Thursday, September 21, 2017

Saints of suffering and genius: Bl. Herman and St. Pacificus

Saints of suffering and genius: Bl. Herman and St. Pacificus

These two holy men with great physical challenges stand as powerful witnesses to the truth that every life has dignity.

We live in a society that looks at suffering and disabilities as curses, circumstances to be avoided at all costs. If an unborn baby is imperfect, she should be aborted. If an adult becomes infirm, he should be able to end his own life. In the name of compassion, we eliminate the flawed and congratulate ourselves on being good enough.

The Church stands strongly in opposition to this inclination, fighting for the unborn, the elderly, and the handicapped, for their dignity and their very lives. People with disabilities have something to offer the world, not only when they happen to have some particular talent. Human beings are a gift simply because they exist.

This week, Mother Church offers us two saints with disabilities to contemplate. September 25 is the feast of Blessed Herman of Reichenau (also called Blessed Herman the Cripple). Blessed Herman was born in the 11th century with cerebral palsy and a cleft palate. He also suffered from spina bifida or spinal muscular atrophy, all of which combined to make moving and even speaking very difficult for him.

By all worldly measures, Herman was a burden. He could contribute nothing to his noble family and caring for him was extremely difficult. Then as now, however, the Church valued every life. Herman was entrusted to a Benedictine monastery when he was seven, there to be cared for in obscurity.

But Herman was no ordinary man. He was a genius. Though his body was weak, making both speaking and writing a terrible chore, his mind was brilliant beyond all telling. As the monks began to care for him, they realized that his disability was only a small obstacle between Herman and greatness.

Herman’s education began, but soon he outstripped his tutors. He was a musicologist, an astronomer, and a mathematician. As a historian, he wrote a detailed history of the Western world in the first millennium after Christ. He read Arabic, Greek, and Latin. He wrote theology and poetry. He built musical instruments and astronomical equipment. He was called “The Wonder of His Age,” and all this before turning 40! Towards the end of his short life, Bl. Herman went blind. No longer able to study as he had, he turned his unparalleled mind to composition, writing the Salve Regina and the Alma Redemptoris Mater before dying at age 40.

Saint Pacificus of San Severino (1653-1721), on the other hand, lived a golden life. Born into a noble family, his body was perfect and his mind along with it. He entered the Franciscan order and became a priest and a professor of philosophy.
Respected as he was, Fr. Pacificus was well aware that his salvation wouldn’t come from learning or the esteem of the world. His task was the salvation of souls, and he begged to be sent out as a preacher, encountering sinners in their struggles and leading them back to the embrace of Christ. For five years he wandered the Italian countryside preaching, until his feet began to develop crippling, untreatable sores.
Pacificus accepted this cross, giving up his successful preaching ministry to sit for hours each day in the confessional. There, too, he was useful. But Pacificus’ goodness didn’t lie in his usefulness, and as his disease progressed God was teaching him (and us) just that.

Next, Pacificus lost his hearing. Sign language was very limited at the time but he got by with crude gestures. Still, Fr. Pacificus submitted, rejoicing to carry the Cross with Christ in some small way.

He could no longer teach or preach or hear confessions, but he could still celebrate Mass. Until his sight, too, was taken. The great orator was now blind, deaf, and crippled. And in this lay his great gift to the world. He was holy in his usefulness, but he became a saint not by accomplishing but by being. Pacificus suffered joyfully, even when abused by his nurse. His peaceful acceptance of God’s will so conformed him to the heart of Christ that he experienced ecstasies and was eventually elected superior of his community, his holiness being far more important than his worldly abilities. For nearly 30 years, he lived in pain and isolation, dying at age 68 on September 24, which became his feast day.

Blessed Herman and Saint Pacificus stand as powerful w
itnesses to the truth that every life has dignity. Blessed Herman was counted useless but offered great gifts of beauty, truth, and goodness to the world. Saint Pacificus became useless in the eyes of the world so that God could show what a gift his life was. Let’s ask their intercession for all people with disabilities, for all who suffer from chronic pain, and for our culture, that it may once again become a culture of life. Blessed Herman of Reichenau and Saint Pacificus of San Severino, pray for us!

Fifty years after St. Pacificus’ death, Charles Michel de l’Épée, a French Catholic priest, created the first systematic sign language and became known as the “Father of the Deaf.”

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Role for Government that Nobody Thinks About--REDUCE GOVERNMENT TAXATION

A Role for Government that Nobody Thinks About

A few years ago, as Obamacare was being put in place, Republican governor John Kasich of Ohio suggested that the Christian obligation to assist the poor was a reason for expanding Medicaid in the state. Catholic social teaching does indeed make clear that the state has a role in assisting the needy, but only—in line with the principle of subsidiarity—when there is no other way it can be done. Is that the case with providing access to health care?

Subsidiarity is hardly just a sectarian principle. Even though hardly an American politician ever mentions it, it is a basic principle of social ethics—part of the natural law. As Pope Pius XI famously stated it in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, it is at the same time “an injustice,” “a grave evil” and “a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by lesser and subordinate bodies” (#79). In other words, when something can be done in the private realm—starting with the family and also including private associations, whether for-profit or non-profit—it is a moral imperative that it be done there. It is only when the evidence shows that something is truly needed in the first place and that it cannot be done privately that it is justified bringing it into the governmental realm. If so justified, it must then be shown that it cannot be done at the governmental levels closest to the people before it can go to the higher and more distant levels. In other words, while there is a moral obligation to assist the needy, it can be immoral if it’s done in a way that involves government when it’s not necessary.

It’s also not just a question of morality, but of practicality. When the attempt is made to do all sorts of things from the center, they can’t be done adequately or efficiently. As I’m fond of telling my students, it’s a good thing that the federal government isn’t in charge of trash collection in communities all over the country because it probably wouldn’t get done. In the encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope St. John Paul II ran down a whole list of the troublesome results of the welfare state: the loss of human initiative, massive increases in public spending, and less concern with those being served than with “bureaucratic ways” (#48). In Europe we now witness national economies being crippled because of bloated public social welfare spending and a host of problems—including terrorism—resulting from easy immigration motivated in part by trying to get more people to tax to sustain the welfare states.

It’s curious that such a prominent American liberal intellectual as Alan Wolfe in his book The Future of Liberalism would say that it’s better for the needy to be taken care of by a government bureaucracy than private charitable organizations, which he says would be kind of “groveling.” He should have consulted John Paul before saying that and, for that matter, just observed how government bureaucracies treat people—with the additional fact that they have the full force of law to club people with. He might also have noted how when the elderly have turned to Medicaid for nursing home assistance, the state readily seizes any lingering assets they may have upon their deaths. Perish the thought of even any tidbits going to their offspring. Could anyone envision a private charity doing that?

The massive increases in public spending that John Paul alluded to raise a related problem that also has moral implications: the high taxation needed to sustain it. Pope Leo XIII’s admonition in the encyclical Rerum Novarum should be remembered: the state acts unjustly when it takes “more than is fair” from its citizens by taxation, as it is an indirect violation of the right of private property (#47). So, excessive taxation can be immoral. One of the criticisms of Medicaid expansion in Ohio and other states occasioned by Obamacare is the many millions it will add to state budgets—which is likely to mean, sooner or later, higher taxes. Those higher taxes won’t come just from the super-wealthy, of course, but will reach into the working and lower middle classes and will be an additional strain on them.

Do the facts show that aiding the needy on matters like health care mainly requires government? The members of Congress apparently thought that when they enacted Medicaid during LBJ’s Great Society. They simply made that assumption, probably without doing—or even wanting to do—much research about it. As historian Allen J. Matusow has written, however, there is no evidence that since its establishment Medicaid has provided either more access to health care or a better quality of care for the poor than the previous charitable care did. Following from what his predecessor said, Pope Benedict XVI in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate made clear that it is in no way inevitable that centralized, bureaucratic structures are needed to provide social services and assistance. He called on nations to develop a “more devolved and organic system” (#60).
Almost certainly, this especially refers to the non-profit sector—like the old charity-provided health care that Matusow speaks of—but perhaps to some extent even the for-profit sector, since Benedict says the distinctions have blurred in some ways as even certain for-profits now address some social welfare needs (#46). It’s worth noting that one of the consequences of the expansion of government’s social welfare role has been to weaken the non-profit, charitable sector or make even it increasingly dependent on government.
Actually, there is no danger that the poor would not get badly needed care from medical institutions even in the complete absence of Medicaid, since they are required by law to provide it. Many health care institutions don’t even need such legal prodding, however. They have arrangements to reduce the cost of care based on income.

In light of the history of successful charitable care in the U.S., one wonders if instead of proposing the expansion of Medicaid in their states, governors should seek to change state law and use the prestige, persuasive power, and even bully pulpit of their executive offices to encourage the reinvigoration and expansion of non-profit health care institutions and various efforts at charitable care. For that matter, the president ought to push in similar ways for this nationally and by encouraging legislative action to make it more possible. As charitable care would be strengthened and show people anew what it did before the era of Medicaid, Medicaid could actually be gradually wound down and, ultimately, retained only in the health care areas where government involvement is clearly needed.

It is problematical to suggest, as Governor Kasich does about health care, that the Christian obligation to assist the needy should be carried out via government programs. While, to be sure, government is sometimes needed and the obligation may in some cases be one of justice more than charity, to dismiss charity entirely from the picture makes it all seem like a redistribution-of-income scheme. It is hard for people to think they are carrying out a moral obligation to assist others when government gives them no choice and just forces them to pay up through the tax system. The case can certainly be made that, besides helping to avoid the pitfalls spoken of here, charitable institutions are both more effective than government in addressing human needs and—the Alan Wolfes notwithstanding—better at respecting and having concern for the individual than, as Pope John Paul recognized in mentioning “bureaucratic ways,” a distant, impersonal bureaucracy.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is St. Camillo de Lellis saving the sick of the Hospital of the Holy Spirit Sassia during the flooding of the Tiber of 1598, painted by Pierre Hubert Subleyras, c. 1746. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Poverty Is Not What You Think It Is

Poverty Is Not What You Think It Is

Poverty fell off a cliff after the Second World War. It fell like a stone, including for American blacks. The economy was booming and everyone benefited. The poverty rate dropped from 35 percent in 1950 to less than 20 percent when President Lyndon Johnson, nonetheless, announced his War on Poverty.
By the time the War on Poverty kicked into gear in 1967, the poverty rate had fallen to 14 percent. After the implementation of the War on Poverty, poverty eradication ground to a halt. While it has ticked up and down a few points since that time, today it stands roughly where it stood back in 1967.

The War on Poverty has been witheringly expensive. From 1967 to today we have spent 22 trillion in 2012 dollars on poverty relief. Today the U.S. government runs more than eighty means-tested welfare programs, including cash, food, housing, medical care, and other social services. A whopping hundred million Americans get some kind of aid. That is a third of the population.

Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector says, “Adjusted for inflation, this spending (which does not include Social Security or Medicare) is three times the cost of all military wars in US history since the American revolution.” You could say that the War on Poverty has been the least successful and the most expensive war in our history.

What has happened is that we have created what seems to be a permanent underclass and destroyed the main engine of poverty relief, the family.
We are told by the political left in the Church that our adherence to Catholic Social Teaching is tied directly to our support for more federal and state tax dollars thrown at poverty relief. It is always more, never less, no matter how ineffective or even harmful those dollars may be.

How could it be that after such massive government spending we are at the same poverty level as when we started 50 years ago? Well, like in a lot of fake science, there is a bit of a shell game going on. For one, when calculating poverty, the federal government excludes almost all government benefits from the calculation.
In 2014 the New York Times reported the situation of one Anthony Goytia, a Southern California Wal-Mart night-shift worker who said he was reliant on payday loans to pay his bills. The Times reported he was a father of four making “about $16,000 a year.” What the Times did not report is the amount of federal and state benefits he and his family received. He would certainly qualify for assistance, but such benefits are not mentioned. They never are.

Using Department of Labor statistics, Robert Rector of Heritage calculates that “poor families spend $2.40 for every $1.00 of their reported income. If public housing benefits are added to the tally, the ratio of consumption to income rose to $2.60 for every $1.00. In other words, the ‘income’ figures that the Census uses to calculate poverty dramatically undercounts the economic resources available to lower income households.”

So just how poor are America’s poor? Many live lives the middle class of only a few years ago would envy.

In 1967 only 12 percent of all households owned an air-conditioner. Today, 80 percent own one. According to the U.S. Census almost 75 percent of poor households own a car or truck. Thirty percent own more than one. Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television. Keep in mind how expensive cable is: upwards of $150 per month. Forty percent own a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV. Fifty percent own a personal computer. Twenty-five percent own a digital recorder. Ninety-two percent own a microwave oven.

What else do the American poor own? This will surprise you, but the poor own houses. As I show in my book, Fake Science, the poverty industry wants you to believe the poor live in dire circumstances: ramshackle homes, crammed ten to a room in cold-water flats, rundown trailers at the end of Tobacco Road. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forty-two percent of poor families own their own homes, and the average home owned by a poor family has three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a garage, and patio or porch. Only 9.5 percent live in mobile homes.

This will surprise you, too. The typical poor person in America has more living space than the typical person living in every European country except Luxembourg. The square footage of the typical poor household in the United States was 1,400 feet in 2005. The non-poor in Austria had 1,060 square feet; Denmark, 1,231 square feet; Germany, 968 square feet. Only Luxembourgers live in larger homes than poor Americans, but only 37 square feet more.

There is so much more. For instance, there is no evidence of malnutrition in America. Nutrient density (amount of vitamins, minerals, and protein per kilocalorie of food) does not vary by income class, according to Robert Rector. Low-income and middle-income people have the same high fat intake. Nutrient intake for well-off preschoolers is the same as that among poor preschoolers. The typical poor person consumes roughly the same amount of nutriment as someone from the middle class. Children below the poverty line actually eat more meat than children from the upper middle class. Poor kids consume protein well above the amount recommended by the government.

One could go on and on with how poverty is not what you think it is, not what you have been led to believe. It is as if the political left has a vested interest in clouding the issue so they can keep the money flowing, both to themselves and to poverty programs. I pointed out two weeks ago that the Feeding America CEO brings in $2 billion a year by scaring folks that starvation stalks our land. He also makes $650,000 per year for himself.

All of this would be threatened if it got out that America’s poor are not as poor as you think. As J.D. Vance explored in his memoir Hillbilly Elegy about growing up in strained circumstances, the real poverty of the poor is spiritual rather than material. Fixing that would require judgements over personal behavior, particularly drug use, alcoholism, sex, violence, and many more pathologies.
Any criticism of federal programs for the poor is met by the political left in the Church with charges of “hating the poor” and that you have committed a mortal sin for supposedly opposing the teachings of the Church. Such charges in this case would be false and defamatory. Rather, this should be read as a call for a realistic view of poverty in America. The poor deserve our love and support. 
But, in order to alleviate poverty, one must begin with a true picture, and what we have been given to believe is to a large extent fake science.

Editor’s note: In a famous photo-op, President Johnson visits the home of Tom Fletcher, father of eight in eastern Kentucky, who told LBJ that he had been out of work for two years. (Photo credit: AP)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Cure for Spiritual Cancer

Courageous Priest

Posted: 27 Jul 2017 09:22 AM PDT

By Fr. Daniel Doctor:

As a priest, one of my roles is to be a spiritual physician.  So, when those sick from sin and evil and its effects can come to the sacrament of confession, they can be relieved of them. The priest plays a vital role in our spiritual lives because he can diagnose the root cause of these spiritual illnesses that a soul can suffer from and can offer relief. As a priest in many different parishes throughout our diocese, but also looking at the America Catholic Church at large, my diagnosis as a spiritual physician is that our world, our culture, and in some cases even our Church, is suffering from a form of spiritual cancer.  This form of spiritual cancer is unlike anything we physicians have seen before.  This form of spiritual cancer metastasizes at a very fast rate and affects everything that it comes in contact with.  It even seems, at times, that no solution or remedy… that no matter the spiritual practice, penance, or acquired virtues we develop, seem to be able to weaken its hold on us or even slow its rate of growth once it takes hold.

When we look back over the great Traditions of our Catholic Church, the great craft Our Lord has given to us priests to wield brings about our own personal holiness and our neighbor’s as well.  This craft, this art, these skills which have been passed down to us by all those great saints, great spiritual physicians of old, we come to an understanding that our spiritual lives are not based on our feelings or ruled by our emotions.  As a physician, I can’t offer cures that don’t work, or just based on how I feel today. My priestly action to help Our Lord cure or relieve the sufferings of others or the effects caused by sin is based on a rational science taught for over 2000 years.  It is called the Science of the Saints and this Science offers a cure for the evils and sinfulness we see in the world and in our own lives.

According to these great Saints, the only known cure for this kind of spiritual cancer that is affecting our lives and our world is Eucharistic Adoration.  When you come before our Lord in Adoration, Our Lord’s mercy and love radiate the spiritual cancer within us (that is, the sin and evil and its harmful effects.)  And if we spend enough time in His presence, it radiates to the cellular level. As St. Paul taught “the wages of sin is death” and death is at work within those who live in sin. Our Lord, on the other hand, replaces the damage done by sin and evil at the deepest level within us, with His very presence transforming death into life.

We priests offer no other cure than the Divine Physician Himself! Who wants to penetrate our very selves at the deepest level with His most gracious and incredible Love, at the very level of our cells if you will.

Therefore, God begins to do His work in us:  healing us, transforming us, helping us to be Holy, to be like Him.  And as the cure works its course throughout us, we begin to be created anew, transformed into His very self.  The cure for all the spiritual cancers and evils in our world is Jesus Christ and His wonderful presence in the Blessed Sacrament.  Remember the words of our Lord, “Go and learn these words; I desire mercy not sacrifice,” and that Our Lord came to “call sinners not the righteous.” So, have we gone and learned the meaning of these words? Do we put them into practice? We all need Eucharistic Adoration in our lives if we ever hope to make it safely into the harbor of Heaven.
If we admit, and rightfully so, that we have sinned and are now infected or affected by those sins, we need the cure that radiates from the Heart of our Savior in the Holy Eucharist. To overcome being sick from the effects of our former way of life, we need a nurse to bring us all the way back to health. This nurse, God also provides in the healing and loving help we receive from the Mother of God, most especially from her Rosary.
You see, my brothers and sisters, the Rosary has two very important effects in those who pray it.  First, it is a formidable weapon (!!) against any further infection from sin.  It is a defense weapon against evil and its effects. Secondly, it teaches us the moral virtues, by reflecting on the mysteries.  It is an offense weapon, offering to us a sure way of attacking the sins we need to learn to overcome, so that we live in a way that we no longer commit them.

The Blessed Virgin, being both a good Mother and life-giving Nurse, not only wants us to heal and get well.  She does not wish any further or future damage to come to us. The greatest way to avoid future evil is by developing the virtues, which Mary’s Rosary gives to those who pray it.  These the spiritual strengths and grace given to us by Our Lady help or fortify us against any future evil or its effects.

That’s why I love Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  He personifies the very core of what the Science of the Saints teaches us.  At a very early age, he began sneaking out of his house very early in the morning to attend Mass. At the age of 7, he started Eucharistic Adoration giving an hour everyday and no one in his family knew.

His friends remarked of him, “you never saw him anywhere without his rosary in hand.” What an awesome thing to say of any Catholic! At the age of 14, he make his first Holy Communion and continued to received Our Lord every day until his death at the age of 24.  He once said he was so blessed that Christ came to him in Holy Communion everyday that he had to return that love in acts of charity.  When asked by his friends why he was always so happy, he responded, “How can I not be? I have Christ within me.”  When a friend retorted, “How can you be so sure?” He responded, “I receive Him everyday and he has never refused me His presence.”

As Giorgio grew older and had more control over his schedule, while he was at college studying mining engineering, he would love to spend all night in Adoration.  When asked what do you pray for he said, “I pray for all the youth of the world who are sinning” and for their conversion. At a very profound level Giorgio understood something we do not and it came to him in all those hours of Adoration, in all those countless rosaries, and bouquets of flowers he would bring to our Lady.  It was a love story and the love story was about how God came down to a soul, the soul of a little boy, and transformed him into a Saint.

Giorgio was an athlete, a world class skier and mountain climber, a social leader and a political activist of his time even getting arrested for his religious beliefs.  More than once he got into a fist fights to defend it.  He was a college student working on his advanced degrees in Engineering.  At his funeral Mass, over a thousand people from his hometown of Turin, Italy showed up.  Why?  Because of all those hours of love that he received from Our Lord and our Lady.  He could not contain it, he had to spread it around.   And so between all his social, political, and religious activities, as well as all his studies and family responsibilities, he still fed and took care of the health and physical needs of thousands of people. He would go into the poorest areas of Turin to care for their needs. Giorgio was one of the wealthiest Bachelors in all of Italy.  Yet no one knew, not his friends, not his family, all the secret works of charity and acts of devotion to Our Lord and His Mother that he performed.  But, even in all that he gave to poor, it is believed that he caught polio meningitis from them. Giorgio gave every ounce of himself to love others, even though in the end that is what killed him.

And now I think my spiritual best friend Giorgio looks at us with some pity, but with great encouragement.  As Pope Benedict said of him, “Giorgio shows us that holiness is possible for all of us.”  Why? Because what he did to become holy and a saint is something all of us can do, all of us should do:  Eucharistic Adoration most especially at night and over night and praying the Rosary. That’s it, nothing less, nothing more.  Just those two simple things, done with great love and persevering devotion directed his life and can make us saints, too.  It did it to Giorgio and it can for you, too.  Because these two devotions, more than any others, can make us holy.

Blessed Pier Giorgio was “no pie in the sky” Saint.  He was quite practical and he had a vision of how we can and must help each other.  As he said, the great gift that we Christians have is the gift of persuasion but we seldom use it. We don’t persuade others to be holy.  We rarely persuade others to Eucharistic Adoration or to pray the Rosary.  We have all these wonderful opportunities to help others become holy, if we would just persuaded them to do it.  When you take the time to read over the letters that Giorgio sent to his friends and that his friends sent to him, you can see the great influence he had on their holiness and their belief that they could become holy.  Because they could see it in him and he always encouraged and persuaded them to keep going to the top, to
keep climbing in their search to find and reach for God.

One of his closest friends once remarked, “He could convert you by making the sign of the cross.” Wow!! Simply making the sign of the cross could convert somebody!! How often we make it so sloppily and without much thought, like we are swatting flies, and all the while we could be converting somebody by our actions, by our devotions done reverently. This is what I think, and what most people, especially the youth, find so attractive about Blessed Giorgio.  He is just like us, trying to make friends, trying to get though life, trying to get though college, and all the complexities of family and friends that go with it, and reaching – trying to get to heaven. But by some great miracle, that we all seem to miss, it was simply right in front of our face… all time.

As your priest and a spiritual physician, I hope I have persuaded you to take care of your spiritual health and to visit your spiritual physician often.  Also, I hope I have given you a guide to better-improve your spiritual health. This is the power that the Communion of Saints have.  They teach us, reveal to us how to be holy, how to be friends of Christ, how to save our souls.  It is beyond words to express how important it is to read the lives of the Saints and realize what we can learn from them, beyond words to even describe the wonderful grace-filled effects that come to us from Eucharistic Adoration or praying the Rosary.  So fill your lives with them.

Monday, July 17, 2017



The Didache

“The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

The Apocalypse of Peter

“And near that place I saw another strait place . . . and there sat women. . . . And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion” (The Apocalypse of Peter 25 [A.D. 137]).


“In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).
“Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.
“There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .
“[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).
“Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does” (ibid., 27).
“The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]” (ibid., 37).

Council of Ancyra

“Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees” (canon 21 [A.D. 314]).

Basil the Great

“Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not” (First Canonical Letter, canon 2 [A.D. 374]).
“He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees” (ibid., canon 8).

John Chrysostom

“Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication. . . . Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?—where there are many efforts at abortion?—where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine” (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).


“I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother. . . . Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when, as often happens, they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder” (Letters 22:13 [A.D. 396]).

The Apostolic Constitutions

“Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. . . . [I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed” (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3 [A.D. 400]).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

St. Paul and the normalizing of homosexuality

St. Paul and the normalizing of homosexuality

ChaputIMG 9615We have the joy and privilege to be a leaven for good in society.  That's an exhilarating vocation.  It means working for as much justice and virtue in human affairs as we can.  We have a special obligation to serve the weak and the poor, and to treat even those who hate us with love.
But while we're in the world and for the world, we're never finally of the world.  And we need to understand what that means.
Writing in the mid-first century to "all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints" — and despite the dangers and frustrations he himself faced — St. Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed ..." (Rom 1:7, 16-17).
Paul's Letter to the Romans became a key text of the New Testament.  The Church has always revered it as part of the inspired Word of God and incorporated it into her thought and practice.  The books of Scripture, even when they're morally demanding, are not shackles.  They're part of God's story of love for humanity.  They're guide rails that lead us to real dignity and salvation.

That's a good thing.  Much of human history — far too much — is a record of our species' capacity for self-harm.  The Word of God is an expression of his mercy.  It helps us to become the people of integrity God created us to be.  As Paul reminds us, we're "called to be saints."
Sometimes Scripture's lessons toward that end can be hard.  But God cannot lie.  His Word always speaks the truth.  And the truth, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, makes us free.  This is why Christians must never be ashamed of God's Word — even when it's inconvenient.
In an age of sexual confusion and disorder, calls to chastity are not just unwelcome.  They're despised.  But that doesn't diminish the truth of the words Paul wrote, or their urgency for our own time.
Which brings us to the heart of my comments this week.
In Romans 1:21-27, speaking of the men and women of his time "who by their wickedness suppress the truth," Paul wrote:

"... for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools…. 

"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.  Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error."

If reading that passage makes us uneasy, it should.  Many of Paul's Roman listeners had the same response.  Jesus didn't come to affirm us in our sins and destructive behaviors — whatever they might be — but to redeem us.  Paul's message was as resented in some quarters then as it is now.  In an age of sexual confusion and disorder, calls to chastity are not just unwelcome.  They're despised.  But that doesn't diminish the truth of the words Paul wrote, or their urgency for our own time.

What we do with our bodies matters.  Sex is linked intimately to human identity and purpose.  If our lives have no higher meaning than what we invent for ourselves, then sex is just another kind of modeling clay.  We can shape it any way we please.  But if our lives do have a higher purpose — and as Christians, we find that purpose in the Word of God — then so does our sexuality.
Acting in ways that violate that purpose becomes a form of self-abuse; and not just self-abuse, but a source of confusion and suffering for the wider culture.  The fact that an individual's body might incline him or her to one sort of damaging sexual behavior, or to another very different sort, doesn't change this.
This can be a difficult teaching.  It's easy to see why so many people try to finesse or soften or ignore Paul's words.  In a culture of conflict, accommodation is always the least painful path.  But it leads nowhere.  It inspires no one.  "Fitting in" to a society of deeply dysfunctional sexuality results in the ruin that we see in so many other dying Christian communities.
In his recent book Building a Bridge (HarperOne), Father James Martin, S.J., calls the Church to a spirit of respect, compassion and sensitivity in dealing with persons with same-sex attraction.  This is good advice.  It makes obvious sense.  He asks the same spirit from persons in the LGBT community when dealing with the Church.  Father Martin is a man whose work I often admire.  Building a Bridge, though brief, is written with skill and good will.
"We cannot remain reluctant to speak about the beauty of the Church's teaching on sexuality and sexual identity for fear that it will appear 'unloving,' 'irrational,' or 'unreal.'  We need to love the world enough to speak about the Christian vision of sexual reality..."
But what the text regrettably lacks is an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships.  The Church is not simply about unity — as valuable as that is — but about unity in God's love rooted in truth.
If the Letter to the Romans is true, then persons in unchaste relationships (whether homosexual or heterosexual) need conversion, not merely affirmation.  If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie.  Dealing with this frankly is the only way an honest discussion can be had.

And that honesty is what makes another recent book — Why I Don't Call Myself Gay by Daniel Mattson (Ignatius) — so extraordinarily moving and powerful.  As Cardinal Robert Sarah writes in the Foreword, Mattson's candor about his own homosexuality, his struggles and failures, and his gradual transformation in Jesus Christ "bears witness to the mercy and goodness of God, to the efficacy of his grace, and to the veracity of the teachings of his Church."
In the words of Daniel Mattson himself:
"We cannot remain reluctant to speak about the beauty of the Church's teaching on sexuality and sexual identity for fear that it will appear 'unloving,' 'irrational,' or 'unreal.'  We need to love the world enough to speak about the Christian vision of sexual reality, confident that God's creation of man as male and female is truly part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are called to proclaim to a lost and confused world.  
"We need to be a light for the world and speak passionately about the richness of the Church's understanding of human sexuality.  We can't place the Good News of the Church's teaching on human sexuality under a bushel any longer, for the world desperately needs the truth we have (p. 123)."
Spoken from experience.  Spoken from the heart.  No one could name the truth more clearly.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How Satan seduces the soul, and how to stay protected

How Satan seduces the soul, and how to stay protected

“The devil’s greatest trick is making us think that he doesn’t exist.” These aren’t the words of a theologian, or even those of a saint: they were written by the French poet Charles Baudelaire. Satan’s silent but active presence is like an undetected cancer that, in a devious and unperceived way, corrupts a body and takes up residence in as many of its organs as possible through a lethal metastasis.

Fr. Paolo Morocutti knows this all too well. He is an exorcist of the Diocese of Palestrina, one of Rome’s suburbicarian dioceses [six of Rome’s suffragan dioceses, with bishops who are cardinals and a special historical status – translator’s note]. He is also a member of the AIE (International Association of Exorcists, abbreviated from its name in Italian), and the teacher of various courses for exorcists.

Many people would perhaps like to meet an exorcist so they could learn more about the devil. Here is some of what we learned when we sat down with Fr. Morocutti.

Some theologians are of the opinion that biblical exorcisms—including those performed by Jesus—were simply healings of illnesses which, at that time, were considered spiritual influences. What do you think about this subject?

Actually, this question was resolved long ago. Above all, it’s a matter of intellectual honesty. Careful biblical exegesis, and serious theology, recognize clearly the difference in the Gospels between the way that Christ deals with people who are sick and the way he deals with people who are possessed. He uses two totally different approaches.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains a clear teaching on this subject, and no good Catholic can leave it aside. Finally, I would like to refer to the teachings of the saints, who, with their life of union with Christ, lived within the Church, have done nothing but confirm the Magisterium clearly and unequivocally.

Some people would eliminate the ministry of exorcists, because they consider it a usurpation of the work of psychologists. How would you respond to this?

I teach General Psychology at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, and I understand the difference between the two disciplines quite clearly. According to Christian anthropology, human beings are always and everywhere to be understood from an integral and united perspective. The two disciplines are not, in fact, in competition; rather, they are closely connected. A spiritually disturbed person almost always needs qualified human support in order to interpret the situation and go forward peacefully. When the spirit is affected, the flesh is affected too, and vice versa. The problem arises when psychology, especially psychotherapy, builds its convictions on unlikely anthropological concepts, or on ones that are far from Christian humanism; in that case, dangerous—or at the very least, inconvenient—dichotomies can arise.

What are the criteria for discerning psychological cases from spiritual ones?

The wisdom of the Church, developed over thousands of years through the formation of liturgical books—which, among other things, forms part of the official Magisterium for us Catholics—lays out a procedure through which a priest who is an exorcist can recognize the work and presence of the evil one. I think it is useful to mention that, in the latest version of the rite, the exorcist is invited to make use of medical and psychological science in order to discern better. Besides that, the rite indicates as criteria for discerning: speaking unknown languages, knowing or revealing things that are hidden, and demonstrating strength disproportionate to the age and natural state of the subject. These are not absolute criteria; they are signs which, if identified within a general picture with attention to details, can greatly help an exorcist to discern. It is necessary to dedicate a lot of time to listening to the person and making an attentive analysis of the subject’s behavior and habits of life. It is important to focus more on his or her moral life than on the signs, although the latter can always be a great help.

What are the main channels through which demonic obsession or possession can come about?

The main channel is definitely sin—in particular, a state of grave sin, lived deliberately and without repentance: this condition generally exposes the soul to the action of the evil one.
That said, the main extraordinary channels of action of the evil one are: esotericism, sorcery, the more or less conscious following of philosophical practices inspired in oriental religions or, in any case, incompatible with a Christian anthropological view, and lastly, participation in an openly Satanic group.
Often, these realities are hidden behind apparently innocuous ideologies; we must be cautious. Satan seduces us with false beauty, making things that are contrary to God seem good and harmless.
Still, at the center of the process of discernment is always a person’s moral action. If a person acts with moral rectitude and remains in a state of grace, seeking the truth, it is unlikely that he or she will be the object of extraordinary action of the evil one—who will, in any case, continue to act in his ordinary way. Obviously, the lives of certain saints are an exception; in some cases, due to special permission from God, they even experience combat with the devil in a bloody way.

What positive things have you learned from exercising this ministry, that you can leave with us as a lesson and advice for our readers?

That the love of Jesus Christ for our souls is something serious, and that the soul should be protected in a state of grace as the most beautiful and sublime gift that God has given us. Today, the sense of sin is fading more and more, due to a profoundly mistaken understanding of mercy. In this ministry, I have come to understand clearly that the Eucharist celebrated and adored, regular reception of the sacrament of Confession, and filial love for Mary Most Holy, are the most reliable means for walking always in grace and truth and for always enjoying the sweet presence of Jesus in our souls.
This article first appeared in Aleteia’s Italian edition; the complete interview with Fr. Paolo Morocutti is here (in Italian).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In God's Company 2: Featured article from July's Spirit of Medjugorje

In God's Company 2: Featured article from July's Spirit of Medjugorje:

Featured article from July's Spirit of Medjugorje

My Special Rosary from Medjugorje
By Joe Kohler
     Last fall, I received a special grace through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother that I feel I am supposed to share.
     I was in a motorcycle accident on October 10, 2016 at 2:00 in the afternoon. I was hit by a Jeep Patriot, thrown in the air, and my head struck and destroyed the windshield. My head hit the windshield so hard that I was knocked out and unconscious for about 30 minutes. I did receive a mild concussion along with two cracked ribs and three fractured lumbar vertebrae. The only visible evidence was a contusion on my lower back and multiple bruises.
     I was carrying my rosary that day. I always carry my very special rosary in my pocket. I have had it for over 10 years and it was a gift from Medjugorje. In addition, I also wear a Miraculous Medal and a Brown Scapular around my neck. I have a very strong devotion to Mary, our Blessed Mother.
     I do not remember anything about the accident, but I was told my full face helmet saved my life. When I first came home from the hospital two days after my accident, I began to realize the miraculous nature of what had happened to me. My arms and legs were not broken and I sustained no crippling injuries. Although I had intense pain, I was alive and I could think clearly and reflect on the whole event. The nurses in the trauma unit at the hospital told me that they had never seen anyone walk out of the hospital two days after a motorcycle accident. This comment enabled me to reflect more. I could have easily died. If you ever doubt the power of Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, ask me! My survival and lack of serious injuries were truly miraculous. I walked out of the hospital unassisted in less than 48 hours! I am thankful, and overwhelmed by the love, mercy, and goodness of God.
     As soon as I got home, I realized my special Medjugorje rosary was missing and I was depressed. My clothes had been cut off of me in the emergency room because they did not know if I was badly hurt. The rosary was in my pocket. I called the hospital immediately, and they told me they would look for it and call me back if they found it. This was Wednesday, October 12, 2016. They never called back. I began grieving for my rosary!
     The next day, October 13, 2016 was the 99th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima. Although I did not realize the significance of that day then, a woman who I had been seeing for a couple of months broke off the relationship with a text message that day. The hurt, and pain from my accident and the fact that I was home alone recovering from injuries was only compounded, and I was getting depressed. I now realize that Mary through Jesus was ending a relationship that was comforting and seemed significant to me. As Paul Harvey used to say, "The rest of the story" was about to unfold.
Joe's Rosary

Joe's Rosary
     On Sunday, October 16, 2016, I felt like washing some clothes. By this time, only six days after the accident, I had already mastered the stairs again in my home. Another miracle! I went to the laundry room downstairs, loaded the machine and went back upstairs. I had several loads to do. With the first load done, I went downstairs, opened the washing machine and to my utter amazement, there was my Medjugorje rosary lying on top of the spun clothes! As anyone knows, spun clothes cling to the sides of the washer. My rosary was lying in an open position, like you would see with a deceased person holding a rosary in a casket. It was clearly visible on top of all of my clothes. I did not have to separate my clothes to retrieve it.
     Tears welled up in my eyes! My thoughts were all over the place. I knew immediately that Mary through Jesus had saved my life on October 10, 2016. She also returned my rosary to me even after it was lost in the hospital's emergency room. I was immediately inspired that I was not to keep this miracle to myself, but to share it with others. Praise God and our Blessed Mother! Our God is an awesome God and HE can do the impossible!
     Today, I am back to work, and I am 100% recovered from my injuries. I have no physical limitations and I can do anything I did before my accident. I share this story because the blessings I have received for having gone to Medjugorje in June, 2016 are ongoing. I wake up every day and I am thankful for another day.
     I will close with these thoughts. If you have never been to Medjugorje, GO! It is a place of miracles, and not all of them happen while you are there. Go to Mass daily, if possible, and receive the Eucharist. Carry a blessed rosary with you at all times and pray it daily. Wear the Brown Scapular and the Miraculous Medal around your neck. Go to Confession monthly. Live a life being thankful to God, and love others in your daily walk. Finally, listen to the monthly messages from Medjugorje and live them. Miracles can and will happen in your life when you have the eyes of faith. When you need Our Lady's protection the most, She will love and guide you to Jesus when you are in most need of His grace and mercy.
     Editor's note: Joe is a local dentist who lives in Erie, PA. His injuries did not impair his ability to practice dentistry. He shared his story with me back when it happened, and I had asked him to write it up when he had time. One morning, Joe told me he could not sleep, so he got up, wrote the story and emailed it to me. We realized while talking that the day he wrote and sent it was a Marian feast day – the Feast of the Visitation!

The Catholic Church and the New Left

The Church and the New Left

In common with many other countries, the Catholic Church in America today is closely intertwined with the major party on the left. In my religious congregation, for example, the U.S. Province is 60 to 80 percent Democrat. This is also the case in other religious orders and many whole dioceses. People caught up in this mixing of worlds have to flip back and forth between Catholic concepts and Democrat ideology as they go through the day. Unfortunately, many bishops do not show them anything better.

Catholicism was never meant to be a department of a political party, either party: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.” (Vatican II)

As its name indicates, Catholicism deals in universals. The dictionary tells us that the word universal means “pertaining to the whole of something, occurring everywhere.” Catholicism holds the total and ultimate meaning for everyone everywhere.

The Church is the Body of Christ who really is the Way, the Truth and the Life – for everyone. For the New Left, however – the Left that we have seen in action over the past few years – this is not and cannot be true. The New Left holds that it holds the total meaning of the world for the world. There can be no legitimate rivals. This mindset comes from the radical wing of the Enlightenment, via various later developments, with its vicious hostility to Catholicism and its denial of the role of Christ.

Now, for example, from Divine Revelation, Catholicism teaches the universals of human nature. Thus, seeing an individual human being means seeing all of the possibilities of that human being. This is the exact opposite of working to kill a human being, born or unborn. Here we come to the foundation of the Left’s thinking. The Left is all about power over human beings – carefully disguised with the claim that it’s for their own good, of course.
Catholicism, on the other hand, is not about power, but simply about the truth. Although some Catholics have misused power over the centuries, for the rest (a very large number), the Catholic truth is Christ taken in the fullness of His presence as the Divine Word – and is its own reward.

For the Left, the reward is power for the Left’s elite core. Their constituent groups get various kinds of payoff.

Catholic thinking is only Catholic thinking when it sets out the universal aspects of man and nature, and our relation to God. So, as might be expected, there is a long tradition of social, legal, and political reflection.

Catholicism conceives of a nation as an entity with sovereignty, a legal structure and its just application, all concepts that the Left only uses when it is convenient.
Historically, the Left always has to leech on wealth and institutions that it did not create, and in the process, the Left elites become prosperous. These pre-existing resources provide power bases for the growth of the Left. Catholicism, on the other hand, is not parasitic. Real Catholicism provides vast services to millions and does not expect anything in return.

The Church knows too, for example, that there are objectively evil acts. The Left does not. Catholicism knows what marriage is. It knows what calumny and detraction are. Acting as if the Church does not know – the radical Enlightenment position as well as the current socialist position – means that God’s revelation in Judeo-Christian history did not happen. And does not matter.

Trying to shoehorn Leftist slogans into the Catholic doctrine and practice eats away at the value of the Church from the inside. When I think of much that has transpired in the Church in the past half-century and more, it reminds me of the Hagfish, which are known to devour their prey from the inside.

Yet one of the Catholic events of recent decades that the Left often celebrates takes a different view: “The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men.” (Vatican II)

The “different titles,” within the same human being, are the key. When a particular individual acts politically, he has only one source for knowing how things really are. That is the Church. If he acts according to two sets of contrary ideas, he is denying his integrity as a human being. You cannot serve two masters.
Lastly, in some general sense, the people in the pews know whether Father or Bishop is a leftist. They either go along with politicized religion that ends up as some kind of liberal Protestantism or they move on to some other religious community that actually believes and practices a faith that is not consumed by politics.

When segments of the Catholic hierarchy pass on the Faith in a form that is not quite right, or never really mention the inconvenient non-political side of the Faith, they are departing from the fullness and depth of Christ, from the presence among us that He promised until the end of the world.

The New Left does this to all of the institutions onto which it latches. It hollows them out and devours them. Remember the Hagfish!

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