord’s teachings, and the teachings of his Church. St Peter is our model in this. When Jesus insisted we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life, many of his disciples left him. It was a moment of crisis in our Lord’s public ministry.

He turned to the apostles, who were probably as bewildered as everyone else. Maybe even scandalised. “What about you?” he said to them. “Do you want to go away too?”

Peter spoke for the Twelve. He speaks for us too. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is our model of assent. Blind servility, no. Humble faith, yes. When we struggle with one teaching or another, we can’t accept it without thinking, but nor are we free to discard it. We must grapple with it. Pray with it. Ask for Peter’s faith.

Here’s something else the parishioner said:

A lot of people, as we become more educated, are accepting of the modern realities of life. It’s not enough to say “you’ve done this wrong and we don’t agree.” It’s about how we continue to include people who are part of our family or part of the Church … not cutting them off because of their sexuality or decisions.

How true. Isn’t that the crux of our Lord’s parable?

When you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest.

Even while we insist on the truth of our faith, and reject false doctrine, we never write people off, or abandon relationships. We must keep open the channels of grace. It’s not our task to weed out the darnel. Occasionally, it is the task of the Church to “isolate” parts of the crop.

Pope Francis did this last year, when he excommunicated an Australian priest who defiantly celebrated public Mass when his faculties were withdrawn, and repeatedly endorsed gay marriage and the ordination of women. He isolated another part of the crop last month, when he declared members of the mafia were excommunicated.

Excommunication isn’t a nice business, but this act of quarantine takes seriously the second part of today’s Gospel:

At harvest time I shall say to the reapers: ‘First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.’

Darnel ruins bread and false doctrine ruins souls, so we must be judicious. Where is the darnel in my own heart and mind?

Praying for priestly vocations

In his Message for the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis explains the rationale of Good Shepherd Sunday.

The Gospel tells us that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages… When he saw the crowds, he was moved with pity, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. So he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’”

These words surprise us, because every farmer knows that it is necessary first to plow and sow and cultivate. There is a lot of work before an abundant harvest. But Jesus says instead, “the harvest is plentiful.” So who did the work to bring about these results? There is only one answer: God.

Therefore, when we pray for priests and priestly vocations, we’re really praying for God’s kingdom: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Moreover, I think our Lord wants us to pray for holy priests. A priest who isn’t striving to be holy does great damage to the Church. That’s not just true of priests who do evil. It’s also true of priests who settle for mediocrity. To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to pray for holy priests.

Always winter, never Christmas

Always winter, never Christmas

I was nine years old when I read C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I can still remember the dread which these words carried:

“I’m crying because I’m such a bad Faun,” sobbed Mr Tumnus. “I’m in the pay of the White Witch.”

“The White Witch? Who is she?”

“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter, and never Christmas; think of that!”

Always winter and never Christmas! I did think of that, with all the horror a nine-year-old can conjure. Even now, the idea stops me in my tracks (which is admittedly odd, considering our antipodean winters are always Christmas-free).

Perhaps Pope Francis was channelling C. S. Lewis when he recently declared, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Lent without Easter. There’s another idea which must fill children with dread!

It’s no coincidence that Lent is forty days, and Easter is fifty. That’s forty days of fasting, followed by fifty days of feasting.

To feast is to welcome and approve the luxury of excess. We eat and drink too much; we laugh too much; we even sing too much. Feasting does not frown on excess. It embraces excess with intemperate merriment.

Feasting and excess are closely linked to joy. Joy is never temperate. That’s an oxymoron. It’s always and everywhere excessive, and it’s necessary to connect with the transcendent. We need festivals, festivities and feasts, because we need to express our joy — and our gratitude — for life and love.

Feasting is something Christians should heartily endorse, but maybe there’s a secret Puritan lurking in each of us. The Puritans foreshadowed Narnia’s White Witch by outlawing the feast of Christmas first in England and later in the American colonies. Christians have since re-claimed the feast and the practice of feasting, but the spectacle of modern-day excess might undermine that progress.

The unprecedented prosperity of the modern world lends itself to excess, and the consumer economy depends on it. Consumerism exploits the poor and diminishes the spiritual life, so it’s clearly incompatible with the Christian worldview. But there’s a danger that in rejecting consumer excess, we reject feasting too.

Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century German philosopher, proposed in Leisure: the Basis of Culture that feasting and excess are essential to Christian worship. Moreover, he argued that Christian puritanism only feeds consumerism. If we have no time to give thanks for what we have and who we are, we become engrossed with acquiring more and joining the rat race. “Cut off from worship of the divine,” he warns, “leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do something purely for the joy of it? That’s the essence of feasting, and it’s what we’re called to do in Easter.

Many Christians observe the forty days of Lent by “giving something up.” Small acts of self-denial can unite us with Christ on the cross, and help us to foster detachment.

It’s not implausible to observe the fifty days of Easter by “taking something up.” Something which puts a smile on our face. It might be as simple as deliberately indulging at a café or pub with a friend, or taking the family to the cinema.

The excess of feasting can express the joy of faith, which can in turn help us to attract others to Christ. And feasting reminds us that there is more to life than work, and more to love than pleasure.

The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed.

(H/T Christina Kennedy.)

Prayer saves lives

Prayer saves lives

There was a time, many years ago, when I thought the best place for pro-life prayer vigils was before the Tabernacle. To pray outside an abortion clinic, I thought, was too provocative. And too earth-bound. Didn’t our Lord tell us to pray in our rooms, not in the marketplace?

I have since heard many conversion stories which have changed my mind. To pray before the Blessed Sacrament is of course invaluable, but the power of prayerful witness in a person’s hour of need is also compelling. Some pro-life friends in America have just sent me another good news story.

I just got this text a couple hours ago. I was jumping up and down and shouting Hallelujah! Jake was looking at me like I was weird.  I tried to remember everyone who was there praying along with a few pro life hearts that I know will rejoice with us.

In case any of you don’t know the story, this couple was brought down from South Dakota by the girl’s mother for an abortion. They came over to talk to us when we called out to them. It was clear the father didn’t want the abortion. The girl was undecided but her mother was pressuring her because she is still in high school and had a bright future. The mother thought it would ruin her future and the family was struggling financially.

It seemed clear that the parents didn’t want to abort. They answered in the affirmative when I asked right out if they wanted to keep the baby. I asked if I went up to them if I could get a hug and pray with them. The girls face went from looking beat up to a huge grin. I got their phone number so I could follow up. As I was holding their hands praying with them the mother was all the while holding Planned Parenthood’s door open screaming for them to get their butts inside.

After they went in it looked like we might have lost the battle. We were storming heaven for probably 30-40 minutes refusing to be handed a defeat. Suddenly Pastor Randy Rivers said “Hey … they just left. The Lord told me to stand right here.” (Where he had a clear view down the sidewalk.)

We no sooner moved to where the Lord told us to stand and we saw the three of them come out the door. They went and got in their car and just left.

We have been in contact with them and told them Pastor Chuck’s church would pitch in to help out with the baby expenses. We connected them with a pregnancy center pretty close by. I assume that is where the  ultrasound was taken.

I1399296073

Along with the picture Janelle texted this:

20 Wks today. Its a girl! Yay!!  Thank you!  You guys changed my life for the better and Im so glad she’s going to be here in our lives. Just to hear the heart beat and see and feel her moving is awesome…Thank you again.

Meanwhile, a recent news story claiming that pro-life counselling centres had indulged in dishonest online advertising, and Google had banned them, has been exposed as a hoax. I’m glad I ignored repeated requests last week to sign a petition condemning Google and blog about the issue. Facts are important, but they’re easily obscured in the immediate aftermath of breaking news.

It always pays to wait. Especially on the web!