Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter and Divine Mercy

Catholic Exchange has an article encouraging folks to pray the Divine Mercy Novena beginning on Good Friday.

The powerful Divine Mercy Novena as ordered above by Jesus gives us the tremendous opportunity to begin again – a fresh start of “complete forgiveness of sins and punishment” that may otherwise have been due to us in life up to that point.

Of course some folks are suspicious of things like novenas and private revelations, such as those described by St. Faustina, and there's certainly no obligation for anyone to focus on any of that.

But Divine Mercy - deliverance from sin - is the core message of the Passion and the Resurrection, which is why the Divine Mercy feast happens on the octave of Easter - the Sunday following Easter Sunday.

Last year I received a wholly unexpected mercy on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, one that was quite painful at the time - a "severe mercy" - but one that continues to bring me from darkness to light.  And I wasn't even asking for anything.  Imagine the power of prayer if we fervently ask for what God longs to give us!

For the only thing that gives us life and joy is God's grace; the only thing that brings death and despair is sin.

A picture I took of the main altar at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Massachusetts

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cafeteria Catholics without a Cafeteria

"Hell is where nothing connects"- T. S. Eliot

Reader Howard (pictured, left) commented on a recent post pointing out that the philosophy of the day, materialism, makes any case against same-sex "marriage" impossible for Catholics to argue effectively.  He writes ...

The materialist considers all universals to be merely convenient names we use to sort through a complex world; the materialist considers mathematics to be a manifestation of how the human mind works, not of some independent truth. If universals are fuzzy at best, what good are categories like "male" and "female"? If mathematics does not express independent truth, how can the Natural Law?

He's describing nominalism more than materialism - but if you think about it, nominalism and materialism are the same thing.  In both philosophies, there are no universals: everything is individual, atomized.  "Nothing connects".  Which is a kind of hell.

We see this culturally in the radical individualism of our culture and in the increasing isolation of people from one another, even within families, even within marriages.

We see this also as a thread in various popular heresies.  Protestants, for all their sincerity and occasional sanctity, partake in a general movement that is founded upon the principle of radical individualism.  Jettison external authority, and nihilism takes its place - though (as Orestes Brownson pointed out) it may take a few hundred years fully to arrive.  Not only does the atomization of radical individualism lead to increasing fragmentation - more and more denominations - but also, from individual to individual, the Protestant spirit typically leads to an understanding of Holy Scripture that is based on a kind of proof texting, where individual quotations are known by heart, but the context, the wider meaning and the overall picture of the Bible are things often not even glimpsed or imagined.

But many Catholics suffer from this same atomization of thought and action.  It is maddening, for instance, to argue the plain sense of, say, the Catechism of the Catholic Church with a man who refuses to see any connection between individual sections.  Indeed, a deacon who has been banned from commenting on this blog, kept insisting here and elsewhere that the Catechism was far from a whole, and that various and particular parts of it could therefore be safely ignored.   Most heterodox Catholics (left wing and right wing) are "cafeteria Catholics" in this very sense.  Far from having "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) or anything approaching a whole or unified concept of the Faith, the heterodox approach the Church not as the single Body of Christ, but as a collection of various chunks, as bits of matter, atoms, not united, not cohesive, arbitrary and thus susceptible to change.

For nominalists, for materialists, for atomizers, it's not really a question of being a Cafeteria Catholic. It's worse than that. It's eating what suits you and denying there's a cafeteria at all.  It's not so much as "not seeing the forest for the trees" as it is denying that there is a forest or that there's even "trees": there's just this blind dumb thing in front of you that has leaves and bark - or green soft things and hard brown stuff - or something that you call green and soft and something that you call hard and brown but that are nothing more than meaningless impressions upon your senses, here today and gone the moment you look away.

And in this state of intellectual anarchy, as in a state political anarchy, might makes right and the strong man prevails.  When nothing is connected to any other thing in any meaningful way whatsoever, then the only thing left is the strong man.  And in our personal lives, when we have no philosophy beyond the dumb thing in front of us at the moment, that strong man is our lust, or our sentiment, or our passing fancy.  It can't be anything else.

There is nothing else.

Welcome to hell.

Cakewalk 250

This year marks the 250th Anniversary of the founding of my home town, St. Louis, Missouri.

To celebrate, the anniversary committee has put together Cakeway to the West.  What is Cakeway to the West?  It's 250 birthday cakes designed by local artists, which have been placed around the St. Louis metro area.  Pretty cool, huh?!

Obviously, then, the only thing left to do is for people like me to

  • find all 250 cakes, 
  • take pictures of them 
  • and post them on our blogs.

Karen and I (the lead members of the O'Brien Family Singers) began our quest yesterday, Palm Sunday, 2014.  Here are cakes one through ten.

1. Sappington House

2. Laumeier Sculpture Park

3. St. Anthony's Medical Center

4. Center for Contemporary Arts

5. Lions Gate, University City

This cake asked the question we always hear in St. Louis, "Where did you go to high school?" The cake provided sidewalk chalk for people to write the answer to that question.

I wrote "WHS '78" - Washington High School, class of 1978.

6. Chuck Berry Statue

This cake featured St. Louis "stars" - famous people from St. Louis.

One of the stars is none other than Jenna Fischer - my wife Karen's cousin - star of The Office on NBC and former actress for my company, Upstage Productions.

7. The Tivoli Theater

The cake at the Tivoli was decorated with famous movie starts, including ...

                                                                             ... St. Louisan Vincent Price

I slipped University City panhandler "Tip Toe" a five and he graciously posed in front of Blueberry Hill's cake, balancing on his cane!

9. The Pageant

10. Ruth Porter Park

We Can't Receive Communion if We're Not In Communion

Tom Hoopes at Catholic Vote has written a piece entitled Popes Clearly Say Who Can and Can't Receive Communion.

He concludes his article ...


In their 2006 document, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” the bishops pointed out that communion is not just  for Catholics only, but only for Catholics who:

— Went to confession in the past year, at least, or after they committed a serious sin.

— Fasted for an hour first “refraining from food and drink (except for water and medicines) for at least one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion.”

— Are wearing “modest and tasteful dress” — “clothes that reflect our reverence for God and that manifest our respect for the dignity of the liturgy and for one another.”

— Are in a recollected and prayerful state of mind.

The statement even spells out some common serious sins. These are sins that constitute grave matter. When we do them deliberately and with knowledge of their sinfulness, they put us in a state of mortal sin.

•  Abortion and euthanasia. “Committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia, harboring deliberate hatred of others.”
•  Any extra-marital sex. “Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage.”
•  Theft, including “serious fraud, or other immoral business practices.”
•  Slander, Hatred and Envy. “Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their good name. … Harboring deliberate hatred of others. … Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else.”
•  Pornography. “Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography.”

So don’t think the Church is being mean for denying communion to politicians who reject the right to life for the unborn. Communion with Our Lord is a precious privilege, not a common right. Every one of us should be more careful about approaching it worthily.

I must admit that I'm not always dressed appropriately to attend Mass, much less receive communion.  Sometimes this is because I'm walking to church, and (especially in the summer heat) I can't walk for several miles in church clothes.

But I often find myself not in a "recollected and prayerful state of mind".  This is usually because I'm on the road and I'm fulfilling my obligation at a random church - and at least half the time the priest is playing games with the liturgy, and the music is so dreadfully contrary to recollection and prayer that I find Mass more of a temptation to Wrath than a spiritually nourishing activity.  I have occasionally decided not to receive because the entire celebration was so antithetical to anything Catholic or even Christian that I could not lie with my body and tell everyone around me (by receiving) that we were all in communion together, when they really didn't seem to belong to the same Church I do.

Anyway, it's good to know the Church still takes reception seriously - although your parish priest or your bishop would probably never give a hint that any of this still matters.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Witnessing in Spite of Ourselves

Then Ilûvatar spoke, and he said: “Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilûvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Today, Palm Sunday, at Mass we read the Passion of Our Lord according to Matthew.

Consider this scene from two perspectives - and realize that Tolkien was referring (among other things) to this ...

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him.  They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head.  And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. (Mat. 27:27-31)

The soldiers are venting their rage.  They are in control, in command.  They are ridiculing Jesus, showing him up, mocking Him.  They are abusing Him.   From their perspective, they are the actors and the authors of this drama.  They are the composers of this music.

If the music is from Illuvatar, they are "altering it in his despite".  But "no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source" in Him.  And if you try to play your own tune, you soon find out that, in attempting this, you prove but His "instrument in the devising of things more wonderful," which you yourself have not imagined.

And so, in heaping upon Jesus ignominy, ridicule and the very spit of contempt from their vicious mouths, they are clothing Him in His glory.  A coronet of thorns will forever circle the head of the One who redeemed all contempt, all shame, all ingnominy, all suffering, for our sake.  They think they are mocking Him, but they are glorifying Him.

For even the devil in pushing against the good serves as a witness to it.

The Real Theology of the Body: Lust is a Form of Hoarding the Gift

If "man finds himself in a gift of himself", and if the sacrificial love embodied in the Eucharist is the highest expression of our lives as Christians, then we should live so that everything we do is a gift, an act of gratitude to God and to our neighbor, infused with wonder for the gift-of-being that we have been given in the first place.  Gift answers gift: our gift of thanks and surrender, given to God and neighbor, answering God's gift of existence given to us, and answering the gift of love we get from others.

This is the inner meaning of John Paul II's Theology of the Body: Gift answers gift.  That's the central act of life, communion, a meaning impressed upon and expressed from our physical existence: gift answering gift is an act of love, it is "the nuptial meaning of the body", it is the reason we are made male and female, the reason we have bodies, the reason love is sacrificial and procreative.

What the Real Theology of the Body is not is the spiritualization of lust.  While Eros is something that needs to be channeled and focused in JP2's theology, lust is something that needs to be killed - mortified.  To spiritualize lust is to make freedom "an opportunity for the flesh", rather than "through love" to "be servants of one another" (Gal. 5:13-14)

Specifically ...

Anyone who lives in this way according to the flesh ... submits ... to the three forms of lust, especially to the lust of the flesh, [and] ceases to be capable of that freedom for which "Christ set us free." He also ceases to be suitable for the real gift of himself, which is the fruit and expression of this freedom.

The great irony here is that the womanizer, the Don Juan, and the ladies man on the one hand; and the loose woman, the slut and the vixen on the other, who spend all their time apparently "giving" themselves to other people sexually, are prisoners to a way of being that prevents them from truly giving themselves in love.

Their lives contradict their anthropology.  Their behavior belies their true identities.  Thus fornication (and "shacking up" and "gay sex" and adultery) are always dead ends, always acts that breed pain and misery.


One thing about JP2's Wednesday Audiences: John Paul II is consistently coming at this from a deep and whole vision of what man really is.  

Compare this with what man seems to be for the Westians: a creature of appetite for whom heaven is a buffet table that you never have to push back from.

The tragedy in the pop-version of the Theology of the Body is how it reduces man to a creature of appetite, and dresses up that appetite in choir robes.  The Real Theology of the Body enlarges man to what he was originally made to be: a creature for whom the highest expression of existence is the Cross and the love that flows from it.

"Gay Marriage" is Not a Cause, but a Symptom

... the historical autopsy will conclude that gay marriage was not a cause but a symptom, the sign that revealed the patient’s terminal condition.

So concludes Rod Dreher in an article on The American Conservative that also includes these tidbits (my ephasis) ...

Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.
It also remains to be seen whether we can keep Christianity without accepting Christian chastity. Sociologist Christian Smith’s research on what he has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism”—the feelgood, pseudo-Christianity that has supplanted the normative version of the faith in contemporary America—suggests that the task will be extremely difficult.

And as for the pro-gay-marriage crowd around us ...

Too many of them think that same-sex marriage is merely a question of sexual ethics. They fail to see that gay marriage, and the concomitant collapse of marriage among poor and working-class heterosexuals, makes perfect sense given the autonomous individualism sacralized by modernity and embraced by contemporary culture—indeed, by many who call themselves Christians. They don’t grasp that Christianity, properly understood, is not a moralistic therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism—a common response among American Christians, one denounced by Rieff in 2005 as “simply pathetic”—but is radically opposed to the cultural order (or disorder) that reigns today. 

Two Popes on Sin and Temptation

The temptation of the devil has three characteristics and we need to learn about them in order not to fall into the trap. What does Satan do to distance us from the path of Jesus? Firstly, his temptation begins gradually but grows and is always growing. Secondly, it grows and infects another person, it spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community. And in the end, in order to calm the soul, it justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself.

So said Pope Francis just the other day.

Think about this and you'll see how accurate it is.

1. The beginning of sin is an interior thing, a secret thing, a thing that we consent to in our hearts.  We conceive it and nurture it in a kind of Maculate Conception.  It "begins gradually, but grows and is always growing".
2. Sin, although it is sterile and eats itself up, does not remain an interior thing.  It spreads like a cancer.  It infects others and harms them, either by including them in the sinful act, or by damaging them with the consequences.  "It spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community."
3. And most perniciously, sin justifies itself.  I've written about this a lot on this blog.  Compared with our endless attempts to justify our sins, the sins themselves appear almost innocent.  
"It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself."

And in the midst of his Theology of the Body lectures, Bl. John Paul II speaks of sin ...

Here again are the words of Galatians: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like..." (5:19-21). "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (5:22-23). In the Pauline doctrine, life according to the flesh is opposed to life according to the Spirit. This is not only within man, in his heart, but, as can be seen, it finds an ample and differentiated field to express itself in works. Paul speaks of the works which spring from the flesh—it could be said, from the works in which the man who lives according to the flesh is manifested. He also speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, that is of the actions, of the ways of behaving, of the virtues, in which the man who lives according to the Spirit is manifested. In the first case we are dealing with man abandoned to the threefold lust, which John said is "of the world." In the second case we have before us what we have already called the ethos of redemption.

John Paul adds a footnote to this ...

Exegetes point out that, although for Paul the concept of "fruit" is sometimes applied also to the "works of the flesh" (e.g., Rom 6:21; 7:5), yet "the fruit of the Spirit" is never called "work."
For Paul, "works" are the specific acts of man (or that in which Israel lays hope, without a reason), for which he will be answerable before God. ...
On the other hand, the term "fruit of the Spirit" emphasizes God's action in man. This "fruit" grows in him like the gift of a life whose only Author is God. Man can, at most, promote suitable conditions, in order that the fruit may grow and ripen.

Sin, then, is a kind of parody of the fruit of the Spirit.  As the good we do as Christians is the effect of God operating in us, we can see a threefold stage that evil parodies.

1. The beginning of the fruit of the Spirit is an interior thing.  It is the seed taking root in good soil and eventually bearing forth perhaps a hundredfold. (Mat. 13:8)  It is the mustard seed that grows into a plant that shelters even the birds of the air. (Mat. 13:32)  "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." (Mark 4:27).  Its growth is a surprising thing, but its beginnings are quiet and silent, hidden in the receptivity of our hearts.  See, for instance, every icon of the Annunciation.
2. It does not eat itself up, it feeds others (the Miracle of the Loaves); it is fertile, not sterile.  It enriches us privately, but it spreads out to others and builds families and communities.
3. It has no need to justify itself.  It is, itself, justice.   

Compare that last one with what Pope Francis said above.  "And in the end, in order to calm the soul, [temptation] justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself."

Note that phrase: "In order to calm the soul."  

Try as we might to justify things like "gay marriage" or Lying or any of our favorite sins, our consciences stand as witnesses against us.  Not content to bugger our neighbor, we must compel others to applaud this act.  Not content to lie when it's convenient for us, we want to rewrite the Catechism to tell us Lying is a Good Thing.  Not content to indulge our lusts, we insist that our certificate of "mature purity" is a license that makes even lusting a spiritual thing.

So what are we to do?

  • Nurture our soil and feed the life of grace within us.  Allow it to take root and bear fruit - the fruit of the Spirit.
  • Reject temptation ab initio, from the beginning, before sin has chance to take root.  If it takes root, cut it out and kill it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What a Wonderful World

Colin, Kevin, Karen and Kerry (in that order) tackle Louis Armstrong.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Theology of the Body Isn't about Sex: It's about Identity

Another in my series: The Real Theology of the Body, continued.

That is to say, what is the Theology of the Body according to Bl. John Paul II and not according to the pop-Catholic peddlers of skewed interpretations of it?

The pop perversion of TOB errs not only in focusing exclusively on sex, but in focusing on a very narrow image of man.  The kind of man in the Westian view of the Theology of the Body is a man who lives on the level of appetite, and who spends a lot of time spiritualizing an appetite that remains, in the end, a mere appetite, a base hunger dressed up in church robes.

But JP2's vision of man is of a man much more whole and complete than that.

This is what is impressing me most about JP2's TOB.  Man is a whole in John Paul's vision.  He is a complex, mature, complete and multi-layered being, for whom lust is a sin, but that sin does not define him; a man for whom sex is part of his destiny, but not the whole of his destiny.  JP2's man has sexual desire, but his sexual desire is part of his Eros, and his Eros is a hunger for the True, the Beautiful and the Good, a bridge to the transcendent, which must be held up by the pillars of the Law perfected by Christ.  JP2's man passes toward the fulfillment of the "nuptial meaning of the Body" through an Ethos that renounces lust and that seeks the "redemption of the Body" so that the fullness and complexity of his being has its proper end: an end built into the language of the Body by God Himself.

This is a far cry from the cosmic orgasm and the overwrought sensual indulgence the pop-Catholics seem to be seeking in their version of TOB.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with a license to stare at naked ladies if you feel you possess "mature purity".

The difference between the Real Theology of the Body and the Pop Theology of the Body is not so much a difference in their views on sex but a difference in their views on Man.

Singleness of Heart

Be not incredulous to the fear of the Lord: and come not to him with a double heart - Sirach 1:26.

Here's a conflation of two posts from last year on the question of singleness of heart.


Living without integrity is a shameful thing - this is why we tie ourselves in knots to rationalize our bad behavior, so that we can convince ourselves (at least) that we have personal integrity - though our friends and family generally know better.

What is integrity?  It is integration as opposed to disintegration, living as a man or woman whose actions and beliefs are integrated, made one.  When the things we do don't match the things we profess, we have no integrity.  We become hypocrites.

Integrity, then, is nothing other than living in accord with the Truth.  

Sin, by contrast, is Living the Lie.  When we sin, we deny the built in borders of reality (such as the nature of love and sex) and assert in its place our own Unrealities (such as sodomy, contraception and adultery), turning from the truth and serving the Lie, turning from "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6) to the wayward, the false and the death.

For we are torn.  We are double-minded and thus unstable in all our ways (James 1:8).  St. Paul says it best ...

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Rom. 7:18-19)

... which leads him to conclude ...

In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Rom. 7:22-23)

In other words, our hearts are divided.  The right ventricle is at war with the left.  Inside our deepest selves is a kind of schizophrenia.  We delight in God's law - in what is True, Beautiful and Good - but we also reject it and trample on it.

Let us pray, then,  for Singleness of Heart, for Undivided Hearts, for hearts made pure, true hearts of flesh, not false hearts of stone.

Lord, make us of one mind and of one heart - may we not be double-minded, double-hearted, double-tongued (speaking out of both sides of our mouth and lying), but integrated - fully serving You, the God of Truth.  May our hearts be molded unto Mary's, and thereby molded unto Yours.

  • Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. - Prov. 4:23
  • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. - James 4:8
  • And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. - Acts 2:46
  • I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. - Ez. 11:19