Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our Most Primal Fear and the Source of Our Bondage

Let’s ponder a significant yet often overlooked text from Hebrews, which describes our most basic and primal fear. Our inordinate fear of what people think of us is rooted in an even deeper fear, one which is at the very core of our being. The Hebrews text both names it and describes it as being the source of our bondage.  In order to unlock the secret of the text, I want to suggest to you an interpretation that will allow its powerful diagnosis to have a wider and deeper effect.
Consider, then, this text from Hebrews:

Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb 2:14-15).

Now this passage is clear enough that the origin of our bondage to sin is the devil. But it also teaches that the devil’s hold on us is the fear of death. This is what he exploits in order to keep us in bondage.

When I explore this teaching with people I find that it is difficult for many to understand it at first. For many, especially the young, death is almost a theoretical concept. It is not something that they fear on a conscious level. This is especially so today, when medicine has so successfully pushed back the boundaries. Every now and then something may shake us out of our complacency (perhaps a brush with death), but as a general rule the fear of death is not something that dominates our thoughts. So then what is meant by the fear of death and how does it hold us in bondage?

Well, what if we were to replace the word “death” with “diminishment”?  To be sure, this is an adaption of the text (the Greek text (φόβῳ θανάτου – phobo thanatou) is accurately translated as “fear of death”). But it can help us to see what the text is getting at in a wider sense. It doesn’t take long to realize that each diminishment we experience is a kind of “little death.” Diminishments make us feel smaller, less powerful, less glorious.

What are some examples of diminishments we might experience? On one level, a diminishment is anything that makes us feel less adequate than others. Maybe we think others are smarter or more popular. Perhaps we do not feel attractive enough; we’re too tall, too short, too fat, or too thin. Maybe we resent the fact that others are richer or more powerful. Perhaps we wish we were younger, stronger, and more energetic. Maybe we wish we were older, wiser, and more settled. Perhaps we feel diminished because we think others have a better marriage, a nicer home, or better children. Maybe we compare ourselves to a sibling who has done better financially or socially than we have.

Can see how the fear of diminishment (the fear that we don’t compare well to others) sets up a thousand sins? It plugs right into envy and jealousy. Pride comes along for the ride, too, because we seek to compensate for our fear of inadequacy by finding people to whom we feel superior. We thus indulge our pride or seek to build up our ego in unhealthy ways. Perhaps we run to the cosmetic surgeon or torture ourselves with unhealthy diets. Perhaps we ignore our own gifts and try to be someone we really aren’t. Perhaps we spend money we don’t have trying to impress others so that we feel less inadequate.

And think of the countless sins we commit trying to be popular and to fit in. Young people (and older ones, too) give in to peer pressure and sometimes do terrible things. Young people will join gangs, use drugs, skip school, have sex before marriage, pierce and tattoo their bodies, use foul language, etc. Adults also have many of these things on their list. All of these things are done in a quest to be popular and to fit in. This desire to fit in is all about not wanting to feel diminished. And diminishment is about the fear of death, because every experience of diminishment is like a small death.

Advertisers also know how to exploit the fear of death/diminishment in marketing their products. I remember studying this topic in business school at George Mason University. The logic goes something like this: You’re not pretty enough, happy enough, adequate enough, or comfortable enough; you don’t look young enough; you have some chronic illness (depression, asthma, diabetes)—but just buy our product and you will be; you won’t be so pathetic, incomplete, and, basically, diminished. If you drink this beer you’ll be happy, have good times, and friends will surround you. If you use this toothpaste, soap, or cosmetic product, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful people and sex will be more available to you. If you drive this car people will turn their heads and be impressed with you. The message is that you don’t measure up now (you’re diminished) but our product will get you there! Just buy it and you’ll be happier, healthier, and more alive.

Perhaps you can see how all this appeals to greed, pride, materialism, worldliness, and puts forth the lie that these things will actually solve our problems (they will not). In fact, appeals like this actually increase our fear of diminishment and death because they feed the notion that we have to measure up to all these false and/or unrealistic standards.

It is my hope that you can see how very deep this drive is and how it enslaves us in countless ways.
This demon (fear of death, of diminishment) has to be named. Once named and brought to the light, we must learn its moves and begin to rebuke it in the name of Jesus. As we start to recognize the thought patterns emerging from this most primal of fears, we can gradually, by God’s grace, replace this distorted thinking with proper, sober, and humble thinking—thinking rooted in God’s love for us and the availability of His grace and mercy.

The text from Hebrews above is very clear to say that this deep and highly negative drive is an essential way in which Satan keeps us in bondage. The same text says that Jesus Christ died to save us and free us from this bondage. Allow the Lord to give you a penetrating and sober vision of this deep drive, this deep fear of diminishment and death. Allow the light of God’s grace and His Word to both expose and heal this deepest of wounds.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Christ's Passion - John Henry Newman

 

Discourse 16. Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion Seasons - Holy Week

{323} EVERY passage in the history of our Lord and Saviour is of unfathomable depth, and affords inexhaustible matter of contemplation. All that concerns Him is infinite, and what we first discern is but the surface of that which begins and ends in eternity. It would be presumptuous for any one short of saints and doctors to attempt to comment on His words and deeds, except in the way of meditation; but meditation and mental prayer are so much a duty in all who wish to cherish true faith and love towards Him, that it may be allowed us, my brethren, under the guidance of holy men who have gone before us, to dwell and enlarge upon what otherwise would more fitly be adored than scrutinised. And certain times of the year, this especially [Note], call upon us to consider, as closely and minutely as we can, even the more sacred portions of the Gospel history. I would rather be thought feeble or officious in my treatment of them, than wanting to the Season; and so I now proceed because the religious usage of the Church requires it, {324} and though any individual preacher may well shrink from it, to direct your thoughts to a subject, especially suitable now, and about which many of us perhaps think very little, the sufferings which our Lord endured in His innocent and sinless soul.
You know, my brethren, that our Lord and Saviour, though He was God, was also perfect man; and hence He had not only a body, but a soul likewise, such as ours, though pure from all stain of evil. He did not take a body without a soul, God forbid! for that would not have been to become man. How would He have sanctified our nature by taking a nature which was not ours? Man without a soul is on a level with the beasts of the field; but our Lord came to save a race capable of praising and obeying Him, possessed of immortality, though that immortality had lost its promised blessedness. Man was created in the image of God, and that image is in his soul; when then his Maker, by an unspeakable condescension, came in his nature, He took on Himself a soul in order to take on Him a body; He took on Him a soul as the means of His union with a body; He took on Him in the first place the soul, then the body of man, both at once, but in this order, the soul and the body; He Himself created the soul which He took on Himself, while He took His body from the flesh of the Blessed Virgin, His Mother. Thus He became perfect man with body and soul; and as He took on Him a body of flesh and nerves, which admitted of wounds and death, and was capable of suffering, so did He take a soul, too, which was susceptible of that suffering, and {325} moreover was susceptible of the pain and sorrow which are proper to a human soul; and, as His atoning passion was undergone in the body, so it was undergone in the soul also.
As the solemn days proceed, we shall be especially called on, my brethren, to consider His sufferings in the body, His seizure, His forced journeyings to and fro, His blows and wounds, His scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails, the Cross. They are all summed up in the Crucifix itself, as it meets our eyes; they are represented all at once on His sacred flesh, as it hangs up before us—and meditation is made easy by the spectacle. It is otherwise with the sufferings of His soul; they cannot be painted for us, nor can they even be duly investigated: they are beyond both sense and thought; and yet they anticipated His bodily sufferings. The agony, a pain of the soul, not of the body, was the first act of His tremendous sacrifice; "My soul is sorrowful even unto death," He said; nay; if He suffered in the body, it really was in the soul, for the body did but convey the infliction on to that which was the true recipient and seat of the suffering.
This it is very much to the purpose to insist upon; I say, it was not the body that suffered, but the soul in the body; it was the soul and not the body which was the seat of the suffering of the Eternal Word. Consider, then, there is no real pain, though there may be apparent suffering, when there is no kind of inward sensibility or spirit to be the seat of it. A tree, for instance, has life, organs, growth, and decay; it {326} may be wounded and injured; it droops, and is killed; but it does not suffer, because it has no mind or sensible principle within it. But wherever this gift of an immaterial principle is found, there pain is possible, and greater pain according to the quality of the gift. Had we no spirit of any kind, we should feel as little as a tree feels; had we no soul, we should not feel pain more acutely than a brute feels it; but, being men, we feel pain in a way in which none but those who have souls can feel it.
Living beings, I say, feel more or less according to the spirit which is in them; brutes feel far less than man, because they cannot reflect on what they feel; they have no advertence or direct consciousness of their sufferings. This it is that makes pain so trying, viz., that we cannot help thinking of it, while we suffer it. It is before us, it possesses the mind, it keeps our thoughts fixed upon it. Whatever draws the mind off the thought of it lessens it; hence friends try to amuse us when we are in pain, for amusement is a diversion. If the pain is slight, they sometimes succeed with us; and then we are, so to say, without pain, even while we suffer. And hence it continually happens that in violent exercise or labour, men meet with blows or cuts, so considerable and so durable in their effect, as to bear witness to the suffering which must have attended their infliction, of which nevertheless they recollect nothing. And in quarrels and in battles wounds are received which, from the excitement of the moment, are brought home to the consciousness of the combatant, not by the pain at the {327} time of receiving them, but by the loss of blood that follows.
I will show you presently, my brethren, how I mean to apply what I have said to the consideration of our Lord's sufferings; first I will make another remark. Consider, then, that hardly any one stroke of pain is intolerable; it is intolerable when it continues. You cry out perhaps that you cannot bear more; patients feel as if they could stop the surgeon's hand, simply because he continues to pain them. Their feeling is that they have borne as much as they can bear; as if the continuance and not the intenseness was what made it too much for them. What does this mean, but that the memory of the foregoing moments of pain acts upon and (as it were) edges the pain that succeeds? If the third or fourth or twentieth moment of pain could be taken by itself, if the succession of the moments that preceded it could be forgotten, it would be no more than the first moment, as bearable as the first (taking away the shock which accompanies the first); but what makes it unbearable is, that it is the twentieth; that the first, the second, the third, on to the nineteenth moment of pain, are all concentrated in the twentieth; so that every additional moment of pain has all the force, the ever-increasing force, of all that has preceded it. Hence, I repeat, it is that brute animals would seem to feel so little pain, because, that is, they have not the power of reflection or of consciousness. They do not know they exist; they do not contemplate themselves; they do not look backwards or forwards; every moment as {328} it succeeds is their all; they wander over the face of the earth, and see this thing and that, and feel pleasure and pain, but still they take everything as it comes, and then let it go again, as men do in dreams. They have memory, but not the memory of an intellectual being; they put together nothing, they make nothing properly one and individual to themselves out of the particular sensations which they receive; nothing is to them a reality, or has a substance, beyond those sensations; they are but sensible of a number of successive impressions. And hence, as their other feelings, so their feeling of pain is but faint and dull, in spite of their outward manifestations of it. It is the intellectual comprehension of pain, as a whole diffused through successive moments, which gives it its special power and keenness, and it is the soul only, which a brute has not, which is capable of that comprehension.
Now apply this to the sufferings of our Lord;—do you recollect their offering Him wine mingled with myrrh, when He was on the point of being crucified? He would not drink of it; why? because such a portion would have stupefied His mind, and He was bent on bearing the pain in all its bitterness. You see from this, my brethren, the character of His sufferings; He would have fain escaped them, had that been His Father's will; "If it be possible," He said, "let this chalice pass from Me;" but since it was not possible, He says calmly and decidedly to the Apostle, who would have rescued Him from suffering, "The chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" If He was to suffer, He gave Himself {329} to suffering; He did not come to suffer as little as He could; He did not turn away His face from the suffering; He confronted it, or, as I may say, He breasted it, that every particular portion of it might make its due impression on Him. And as men are superior to brute animals, and are affected by pain more than they, by reason of the mind within them, which gives a substance to pain, such as it cannot have in the instance of brutes; so, in like manner, our Lord felt pain of the body, with an advertence and a consciousness, and therefore with a keenness and intensity, and with a unity of perception, which none of us can possibly fathom or compass, because His soul was so absolutely in His power, so simply free from the influence of distractions, so fully directed upon the pain, so utterly surrendered, so simply subjected to the suffering. And thus He may truly be said to have suffered the whole of His passion in every moment of it.
Recollect that our Blessed Lord was in this respect different from us, that, though He was perfect man, yet there was a power in Him greater than His soul, which ruled His soul, for He was God. The soul of other men is subjected to its own wishes, feelings, impulses, passions, perturbations; His soul was subjected simply to His Eternal and Divine Personality. Nothing happened to His soul by chance, or on a sudden; He never was taken by surprise; nothing affected Him without His willing beforehand that it should affect Him. Never did He sorrow, or fear, or desire, or rejoice in spirit, but He first willed to be {330} sorrowful, or afraid, or desirous, or joyful. When we suffer, it is because outward agents and the uncontrollable emotions of our minds bring suffering upon us. We are brought under the discipline of pain involuntarily, we suffer from it more or less acutely according to accidental circumstances, we find our patience more or less tried by it according to our state of mind, and we do our best to provide alleviations or remedies of it. We cannot anticipate beforehand how much of it will come upon us, or how far we shall be able to sustain it; nor can we say afterwards why we have felt just what we have felt, or why we did not bear the suffering better. It was otherwise with our Lord. His Divine Person was not subject, could not be exposed, to the influence of His own human affections and feelings, except so far as He chose. I repeat, when He chose to fear, He feared; when He chose to be angry, He was angry; when He chose to grieve, He was grieved. He was not open to emotion, but He opened upon Himself voluntarily the impulse by which He was moved. Consequently, when He determined to suffer the pain of His vicarious passion, whatever He did, He did, as the Wise Man says, instanter, "earnestly," with His might; He did not do it by halves; He did not turn away His mind from the suffering as we do—(how should He, who came to suffer, who could not have suffered but of His own act?) no, He did not say and unsay, do and undo; He said and He did; He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God; sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou fitted to Me". He took a {331} body in order that He might suffer; He became man, that He might suffer as man; and when His hour was come, that hour of Satan and of darkness, the hour when sin was to pour its full malignity upon Him, it followed that He offered Himself wholly, a holocaust, a whole burnt-offering;—as the whole of His body, stretched out upon the Cross, so the whole of His soul, His whole advertence, His whole consciousness, a mind awake, a sense acute, a living cooperation, a present, absolute intention, not a virtual permission, not a heartless submission, this did He present to His tormentors. His passion was an action; He lived most energetically, while He lay languishing, fainting, and dying. Nor did He die, except by an act of the will; for He bowed His head, in command as well as in resignation, and said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit;" He gave the word, He surrendered His soul, He did not lose it.
Thus you see, my brethren, had our Lord only suffered in the body, and in it not so much as other men, still as regards the pain, He would have really suffered indefinitely more, because pain is to be measured by the power of realising it. God was the sufferer; God suffered in His human nature; the sufferings belonged to God, and were drunk up, were drained out to the bottom of the chalice, because God drank them; not tasted or sipped, not flavoured, disguised by human medicaments, as man disposes of the cup of anguish. And what I have been saying will further serve to answer an objection, which I shall proceed to notice, and which perhaps exists latently {332} in the minds of many, and leads them to overlook the part which our Lord's soul had in His gracious satisfaction for sin.
Our Lord said, when His agony was commencing, "My soul is sorrowful unto death"; now you may ask, my brethren, whether He had not certain consolations peculiar to Himself, impossible in any other, which diminished or impeded the distress of His soul, and caused Him to feel, not more, but less than an ordinary man. For instance, He had a sense of innocence which no other sufferer could have; even His persecutors, even the false apostle who betrayed Him, the judge who sentenced Him, and the soldiers who conducted the execution, testified His innocence. "I have condemned the innocent blood," said Judas; "I am clear from the blood of this just Person," said Pilate; "Truly this was a just Man," cried the centurion. And if even they, sinners, bore witness to His sinlessness, how much more did His own soul! And we know well that even in our own case, sinners as we are, on the consciousness of innocence or of guilt mainly turns our power of enduring opposition and calumny; how much more, you will say, in the case of our Lord, did the sense of inward sanctity compensate for the suffering and annihilate the shame! Again, you may say that He knew that His sufferings would be short, and that their issue would be joyful, whereas uncertainty of the future is the keenest element of human distress; but He could not have anxiety, for He was not in suspense; nor despondency or despair, for He never was deserted. {333} And in confirmation you may refer to St. Paul, who expressly tells us that, "for the joy set before Him," our Lord "despised the shame". And certainly there is a marvellous calm and self-possession in all He does: consider His warning to the Apostles, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak"; or His words to Judas, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" and, "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" or to Peter, "All that take the sword shall perish with the sword"; or to the man who struck Him, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?" or to His Mother, "Woman, behold thy Son".
All this is true and much to be insisted on; but it quite agrees with, or rather illustrates, what I have been observing. My brethren, you have only said (to use a human phrase) that He was always Himself. His mind was its own centre, and was never in the slightest degree thrown off its heavenly and most perfect balance. What He suffered, He suffered because He put Himself under suffering, and that deliberately and calmly. As He said to the leper, "I will, be thou clean"; and to the paralytic, "Thy sins be forgiven thee"; and to the centurion, "I will come and heal him"; and of Lazarus, "I go to wake him out of sleep"; so He said, "Now I will begin to suffer," and He did begin. His composure is but the proof how entirely He governed His own mind. He drew back, at the proper moment, the bolts and fastenings, and opened the gates, and the floods fell right {334} upon His soul in all their fulness. That is what St. Mark tells us of Him; and he is said to have written his Gospels from the very mouth of St. Peter, who was one of three witnesses present at the time. "They came," he says, "to the place which is called Gethsemani; and He saith to His disciples, Sit you here while I pray. And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and He began to be frightened and to be very heavy." You see how deliberately He acts; He comes to a certain spot; and then, giving the word of command, and withdrawing the support of the God-head from His soul, distress, terror, and dejection at once rush in upon it. Thus He walks forth into a mental agony with as definite an action as if it were some bodily torture, the fire or the wheel.
This being the case, you will see at once, my brethren, that it is nothing to the purpose to say that He would be supported under His trial by the consciousness of innocence and the anticipation of triumph; for His trial consisted in the withdrawal, as of other causes of consolation, so of that very consciousness and anticipation. The same act of the will which admitted the influence upon His soul of any distress at all, admitted all distresses at once. It was not the contest between antagonist impulses and views, coming from without, but the operation of an inward resolution. As men of self-command can turn from one thought to another at their will, so much more did He deliberately deny Himself the comfort, and satiate Himself with the woe. In that moment His soul thought not of the future, He thought only of the {335} present burden which was upon Him, and which He had come upon earth to sustain.
And now, my brethren, what was it He had to bear, when He thus opened upon His soul the torrent of this predestinated pain? Alas! He had to bear what is well known to us, what is familiar to us, but what to Him was woe unutterable. He had to bear that which is so easy a thing to us, so natural, so welcome, that we cannot conceive of it as of a great endurance, but which to Him had the scent and the poison of death—He had, my dear brethren, to bear the weight of sin; He had to bear your sins; He had to bear the sins of the whole world. Sin is an easy thing to us; we think little of it; we do not understand how the Creator can think much of it; we cannot bring our imagination to believe that it deserves retribution, and, when even in this world punishments follow upon it, we explain them away or turn our minds from them. But consider what sin is in itself; it is rebellion against God; it is a traitor's act who aims at the overthrow and death of His sovereign; it is that, if I may use a strong expression, which, could the Divine Governor of the world cease to be, would be sufficient to bring it about. Sin is the mortal enemy of the All-holy, so that He and it cannot be together; and as the All-holy drives it from His presence into the outer darkness, so, if God could be less than God, it is sin that would have power to make Him less. And here observe, my brethren, that when once Almighty Love, by taking flesh, entered this created system, and submitted Himself to its laws, then forthwith this {336} antagonist of good and truth, taking advantage of the opportunity, flew at that flesh which He had taken, and fixed on it, and was its death. The envy of the Pharisees, the treachery of Judas, and the madness of the people, were but the instrument or the expression of the enmity which sin felt towards Eternal Purity as soon as, in infinite mercy towards men, He put Himself within its reach. Sin could not touch His Divine Majesty; but it could assail Him in that way in which He allowed Himself to be assailed, that is, through the medium of His humanity. And in the issue, in the death of God incarnate, you are but taught, my brethren, what sin is in itself, and what it was which then was falling, in its hour and in its strength, upon His human nature, when He allowed that nature to be so filled with horror and dismay at the very anticipation.
There, then, in that most awful hour, knelt the Saviour of the world, putting off the defences of His divinity, dismissing His reluctant Angels, who in myriads were ready at His call, and opening His arms, baring His breast, sinless as He was, to the assault of His foe,—of a foe whose breath was a pestilence, and whose embrace was an agony. There He knelt, motionless and still, while the vile and horrible fiend clad His spirit in a robe steeped in all that is hateful and heinous in human crime, which clung close round His heart, and filled His conscience, and found its way into every sense and pore of His mind, and spread over Him a moral leprosy, till He almost felt Himself to be that which He never could {337} be, and which His foe would fain have made Him. Oh, the horror, when He looked, and did not know Himself, and felt as a foul and loathsome sinner, from His vivid perception of that mass of corruption which poured over His head and ran down even to the skirts of His garments! Oh, the distraction, when He found His eyes, and hands, and feet, and lips, and heart, as if the members of the Evil One, and not of God! Are these the hands of the Immaculate Lamb of God, once innocent, but now red with ten thousand barbarous deeds of blood? are these His lips, not uttering prayer, and praise, and holy blessings, but as if defiled with oaths, and blasphemies, and doctrines of devils? or His eyes, profaned as they are by all the evil visions and idolatrous fascinations for which men have abandoned their adorable Creator? And His ears, they ring with sounds of revelry and of strife; and His heart is frozen with avarice, and cruelty, and unbelief; and His very memory is laden with every sin which has been committed since the fall, in all regions of the earth, with the pride of the old giants, and the lusts of the five cities, and the obduracy of Egypt, and the ambition of Babel, and the unthankfulness and scorn of Israel. Oh, who does not know the misery of a haunting thought which comes again and again, in spite of rejection, to annoy, if it cannot seduce? or of some odious and sickening imagination, in no sense one's own, but forced upon the mind from without? or of evil knowledge, gained with or without a man's fault, but which he would give a great price to be rid of at once and for ever? And adversaries such as {338} these gather around Thee, Blessed Lord, in millions now; they come in troops more numerous than the locust or the palmer-worm, or the plagues of hail, and flies, and frogs, which were sent against Pharaoh. Of the living and of the dead and of the as yet unborn, of the lost and of the saved, of Thy people and of strangers, of sinners and of saints, all sins are there. Thy dearest are there, Thy saints and Thy chosen are upon Thee; Thy three Apostles, Peter, James, and John; but not as comforters, but as accusers, like the friends of Job, "sprinkling dust towards heaven," and heaping curses on Thy head. All are there but one; one only is not there, one only; for she who had no part in sin, she only could console Thee, and therefore she is not nigh. She will be near Thee on the Cross, she is separated from Thee in the garden. She has been Thy companion and Thy confidant through Thy life, she interchanged with Thee the pure thoughts and holy meditations of thirty years; but her virgin ear may not take in, nor may her immaculate heart conceive, what now is in vision before Thee. None was equal to the weight but God; sometimes before Thy saints Thou hast brought the image of a single sin, as it appears in the light of Thy countenance, or of venial sins, not mortal; and they have told us that the sight did all but kill them, nay, would have killed them, had it not been instantly withdrawn. The Mother of God, for all her sanctity, nay by reason of it, could not have borne even one brood of that innumerable progeny of Satan which now compasses Thee about. It is the long history of a world, and God {339} alone can bear the load of it. Hopes blighted, vows broken, lights quenched, warnings scorned, opportunities lost; the innocent betrayed, the young hardened, the penitent relapsing, the just overcome, the aged failing; the sophistry of misbelief, the wilfulness of passion, the obduracy of pride, the tyranny of habit, the canker of remorse, the wasting fever of care, the anguish of shame, the pining of disappointment, the sickness of despair; such cruel, such pitiable spectacles, such heartrending, revolting, detestable, maddening scenes; nay, the haggard faces, the convulsed lips, the flushed cheek, the dark brow of the willing slaves of evil, they are all before Him now; they are upon Him and in Him. They are with Him instead of that ineffable peace which has inhabited His soul since the moment of His conception. They are upon Him, they are all but His own; He cries to His Father as if He were the criminal, not the victim; His agony takes the form of guilt and compunction. He is doing penance, He is making confession, He is exercising contrition, with a reality and a virtue infinitely greater than that of all saints and penitents together; for He is the One Victim for us all, the sole Satisfaction, the real Penitent, all but the real sinner.
He rises languidly from the earth, and turns around to meet the traitor and his band, now quickly nearing the deep shade. He turns, and lo there is blood upon His garment and in His footprints. Whence come these first-fruits of the passion of the Lamb? no soldier's scourge has touched His shoulders, nor {340} the hangman's nails His hands and feet. My brethren, He has bled before His time; He has shed blood; yes, and it is His agonising soul which has broken up His framework of flesh and poured it forth. His passion has begun from within. That tormented Heart, the seat of tenderness and love, began at length to labour and to beat with vehemence beyond its nature; "the foundations of the great deep were broken up;" the red streams rushed forth so copious and fierce as to overflow the veins, and bursting through the pores, they stood in a thick dew over His whole skin; then forming into drops, they rolled down full and heavy, and drenched the ground.
"My soul is sorrowful even unto death," He said. It has been said of that dreadful pestilence which now is upon us, that it begins with death; by which is meant that it has no stage or crisis, that hope is over when it comes, and that what looks like its course is but the death agony and the process of dissolution; and thus our Atoning Sacrifice, in a much higher sense, began with this passion of woe, and only did not die, because at His Omnipotent will His Heart did not break, nor Soul separate from Body, till He had suffered on the Cross.
No; He has not yet exhausted that full chalice, from which at first His natural infirmity shrank. The seizure and the arraignment, and the buffeting, and the prison, and the trial, and the mocking, and the passing to and fro, and the scourging, and the crown of thorns, and the slow march to Calvary, and the crucifixion, these are all to come. A night and a {341} day, hour after hour, is slowly to run out before the end comes, and the satisfaction is completed.
And then, when the appointed moment arrived, and He gave the word, as His passion had begun with His soul, with the soul did it end. He did not die of bodily exhaustion, or of bodily pain; at His will His tormented Heart broke, and He commended His Spirit to the Father.
*       *        *        *        *        *
"O Heart of Jesus, all Love, I offer Thee these humble prayers for myself, and for all those who unite themselves with me in Spirit to adore Thee. O holiest Heart of Jesus most lovely, I intend to renew and to offer to Thee these acts of adoration and these prayers, for myself a wretched sinner, and for all those who are associated with me in Thy adoration, through all moments while I breathe, even to the end of my life. I recommend to Thee, O my Jesus, Holy Church, Thy dear spouse and our true Mother, all just souls and all poor sinners, the afflicted, the dying, and all mankind. Let not Thy Blood be shed for them in vain. Finally, deign to apply it in relief of the souls in Purgatory, of those in particular who have practised in the course of their life this holy devotion of adoring Thee."

 http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse16.html

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I Thirst for You

In recent weeks, the Holy See announced that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would be canonized a saint. It seems so appropriate during this Year of Mercy since she was so effective at communicating to so many that God’s merciful love extended to every person no matter what their situation or condition. The following well-known text is inspired from her many talks and conferences. In this Year of Mercy, we are all invited to meditate upon the abundant riches of the merciful healing love of Jesus. Pray with this text – may you receive ever more deeply that transformative gift of His love in the measure that the Lord longs to give it.

It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter.

And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come – always, without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension – a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father ("As much as the Father has loved me, I have loved you…" (Jn. 15:10) I come - longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul.

I know you through and through. I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.

I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? "Come to Me all you who thirst…" 
(Jn. 7: 37). I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you.

I THIRST FOR YOU. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. 

I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. 

I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart. Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment? Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life. – and I will. I promise you before My Father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest.

Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My Kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you, or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you gave Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal; so come now, and unburden your soul. No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life; there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change. 

I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day – standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood My cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there – for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: "I THIRST…"(Jn 19: 28). Yes, I thirst for you – as the rest of the psalm – verse I was praying says of Me: "I looked for love, and I found none…" (Ps. 69: 20). All your life I have been looking for your love – I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.

Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit. "No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU…"


Accessed Jan. 13, 2016 at http://mcpriests.com/03_I_thirst_PrayerEN.htm

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).


“I am Love and Mercy itself”… These words were spoken by Jesus to St. Faustina in the first half of the 20th century and have been recognized by the Church as authentically of God. They are an important reminder of the truth that God is love even in the face of human sin. So important is this truth for our current situation that Pope Francis has opened an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which began on Dec. 8th, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This Jubilee Year will last until Nov. 20, 2016, the solemnity of Christ the King. The Holy Father has expressed the fervent desire that the Jubilee will be a special season of mercy for all in the Church and indeed all throughout the world!

None of us need convincing that mercy is truly needed in today’s world. Whether on the personal or communal level, our daily life is negatively impacted by the presence of sin and evil. Only divine mercy can vanquish that darkness and the Lord Jesus burns with an infinite longing to bless us with the healing fires of His loving mercy.

But what is a Jubilee you might ask?

A Jubilee is a centuries-old custom of dedicating a certain time to celebrate an important anniversary or to highlight a theme related to our Catholic faith. The Church has a Jubilee year every 25 years (ordinary) as well as certain special ones on certain occasions (extraordinary). The Church’s practice of Jubilees finds its origin in the ancient custom of Israel. For the people of the covenant, the jubilee system was the crowning of the Sabbath rest and entailed a year of emancipation when captives and slaves were to be set free, debts wiped away, the land allowed to lay fallow, and family property holdings returned to original owners (with a view to alleviating their poverty). It was a reminder to Israel that the many blessings they enjoyed were gifts of the Lord and that all were equal in His sight. It represented liberation from bondage and a return to total dependence upon the Lord’s providential care. It was meant to be a Sabbath of Sabbaths, a rest of rests (cf. Lev 25:8-13).

The Church’s Jubilee therefore is meant to be understood in the same way. Divine Mercy wipes away the slavery due to sin, and returns us to the freedom of the children of God. It is a time of grace and blessing for the people of God. It is concretized in various ways throughout the year.

First of all, Holy Doors are established through which pilgrims are encouraged to pass in various designated churches across the diocese. In our area, the Cathedral of St. Mary in Fargo and the Carmelite Monastery near Wahpeton have a Holy Door. Passing through the Holy Door represents the passage from death to life through the gate which is Christ (Jn 10:9).

Secondly, the faithful are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to one of the churches with a Holy Door, praying for a deeper reception of mercy through prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and experiencing the beneficial effects of being reminded of our true state in life, namely as pilgrims on the way to eternity.

Thirdly, all in the Church are encouraged to practice the works of mercy in a more intentional way. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are concrete ways of bearing credible witness to the gift of God’s mercy to those in need. As Jesus exhorted, we are to be merciful even as our heavenly Father is merciful.

Let us take advantage of this special year of favor and seek to live in the mystery of the Trinity’s merciful love for each of us! The more deeply we receive His mercy with grateful hearts, the more our lives will overflow with that same merciful love for others...and what better gift can we give to our brothers and sisters than the gift of Divine love?

 Let us become anew the face of mercy in our time so that our brothers and sisters may know the hope to which they are called (Eph. 1:18).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Did Thomas More and John Fisher die for nothing?



The idea that Catholics should be allowed to remarry and receive communion did not begin with the letter signed by Cardinal Kasper and other members of the German episcopate in 1993. Another country’s episcopate – England’s – pioneered this experiment in Christian doctrine nearly 500 years ago. At stake then was not just whether any Catholic could remarry, but whether the king could, since his wife had not borne him a son.
As with those who advocate for communion for the civilly remarried, the English bishops were uncomfortable with embracing divorce and remarriage outright. Instead, they chose to bend the law to the individual circumstances of the case with which they were confronted, and King Henry VIII was granted an “annulment” — on a fraudulent basis and without the sanction of Rome.
If “heroism is not for the average Christian,” as the German Cardinal Walter Kasper has put it, it certainly wasn’t for the King of England. Instead, issues of personal happiness and the well-being of a country made a strong utilitarian argument for Henry’s divorce. And the King could hardly be bothered to skip communion as the result of an irregular marriage.
England’s Cardinal Wolsey and all the country’s bishops, with the exception of Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, supported the king’s attempt to undo his first – and legitimate – marriage. Like Fisher, Thomas More a layman and the king’s chancellor, also withheld his support. Both were martyred – and later canonized.
In publicly advocating that the king’s marriage was indissoluble, Fisher argued that “this marriage of the king and queen can be dissolved by no power, human or Divine.” For this principle, he said, he was willing to give his life. He continued by noting that John the Baptist saw no way to “die more gloriously than in the cause of marriage,” despite the fact that marriage then “was not so holy at that time as it has now become by the shedding of Christ’s Blood.”
Like Thomas More and John the Baptist, Fisher was beheaded, and like them, he is called “saint.”
At the Synod on the Family taking place right now in Rome, some of the German bishops and their supporters are pushing for the Church to allow those who are both divorced and remarried to receive communion, while other bishops from around the world are insisting that the Church cannot change Christ’s teaching. And this begs a question: Do the German bishops believe that Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher sacrificed their lives in vain?
Jesus showed us throughout his ministry that heroic sacrifice is required to follow him. When one reads the Gospel with an open heart, a heart that does not place the world and history above the Gospel and Tradition, one sees the cost of discipleship to which every disciple is called. The German bishops would do well to read, “The Cost of Discipleship” by the Lutheran martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For what they promote is “cheap grace” rather than “costly grace,” and they even seem to ignore the words of Jesus that, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” (Mk. 8: 34, Lk. 14: 25-27, Jn. 12: 24-26).
Think, for example, of the adulterous woman whom the Pharisees presented to Jesus to trap him. The first thing he did was to protect her from her accusers, and the second thing he did was to call her to leave her sin. “Go,” he commanded her, “and sin no more.”
Following the words of Christ himself, the Catholic Church has always taught that divorce and remarriage is simply adultery by another name. And since communion is reserved to Catholics in the state of grace, those living in an irregular situation are not able participate in that aspect of the life of the Church, though they should always be welcomed within the parish and at the Mass itself.
Last May, Cardinal Kasper claimed in an interview with Commonweal that we “can’t say whether it is ongoing adultery” when a repentant, divorced Christian nonetheless engages in “sexual relations” in a new union. Rather, he thinks “absolution is possible.”
And yet, Christ clearly called remarriage adultery and said adultery was sinful (Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:12, Lk. 16:18). In the case of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42), Jesus also confirmed that remarriage cannot be valid, even when informed by sincere feeling and fidelity.
When one adds to the equation the high failure rate of remarriages subsequent to a divorce, where Cardinal Kasper’s reasoning would lead, no one can say. For example, should sacramental communion be allowed only for the once-remarried? What about people remarried twice, or three times? And it is obvious that the arguments made for easing Christ’s prohibition on remarriage could also be made for contraceptive use, or any number of other aspects of Catholic theology understood by the modern, self-referential world as “difficult.”
Predicting what this would lead to isn’t a matter of knowing the future, but of simply observing the past. We need only to look at the Anglican Church, which opened the door to – and later embraced – contraception in the 20th century and for more than a decade has allowed for divorce and remarriage in certain cases.
The German bishops’ “Plan B” to do things “their way” in Germany, even if it goes against the grain of Church teaching, has the same flaws. And, it has an eerie ring to it – in an Anglican sort of way. Consider the words of the head of the German Bishops Conference, Cardinal Marx, who was cited in the National Catholic Register as saying that while the German Church may remain in communion with Rome on doctrine, that in terms of pastoral care for individual cases, “the synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany.” Henry VIII would most certainly have agreed.
“We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” Cardinal Marx argued. “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.”
The Anglicans also sought such autonomy – though with increasingly internally divisive results and the emptying of their communities.
It is undeniable that the Church must reach out to those on the margins of the faith with mercy, but mercy always speaks the truth, never condones sin, and recognizes that the Cross is at the heart of the Gospel. One might recall that Pope St. John Paul II – cited by Pope Francis at his canonization as “the pope of the family” – also wrote extensively about mercy, dedicating an entire encyclical to the topic, and establishing the feast of Divine Mercy. For St. John Paul, mercy was a central theme, but one that had to be read in the context of truth and scripture, rather than against it.
On remarriage, and many other issues, no one would say that the Church’s teaching, which is Christ’s, is easy. But Christ himself did not compromise on core teachings to keep his disciples from leaving him – whether it was on the Eucharist or marriage (Jn 6: 60-71; Mt 19: 3-12). Nor did John Fisher compromise to keep the king Catholic.
We need look no further for a model on this matter than words of Christ and St. Peter in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel – a passage that reminds us that the teaching on the Eucharist is often difficult to accept even for believers.
“’It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. … For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
As disciples we are always called to listen to the voice of Jesus before the voice of the world, culture or history. The voice of Jesus sheds light on the darkness of the world and cultures. Let us pray that all concerned will listen to those words of eternal life, no matter how difficult!
This column orignially published on Denver Catholic. It is reposted with permission.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

STANTEC DONATES $5,000.00 TO SAM’S TEAM


Stantec has partnered with the Newman Center by joining Sam’s Team and establishing a scholarship in honor of Samuel Traut.  Stantec is a leading engineering firm which employees 15,000 people in over 250 locations.  Sam worked for Stantec and had a huge impact on the people he worked with at the engineering firm.

Sam’s Team currently sponsors two scholarships in recognition of outstanding leadership for young adults during the college experience.  Stantec is now sponsoring a third scholarship through Sam’s Team.

Stantec has genersouly donated $5,000.00 to fund this scholarship and build upon the strengths of leadership formation through bisonCatholic’s campus ministry model.  Awardee’s of the Sam’s Team Stantec Outstanding Leadership award will be awarded a scholarship and an internship with Stantec!  Tom Bader, Senior Principle of Stantec, was so impressed with Sam being a hard worker and man of personal integrity that he wants to partner with bisonCatholic through the offering of this scholarship and internship.  Mr. Bader joins a long list of employers who love to work with student leaders who have developed the skills of virtue based on the merits of faith based principles.

Peggy Harter, Sam’s immediate supervisor at Stantec’s Fargo office, is pictured above presenting the check on behalf of Stantec to Fr. Cheney.  Peggy, whose life was deeply impacted by Sam, is delighted about Stantec’s partnership and effort to make the world a better place in honor of Sam’s life.  If you would like to learn more about Stantec check out their website: www.stantec.com.

CLICK HERE – to learn more about Sam’s Team and the opportunity it presents to make a difference in the lives of our young adults.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

There is no equivalence

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Here’s a simple exercise in basic reasoning. On a spectrum of bad things to do, theft is bad, assault is worse and murder is worst. There’s a similar texture of ill will connecting all three crimes, but only a very confused conscience would equate thieving and homicide. Both are serious matters. But there is no equivalence.

The deliberate killing of innocent life is a uniquely wicked act. No amount of contextualizing or deflecting our attention to other issues can obscure that.

This is precisely why Cardinal John O’Connor, Bishop James McHugh and others pressed so hard for the passage of the U.S. bishops’ 1998 pastoral letter, Living the Gospel of Life. As Cardinal Joseph Bernardin once wisely noted, Catholic social teaching is a seamless garment of respect for human life, from conception to natural death. It makes no sense to champion the cause of unborn children if we ignore their basic needs once they’re born.

Thus it’s no surprise that — year in and year out — nearly all Catholic dioceses in the United States, including Philadelphia, devote far more time, personnel and material resources to providing social services to the poor and education to young people than to opposing abortion.

But of course, children need to survive the womb before they can have needs like food, shelter, immigration counseling and good health care. Humanity’s priority right — the one that undergirds all other rights — is the right to life. As the American bishops wrote in 1998: “Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care … But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right — the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights” (22)

A case is sometimes made that abortion is mainly a cultural and moral issue, and politics is a poor solution to the problem. The curious thing is that some of the same voices that argue against political action on the abortion issue seem quite comfortable urging vigorous political engagement on issues like health care, homelessness and the environment.

In practice, politics is the application of moral conviction to public discourse and the process of lawmaking. Law not only constrains and defends; it also teaches and forms. Law not only reflects culture; it shapes and reshapes it. That’s why Christians can’t avoid political engagement. Politics is never the main content of Christian faith. It can never provide perfect solutions. But no Christian can avoid the duty to work for more justice and charity in our life as a nation, a task that inescapably involves politics.

Thus the recent Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood was not only right and timely, but necessary. And the failure of that measure involves a public failure of character by every Catholic senator who voted against it.

Memory is important: Two years ago Kermit Gosnell was stripped of his medical license and convicted of murdering three infants born alive from abortion procedures. He operated a Philadelphia abortion center that more closely resembled a butcher shop than a medical clinic.

His clinic environment was uglier than the pleasant restaurants and offices captured on recent Center for Medical Progress (CMP) undercover videos. Those videos show a face of Planned Parenthood — senior staffers chatting blithely about the dismemberment and sale of fetal body parts — that can only be called repugnant. But it’s not surprising: If aborted children are simply lumps of potentially useful (and profitable) tissue, what’s the problem?

Again, memory is important: Thirty years ago “pro-choice” groups tried a strategy of using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to shut down certain forms of pro-life witness. The strategy ultimately failed but — maybe it’s God’s sense of irony — the word “racket” very quickly comes to mind in watching Planned Parenthood staff on the CMP videos.

I’ll close with a word of thanks to Ruben Navarette, Jr. Navarette is a veteran “pro-choice” voice, but his August 10 column at the Daily Beast is worth reading and sharing for its honest revulsion at the whole, ugly, system-wide barbarism of Planned Parenthood’s fetal trafficking. And his column’s best lines come in quoting his pro-life wife:

“Those are babies that are being killed. Millions of them. And you need to use your voice to protect them. That’s what a man does. He protects children — his own children, and other children. That’s what it means to be a man.” 

Amen.