Friday, October 11, 2019

'THE GAME CHANGERS' Film Exclusive Interview

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Newman’s Miracle

October 03 2019  BY 
MELISSA Villalobos pulled into her driveway after returning from an ultra-sound scan that confirmed she had been suddenly and inexplicably healed from a condition which hours earlier threatened to kill both herself and her unborn child. Though it was a sunny day, in front of her house were two rainbows – a primary rainbow and beneath it a smaller secondary rainbow in reverse colors.
It focused Melissa’s mind on the biblical story of Noah, of how God had put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant between Creator and created, and as a guarantee that there will be no more flooding. Melissa saw this as a personal sign that the danger of her dying in a flood of her own blood was over for good.
 Extraordinary day
 Wednesday May 15, 2013, had been an extraordinary day for her, after all. It was when she became the beneficiary of the second miracle required for canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman as the first English saint in half a century.
Melissa had started to bleed during her fifth pregnancy, and scans revealed that the placenta had become partially detached from the wall of her uterus, and that the blood meant to nourish her eight-week unborn child was escaping through the tear. Scans also found a sub-chorionic haematoma, a blood clot on the foetal membrane, that was by that time almost three times the size of the child. Doctors could treat neither mother nor daughter. They fully expected Melissa to miscarry, and warned her also that her own life might be in danger from a haemorrhage. She had to be ready to call 911 at any time.
On May 15 she awoke in a pool of blood. She was worried that she had no-one to care for her children if she had to go into hospital because her husband, David, was flying to Atlanta on a business trip. So she arranged a simple breakfast for her four children – aged 1 to 6 – as she considered her options. Afraid the children might see the bleeding, she gave them instructions to stay in their seats at the kitchen table “no matter what” while she took time in private to try to ease the flow.
 The last scream?
 “I decided to go upstairs to my bathroom in our master bedroom,” she said. “I closed the bedroom door and I went in the bathroom and closed that door as well. I didn’t want the kids to sneak up on me and see the trauma. I knew that if I closed the doors I would hear them opening the doors before they saw me. By now, I had made things worse by going up the stairs,” she continued. “I was on the floor, I was weak and exhausted. The bleeding was worse than it had ever been and I thought ‘I need to call 911.’”
But then she realized that she had left her phone downstairs. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I probably wasn’t carrying it around because of the stress of all that was going on and also because my husband was flying to Atlanta and he would have been the one I wanted to call.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t get up at this point and go downstairs and get the phone’. So my next thought was I could scream for one of the children to come up and ask them to go get the phone but I knew that I couldn’t scream. I knew that the amount of force I would have had to exert to scream through two closed doors all the way down to the kitchen would have been tremendous and the situation was so delicate.
“Because the bleeding was so heavy I didn’t know if the placenta was hanging by a thread, and that I had done more damage by going upstairs… I didn’t know if that scream would have ripped the last thread off the placenta and killed me instantly. I didn’t want to scream because I didn’t know if it would be my last scream.”
 Scent of roses
 Instead, Melissa paused in the hope her children might look for her, but the silence left her nervous. In the midst of her desperation, Melissa said, “Please, Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop. Just then, the bleeding stopped completely. It was just flowing very rapidly and then came to a sudden, complete stop.”
Astonished, she climbed to her feet and said, “Thank you, Cardinal Newman, you made the bleeding stop. Just then, the scent of roses just filled the air,” she said. “It was a powerful scent, it was so intense. It was more intense than if you went to a garden, or a store and smelled roses. I inhaled the smell of the roses and thought, ‘Wow!’ It lasted for several seconds, it felt like a while, then it stopped and I said, ‘Cardinal Newman did you just make those roses for me?’ I knew he did and thought, ‘what a great gift’. Then he made a second blast of roses up there. I thought, ‘Thank you Cardinal Newman’. I realised I was okay and the baby was okay. I knew the baby was fine. I just couldn’t imagine that Cardinal Newman would stop the bleeding and then the baby wouldn’t make it. I knew in my heart that she was fine.”
Melissa said her recovery was so thorough that she “jogged” downstairs to find her children obediently in their seats, as she had instructed them.
She said, “At this moment I was filled such gratitude and joy… We were all okay. I sat down at the kitchen table with them, and as soon as I sat in the chair I said, ‘Thank you Cardinal Newman’, and just then the scent of roses filled the air in the kitchen. This was the third time and the final time of the roses. As it filled the air I inhaled their beautiful scent.”
 Active mom
 The scan she underwent later in the day revealed the placenta to be healed perfectly. Nor, to the astonishment of medics, some of whom later gave evidence to the Church investigation into the healing, was there any trace of the haematoma.
Melissa had been debilitated for more than a month by a dangerous condition, but returned to life as an “active mom” straight away, carrying and playing with her children, pushing them on swings, and running with kites. On December 27 of that year Melissa gave birth to Gemma, who arrived at the very healthy weight of 8lb 8oz.
Gemma is now a 5-year-old girl and Melissa has since given birth to two more children, the first of whom was baptized John Henry.
Although she grew up a Catholic in St Louis, Missouri, and always enjoyed going to Mass and praying the rosary, she discovered Cardinal Newman only as an adult while watching a program on EWTN as she did her ironing. She was struck by the palpable “admiration and affection” the guests on the show held for him.
 A guiding light
 Melissa’s interest developed, and in 2011 her husband David came home with two Newman prayer cards, one of which Melissa placed in the master bedroom and the other in the living room.
“I thought his expression was so modern in the sense that he looked as if he might live today and that he was listening to me,” she said. “As I passed the picture in the house I would talk to him. I seemed to have this constant dialogue with him and would pray to him for all kinds of needs.
“I was aware that I was possibly becoming annoying to him. I knew he was a genius and here I was just talking to him as a regular person.”
Melissa soon began to read his works, and said she “fell in love with his brilliance and with him as a person,” and particularly enjoyed reading his letters because they revealed Newman’s cares for ordinary people.
“He is like a spiritual father to me,” she says. “He is a guiding light to help me to live a holier life and to learn about the faith. He explains Jesus in a way that is simple yet profound… he helps me to know Jesus more accurately.”
“I am in awe that such a holy and brilliant man as Cardinal Newman would help me, and I am extremely grateful,” she adds. “I feel that my prayer to him was like his motto, my heart speaking unto his heart. We are very close… I love him with my whole heart.”
 Witness of conscience
 Melissa, David and their seven children will be attending the canonization ceremony in St Peter’s Square in Rome on October 13.
Also likely to be present will be Jack Sullivan, a Boston deacon whose healing from a spinal condition led to Newman’s beatification by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
That ceremony represented a moment of personal significance for the emeritus Pontiff who had been an admirer of Newman since he entered seminary in 1947, once describing the Cardinal, who died in 1890, as Britain’s “great witness of conscience” alongside St Thomas More, the 16th century martyr.
Newman’s teachings on conscience have often been disputed, but recent discoveries of how his sermons influenced some members of the White Rose, the German resistance movement, to oppose ‘Nazi terror’ are instructive of how the role of conscience, according to Newman, is to be properly understood. Benedict also saw Blessed John Henry as a “gentle scholar” who identified the Christian life “as a call to holiness.”
While beatifying him, Benedict said Newman’s “insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education, were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten.”
Fr. Ian Ker, author of the definitive biography of Newman, is among those who believe the teachings of the Cardinal are so rich that he deserves to be declared a “Doctor of the Church” as soon as he is made a saint.
 Intellectual faithfulness
 Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury says it is “hard to underestimate the significance of Newman’s canonization.”
“In foreseeing the unprecedented challenge of relativism, and what he called ‘the infidelity to come’ he stands as a witness to the intellectual faithfulness and striving for personal holiness which is the precondition for the new evangelization of western societies,” he said.
“The canonization surely comes at a providential moment for the universal Church in helping us to recognize what constitutes true development of doctrine and a right understanding of conscience,” he added.
“Amid all the confusion of the early 21st Century, Cardinal Newman will be for us a calm witness and gifted teacher of the truth and continuity of Catholic teaching.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fear of the Cross

Fear of the Cross

September 15 2019  BY 

AT THE JUNE 1, 2019 ordination Mass of three young priests, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, spoke of the world’s deadliest disease: ‘staurophobia’. “I would not ordain a man if I thought he had staurophobia, which means ‘fear of the cross.’ The definitive act of Christ’s priesthood was His sacrifice on the cross. A man will not be a holy priest if he has staurophobia. We must not be afraid of carrying the cross, of giving of ourselves in love. In other words, are you resolved to imitate Christ in the daily carrying of His cross? In giving yourselves in love to God’s people? In imitating the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep?”
Staurophobia affects pastors as well as Catholic priests. “90 percent of conservative pastors agree that abortion and gay marriage are biblically wrong, but only 10 percent will preach this.” Why? Fear of loss of financial support, of negative publicity, of repercussions from abortion and gay lobbies, of criticism from the congregation.
 Staurophobic solutions
 Staurophobia weakens moral fiber, and can lead to gravely sinful acts which destroy God’s grace in the soul. What tribulation is not infected by staurophobia?
  • Terminal illness: Fear of suffering. Staurophobic solution: Euthanasia.

  • Emotional anguish over ____ (fill in the blank): Fear of emotional pain: Staurophobic solutions: Drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, suicide.

  • Unwanted pregnancy: Fear of parenting; fear of revelation of sexual activity. Staurophobic solution: Artificial birth control, abortion.

  • Sexuality: Fear of being unattractive. Staurophobic solution: Homosexual acts, promiscuity, immodesty.

  • Financial concerns: Fear of poverty. Staurophobic solution: Cheat, steal, lie.

  • Gender confusion. Fear of being different. Staurophobic solution: Gender change.

  • Social acceptance. Fear of rejection. Staurophobic solution: Assume a persona.

  • Anger: Fear of powerlessness. Staurophobic solutions: Bullying, power struggles, murder.
Fear is one of Satan’s primary tools. In tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, what did Satan say? “If you eat of it, you will be like God, knowing good from evil” [Gen. 3.5]. Eve was afraid of missing out on something good. She could have accepted her cross and said, “No, I will endure the discomfort of not knowing something.” Instead, succumbing to staurophobia, she ate the fruit and introduced sin to the human race.
 Love: the antidote
 What is staurophobia’s antidote? Love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Notice how each staurophobic reaction in the above list tries to keep the individual from being ‘punished’ by pain.
Christopher Bader, Ph.D, professor of sociology at Chapman University, spearheaded a 2017 fear study. He noted that “People tend to fear what they are exposed to in the media. Many of the top 10 fears this year can be directly correlated to the top media stories of the past year.”
Fear of dying used to be one of the top 5 fears. Among those surveyed, ‘Fear of Dying’ now ranks 48th, with only 20 percent of those surveyed saying that they were afraid of dying. This does not indicate an increase of belief in life after death. 17 percent of Americans do not believe in life after death, and 20 percent more are unsure. Lack of fear over death indicates a huge cultural shift toward the acceptance of death by choice – suicide, euthanasia, abortion.
What do people fear? 74.5 percent stated that they are “afraid or very afraid” of “Corrupt Government Officials.” 53 percent feared “Pollution.” 48 percent were concerned about “Global warming and climate change.” Amazingly, only 50 percent were concerned about not having enough money. Further down the list were fear of “People I love dying” (39.7 percent) and “People I love becoming seriously ill” (39.1 percent). Nowhere, in the top 47 fears, were fear of sin, judgment, or hell.
 Golden candlestick
 “St. Augustine says, ‘Charity is the name I give to that movement of the soul to delight in God for his own sake, and in self and neighbor for God’s sake.’ He who lacks this, however many things he does which are in themselves good, he does them in vain,” writes St Anthony. (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals I, p.59; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).
People with no belief in God cannot delight in Him, nor can they delight in self or neighbor for God’s sake. Seeing the value of the cross is as impossible for them as flying by flapping their arms.
“Charity led the Son of God to the wood of the Cross,” Anthony, like Bishop Rhoades, noted. “In the Canticles, it says: Love is as strong as death, [Cant 8.6] and St. Bernard comments on this passage, ‘O charity, how strong is your bond! Even the Lord was bound by you!’” (Sermons I, p. 59).
Anthony compares charity to a golden candlestick, “The candlestick of charity is ‘beaten’ with the hammer of tribulation, to be increased not in itself, but in the human mind” (Sermons III, p. 65). God permits tribulation (the cross) in order to increase charity which prompts action. When we first begin to walk the way of love, charity is imperfect. Enduring tribulation in small matters strengthens us for enduring it in larger matters. Imperfections, both in precious metals and in charity, are hammered out with many hard blows. Those who choose staurophobic solutions to life’s crosses are negating the power of their tribulations to foster love.
 4 loves
 “St. Augustine says, ‘There are four things that should be loved. One is above us, namely God. The second is what we ourselves are. The third is beside us, our neighbor. The fourth is below us, our body.’ The rich man loved his body first and foremost, and cared nothing for God, his own soul, or his neighbor. That is why he was damned,” Anthony writes (Sermons II, p. 14). The rich man employed a staurophobic solution to his fear for the future. Instead of exercising charity toward his needy neighbors, he built bigger barns to hold his crops.
Anthony advocates the cross rather than comfort. “St. Bernard says, ‘We should treat our body like some sick person in our care. There are many things it would like which are not good for it, and these we must deny it. There are many things good for it, but which it does not like – but we must insist on them. We should treat our body as something not really belonging to us, but to him by whom we are bought with a great price, that we may glorify him in our body [cf. 1 Cor 6.20].’ We should love our bodies in the fourth and last place, ‘not as something for whose sake we live, but as something without which we cannot live’” (Sermons II, p. 14).
Christ’s “cross is victorious – it is the efficacious sign of the victory of love over sin and death. When we meet the Lord on the day of judgment, He will show us His glorious wounds and ask to see our wounds, the wounds of our love,” Bishop Rhoades noted. Christ’s cross wounded him. Ours will wound us. Accepting the wounding enables us to carry our cross, grow in love, and be immunized against staurophobia.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The patron saint of the souls in purgatory (St. Nicholas of Tolentino) was visited by a friar suffering there

The patron saint of the souls in purgatory was visited by a friar suffering there

Leo XIII gave Nicholas of Torentino this patronage in 1884.

The Guruttis were poor farmers who lived in Sant’ Pontano, Macerata, Italy. Childless, they traveled to the shrine of St. Nicholas of Myra, the saint who inspired the modern-day Santa Claus. They prayed to St. Nicholas to asked God if He might bless them with a child who would grow up to serve God. Their prayers were answered, and sometime during the year 1245 they had a son. They named him Nicholas.

Even as a child, Nicholas displayed a pronounced spirituality. He imitated hermits and would hide in nearby caves to pray. As Nicholas grew, he realized God was, indeed, calling him to service. One day he was listening to an Augustinian priest who was preaching. Nicholas knew immediately that he wanted to join that order of priests. He became a monk at the age of 18.

While he was still studying for the priesthood, he would use any spare time he could find to give food to the poor. His superiors trusted him with feeding the poor, and he would go to the monastery gate and distribute food from the monastery’s provisions. He would give everything he could to the people waiting, and the procurator had to slow him down lest the friars had nothing to eat.
One day he was providing food to a very sick boy. He instinctively laid his hands on the boy’s head and said, “The good God will heal you.” The boy was instantly cured; naturally word of this spread quickly through the local area.

A few years later, after he was ordained a priest, another incident helped his fame to spread. An elderly woman who was blind was brought to him so he could pray over her. He said the same words he had said to the sick boy. The woman’s eyesight immediately was restored. News of this miracle was soon widespread, and people began coming from all over to ask him to pray for them and lay hands on them.

Nicholas gained notoriety as a preacher, confessor, and a healer. He settled in a monastery in Tolentino and would spend the rest of his life there. Here he was a pastor to the people and did all he could to help the poor. He prayed over countless people who asked him to do so. Many were cured of their illnesses. Through it all, Nicholas spent as much time as he could fasting and performing personal acts of penance. He was an inspiration to everyone. 

The story is told that one day, after spending a long time fasting, Nicholas became weak and could barely stand. He had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Augustine who told him to eat the bread marked with a cross and soaked in water. Nicholas did as he was told and immediately, his strength was restored. That is how the Augustinian practice of blessing and distributing St. Nicholas Bread began, a custom carried on to this very day.

A significant part of the story of Nicholas has to do with Purgatory. It seems that one night, while asleep, Nicholas heard the voice of a deceased friar he had known. The friar told Nicholas that he was in Purgatory and pleaded with him to offer the Holy Eucharist for him and the other souls that were there with him. He told Nicholas this would help get them released from there. 

Nicholas did as asked and prayed for the friar for seven days. After this, the friar returned to him and told him that a number of souls had been released and were now with God. Because of this Nicholas was proclaimed the patron of the souls in Purgatory by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. 

There is also much legend that surrounds What is certain is that Nicholas of Tolentino was a caring, kind priest who did all he could to help his neighbors, no matter who they were. St. Nicholas, including resurrecting children, saving people about to drown on a sinking ship, and even saving the burning palace of the Duke of Venice by tossing a piece of blessed bread into the flames. He is also said to have seen in a vision the transport of the Holy House of Loreto by angels. 

He died in Tolentino on September 10, 1305. He was canonized a saint by Pope Eugene IV, in 1446. He was the first Augustinian friar to be canonized after the creation and approval of the Order of St. Augustine in 1256.
St. Nicholas of Tolentino, please pray for us and all our Departed.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Dante on Sin

Dante on Sin

In our mortal lives, we can often hide the desiccated state of our souls from others; in the afterlife, we can no longer hide from others what we truly are inside. Let go of your rebelliousness and disobedience, my friends, before it is too late, before you find yourself circling the path of futility.
Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?

Dante: On Sin



Editor’s Note: The featured image is “The Barque of Dante” (1822) by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Evil as Good and Good as Evil

Evil as Good and Good as Evil

“Woe to those who say evil is good and good is evil . . .” (Isaiah 5:20)
The response of a person who has their conscience pricked will range from one of irritation to annoyance, impatience, anger, and, depending on the state of the individual’s conscience, fury, confusion, hatred, and despair. The emotional reaction will be worse for an individual whose perception has moved steadily along the road towards a worldview where good is perceived as evil and evil as good. The blunting or silencing of conscience is widely acknowledged as a consequence of a life hardened in sin. While this is the case the individual will experience a painful emotional reaction automatically triggered in the depths of their soul when confronted by a situation, or individual that they perceive threatens their position, or passes judgement on their character. We see this vividly displayed in St. Luke’s Gospel in the episode where Jesus cures the man with the withered hand.
Now on another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was present, and his right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure somebody on the Sabbath, hoping to find something to charge him with. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, Get up and stand out in the middle!’ And he came forward and stood there. Then Jesus said to them. I put it to you: is it permitted on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life or to destroy it? Then he looked around to them all and said to the man, Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were furious and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus. (Lk 6:6–11)
When we look at this episode with the eyes of faith, we see the merciful love of our Saviour healing the lame and forgotten people of society. He offers them the greatest hope, that the God who heals them, also loves them beyond what they can ever comprehend. Every single person is precious in God’s eyes and has a position in his kingdom which is especially reserved for them. Without the eyes of faith, we see an episode of immense goodness where someone who is crippled is healed again. The person who has performed the healing may or may not be God, but the miracle he has performed is undeniable evidence of his goodness. The emotional reaction of a bystander to this episode may be one which is filled with the awe and wonder. The reaction of the scribes and Pharisees is one where they feel both threatened and judged by Jesus. The emotional reaction of fury seems justifiable in their eyes, as Jesus has performed a miracle on the Sabbath and in breaking the Sabbath displayed a complete disrespect for the Law of the temple. But the obvious goodness and love in this episode cannot be ignored. Surely this would jolt their consciences and wake them up to realise there is something wrong with not only their interpretation of the law but also with themselves? The experience of being furious is an extremely unpleasant one. These are painful emotions and in their eyes the cause of their suffering is Jesus who has undermined their authority, as well as exposed the corruption in their hearts.
This is an episode where the scribes and Pharisees have judged evil as good and good as evil. The emotional reaction they experienced in response to the love and goodness of Jesus is as a result of a corrupted heart that is at one with the devil in his own desires and ambitions. Good has to be got rid of, if it exposes and threatens one’s authority. But also, significantly, while not consciously aware of it they want to rid themselves of these painful emotions. It is the case that if we identify the cause of our personal suffering, we then want to be free from the suffering by eliminating the identified cause. It also follows logically that the greater the suffering, the more determined we will be to free ourselves from it. On the surface this does not seem like a factor contributing to the desire of the scribes and Pharisees to find “the best way of dealing with Jesus” (Lk 6:11).
It is clear from the revelations of God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena that the deepest suffering is in the will of an individual who interiorly is filled with envy, hatred, pride, and lust. The consequence of a perverted will consumed with the selfish desire for power, wealth, and pleasure is a troubled conscience that when threatened experiences the intense suffering arising from feelings of hatred, fury, and despair.
It is the will that causes (the deeper) pain. Those I have described to you, who taste already in this life the pledge of hell, suffer spiritually as well as physically, while my servants taste the pledge of eternal life.1

The Scribes and Pharisees

The temptation with the scribes and Pharisees is to attribute their response to Jesus as being due to their ignorance as a result of their love of the law. But if we look at St. Paul who described his persecution of Christians as being due to ignorance: “Even though I use to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance” (1 Tim 1:13), the words of Jesus to St. Paul were very different to the words he spoke to the scribes and Pharisees; so too was Paul’s response: “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the answer came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do,’” (Acts 9:4–6). St. Paul’s response to the grace he received from our Lord was probably the deepest and greatest conversion in history. His recognition of the love of Christ who he was persecuting filled him with deep repentance, making room in his soul to be filled with every grace and gift imaginable to enable him to be, next to Christ, arguably the greatest evangelizer there has ever been.
When looking at the words of Christ to the scribes and Pharisees, they are very different in tone:
But the Lord said to him, You Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and, look, everything will be clean for you. But alas for you Pharisees, because you pay your tithe of mint and rue and all sorts of garden herbs and neglect justice and the love of God! These you should have practised, without neglecting the others. Alas for you Pharisees, because you like to take the seats of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted respectfully in the market squares! Alas for you, because you are like the unmarked tombs that people walk on without knowing it!’ (Lk 9. 39–44)
Their response to the many miracles that evidence his divinity was one of anger, fury and hatred. There is something fundamentally different going on interiorly in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus is rebuking. It is important to note that not all the scribes and Pharisees followed this path. While Jesus rebuked them in a group situation, we of course do not know the state of each of their hearts and so it is not my intention to suggest that all the scribes and Pharisees descended into the darkness of evil.
If we love sensual things selfishly apart from God,then we will end up suffering the pains of a troubled conscience, where we will envy those who have more than us, and have anger and hatred towards those who get in our way of satisfying our desire for power, wealth, and pleasure. While the scribes and Pharisees already had positions of power and honour, they feared the loss of this authority through the challenges Jesus presented to them. Their fury towards Jesus and plans to deal with him evidence their hunger for revenge and tragically, as described by St. Catherine they have killed their souls before they have actually acted out their perverse desires. They must have envied Jesus so much as he spoke with an authority they could never have. This envy is a torture that gnaws away at the soul.
How many are the pains of a troubled conscience! How many are the pains of those who hunger for revenge! They gnaw away at themselves constantly, and they have killed themselves even before they kill their enemies: They are themselves the first to die, slain by their own hand with the knife of hatred.2

Covered in Confusion

In St. Luke’s Gospel an incident is described where Jesus’s adversaries are covered in confusion. The description of this reaction follows the “loudest” possible display of goodness and love. The confusion experienced in all likelihood drowns out the ability of the soul to be able to hear God’s voice calling the person to repentance and conversion. The interior confusion arises in the soul because the witness of goodness and love conflicts dramatically with a world perception that is completely at discord with our human nature.
One Sabbath he was teaching in one of the synagogues, and there before him was a woman who for eighteen years had been possessed by a spirit that cripples her; she was bent double and quite unable to stand upright. When Jesus saw her he called her over and said, Woman, you are freed from your disability,’ and he laid his hands on her. And at once she straightened up, and she glorified God. But the president of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and he addressed all those present saying, There are six day when work is to be done. Come and be healed on one of those days and not on the Sabbath.’ But the Lord answered him and said, Hypocrites! Is there one of you who does not untie his ox or his donkey from the manger on the Sabbath and take it out for watering? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years  was it not right to untie this bond on the Sabbath day? When he said this, all his adversaries were covered with confusion, and all the people were overjoyed at all the wonders he worked. (Lk 13:10–17)
The tragedy here is that if we reflect on this Gospel passage, we cannot help but wonder how anybody could respond in any other way than the crowd of people who witnessed the miracle: they were overjoyed at the wonders Jesus worked. The president of the synagogue is described as being indignant which is to feel or show anger and annoyance at a perceived injustice. This emotional reaction clearly evidences the perverted will which judges “good as evil and evil as good.” We could expect that after Jesus has seriously rebuked them and called them hypocrites, that they would feel the fury and hatred described in the previous biblical text. What is described here is something different. What does it mean to be covered with confusion? Looking at this healing wonder of Jesus what is there to be confused about? It is the ultimate display of goodness and love through the healing of someone who has suffered immensely for a very long time.
In the Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross, the great mystical doctor of the Church, sheds light on what this text means. St. John describes how if we give in to our perverse desires then God will allow us to go astray and be blinded by the devil. While the context of this description is related to those who seek the Lord through excessive curiosity by seeking revelations and visions to feed their own pride and glory, it sheds light on what it means to be covered with confusion.
One cannot be liberated from him [the devil] without fleeing from all revelations, visions, and supernatural communications. God is rightly angered with anyone who admits them, for he sees the rashness of exposing oneself to this danger, presumption, curiosity, and pride, to the root and foundation of vainglory, to contempt for the things of God, and to the beginning of the numerous evils into which many fall. God becomes so angry with these individuals that he purposely allows them to go astray, experience delusion, suffer spiritual darkness and abandon the established ways of life, by delivering themselves over to their vanities and fancies. Thus Isaiah proclaims that by way of privation God commingled in their midst that spirit of dissension. Accordingly, God is the cause of that harm; that is the privative cause, which consists in his withdrawing his light and favour to such an extent that they necessarily fall into error.
In this way God permits the devil to blind and delude many who merit this by their sins and audacities. The devil is able and successful to the extent that others believe what he says and consider him a good spirit. So firm is their belief that it is impossible for anyone who tries to persuade them of the diabolic origin. For with God’s permission they have already been affected by the spirit of misunderstanding . . .3
What is significant in this extended text is that the individual, as a result of their sins is led astray by the spirit of dissension and confusion. The consequence of this spirit of misunderstanding is that the individual becomes blind and deluded. St. John of the Cross describes in this context that someone who is infected with this spirit becomes convinced of their spiritual experiences and that they are not of a diabolic origin. Not only are they convinced it is impossible to persuade them otherwise.
In a similar manner, Jesus could not convince the scribes and Pharisees of the state of their souls and so move them towards a real conversion of heart. Jesus seriously rebuked them telling them that their father was the father of lies who is Satan. “You are from your father, the devil, and you prefer to do what your father wants. He was a murderer from the start; he was never grounded in the truth; there is no truth in him at all. When he lies he is speaking true to his nature, because he is a liar, and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). In repeatedly telling them they were hypocrites he also reflected back to them their hidden lies and secret thoughts: “but you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (Jn 8:37). He also explicitly told them the consequences of their lies and hypocrisy, where if they remained unrepentant and did not believe he was God they would die in their sins, or in other words receive eternal damnation. “I have told you already: You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).
It is significant to remember that God does not leave an individual open to the forces of the evil one, unless they have already rejected the many graces God sends to them to keep them on the right track. God can only do so much. If we reject the graces, he sends to us in the form of troubles, our neighbour reflecting back to us our actions, or the pricking of our conscience then there is not much more God can do to wake us up, and so he deprives us of his help. He therefore is the privative cause and as a consequence of the withdrawal of his light we fall into error and become deluded. As a result of becoming deluded through leading a hypocritical life an individual can end up in the most tragic condition possible for the human race; judging good things as evil and evil as good.
This is the false judgement, venomous with envy and pride, with which they calumniated and unjustly judges my Son’s works when they said, “He does these things by the power of Beelzebub.” (Mt 12:24) These wicked people are set in their way of selfishness, indecency, pride, and avarice, envy that is grounded in their perverse lack of discernment, their impatience and many other sins. Yet they are forever taking scandal at me and my servants, judging virtue to be hypocritical. Because they are rotten to the core and have spoiled their sense of taste, good things seem evil to them and evil (that is, disordered living) seems good.4

The Mystery of the Human Heart

In the Christian tradition evil is defined as the absence of good. Sin is intrinsically evil irrespective of circumstances. The weakness, ignorance, or malice present in the commission of the sin determines the individual’s culpability. The sinner and sin committed almost become one when an attitude of “evil is good, and good is evil” is the predominant mode of operation. As the whole person becomes more and more evil to the core, then God’s protective presence in their lives becomes diminished and eventually extinguished. When someone is completely evil, then the absence of the ultimate good in life, who is God, is a feature of their lives. Whereas for those who have not reached such a depth of depravity, while the committing of sin which is intrinsically evil alienates them from God, he is not absent from their lives. His goodness and loving providence are present in a hidden way forever seeking to draw them away from a life of sin.
The mystery of the human heart can be one that captures our imagination. In the lives of the Saints we discover that to follow Christ is to seek and know the desires and thoughts of our loving God. We only come to know “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6) by making a sincere effort to live Christ’s law of love, through responding to the spontaneous call of the Holy Spirit to love at each opportunity that is presented to us. The science of divine love is ultimately a lived ‘science,’ where the intimate depths of the person is mysteriously shaped and moulded by God’s grace. To truly understand and know God is to know him from our heart; the seat of all our private thoughts, desires and intentions. We can know God from a purely intellectual point of view, but to truly know him is to know him intimately in our hearts through our cooperation with his divine grace.
The mystery of the descent into evil of the human heart where it becomes corrupted and as St. Catherine describes, rotten to the core, is only truly known and understood by lived experience. We can try and understand it intellectually, but ultimately, we are called not to more fully understand it. To know the full reality of the descent into evil is to know it from the heart, and this is only achieved by living a perverse life which follows the devil in all his evil desires.
  1. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. Suzanne Noffke, OP (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 91. 
  2. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, 99. 
  3. The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD (Washington, DC: ICS Publications Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991; revised ed.), 227–29. 
  4. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, 76. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Woodstock 50: What Went Wrong Then and Now

Woodstock 50: What Went Wrong Then and Now

If America is polarized and directionless today, it is partly due to the cultural revolution that emanated from Woodstock. The solution is not to recreate Woodstock fifty years later, but to reject it as the cultural and moral disaster that it was.
Woodstock represented what America would eventually become—a broken and dysfunctional society. It shows what happens when “you do your own thing” without self-restraint.

* Sisario, Ben. “The Disastrous Woodstock 50: What Went Wrong?” The New York Times, August 1, 2019.
Editor’s Note: The featured image is a photo taken near Woodstock in August of 1969 by Ric Manning, and is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.
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