Monday, July 30, 2012

The Workers and the Wheat

[Author's note: This is a very analogy-laden piece. I'm sure you would discover that. What I want to mention is that I hope you take careful not of the parallels I'm talking about here. I wrote this at about the same time as hierarchy. It's another example of my "evolved literature" style. No, it doesn't mean it's getting better, but what I do is hand-write everything first. When I begin typing (a day or two, even a week later) many new ideas, themes, and considerations enter my head and it expands the piece by 2-3x. I always try and keep the continuity in mind, but I may have failed in that respect. This was originally intended to be very simple and gentle but I hoped for a stronger tone in the middle. I hope you like it! ~ M]


“You are God’s field” (1 Cor 3:9).

As I considered these words and the many comparisons made between the faithful and seeds, plants, and wheat I thought to myself, “How difficult it is to be the wheat!” Indeed, as the wheat we are dependant upon others and God for our own growth. But if the planter was wise and the cultivator good then the wheat flourishes. For “I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. … [Neither of us is anything], but only God, who causes the growth. [But], the one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and reach will receive wages in proportion to his labor” (1 Cor 3:6-8).

Indeed, when the wheat flourishes it is kept and the laborers are honored. But if the wheat is sickly it is burned and the laborers rebuked for producing a weak crop. So too there are those who have given us our faith, those who have cultivated it, and those who safeguard it.

Children, do you not see how fickle your faith is? Yes, many of you and even me are like children who need “milk, not solid food, because [we are] unable to take it.” (1 Cor 3:2). Do you not see the gift you were given, and how easily it could have been taken away? How easily it could yet still be taken away? Your faith is not only an affirmation of God the almighty Father and thereafter you flourish. Your faith is a seed that needs careful cultivation and only in due time will it flourish.

The laborers deserve their wages. Whom have you paid?

Some of us were planted and cared for by words, deeds, and other examples. Parents, priests, and friends lived in a manner that did not make us lose heart. Truly they were like “a lamp shining in a dark place, until … the morning star [dawned] in your hearts” (2 Pet 2:19). But some of you, having been raised like this, left their example behind and refused cultivation. Does the wheat grow and care for itself or is it not at the mercy storms, pestilence, and other harms? Who will protect your faith? Certainly God protects His children, but does the wheat’s desire for life and flourishing guarantee it?

Others among you were sickly, living a life of pride, sloth, and many other vices. A laborer who had pity on your plight rescued you. Do you realize that your conversion was an act of grace on your behalf and grace working in the other as well? Or was not Paul converted by the grace of God acting on both him and Ananias? Many had to cooperate with God’s grace so you might experience it yourself. But many of us, like thoughtless wheat, did not know how our soil was prepared or who prepared it. When we reaped the many benefits of grace and revelation we thought ourselves initiated into a personal relationship and that this was all we needed. The wheat thought itself as existing (in its current state) by its faith and by the grace of God alone. Truly nothing grows toward God without Him, but the wheat here did not count himself as the fruit of many unseen labors. For recall that even the Enemy has sown weeds among us and the workers, picked by God, toil tirelessly and often unseen so you won’t be bundled among the weeds.

The laborers deserve their wages. Whom have you paid?

Who has God appointed as laborers? The seeds are not all men but “the good seed [are] the children of the kingdom” (Mt 13:38). The seeds sown are faith inspired and given freely by the Son of Man. But God also sent us laborers. He selected them from among the people to cultivate and harvest.

I do not say all these words to discourage you, but I say them so you might reflect more deeply on how great a gift the present moment is. For even if there are tempests in our own life, are not the love, memory, and example of good laborers (and the Good Shepherd Himself) who help us to persevere? And do we not have a history of good laborers in the saints (now) in heaven and our loved ones here on earth?

My friends, persevere when times are difficult and rejoice with God and His laborers when you flourish.

Truly, there are times when we must be laborers and we must emulate them by their tireless and quiet efforts to produce good crops. Other times we must be as the wheat, perfectly willing to be cultivated—humble, steadfast, obedient, and wholly dependent on the laborer. It is when we start growing (i.e., discovering our own calling and gifts) that we can often neglect cultivation. Do not lead yourselves to ruin.

Do not be deceived that either the laborer or the wheat is perfect. Do not both have faults within? Do not both face dangers on the outside too? All the same, both are honored when one cares for the wheat and that same wheat produces a great yield. Therefore when we neglect our own labors we are shamed by lack of a fruitful yield. When we reject cultivation (as living wheat) we produce little or nothing at all. Recall that even the one who works hard but sees little fruit grows himself by virtue of his hard work—do not be discouraged by proximate and immediate failures!

Sometimes we must work with rough soil and other times unsure hands guide us—but what benefit is it to not toil? What benefit is it to refuse growth?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Guatemala Part II (and Reflection)

Hello everyone,

First, I think it's fitting that I should begin with a sense of gratitude. Though I've since gotten a few gray hairs when starting my graduate year in DC--continuing until today, the opportunities I've been given have been a blessing. What I must always remember is that it is through the generosity of family, friends, priests, and above all the Catholic Church and God. The Church is giving me every opportunity to see the world, study many cultures, and use all of it in service of you. How could anyone call that closed-mindedness? Regardless, my time in Guatemala has been wonderful. It's hard to believe three weeks have passes since. With only two left to go I figured I would post some pictures and speak briefly of my experiences.

First, the weather is extremely pleasant. I know that makes a lot of you back home in Chicago jealous. I go to sleep with a thermal-shirt and pj-pants on. I wear jeans and a shirt comfortably almost all day. 50 in the morning, 75 midday, 50 at night. Repeat, repeat, and add some rain for good measure.

Classes have been excellent. I learned more in one day than probably a semester of classes. My teacher, Palmenia, is a strong Catholic who herself is a hard worker. She is patient, corrects me well, and is willing to let me talk about this or that subject. I rarely use any English except to get a work or a phrase. Still learning the past tense and haven't gotten to the trickier stuff like 'compound tenses' and subjunctive.
(Pero todo esta muy bien. Clases, los monjes, las seminaristas, las maestras, y los otros estudiantes han sido excellente.)
(But everything is really good. Classes, the monks, the seminarians here, the teachers, and the other guys have been great.)

Here's a look of my walk on the way to class:
First I walk through this very pleasant garden which is lush all year round because of the agreeable climate.

Upon leaving the priory is surrounded by a nice berry trees and bushes that are well kept. It's very picturesque here.

Just to the right of the above image is a circular shaped garden with the Virgin Mary at the top.
Walking a bit more we come to the main road. All of these trees were planted by a monk some 20 or 25 years ago. The whole campus here use to be fields. I think the more forested look is better suited to a monastic community. It's open to the public but also excluded from the noise and bustle of the city. The whole place is surrounded by the 7-foot wall and trees.
Here's a little side-trail to the school. You can vaguely see the mountains in the background.
The 'main grounds' of the school we study at. Very simple concrete and tin-roof buildings. You can see one of the mountains here in the background. We're on an incline so the city, Quetzaltenango (Xela to locals), is just over these buildings, perhaps about 4-8 blocks away.
And here's been my torture chamber for the past 3 weeks. Pleasant and intimate, the one-on-one learning experience has been a great help for me. Spiders seem to land on my shoulders from time to time.

And so this has been my short little walking path thus far. For class, my teacher and I often talk about this or that--catechises, basketball, cooking, or just other random topics where I try to put to use what I've learned and learn a little bit more along the way. My teacher goes above and beyond by making hand-made tests, handouts on our conversations (such as all the vocabulary you would ever want to know for basketball), and everything else. I'm very lucky to have her.

I've found that many of the people here in Guatemala are very fervent in their prayer life and devotion but very much devoid of solid catechises. They believe simply and live simply--which isn't a bad thing at all. But my teacher really loves it when I speak about Scripture, describe the symbolism in churches, and talk about theology. Like my friend Mike Olson said, "These people are really hungry for good, solid teaching about our faith, Scripture, and Catholicism." I completely agree. My teacher is a wonderful women who is intelligent, inquiring, and faithful. But Guatemala is a concrete culture--these people work for a living and, because there's not much leisure unless you're an alcoholic, they find beauty in friendships, family, and faith.

This is the beauty of simpler countries and communities. Much like the ancient Jews who were nomads,  shepherds, and workers they lived in a dirty, concrete reality. Yet all the same they realized because of it (separated from the often-prevalent decadence of urban culture) that the concrete is not all there is to life. When you move from the concrete you find family and friends to be more important. When you realize that even these too will not last you additionally appreciate that which always is, such as the beauty of nature and the constancy of the goodness that is love and family. From there you appreciate a Love that could be nothing but timeless.

In a way, I wish there were more  missionary priests from the United States. We have a culture rich with learning and opportunity through which we could change the lives of millions by instruction in the faith by our sacrifice (for the faithful), our education, and our manner of lives. And the simplicity, humility, and fervor with which faithful Catholics live here could transform us too.

My friends, let me be blunt here: Protestants--Mormons, Baptists, Pentecostals--are ravaging Catholics and converting them here by thousands here. The blood our martyrs poured out on this land is being harvested by those who teach others that we are wicked and wrong, and even others to hate us (in some circumstances). In the United States it's no different.

When we, as privileged Catholics, use our leisure for solely escapism (television, games, parties), then people will rightfully escape from the Catholic Church. We cannot avoid people leaving the Church and we should be proud we do not--typically--shun those who fall away (unlike many Muslim, Lutheran, and Baptist communities where becoming Catholic is tantamount to disowning someone). But all the same if we do not pray, use the Sacraments, go to mass regularly, study and read Scripture, and show that we have a life and a faith worth living then why should others care if we're just a dime-a-dozen?

Do not be slack in your faith but be a light to the world. There are those that hunger physically, yes, but there are just as many who hunger intellectually for the opportunities we have! And by intellectually I should also say spiritually. For when we come from a land of the "haves" (and not the "have-nots") and still display control, moderation, discipline, obedience, humility, and joy we will have conquered the great enemies of Pride, Excess, and Self-Indulgence. By doing so we show Christ to the world through our faith and love of His Church. By that solidarity--that recognition that we want to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we can really change the world.

It is this love, this oneness in faith that makes such a gathering possible.
We are all working hard but find happiness with one another's company. (We won the game, by the way)

This is not a charge by me to become sullen and serious, but I do want to draw to your attention that a home that flourishes is one that loves each other and spends time together. The Church is our home. Love and work with those in it, because there are many of our brothers who need to learn Scripture and you know it. There are many who need to see good marriages. Live it. There are many who can't communicate because they don't know English--will you help them?

We are already working hard, I know. But you all also know the joy of hard work and the fruit it produces. Persevere, those of you who have worked hard but gone unseen, and I hope those who could do a little bit more get to work as well. Push me to do the same,


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On the Priesthood, One Body, One Church

"I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord." (Jer 23:4)

In this passage we have cause for joy, but also a cause for concern—joy because of what the prophet proclaims and concern because of what our brothers are saying. In this passage I see a disturbing trend where Protestants often ignore passages like this. Now it is not that many err completely but rather that there needs to be greater nuance in our treatment of this topic. Now, some take the notion "Jesus is the high priest" to mean that he is the only priest with authority, while others take it to mean that we all share equally in the priesthood that's the end of it.

But this is a prophetic message from Jeremiah, and we must remember that there are many types of prophetic utterances: some foretell God's wrath, His mercy, destruction, restoration, the end of days, or the coming of the New Age, i.e., the age of Christ. This proclamation (Jer 23:1-8) speaks of a passing away of an old order of priests, namely the Jewish priests (of his time) who engaged in idolatry and injustice. It then speaks of the establishment of a new order of priests and the reunification of the people of God from many lands. How is this clear? Jeremiah obviously calls these wicked priests the "shepherds who mislead and scatter my flock" (23:1) but then he uses "shepherds" again as those who will guide the people of God—these men are also priests. This message also clearly speaks of the coming of Christ for it says "I will raise up a righteous shoot to David" (23:5).

He prophesied all these things amidst the slow, painful, and gradual destruction of Jerusalem spiritually and physically.

Some will claim that we are all part of a universal priesthood and that we are made priests by virtue of His sacrifice. Now, we are indeed all called to all share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ's ministry. But how, and in what way? First, we are all baptized to new life and by virtue of true baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we enter into the Body of Christ, the Church. Now, some have excised themselves from this union through false doctrine and we urge all of them to consider carefully their separation from the Body with whom they cannot live without. This Body, nevertheless, is something that we enter and become a part of through holy Baptism. Since each of us become a member of the Body of Christ we are likewise sharers of His mission—the salvation of all souls.

We participate in the mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king in the manner which we live our lives. We do this when we work towards the salvation of souls in the individual circumstances of our lives. In this way those who proclaim that we are saved just by an act of faith cheapen the mission of Christ. They do not cheapen it by their zeal, for they bring others to believe in Christ. But they cheapen this mission by not considering the many parts of this mission—that is to say they do not consider the many parts of the Body and their roles in this mission. If faith was the sole purpose of the mission then there would be no need for teachers, preachers, and shepherds because the only teacher and shepherd would be God. By this I mean that many proclaim that only the Holy Spirit guides them. We do not deny His guidance but we reject that the Holy Spirit does not inspire us to lead others when necessary and follow others when necessary. God does not only give us Himself but He also gives us each other so that we might be lead to Him (and in specific ways).

"It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth. Of course a purely contemplative devotion, such as is specially proper to the religious and monastic life, cannot be practised in these outer vocations, but there are various other kinds of devotion well-suited to lead those whose calling is secular, along the paths of perfection."
~Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales
Now it is true that everything good comes from God, but it is also true that not everything is God. Indeed "the very differences which the Lord has willed to put between the members of his body serve its unity and mission" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 873). Some fulfill this mission as mothers, children, laborers, teachers, and priests. Others share in this mission by the virtues they have been given by the spirit such as humility, prudence, and love. All of these are parts of the one Body of Christ; all are not equal but work towards an equal goal.

So we are called to that ministry which Christ exercised—but if we all merely call ourselves priests of the same kind would we not also all be called shepherds? Who among us then are the sheep? Jer 23:1-8 clearly speaks of gathering all sheep (the faithful) together and giving them shepherds. The context of this prophecy is the coming of Christ, for he will be a wise king, a high priest, and the Good Shepherd. The promise of shepherds is priests in the order of the high priest.

We exercise that same priestly ministry of Christ insofar as we are a member of His Body—but just as some are meant to be teachers, other prophets, and others still interpreters (1 Cor 14:26-40). In this way, I call your attention to Paul's words: "Everything should be done for the sake of building up" (14:26). Similarly "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5). But how can anyone build a house with the same materials, let alone a temple to God? That is to say if we are all just materials of the same type how do we construct anything? How do we distinguish one thing from another, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Some must be used for the wood (laborers), others must be the inscriptions that adorn the walls (teachers), and others the altar (priests).

We are many parts but one Body, we are different materials that make One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
A Church ready to gather all to herself.
But as it stands, many pick and choose what of the Old Law passes and what is fulfilled. As for me, Jeremiah promised a Messiah—which is true—and shepherds to protect the flock (people of God) so that they "need no longer fear and tremble" (23:4). Why should not this also be true?

I urge you to recall 2 Tim 1:6 where Paul tells Timothy to "stir into flame the gift of God [he was] given through the imposition of [Paul's] hands." What is this action? The imposition of hands was an act done by the Apostles in order to give authority to those seven holy men selected from among the people. Likewise, the imposition of hands by Ananias was decreed by God to give Saul (Paul) authority as His instrument (Acts 9:15-17).

Paul instructs Titus similarly that he should "appoint presbyters" in every town. Here he does not mean "elders" but priests (Titus 1:5). This is clear because the following formula was used for bishops in 1 Timothy 3:2-7. More still, when speaking of presbyters Paul also says "do not lay hands too readily on anyone" (1 Tim 5:22)—meaning that not all are priests according to that order. It is further telling—and those who value truth should read carefully—the gifts given by Paul, by the imposition of hands on Timothy and Titus (and not just anybody) give these men the authority to lay hands on others. So it is not anybody who can raise someone to the order or presbyter (that is, priest) but only those who were given such a gift by the Apostles, a gift that was conferred to them by Christ Himself. Not everyone is a priest according to this order, and not everyone has the authority to "preside" nor the responsibility of that office to "toil in preaching and teaching" (1 Tim 6:17).

Indeed, it was promised that "you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" Now, if this priesthood—a priesthood which offers sacrifice—was related to just one man why would it be called an "order"? The order of Levi has passed away but the order of Melchizedek will never pass away because Christ does not pass away (Heb 7:24). If we are to take the promise of Jeremiah seriously, and the author of Hebrews in conjunction with him, who could deny a specific and unique priesthood though which we have shepherds for God people? Furthermore, the high priest has made a sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, of Himself. As the high priest of the order of Melchizedek his priests are called to offer sacrifice, and more fascinating offer the perfect and eternal sacrifice—Jesus Christ. For the eternal priest is also an eternal sacrifice given for all.
This is what is really happening at the conferal of Holy Orders. A young man joins a noble and heavenly calling, begun by Christ, through His Apostles, to the present day. As he enters into that priesthood by which he was be Christ in a very special way for others he must also be willing, like Christ, to give his life for his sheep.

 It is truly fitting we have such a high priest who, at the right hand of the Father, offers an eternal sacrifice and intercedes for us. As both victim and priest he not only reigns eternally but, by equal amounts of his love and humility, gives His Body and Blood for eternity as a blameless sacrifice. For if the priesthood is established in that eternal high priest, then sacrifices of those in the order of that priesthood do not offer temporal sacrifices, like the blood of bulls and rams, but an eternal and acceptable sacrifice. Indeed the Eucharist is rightly considered a sacrifice of praise. And although this spiritual and perfect sacrifice is offered by all we must recall to our hearts once more that we are the Body of Christ. As a Body of many parts we also recognize that although our whole being prays only the lips can speak praise, only the legs can kneel, only the head can bow, and only the hands can raise the sacrifice. But all together give thanks by their unique actions. So too do the laity and the priest, though different, give thanks for that same sacrifice for which they share and are beneficiaries.

So heed these words which I write, especially those who disbelieve of the order of priests and an eternal sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice was truly "once for all" in that He is the acceptable sacrifice to the Father. But if we do not connect this with the other truths of Scripture we live a lie and we drink poison. For when I and my brethren are confronted with the usual quotes, our detractors, when responded to, will simply say that one bit of Scripture trumps the other (in essence). We accept a universal priesthood as we all should, but then some of you deny the very Scriptural, prophetic, necessary, and authoritative priesthood promised by the prophets, fulfilled by Christ, and enacted through His Apostles and their successors. Do not turn Scripture into a book of mere opinions but see the coherence within. The presence of two truths, even truths that seem to contradict one another, sometimes leads to an even greater, hidden truth not readily seen. We must look to Scripture and the Tradition that gave it to us if we are to passionately search for truth and, with equal love, hold onto it.


Special thanks to God, of course, but also his servant Padre Cristobal for his inspiring, wonderful, and beautiful homily about the need to work hard, as Catholics. The need to study, work towards virtues, work at ridding ourselves of vices, using the sacrament of Confession, and seeking spiritual guidance from your priests. "No es facil, pero nececitamos trabajar duro por Christo y su iglesia." (It's not easy, but we need to work hard for Christ and His Church). He spoke for 30 minutes, I could have listened 90 more.

Pray for our priests, pray for your priests, and for the love of God seek his guidance in Spiritual things if you find him to be trustworthy and hard working. And if you don't know yet....get out there and find out--make him better by your own desire to be better. That is (but one) beauty of the Church

Saturday, July 21, 2012

On Hierarchy and the Church

Do you fear or hate hierarchy, especially in a life of faith? If so, would you also reject a temple and a church because you see it only as gaudy ornamentation? But are not both built on a foundation and layer upon layer? In the same way the living Church is built upon Christ. Its pillars are the teaching of the Apostles, the martyrs are the windows by which the light of Christ enters, and the bishops and priests are the supports fastened to these pillars. But what of the laity? They are the rich ornaments that adorn the living Church. They rely on all of these others and yet their place is the expression of beauty and harmony. For any place of beauty is diverse, yet harmonious. Therefore, we should not treat the laity as superfluous (or consider ourselves superfluous) because it is their beauty and harmony which amplifies the temple to those who look outside curiously. Likewise they amplify, by that same harmony, the glorious mysteries within.

The beauty in here is possible by the firm foundations it was built upon. Who could deny that the living Church is different? Beauty lifts us up to God because it reflects the sacredness of that space.

However, can the ornate exist without its foundations? Those who wish to be a temple unto themselves—meaning that they do not need a Church but just a personal relationship—heed St. Paul half-heartedly. They read "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19) but then, like children, listen to what they want to hear and ignore what else is told to them. Did they not recall that we are one Body (1 Cor 12:12)? And is this "Body" just of the spirit—that is to say a "spiritual Church"?

If so, who teaches you as a teacher? Who rebukes you? Are we all just equals before one another in all things by virtue of faith in Christ Jesus? What I mean is this: do you not see that if you reject the Church that you will inevitably make one of your own, either with others or of yourself. Was it vain that Paul said that some are prophets, administrators, and interpreters, while others should silent and speak at the appropriate time (cf. 1 Cor 12:26-40)? No. The structure of the living Church, then, lies in the Spirit and lies outside the spirit of mere belief. For did Paul intend that the living Church be a collection of those who merely believed—and that each would stand as equals in many matters just because of that faith?

More still, do you believe that our authority comes from Scripture alone or, rather, that the only authority to teach is Scripture? Indeed we must be obedient to the truth, but this sentiment is not obedience but pride. For by our own will we listen to Paul when he says "all Scripture is inspired by God [for many tasks]" (2 Tim 3:16) and take it to mean Scripture is the only source by which we have, by default, the gifts of teaching or interpretation. But "no prophecy came through human will but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet 1:20). Are we so bold to claim that we are given all gifts by reading Scripture? Are we so bold to claim that the Spirit acts in those who only speak through Scripture? (Did not Satan also quote Scripture?)

The sentiments of this man, however good, are not Christianity but pride.

 Does not authority come from the Spirit? Yes, for Paul says that it is according to the will of the Spirit that each of us has particular gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11). They are distributed to many and individually so that we may heed one or another, not just by the utterance of Scripture but by the power of the Spirit in them.

We are ready, like trusting children, to imbibe quotes of Scripture as if it were milk. Yet when another rebukes us by virtue of reason, science, or his position of education we become more obstinate than the Jews in the desert. Is all they utter true? Of course not, but if the words are spoken by one who is gentle yet forceful, and is a man of proven character, why should we deny his rebukes? Below we shall explore this:

Since there is even more to write on this subject alone I will be brief. Read and contemplate these words which are connected to those above. Paul tells us plainly, "Let every person be subject to higher authorities for there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore; whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed and those who oppose it bring judgment on themselves" (Rom 13:1-2). Obviously we should not consent to wicked rulers and wicked things, but how quick we are to call those whom we don't like wicked and against God! However, that God gave us leaders, rulers, and kings is not a lie. Furthermore, do you think that if God appointed kings and rulers to be judges in civil matters and instruments of His justice that He would not appoint men to be rulers and authorities in spiritual matters? "Respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and … show esteem for them with special love on account of their work" (1 Thes 5:12-13).

And even if some are wicked, are they not still instruments?

They exist to serve you but also, by virtue of their leadership, see what is spiritually harmful for you. They stand atop a hill that is attacked from all sides, and are even attacked within.

King Josiah and the Apostles were praised for increasing the faith of countless people.

The Babylonians and Assyrians both prepared the hearts of the Jews for the Messiah by their bitter exile. By trial and tears the understanding of almighty God was purified from the pagan influence that has assailed those same Jews. Nero and the other Emperors, likewise, in their attempt to destroy the Church unwittingly caused it to flourish and spread to all corners of the earth.

Is every authority wicked? No, but even still we can judge who is a good or bad authority by the fruit of their labor. But remember that every authority is placed by God—all deserve their due (cf. Rom 13:7). Whether good or bad, that will be decided at the appointed time.

Subjecting ourselves to authority, then, takes humility. Deferring to your own reading of Scripture is easy, rejecting authority is even easier. Humility is a virtue we should work on and a grace which we should pray for unceasingly. Was it not humility that brought about conversion for Cornelius and his household? Was it not the humility of Peter who raised him up to equality and made him and his household coheirs to the Kingdom? (Acts 10:9-49)

And likewise Peter was warned, when he refused Christ's humility, that he would have no inheritance in Him?  But upon accepting it he was raised—no longer a servant but a friend, for Jesus revealed to him the model he should follow (cf. Jn 15:15).

Therefore, it is by humility of both those who have authority and those who are subject to authority that both are raised.
Humility brought Cornelius, a Roman, to Peter a Christian. By the love, patience, and humility of Peter he brought them to God. Peter a model of what broken humanity can achieve in Christ.

But for now, let us return to the first point but with another image:

Does not the fruit on a tree exist because of the branches? And the branches because of the trunk? And the trunk because of the roots and the soil? "The branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me" (Jn 15:4). Can we be fruit without the branches? A plant has many parts but it works to produce one fruit. The Church has many parts of varying importance but its one fruit is the salvation of souls—we are one Body, "give success to the work of our hands" (Ps 90:17).

And so I say again, do you hate hierarchy? Are you so quick to acknowledge the Master but not the laborers? Though the laborers are nothing without the Master the laborers do the work of the Master and share in His joy.

In this same way, did you build your own faith? "What do you posses that you have not received?  But if you received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor 4:7). Was it not given to you by others who were likewise convinced in the Power of God?

For we are not a Church of personal faiths, but a building being built upon in every generation—why else would Paul warn us to be careful as we build it? (cf. 1 Cor 3:10). What is your church built upon? Are they the Apostles, Tradition, the saints (wise men and women), the bishops in the line of the Apostles, and Scripture? If no, who leads you?
In reality, this is the pride that makes us accountable to no one but whom we choose. This has become its own false religion.

But truly, men are the ones who labor for God, building so as to support the faith of all. Like a master builder he needs to discern a solid foundation (Christ) and a solid design. Are we not the beneficiaries of such men? Do we give thanks to God for their labors? Ever worker deserves his wages. Deny the laborers in favor of the Master and you mock the laborers that the Master has picked.

Do these men—pillars, protectors, and laborers—not deserve honor for what they have given us? True, that those who ask for honor often deserve little, but the faithful servant who toiled to increase the Master's talents received an even greater honor by virtue of his work. Some more, others less.

In this respect do not neglect your leaders, your spiritual ones most of all. For neglecting them is to be as sheep who neglect their shepherd or plants that reject cultivation. Those neglectful ones produce little or nothing, become unruly, and lead themselves to ruin.

So think carefully and reflect deeply. Is Scripture or your personal relationship the only authority? Or does the Spirit select some to lead, others to interpret, some to teach, others with this or that virtue, and others to follow? Do you fear or hate authority? "Rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil … therefore it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath [against injustice] but also because of conscience [for the Lord has given you this authority]" (Rom 13:3, 5). And reflect, finally, that if your church does not acknowledge the Traditions we have been given by word of mouth and by script (cf. 2 Thes 2:15) nor does it have those who are above you in the Lord (1 Thes 5:12) then what church have you built? Can it stand?

For "the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one's work. … if the work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3:13, 15). Much is lost in a fire, will your church stand against the true Church?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On Arguments (and how we Consume Them)

My friends,

Life's experiences teach us many lessons that we should apply to our interior as well. Take, for example, eating. When we eat sweet things like candies and cakes it is no doubt that they are pleasant and readily consumable. But it is also obvious that if we subsist on these things we will become fat, lethargic, and unable to eat more bitter things because we are accustomed to sweetness. In like manner, when we eat only bitter foods and coarse meals we are often unable to distinguish tastes—either because it is too bland or because the intensity of sweetness is now too strong for us.

How similar is this to our intellects! When we indulge ourselves on easy arguments, arguments that are readily consumable and require little more than our assent (because we agree with them already) we become intellectually lazy, tired, and unwilling to work on more difficult things. These arguments are sweet to us because they support us, but when we consume too much of them we have little taste for anything else. Likewise, when we only concern ourselves with arguments about concrete things, pessimistic things, and arguments against our opponents we similarly lose our taste for lighter and sweeter arguments. We become cold to ourselves and, as the adage goes, "we are what we eat." Engage too much in one thing and you become a product of that thing and no longer a disciple. Many see no problem in this and these are precisely the people who will become sick but not see a doctor.

When we indulge ourselves in intellectual heavy-lifting we become intellectual "jocks," as it were. We are unable to enjoy nuance, diversity, and mystery. When we gorge ourselves on poetry, sweet and easy words, and arguments that we merely need to nod our heads at we never truly appreciate hard work, order, structure, and the truth.

The former deadens us to point where we confidently say "I know I'm right." The latter deadens us to the point where we confidently say "We could never know." But indeed, there is nuance in order, diversity in structures, and mystery with truth.

Thus, for me, the Catholic Church has been a good doctor. Indeed, the Eucharist has been even better food. The simplicity of bread and the sweetness of wine is our daily food and contemplation. Yes, the coarseness of the Body and the smoothness of the Blood is real food that is consumed and is our challenge—take and eat, take and drink; this is my Body and Blood. More than this she has prescribed good diets that are full of poetry, literature, philosophy, theology, and science. She has also prohibited certain foods as detrimental to both my spirit and my intellect. Her pronouncements are challenging and require a great deal of effort, but she also gives wisdom and advice which is sweet and consoling. The result of strenuous activity is energy and fitness, the result of leisure and contemplation is joy and gratitude.

Sometimes a cup of black coffee and a piece of sweet cake make for a favorable combination, since neither will overcome the other but make one enjoy both all the more.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Guatemala (Part 1)

Greeting from temperate and plesant Xela (Quetzaltenango) all,

I wake up to this every morning, so it can't be all bad.
 Estoy bien, pero yo estuve enfermo con un fiebre. Me recuperando ahora. Yo todovia tengo mucho aprender, pero ojala sabre mucho en cinco mas semanas.
(I'm well, but I was sick with a fever. I'm recovering at the moment. I still have much to learn but I'm hopeful that I'll know a lot in 5 more weeks)
This cross-eyed little fellow is named Spike. He is the monk's dog who sleeps outside and loves his blanket. He also doesn't eat dog food (I guess it makes him sick) but the leftovers from every meal. Because he's so preoccupied, though, the birds often eat a lot of what's in his bowl.
 Bascially it rains a lot, it's cold in the morning, and pretty hot during the day. My journey began being stranded at an airport for 2 hours because of an error in my ride's itinerary. With little to no Spanish I, with the help of some incredibly kind strangers, found my ride and concluded an 18 hour day very stressed out.

It's been hard to write, respond, etc. because I really want to commit myself to studying. I haven't had much time to read and my brain is usually fried of about 4-5 straight hours of classes. Nevertheless living in a benedictine Monastery is very nice. We have a large, but sparse, room, kind priests, brothers, and others, and a beautiful campus.

I'll try and post some pictures but the internet is on-again off-again and I'm not sure how it'll take to larger files.

I will comment about how the people are here, the Catholicism, and the type of spirituality/culture that exists here. It is much different, but much like our own familes who have many different personalities, I believe I can easily come to love (and do love) my fellow Catholics down here.
How could I not add St. Matthew. This is from the Catedral in the center of town. Pictures of that to come!

Friday, July 6, 2012

On Forgiveness

After I went to Confession this morning I began to consider forgiveness. As I did, I returned again and again to myself—but I don't mean egotistically. I reflected on the moment when we sin, especially when it's that embarrassing, stupid, and every-time sin. And after we fall into that same sin (time and time again) we tend to get upset with ourselves, feel ashamed, and many other things. For the one who has faith, however, he looks to Christ to forgive him. This in itself is not bad at all.

I then began to wonder: We reach out to be forgiven and we entreat God with sighs and tears. But the truest fruit of that forgiveness (and mercy) is a conversion, a change of heart. But I think that in order for a conversion of heart to occur we also have to allow ourselves to be forgiven as well. If there is a gift that someone gives it must also be received. And how do we receive a gift? With gratitude, of course.

The gift of forgiveness, however, is no mere gift. It is one of the greatest gifts.

We should consider how the Lord sees us when He forgives us: he is like the bridegroom who rejoices in his bride (e.g., Ez 16:6-14, 59-60; Is 54: 5-8). He is the father who lovingly embraces his son (Lk 15:20-23). He is the shepherd who sacrifices himself for his sheep.

But let's reverse the image. How ought the bride, the son, and the sheep feel about themselves?

My friends, it is hard to forgive others at times, even when they're truly sorry. How much harder is it to forgive ourselves!

What I mean is this: we know God loves us and is ready to forgive. We (laymen), sadly, lack the ability to readily forgive sins in our ministry. We can, however, love and forgive others. But how can we really practice this if we're not prepared to love ourselves—to love ourselves as we are loved? There are those who say that there is nothing good in man, but what they are saying is that man is not worth loving. Man is, by his nature, good—our bodies themselves are temples for the Holy Spirit! See that “God formed man to be imperishable—the image of his own nature he made him” (Wis 2:23).
Christ Himself prayed for us even as he trembled at the prospect of death.

In this way if we are to fully receive forgiveness we must learn to love ourselves as God loves us. (Note that I do not say “truly” which would mean “we won't be forgiven unless we love like this.” We need to learn to love in this manner which is why I say “fully”).

God loves us, so he chastises us. We must also chastise ourselves.
God has mercy so we must be merciful with ourselves.
For remember that “you [God] taught your people … that those who are just must be kind” (Wis 12:19). Even kind to ourselves.

As such, the full reception of forgiveness is the reestablishment of a lost or damaged relationship. Something wounded or broke that relationship and love, mercy, and forgiveness want that relationship to be fixed. Yet, at the same time, though we can really want someone to reconcile with us only that person (who betrayed our trust/love/confidence) can complete that reconciliation.

You can see the difference that takes place after someone is forgiven: it is just as when the crippled man walked, the blind man saw, and the mute man spoke. There is a real change. I'm not saying that every time we forgive someone the mountains should shake, but if the person receives your forgiveness and is affected by a your constant love there should be a change in the person. This is what brings that forgiveness to completion—but note that this can be immediate or gradual.
Some journeys and climbs are difficult, but with patience and time we reach the end. So too with our souls and our bad habits--we have to attack them slowly and with patience. Be prepared for a climb.

But how can we tell a change has taken place in someone else (for the better)? How do we discern this?

The answer may rest within us. With some introspection and self-reflection we can discern a few things:

If we desire forgiveness, do we accept it and love ourselves? If not, do we dwell on our shame or end up hating ourselves? Self-hatred in this case is a form of self-absorption. We care more for our opinion of ourselves than the love of He who gives it freely.
We can end up in this state but do not remain in it.

When one loves us they want what is best for us. When we love ourselves with a holy love we want what is best for us too. Those who dwell on their sins are a slave to that sin. The one who hates himself is a slave to himself. As such, do you change yourself in a visible way so as to get better? If your weakness is pornography do you remove yourself from the situations that lead you to view it? If your weakness is gossip do you avoid situations where you can hear it? Do you make an effort to remove yourself from the environments that lead you to sin with the appropriate caution and care necessary for it? Or do you lament the sin and, in effect, change very little except the bitterness with which you hate the sin or yourself? Conversion occurs in little steps and, over time, you will see change. Change for the better is a sign of self-love and conversion.

Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son: The father loves his son with love inexpressible and worries for him with an anxiety that's unbearable. This alone does not make the relationship whole, but the ground is fertile. It is not until the son returns that the story is resolved. He expects only to serve the father—he knows the weight of his guilt. But the father raises him up and rejoices. He embraces him and prepares a feast. The son is transformed by his desire to be forgiven. First he just desires to be under the father, but when his father declares a feast for him he accepts it, not with pomp or haughtiness, but with silent gratitude.
Consider the story, consider still the response of the son.

This reconciliation should be considered as a model for us with respect to others and with special regard to the Church. Some are removed from the Church, but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says, “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin”(982).

And so if we love ourselves we will be changed. When we're loved by others and accept it more fully we will be transformed. How much more will we be transformed when we learn to love ourselves, allow ourselves to be loved by others, and allow ourselves to be loved by God? Love effects a change in us, but only when we also realize that it will make us vulnerable and humble.

Remember, then, that we cannot be grateful for a gift we don't accept.

Peter denied Christ three times. But three times Christ asked him “Do you love me?” With each “I love you” came a command—when we respond to God's love he desires both action and conversion. He said to Peter “Feed my lambs … [and] follow me.”

And so, shall we truly say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?
Do we truly believe that we should love God with our whole heart, mind, being and soul and “love your neighbor as yourself”?


As a side note, I'll be in Guatemala in less than 18 hours. Please comment and I hope to put up a lot of nice pictures while I'm there. Reflections too!


(Edit 8/9/2012: cleaned up some diction)