Saturday, December 31, 2016

the Sin of Human Respect and the Holy Fear of the Lord

Risk It! A Meditation on the Sin of Human Respect and the Holy Fear of the Lord

At one level “human respect” seems a good thing. After all we ought to respect, honor and appreciate one another. What then is meant by the “sin of human respect?” At its core, the sin of human respect is that sin wherein we fear man more than God; where we more concerned with what people think of us and what we do, than what God thinks. This is an unholy fear, a sinful fear which is at the root of a lot of sins we commit as well as of many sins of omission.
Consider some examples:
  1. A man goes up to a group of other men who are gossipping and also speaking inappropriately about certain women in the office. Perhaps he knows that their disparaging comments about the boss are unfair or even untrue. He knows too that speaking of the women in the office using crude sexual imagery and lustful references is wrong. But, because he has walked up to this group and wants to “fit in” he joins the conversation as contributes to what he knows is wrong. He laughs at off color jokes and makes no attempt to steer the conversation in more appropriate directions. He does this because he fears rejection and is more more anxious as to what his co-workers think of him than what God thinks. He fears man more than God. That God is displeased with his actions is less of a fear and grief than that any of these men should be displeased.
  2. A young woman knows that sex before marriage is wrong and that this displeases God. However, she has dated a number of men now and has slept with most of them. She does this partly because she fears rejection. Perhaps if she does not give way to the desires of the young men she dates they will reject her and she will be alone. She thinks that a woman “has to do this” in order to be popular and desirable. She fears man more than God. What human beings think is more important to her than what God thinks. She may well minimize the displeasure of God by saying. “Oh well, God understands” but at the same time she maximizes possible displeasure of weak and fallible human beings by thinking that displeasing them would lead to  catastrophe. She respects, that is, fears man more than God.
  3. A pastor of a parish has a mandate from God and the Church to preach the whole counsel of God. But over the years he has struggled to preach the hard things. After all teaching on things like abortion, fornication, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia, Capital Punishment, and so forth, causes some people to be upset. He fears this anger, he fears offending people, he fears being misunderstood. Once, when he spoke about abortion, (because the Bishop said he had to) three parishioners came up to him and told him he should not bring politics into the pulpit. Once, early in his priesthood, he had mentioned divorce since the gospel was about that. A woman came up to him after Mass and said that she was divorced and felt hurt and “excluded” by his mentioning that divorce was problematic. Experiences like these have led the priest to “play it safe.” He always finds joke to start the homily and people love it (him). He chooses to preach only in abstractions and generalities. It is enough to exhort people to be a little more kind, a little more generous,  but specificity he avoids. He does this because he fears man more than God. That God might be displeased that his people are not hearing the truth on the important moral issues of the day, or receiving proper instruction in the disciplines of discipleship is a vague and distant fear to this priest. But one person raising an eyebrow at what he says is enough to ruin his whole week. Thus he goes silent as a prophet and becomes a people-pleaser instead. He respects, he fears man more than God. This is the sin of human respect.
  4. A parent knows somehow that she is to raise her children in the fear of the Lord and train them in godly ways. But Oh, the protests when she tells them to clean their room or to go to bed, or to do their homework. It is just such a hassle to endure their anger and disappointment. Then too she remembers how stern her parents were and how she had vowed she would be nicer to her children. So, little by little, she lets her authority erode and the kids more often get their way. Her husband too is not a strong disciplinarian and he too wants to be thought of as a “cool” dad by his kids and his kids’ friends. Thus, God’s insistence on prayer, discipline and respect for elders, gives way to what the kids want. The oldest, a teenager, doesn’t even want to go to Church any more. But after all, “You can’t force religion on kids” they think. Here too,  the parents fear their children more than God. They have greater respect for their children than for God.
So here are some examples of the “Sin of Human Respect.” This sin runs very deep in our wounded nature and, as we have seen, causes many other sins. Many people are desperate for attention, respect, acceptance and approval from human beings. Many of these same individuals, even the religiously observant, struggle to be nearly as concerned with what God thinks, or if He approves.
God has a simple solution to this: that we should fear Him and thus not fear anyone else. There is an old saying, “If I kneel before God I can stand before any man.” It makes sense that it is a lot easier to fear (respect) one, than many. Hence, the more we learn to fear (respect) God, the less concerned we become with what others think. Now, to be sure this is not an invitation to become a sociopath who cares not one whit what others think. We are to remain polite, groom ourselves, and not intentionally pick fights. But in the end we are instructed by the Lord to be freed of all the fearful trepidation of what others think.
To say this is a simple solution is a bit of an intellectualism to be sure. It is not easy to extract ourselves from this very deep drive of human respect. In fact it takes a life time. But the first step to any healing is to admit we may have a problem and begin to see it for what it is, understand its moves, and let the Lord steadily free us.
Perhaps some scripture quotes that address various aspects of this problem will be a fitting conclusion to this reflection
  1. Through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. (Prov 16:6)
  2. Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. (Prov 23:17)
  3. Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. (Prov 15:16)
  4. The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Ex 20:20)
  5. You alone are to be feared O Lord (Psalm 76:7)
  6. God is more awesome than all who surround him. (Psalm 89:7)
  7. I  lie down and sleep;  I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.  I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. (Psalm 3:4-5)
  8. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. (Jer 32:39)
  9. The Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth
    .” (Mark 12:14)
  10. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26)
  11. If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)
  12. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Matt 10:28).
  13. If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you(Jn 15:18-19)
  14. It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. (1 Cor 4:3)
  15. From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body. (Gal 6:17)
  16. We know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience (2 Cor 5:11).
In this video Fr. Frank Pavonne exhorts us to risk all as prophets of God and not to fear any one or anything more than God.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Natural Law: A Guide for How to Be Human

The Natural Law: A Guide for How to Be Human

The Catholic Church is often ridiculed when it comes to its moral teachings. Whether it’s Church teaching on contraception, so-called “same-sex” marriage, the acting out of transgender ideologies, homosexual acts, or abortion, popular culture tends to view the Church as some evil tyrant trying to tell people how to live their lives.

What amazes me is how little the Church’s critics understand why the Church teaches such things. They fail to realize that behind the teachings about which specific acts are right or wrong is the general standard of determining what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate human behavior, which in turn rests on an understanding of what constitutes the good and the bad.

A good or bad triangle? 
When we speak of the terms good and bad, we necessarily reference the nature or essence of something. For example, let’s say we have two triangles, one drawn on the back of a cracked seat on a moving bus and the other drawn with a straight edge on a piece of paper at a stationary desk.

Which do you think would be a good example of a triangle? Obviously the good triangle would be the one drawn with a straight edge on a piece of paper at the desk. But we have to ask, “Why?”

The answer is because the triangle drawn with a straight edge instantiates triangularity better than the one drawn on the cracked bus seat—that is to say, it best represents what a triangle is supposed to be. Notice that in determining which triangle is good and bad we implicitly compare each to what a triangle is—its essence or nature.

A good or bad oak tree? 
Consider now an oak tree. Let’s say we have one oak tree that has strong roots and sinks its roots deep into the ground, and the other has weak roots and doesn’t sink its roots deep into the ground. Which one is the good oak tree? Which one is the bad?

Obviously, the former is the good oak tree, since it does what an oak tree is supposed to do given its nature—that is to say, it achieves the ends its nature directs it toward (e.g., sinking deep roots into the ground, taking in nutrition, and growing). Notice once again nature determines what is a good or bad instance of a thing.

The oak tree’s nature also helps us determine what is good and bad for the tree. If we were to spray the tree with poison, would the oak tree achieve its natural ends of sinking roots deep into the ground, taking in nutrition, and growing? Of course not! Therefore, we can say that poison is bad for the tree given its nature. And notice that what is bad for the tree is independent of what you are I think; it is an objective fact.

By contrast, if we water the tree, fertilize it, and allow it the light it needs, it will achieve the ends its nature directs it toward. As such, we can conclude that water, fertilizer, and light are good for the tree. And notice once again our judgment about what is good is independent of what you or I think. What is good for the tree, given its nature, is an objective fact.

So, for living things we appeal to nature not only to determine whether it is a good instance of the kind of thing it is but also what is good and bad for the thing given the ends its nature directs it toward.

A good or bad human being? 
The same reasoning applies to human beings. Human beings have a nature or essence with various capacities and ends the fulfillment of which is good and the frustration of which is bad, as a matter of objective fact.

For example, nature directs us to preserve our own existence. This is something we share with all living things. Nature also directs us to preserving our species through sexual intercourse and rearing children—something we share with animals specifically. Finally, nature directs us to certain ends or goals that are peculiar to us as rational animals—namely, to know the truth about God, to live in society, to shun ignorance, and to avoid harming those with whom one has to live.
Therefore, we can know what is good and bad for human beings objectively speaking. Any behavior that facilitates the achievement of these natural ends is considered good—that is to say, it will fulfill human nature. Any behavior that frustrates the achievement of these natural ends is considered bad—that is to say, it won’t bring about human flourishing.

Human nature therefore serves as a standard for what is good and bad behavior for human beings and it is independent of what you or I think. On this analysis, what is good and bad behavior is an objective fact.

Now, since it belongs to our rational nature to do good and avoid evil (see Summa Theologiae I-II:94:2), and the good is the achievement of the ends nature directs us toward, the rational person will perceive those ends and behave in a way that facilitates their achievement. The person who chooses to behave in a way that frustrates man’s natural ends acts irrationally. And because man is free to behave in either way, he will be either worthy of praise or blame depending on his choice.
So, to the moral skeptic’s question “Why should I do what is good?” the answer is, as the philosopher Edward Feser writes, “[B]ecause to be rational just is (in part) to do what is good, to fulfill the ends set for us by nature” (Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, ch. 5).

The formulation of general moral principles on the basis of human nature’s capacities and ends and the systematic working out of their implications is what the Catholic Church has called in her Tradition the natural moral law. Charles Rice, an American legal scholar, defines the natural moral law as “a set of manufacturer’s directions written into our nature so that we can discover through reason how we ought to act” (50 Questions on the Natural Law, ch. 1).

It is this natural moral law that the Catholic Church has always appealed to in defense of its prohibition of certain behaviors. Whether it’s contraception, homosexual acts, or abortion, the Church sees in these behaviors a frustration of certain ends our nature directs us toward, and as such cannot contribute to human flourishing—that is to say, they cannot contribute to authentic human happiness. In this sense they are bad. Since the Church is in the business of leading us to authentic human happiness, it says no to such behaviors.
Rather than being an evil tyrant trying to limit everyone’s freedom, the Church is simply trying to be a voice for what it means to be human and how to flourish as one. What’s so bad about that?

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Catholic Answers.
Karlo Broussard, a native of Crowley, Louisiana, left a promising musical career to devote himself full-time to the work of Catholic apologetics. For more than a decade he has traveled the country teaching apologetics, biblical studies, theology, and philosophy. Karlo has published articles on a variety of subjects in Catholic Answers Magazine, is a regular guest onCatholic Answers Live, and is an active blogger at Karlo holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also worked for several years in an apprenticeship with nationally known author and theologian Fr. Robert J. Spitzer at the Magis Center of Reason and Faith. Karlo is one of the most dynamic and gifted Catholic speakers on the circuit today, communicating with precision of thought, a genuine love for God, and an enthusiasm that inspires. Karlo resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

Holy Communion Nourishes Your Supernatural Life

Holy Communion Nourishes Your Supernatural Life

Holy Communion preserves and increases the supernatural life of your soul. 
In the Holy Eucharist, Christ becomes present so that He may abide bodily among us by His Real Presence in our tabernacles, renew the Sacrifice of Calvary in an unbloody manner on our altars, and nourish our souls in Holy Communion.

The Eucharist is not only a sacrifice, but a sacrament as well. As a sacrifice, it relates in the first instance to God; as a sacrament, to ourselves. Through the Blessed Sacrament God bestows upon us the grace by which we obtain supernatural life and are saved.

By the imparting of divine grace, God has made it possible for us to share His own nature and His own vital activity. The life of God calls for appropriate food. The Bread of Angels has become, through transubstantiation, the food of man. This Bread, the product of our Savior’s love and power, is the only food that is wor­thy of the Father who gives it and the adopted children who re­ceive it from His hands. It produces wondrous effects in those children. The first and principal effect is that it gives divine life to the soul.

Holy Communion is the Body of Jesus under the form of bread, received as food. With His Body, He gives also His Soul, His divin­ity, His merits, and His grace. All that He is, all that He has, He makes your own. No being on earth is richer and more honored than you are when you bear in your heart your God and Savior. You could not ask for more. Christ could not give you more.

Because Jesus Christ Himself is the very essence of this sacrament, it follows that the Holy Eucharist is the most sublime and greatest of all sacraments, not only in dignity but also in power. Holy Communion is the most intimate union of ourselves with Christ, and therefore it must excel all other sacraments in power to sustain and increase the supernatural life within us. It is justly called the Blessed Sacrament.
In order to appreciate Holy Communion, you must understand its effects. Nine effects in particular will be considered.

Through the Eucharist, you share in the life of God

God is the source of life. From all eternity the Father gives Himself to the Son. Together the Father and the Son give them­selves to the Holy Spirit, sharing with Him Their one divinity.

The eternal Son of God, in His limitless love for our fallen race, became incarnate that men might have life, and might have it more abundantly. At the time of the Incarnation, most of the children of Adam had ceased to live the supernatural life and had devoted themselves to the pursuit of vain honors, deceitful riches, and sinful pleasures. They had ceased to recognize the glorious dignity to which they were called — that of children of God — and had sunk to the lowest depths of sin.

The only-begotten Son of God then condescended to become man so that He might raise man to God. He descended to the depths of humiliation so that He might raise man to a most exalted dignity, to the sharing of God’s own life. It was not enough for Him to offer to God’s offended majesty that atonement which only a divine Person could adequately pay and to merit for man the supernatural life Adam had forfeited, but in His undying love for men, Jesus bequeathed to us a marvelous gift that was to feed and foster the supernatural life within our souls, adorn them with holiness, and thus perfect us more and more in our glorious dignity of divine sonship. This wondrous gift is the living Flesh and Blood of the Word Incarnate, substantially present in the consecrated Host.

Christ not only bestowed on us His life-giving Flesh and Blood, but He even threatened with everlasting perdition those who would refuse to nourish their souls with this heavenly Bread.

The reception of the Blessed Sacrament is of supreme impor­tance to every soul Christ has redeemed. According as that heav­enly banquet is rightly partaken of, or neglected, man will enjoy throughout eternity the fulfillment of the supernatural life in the Beatific Vision of God, or will be excluded from Him.

God wants to give you a share in His divine life. Before doing so, however, He gave His life in all its fullness to the sacred hu­manity of Jesus because of its union with the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. This divine life then extends from Christ, the Head, into the Body of the Church. The members of this Body are the faithful who in turn share in that intimate life of the three Di­vine Persons.

Christ is the Mediator through whom grace comes to all men. By His sacrifice on the Cross, He has merited this divine life that mankind had lost by sinning. Jesus gives you His divine life and unites you with God through the sacraments, especially in Holy Communion, for it is the sacrament of union.

St. Augustine prays, “Other priests offered for themselves and for their people; this Priest, not having sin that He should offer for Himself, offered Himself for the whole world, and by His own Blood entered into the holy place. He, then, is the new Priest and the new Victim, not of the law but above the law, the universal Advocate.”

The Bread of Life is food for your soul

The first effect of Holy Communion is life. All the sacraments either impart supernatural life to the soul or develop it in the soul where it is already found. They do this for certain purposes. For in­stance, the sacrament of Penance raises the soul from death to life; Confirmation bestows on it a special strength to fight against its external enemies. But the Eucharist is concerned with the super­natural life itself. Its function is to intensify and strengthen that life. St. Thomas writes, “We should consider the effects of the Eucharist with regard to the manner in which the sacrament is con­ferred, as it is given in the form of food and drink: thus all the effects that material food and drink produce for the corporal life — that is, to sustain, to cause growth, to repair loss, and to delight — this sacrament produces them also for the spiritual life.”

Holy Communion is a sacrament, and hence, like all the other sacraments, it is a sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Like all the other sacraments, Holy Communion also is designed to give that precise grace of which it is a sign. Baptism, for example, is a symbolic bath; it contains and confers the grace of spiritual cleans­ing from sin. Confirmation is an anointing; it brings with it the grace of spiritual maturity. It makes its recipient firm in the Faith, anointed for the spiritual battle like an athlete of old.

Holy Communion is a sign of nourishment; hence, it is meant to bring to the soul the graces of spiritual nourishment. Holy Communion is meant to do for the soul what material food does for the body, and that is to preserve life and protect it. Material food enables you to continue living and protects you from fatal disease; Holy Communion preserves the spiritual life of your soul and protects you from the spiritual disease of mortal sin.

In His discourse after the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus stresses this fact five times. “I am the living Bread which came down from Heaven; if any one eats of this Bread, he will live for­ever; and the Bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my Flesh. . . . Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The sharing of divine life means that God lives in you and you in Him, and that as God the Son has by nature the same life as the Father in its infinite fullness, so you share it by grace.
Our Lord compared the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar with the manna given to the Jews, because the Holy Eucharist was intended to be the daily spiritual food of Christians, just as manna had been the daily food of the Israelites in the desert.
Manna is like the eucharistic Bread, the Body and Blood of our Lord, which comes from Heaven to feed our souls during our life on earth, until we arrive at last in Heaven, our eternal home, the land of promise. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the Bread which comes down from Heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.”
It is in the midst of a meal, under the form of food, that Jesus chose to institute the Eucharist. He gives Himself to you as the nourishment of your soul: “My Flesh is food indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed.” In the Our Father, he taught us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This refers to Holy Communion. Like the manna, the Eucharist is bread come down from Heaven to give life by nourishing grace within your soul. The life of your soul is supported and developed by eating the “Bread of Life,” much in the same way as the life of your body is supported by eating your ordinary meals. Just as it is necessary to supply your body with food every day, so you must nourish and feed your soul, since obviously the soul has no less need of spiritual nourishment than the body has of material nourishment.
Jesus has prepared for you this great feast of the Holy Eucha­rist — the food of the soul. If you receive Communion only seldom, you become a prey to temptation and sin, and, growing weaker spiritually, you may fall into mortal sin. Many Catholics have good health and are blessed with the material goods of this world. They are very much alive physically, but are dead spiritually.

Therefore, Jesus comes not only to visit you in Holy Commu­nion, but to be the food of your soul, that receiving Him you may have life — the life of grace here below, the life of glory hereafter.

The Eucharist gives you sanctifying grace

Sanctifying grace is that grace which gives your soul new life, that is, a sharing in the life of God Himself.

Sanctifying grace makes your soul holy and pleasing to God. Sanc­tifying grace makes you live the life of God, especially by increas­ing divine love in your heart. Love makes you most like God; thus, love of God through sanctifying grace makes you truly happy.

Sanctifying grace makes you an adopted child of GodIn you, as a Christian, have been fulfilled the words of St. John: “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Sanctifying grace makes you a temple of the Holy Spirit. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever.” And St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

Sanctifying grace gives you the right to Heaven. Just as your soul is the life of your body, so sanctifying grace is the life of your soul. You need sanctifying grace to save your soul. Mortal sin brings death to your soul, because it takes away sanctifying grace, and this means losing God Himself and becoming a child of the Devil. This is the greatest evil that is caused by mortal sin.

To understand why the Church incessantly stresses the desir­ability and advantages of receiving the sacraments frequently, par­ticularly the Holy Eucharist, you have but to recall her doctrine concerning sanctifying grace. The possession of this “God-life” in your soul is the only consideration that will be of importance at the end of your life upon earth. The degree of happiness enjoyed by each one in Heaven will depend only on the degree of sanctifying grace in the soul on entering eternity.

Now, the chief means of increasing grace are prayer and the sacraments. Each time you receive any sacrament with the right disposition of soul, you receive an increase of divine life. There are but two sacraments that may be received frequently: Penance and the Eucharist. Of these the chief is the Eucharist, since in it Christ Himself is received. It follows that the closer you approach to being a daily communicant, the more logical use do you make of one of the chief means of grace.

The Eucharist enables you to live in Jesus

The Eucharist, as a sacrament, produces in you an increase of habitual, or sanctifying, grace by its own power. Its effects are like those of food: it maintains, increases, and repairs your spiritual forces, causing also a joy that is not necessarily felt, yet it is real.

Holy Communion not only preserves the life of your soul, but increases it, just as the body is not only supported by means of natural food, but increases in strength.
Holy Communion also preserves and increases all the various virtues, which are bestowed upon your soul together with sanctify­ing grace. By increasing the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), Holy Communion enables you to enter into closer union with God, and by strengthening the moral virtues (prudence, tem­perance, justice, and fortitude), Holy Communion enables you to regulate better your whole attitude toward God, your neighbor, and yourself. By rendering the seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit more abundant, Holy Communion opens your understanding and will to the inspirations and promptings of the same Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit sanctifies souls by the supernatural gift of grace. The highest type of grace is sanctifying grace, which is a spiri­tual quality, dwelling in our soul, making it like God Himself. Our Lord spoke of the reception of this life as a spiritual birth when He said to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born anew, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Sanctifying grace is also called habitual grace, because once we have received it, it remains as a habit in our soul. Once it has been received, sanctifying grace remains in the soul unless it is driven out by mortal sin.
The Holy Spirit is the skillful gardener. The root of the vine is the sinful soul. Through grace the Spirit gives it His divine life so that it may blossom forth into virtues.

Before our Lord went forth to His Passion, He left to His Apostles and to us all a last testament in His parting discourse. When His bodily presence had to be taken from us, He earnestly and repeatedly enjoined, “Abide in me.”

The bond uniting Him and you can be only a spiritual one, yet it is something real and living, something enduring, not passing, and rooted in the very essence of your being. He used the signifi­cant parable of the vine and branches to illustrate: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.”

The stem and the branches are one same being, nourished and acting together, producing the same fruits because fed by the same sap. In the same way Jesus and the faithful are united in one Mysti­cal Body. He makes the sap of His grace to spring up within you, especially by means of Holy Communion, and thereby increases and develops the divine life of your soul.

Pope Pius XII in his encyclical letter on the Mystical Body of Christ says, “In the Holy Eucharist the faithful are nourished and strengthened at the same banquet and by a divine, ineffable bond are united with each other and with the Divine Head of the whole Body.” You will be able to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

To have sanctifying grace is the first, most essential, and abiding condition of union with Christ, and the basis of all gifts and powers that make up the spiritual life. This grace is areal, spiritual, and abiding faculty of your soul, a partaking in the divine nature and image of the divine Sonship in a spiritual manner, so that you become like Christ, who is the Son of God by nature. As long as sanctifying grace remains in you, He is and remains within you that you may be one in Him and in the Father, as They are one. “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us.” The Father and the Son are one by the possession of the same divine nature. You possess an image of that nature in sanctifying grace.

Surely you ought to be eager to go to Holy Communion often in order not to lose life everlasting. This is the greatest loss possi­ble, for the smallest degree of sanctifying grace is worth more than anything that the world can offer. Even the greatest earthly happi­ness is nothing in comparison with that of possessing sanctifying grace and eternal life in God. Look into your soul, for Heaven’s beginning is there in the form of grace.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Lovasik’s The Basic Book of the Eucharistwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press


Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik (1913–1986) said that his life’s ideal was to “make God more known and loved through my writings.” Fr. Lovasik did missionary work in America’s coal and steel regions, founded the Sisters of the Divine Spirit, a missionary congregation, and wrote numerous books and pamphlets emphasizing prayer and the Holy Eucharist.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Call to Restore Prayers of Exorcism

A Call to Restore Prayers of Exorcism

On June 29, 1972, Pope Bl. Paul VI, who stopped the recitation of the prayer, seemed to confirm an element’s of Leo’s prophecy, stating in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.” This built upon Leo’s sense that the devil would have extraordinary influence in the twentieth century, including within the Church. Paul continued his reflection on the influence of the devil on November 15 of that same year in a general audience entitled “Deliver Us from Evil,” arguing that “one of the major needs [of the Church] is defense from that evil we call the Devil.” Pope Paul, referencing Ephesians 6:11-12, argued that we need to withstand the evil one with the armor of God.

Was a large part of the smoke of Satan entering the Church our denial of his influence and a laying down of our spiritual arms to confront him? For too long we have denied or overlooked the influence of the devil on our lives and the Church. Therefore, we have grown lax in seeking the Lord’s power to overcome his opposition. Praying for this deliverance is central to Christian prayer, as we see even at the end of the Our Father, which has been translated, “deliver us from the evil one.” After being tempted, Christ commanded the devil, “away with you Satan!” and cast out many demons in his ministry. Our Lord took spiritual warfare seriously and recognized our need for deliverance, as he brought “freedom to captives.” He also gave power and authority to his disciples to exorcise: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons” (Mk 16:17; see Luke 9:1). This power has been overlooked of late, as belief in the influence of the evil one now appears superstitious to many.

Take the example of exorcism prayer in the Rite of Baptism as part of the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, promulgated in 1969 by Paul VI. It is fascinating that the Associated Press quoted Bl. Paul as questioning the revised prayer in the audience I referenced above (though these lines have been removed from the official text). The AP article reads: “In his speech. Pope Paul appeared to regret that in the new rite of baptism, which he approved three years ago, less emphasis is given to exorcism. This is the part in which the priest orders Satan to get out of the new Christian. ‘I don’t know whether this is realistic,’ he said of the revised exorcism.” In the audience, Paul recognized both the increased influence on the devil and that the Church had softened her response.

In my opinion, the “Prayer of Exorcism” found in the revised rite, is not an exorcism at all. Here is the text:
Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord.

The first sentence is simply a declarative statement on what Christ accomplished. It then asks that the child be set free from original sin and given grace, but says nothing about praying for the child to be delivered from the influence of the enemy, let alone commanding the enemy to depart.

In paragraph 1673, the Catechism describes exorcism and its relation to Baptism: “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism.” What is so striking about the exorcism prayer in the new Rite of Baptism is that is does not ask that the one being baptized “be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion.”

Contrast this with the exorcism from the traditional rite of Baptism:
I cast you out, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Depart and stay far away from this servant of God, N. For it is the Lord Himself who commands you, accursed and doomed spirit, He who walked on the sea and reached out His hand to Peter as he was sinking. So then, foul fiend, recall the curse that decided your fate once for all. Indeed, pay homage to the living and true God, pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Keep far from this servant of God, N, for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has freely called him (her) to His holy grace and blessed way and to the waters of baptism.

The lack of exorcism in the new rite, was lauded by some, such as Vincent Ryan, OSB:
The catechetical value of some of its rites and formulas was doubtful…. How could one justify the strongly-worded exorcisms when applied, not to converts from paganism, but to newly-born infants? …
In the old baptismal service the exorcisms loomed very large. They have now been reduced to one moderately-worded formula. No longer is the Evil One addressed directly (‘I adjure thee, Satan, …’). Instead, we have a prayer addressed to God, acknowledging what he has done for his people.

Fr. Ryan questioned the need for exorcism prayers for infants, but suggested that it may be helpful for converts. What then do we see happening in the case of someone converting as an adult from another religion? The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), promulgated in 1971, contains a series of exorcisms that occur periodically from the Rite of Acceptance to the Scrutinies of Lent. Analyzing the prayers shows mixed results. Some meet the definition of an exorcism given by the Catechism, but a majority follow Fr. Ryan’s concern for catechetical instruction over actual spiritual warfare.

The “Introduction” to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) describes the exorcisms that occur within the Catechumenate in the following ways: They are “addressed directly to God,” and “draw the attention … to the real nature of Christian life…” (90). Further, during Lent the elect “are freed from the effects of sin and from the influence of the devil. They receive new strength in the midst of their spiritual journey and they open their hearts to receive the gifts of the Saviour” (131).

The strongest of the many exorcism prayers within RCIA is contained within the “optional rites” section of the Rite of Acceptance, and therefore would not necessarily be used for every catechumen. The prayer states: “By the breath of your mouth, O Lord, drive away the spirits of evil. Command them to depart, for your kingdom has come among us.” This prayer, though stronger than the exorcism of Baptism, serves as a petition, not a command to the demons to depart.

The next set of exorcism prayers are the minor exorcisms found within the Catechumenate proper. Out of the 11 options, the following prayer provides a good example of their character:
God of power, who promised us the Holy Spirit through Jesus your Son, we pray to you for these catechumens, who present themselves before you. Protect them from the spirit of evil and guard them against error and sin, so that they may become the temple of your Holy Spirit. Confirm what we profess in faith, so that our words may not be empty, but full of the grace and power by which your Son has freed the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen (§94, Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).

Although this is a good and even beautiful prayer, I wonder (like Bl. Paul VI) whether it would suffice to break someone away from the domination of sin, false worship, and demonic influence? There are also two options for exorcism prayers for each of the three Scrutinies of Lent. These prayers are a bit stronger at points—“defend them from the power of Satan”—but generally maintain a catechetical and petitionary character. As in the revised rite of Baptism, we do not see in these prayers the full exercise of the authority given to the Church by Christ over unclean spirits.

As we see the influence of the evil one increasing in our culture every day, we cannot stand by idly. We must take up our spiritual arms again. Returning to the scriptural passage quoted by Bl. Paul above, Ephesians 6: 11-12, we can see how St. Paul taught us to withstand the attacks of the enemy:
Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
How should we put on this armor? We must surround ourselves with prayer, remaining in the presence of the Lord and strong in our faith. Beyond that, without giving in to undo fear or obsession, we should regularly pray for deliverance from any influence that the enemy may have over us. We should pray regularly the prayer to the great defender of the Church, St. Michael, as Pope St. John Paul II advised us: “Although today this prayer is no longer recited at the end of the Eucharistic celebration, I invite everyone not to forget it, but to recite it to get to be helped in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

There are also many other effective prayers of deliverance. The one copied below is an example of taking up the authority that Christ gave us, through the power of his Holy Name, to withstand evil spirits.

Prayer Against Every Evil
Spirit of our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Most Holy Trinity, Immaculate Virgin Mary, angels, archangels, and saints of heaven, descend upon me. Please purify me, Lord, mold me, fill me with yourself, use me.
Banish all the forces of evil from me, destroy them, vanish them, so that I can be healthy and do good deeds.
Banish from me all spells, witchcraft, black magic, malefice, ties, maledictions, and the evil eye; diabolic infestations, oppressions, possessions; all that is evil and sinful, jealously, perfidy, envy; physical, psychological, moral, spiritual, diabolical aliments.
Burn all these evils in hell, that they may never again touch me or any other creature in the entire world.
I command and bid all the power who molest me—by the power of God all powerful, in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary—to leave me forever, and to be consigned into the everlasting hell, where they will be bound by Saint Michael the archangel, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael, our guardian angels, and where they will be crushed under the heel of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail of “St. Michael” painted by Raphael in 1504-5.

Screwtape: The road to heaven and hell

Screwtape: The road to heaven and hell

The Screwtape Letters is a book authored by C.S. Lewis. Released in 1942, Lewis incorporates his spiritual and theological insights into a correspondence between the Devil, who goes by the name of Screwtape, and his demon nephew named Wormwood. The “Enemy” Screwtape refers to time and time again is, of course, God. Although the book is technically fiction, it is, nevertheless, non-fiction in that it illustrates real spiritual principles based on a solid understanding of human nature. In fact, although C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, he drew inspiration from many Catholic sources and it is demonstrated by the uncanny tactics Screwtape advises Wormwood on. 

These tactics by the Devil are adapted to the many ironies of the spiritual life. To be sure, many principles of the supernatural order, much like the natural order, defy conventional wisdom. One such principle or truth is that the road to hell is paved by sins that are subtle and socially acceptable. In tempting humans, the Devil reminds his nephew of the following truth: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,...Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.” 

The road to hell is not paved primarily with dramatic crimes, genocide and earth-shattering events. It does include that, of course. Rather, it is more often the case that it begins with an uncontested thought or a desire that is seemingly harmless but ends up carrying us in a direction that is contrary to God’s will or what is morally wrong. As St. James wrote in his letter, “Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.” 

To add to this, St. John the Apostle reminds us that there is such a thing as deadly sin; deadly because sin ruptures our relationship with Christ and hence kills the life of grace in the soul. Such a phenomenon is every bit as real as physical illness and death but unlike physical illness and death, spiritual and moral decline is ever so subtle. The reason for this is due to the fact that the effects of grace and the gifts God has given the sinner in the past can outlast the life of grace from within. But before you know it, life is not quite the same after a series of sinful choices has been committed. Although we are not quite conscious of it, the bad choices we make, the sins we commit, change us. Soon enough, we think differently, speak differently and act differently. In fact, there is a spiritual law that says that the more you sin, the less you know you are sinner. 

In the book The Screwtape Letters, the Devil, Screwtape, is mindful of another spiritual principle, one that defies conventional wisdom. He advises his nephew, Wormwood, that when a believer feels abandoned by God, this is by no means a victory for hell. It could be that the Lord has withdrawn all interior spiritual consolation and exterior supports in order to test that believer and hence make him greater than he once was. He writes: 

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” 

When you strip it down to its very essence, you find that the love of God is an act of the will. If everyone is running headlong towards the cliff and hence into the abyss, it will take an act of the will- motivated by love of God –to go in the opposite direction. Indeed, running against the current of friends, family members and society is a lonely business. It often involves the loss of friendships and strained relationships. And in so doing, one can feel even abandoned by God himself. But when one rises above this- even in his confusion and sense of abandonment –by doing the right thing and remaining loyal to the Lord, he (or she) has proven himself as a sincere lover of Christ…a true friend. 

Such a friend can accept all things from God, prosperity and adversity. In the book, The Dialogue, God the Father goes on to inform St. Catherine of Sienna that the faithful disciple of His Son "holds all thing in reverence, the left hand as well as the right, trouble as well as consolation, hunger and thirst as well as eating and drinking, cold and heat and nakedness as well as clothing, life as well as death, honor as well as disgrace, distress as well as comfort. In all things he remains solid, firm and stable, because his foundation is the living Rock." Such a disciple becomes quite useful to the Lord because his fidelity is not dependent on agreeable circumstances. 

What we learn from The Screwtape Letters and from the writings of the Saints is that the strong currents that lead to hell is quite subtle. And those who carried by it are not, at least initially, alarmed by it. Like those passengers on the Titanic who were unphased when the ship hit the iceberg, fatal blows to the life of grace can feel like a little jolt to those who are not paying attention. Yet, their ship is in danger of sinking, nevertheless. On the other hand, the road to heaven is can come is great subtly too. We can make the most spiritual progress when all seems lost. Indeed, when we feel abandoned by God and yet love him anyways- and although we may feel lost and even backsliding -this is a sign that our feet is firmly planted on the road to heaven.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Year of Mercy Makes Sense Only if You Haven’t Lost the Sense of Sin

Year of Mercy Makes Sense Only if You Haven’t Lost the Sense of Sin

During his 2013 interview returning home from World Youth Day Rio — hijacked by the famously taken-out-of-context “Who am I to judge?” remark — Pope Francis made an observation overlooked by the media. The Holy Father mentioned the importance of a “theology of sin” to understanding the truth about God’s mercy.

His recently published book-length interview with journalist Andrea Tornielli, The Name of God Is Mercy, gives insight into Pope Francis’ theology of sin — which provides us, in turn, with an invaluable resource to help us observe this special Jubilee of Divine Mercy.

Pope Francis highlights the difficulty facing pastors and people when discussing the reality of sin and God’s merciful offer of forgiveness. In particular, he talks about two types of people — those who’ve lost the sense of sin and those who’ve lost a sense of God’s mercy. Both attitudes are harmful because they stop us from encountering the healing grace of God’s merciful forgiveness.

Early in his interview with Tornielli, Pope Francis refers to a fundamental problem that has been identified and considered by many popes since Venerable Pope Pius XII — the crisis of the loss of a sense of sin. Pope Francis says: “Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.”

Pope Francis also shares Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI’s concern about the influence of relativism on our sense of sin: “Relativism wounds people too: All things seem equal; all things appear the same.” In a homily, Pope Francis has said the devil seeks to deaden our consciences so we can’t tell right from wrong, which is the hallmark of relativism:
“The man ends up destroyed by the well-mannered method the devil uses, by the way the devil convinces him to do things, with relativism: ‘But it is not ... but it is not much ... no; relax; be calm.’”

Furthermore, Pope Francis — again, like his immediate predecessors — warns about the disastrous influence of this loss of the sense of sin in the Church. He distinguishes between sinners, who retain a deep sense of sin, and the corrupt, who have lost their sense of sin.

The corrupt are those individuals who arrogantly deny or reject their need for repentance and God’s forgiveness and who make their sin a habit and way of life. The corrupt mistake their sin for “true treasure,” justifying themselves and their behavior. They pretend to be Christian, masking their vices with “good manners, always managing to keep up appearances,” leading double lives. Pope Francis gives a shocking example of this:

“We cannot be arrogant. It reminds me of a story I heard from a person I used to know, a manager in Argentina. This man had a colleague who seemed to be very committed to a Christian life: He recited the Rosary, he read spiritual writings and so on. One day, the colleague confided, en passant, as if it were of no consequence, that he was having a relationship with his maid. He made it clear that he thought it was something entirely normal. He said that ‘these people’ — and by that he meant maids — were there ‘for that, too.’ My friend was shocked; his colleague was practically telling him that he believed in the existence of superior and inferior human beings, with the latter destined to be taken advantage of and used, like the maid. I was stunned by that example; despite all my friend’s objections, the colleague remained firm and didn’t budge an inch. And he continued to consider himself a good Christian because he prayed, he read his spiritual writings every day, and he went to Mass on Sundays. This is arrogance.”
However, even though such individuals have hardened their hearts, Pope Francis doesn’t consider the corrupt beyond the mercy of God. Though they are ordinarily immune to contrition and remorse, the Holy Father has observed that God attempts to save them through “life’s great ordeals,” which break their hard hearts, opening them to God’s grace.

The other group particularly identified by Pope Francis is made up of Christians who don’t seek God’s mercy even though, unlike the corrupt, they have a painful awareness of their sin and woundedness. These all share in common the failure to seek God’s mercy due to losing touch with the true Christian sense of God’s merciful love for sinners.

According to Pope Francis, there are Christians who don’t want God’s mercy because they suffer from a “narcissistic illness,” clinging to their woundedness because it gives them the unhealthy pleasure of bitterness:
“Or maybe you prefer your wounds, the wounds of sin, and you behave like a dog, licking your wounds with your tongue. This is a narcissistic illness that makes people bitter. There is pleasure in feeling bitter, an unhealthy pleasure.”
Another group of Christians don’t seek God’s mercy because they make the error of believing their sins are so evil God will not forgive them: “Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven.” Pope Francis refers to these people as those who have come to the erroneous conclusion that they are too great of sinners to encounter Jesus.

One of the key messages of Pope Francis’ The Name of God Is Mercy is there is no sin, there is no habit of sin, and there is no relapse into sin that is beyond the mercy of God:
“There are no situations we cannot get out of; we are not condemned to sink into quicksand, in which the more we move the deeper we sink. Jesus is there, his hand extended, ready to reach out to us and pull us out of the mud, out of sin, out of the abyss of evil into which we have fallen. We need only be conscious of our state, be honest with ourselves, and not lick our wounds. We need to ask for the grace to recognize ourselves as sinners.”

Another theme that runs throughout The Name of God Is Mercy is Pope Francis’ candid admission that he is a sinner. From the beginning of his pontificate, when he was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”  by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro in an interview, Pope Francis hasn’t been shy about identifying himself as a sinner:
“I do not know what might be the most fitting description. ... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

The Holy Father encourages us — sometimes gently, sometime forcefully — to seek the grace to make the same honest and frank admission, because he knows from personal experience that knowing and admitting we are sinners will liberate and transform our lives.
In answer to Andrea Tornielli’s question, “How do we recognize that we ourselves are sinners? What would you say to someone who doesn’t feel like one?” Pope Francis answered:
“I would advise him to ask for the grace of feeling like one! Yes, because even recognizing oneself as a sinner is a grace. It is a grace that is granted to you. Without that grace, the most one can say is: I am limited; I have my limits; these are my mistakes. But recognizing oneself as a sinner is something else. It means standing in front of God, who is our everything, and presenting him with ourselves, which are our nothing — our miseries, our sins. What we need to ask for is truly an act of grace” (p. 30).

Sinners are those individuals who have the humility and sense of woundedness to admit they are weak and in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Pope Francis believes one can be a great sinner but not fall into corruption. Pointing to the examples of Zacchaeus, Matthew, the Samaritan Woman at the Well and Nicodemus, the Holy Father says their sinful hearts were open to God’s mercy:
“Their sinful hearts all had something that saved them from corruption. They were open to forgiveness, their hearts felt their own weakness, and that small opening allowed the strength of God to enter. When a sinner recognizes himself as such, he admits in some way that what he was attached to, clings to, is false.”
In order to place us in a position to admit our attachment to what is false, Pope Francis undertakes a basic catechesis on the nature of sin. This is urgently needed in Western culture — so heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to be in a state of denial about the objective reality of sin and dangerously attracted to embracing the demonic shadow.

It shouldn’t surprise us that as a consequence of his formation as a Jesuit, Pope Francis has no problem talking in stark and explicit terms about the evil represented by our sins.  The first week of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises commences with a meditation on the catastrophic damage caused by angelic and human sin. Pope Francis, likewise, wants us to truly look at the dark reality of sin in the light of God’s mercy, because without God’s mercy such knowledge would be overwhelmingly harmful. He wants us to take responsibility for our sin.

When asked why we are sinners, Pope Francis answers very simply: “Because of original sin,” our nature “is wounded by original sin”:
“It’s something we know from experience. Our humanity is wounded; we know how to distinguish between good and evil, we know what is evil, we try to follow the path of goodness, but we often fall because of our weaknesses and choose evil. This is a consequence of original sin ... something that actually happened at the origins of mankind.”

The Holy Father doesn’t pull his punches about the evil nature of our sin compared to the goodness of God. Our sins not only wound us and damage our relationships — our sins also “displease God,” and we should be displeased with what displeases God. Quoting the Church Fathers, Pope Francis writes that knowing our sins displease God should shatter our hearts:
“The Church Fathers teach us that a shattered heart is most pleasing to God. It is the sign that we are conscious of our sins, of the evil we have done, of our wretchedness and of our need for forgiveness and mercy.”

This is why Pope Francis views our sin from the perspective of the ancient tradition of the Easter Exultet, with its shocking praise of Adam and Eve’s catastrophic sin as a felix culpa (“happy fault”). The Holy Father knows that an honest knowledge of our sin and our need for God’s mercy will lead us to experience the love of “so great, so glorious a Redeemer.”

Deacon Nick Donnelly is a contributor to EWTN Radio’s Celtic Connections program.