June 28, 2015

And the Two Shall Become One...

The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.
— St. John Chrysostom

Thoughts to Bear in Mind After the Supreme Court Ruling on Same Sex Marriage

Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.
— Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God,
finds he lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa of Avila

… all manner of thing shall be well

— Julian of Norwich
Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
Christ reassuring His disciples before His departure. (Jn. 14:27)
You judge a medicine by those who take it, not by those who pour it down the sink.
 — Frank Sheed
Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.
— Psalm 27
I command you: be firm and steadfast!  Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.
— Joshua 1:9
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

— Francis Cardinal George 
Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.
— Isaiah 41:10
Let's not be naive, we're not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.
— Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before becoming Pope
The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.
— Saint Pope John Paul II 

June 27, 2015

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Raising of Jairus' Daughter, James Tissot,
(Click here for today's readings)

In today’s Responsorial Psalm we have the splendid verse: “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.” This reminds me of a book I encountered as a high school seminarian. The title was But with the Dawn Rejoicing. It was the autobiography of a woman named Mary Ellen Kelly. In her teens she had begun to develop rheumatoid arthritis. By the age of 20 she was almost totally immobile. On a train she couldn’t use the sleeper car, but had to travel in the baggage car, strapped to a board. She had the use of only two fingers on one hand; it once took her over two hours to write a note just twenty-five words long.

She had plenty of reason to feel sorry for herself, and indeed she did. In due time, however, she met Fr. Joseph Higgins, a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette. One day he “read her the riot act,” so to speak, and shocked her into the realization that, especially as a woman of faith, her handicap gave her no excuse to do nothing. She began writing a monthly newsletter called “Seconds Sanctified,” specifically for shut-ins like herself. She had always been a devout Catholic, and now had discovered her place in the Church, encouraging others never to lose faith. In 1959 she wrote But with the Dawn Rejoicing.

Like the woman in today’s Gospel, she had seen many doctors but only got worse. Like the woman in the Gospel, she had deep faith. Unlike that woman, she was not cured. But like that woman, her faith saved her. She came to understand that being saved was more important than being cured.

“Just have faith,” Jesus said when people came to tell Jairus it was too late, that his daughter was already dead. That was a lot to ask!

There are actually two other references to faith in today’s Scriptures. The first is in the Responsorial Psalm, where the Lord’s faithful are invited to praise him. The other is in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, in which he includes faith among the things in which the Corinthians excel. We could say theirs is an “excellent” faith.

All of these references to faith imply clearly that faith has consequences. When St. Paul invites the Corinthians to “excel in this act also,” the “act” that he is referring to is... a special collection! He is asking all the Christian communities founded by him to donate to a fund to help the Christian community in Jerusalem, most of whom are very poor. He relies on his communities to understand that their faith calls them to solidarity with persons they had never met.

The woman’s faith did not remain abstract. She didn’t say to herself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he touched me!” but she acted on her faith, saying, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” We can be confident that her faith didn’t end there, but affected everything in her life thereafter.

In the Psalm, the “faithful” are being encouraged never to give in to despair. It isn’t simply a question of a silver lining in every cloud. It goes far beyond mere optimism.

So, too, for Jesus’ words, “Just have faith.” In ordinary English, “just” often has a minimizing implication. “Just do the best you can,” we say to someone who is nervous. “Just sit back and enjoy,” implies something requiring no effort at all. But in the case of Jairus, “just” having faith implies consequences, as though Jesus were saying, “Your faith brought you to me; hold on to it now more than ever.”

Mary Ellen Kelly died in her thirties. Her story reminds me of another person, a man I know, in his forties (I think), severely handicapped after an accident, who has been in a nursing home since before I first met him seven years ago. He, too, has struggled with discouragement. He, too, is a devout Catholic, who has come to terms with his situation. Now he has a Catholic blog through which he is able to share his faith. He draws no attention to himself, though I hope that one day he might share his own faith journey, to help others understand that the consequences of faith, demanding as they may be, bring peace.

I found a list of no less than thirty-five adverbs that can go with “faithful”, ranging from “affectionately,” to “scrupulously,” to “earnestly,” etc. I suppose our faith does undergo certain variations according to time and circumstance. The adverb that jumped out at me as I read the list was “joyfully.”

Which reminds me. The subtitle of Mary Ellen Kelly’s autobiography is: The Joyful Answer to the Why of Suffering. What kind of faith must have she have had!

You, by the way are the faithful. In liturgical books, the people present at a liturgy are not properly referred to as “the audience,” but as “the faithful,” which means those who have faith, those who are present here today because of their faith.

Faith is no guarantee of an easy existence. But the entrance antiphon for today’s Liturgy invites us to “Cry to God with shouts of joy!”

Faith and joy. What a great combination!

June 26, 2015

Statement of Archbishop Charles Chaput Regarding Supreme Court Ruling on Same Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on marriage is not a surprise. The surprise will come as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today's action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions. The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God's Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today's decision.  
 +Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

Truer words were never spoken. Because of today's ruling Christian businesses will have to choose between their most deeply held beliefs and their livelihoods. The faithful will be harassed. Expressions of Christian orthodoxy will be mocked and ridiculed. Houses of worship that oppose gay "marriage" will loose their tax-exempt status. The Catholic Church, in particular, will be persecuted, her priests and bishops jailed, her public liturgies forbidden and white martyrdom will give way to red martyrdom.  

Religious Freedom is Being Trampled in Favor of Freedom of Sexual Expression

Image a World Were Catholic Social Services Do Not Exist. It is Perilously Close to Reality.

In 2012, Cardinal Francis George predicted that faithful Catholics would close down nonprofits rather than violate Church teaching under the HHS contraceptive mandate. That prediction is closer to reality after the Supreme Court's decision upholding federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Court observers acknowledge the King v. Burwell case gave opponents of Obamacare the best chance to derail it. Among the remaining challenges to the law is a class action lawsuit brought by The Becket Fund on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, seeking to uphold their right to carry out their vows of obedience in their service to the poor. The suit seeks protection not only for the Little Sisters, but for other Catholic organizations that provide health benefits consistent with their religious faith.
What has happened to our vaunted American liberties? Except for property rights, they are all being traded off in favor of freedom of sexual expression...
— the late Cardinal Francis George
The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international Catholic Congregation of Religious Sisters, founded by St. Jeanne Jugan to minister to the poor. They have thirty homes in the United States where they care for the elderly and dying. The Little Sisters serve over 13,000 elderly poor in thirty-one countries worldwide.

In accordance with their faith, the Little Sisters uphold the unique, inviolable dignity of all human life, especially those society deems weak or “worthless”. The federal government’s contraception and abortion mandate forces the Sisters to provide services that contradict these beliefs.

Just last year, Cardinal George openly warned about an America where religious freedom is being traded off for freedom of sexual expression. The Cardinal wrote:
The issue has clustered around the [contraceptive] mandate that insists that any institution serving the public must treat women’s fertility as an enemy to be suppressed for the sake of women’s freedom,” said the cardinal. “In fact, the government has made many exceptions to this rule, but has steadfastly refused to exempt Catholic institutions.
We are afraid that the institutions that perform the works of mercy that have been integral to the church’s mission for centuries will be forced to become, effectively, government institutions, given permission to exist only if they do not act as Catholic.
At stake are Catholic hospitals, Catholic universities and Catholic social services, precisely as Catholic. At stake also is a society that once permitted many different voices and faiths to contribute to the common good without compromising their collective conscience.
The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate forces Catholic organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for birth control through their health insurance. The only exceptions are for houses of worship and religious organizations that provide for contraception through third-parties.

The Catholic Church forbids artificial birth control (see Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae) and Catholic nonprofits are suing to get relief from the law.

Cardinal George coupled the decline of American society with the lack of respect for traditional sexual norms, urging citizens to protect their freedom by defending the natural family:
The imposition of a definition of marriage that destroys the natural meaning of marital union is becoming another test case for religious liberty.
The law now holds that men and women are interchangeable in marriage, as if children did not need both a mother and a father to be born and raised with some security. These are laws that mark societies in decline, demographically as well as morally.
The quest for sexual liberation at any cost has undermined society's most basic institution — the family.  As a consequence, we are spiritually, morally, and demographically headed for a failure of historic proportions.

June 23, 2015

Thought of the Day — Pope Francis on Human Dignity

All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.
— Pope Francis

June 21, 2015

Father's Day 2015

St. Joseph the Worker, Andre Prevost, 2013 

Today is Father's Day. This post is dedicated to my father and to fathers everywhere.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of fathers. As the stepfather of Jesus and the husband of Mary – it was an indescribable honor for him to bring up the Son of God. Fathers who want to live their vocation well should look to him for guidance and inspiration.

Prayer to St. Joseph 

Dear St. Joseph,
the Creator of the universe entrusted his
Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ,
and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of his Son,
to your loving care and watchful protection.
Your humble labor in the workshop of Nazareth,
reflected the creative work of God the Father
and his provident guidance of all things.
Intercede now for God’s Holy Church.
May we hear the word of God in faith,
respond with hopeful hearts to God’s plan for us,
and work and pray in loving communion.
Help us to make our homes into a new Nazareth,
the Church into a Holy Family,
and the world into a place of justice and
peace for the glory of God, the Father almighty,
and his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.

Happy Father's Day to all fathers.

June 20, 2015

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 21, 2015, Year B

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,
Rembrandt, 1633
Fr. Butler is away on retreat. I submit to you Fr. Charles Irvin's homily on Jesus calming the storms in our lives and the value of suffering:

Fr. Charles Irvin

(Click here for today's readings)

Your doctor informs you that you have cancer. Your wife tells you she has been seeing another man. Your husband tells you he’s found a younger woman and is going to marry her. You son announces that he has AIDS. Your employer tells you that your job as been outsourced and your services will no longer be needed. Any number of events can bring your life crashing down.

People of faith do not necessarily have trouble free and painless lives and people with little or no faith at all can be found living wonderful, prosperous, and problem free lives, or so it seems on the surface. Life’s blows come to us all no matter what things may seem like on the surface.If you look deeply into the lives of the rich and famous you will find loss, pain, and suffering. Moreover, if you look into the lives of great men and women you will find that most of them rose above pain, loss, and suffering and because of that struggle they achieved greatness.

What happens within our hearts and souls when we find ourselves in the midst of life’s storms?

When I was younger my first questions in the face of loss and pain were: “Why me?” “Why is God punishing me?” If God is so good, why does He allow such things to happen to good people, to the innocent and undeserving? It’s the question many people ask priests.

Well intentioned people might tell you that God is testing you. But we should question that. Why would God need to test us since He already knows what is deep within our hearts and souls? And we need also to remember that God didn’t create us in order to watch us suffer! No, it is life that tests us. More specifically suffering is the consequence of human decisions that sometimes come crashing down upon us. Chaos, we must remember, isn’t necessarily the product of hurricanes, tornadoes, or other disasters of nature. And while it is true that we find chaos in our universe and in our world, the chaos that troubles and tests us the most comes from the decisions of other people. Sin isn’t simply personal. Often our sins have consequences that hurt others. But we never seem to realize that.

Some of us react by trying to get even with those whose decisions have caused us pain and sorrow. Essentially getting even involves using evil to overcome evil. That approach doesn’t work. Using evil to overcome evil only multiplies evil by two; it doesn’t divide it in half. It certainly doesn’t cancel evil out.

Other folks allow themselves to live in a state of victimhood. Too many people have spent their entire lives living in passive-aggressive victimhood. That approach does not work either. It does nothing to confront and overcome the evil intentions and decisions of those who have hurt us and caused us loss and pain. Passivity doesn’t confront those make evil decisions that hurt others.

Eventually we all come to realize that we have little control over others and are virtually powerless over them. But that does not mean we are powerless over our own lives. We do have the power to control our responses to others who have brought chaos into our lives. In Jesus Christ, God has given us the power to confront and face down evil.

God created us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. But to know, love, and serve God in meaningful ways we must freely choose to do so. Can you imagine being loved by someone who was programmed like a computer to love you? It wouldn’t be love at all, would it! So it is with God. He wants to be loved only by those who freely choose to love Him. But the consequence is that He must suffer the rejection of those who freely choose to reject Him. Freedom comes at a terrible cost.

God has suffered the consequences of evil human choices. He suffered them in the life of Jesus Christ here on earth. In Christ, God has faced all that we must face when life tests us with its cruel blows.

The Evil One, the devil, our Ancient Enemy, is known in the Bible as the Great Tempter. We recall that when Jesus began His public ministry He was tempted out in the desert by the devil. And Satan tempts us too, only with many different temptations. In life’s storms and troubles he tempts us first with disappointment. Disappointment leads to doubt. Doubt leads to disillusionment, followed thereafter by depression, defeat, despair, and eventually spiritual death. Satan’s seven “anti-sacraments” are doubt, disappointment, disillusionment, depression, defeat, despair and spiritual death.

Fear plays a big role in all of this. Notice how many times Jesus said to His disciples: “Fear not,” “Be not afraid,” “Peace be with you.” In the New Testament the opposite of faith is not questioning, it is fear...


June 19, 2015

Aleteia: What You Need to Know About the Pope's Encyclical Laudato Si'

Aleteia has a symposium online which you should consult for an even handed consideration of the pontiff's second encyclical. From Aleteia:

Reaction to Pope Francis’s encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (Praised Be), on care for our common home, is anything but "monolithic."

The encyclical, dated May 24 (Pentecost Sunday) and released June 18, has 246 paragraphs and six chapters, with themes such as “The human roots of the ecological crisis” and “Integral ecology.” It is giving critics much fodder for commentary and environmentalists much to rejoice about.

Aleteia solicited comment from several experts in academia, think tanks and the mission field.

They will be adding to the symposium as more comments are made.

June 18, 2015

How the Apostles Where Martyred

St. James the Greater

James, son of Zebedee: Killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). The Acts of the Apostles records that "Herod the king" (traditionally identified with Herod Agrippa) had James executed by sword. He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament.  Eusebius says James’ calm demeanor at trial so sufficiently impressed that one of his accusers converted.

St. Peter

Peter (Simon Peter): Crucifixion, as implied by Jesus in John 21:18-19 in Rome, as mentioned by second-century sources such as Tertullian. According to Christian tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar.  It is traditionally held that he was crucified upside down at his own request, since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. Tradition holds that he was crucified at the site of the Clementine Chapel. His mortal remains are said to be those contained in the underground Confessio of St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope Paul VI announced in 1968 the excavated discovery of a first-century Roman cemetery.

St. Andrew

Andrew: Reportedly martyred by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross. This information comes from a second-century manuscript. Andrew is said to have been martyred at the city of Patras (Patræ) in Achaea, on the northern coast of the Peloponnese. Early  texts describe Andrew as bound, not nailed, to a Latin cross of the kind on which Jesus is said to have been crucified; yet a tradition developed that Andrew was crucified on a cross of the form called Crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or "saltire"), now commonly known as a "Saint Andrew's Cross" — supposedly at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been.

St. Philip

Philip: According to the Acts of Philip he died after being hung upside-down with iron hooks through his ankles by the proconsul of Hierapolis. Included in the Acts of Philip is an appendix, entitled "Of the Journey of Philip the Apostle: From the Fifteenth Act Until the End, and Among Them the Martyrdom." This appendix gives an account of Philip's martyrdom in the city of Hierapolis.  According to this account, through a miraculous healing and his preaching Philip converted the wife of the proconsul of the city. This enraged the proconsul, and he had Philip, Bartholomew, and Mariamne all tortured. Philip and Bartholomew were then crucified upside-down, and Philip preached from his cross. As a result of Philip's preaching the crowd released Bartholomew from his cross, but Philip insisted that they not release him, and Philip died on the cross. Another legend is that he was martyred by beheading in the city of Hierapolis.

St. Bartholomew

Bartholomew:  Bishop Hippolytus tells us he was crucified in Armenia. He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia.  According to one account, he was beheaded, but a more popular tradition holds that he was flayed alive and crucified, head downward. He is said to have converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity. Astyages, Polymius' brother, consequently ordered Bartholomew's execution.

St. Thomas

Thomas: Tradition holds that he was sent to India to preach, where he was killed by being stabbed with a spear. This claim is made by local Indian Christians. According to tradition, St. Thomas was killed at Mylapore, near Chennai, in 72 and his body was interred there. Ephrem the Syrian states that the Apostle was martyred in India, and that his relics were taken then to Edessa. This is the earliest known record of his martyrdom.

St. Matthew

Matthew: Was martyred in Egypt or in Persia. The manner of his death is unknown. Later Church fathers such as Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and Clement of Alexandria claim that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries. Ancient writers are not agreed as to what these other countries are.

St. James the Lesser

James, son of Alphaeus, “James the Less” mentioned in Mark 15:40 as the son of Mary and Clopas. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, he was stoned by the   Pharisees. This is seconded by Hippolytus. A James was arrested along with some other Christians and was executed by King Herod Agrippa in persecution of the church. Acts 12:1,2 However, the James in Acts 12:1,2 has a brother called John. James, son of Zebedee has a brother called John (Matthew 4:21) and we are never explicitly told that James son of Alphaeus has a brother. Robert Eisenman and Achille Camerlynck both suggest that the death of James in Acts 12:1-2 is James, son of Zebedee and not James son of Alphaeus. In Christian art he is depicted holding a fuller's club (when identified with James the Less). Tradition maintains James the Less was crucified at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt, where he was preaching the Gospel.

St. Jude 

Jude/Lebbaeus Thaddaeus: He went with Simon to preach in Armenia. The Catholic saints index says he was clubbed to death. According to tradition, Saint Jude suffered martyrdom about 65 AD in Beirut, in the Roman province of Syria, together with the apostle Simon the Zealot, with whom he is usually connected. The axe that he is often shown holding in pictures symbolizes the way in which he was killed. Their acts and martyrdom were recorded in an Acts of Simon and Jude that was among the collection of passions and legends traditionally associated with the legendary Abdias, bishop of Babylon, and said to have been translated into Latin by his disciple Tropaeus Africanus, according to the Golden Legend account of the saints.

St. Simon

Simon the Zealot: Conflicting traditions. Tradition holds that he was martyred in Persia or Edessa. In art, Simon has the identifying attribute of a saw because he was traditionally martyred by being sawn in half.

June 16, 2015

Vatican: Mexico Received Rare Nation-Wide Exorcism, Last Month

Vatican officials have revealed that the nation of Mexico received a rarely used special rite of exorcism, an Exorcismo Magno, last month in the cathedral of San Luis Potosí. High levels of violence, drug cartels and abortions in the country precipitated the rite. Courtesy of CNA/ EWTN News:
Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, presided at the closed doors ceremony, the first ever in the history of Mexico.
Also participating were Archbishop Jesús Carlos Cabrero of San Luis Potosí, Spanish demonologist and exorcist Father José Antonio Fortea, and a smaller group of priests and lay people.
The event was not made known to the general public beforehand. According to Archbishop Cabrero, the reserved character of the May 20 ceremony was intended to avoid any misguided interpretations of the ritual.
But how can an entire country become infested by demons to the point that it’s necessary to resort to an Exorcismo Magno?
“To the extent sin increases more and more in a country, to that extent it becomes easier for the demons to tempt (people),” Fr. Fortea told CNA.
The Spanish exorcist warned that “to the extent there is more witchcraft and Satanism going on in a country, to that extent there will be more extraordinary manifestations of those powers of darkness.”
Fr. Fortea said that “the exorcism performed in San Luís Potosí is the first ever carried out in Mexico in which the exorcists came from different parts of the country and gathered together to exorcise the powers of darkness, not from a person, but from the whole country.”
“This rite of exorcism, beautiful and liturgical, had never before taken place in any part of the world. Although it had taken place in a private manner as when Saint Francis (exorcised) the Italian city of Arezzo,” he stated.
The Spanish exorcist explained, however, that the celebration of this ritual will not automatically change the difficult situation Mexico is going through in a single day.
“It would be a big mistake to think that by performing a full scale exorcism of the country everything would automatically change right away.”
Nevertheless, he emphasized that “if with the power we’ve received from Christ we expel the demons from a country, this will certainly have positive repercussions, because we’ll make a great number of the tempters flee, even if this exorcism is partial.”

June 13, 2015

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 14, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH 

Christ preaching to his disciples and others,
Willian Brassey Hole, c. 1900's
(Click here for today’s readings)

When a child asks you what an unfamiliar word or expression means, you may well find yourself beginning the explanation with, “Well, it’s something like...” You start with something the child already knows, in hopes of providing the appropriate insight. This is a natural and quite universal teaching method; recognizable images and interesting stories have always sparked understanding.

It should not amaze us, therefore, that Jesus used this approach so often, thirty-two times that we know of, in three Gospels. Surprisingly, there are no parables in John, and only four of Jesus’ parables occur in all three of the other Gospels.

Some of the parables have a moral, such as, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart,” at the end of the parable of the unforgiving servant. In other cases the evangelist gives us the explanation that Jesus himself gave in private to his disciples.

Today, however, we are left to our own devices. What exactly the two parables tell us about the Kingdom of God is subject to some interpretation. Most commentaries see them in terms of the mysterious and extensive growth of God’s Kingdom from simple beginnings. That seems obvious enough, though I have found very different explanations on the Internet.

Today’s reading from Ezekiel is more vague. It is the concluding section of a rather long passage that begins with God’s words to the prophet: “Son of man, propose a riddle, and tell this proverb to the house of Israel.” We get the general sense, nevertheless, that whatever it means it must be something favorable to God’s people.

Riddle, proverb, parable—all can leave you wondering what is really being said. That’s a good thing. They make you think. They take you beyond the concrete and literal meaning of the words.

With respect to the Parable of the Mustard Seed, one encounters commentators who point out that it is not in fact the smallest seed. That is totally beside the point. Jesus is simply saying, “Look how such a tiny seed produces such a tall plant. It’s like that with the Kingdom of God.”

A mustard seed will measure from 1 to 3 millimeters in diameter. (There are 25.4 millimeters to an inch.) The mustard plant can be as high as 9 feet. There is another large plant that has a seed that is only 4 millimeters long and 1 millimeter wide. That plant is usually at least 150 feet tall; some are over 300 feet. It is the Giant Redwood tree. Jesus could have used that example, if he or his audience had ever visited California.

Of course, we have in English our own equivalent of the mustard seed parable, a proverb that we use to inspire trust in persons who are frustrated with inauspicious beginnings of ambitious plans. It reads: “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” In today’s first parable, the man who scatters seed on the land clearly trusts that it will produce a harvest, “he knows not how.”

St. Paul writes, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Our Christian life is sometimes like a proverb or a parable, it can feel like a riddle, not only because we don’t fully grasp the content of certain doctrines, but also because we cannot see clearly where our faith is taking us. Trust is essential for those seeking to enter the Kingdom of God.

John Henry Newman expressed it this way:
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Now Newman was a brilliant author and poet and theologian. Perhaps you are not. But with a little thought and effort, I’ll bet you could come up with your own do-it-yourself proverb or riddle or parable to say what the Kingdom of God has to do with your life, and what your life has to do with the Kingdom of God.

June 11, 2015

Thought of the Day - The Angelic Doctor on Faith

Saint Thomas Aquinas
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
— St. Thomas Aquinas

June's Blog of Note: Happy Catholic - An Interview With Julie Davis

June’s blog of note emanates from the mind of noted Catholic blogger Julie Davis. Julie has contemplated Art, Literature, popular culture and all things Catholic on her blog Happy Catholic since 2004. Her other noble ventures (listed at the end of this post), are well worth your time. Her book, Happy Catholic – Glimpses of God in Everyday Life, is a consideration of quotes from The Simpsons to Saint John Paul II, wherein she discerns how everyday people and events reveal God.

I interviewed Ms. Davis about her blog, her latest pursuits, her faith journey and the role of Providence in her life.

In your conversion story you mention how the Lord changed your heart without any reading or influence from outsiders; it was just between God and you. What do you tell others who are considering or curious about Catholicism?

I tell them to honestly ask God for a sign. And then to wait with an open mind. I didn't dwell much on my "bet" with God since I really put no constraints on it (like time or neighborhood, etc.). That's probably the best way because then you're not reading into things or throwing up roadblocks. He knows you best. He'll speak in a way you will uniquely understand. When it happens you'll know.

Growing up as an agnostic, what were your feelings toward religion? How did that change after you became Catholic?

I don't recall thinking about it much. The general way my parents spoke about it, if it came up (and it rarely did) was that it was a weak reed to lean on for people who couldn't handle the real world. Probably the main times it would come up were when we'd come across television evangelists. Unfortunately, that planted the seed that believers were credulous and a bit simple to believe their claims and fundraising.

Of course, now that I'm Catholic I know that is anything but true. Living my faith fully and honestly takes much more perseverance than not believing in anything. I love my Catholic religion so much for showing me the Truth that underlies what we see on the surface. It is the lens that focuses me on reality.

Having been on the "other side" is helpful though because I know what atheists and agnostics tend to believe when they learn I'm Christian. I can talk their language.

Many of the Church’s detractors criticize her in light of adherents who don’t “walk the walk.” How do you answer such critics?

There are two quotes that sum up my general attitude and form the essence of my response:
You judge a medicine by those who take it, not by those who pour it down the sink. — Frank Sheed  
I know it has been full of sinners. What did you think the Church was, a club for shining saints? But if it has been a hospital for sinners, it has also been a training school for saints... — George Stewart, 1931
Then I try to see if there is a specific problem the person is thinking of and address that specifically.

Saint John Paul II once said, “In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.” Can you explain how this has been true in your own faith journey and the work you do now?

Oh my goodness, my whole faith life began with a gigantic string of "coincidences." Hah. We know that St. JPII was spot on that there aren't any coincidences. My conversion story shows that quite well.

Honestly, I see "coincidence" showing up a lot and I actually have to fight my tendency to discount a lot of it, just as I would have before my conversion.
Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread.  Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas
I tend to see it in my work in the way that Elizabeth Scalia mentioned in her keynote talk for the Catholic New Media Conference a few years ago. She said that when talking to bloggers she'd always ask why they don't quit. And invariably they would say that just when they were going to throw in the towel (for whatever reason) they would get that email, phone call, note, out of the blue that showed them the difference they made in someone's life. That little love letter from God in essence.

I was listening and my eyes were filling with tears because I get them too. Not often, but I don't need them often. It's according to the need.

I think those coincidences happen all the time in all levels of our lives. And maybe that's why I have to fight the doubt. It happens all the time. How could that be true? But it really is.

What movies, books, projects, etc., are you reading/watching, involved with at present?

In terms of books, I'm working on a book about prayer, with the working title Who Do You Say I Am? I haven't yet begun to show it to publishers, but luckily these days there is always the self-publish option.

Reading books is so much easier than writing books and it seems as if I've always got at least one book or movie that I can't shut up about. Lately it is Mockingbird by Walter Tevis, a 1980s science fiction book that I can't believe isn't a classic. It has some fascinating symbolism and a subtext that speaks straight to the Catholic life today.

Also, I've always got a variety of "assignments" because of the podcasts I do. A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast alternates books and movies for discussion. I'm really looking forward to October because it's my turn to choose the spooky movie and book this year. I know it's early but I'm already having fun trying to pick out what we'll discuss.

I'm also an occasional guest at the SFFaudio podcast (science fiction and fantasy). We've been working our way very slowly through The Lord of the Rings in six parts. It has been incredibly rewarding reading that book so slowly and discussing it in such depth. This is not a religious group at all, in fact they tend to be precisely the opposite, but that is the beauty of a group of friends centered around reading. You can all appreciate the books from such different points of view that you might not have found otherwise.

Specifically in terms of movies I head a discussion group at a local assisted living facility. You have to choose the movies for a completely different audience than you'd otherwise have and that too broadens my horizons in ways I wouldn't have expected. One of the most interesting conversations came after we watched Philomena as a companion piece to I Confess. Both showed such different sides of the priesthood, Catholicism, and the lives of Catholics that we still reference the conversation months later. I'd never have chosen either of those movies, so we're all growing together.

What was your raison d'être for starting your Happy Catholic blog. Has it changed as your audience has grown?

I began Happy Catholic in order to keep in touch with people I met on a Christ Renews His Parish retreat. I'd been sending emails about books, movies, quotes, and so forth. It occurred to me it would be a lot more efficient to put it all in one place and so I began the blog.

The funny thing is that almost no one from that retreat has ever read it. However, other people did and I had fun no matter who was dropping by. It is funny that as social media came along, they said that blogs were dead. I haven't seen it, frankly. There are a lot less comments because I think a lot of that has gone to social media, but blogging seems alive and well. It's just where you find the content instead of the chatter. (Or maybe that's just my place!)

I think the only thing that has really changed is that I'm calmer than I used to be. People change, blogs change to reflect them. I began in 2004 and it is 11 years later. I still love the faith as much as ever and I hope Happy Catholic shows that to the world.

Having authored a successful Catholic website for over a decade, what advice would you give someone looking to begin a Catholic blog?

I have two pieces of advice I always give.
  1. Be yourself and blog about what you care about. Be authentic.
  2. Don't worry about how many people are reading.
When I first began I came across a blogger who was saying that she'd had six steady readers and that was fine, whoever God sent her was enough. I've always tried to remember that.

 Julie Davis' Links:

Julie's blog Happy Catholic

Happy Catholic Bookshelf at Patheos (Where Julie leads a weblog of dedicated bibliophiles)

Her food blog, Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen

Forgotten Classics, her podcast dedicated to “great authors and stories that should be better known”

A Good Story is Hard to Find, a podcast “… about books, movies, faith, belief and traces of ‘the One Reality’ they find there.”

She reviews science fiction and fantasy audiobooks at SFFaudio

June 7, 2015

Vatican's Chief Exorcist, Fr. Amorth, Reveals Secrets of Hell, Says the Devil is Behind ISIS

Father Gabriele Amorth
In an interview for the Italian blog Stanze Vaticane, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, answered questions about his soon to be beatified mentor, the persecution of Christians by ISIS, and why a loving God would allow the existence of Hell. (I have highlighted in red Fr. Amorth’s most profound observations about the devil and the nature of evil.)

Father Amorth we are going through a time of violence and persecution against Christians by ISIS: Is the hand of the devil behind it?

Ah, to be sure! Where there is evil there is always the devil. He always is, where there is evil, any evil, great or small, it is always at the suggestion of the devil.

These people are manipulated by Satan then?

ISIS, Sure, I am convinced of it. Where there are wars and destruction, behind these, there is always the devil laughing. God would never allow it. God wants only good things. And these people would also shoot the Pope without qualms...

[ ... ]

Fr. Amorth, are you happy Fr. Candido will become a blessed?

It is a great joy because Fr. Candido was a man of God! He was always serene, always smiling, never angry even with the devil! Everyone was talking about him, he was extremely well known in Rome, where he served as exorcist for 36 years without ever quitting.

[ ... ]

You’ve said before that Fr. Candido never got angry, not even with the devil. Was Satan afraid of him?

He was very afraid of him, he trembled before him! He would immediately run away. In reality, the devil is afraid of all of us, one only needs to live in God’s grace!

Obviously you witnessed Fr. (Candido) Amantini’s exorcisms…

Of course! I assisted at them for six years. I was appointed exorcist in 1986 and I began to perform exorcisms with him beginning that year. Then in 1990, two years before he died, I began performing exorcisms alone because he wasn’t practicing anymore. When someone went to him he responded: “Go see Fr. Amorth”. That is why I am considered to be his successor…

Was Fr. Candido ironic even with the devil?

I want to tell you about one very important episode to help you understand a truth. You need to know that when there’s a case of diabolical possession, there is a dialogue between the exorcist and the devil. Satan is a great liar, but sometimes the Lord obliges him to tell the truth. Once Fr. Candido was liberating a person after many exorcisms and with his typical irony he told the devil: “Go away for the Lord has created a nice warm home for you, he has prepared a little house for you where you won’t suffer from the cold”. However, the devil interrupted him and replied: “You don’t know anything”.

What did he mean?

When the devil interrupts with a saying like this, it means that God has obliged him to tell the truth. And this time it was extremely important. The faithful often ask me: “But how is it possible that God created Hell, why did he think of a place of suffering?” And so at that time the devil responded to the provocations of Fr. Candido by revealing an important truth about Hell: “It was not God, who created Hell! It was us. He hadn’t even thought of it!” Therefore in the plan of God’s creation the existence of Hell had not been contemplated. The demons created it! During exorcisms, I have also often asked the devil: “Did you create Hell?”. And his response has always been the same: “We all cooperated”...

June 6, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), June 7, 2015, Year B

René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

"Take it; this is my body." (Mark 14:22)
Image from Juanes' The Last Supper, 1562
(Click here for today’s readings)

I presume all the adults reading this have made a will, your “last will and testament.” Perhaps you made it a long time ago and it is no longer serves the purpose you had in mind. Nothing prevents you from changing it if you so choose. And if you do, you will then have your very own “old testament” and “new testament.”

For many years now, the word formerly translated as “testament” in the Bible is more often given as “covenant.” The meaning, in English at least, is actually quite different. When you write a will, you can do that on your own, with or without the help of a lawyer, but you are not required to involve the persons to whom you will be leaving that jewelry or that moose head or your millions. There is no covenant, no contract with them.

A contract or covenant, on the other hand, implies at least two parties who agree to its terms, preferably in writing, though a handshake will sometimes serve. In the reading from Exodus, however, the covenant between God and his people is sealed in the blood of a sacrificed animal. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews applies this to Jesus who, instead of bringing animal blood, brings his own blood into the presence of the Father as the “mediator of a new covenant,” and “obtaining eternal redemption” on our behalf.

There are several covenants in the Bible. The first is with Noah and his family, and its sign is the rainbow. The next is with Abraham and his descendants, and its sign is circumcision and the promises. The third is also with the descendants of Abraham, but it is given through Moses in the Law, and its sign is the “blood of the covenant.” When the people abandoned the covenant, the prophets promised yet another, everlasting covenant. And finally Jesus, at the Last Supper, says of the wine, “This is my blood of the covenant.”

You will have noticed that the “words of Consecration” in today’s Gospel are not precisely the words we use at Mass. In the New Testament there are in fact four accounts of that first Eucharist: in Matthew, Mark (today’s), Luke and—no, not John, but St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. No two have the exact same wording. It is very interesting to compare them, and I recommend that you undertake such a study.

What we use at Mass is a sort of merging of them all, a distillation, if you will, of the essence of all four accounts. “Take...Eat... My body... Given up for you... Take...Drink... My blood... New and eternal covenant... Poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”

We observed earlier that a covenant is different from a will because it involves at least two parties. Both sides agree to something. For Noah, it was a matter of just a few very basic dietary restrictions. Abraham’s agreement is externally signified by the circumcision, but at a deeper level by placing complete trust in God’s promises. In Moses’ time, the people’s agreement is expressed clearly: "We will do everything that the Lord has told us" and, a few verses later, "All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do." They commit themselves to the observance of the Law which, interestingly, is called “the book of the covenant.”

In Jesus’ new covenant, we do our part or, more accurately, a part of our part in honoring his command to “Do this in memory of me.” But we commit ourselves to a great deal more than carrying out this ritual action. That may well be why St. John, in his account of the Last Supper, does not mention Jesus giving his disciples bread and wine as his body and blood, but instead describes his washing their feet, and concluding: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” The Church has always understood that we cannot separate our celebration of the Eucharist from the rest of our life. Everything we do is in memory of Jesus.

That door swings both ways.

To go to weekly Mass and live a totally unchristian life the rest of the week would be more than illogical. (Note, I say “would be,” because in forty-two years of priesthood I have witnessed this phenomenon only rarely.)

But to live a Christian and Catholic life and not nourish it with the Body and Blood of Christ doesn’t make a lot of sense either (though it is more common than I might wish). We remain sinners, we know we will never be perfect, we admit, “Lord, I am not worthy.” But we may always hope to derive from the Sacrament and from the Christian Community the strength to go on.

This is God’s “last” testament, the definitive covenant. I am reminded of a wonderful phrase in John Milton’s Paradise Lost where at the end of the story of creation, the poet describes the woman, Eve, as “Heaven’s last best gift” to Adam.

Given to us at the Last Supper, the Eucharist is, among so many blessings, Jesus’ “last best gift” to us. In this, as in all the covenants, God took the initiative. In this, as in all the covenants, we accept the gift, rejoice in it, and let it gradually transform us into the true image and likeness of him who feed us with his own body and blood.

June 5, 2015

U. S. Postal Service Issues Commemorative Stamp Honoring Flannery O'Connor

Today, June 5, 2015, the United States Postal Service is issuing a commemorative stamp honoring Flannery O'Conner. It is the 30th stamp in the Literary Arts series. O’Connor penned unsettling, darkly comic stories, in a Southern Gothic style, about how the potential for enlightenment and grace are available to both saint and sinner. She wrote two novels, "The Violent Bear It Away" and "Wise Blood," 32 short stories, a number of reviews and commentaries. O’Connor was a three-time winner of the O. Henry Award and posthumous winner of the 1972 National Book Award for Fiction for "The Complete Stories." She relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. Her writing reflected her deeply held Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of belief and morality. The stamp shows O’Connor surrounded by peacock feathers—in  homage to O’Connor’s love for the birds that she tended on her mother’s farm. She wrote about them in a 1961 essay entitled "The King of Birds." According to the Savannah Morning News:
The color portrait on this stamp, a watercolor painting completed digitally, is based on a black-and-white photograph taken when O’Connor was a student at the Georgia State College for Women from 1942 to 1945. Surrounding O’Connor are peacock feathers, a symbol often associated with the author. (More about Flannery O'Connor's love of peacocks here.)
In addition to being intended for three ounce mail, the Flannery O’Connor stamp is a Forever stamp.

I submit to you two more links and a video pertaining to Ms. O'Conner whom I hope will one day be canonized a Saint.

Flannery O'Connor Reads "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (1959)

The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

Flannery O'Connor on Faith, the Priesthood and the Catholic Church

Flannery O'Conner, Friend of God, Pray for us!

June 2, 2015

Flannery O'Connor on Faith, the Priesthood and the Catholic Church

Flannery O'Connor
Christ was crucified on earth and the Church is crucified by all of us, by her members most particularly, because she is a church of sinners. Christ never said that the Church would be operated in a sinless or intelligent way, but that it would not teach error. This does not mean that each and every priest won’t teach error, but that the whole Church speaking through the Pope will not teach error in matters of faith. The Church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and couldn’t walk on the water by himself. You are expecting his successors to walk on the water.
From a letter by Flannery O'Connor in response to a friend's criticism of the Catholic Church's shortcomings.