Two “Familiar” Saints

With yesterday being the feast of Saint Monica, and today being that of Saint Augustine, her son, there’s no better occasion to remember that no one, no matter how grievous a sinner or how far one has strayed from the Church, is beyond redemption. Case in point: Augustine. His younger years were spent in the type of dissolution Saint Paul condemns in today’s first reading:

1 Thes 4:1-8

Brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God–
and as you are conducting yourselves–
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This is the will of God, your holiness:
that you refrain from immorality,
that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself
in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion
as do the Gentiles who do not know God;
not to take advantage of or exploit a brother or sister in this matter,
for the Lord is an avenger in all these things,
as we told you before and solemnly affirmed.
For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.
Therefore, whoever disregards this,
disregards not a human being but God,
who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

By the time Augustine was in his 20s, he had left the Church, fathered a child out of wedlock, and joined a cult (the Manichees)! His mother, Monica, like so many mothers of wayward children today, despaired of her son’s salvation. But, her pastor, Ambrose (who also became a saint!), gave her some sage advice: “Spend more time talking to God about Augustine than you do talking to Augustine about God”.

Monica’s prayers were answered in time. Not only did Augustine return to the Faith, but her unbelieving husband became a Catholic as well. Augustine had to take classes from Ambrose in order to reenter the Church (the equivalent, of sorts, of an RCIA class today). During this time, he took on another mistress! Augustine famously prayed at this time, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!”.

But, eventually, Augustine realized the incredible dangers of sexual sin, as the first reading strikingly reminds us. And he also realized that only God could satisfy his need for love. To this end he wrote a far more famous prayer, perhaps the greatest line ever written outside of Sacred Scripture: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”.

If Augustine could become a saint, so can I. And, so can you: “This is the will of God, your holiness”.

The Lord Knows

I’ve always been a Superman fan, and I’ve even explored connections between the Last Son of Krypton and the only-begotten Son of God in a previous article. Superman had, of course, X-ray vision, but Jesus has something even more insightful: the ability to read minds, hearts, and souls. In today’s gospel, Jesus again confronts his archenemies, the Pharisees, and unleashes a devastating blast that should forever put to rest the liberal caricature of a mild-mannered, milquetoast Jesus who “would never criticize anyone”:

Mt 23:27-32

Jesus said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You build the tombs of the prophets
and adorn the memorials of the righteous,
and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors,
we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’
Thus you bear witness against yourselves
that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets;
now fill up what your ancestors measured out!”


Now, knowing our own hypocrisy, as well as our Lord’s inability to be fooled by outward appearances, we might be tempted to flee from his presence, given the many skeletons we keep buried in the tombs of our hearts – but there is no escape from his penetrating gaze, as today’s Psalm points out:

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12ab

R.  (1) You have searched me and you know me, Lord.
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence where can I flee?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.
You have searched me and you know me, Lord.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast.
You have searched me and you know me, Lord.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light”–
For you darkness itself is not dark,
and night shines as the day.
You have searched me and you know me, Lord.

There’s nowhere to run. No matter what others think of us, God knows the truth – who we really are, what we’re really like, when we think no one is looking. But here’s something else that’s true:

He loves us anyway.

So don’t run away from God, but run to him! He receives us with open arms, and begins to transform us into the men and women we ought to be, just as he did with Saint Paul. Just listen to what Paul says in the first reading:

Reading 1
1 Thes 2:9-13

You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.
You are witnesses, and so is God,
how devoutly and justly and blamelessly
we behaved toward you believers.
As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children,
exhorting and encouraging you and insisting
that you walk in a manner worthy of the God
who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.

And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.

Yes, because God’s word is at work in us, we too are being transformed – as Paul himself was – and can walk justly and blamelessly, in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into his Kingdom and glory.

On the Feast of Saint Martha

It’s nice that Martha can enjoy her own feast day today for a change! Seriously, though, Martha is known for busying herself with (necessary) chores surrounding a visit of Jesus to her home for a feast, while her sister Mary didn’t appear to be too helpful, content to simply sit at the Lord’s feet, and soak up his wisdom:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me”. But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:39-42).

This account reminds us that the Lord doesn’t so much want “yours” as much as he wants you.

But, having said that, we must strive to fuse the very best of what Martha and Mary show us: service and prayer. If we can unite the work ethic in serving Christ of Martha, with the deep contemplative life of Mary, we have a recipe for a unity of life that will unite us with Christ in whatever we do, wherever we are. Thus, we will make all of life worship, and a sweet-smelling sacrifice for Jesus, just as the perfume Mary lavished on his feet (John 12:3).

NEW! Angels and Demons Seminar

I’ll be presenting a seminar on the new Dan Brown/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks film, Angels and Demons on Tuesday, June 9, at 7:30 PM at St Justin Martyr Parish in Unionville, ON. All are welcome and admission is free!

Under the thinly veiled guise of “a good thriller”, Dan Brown has once again provided an anti-Catholic film for the masses (if you’ll pardon the pun), just as he once did with The Da Vinci Code. Learn how he has distorted the truth about the Illuminati, Galileo, and the Church’s views on science to fit his agenda. But more importantly, learn about how Catholics can respond to the lies presented about the Church in this movie, in those inevitable conversations about this film that will arise over the office water cooler…or over the backyard fence. Discover The Truth About Angels and Demons.

Holy Week is History

(My guest editorial from this month’s Catholic Insight.)

Holy Week offers an annual barrage of media questioning the authenticity of the last week of Jesus’ life: his death, burial, and Resurrection. Bizzare, outlandish theories on what happened to Jesus are front page news – evidence is optional.

Countering that trend is Jesus, the Final Days (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), by noted Evangelical scholar Craig A. Evans, the Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, and N.T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, England. Titans of scholarship, they debunk the unvarnished schlock that often passes for historical Jesus research.

With sober eyes on actual historical evidence, these men make their case about what really happened to Jesus of Nazareth. Chapter one, “The Shout of Death”, by Evans, presents the evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion. This has become necessary in today’s climate, due to the denials of sensationalist controversialists. Case in point: a recent book states that Jesus faked his own death (with Pilate’s help!), subsequently fleeing to Egypt. As Evans notes, “…the utter silliness of this scenario escapes many in today’s reading public” (p.3).

Jesus’ death is well-affirmed by the New Testament, but also by historians of the age: Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, and Mara bar Serapion all report it. Evans makes a persuasive case for the historicity of aspects of the Passion Narrative that are often questioned by scholars, including the “Passover Pardon” of Barabbas – Jesus Barabbas, according to some ancient manuscripts of Matthew. The irony is not lost – “bar Abba” means “son of the father”. The crowd selects the wrong Jesus, not the true Son of the Father.

After reviewing the meaning of Jesus’ mockery at the hands of the soldiers (mimicking he Roman “triumph” of the Caesars, who were called “divine” and the “son of god”), Evans makes a theological observation on Jesus’ death: “‘Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37). The act of shouting is itself the death…His death manifests itself as a shout…Jesus’ very death displays his power; the release of his spirit is awesome.” This is why the centurion attending Jesus exclaims, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39) – something he was only supposed to confess of the Roman Emperor (p. 34-35).

Part two, “The Silence of Burial”, also by Evans, authenticates Jesus’ burial. This is necessary due to theories like former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan’s, who famously claimed that Jesus’ dead body was likely thrown into a shallow common grave, where it was eaten by dogs. While not denying that at times in late antiquity, the Romans would leave bodies on crosses to be mauled by animals and birds of carrion (as a public deterrent to revolt), there is no chance this happened to Jesus, because it was peacetime. For Pilate to have left Jesus’ body hanging on the cross overnight during Passover would have been a fatal mistake, all but guaranteeing a riot by the myriad Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. The Romans never would have risked offending Jewish sensibilities here, which they respected during times of calm. Leaving Jesus’ body on the cross would have defiled the land (see Deut. 21:22-23), making it impossible for Jews to celebrate the feast in an acceptable manner. No, Jesus did receive a proper burial with the help of Joseph of Arimathea, an undoubtedly historical reference (no early Christian would have invented a story of Jesus receiving a proper burial, not from his followers, but from a member of the very council that condemned him).

The final chapter, “The Surprise of Resurrection” by Wright, is a condensed version of his massive tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God. While verifying the bodily nature of Jesus’ Resurrection, Wright corrects many wrong notions of resurrection in general: it most emphatically is not “disembodied bliss” or even “life after death”. It means, in his fine phrase, “life after life after death”. The surprise was that a bodily resurrection occurred within history, whereas most Jews expected no one to be raised from death until the general resurrection at the end of time (cf. Daniel 12:1-3).

This massively learned, although short and readable book, will probably not become a bestseller, although one wishes it were otherwise. The reason is simple: no crackpot conspiracy theories are hidden within. Just the facts.

The ABC’s of Love

Here are what I call “Peter Kreeft’s ABC’s of Love”.  “These are the things that love naturally does when it is true to its own nature, when it is real love.”

A) You put him (the lover) first. B)  You don’t use him as a tool, as a means to another end. C) You do not insult him. D) You take time to be with him. E) You honor him and his family. F) You respect his life. G) You respect his body. H) You respect his property. I) You respect his mind and you do not lie to him. J) You are content with him.

(Source: Because God is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer by Peter Kreeft)

Do you notice something about this list? It’s actually The Ten Commandments!

1) I am the Lord your God, you will have no other gods before me (You put him first). 2) Do not make idols (You don’t use him as a tool, as a means to another end). 3) Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (You do not insult him). 4) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day (You take time to be with him). 5) Honor your father and mother (You honor him and his family). 6) Do not kill (You respect his life). 7) Do not commit adultery (You respect his body). Do not steal (You respect his property). 9) Do not lie (You respect his mind and do not lie to him). 10) Do not covet your neighbor’s goods or your neighbor’s spouse (You are content with him).

The next time you meet someone who thinks the Church’s teachings (especially on morality) are just a bunch of “rules and regulations”, imposed on us from outside, tell them: think again. They are not rules, they are love. We want this. This is how we want to love, and be loved. It’s also how our Divine Lover, Christ, wants to be treated by us. It’s written right into our conscience, our nature, from the inside.

Lourdes of Miracles

The incorrupt body of St. Bernadette SoubirousMy article from the February ’09 isssue of Catholic Insight. Enjoy!

One of the greatest evidences for the veracity of the Catholic Church has been her miracles. Fitting, for her founder offered the same credentials for his own life and work:

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11). The sheer concentration of the miraculous in the life of Christ was a “sign” (in fact, John’s Gospel calls Jesus’ miracles just that, “signs”) that God was powerfully moving in and through him – yes, even as him, to advance his saving plan for the world.

This continued, of course, through his followers, who did even “greater things than these” (John 14:12), because, in the apostolic age, Jesus was now performing his mighty works through ordinary humans. Peter’s mere shadow would heal the sick (Acts 5:15). A handkerchief that had touched Paul would do the same, casting out demons, too (Acts 19:11-12).

But miracles like this, which help authenticate the Gospel, are not limited to the time of Christ and the apostles. Every age in the Church has been marked by the miraculous. In the Catholic Church, miracles literally never cease.

This February, we celebrate the feast day of a saint whose life was touched by myriad miracles, all of which give stunning testimony to Catholic truth. Saint Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), only 14, encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary in the grotto of Lourdes in the South of France on February 11, 1858, though at the time, she did not know who it was.

Bernadette was a poor peasant girl, not afforded formal religious education. When, on March 25, “the Lady” (as Bernadette called her) told her in the local dialect, “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou” (“I am the Immaculate Conception”), her pastor could hardly believe it. Four years earlier, the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed by the Vatican. But Bernadette would have had no way of knowing, less understanding, what this meant.

Another impressive confirmation of God’s action at Lourdes was the miraculous stream unearthed by Bernadette at Mary’s behest. These waters have been the source of innumerable healings over the years, inexplicable by natural means.

Unlike some modern “visionaries” and spirituality gurus, she shunned publicity and refused to profit from her experiences (she would never have appeared on Oprah). Her fame was her cross, and her later consecrated life in the convent of Nevers did not spare her this. She often would taste the bitter jealousy of her fellow Sisters of Charity.

Although Bernadette’s Lourdes has been the source of so much healing, the saint’s own life, as is often the case, was marred by sickness and suffering. She died at only 35, but God saved one of his greatest graces for Bernadette until after her death. Her body was found to be incorrupt, and is today the most beautiful of all the incorrupts in the Church’s history.

I have a friend named Brad, a Protestant. For months I tried to explain to him the truth of Catholicism, but no argument moved him. After my wife and I returned from our honeymoon in Rome, we showed Brad and his wife pictures from our travels. I was hoping our visits to the Vatican and the luminous churches of the Eternal City would attract them to the beauty of the Faith. However, I had forgotten that family photos usually only interest one’s family! Predictably, they were bored to tears.

But as I flipped through our slideshow, I noted, “Oh, and here’s the incorrupt body of Pope John XXIII”. “Whoa! Hold on a minute”, he said. “Go back to that slide. What?” Brad was incredulous. My carefully constructed theological arguments never piqued his curiosity, but the miraculous did.

A question for Brad and others like him is this: Why does the Catholic Church alone boast of the continuous presence of miracles in her midst? Why would God preserve so many Catholic saints incorrupt? One simply does not see this in other Christian traditions. The incorrupt bodies of saints like Bernadette, no longer speaking in audible words, give eloquent testimony to the incorruptibility of the Catholic Church herself.

Obama Nation

Tomorrow marks Barack Obama’s inauguration as U.S. President. No one can deny the historic nature of the event, and Obama’s undeniable personal charisma. Let’s face it, the man is Mad Men cool.

I’d enjoy hanging out with the guy – his two favorite sports are basketball and golf, same as mine. But it’s more than a tad ironic that he shoots lefty, because Obama fouls out when it comes to his views on morality.

No one has adressed the problem better than Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, over at the Ignatius blog:

My Augustinian side is not so pronounced as to deny the possibility and indeed the reality of social progress. It is social progress that a nation such as ours, which once constitutionally allowed some people to buy and sell other people, no longer does.  It is progress that half the population, which could not vote a hundred years ago, possesses suffrage today. However, my progressivism is not so naïve as to pretend that the diabolical is not at work within history.  Two steps forward and one step back.  Or is it one step forward and two steps back?  In any event, we have gone from constitutional protection of people buying and selling people, and half the population being disenfranchised, to people legally killing their unborn babies in the name of freedom and equality of gender.  And on a day when a symbol of triumph over the evil of slavery and racism is celebrated with the anticipation of the first black American, on the following day, to take the highest elected office in the land, the American victory is tainted by the man’s commitment to upholding the legal right of mothers, in the name of freedom and equality, to destroy the next generation.  As a lover of my country, I cannot but rejoice and take pride in the fact that Barrack Obama represents the triumph of our nation and our political process over the grave evils of slavery and racism.  That is not to be gainsaid.  And as a lover of my country, I cannot at the same time but weep and hang my head in shame that more unborn children will die during a single year of Mr. Obama’s term in office, with his support and his invocation of the rhetoric of rights to sanction the evil, than deaths on both sides during the entire Civil War. Those who say there is no devil at work in history are only slightly less foolish than those who say there is no God.

Tim Tebow, the Philippines, and the Catholic Church

Just a couple of nights ago, I returned home from teaching the Bible Study class at St Justin Martyr, and, exhausted, flopped down to watch the end of the national championship game for U.S. college football. The University of Florida Gators, led by quarterback Tim Tebow, last year’s Heisman winner, defeated the University of Oklahoma Sooners. 

Tebow, a devout Evangelical Christian, wore eyeblack with “John 3:16” written across it in white letters (see photo). From all accounts, Tebow is sincere in his beliefs. He was actually born in the Philippines, where his parents are missionaries. They run, among other things, an orphanage. Tim himself often travels there to help out and preach to the kids there about Jesus Christ.

The only problem is, he’s defeating his own purpose.

No doubt most of his “converts” are Catholics. The Philippines, as most are aware, is a heavily Catholic country. During my Evangelical years, my own pastor and his family would travel to the Philippines and conduct crusades. I still possess a coffee mug he brought home for me. It says, “Reaching and touching Filipinos for Christ”. My wife (whose parents were born in the Philippines) and I still laugh about that mug. But we could just as easily shed tears. That’s because, as sincere and as well-intentioned as my pastor – and Tebow – are, they are sincerely wrong.

Unaware that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ and is the true Church, they, in convincing Filipinos to leave it, are unwittingly drawing them further from the touch of Christ.

And sadly, because some Filipinos (like many Catholics everywhere) are not well grounded in the reasons for their faith, they’re easy pickins’ for these movements.

If only they and their would-be evangelizers would heed the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, writing in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 107 AD), echoing the words of Jesus in John 6:

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the very same flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes. 

It is by the Eucharist, safeguarded in the Catholic Church, that we are physically reached and touched by Christ himself.

Saint Josemaria and the Infant Christ

During these final days of the Christmas season, and particularly today, when so many throughout the world are celebrating the Epiphany, I thought I’d share with you this video clip. It’s a window into the devotion of Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, to the Infant Jesus. From the Opus Dei website, 

As a young priest, St. Josemaría was especially fond of a small statue of the Infant Jesus. He would hold the Child in his arms, sing and even dance with it. “I’m glad to see you as a small Child,” he would say, “because it makes me feel you need me.” 

Watch the clip: Saint Josemaria and the Infant Jesus