Jeremiah 6:16

Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye on the ways, and see and ask for the old paths which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls.



I was here. Last night. Steubenville High School.

The heckler was NOT a Franciscan University student, nor was he affilliated with us in any way, shape or form.

But Billy still bit it when he answered.


Jesus of Nazareth - Chapter 2

The third installment of my reflections of Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth.

The Temptations of Jesus

The Temptations of Christ immediately follow His commissioning and anointing as the Messiah whom had been prophesied for Israel. Christ received the Holy Ghost immediately after His Baptism; this gift strengthened Jesus for the trials that He would endure proximately.

The Holy Ghost first commands Jesus to the desert that he might be tempted by the devil. This is very important; Christ becomes man so that he might share our human sufferings, he is baptized as a sign of His empathy with our sinfulness, and decent into the deep only to rise out again, and now the devil tempts Him with the pleasures and glories of this world, an experience that we all face daily. Jesus here, more fully enters into the “drama of human existence” through his desert trials “so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest” who, though without sin, has experienced the pain of temptation. The Holy Father points out the reflective nature and Edenic imagery of Christ’s journey into the desert. He takes care to point out that the angels ministered to Christ and He was with the wild beasts [in harmony]; all of this being of the original state of things in the Garden. It is here that Benedict brilliantly says, “Creation, torn asunder by strife, once more becomes the dwelling place of peace.”

Christ was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread, presumably not simply for him but for the whole world. He however rejects this challenge, asserting that [earthly] bread is not sufficient for man, but that more is required, namely the Word of God; Himself. Next He is told that were He to cast himself down from a precipice that the angels would bear Him up, but again he rejects this and offers that one should not test the LORD but instead rely on Him. The devil’s final offer for Jesus is that of world domination if He would only bow to Satan. Christ again, successfully counters that God alone is worthy of worship and adoration.

These three temptations are an explicit enumeration of the temptations that man faces implicitly in every day of his life. To “turn stones to bread,” as the Pope points out, would be to provide earthly food for the world, but to reject that anything else is necessary, being God. His Holiness analyzes the modern world’s attempts to provide earthly bread for the world but providing nothing further, or anything of deeper significance. However, it is Jesus’ rightful role to provide for His people, both physically and spiritually. He does this for the 5,000 and most especially at the Last Supper, providing food eternal for His people.

Equally, Benedict points out that, as Christ was tempted by the devil to demand a sign from God whereby God’s angels protect Him from a fall; Jesus rejects this as blasphemous. He quotes Scripture right back saying that one must not tempt God. His Holiness explains that our scientific approach to the world imposes “arrogance” and “laboratory conditions” on God and by this, God cannot be found. Jesus recognizes this and refuses the devil, only to leap later in life into the abyss of hell in order to save souls.

Finally, the devil asks Jesus to prostrate before him, and in return, the kingdoms of the world would be Jesus’; the authority and power would rest on His shoulders alone. Jesus rejects this as well, saying that only God can be worshiped, and power flows from Him alone. Again, we see Jesus’ reception of these gifts anyways later when on the mountain He declares that all authority has been given Him.

Jesus’ threefold temptation and threefold rejection of the devil is a rejection of personal glory, and instead a directive to look to God. In His coming, he brings us God and allows us to live in Him. Christ receives all the things, which were offered him by the devil, and more; however he receives these through humility and obedience to God’s Will.


Ash Wednesday

Hear O' Man! Turn from thy sins and cling to the Gospel, for remember that thou art dust and unto dust shalt thou return.

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

Today is Ash Wednesday. The day on which we begin the Liturgical Season of Lent. Today is (edit:) NOT an Holy Day of Obligation though it is a day of Fasting and Abstinence for all in the Church between 14 and 65, barring any infirmity.

Our society can be described as post-Christian. While we maintain the external shell of Christianity, the inner meaning has shriveled. A common example is Christmas. It is a commercial holiday, even a celebration of "life" and "goodwill," but the startling notion that the Creator of the universe took human flesh is no longer the focus. We see another example of post Christianity this week. Celebrations of marti-gras or Carnival (from the Latin carne-meat, vale-farewell) have expanded, (fat-Tuesday pun provided at no extra charge) but their connections to today, Ash Wednesday, have become vague.

The exuberance of carnival originated as a counterweight to the austerity of Lent. It pointed to something beyond haec lacrimarum valle, "this valley of tears," namely Easter, the Resurrection itself. It is important not to lose sight of that as we receive the cross of ashes on our foreheads to inaugurate these forty days of preparation.

As a help to understanding the true character of Lent, read these two sentences from Bishop St. Augustine. In his Tract on the First Letter of John he states:

The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise
of holy desire. You do not see what you long for, but the
very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you
may see and be utterly satisfied.

Lent ought be understood as an exercise of holy desire. Augustine points out what has become a willful blindness. We tend to fill our days with three things: work, solving problems and diversions. For most of us we work and try to solve problems (like staying healthy or cars breaking down) in order to have more time to spend on our diversions: reading, vacations, friends, meals, sports, games, TV, etc. None of those things are intrinsically bad, but become disordered when they keep us from seeking for what our souls truly long.

Lent is a time to put aside some of those diversions and get in touch with our true desire. Jesus sets out the program in the Gospel today. Before going into detail, let's clear up an unfortunate misunderstanding. More-recently, some people have concluded, especially since the sixties and seventies, that because Jesus criticized the way the Pharisee's fasted, he was down-playing fasting itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus assumed that his disciples would fast and up until very recent times, all Christians have understood - and acted upon - that assumption.

Fasting says "no" to the most obvious diversions in our lives. It is a paradigm (what a great word) for all other Christian discipline, denying ourselves some immediate gratification for the sake of a greater future good. This practice, in itself is abhorrent in modern culture, as today's society sees no need for any kind-of delay of anything. It is interesting that while in general we have given up the practice of fasting, almost everyone today is on some kind-of diet. Even people who are the object of resentment because they can "eat anything" and don't gain weight, unlike myself, "watch certain foods." This is not called fasting but a diet. What else is fasting, save a diet with deeper spiritual reasoning?

In this regard the discipline of Lent can be a tremendous help. Today and Good Friday are official days of fast and the other six Fridays are days of abstinence from meat. Even though this is a quite minimal requirement, I have had people ask me whether they can get a dispensation because they are attending some party of other social thing. Obviously a dispensation is out of the question because this is exactly the point of the abstinence law--to give a witness to others and to your own self. It is not such a hard requirement, is it really?

Fasting helps to expose some of our false desires. Hopefully it can help us turn to the other two penitential practices of Lent: prayer and almsgiving. This Lent, spend an hour with me a week in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. I'm going to try and make it every Monday from 11am-12pm. If you can't make it this time, spend another, but let's join our prayers together and ask for God's Will in our lives, and ask for Him to cleanse us from all our unhealthy practices and desires. And, in addition to that, join me in asking for God's forgiveness every week in the sacrament of Penance. If you think you don't need to go, remember that our Pope goes to confession once a week. If he sins enough to confess, so do you.

Let me conclude with his description of the cleansing necessary for the exercise of holy desire:

This exercise will be effective only to the extent we free
ourselves from desires leading to infatuation with this
world. Let me return to the example I have already used, of
filling an empty container. God means to fill each of you
with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to
fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is
the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents
and then be cleansed.

Welcome to Lent, brother and sisters. May it be a time of emptying and cleansing--to discover our heart's true desire.

A Little History

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.

Why we receive the ashes
Following the example of the Nine vites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told

"Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.

The Ashes
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are sprinkled with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.



On Church and State

Your faithful blogger was asked to comment on Eques Quod Scripsit's blog on his post The Church can not be an instrument of the State: The Conversation Continues. Here's my response, but definitely go read the original postings. We've got Eques from Eques Quod Scripsit, Tim from Thalsesian Fools and Jose from... Jose.

The framers of our Constitution had no concept of the Separation of Church and State as it is understood today; infact as a side note, it's such a permeating ideology that the majority of Americans think it's some statute or Amendment. However, on the contrary, the Government has no right whatsoever to infringe on the just practice of religion. The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states that Congress shall make no law which establishes a religion, either from scratch, or as being higher than another, and that the Government shall not make any law abridging the free exercise of any religion.

If this is not enough, any corporation could not and would not hire an employee which shared the values, ideals and goals of the company itself. If an employee were to be hired and then, whether by action or omission of action, to undermine the mission of a corporation and to bring about the failure, humiliation, and destruction thereof, that would be grounds for termination. If this were known before the hire occurred, why would the applicant even be hired? As long as a Corporation does not infringe on the rights of others (please see Tim's argument on murder, evasion, bribery and aiding and abetting known fugitives, which are all against various other laws and statutes of long-established jurisprudence) while protecting it's own viability and interests, this corporation is free to continue to operate as such. As a person does not have the intrinsic right to work in a particular institution (as opposed to a person's rights to life, liberty, speedy trial-by-jury and basic human Justice), and that core-beliefs can be valid reasons for incompatibility in a workplace, the hiring and firing based upon ideologies can not be prohibited.

Now, on the question of the Church becoming an arm of the State... Simply because a laboratory receives Government funding, does not make it a Government laboratory, simply that the Government acknowledges that it's intended research is worthy. The same could be true of the Church's charities. It is when the Government begins to regulate these Churches and charities, restricting how they can operate that the relationship becomes perverse; this is painfully evident in the forced-closure of the Archdiocese of Boston's Adoption Services when it was mandated to allow non-traditional (read: homosexual) couples to adopt. This went firmly against the history, Teachings and Traditions of the Catholic Church as a faith-system and as a charitable organization. The State does not have the mandate, nor the authority to contravene the just-exercise of Religion wherein the rights and privileges of individuals are not violated.

Neither a married couple nor a homosexual couple has the right to adopt, no more than do they have the right to stand in my living-room uninvited (baring some dire need superseding my right to personal property). The adoption process is to benefit the child more than the adopting couple; this couple having gone through rigorous screening processes to determine whether or not is it a suitable match, based upon the understandings and prejudices of the adoption agency. To enforce particular standard of suitability is socialist at best, tyrannical at worst. Getting married within a Catholic Church, you publicly vow that you will be open to children, and you will bring them up Catholic. Why would you get married in a Catholic Church if you didn't feel that you could uphold this standard of behaviour? By the same token, insofar as the Catholic Church believes that homosexual action is a moral evil, and that homosexual unions are a perversion of traditional family values, why would the Church be forced to perform ceremonies, "marriages" if it were against the grained teaching of the Church? Therefore, why would the Church be forced to condone such "behaviour/lifestyle choice/orientation et al." by granting adoption privileges to such a couple?

Moving on. The Boy Scouts of America is a non-governmental organization which receives Government funding. The mission is wholesome and "American." However, the BSA forbids homosexuals from being in leadership positions, and infact from being even in the ranks of its members. The mission of the BSA is a worthy mission, one which the Government finds appropriate and deserving of financial assistance. Ought the Government pull funding, or demand "equal rights" for membership applications? But I digress... Eagle Scouts of the BSA are mandated-reporters in the same respect as priests/bishops/doctors/teachers. While this is a noble title, endeavouring to protect the youth, for a religious institution which founds itself on forgiveness and recovery such as the Church, this is a dangerous concept. The requisite reporting of any allegation or even slight issue would render these two essential, core beliefs null, as modern society does not act within "innocent until proven guilty," no it acts more on "guilty even if proven innocent."

There are flaws in our Government. There are flaws in our Church members and leaders. Let's not multiply these flaws by combining them.