Wednesday, September 28, 2005
This is the second post on the topic. The topic is filling the blog sphere and a follow-up musing is in place. It seems that Aquinas Seminary at St. Louis was the first scheduled. A team of four (a seminary professor, a campus chaplain, a parish Pastor and a director of religious studies) will visit with a set of questionnaires and, I suppose, some interviews. The questions to be answered are: is there evidence of homosexuality in this seminary and can the seminarians live celibate lives.
1. Let us look at this in the most simplistic way to better understand what is going on. In the States, the problem is being gay or homosexuality. Here in Asia, the problem is having women and, occasionally, latent homosexuality. Let me distinguish the three. For priests to be attracted to women is natural but out of place in the seminary or the priesthood. Latent homosexuality is caused by the undue arousal of the natural passions and since this happens within a tight enclosed environment, like a seminary for men, the natural attraction (which should had been controlled through asceticism ) is misdirected towards the same sex. Here the passion is natural to fallen nature but misdirected. In the case of gays, the tendency is not a natural misdirected passion but a perversion of the passions. It is a natural passion gone berserk, therefore, un-natural.
2. Let us work on the assumption that the Catholic Way of Life in the seminary is watered down, which is the common state of affairs: those attracted to the opposite sex (and are unable to overcome this tendency due to a weak spirituality) will have to leave and marry to help them control the natural tendency. For those in the seminary with a natural aroused passion but misdirected object of affection, they will have to leave and be exposed to the opposite sex (it is unthinkable to bring in women into the seminary to cure this tendency.) For the third, those with perverted movements of their passions, there is no natural or human cure that I know of. The seminary ambiance will worsen their state. This, as the Philadelphia investigation report shows, has devastating consequences.
3. But the observance of the Catholic Faith in its fullness can cure the three defects. So by living the faith in its fullness, the person can even forgo marriage and live a celibate life. If he can give up something natural to his nature, it should be easy for him to give up a misdirected attraction and even a perversion, which is not natural to his nature. I hope my point is evident.
3. The goal of the visitation (I have not read the Instruction) is to weed out sex abusers and solve the problem of declining vocation. Let us take the first goal: if the goal is to keep the priesthood a holy state, which it must be, then we should not weed out sex abusers only but all sinners, including the worldly seminarians. That would mean weeding out the whole seminary. If the visitation is meant to solve the declining vocations, Christ said “it is praying to the Lord of the harvest” that would solve it.
4. There is no psychological test (Gestalt or Projective) that can detect sexual perversity. The answer to the questionnaires can easily be manipulated to show normalcy and hide perversity. And there is great danger of rash judgments and the consequent lack of charity in the well-intentioned visitations.
5. As I hinted earlier, the visitation should find out if they are living the fullness of the Christian life. If they are, the three problems mentioned above will be solved resulting in holy priests. If the way of Evangelical life is rejected, by any of the three, they will find the Ascetical life unbearable and leave on their own. In fact, all those who are not "really seeking God" will leave. Doesn’t this sound simpler and yet orthodox? This is how the first monasteries did it? And seminaries are a poor imitation of monasteries. Did I say: "Why not transform seminaries into monasteries?"
6. Let’s put one and one together from the words of Pope Benedict XVI. He wants us to master the catechism. If this is studied side by side with living the monastic life “under the patronage of St. Benedict” the seminarians will reach “passionlessness,” a control, not the elimination, of their passions. The desert Fathers were experts in this. The Seminary visitators should be four hermits (oh, I forgot that race is extinct). With a program like that “Au revoir” to all sexual problems. (Painting above is by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez, "meeting between St. Anthony and St. Paul the hermit," ca.1633.)
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
We may divide emotions into religious and the purely human emotions. Religious emotions may be described as initiated by the grace of God while purely human emotions are initiated by humans (self-induced). Religious emotion is a mystical experience given by God only once. There may be exceptions but usually it is given once. While human emotions, being self-induced, can be induced as often as desired.
It can happen that an emotion is induced by the grace of God; but consequently self-induced. It can, also, happen that a humanly self-induced emotion is initiated but followed, somehow, by a Divinely initiated emotion. Discernment is the rule of the game. But it is easy to detect the Divine thing from the human….as usual from their fruits.
Divinely initiated or religious emotion is common among Catholics (and in converts), especially in the process of conversion; while humanly initiated emotions are prevalent among the Protestant sects (noted in the tearful congregations they have). But note that just as a genuine Divinely initiated emotions can happen among the Protestants which, precisely, is the first step of conversion that brings them to the Catholic Church, it is also possible that a Catholic prayer meeting be ruled by purely human emotions (which is remote when spirituality is based on the Mass).
Let us examine first how a divinely initiated emotion works in the context of conversion, because this grace is sent for the purpose of conversion (for both Catholics and non-Catholics.)
To be a true follower of Christ consists in a series of continuous conversion. In his book “Introduction to Christianity” Pope Benedict XVI mentions this, adding that attending Mass is the process of continuous conversion into the fullness of Christ. Though conversion consists in a series of acts, and not just one act, the first step is the most difficult to hurdle. So God in His wisdom has ordained to give men a little boost, similar to the Jet Assisted Take Off of rockets, just to assist the soul over the hurdle towards the first step of conversion. This aid is the divinely initiated religious emotion. This is a big help! It’s up to man to respond or harden his heart.
Since this is an aid to hurdle the most difficult stage of conversion, the emotion must be followed by the next step of conversion, which is an enlightenment of what is the truth. And so in the case of a non-Catholic, a strong tendency arises to go to the Catholic Church. This means that the emotion experienced which could be accompanied by copious tears is divinely initiated. For Catholics, it is an enlightenment, too, of how precious is the pearl that he possesses and which he does not appreciate at the moment.
Catholics must go through continuous conversion to reach the fullness of Christ. And this conversion is oftentimes neglected. Though this is primarily a work of God, man must do his part. And even for Catholics, the first step of conversion is difficult to hurdle, thus God helps them with an initial boost.
The danger for both Catholics and Protestant is that since the emotion is a pleasant experience they tend to return to their prayers or services for a re-experiencing of that emotion rather than for the conversion of their lives. Then, the initial religious emotion is wasted and the consequent experience becomes merely human initiated emotion of absolutely no spiritual value.
If a soul does not respond faithfully to the Divinely initiated religious emotion and, as a consequence, God ceases to move him, he can always recall the memory of that initial experience and resume his conversion. But if the emotion is humanly initiated, no memory of it can initiate conversion.
Sometimes, however, after God grants this grace to a soul and the soul responds by conversion, He gives another mystical grace, the gift of tears. This is an entirely different mystical experience uncommon but it happens. St. Thomas of Aquinas, when he was with the Benedictines had this experience of true religious emotion while praying the psalms. He shed tears. The tears are, generally, not the sign of true religious emotion. The fruit is: that is, his conversion to or knowledge of the truth. And St. Thomas knew the truth, no doubt about that. But he, also, had the gift of tears, in that he wept secretly every time he recited the Divine Office in Montecassino, as narrated by William of Tocco (a biographer who knew Thomas of Aquinas personally.) The gift of tears followed the initial religious emotion. The Rule of St. Benedict encouraged the monks to remain in the oratory after the Divine Office to pray with tears. He forbade praying with tears in public or during the Divine Office not to disturb the rest.
When participants in the World Youth Day, in an audience with the Pope or in a retreat experience something nice, it could, definitely, be a genuine religious emotion initiated by the grace of God, leading to the first difficult stage of conversion. But it could, also, be a purely emotional episode. How do we detect the true religious emotion? As Pope Benedict stated at the WYD: your feelings must lead to true conversion and like the Magi, you return to your life by another way giving glory to God, i.e. if you start living a completely different way of life now, in accordance to the precepts of Christ and share this life with others. Isn’t this the way of Monasticism? (Painting is by Diego Rodriguez y Velasquez, "The Temptation of St. Thomas of Aquinas," showing an angel giving him a chastity belt symbol of the virtue of chastity, 1631.)
Friday, September 23, 2005
The world had been trying to eliminate poverty. The Church is making the world make a vow of poverty. The world that is trying to eliminate poverty is much poorer; the Church that is encouraging the world to make the vow of poverty had developed Western Civilization. And the world today is much poorer because both the world and the Church had been trying to eliminate poverty.
How can one work to eliminate poverty on the one hand, and on the other obliged souls to make the vow of poverty? Can you really eliminate poverty when Christ said: the poor you will always have with you for blessed are the poor.
Poverty is in the forefront of the teachings of Christ. By example, Christ showed a life of poverty. When he died, He had nothing and was buried in a borrowed tomb. And He constantly spoke of poverty; deny yourself, sell all things. When He sent His preachers He told them to bring neither purse nor haversack. In fact, His teachings are built around "Seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will be given you." Christ, in fact, was saying that we should work full time seeking God's kingdom and not to worry what we are going to eat or wear. His words are clear: the way to work out one's salvation is in complete poverty.
When the first Christian communities gathered together, they brought all their possessions and laid it down at the foot of the apostles. And these are to be distributed according to the needs of the faithful. The apostles distributed, the members of the community had nothing, having laid down everything at the foot of the apostles. Ananias and Saphira made the mistake of keeping a little from a sale and dropped dead. The first Christians had nothing or better still, had much but gave up all things and work out their salvation when they had nothing.
Poverty must be viewed from the context of the three vows; poverty, chastity and obedience. Religious must make these three vows and laymen must practice these three in spirit if they must enter heaven. Love of God, must be reached for salvation. Love of God is defined as "Obedience to the commands of God (or of Christ.) Before a soul can reach love he must be perfectly obedient to the will of God. But he cannot reach this unless he is chaste. Chastity is defined as having only one affection and that is God. But then a soul cannot reach chastity unless he is poor (poverty). Note that the reason why chastity cannot be kept both in the case of some priest and many husbands is due to lack of poverty. Poverty is defined as detachment from all material or earthly goods.
Note that complete detachment from all material or earthly good (poverty-detachment from the world) is pre-condition to detachment from all human affection (chastity-detachment from humans). These two, lead to obedience (detachment from one's own will) disposing him to be obedient to God's will, which is love of God.
Poverty forces one to depend completely on God, to trust in Him through this great-souled act of detachment. The apostles leaving all they had were by a sudden conversion changed from catchers of fish into fishers of men. And the first believers , disposing of all they possessed began to enrich themselves with eternal things through the most devoted poverty. And following the apostles they began to rejoice in having nothing of this world and in possessing all things in Christ. And Peter who said: "Silver and gold I have none..." gave out such an abundance of divine grace that he healed many thousands in their hearts.
Know the steps of the blessed ascent to God: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," this is humility of soul and not the absence of riches...but of which the absence is an effective aid. The answer to the Donatist's accusation that the Church had unchurched, herself, after Constantine up to St. Sylvester, by becoming a property-owning body and by turning her back on martyrdom is this - the Church is practicing IN SPIRIT poverty and martyrdom....it is this spirit that gives life to Catholic practices. And the spirit of poverty is the foundation upon which the other Beatitudes are built on.(Painting is by Fra Angelico, 1395, "The Sermon on the Mount.")
Thursday, September 22, 2005
I am getting the impression that the visitations to seminaries, scheduled in the near future in the U.S., were meant to root out homos or child molesters or future sex offenders from the ranks of the seminarians and priesthood. I don’t know how that can be done. Rooting out would not necessarily mean that the remaining “normal” candidates would be an asset to the Church.
We have two problems here; the homos, who are perverts and the “normals” who may not necessarily be holy. Both can be problems to the Church.
When I took up Ascetical Theology as a young priest, I remember learning that the Catholic Faith if lived to the fullest or even a little less than the fullest can solve all human problems. That was why Christ came, to be the answer to all problems, including those just mentioned. If the fullness of the Catholic Faith is applied in the seminary, it should solve any sexual perversion and, at the same time, sanctify the ordinary “normals”. In which case there is no need to exclude such candidates, or any candidate for that matter.
On the other hand, if the fullness of the Catholic Faith is not observed, or is watered down, it will not cure the spiritual illness of sexual perverts nor will it sanctify the normal seminarian....now, that’s a problem. Having a sexual pervert and an unholy priest is like being between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The problem in seminaries and in the Catholic Church is the watering down of the Christian way of life. Where can we find this way of life?.... in the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Christ taught it in its completeness to the Apostles; the Apostles taught it, in turn, to the Fathers of the Church and fortunately the Fathers wrote it down. It is clear that this complete knowledge was not a common possession within the Catholic Church. We see some sputterings of its existence in the Doctors of the Church. Going back to her roots is the very foundation of Vatican II which few noticed, one of whom was Cardinal Ratzinger.
The fullness of the teachings of the Catholic Church is based on the Apostolic Commission at the end of St. Matthew: wherewith Christ commanded His Apostles to 'Go to all nations, baptizing them, teaching them all My commands and how to observe them.' Note the last two phrases “to teach all My commands” and “How to observe them.” Of course, Christians know the 10 commandments of GOD though very few can enumerate them in the proper order. Most start with the 6th and 9th and then grope with the rest. Now, here is what I think is wrong with seminaries. They do not teach all the commandments of CHRIST and how to observe them…these commands make up what we call the Spirituality of the Catholic Church.
To know all the commands of Christ and how to observe them are two steps. The Christian, specially the seminarian, must obey them.... this is the third step. Obedience, a broken spirit, humility, submission, to be poor in spirit are many words for – "to be worshippers in spirit and in truth". Obedience cures all spiritual illnesses. Disobedience could worsen these same illnesses.
Catholic Asceticism, that was mastered by the early monks but forgotten by most modern monks, essentially consist in the removal of vices by acquiring the supernatural virtues. These virtues are infused, not acquired. This is what is forgotten or probably never learned. Pope Benedict mentioned about the method and contents of evangelization. He mentioned the need for proclaiming the Gospel in a “New way.” This “new way,” he called the classical way. It is an old way that sounds “New” to most, as the Old Primitive Church would look very new if seen today. In most seminaries, the contents are dramatically reduced and the method adopted entirely wrong. With the method wrong, there can be no input in the knowledge of the contents. That’s like drinking water through your ears. Nothing goes to the stomach.
Seminaries had this problem for a long time. If saints were ever produced it was because of the saint’s personal efforts. The seminary was not the occasion for the holiness of John Vianney or Padre Pio and neither was the convent the occasion for the holiness of St. Therese of Lisieux or of Mother Teresa.
All may be received into the seminary. The seminary is meant to form good Christians first....who will be ordained later. So the training must be in Christianity. Christianity is meant to discipline the vices or passion and heal the fallen nature of men which are the causes of all these priestly (and laymen) problems. Saint Benedict has the Evangelical mild solution; St. John Cassian has the stronger solution and St. John Climacus had the "intensive care solution". These three make up the spirituality of the Catholic Church. This solution will only fail if the candidate refuses the medication. But if he takes it he will be certainly healed. Catholicism is not exclusively for "normals." It is for the worst sinner. To cure a pervert is a cinch.....if he co-operates.
Of course, the ideal situation is for all seminaries to review their spirituality. If there is none, to adapt the mildest spirituality, which is St. Benedict's. They can stop there. If problems persists, then send the candidate with the perverted tendency to a stricter monastery for reform, etc. , etc. There are still a few of those strict monasteries that can cure such tendencies. Pope Benedict XVI, in one sweeping gesture had hinted on the solution to all the churches' problem, a return to the monastic observance of St. Benedict. Isn't this the reason he took the name "Benedict?" (Picture above is a view from St. Benedict's monastery of Montecassino looking down the valley.)
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
1. The DEVIL, the ANTI-CHRIST and the END TIMES.
Recently, these three topics have hugged the posts of bloggers and with good reason. They are inter-connected in some way. The devil is scary, the anti-christ is scarier and the end time is scariest. Or another way of putting it is: the devil will possess the anti-christ and together they would devastate the world initiating the end times scenario with God throwing them down as the first inhabitants of hell. What? There is no one in hell yet? Not even Hitler? Right. No one is in hell yet. They are all waiting in Hades, a waiting place for those going to hell; as paradise is a waiting place for those going to heaven, though the greater saints are already in heaven. And where are all those devils? Well, all around us here on earth. Now you know why the world is in such a mess.
2. Most information about these topics are from Protestant writings which has no theological interconnection. While Catholic writings on the matter has a theological explanation that gives meaning to the entire picture. Most of what we know about the end times are from the writings of the Fathers of the Church.
2. This is the background to understand present events.
There are many happenings today which we will never understand unless we view them from the back drop of the final days. The tsunamis, the burning forests, the impending clash of civilizations, the hurricanes, man’s cruelty to man, why Cardinal Ratzinger took the name Benedict, the abandoning of the flock by the shepherds.
3. The return to DEVIL topics.
A few movies had returned to the devil-exorcist episodes. That’s good. We are just being reminded by a fact of existence which men would rather relegate to the unconscious. But it is as foolish as denying the fact that we have cancer. The denial is a personal tragedy. Scriptures remind us that the devil exist like a roaring lion seeking whom to devour. Now, to put his existence aside would be falling into his trap.
4. The Anti-Christ.
We are told that at the end times, the head of the devilry will enter a choiced subject, the anti-christ, an ordinary man, born of a prostitute, but will be the epitome of evil. He will appear as the Mr. Nice Guy, a stunning statesman who will win the world’s favor. He is an Israelite. (And here is the reason why all eyes should be in the middle east.)
4. The middle east will dictate the course of event in the history of the world (not the U.S. which can easily be paralyzed with one or two more hurricanes) from henceforward. He will rebuild the Temple, fulfilling the eschatological dimension of Catholic Liturgy and signaling the end times. Scared enough? Well, the exorcism movie is nothing compared to what is coming.
5. The End times.
Martyrdom will be the daily fare of the Catholic Church once more. The blood of martyrs will flow because of the intensity of the persecution as has already been happening. The state will use a highly developed art of torture in an attempt to destroy the faith. Even Cardinal Bifi sent a warning signal with regard to the anti-Christ who should be existing by now, he says. And with all the happenings in Israel that is causing so much dissatisfaction, the Jews are raring to proclaim anyone as messiah. Sounds like the devil let loose? Well, Scriptures described it as the unchaining of Lucifer. And I thought he was on the loose all the time. No! Only the small fries were on the loose. The Big Boss was chained for a while to allow the Catholic Church to strengthen herself after she weakened considerably at the time of Arius, the Greek Schism and specially after Martin Luther. She has to regain some strength before the last bout. Like her Master, she must undergo her own Calvary to perfect her Love. Then her final test and virgin wedding with the Bridegroom.
5.Nice horror or exorcist movie? Yeah, except it is real, the world is the theatre and you one of the actor and heaven and hell waiting for the result of the last battle.
6. Is there anyway we can be spared from the tribulations of these last days? Yes. Join the Woman in the desert. Pope John Paul II, in a trip to Australia said that we must prepare ourselves for repentance by going to the desert. Lapsus linguae? Popes don’t go lapsus when they speak. They usually go infallibilis.
7. Is there a conspiracy going on?
Let’s see it this way. The devil knows the end times is near because he just got chained and released. That means the Church is strong enough for the last bout with him. His small fries were left by God on the loose yet he was chained. Now, that got him angry, very angry. So he gathers evil men to fill the world with mischiefs. This will win him a lot of souls because man loves mischiefs. Then he reads from the bloggers the prophecy of St. Malachy (the devil cannot read from holy books) that Pope Benedict is the second to the last Pope and took the name Benedict because an angel prophesied to St. Benedict that his children will do battle with the forces of evil at the end times. Is this why Pope Benedict encouraged the Youth to a life of martyrdom?
8. So the devil prepares his posture. He tempts the majority of mankind. Then commands his cohorts of devil to possess certain souls and go around marking weak and sinful souls with 666. These guys will be so scary many will not be able to refuse.
9. Gee whizzz… what am I saying?
We should suspect that it might be accounting time. Every time and any time is accounting time. But the eschatological dimension of these days should have a deeper meaning for us all. As Vatican II proposed: we should return to the primitive Church. Because that was the only time the Church had five talents and gave back five more talents and praised by the Master with the words “Good and faithful servant……” (Painting above is the "Martyrdom of St. Stephen").
Saturday, September 10, 2005
When a tragedy strikes is it a chastisement or is it the end of the world? Our blessed Mother had been warning us of chastisements if we did not repent. What are chastisements? They are acts of God by which He punishes us due to wrong done. It is God’s way of reminding men that his way of life is not according to His ways. This can range from a devastating earthquake that could kill hundreds of thousands, to Tsunamis that can wash away a populace, to a mere headache. There would be no difference between an earthquake as a chastisement to correct a people with an earthquake that is prelude to the end of the world. Both are earthquakes. But a chastisement can be stopped by a change of life while there is no way to stop the signs of the end of the world.
All the acts of God that have happened, so far, are chastisements. The plaques of Egypt were chastisements to the Egyptians for refusing the let God’s people go. The calamities that were supposed to befall Nineveh were chastisements that were prevented by a change of life in the inhabitants. Sodom and Gomorrah were chastisements that were not prevented because of the continued evil life of its populace. The world wars were chastisements that could have been prevented, if the world listened to the Blessed Mother’s message of repentance (or the pleadings of Pope Benedict XV).
But of recently, we know that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been complaining that the hands of wrath of her son are heavy and she cannot restrain Him anymore. Well, when those hands fall on the earth, it will be the end of the world. And when it is the end, there is no way to stop it.
With the recent tragedies, one can easily say they are chastisements that could have been prevented, if, for instance, the sinful decadent parade did not push through; or maybe, if the Catholic populace prayed more.
But let’s look at the scenario: priests and nuns were unaccounted for, the devastation was extensive, dead bodies polluted the water, crocodiles swarmed into the city to eat the decomposing bodies, the hungry house dogs and cat went wild because of hunger, flies covered vast areas, there was no electricity, water, and light thus making life impossible. And those decapitated and dead bodies ... the scene may be described as the city had returned to its primitive state. Why, that’s the description of how things would be at the end of time according to the “Shepherd of Hermas.” The typhoon was accompanied within the week with another tragedy in the east and a plane crash in Asia. Isn’t this the description of the rapidity of the birth pangs of approaching birth, which is another description of the end times?
To complete the collage, let us enumerate the often quoted signs used by preachers to scare their congregation to contribute more. There are the continuous rising prices wherewith a meal would cost a box of money, common in some South American nations, including Italy. Then there are the wars and the rumors of war; the famine in Africa, etc.
Those are the signs often quoted by Protestant preachers. Let us look at a few Catholic prophecies of saints; St. Paul mentioned the great apostasy within the Catholic Church wherein most Catholics would be ignorant of Catholic teachings, that the religious congregations would no longer be faithful to the spirit of their founders, the return to paganism of the worst kind among Catholics, the dictatorship of relativism which was mentioned by St. Benedict of Nurcia long before Pope Benedict XVI mentioned it, and of course “the community” that Pope Benedict is looking for as a result of his study on St. Bonaventure.
St. Hippolytus mentions a few more. The oblation and the incense will be unattended referring to the Liturgy. There will be no sacrifice acceptable to God because worshipping in spirit and truth would cease. The sanctuary will be a garden’s watcher hut. The Body and Blood of Christ will not be shown in those days on the altar (probably relegated to a hidden altar somewhere or probably really nowhere because the church had been closed). The Liturgy shall be extinguished, religious shall cease singing the psalmody (from the original 8 times for prayer, it would be reduced to three from which only one is recited and half-distractedly - parenthesis is mine).
The signs of the end times will be a grandiose exhibition of God’s wrath. No one can prepare himself for it and no one will be able to stand it as described. “People would shrivel dry out of fear and cry upon the mountains to cover them from the wrath of God.” But we are told of a way to be spared from it. The Book of the Apocalypse had aptly suggested joining the Woman who fled into the desert in a place specially prepared by God to nourish her for a length of time.
Jesus Christ was born at the end times. After 2000 years shouldn’t it be time for the end? Nobody wants that but everything has an end. (Painting above is "The Gates of Paradise; the Descent to Hell by Hans Memling , 1430, exhibited in Danzig, Poland.)
Thursday, September 08, 2005
1. This is the Catholic Church at the end times.
A Woman in the desert, as St. John described her in his Apocalypse. In an earlier post, quoting the Apocalypse, we described the Catholic Church as a Woman Fleeing to the desert in a place specially prepared by God, to be nourished for a time. And she was with child. This is the personification of the Catholic Church living a way of life, commonly referred to as “The Life in the Desert,” or monastic life. Just before she fled , the Woman was in the city, it seems. Then under attack from the red dragon she flew to the desert.
2. Special interest in this SIGNUM MAGNUM.
Even as early as the 3rd century whenever the question is asked “Where are the Christians,” they were always directed to the desert. The first Christians were described as “building cities in the desert.” Christ was born at the end times and so His Church should look like the Woman in the desert.
But when the Church lost her zeal and her doctrine, she left the desert and returned to the cities. It was just like the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt. A small fraction of the Catholic Church remained in the desert.
3. The Church begun in the desert, went back to the cities and at the end times, will return to the desert.
The apostles perfected their faith because they saw Christ. Thomas had a problem. He doubted because, at first he did not see Christ but only believed when he saw Christ. After Christ ascended to heaven, men no longer saw him and found it impossible to have perfect faith. A few saints because "Christ manifested, Himself, to them" were able to reach mature faith. The monastic movement was an attempt to recover that experience of seeing God, to be pure in heart so they could see God and reach mature faith. A very difficult goal for most. But at the end times, God will make them reach that goal.
There will be signs that will signal the end times. Most signs are so common and preached by so many, but let us first put them aside. One sign, specifically, concerns and interest us – the woman in the desert.
4. Interest of Pope Benedict XVI
This was of special interest to Pope Benedict XVI as a young priest when he wrote “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure.” The saints had prophesied about this "Signum Magnum." It was of great interest to the Franciscans, St. Francis, in fact, mentioned it. And the Franciscans thought they were the sign. St. Bonaventure, as general of the Franciscans, saw it could not be the Franciscans because they deviated slightly away from the characteristics of the Apocalyptic community. Pope Benedict noticed this, too, and so changed his focus in his search for it.
5. How does this community look like? God gives them Infused Knowledge.
The description could be of the whole Catholic Church or of small communities doting the whole world. They will look like this. They will have infused knowledge (knowledge or wisdom given to them by the grace of God) in the tradition of the great Fathers of the Church. Their knowledge will not come from books, lectures, schools but directly from God. A pure gift, just like St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Thomas of Aquinas near the end of his life, or even such laymen as Gilbert K. Chesterton.
They live the spirit of poverty. Pope Benedict XVI, in the above mentioned book, specified the poverty of St. Francis of Assisi, which was unique in the history of the Church, because it was identical with the poverty of Christ and the first apostles. Very few saints had imitated it. In this sense, St. Francis had been referred to as “the last Christian.”
7. God would chose completely uneducated people to enhance the infused knowledge as in the days of the apostles. This characteristic is imbued in Franciscan tradition and is the reason St. Francis and his original group were not interested in education.
But this will exclude almost all present day religious order since some degree of educational attainment is required for admission. Would there be a community today, living a monastic life, practicing the poverty of St. Francis (or better still, the poverty of Christ), completely uneducated in the manner of the world (but not in the classical Trivium of the monastic schools), and yet possessed of the knowledge of the Fathers of the Church, providentially cared by God and growing in number?
8. Not with those combination of charcteristics.
Because all religious orders have a means of income, they are all educated (either with some college education ) and certainly with some catechetical or theological training, ignorant of the writings of the Fathers of the Church (Patristic Theology had been scuttled even before Vat. II) and living a watered down Evangelical or monastic life being in and of the world, I would think no religious order would correspond to it.
9. St. Ephraem. The woman, personified by the Blessed Virgin Mary, will know when the end of the world is.
St. Ephraem, the Syrian, had a passionate love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and wrote thousands of poetic lines in her praises. He observed that the Blessed Virgin Mary always knew when Christ was coming. She knew when Christ would come the first time, obviously because the Angel Gabriel announced it to her. She knew when Christ would come after His death. Christ went straight to her after His resurrection to console her. That’s why she did not have to go to the empty tomb with the Magdalene. Christ was with her. And she, and she alone, knows when Christ is coming at the second coming. And she is the personification of the Catholic Church in the desert. The Gospels says that no one knows the time of the second coming. The Gospel did not say……..except My mother who always knew My comings.
10. Many saints knew of this apocalyptic community, the Catholic Church, as she looks like at the end times. St. Francis and St. Bonaventure knew it. Pope Benedict XVI knows it. . . and is quietly looking for it. (Painting above is "St. Bonaventure in Prayer" by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1627.)
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
1. The Catholic Church started small.
Her first members were the poor and uneducated, specifically, unschooled fishermen. When Christ instituted His Church, He started it as a small community, 120. And He concentrated on this nucleus. Christ took pains to confirm their faith. The rank and file can wait. If you will notice the founders of religious orders, also, started as small groups. St. Ignatius of Loyola started with 9 and St. Francis of Assisi about the same. When St. Benedict built monasteries, he divided his communities into deaneries of 10 monks each. St. Teresa of Avila, when she was reforming the Carmelites, prescribed that each monastery was to be made up of 10 nuns only. St. Bernard started with his own family (I wonder how he managed a community made up of his parents, brothers, sisters, and in-laws.)
2. Theological reason for being small?
There must be some practical if not theological reason for this. The only theological reason I can imagine is that Christ always chose the humble, the poor and the small to make His power more evident; and to shame the wise and the great. It is difficult to find these kinds of persons considering men were born with original sin. In the above list we can safely include the “small communities” to shame the big ones. Besides, Christ reminds us that the way is narrow. And few shall enter it. This militates against the Church being large.
3. Probable Practical reason.
A practical reason would be this: when you have a good small community at the start (like Mother Teresa’s congregation when she began) and it becomes popular, the small fervent group is suddenly swamped into non-existence by a large group of lax and cold souls, attracted to religious life more because of its cool uniform rather than its spirituality.
This was probably the reason why St. Francis refused to join forces with St. Dominic. The order would be too large and unmanageable. In fact it happened to Francis’ own order. It grew so big that he, and his small band of originals, lost control of it and could not impose the “poverty” he so envisioned.
4. Will the small grow big?
Yes. Pope Benedict, quoting the motto of St. Benedict’s monastery Monte Cassino, “Succisa Virescit,” says with confidence “Yes,” if it is pruned well.
5.How to prune to make it grow.
Scriptures has the secret. It says: just live the Gospel to the full (this will prune the useless branches) and God, Himself, will add to your number of those who are to be saved . Only God knows who will be saved and ,therefore, would you not rather He adds to your community those who are to be saved rather than have those who are destined to be damned? When we use human means of recruiting we tend to get the cockles.
6. Pope Benedict XVI with small Basilica.
Early in his reign Pope Benedict had been pictured carrying a small –shrunken picture of St. Peter’s Basilica mindful of his continuous reference that the Catholic Church will shrink, become smaller till it is unnoticeable. He knows God’s pattern in doing things. And God loves “small,” the humble, the childlike.
7. Many are called but few are chosen.
Both ways, the Church will be small. First, because it is difficult to follow Christ and secondly, because God will choose only a few. Why insist on many when God warned us He will choose only a few? Of course, our efforts should be in being among the few.
8. The Catholic Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
That spells FEW. To establish a Catholic Family, or a Catholic community, the group must be One, Catholic, Holy and Apostolic. A Catholic Family is one where the visible signs of the Catholic Church are seen. Let’s take only one visible sign, ONE. Just to make the husband ONE with the wife, i.e. one faith, one hope and one charity between husband and wife, is next to impossible. How much more in a family of five or ten? Next to impossible? Impossible if you don’t know how. But if you know how, it is easy. It is easier to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, when the family is big. And it is more difficult but more meritorious when the members are total strangers, like in a convent or monastery. 10 or 100 but divided into 10s. ( Painting above is "Pentecost" by Henri and Antoine Cibille, 17th century)
Friday, September 02, 2005
1. How does the Church look?
How should the Catholic Church look? Well, the usual answer is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Patristic writings, however, extolling the Blessed Virgin Mary lovingly declared her as the personification of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church should be like Mary.
2. Like Mary.
To show that the Church is personified in the Blessed Virgin takes some mental-spiritual gymnastics. Both are Virgins, both love God alone, both lived silent lives, both lived consecrated lives, both are obedient to God,… this could be endless…but both were contemplatives; a contemplative defined as loving God alone, in silence and solitude.
3. There seems to be two ways of life, essentially identical, in answer to Christ’s invitation to follow Him.
4. One is commonly described as life in the desert (but not necessarily a physical life in the desert).
Note the tendency for Christ to go out alone to the desert. St. Paul was known to have stayed in the desert of Arabia. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, perhaps, by force of circumstances, frequented the desert where he founded a community. Mary Magdalene, also, went to the desert.
5.The other is the life of Martyrdom.
Christ and most of the apostles were martyred. This was clear so martyrdom became the goal of Christians who would follow Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Caecilia, St. Stephen, St. Teresa of Avila who tried to go to the moors to be martyred.
6. Life in the desert was the alternative for life of martyrdom
The two ways of lives were in fact, identical. One was called red-martyrdom and the other white martyrdom. When red martyrdom eased because of the patronage of Constantine, white martyrdom became the popular substitute. The first Christians still knew that martyrdom was the goal in following Christ but it was difficult to find persecutors, though there was never a lack for it. They went for the second choice, life in the desert, commonly called white martyrdom. So we see the first Christians, literally, flooding the desert; St. Anthony, St. Paul the hermit, St. Benedict, and the so-called desert Fathers. During those times, when asked where is the Catholic Church, they always pointed to the desert. St. Athanasius spoke so eloquently on monasticism as imitation of Mary.
7. How come they knew so much?
The apostles saw Christ and could follow Him thus becoming humble like Christ, willing to give up all things, including their lives. Because they lived the fullness of the teachings of Christ, which consist in giving up all things, including losing one’s life, to gain it, which was the goal of both martyrdom and monastic life, they were INFUSED with a complete knowledge of the teachings of the Catholic Church, as recorded by the Fathers of the Church: not through studies either in seminaries or theological schools.
8. How come people know little Catholic Dotrines today? No contact with Christ and as a consequence difficulty of becoming humble and meek.
The way to have a complete knowledge of the teachings of the Catholic Church is either by preparing oneself for martyrdom, (whether that happens or not is immaterial) or living a contemplative, monastic life (not necessarily in the desert).
Definitely, both the life of martyrdom and the monastic life will continue to exist in the Catholic Church. While the apostles had contact with Christ, the monks did not have and had to make up for it by attaining contemplation where they “behold the face of Christ,”
Bearing in mind the words of Christ, “I shall manifest Myself to him..”
9. But how will the Catholic Church look like at the end times?
The Christian, in the last days, will re-discover the Apostolic equivalent to seeing Christ face to face, and this is through the contemplative-monastic life. The Church will look like Mary dwelling in the desert, i.e. monastic and contemplative. The Apocalypse narrates the vision of the Woman clothed with the sun who flew to the desert in a place of safety, specially prepared by God. The Church will look like Mary-the woman fleeing to the desert, in a place specially prepared by God; the place is the contemplative-monastic way of life. For one last time, the Church will learn again, through this way of life, the complete teachings of Christ, just like the first apostles, by pure infusion or revelation.
(Picture above is "The Woman of the Apocalypse" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-16400) in Munich, Germany.)