Monday, July 29, 2013

The Embattled Church

I’m a little discouraged about the state of the Church, so I guess it’s good that I’m going off on retreat for a few days. The Holy Spirit is in charge. Our Blessed Mother is watching over things.

World Youth Day…sigh. What an atrocity! I am saddened by what little I have seen of the coverage. I purposely avoided most of it, knowing I would be offended. It really seems to me that anyone with an ounce of contemplative spirit would be put off by the mere thought of 3 million souls at a Mass on the beach. It’s hard to believe that all 3 million were truly at Mass!

Imagine the ones way off on the fringes…and of course the vast majority of these pilgrims were watching the Mass on big screens. I wonder how close one has to be to the altar for there to be a real participation. After all, watching Mass on TV doesn’t satisfy one’s Sunday obligation; that implies that one is not really at Mass.

And apart from the technical assessment of whether one is at Mass when the distance from the major Event taking place on the altar is measured in terms of hundreds of thousands of bodies, what is the point? Especially with the sort of music that was being played, it would seem more like being at a big party.

Once, I wanted to attend the installation of a bishop, but could not get a ticket to be admitted into the church. I was assured, though, that the Mass would be televised into the adjoining school gym on a big screen, and that all were welcome to attend in this way. I stayed home and watched it on my computer. Were the people in the gym more “there” than I was? I don’t know.

And frankly I don’t care. Just in terms of common sense, a Mass for 3 million people is a disaster.

There are other things…the Holy Father issuing a decree that a Franciscan order cannot say the extraordinary form of the Mass, for instance. There are lots of justifications and explanations about this, but it is still very concerning.

There’s also the Holy Father’s statement about “not judging” homosexual priests. Well, maybe he meant that having same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on the desire is. He didn’t seem to say that, though – at least not very clearly.

The bottom line is that there are many contradictions and unclear statements issuing from the Vatican. The division in the Church seems to be growing. It’s disturbing. Distressing.

But of course it is the Enemy’s plan. So we, the Church Militant, will fight. And we know who wins in the end.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

[There will be no posts for the rest of this week.]

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rebuking the Demon Voices

The last day or two, those voices have been back…the depression demons. I really dislike those guys! And the truth is, it’s probably just one little baby demon trying to hone his skills; but I am so weak and wimpy it seems like an army to me.

The voice(s) hammer away at me, reminding me that I’ve made no spiritual progress in the many years I’ve been at this work. They remind me that people generally find depressed people…well…depressing.  And they don’t want to be around them, and no one really wants to listen to a depressed person talk about their depression; it’s too depressing!  And that, my demon voices tell me is why I have no friends. So they say.

My last bout of depression lasted a couple of months, I think. Now this is not serious clinical depression, as far as I know; but it is definitely a pain, and when I look back on it, I shudder. It was really pretty bad, from my inside view.  I tried to see it as something to offer for the salvation of souls and in reparation for sins, but it was difficult. I could do it some of the time; I tried to see it as something God was allowing to happen to me as He allowed tuberculosis to happen to St. Therese, and pleurisy to happen to Blessed Jacinta (2 ribs removed without anesthesia?!?!).

Then it lifted, and I have been extremely relieved not to be depressed. The thought of enduring that again is very repulsive to me. But maybe God wants to use me in that way. So I'm hoping that if it happens again – which it seems to be – I can resist the devil's temptations to rage, and just suffer the depression. St. Therese and Blessed Jacinta and others found great joy in suffering because they understood the salvific value of it. I hope I can do the same, no matter what I am to suffer. Because I have come to realize that I do want to suffer - for the conversion of souls, etc. Otherwise, what is the point of being here?
A favorite quote from St. Teresa of Avila comes to mind: "To suffer, or to die." Now I really get what she was talking about. I don't think I took it seriously before.

And I have friends, despite what the demon voices tell me. I have Friends in High Places. Of course there’s St. Michael the Archangel, but maybe he’s a little too busy to deal with my baby depression demon, so even though I ask for his help, I ask others, too, who maybe are not quite so busy.

St. Marina
There’s St. Marina the Great Martyr and Vanquisher of Demons, with her hammer. And I have one too!

There’s my confirmation saint, St. Teresa of Avila. Well, she’s kind of a big name, too, but still, she’s my patron, so I know she will help.

And there’s St. Rita, another of my favorites to whom I pray daily for the grace to accept my lot in life.

St. Therese is a new-found friend, and I think she has been calling to me about this “suffering” business, so I ask her intercession as well.

I’ve started praying to St. Roch, too – whose name I know not how to spell (there are so many variations) or pronounce. I’m sure he hears, though. I pray to him because I miss my furry friend, my dog, and I think I need a dog to lick my wounds for me.

And the littlest one…Blessed Jacinta. I pray to her too, because in my heart, I am convinced she is a saint in Heaven with a privileged place beside Our Blessed Mother.

Oh yes…Our Blessed Mother! I have consecrated myself to her, so I am ever under her protection and watchful eye. I’m sure she keeps the demons at bay and allows only as much as I can handle to penetrate her shield.

There.  Now I have listened to the good voices, the angel voices. Now I can march forward into this battle. Pray for me!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Contemplatives Aren't Active

It happened again yesterday, in the homily given by the priest at my parish. I love this priest and appreciate his no-nonsense statement of the truths of the Church. He will not pull punches.

But last night, I was a bit disappointed. This was a novus ordo Mass, and the Gospel was Luke 10:38-42, in which Martha complains to Jesus that her sister Mary won’t help with the hostess-work. Our Lord, of course, tells Martha that “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

It seems to me that this passage is something of a litmus test that helps distinguish between contemplative and active souls. The active souls object to what Jesus told Martha, and are willing to venture that He has made a slight error!

The priest last night extolled the “life of prayer” to some extent, but he said that the thought Mary shouldn’t get the highest marks – maybe only 90%, because we still need to “do” something.  He did acknowledge that God gave Mary the go-ahead, but still added his own opinion on the matter. “Faith without works is dead”, he quoted St. James. And so contemplatives must also engage in “works” in order to prove themselves, it seems. Engaging in works (as defined by “active” types) will help the contemplative lead a “balanced” life. Our priest thought Mary would have done better if she’d gotten up to help Martha a little bit.

Well…Jesus didn’t think so.

Mary’s work was contemplative, I think. No, she didn’t wash dishes or serve hors d’oeuvers; she worshiped Our Lord by listening to him, by focusing all of her attention on Him. It seems to me that “actives” don’t see this as work. They see it as sloth. They think it is easy to “just sit there” and listen. They don’t see that as “doing” something. And “doing” is what they are all about.

Of course, there are gradations. Few are completely active or completely contemplative. Our priest has a contemplative bent, I think, but he is also very much oriented toward activity, and he usually interprets “active participation” at Mass to mean actively participating in singing, etc. Another priest I know has very little of the contemplative in his personality. He gives the same homily about Martha every year on her feast day, saying that Martha deserves more credit than she gets, because she did all the work when Jesus came to visit. Where would we be, this “active” priest asks, if everyone just sat around like Mary? Martha is a hero to him; Mary is…well, Mary just didn’t pull her weight.

Of course, it is true that “faith without works is dead”. But it’s in the definition of “works” that we disagree. Contemplatives do perform “works” – even if those works are not seen by others. And contemplatives do, at times, even perform those works the “actives” are talking about. But mostly, actives don’t understand contemplatives. That’s just the bottom line, I guess.

Allow me to repeat my favorite quote from The Cloud of Unknowing:

What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit. It is this which gives God the greatest delight. For when you fix your love on him, forgetting all else, the saints and angels rejoice and hasten to assist you in every way – though the devils will rage and ceaselessly conspire to thwart you. Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you many not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together. (p. 48)

 Contemplatives do perform “works”. But their work is often a little different from that expected by actives.

I wrote about this in another post, too: In Defense of the Contemplative Life 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dog Days

I had a dog that often looked and acted like a perfectly normal, healthy, happy-go-lucky dog. But she wasn’t.  Her ailment was not physical, but mental. Being a border collie, she's always been a little neurotic…okay, a LOT neurotic...

Lady was afraid of loud noises. When I first got her as a puppy, I decided to use “clicker training” with her. She was afraid of the clicker noise, and ran and hid under the bed. It took quite a bit of “un-doing” to repair that damage! Of course she was also afraid of gunshots (a frequent occurrence here in our rural “neighborhood”). And she came unglued in response to thunder – another frequent occurrence here, during the summer.

Her fear of thunder generalized to other loud rumbly noises, such as a large cattle truck rolling by on our gravel road. Lady was a very smart dog, and she even seemed to recognize that cloudy weather might mean thunder. She’d go out to play with me, but was nervous and anxious. When thunder ensued, we’d rush back into the house where I would put her in her crate. She seemed to accept her crate as a safe place, and even though she was anxious and upset, she seemed resigned to the noise.

Then her fear of thunder escalated and reached epic proportions:  she started pawing at her cage door, and biting and pulling on it whenever there was thunder. She bent the entire door, and pulled loose one of the bars. In biting the cage door, she would sometimes get her jaw stuck in it, and that freaked her out even more. The one safe place in the world was no longer safe, in her view. I began to think she would die of the terror she was experiencing.

There were other issues. In general, Lady’s intelligence was her downfall. She really was head and shoulders above any other dog I’ve had (and there have been quite a few) in brain power. She was bred from working stock, and was meant to herd sheep. We tried that for a while, and she was good at it – much better than I was! She understood many words, and often picked up on things I said to her in a casual way, just talking to myself, really.

Lady didn’t have much use for other dogs. She liked people, and tolerated some dogs. Sometimes people would say “She doesn’t know she’s a dog; she thinks she’s a human.” My response was that, no, she did understand that she was a dog, and she was smart enough to know it would be better to be a human. She did what she could to convince the rest of us to treat her as one.

I guess she was too smart. Her level of understanding of the things around her caused her great anxiety, I think, because she knew enough to know that she didn’t know enough. When she knew something – like, “it’s cloudy and there’s going to be thunder” – she wanted to know how to take care of the problem. And of course, she couldn’t do that.

Lady wanted to understand things that were beyond her. It drove her crazy. 

I suppose there's a lesson in that.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Morning Walk and Rosary

I’ve been going for an early morning walk recently – usually around 6am. I walk up the road from our house, praying the Rosary as I go. I walk farther than half the Rosary, and supplement with some additional prayers to get me all the way back home.

This has become my favorite time of the day. It’s a quiet walk; the dogs along the way seem mostly to still be inside their houses, and I’ve only been barked at a couple of times.

I haven’t seen much wild life, but there were a couple of deer out the other day. They were not inclined to visit, but watched attentively as I passed them.

The walk and the prayer combine to give me a sense of peace with which to start my day. 

Here are a few photos of the view as I walk up the road.

On a clear day:

On a cloudy day:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

St. Therese and Me

I have never had a great devotion to St. Therese, even though I am attracted to the Carmelite spirituality, my confirmation saint is St. Teresa of Avila, and I have worn the brown scapular since before I was Catholic.

I don’t really know why I haven’t been more attracted to St. Therese, but a while back I started reading her autobiography, and became much more interested. I found a prayer to her in my prayer book and started praying it every morning. Then…after more time passed…I don’t know…I just stopped. I didn’t “feel” like anything was happening.

Through the years, I have repeatedly asked St. Therese for roses. I mean, everyone else does, and they all have stories about getting them. I figured, what the heck; I’d ask, and if she delivered, that would be a sign…of something. You can see I don’t always think things out clearly or do them from the right motivation!

But saints are different.

As I enjoyed the roses on the rose bush my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day last year, it suddenly occurred to me that St. Therese might be behind the appearance of these beautiful little gifts!

I picked up where I’d left off in her autobiography, and the words I stumbled upon were exactly what I needed to hear. I think she’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t know what. In a way, it seems like she’s just saying, “I want to intercede for you with God. Ask me!” Why she would care so much, I do not know! But I decided I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by asking. So I am.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, July 8, 2013

In Defense of the Contemplative Life

 The Holy Father was recently quoted as making remarks that seem to indicate that he feels
 that the “doing of charitable deeds” is the only path to God, and that people who devote themselves to the contemplative life risk “losing themselves along the way”, and that those who “choose the path of penance and fasting” are Pelagians. 

I have only read a brief summary of the Holy Father’s remarks, and decided not to dig any further. Who knows whether he was quoted adequately and accurately? It is not my purpose here to argue with the Pope!

However, I was a little disturbed by the thoughts the report aroused in me, and so I turned to my old favorite, The Cloud of Unknowing, for reassurance about the value of the contemplative life. Here are a few quotes:

What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit. It is this which gives God the greatest delight. For when you fix your love on him, forgetting all else, the saints and angels rejoice and hasten to assist you in every way – though the devils will rage and ceaselessly conspire to thwart you. Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you many not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together. (p. 48)

Therefore, firmly reject all clear ideas however pious or delightful. For I tell you this, one loving blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do. (p. 60)

But when after searching their own conscience and seeking reliable counsel they decide to devote themselves entirely to contemplation, their family and friends descend upon them in a storm of fury and criticism severely reproving them for idleness. These people will unearth every kind of dire tale both true and false about others who have taken up this way of life and ended up in terrible evils. Assuredly, they have nothing good to tell. (p. 72)

Likewise, I think that worldly-minded critics who find fault with contemplatives should also be excused on account of their ignorance, though they are sometimes rude besides…They cannot understand how these young people can cast aside careers and opportunity and set out in simple goodness and sincereity to be God’s special friends. I am certain if any of this made sense to them, they would not carry on as they do…They have experienced only one way of living – their own – and can imagine no other. (p. 73-74)

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Beheading

I watched the video of the Catholic priest, Fr. Francois Murad, who was beheaded by Syrian rebels. Recently, I have read that the victim shown in the video was not Fr. Murad; but that is not really the point, in a way. Someone died a horrific death at the hands of his fellow man, and a mob jeered and cheered and took photos with cell phones all the while. This picture of humanity is a bleak one.

Why did I watch the video? Well, at first I was not going to. Then I admit I felt a little curious; did they really do it? Can you really see it on the video? And I think I felt I owed it to that priest to see what they did to him, to verify it with my own eyes in a way, because he died for our Faith.

To be honest, though, I’m not really sure why I watched it.

The first time I watched it, I didn’t get very far. It was too horrific. When I could see that the man with the knife was about to start hacking away…well…I felt sick and horrified, and I stopped watching. But I went back a day later and made myself watch it. Yes, they did cut a man’s head off. It was gruesome. I wondered how a human being could do that to another human being. How could a human being even do such thing to an animal?  No one cuts the head off a farm animal, for instance, without killing by gunshot or some other means first.

Watching this horrific act made me think of the saints I read about every morning in the Roman Martyrology. The torments are described in such calm, placid terms… “he was stretched on the rack and had his fingernails pulled out, and was put to death by the sword, thus completing his martyrdom” – or similar words.  Sometimes I think about what those torments must have looked like and felt like (unimaginable), because it is significant that the martyrs withstood such atrocities and continued to profess their faith in Christ.

And so it was with the man in the video, whoever he was…and there were two others about to undergo the same treatment. It was real – no matter whether that man was Fr. Murad or not; it made me praise God for the martyrs that have gone before us, as examples of faith and courage.  

It also made me weep for the pain and suffering that man endured. May he be with the saints in Heaven.  

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

To Be Happy with God in Heaven

Someone put this link on Face Book:

It's about a soldier who has acted heroically in helping a spina bifida baby in Iraq; the little girl must be about 8 years old now. There are lots of photos testifying to the way her life has been improved by the efforts of the soldier.

Anyway, I do applaud this man for his heroic efforts. It's a very heart-warming story, and who wouldn't want to help a child in such a state?! But I am becoming so hypersensitive to statements like this one, made at toward the end of the series of photos:

Because of Kevin, she has a real shot at happiness in life.

And the first thing that comes to my mind is...but what about happiness for eternity? Has anyone done anything to move this child along the path to Heaven? Is she even a Christian?  Is she baptized?

I don't suppose "society" in general has ever been too concerned about that.

These days, society is all about having the happiest, most comfortable life here on earth…and that has led us down the path to euthanasia, because life is allegedly not worth living if it’s not pain-free, worry-free, sacrifice-free, etc. This mentality encourages abortion, too; witness the recent reports from women who are “glad” they aborted their babies because they were going to be “handicapped” in some way.  Those with no belief in God of course have no understanding of the importance of baptism, but even most Catholics seem to fail to understand this.  

You have to be reminded (or remind yourself) constantly to think about death and eternity, I think; otherwise, it's easy to focus on being "happy" in this life, and not worry about "the next".

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.