Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Virtue

Was it a Morning like This?

The universe is different this morning. All over the world the Easter Vigil was celebrated: the rite of the Lucernarium is processed and intoned, the Exsultet proclaimed, the Gloria once again resounded in creation, the Easter water blessed which culminated in our Easter Eucharistic communion. It is not a celebration of a distant memory but an Anamnesis, a holy remembering, a sacramental participation in the event which makes possible an intentional, intimate and real encounter with the resurrected Christ.

 

Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700On Good Friday, sin was defeated completely at the root through His crucifixion. During Holy Saturday our Lord rescues the saints of old and creation receives Holy Communion for the first time. The Solemnity of the Resurrection defeats death definitively; the doors of heaven have been unlocked and the through the Easter water, communion with the Father has been made possible again through Holy Baptism. The Church again remembers her Bridegrooms most amazing feat. He crushed death and demonstrated that it is divine love restores all, “Behold! I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5b).

 

And then there is Ol’ Scratch. Well, let’s just say that not only has he been defeated but his reign of terror has been ended. We now share in His victory and even mock his defeat, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). For now,

…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. (1Peter 2:8-9)

 

IMG_0973How do we celebrate? With great joy and festivity. There are, of course, the obligatory baskets full of candy but they are only ancillary. The kids have grown to expect the ikon of the Anastasis to be placed in a prominent place and decorated appropriately with flowers and lamp to mark the octave. We like to come downstairs to Sandi Patti’s, Let the be Praise (couldn’t find the CD last year and the kids were not happy that the song was not blaring). Our oldest son greets me with “Surrexit!” to which I reply, “Surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia!” And finally, I greet friends and family with “Khristós Anésti!” and my friends reply, “Alithós Anésti!”

 

Deacon, what about the food? You’ll have to check out Facebook for that. Let’s just say that the Easter fast is over and “Meat is back on the menu boys!” Mmmmmmmmmmmm!

 

Please make time for recollection and prayer today for it is the Sabbath of Sabbaths! Are you able to sense His resurrection power surging through creation to vivify and restore it? Do you sense it in you? What has changed? Is anything different that yesterday? You should be able to sense it…

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. (Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Prayers for the Hidden Olympic Games

Olympic-logo-2014Since I was a little kid, I have always loved watching the Olympics. As a kid it meant that the amateurs who were making it big in their sport were given the chance to fulfill their dream. The athletes represent the best of the best from each country. To this day, my family gathers around to watch these amazing athletes.

Now, I was never naïve enough to think that each country equally trained which is why the story of the Jamaican Cool Runnings bobsled team appeals so much to us stateside. «Continue Reading»

How do We Define: Magnanimity

Sometimes, the words we use cannot adequetely express what we are really trying to say. They lack the word-picture quality. Take for instance the virtue: Magnanimity. Now, we could correctly define it using Fr. Hardon’s online Modern Catholic Dictionary as:

Greatness of soul. It looks especially to honor and seeks to perform noble deeds. Its object is to perform actions that faith tells a person are great in the eyes of God, no matter what people may think of one’s conduct. (Etym. Latin magnus, great + animus, mind: magnanimitas.)

It just feels sterile to me. So, maybe this a better way to define it..check it out:

Leave Them Wondering

Here is a great post by Katie Walker from The Integrated Catholic blog. Thanks Katie! Great post.

Katie Walker is the Communications Director at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington – an organization that bring hope and practical assistance to thousands in Northern Virginia and answers Our Lord’s call to love our poorest brothers and sisters through the corporal works of mercy.

Posted by Katie Walker • March 29, 2011 • Printer-friendly

Grandma advice is the best stuff in the world.

“Katie, be a little mysterious and leave them wondering,” she told me as she expertly peeled potatoes with her perfectly manicured hands. I’d giggle and sip on Country Time lemonade at her kitchen table and dream about all the boys I would one day dazzle.

Fast forward a dozen or so years and here I am at 24. Grandma’s advice is taking different shape these days.

Mystery is a foreign concept in this culture hooked on affirmation. We just gotta give and receive instant-access information. Facebook statuses, gchat updates, blogging, networking and that necessary self-promotion on the job.
“Look at me!” our statuses shout.  “I’m making this scrumptious, delicious, decadent dinner tonight – aren’t I just Ms. Suzie Homemaker!?” “Katie is … thinking some profound thought that just had to be typed in this little box.” “Yes, my Friday night was epic – EPIC I say. You wish you were there.”

Contrast the average status message to the famous Litany of Humility from Cardinal Merry del Val, friend and secretary to St. Pius X. Every line is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, counter-worldly: “That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, that others may be chosen and I set aside, that others may be praised and I unnoticed – Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.”
Shudder. Hidden, decreased, set aside.

Not the image of Grace Kelly “mystery” I had in mind at the kitchen table – confident, assertive, bold and somehow secretive.

I remember every morning as a kid coming down for breakfast and Grandma sitting in her chair,  big, glow-in-the-dark rosary in hand. That routine never changed, that time with the Blessed Mother. Even as a very young child I knew Grandma wanted to be like the Blessed Mother. And if my superwoman Grandma, mother of nine, grandmother of fifty wanted to be like her, well then I did too.

Our Lady was hidden, decreased and set aside most of her life, yet she is mysterious, beguiling, utterly lovely and loving. She carried the Mystery of the Incarnate Word – also hidden and set aside – in her womb.  She never sought affirmation or approval for their own sake, she didn’t try to convince those around her of her goodness, abilities or her “epic” Friday nights adventures.

Yet there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe her. There is no artist except One, who could ever attempt to capture her mystery or her loveliness. There is no one better at “making them wonder” than the Blessed Mother. We could wonder and wonder and wonder about her and never get tired of wondering.

As my sense of womanly mystery and wonder changes and grows, more and more I’m realizing that the mysterious charm I’m after is going to require much more leg work in the humility department. Somehow that’s both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

The good news for us modern, mystery-deficient daughters of Eve is that we have the one Woman who got it right for our very own Mother. (Thank you, Jesus!) If I keep my eye on her long enough, I know she’ll whip me into shape.

TOB, Tradition & You

How Does Theology of the Body Fit Into Church Tradition?

Part 2 of a Register symposium on Pope John Paul II’s catechesis.

by COLIN DONOVAN, STL 03/07/2011
EWTN PHOTO

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic faith is an authentic theological development. From the starting point of divine revelation (Scripture and Tradition), new insights into the meaning and implications of the faith are found, under the guidance of the magisterium.

Theology is “faith seeking understanding” (St. Anselm), so while the faith does not change, the Church’s understanding of it deepens.

At first glance, the theology of the body seems entirely new. Instead of studying the objective natures of things, as Catholic philosophers have traditionally done, it reflects on human experience, in order to discover the essential elements of experience as they appear in the consciousness of the human person.

Since it concerns human “experience,” and not human nature, its critics often view it as a purely subjective method, incapable of producing universally valid results.

As it turns out, the philosopher Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) agrees with some of this criticism.
Studying the use of the “phenomenological method” in the early 1950s, then-Father Wojtyla immediately saw its usefulness as a means of insight into the human person’s appreciation of moral value and the formation of conscience. This, in fact, had already been demonstrated in the 1920s by the great German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand and by his fellow student of the method, St. Edith Stein.

Deciding to adopt it himself, the future Pope recognized that in order to be useful the method’s results had to be judged by both theology and an objective philosophy, such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas. Otherwise, there was a danger of experience itself being the ultimate standard and of the user falling into subjectivism or emotionalism.
It was this early study of the value of the method, as well as his recognition of its deficiencies, that led the Pope to develop an approach often called “Thomistic personalism.”

For Pope John Paul II, the study of the person’s experience of the world is immensely important for moral and spiritual formation, but it is only theological and pastorally valid when understood within the framework of Catholic theology and objective philosophy.

Outside of this framework, the very same method is untrustworthy. Indeed, the often failed results of such methods in secular circles, where subjective experience drives philosophy, the human sciences and the culture, has amply demonstrated this to be true.

The Pope’s use of this method, therefore, adds a complementary insight, not a contradictory one, to St. Thomas’ synthesis of theology and philosophy. To the objectivity of revelation and that of objective philosophy, the Holy Father has added a third dimension: an understanding of how the human person perceives the world.

In the last several decades, its pastoral value, when used in the cautious manner proposed by the Pope, has already been amply shown. However, as the Pope’s biographer George Weigel has stated, it will take centuries for the Church to fully understand the new light which the Pope’s method and teaching has shone on unchanging truths.

Colin Donovan, STL, is vice president for theology at EWTN. He obtained his licentiate at the Pontifical Angelicum, writing on the development of Pope John Paul II’s theology of self-giving in marriage.

The Necessary Link Between Knowledge and Virtue

The Catholic University of America has a new President. If he holds true to his inaugural address, CUA will be entering into another season of the glory years. I STRONGLY encourage you to read his address, chew it for a while and then read it again. WOW! My initial thoughts…he is a closet Bonaventurian theologian (just as good as a Thomist). Anyway, enjoy!

Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University
John Garvey, President
The Catholic University of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Great Upper Church
Jan. 25, 2011

I have been thinking a lot about Cardinal Newman this year. He was beatified in September, and that’s something for academics to celebrate. (We rarely warrant such attention from Holy Mother Church.) He was a Cardinal, and now so am I. He was the first rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, which opened its doors in 1854. Here am I now, president and rector of The Catholic University of America, begun two decades later.

I have in my office a letter Newman wrote to Cardinal Gibbons back then. He says

At a time when there is so much in this part of the world to depress and trouble us as to our religious prospects, the tidings which your circular conveys of the actual commencement of so great an undertaking on the other side of the ocean . . . will rejoice the hearts of all educated Catholics in these Islands.

Newman thanks Gibbons and the board for “introducing into their appeal a quotation from what I wrote years ago upon the subject of universities.” He is referring to The Idea of a University, discourses delivered when he became rector of the Catholic University of Ireland.

Thinking I might learn something to the purpose, I turned to them with interest. The first thing I noticed was how much we disagreed. Newman thought it was not the business of a university to extend the boundaries of knowledge. “To discover and to teach,” he says, “are distinct functions; they are also distinct gifts, and are not commonly found united in the same person.”1 The Catholic University of America was begun strictly as a graduate research institution, after the pattern of the ancient Catholic University of Louvain, or closer to home, the Johns Hopkins University begun in 1876.

Newman defended the idea of a liberal education – a notion I heartily endorse. But he thought that imparting scientific, technical, and professional knowledge was not the business of a university. He had one foot in the Oxford of the eighteenth century, and on this point too we part company.

Then there is his nineteenth century prose. It’s a style I loved in my youth (when I also loved Chopin and Turner and Melville). But it doesn’t work for lawyers. Legal ideas are hard enough. You can’t let your writing compete with them for the reader’s attention. You won’t catch me writing a sentence like this:2

How much more genuine an education is that of the poor boy in the Poem – a Poem, whether in conception or in execution, one of the most touching in our language – who, not in the wide world, but ranging day by day around his widowed mother’s home, “a dexterous gleaner” in a narrow field, and with only such slender outfit
“as the village school and books a few/Supplied,”
contrived from the beach, and the quay, and the fisher’s boat, and the inn’s fireside, and the tradesman’s shop, and the shepherd’s walk, and the smuggler’s hut, and the mossy moor, and the screaming gulls, and the restless waves, to fashion for himself a philosophy and a poetry of his own!

But there is one point we agree on. Newman’s first four discourses are an argument for the place of theology in the university curriculum. By theology he meant not “acquaintance with the Scriptures” but everything “we know about God.”3 In Ireland at the time there was a fight going on about ‘mixed education’ (Catholics and Protestants). Trinity College, like Oxford, was an Anglican institution where Catholics were not welcome. To quell the rising Catholic resentment at this exclusion Peel’s government introduced a bill in Parliament to create three Queen’s Colleges (Belfast, Cork, and Limerick). They would have no religious test for admission; nor would religion figure in the curriculum. The Irish bishops, and Newman, resisted this approach. The new Catholic University of Ireland was their proposed solution. And The Idea of a University is an argument for why it was necessary.

Fast forward now 150 years. The mixed or secular model of education is the norm in America. In public schools we say the Constitution requires it. In private schools, where the first amendment does not apply, faith is unwelcome for epistemological reasons. Whether it is emotion or fantasy or paranormal perception, it is (we suppose) different from serious thinking – a distraction at best; probably misleading. In this view of things The Catholic University of America has ambitions (to be Catholic and to be a university) that are in conflict with each other.

Our discussions of this subject have a two-dimensional character, and this is the point I want to address today. We speak of an opposition of faith and reason, as different ways of knowing. The self-styled advocates of reason say we come to know things through processes of induction and deduction, the methods of science and logic. They describe faith as a commitment to divine revelation, usually found in scripture, though it might be read in the book of nature. The battlefront lies along two propositions of physics and biology – how the universe and human life came to be.

  • Genesis tells us God created the world from nothing.
  • Stephen Hawking says the world created itself from nothing.4
  • Genesis tells us God created man on the sixth day.
  • Stephen J. Gould says man evolved over a very long time from simpler forms of life.5

The story of this war is so familiar that we often redescribe the conflict of faith and reason as a conflict of religion and science. And the challenge for Catholic universities is finding a place for bibles and papal decrees between our telescopes and microscopes.

I think the fault for this flat, crabbed, cartoonish vision of Catholic higher education lies not with the critics of religion but with us. We have been so intent on defending ourselves against charges of fundamentalism and censorship that we have failed to create, let alone promote, a serious Catholic intellectual culture. Think of the schools of thought we have seen come (and go) in the academy in our lifetimes: Marxism, modernism, post-modernism, feminism, law and economics, critical race theory, queer theory, and so on. And ask yourself whether, in the Catholic intellectual tradition, there is not enough material to get our own movement going.

Here are two steps we might take in that direction. First, let us bracket the virtue of faith, and consider the role that other virtues might play in our intellectual life. Second, let us consider the contribution that Catholic intellectual culture might make outside the field of science. Or to compress both points into one proposition, let us look at the interplay of intellect and virtue across the full field of university life.

The Role of Virtue in the Intellectual Life

My wife and I have sent our five children to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. In some ways their college education was the most important part of their formation. We hoped that, in the right environment, they would grow in wisdom, age, and grace. We wanted their schools to provide a nurturing sacramental life. We wanted our children to discern their vocations, in married or religious life, in the company of friends and teachers who loved God and the Church.

This suggests, if we examine practice and not theory, that one mark of a Catholic university is the nature of student life. A Catholic university should be concerned with the formation of its students. Campus ministry, residence life, service opportunities, athletics, student activities, are an integral part of our mission. The measure of our success is how our graduates live their daily lives: do they pray and receive the sacraments; do they love the poor; do they observe the rest of the beatitudes?

They Are Connected

You’re probably thinking that I digress already. But we and Cardinal Newman thought alike. One of my favorite sermons, from his time in Ireland, he preached on the feast of St. Monica, the first Sunday of their school year. Like the Garveys, Monica watched her son Augustine go off to college in Carthage. There he fell into bad company and bad habits. Newman says,

Bad company creates a distaste for good; and hence it happens that, when a youth has gone the length I have been supposing, he is repelled . . . from those places and scenes which would do him good. . . . So he begins to form his own ideas of things, and these please and satisfy him for a time; then he . . . tires of them, and he takes up others; and now he has begun that everlasting round of seeking and never finding; at length . . . he gives up the search altogether, and decides that nothing can be known, and there is no such thing as truth[.]

The problem arises, Newman observes, when we make the mistake of separating intellect and virtue. And returning to our subject, he concludes

Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons.

But what, you may ask, is the connection? Sure, Monica wanted to reform Augustine’s behavior. But what bearing would that have on his intellectual life? Aren’t we committing a sort of category mistake in supposing the two to be related? That is the received wisdom in some quarters. Consider the observation of John Mearsheimer, the Wendell Harris Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago:6

Today, elite universities operate on the belief that there is a clear separation between intellectual and moral purpose, and they pursue the former while largely ignoring the latter. There is no question that the University of Chicago makes hardly any effort to provide you with moral guidance. Moreover, I would bet that you will take few classes here at Chicago where you discuss ethics or morality in any detail, mainly because those kind[s] of courses do not exist.

That was ten years ago. Today teaching ethics is all the rage. In 2009 Harvard Business School proudly announced an effort by its graduating students to get classmates to sign the MBA Oath, a pledge to act ethically in the business world. Students pledge to refrain from corruption, unfair competition, and harmful business practices; to protect human rights; and to set an example of integrity. Last fall Harvard announced a gift of $12.5 million to fund a five-year cross-disciplinary effort to study ethics and institutional corruption. The intriguing thing about this is that at Harvard there is a connection between the oath and the study, between the cultivation of virtue and the intellectual life. What is it?

Does Intellect Lead Us To Virtue?

Academics like to think that intellect is the key thing – that if we know the good we will cultivate and pursue it. This is not surprising. Academics are intellectuals. Thinking is what we are good at. Abraham Maslow once said if you only have a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. But there are two difficulties with the academics’ approach. One is that it fails to account for weakness of will. We all have the experience of knowing what is right or good, and failing to do it. (I have this problem about chocolate.) The second is that it flattens the concept of knowing into something most of us wouldn’t recognize. We do not come to understand what is right, or good, or beautiful, through mental exercises conducted from an armchair.

Aristotle observed, what every parent knows, that young people can develop abilities in geometry and mathematics, but they can’t be proficient at politics, or philosophy, or (he says) physics, because “the first principles of these other subjects come from experience, and . . . young [people] have no conviction about the latter but merely use the proper language.”7 I am reminded of my own experience in Louis Jaffe’s class in Administrative Law – a subject about the role, processes, and powers of government agencies. I got an A in the class by saying the right things, but it was like a game in a foreign language I had memorized but did not speak. I had no idea what the subject was about until, 10 years later, I represented dozens of agencies as a young lawyer in the Solicitor General’s Office. I remember thinking, “So this is what Administrative Law is about.”

Part of what I had learned was the objects and practices that the foreign language denoted – what it meant to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. That connected the purely intellectual exercise of reading Jaffe’s casebook to things in the real world. Another part of what I learned was the craft of doing administrative law well. A baseball pitcher needs to learn a lot of mechanics to throw well; a fielder needs to be in the right position for each hitter and situation. So too with learning the law. Good administrative lawyers know from practice that agencies must follow their own regulations (the Accardi8 rule). Richard Nixon ignored this when he refused the special prosecutor’s demand for the Watergate tapes.

There is a third thing one learns from the experience of legal practice – it acquaints one with the virtue of justice. A good lawyer is not just skilled in the craft of argument. She is also honest, fair, prudent, temperate, and just. There is an inscription on the Department of Justice building where I worked that says, “The United States wins its case whenever justice is done one of its citizens in the courts.” Working with good lawyers, you learn there are cases you could win but should not. You learn the difference between playing by the rules and doing the right thing. You are reminded that the agencies whose behavior is regulated by administrative law exist to serve the people of the United States (veterans, homeless, unemployed, widows and orphans, victims of crime, consumers, taxpayers), and you are one of the people standing at the counter.

St. Bonaventure, in his little treatise Bringing Forth Christ, observes9

“Anyone who keeps close to a holy man discovers that by seeing him often, listening to his words and witnessing his exemplary behavior, he is set on fire with love of the truth, keeps away from the darkness of sin, and is inflamed by the love of divine light.” . . . “Seek the company of good people. If you share their company, you will also share their virtue.”

We come to know virtue by seeing it, we learn virtue by practicing it, we become virtuous when our practice makes it habitual, a part of our character.

Virtue Guides Intellect

Let us return to Aristotle and our theory of education. He goes on to say that if you want to listen intelligently to lectures on ethics you “must have been brought up in good habits.”10 It is virtue that leads the intellect to the right result, not the other way around. The particular goals we set for ourselves are illuminated by our character or moral orientation. In our efforts, Aristotle says, “virtue makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means.”11

Aristotle talks about listening intelligently to lectures on ethics, but his point is not limited to Philosophy 101. I spoke earlier about Law. I might have said the same thing about any of the social sciences. You cannot study migration, the environment, the economy, interpersonal relationships, death and dying, or the history of capitalism without making ethical judgments of the kind Aristotle had in mind. Sociology is not, pace Comte, a value-free science. Nor is Anthropology, Economics, Psychology, or History.

I have been talking about the social sciences, but I might make a similar observation about aesthetics. Our appreciation of beauty in art and music, in poetry and architecture, is not just an intellectual judgment. We speak of the sense, the experience, the love of beauty, and these are not just metaphors. It is beauty that first enchants us when we fall in love, that draws us out of ourselves to want something other. And though there is more scope for taste in this realm, there are true and there are meretricious appeals of beauty, and we learn them not by solitary contemplation but in the same way we learn the appropriation of virtue.

Cardinal Ratzinger, a few years before he became pope, observed how some appeals can be like the “experience of beauty of which Genesis speaks in the account of the Original Sin. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was ‘beautiful’ to eat and was ‘delightful to the eyes.’” “Who would not recognize,” he went on to say, “in advertising, the images made with supreme skill that are created to tempt the human being irresistibly, to make him want to grab everything and seek the passing satisfaction rather than be open to others.”12 He contrasted this with an experience he had in Munich soon after the death of Karl Richter. He was sitting at a Bach concert, next to the Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselmann, and when the performance was over he said,

When the last note of one of the great Thomas Kantor Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other [and] said, “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.”
The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.

I have been arguing that the arrow between intellect and virtue travels in a different direction than scholars sometimes suppose. That the cultivation of virtue prepares the ground for the work of the intellect, because “virtue makes us aim at the right mark.” Let me give one more example. When we went off to college my mother would say, after the fashion of St. Monica, “Don’t forget your prayers.” After I got out of law school she came to visit me in New York, and I told her about a book I had just read (by J.N.D. Kelly, as I recall) on early Christian doctrine. I asked if she knew that the words “light from light” that we recited in the Nicene Creed were meant to resolve the Arian heresy about the relation between God the Father and God the Son. She said, “Dear, the important thing is not that you understand it. The important thing is that you believe it.”

The older I get the more I find that my mother was right. I don’t mean to embrace the full import of her observation. The Council of Nicea was really important, and it met to iron this out. But Mother was giving me the same advice she had when I went off to college: the most important thing is to say your prayers before you go off on your intellectual wanderings. Pascal said precisely the same thing in the Pensées,13 after describing the reasonableness of his wager:

The external must be joined to the internal to obtain anything from God, that is to say, we must kneel, pray with the lips, etc., in order that proud man, who would not submit himself to God, may be now subject to the creature. . . . [C]ustom . . . without violence, without art, without argument, makes us believe things and inclines all our powers to this belief, so that our soul falls naturally into it.

Mother, St. Monica, and Pascal were all saying that the path to the study of theology begins with prayer, not speculation. Or to return to the reflections of Pope Benedict, “the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated.”14

The Institution’s Role

I have been arguing that the acquisition of virtue has a bearing on how we learn. This is a lesson all university students should take to heart. Students at the University of Kentucky should find the Newman Center. Harvard students should meet the chaplain at St. Paul’s Church. But this is an incomplete argument. What is the particular contribution a Catholic university makes to the integration of virtue and intellect?

Let me close with four brief observations about this point. First, although we sometimes speak (as Bonaventure does) of learning virtue from a holy man (a kind of moral Bruce Harmon, or yoga master), we learn it better as members of a group. As the Catechism says, the Christian “learns the example of holiness [from the Church;] he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it . . . .”15 Both the yogi and the group provide the necessary illustration. But it’s like learning a foreign language. No tutor alive can match the experience of living with a family that speaks Korean.

Groups have this additional advantage over yogis: besides offering round-the-clock instruction, they also provide a counterweight to the culture. In raising our children my wife and I have found that it is hard to fight the culture. We deliver one message about materialism, sex, self-sacrifice, and alcohol; our children see another in school and the media. Our lesson gains credibility if the children see a community of people they know and admire living it.

Second, as Christians we believe that the community we live in here is not just us. It is God with us, in the sacraments we celebrate every day. His grace is more important than our mutual example in helping us see and drawing us to the life of virtue.

Third, we must not lose sight of the essential connectedness of intellect and virtue. When Aristotle says that if you want to listen intelligently to lectures on ethics you “must have been brought up in good habits,” he does not mean simply that you must do a before b. (As we might say, if you want to get from Boston to Washington you must first go through New York.) The cultivation of virtue enables the student to learn what the teacher is teaching. It is part of the language they both speak.

To put it in concrete terms, Student Life, Campus Ministry, Residential Life, Athletics, and Student Organizations are not offices concerned with different parts of the day and places on campus than academic affairs. They are integrally related. As Pope Benedict said at this University in 2008, this “is a place to encounter the living God . . . . This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching.”

Finally, I have been talking about the role of virtue in the life of the intellect. But I want to conclude by observing that the intellectual life of a Catholic university is something that is unique among institutions of higher education. Whatever your intellectual field, you are probably familiar with the phenomenon I might call the coffeehouse effect. Carl Schorske describes in his interesting book Fin de Siècle Vienna how intellectuals from many different fields gathered in the coffeehouses of Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century and created a special intellectual culture: Kokoschka and Schoenberg, Freud and Klimt, Mahler and Mach. We can see the same thing at other times and places. Elizabethan London was a city the size of Lubbock, Texas, and it produced Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Sidney, Jonson, and Bacon. Bach, Handel, and Telemann were all born around 1685 and studied each others’ work. The world’s best violins have all come from Cremona, Italy where they were made by the Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari families.

The Catholic University of America is a university – a community of scholars united in a common effort to find goodness, truth, and beauty. It is a place where we learn things St. Monica could not teach her son. Holy as she was, she could not have written the Confessions or The City of God. Smart as he was, neither could Augustine have written them without the intellectual companionship he found first at Carthage and later among the Platonists in Milan. The intellectual life, like the acquisition of virtue, is a communal (not a solitary) undertaking. We learn from each other. The intellectual culture we create is the product of our collective effort. A Catholic intellectual culture will be something both distinctive and wonderful if we bring the right people into the conversation and if we work really hard at it.

Conclusion

Let me close as Cardinal Newman did his discourses on The Idea of a University. He ended with a note of fitting modesty about the contribution any one person can make to so great an enterprise as this. I want to associate myself with his comments:

For me, if it be God’s blessed will that in the years now coming I am to have a share in the great undertaking, which has been the occasion and the subject of [my remarks], so far I can say for certain that, whether or not I can do any thing at all in [Blessed John Newman’s] way, at least I can do nothing in any other. Neither by my habits of life, nor by vigour of age, am I fitted for the task of authority, or of rule, or of initiation. I do but aspire, if strength is given me, to be your minister in a work which must employ younger minds and stronger lives than mine. I am but fit to bear my witness, . . . to throw such light upon general questions, . . . as past reflection and experience enable me to contribute. I shall have to make appeals to your consideration, . . . of which I have had so many instances . . . ; and [we must not] be surprised, should it so happen that the Hand of Him, with whom are the springs of life and death, weighs heavy on me, and makes me unequal to anticipations in which you have been too kind, and to hopes in which I may have been too sanguine.

1 The Idea of a University xl (University of Notre Dame Press 1982).
2 Id. at 113.
3 Id. at 46.
4 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (2010).
5 Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002).
6 The Aims of Education (2001)
7 Nicomachean Ethics Bk. VI, ch. 8.
8 United States ex rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 347 U.S. 260 (1954).
9 He’s quoting St. Gregory and St. Isidore.
10 Nicomachean Ethics 1095b.
11 Nicomachean Ethics 1144a.
12 The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty, on line at The Crossroads Initiative (August 2002).
13 Blaise Pascal, Pensées 250, 252.
14 The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty.
15 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2030.

Sesame Street: E is for Excellent

When my teachers handed back my tests or papers in grade school I always wanted to see “Excellent” written across the top. Or, even better, an “E” on my report card went a long way to keep the parental units at bay. There is just something about that word that makes you smile. It could be that we live in a society that prizes perfection in all that we do. Maybe it’s because we associate the word with the highest form of praise. Regardless, excellence is a quality that we strive for in all that we do.

Over the weekend, I was reflecting on excellence and a few New Testament Scriptures in which the Greek word Arte, which means goodness or moral virtue, was used. There are four instances where it may be found:

  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1Pt 2:9)
  • His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, (2 Pt 1:3)
  • For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge (2 Pt 1:5)
  • Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8)

This term was used often by the ancient Greek philosophers and scholars. It did not connote a job well done but exemplary living or a particular excellence. Homer in the Odyssey and Iliad used the word to describe his heroes who were endowed with strength and courage.

According to Bernard Knox‘s notes found in the Robert Fagles translation of The Odyssey, “arete” is also associated with the Greek word for pray, “araomai” . (Homer. The Odyssey. trans. by Robert Fagles. Introduction and notes by Bernard Knox. Penguin Classics Deluxe Ed, London. 1996)

It is interesting that Mr. Fagles connected this excellence with prayer. I think it is even cooler that St. Peter agrees with him. In his two epistles, he uses the word to describe the Lord’s wondrous deeds and the power that works in us to produce “excellence” and “virtue” as shown above. (Source: Ignatius Study Bible)

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians  connects our conduct with contemplation (See Phil quote above). As that pericope continues, he demonstrates that through meditating on the Word of God our thoughts can be purified and thus be expressed through excellence in living (See CCC 1803). Scripture proclaims this as well:

And if any one loves righteousness, her labors are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for men than these. (Wis 8:7)

It should not be a surprise that we many times translate arete (excellence in the Greek) to virtue from the Latin. Virtue as we know is a strength that when perfected by God’s grace, ennobles the individual with a spiritual and moral excellence. So, next time when we tell our children that they have achieved a measure of excellence, maybe should renew the word and associate it with virtue.

One caution though. Remember, perfection is not a virtue. We want our kids to grow in excellence not perfection. Perfection is a work of the Blessed Trinity that deifies our excellence and transforms it into “the perfect.” We have no hope in trying to be perfect – it is an illusion. How do kids live out being perfect? Perfectionism. This twisted spawn of the sin of vanity is one of the most devastating disorders among our youth and young adults today. It only leads to depression and despair. On the contrary, let’s secure excellence using the pattern that Scripture teaches us:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word. (Ps 199:9)

Revised Roman Missal: Bishop Loverde Calls for Deeper Prayer

In this week’s Catholic Herald, Bishop Loverde (Arlington Diocese, Virginia) invited his flock to embrace the upcoming implementation of the Revised Roman Missal. Bishop Loverde also invited us hear the call to deeper prayer through revised language of the Liturgy. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross best described the catechetical value of the Divine Liturgy when she said,

God Himself teaches us to go forward with our hand in His by means of the Church’s liturgy.

The Lord and the Church desires the Divine Liturgy to be the first and primary didactic means of educating her children. Bishop Loverde’s reflection is well said and deserves additional time for reflection.

The new translation — A call to deeper prayer

Some of you may recall, as I do, learning certain tenets of our faith from the Baltimore Catechism. The concise, memorable question-and-answer format assisted me as a boy in learning theological truths upon which I still reflect today. In light of the announcement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that, after years of work, the new translation of the Roman Missal will be implemented in Advent 2011, the Catechism question “What is Prayer?” particularly resounds with me. The response, “Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God,” highlights the opportunity for spiritual growth that the new translation will afford each of us (Baltimore Catechism, no. 1099).

This new translation of the Mass is the result of years of labor by skilled translators and the national conferences of bishops in English-speaking nations. The result is a translation of the Mass that will contribute to the ongoing renewal of sacred liturgy in our parishes and is a more accurate translation of the official Latin edition of the Roman Missal, first promulgated in 1970, updated again in 1975 and published in its third edition in 2000. Our Holy Father prayed that the new translation would be “a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Vox Clara Committee, 28 April 2010). Yes, this translation means more than merely learning new responses to say during Mass, although the words have a particular purpose and are important. It is, ultimately, a call to strengthen our prayer to God during the liturgy and to more actively and authentically participate: to truly “lift our minds and hearts to God.”

It is my prayer that each of us will take time to reflect upon the changes being made and the true meaning of the words that the priest and the congregation pray at Mass. Consider, for example, the occasions in the Mass when the celebrant says, “The Lord be with you.” Instead of, “And also with you,” under the new translation the congregation will reply, “And with your spirit.” Far from being a reduction in meaning, this response, which is more true to the official Latin text from which all translations have been made, increases our understanding that we are asking the Lord to dwell in the souls of those gathered for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In addition, since the priest (or deacon before the proclamation of the Gospel) greets the faithful with the words, “The Lord be with you,” the response, “And with your spirit” serves to mark those moments of truly priestly (or diaconal) ministry, that is, when the priest (or deacon) is about to do what he is ordained to do. These moments include: presiding over the entire prayer of the community at the beginning of the Mass; proclaiming God’s holy Word in His Gospel; offering the Eucharistic Prayer, which begins with the Preface; and imparting the final blessing. Our new response indicates that the priest (or deacon) is not acting on his own but only in the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The new translation of the Roman Missal will also include Masses for recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayers, other Masses for Various Needs and Intentions, and updated and revised rubrics (instructions) for celebrating the Mass. The richness of these seemingly subtle changes not only brings our prayer closer in line with our brothers and sisters who speak other languages, but also invites us to enter more fully into the mystery of the Mass.

Our participation in the liturgy is an essential part of our worship. Discussing the Mass, Pope Pius X taught that “the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church” (Pope Pius X, Tra le Sollecitudini, 22 November 1903). This liturgical theme was further developed by the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council when he wrote that the “Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers” (Pope Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963, no. 41). The new translation provides us with the opportunity, once again, to participate in the Mass in a deeper way.

In the upcoming year, you will learn more details on the new translation and be given the grace-filled opportunity to deepen your life of prayer during the liturgy through additional catechesis. Resources will be made available to you through our website, www.arlingtondiocese.org; diocesan workshops will be offered to priests and musicians; and parishioners will have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the meaning of this new translation through programs at their parishes. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources and opportunities that will be available this year — they will be advertised on the website, via Facebook and Twitter, in your parish bulletin and also in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

In the next year, in our diocesan Church and throughout English-speaking nations, we will prepare for the implementation of the new translation. During this time of fruitful transition, I ask you to dedicate yourself to active participation in the celebration of the Mass. As this new translation so beautifully emphasizes, Our Lord Jesus Christ died so that we may have life, a mystery which we celebrate at each and every Liturgy. He sacrificed Himself for us; let our response be one of prayerful participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, which He instituted

Torrent of Divine Love

St. Thérèse is one of the most celebrated saints of the last fifty years. Her “Little Way” as it is known, has become a spirituality that has invigorated the old and young alike. Two of her greatest gifts she bequeathed to our modern age is her understanding of prayer as an action and the need for divine love.

Ora et Labora or Ora est Labora – That is the question!

St. Benedict gave us the famous maxim, Ora et Labora – Pray and work. During the sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia spent a great deal of time teaching his monks the holiness of work. He taught that monastics should full-heartedly participate in the divine command given to Adam in the garden. Our Lord told Adam, and all mankind to adovah. The first meaning is to work or toil. The second, but not secondary meaning is to pray. Man vocation is to both pray and work.

By the nineteenth century, St. John Bosco reflecting on the culture, adjusted Benedict’s maxim to Ora est labora – Prayer is work. Don Bosco battled a the Enlightenment and Humanism which viewed prayer as an excuse for not acting. They saw the cloisters as an escape from the world to a life of ease while but hiding from the work that needed to be done. The culture of the nineteenth century believed that mankind itself was the answer to all the world’s woes; once it had shed its primitive naivete of believing in God.

St. Thérèse: Scourge of Humanism and Activism

In the life of St. Thérèse, we see the nexus of both maxims. Her witness is the scourge of Humanism and the joy of all who are cloistered. Today’s society continues to promote Humanism under the new banner of activism, “I must do otherwise nothing will ever change!”

Pope John Paul II recognizing that the witness of  St. Thérèse’s life would be a worthy nail into the coffin of activism, declared her to be the Patroness of Missionaries. To drive home the point, she never left her convent. He saw that her thirst for souls led her to pray for the foreign missionaries and priests.  It was her ardent prayers that obtained the salvation of  a man named, Pranzini,  who had murdered two women and a girl in Paris.  He had no desire of repentance, but Saint Thérèse’s prayers touched Heaven and on his way to the guillotine for execution, he asked to kiss the crucifix, which he kissed three times.

Prayer is an action even though it is always passive on our part. We, quickened by the Holy Spirit, cooperate in the economy of salvation through our prayers and hidden works of virtue for the Divine Lover. If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, then the prayer of the cloistered is  the till that breaks the fallow ground of our hearts. A seed cannot grow if the Living Water cannot seep into the soil.

Prayer is not the excuse of the lazy or idleness but the very heart of all evangelistic activity. As St. Thérèse knew, we should not move until the Lord of Hosts has given us our marching orders.

At the Heart of the Matter

Currently, there is much confusion in the Body of Christ. In a sort of frenzied amnesia, many question there role and function in the Church. Laity want to be priests, priests want to be laity, Pastors handover their “birthright” to Pastoral Councils and committees believe they run the Church. In her writings,  St. Thérèse search to discover her role and function in the Body of Christ. To her surprise, she discovered she was to become a ferocious fire of Divine Love:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of St. Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the 12th and 13th chapters of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.

When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which St. Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favourably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction. (Source: Office of Readings, Oct. 1 – excerpt from Story of a Soul)

A body without love withers and dies. Thérèse became love and infused it into the Body of Christ. Not just a filial love a joyful, ecstatic, passionate and intimate love. A love that makes the heart beat faster and the soul grow stronger. It is a love that instills in a person the audacity to ask the Father of Lights anything and then walk away knowing that He will do it.

Her example compels us to remember that love is the foundation of all ministry. Her gift  of intercession is a ministry of the heart. It says to the Lord, “Break my heart with the things that break yours!” Then with a zeal for souls and a love that empowers, she floods the heart of God with affections and requests that a lover cannot refuse. If love and intimacy was the goal and core of our prayer and relationship with the Blessed Trinity, what could the Body of Christ not do?

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Over the last twenty-four years of my Christian walk and ministry, two people have particularly inspired me by their witness to live a life of ferocious love with our Lord. Both are daughters of St. Thérèse and exemplify all that the Little Flower desires to teach us. Their lives of unwavering commitment to the truth and unfettered love for our Lord and His Bride, the Church, are a rare combination in our culture. They continue to persevere in their ministries and families through prayer that gives way to action – and they never settle for second best.

Dawn and Kelly, thank you for incarnating St. Thérèse teaching for me. On your Feast day, may she continue to pour out the sweet fragrance of her Lord’s grace into your lives! You continue to be an example to the many young women (and men) who have no idea how to love, what love means and how only truth can yield love. Your mentoring (even from a distance) continues to teach me that Thérèse was a true romantic and a passionate lover for our Lord and His people.

Grasping at Love

Finally, a note on a culture that demands love on its own terms. Many of the young women that my wife and I have ministered to over the years have been blinded by a romantic sentimentality of what the culture – and fanciful fairy tales – define as love and romance (Frankly, the men are no better). As my wife shared with me the other day, “Romance is not a bouquet of flowers or poetry quoted over a candle-lite dinner. Romance is when your husband has to wake up every hour on the hour for days at a time to force a cracker down her throat in hopes that the Vicodin he just made her take is not puked up back on him” (I would provide you with my example but I can neither top hers nor figure out who her husband is).

It is not that they [we] do not have a passion to love one another and the Lord, it is just they do not have enough. I think that C.S. Lewis explained this phenomena the best when he wrote in, The Weight of Glory, that the problem is that we settle for the immediate arms-length good instead of pushing through the pain and heartbreaks for the good we cannot see. We grasp and take hold of the love we want instead of waiting for the Lord to deliver the love (and lover) He desires to provide for us. We are satisfied with the mediocrity of our imaginations that the blazing truth and reality to true love.

I believe that St. Thérèse and the other twentieth century Teresa (Mother Teresa) holds the key to heal this wound in our culture. After suffering for 18 months of darkness in her soul, Thérèse claimed her prize of eternal glory. Mother Teresa who lived 50 years of interior darkness never experienced the consolation of our Lord’s love this side of heaven but poured out His love on every person she met. These examples are not to say that the answer to our culture grasping for love is perseverance until death. The answer is not settling for anything less than the Lord’s love first. Love is not only passion but purifying correction, loneliness and unexciting burdensome routines – all carried with love for Him that is steeped in a life of prayer. Once we are consumed by the torrents of His love – sometimes unexciting, THEN all other loves will fall into place.

St. Thérèse, intercede for us that we might learn to receive and become love.

The Healthy Christian

The Christian Contradiction

Christians are supposed to be contradictions. The very paradox of the cross – eternal life won through suffering and death, should tip us off that contradiction is a real part of our lives. Jesus commanded us to be witnesses to the Kingdom of God while living here on earth. Throughout history Christians have been joy-filled when their lives were threatened by death for the Gospel. In the times when reason says flee, we stood our ground during plagues to assist the sick, poor, orphaned and widowed. When all hope was lost (say the fall of Jerusalem) we gathered the strangers around us and filled them with our Hope of Glory, the Lord Jesus. There is however, a form of contradiction that is not healthy which is a malignant form of cancer to all Christians. St. James addresses it in James 1: 8:

A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

In a sense, this type of contradiction could be called spiritual schizophrenia; for the phrase “double-minded” literally means “two-souls”. And, as we all know, one human soul per human body.

The Context

St. James began his letter encouraging the Christian community in Jerusalem to pray for perseverance through sincere faith in the first six verses of the Epistle. At the end of verses six, seven and eight, the tone changes. He states that the double-minded person should not expect to receive anything from God. Why? He explains that

such a person holds back complete trust in God because inside he wavers between conviction and doubt (Sir 1:28). This makes prayer less fervent and answers to prayer less certain (CCC2734). (Source: St. James Biblical Commentary, Ignatius Press)

For many of us, this is a hard passage to hear because we know that we live in a material world but have faith in God that we cannot perceive sensibly. We live in a world that bombards us with sensible “things”. St. James not satisfied with the communities understanding of double-mindedness, restates his exhortation with much stronger language showing what is at the core of being double-minded in James 4:4 saying,

Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

For those who are married or who have been in a significant relationship, we understand that when we are away from our spouse or significant other, the separation does not give us permission to date, see, or pursue someone else. It is no different in the spiritual life.

Creation: In its proper perspective

Due to original sin, we have a tendency to yearn for only those things that we can imagine and experience. Because the sensible enamors us so easily,  we willfully neglect the spiritual core of who we are. Then the Trinity created man they intended the senses to provide the soul with those experiences and materials that are good, true and beautiful. They are meant to feed the should that which is “good, pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) Moreover, the sensible was to be used to share in creativity of God. The Father left the world in a state of journeying for us to assist Him in its perfection (CCC302).

Creation was meant to point us to the living God (CCC299). It is meant to assist us in contemplating the divine by allowing our hearts to sore to the highest heights in preparation for the delights of heaven. It is not meant to weigh us down. Does this mean that we need to reject all creation and external delights like the Manichean? By no means!

Sacred Scripture: Training us for holiness

It does mean that we need to exercise prudential wisdom and allow our hearts and minds to be transformed by the Gospel by the obedience of faith (Rom 16:26). Sacred Scripture is the sure means of securing and guarding our faith:

My son, to my words be attentive, to my sayings incline your ear; Let them not slip out of your sight, keep them within your heart; For they are life to those who find them, to man’s whole being they are health. With closest custody, guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life. (Pro 4:23)

How can the young walk without fault? Only by keeping your words. With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commands. In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you… (Ps 119:9-11)

It is through the meditation on the Word of God that we discover what should and should not do. For,

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

The Catechism is also a great source of discerning our actions and choices in our lives. Here too we are guaranteed to receive the truth. The “big” sins or the top ten are really self-evident. It is slow-cooking of the enticements of the world that we should really be worried about. A mortal sin never “just” happens. We weaken ourselves by venial sins that eat away at our intellect and will until we are open to commit that grace sin.

We will always be struggling to put to death the contradictions in our lives. We do though, need to put to death the glaring, but venial ones, that immediately draw attention to ourselves and lay impotent the power of the cross in our lives. Here are a few Scriptures to guide us along the way:

Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil, and the sight of misery you cannot endure. Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one more just than himself? (Habakkuk 1:13)

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me (Psalm 101:3)

Refrain from every kind of evil. (1 Thess 5:22)

Remember, evil does not necessarily mean Satanic or breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Evil is a lack of some-thing. It is any privation of the good, true and beautiful. Many are desensitized to evil especially when it comes to entertainment. That is understandable. What is not understandable is doing nothing about it – quickly, decisively and radically. Would you take your time and let cancer spread without undergoing treatments? What would you do to live? Change your lifestyle – of course! And yet, we are fine with the entertainment industry deadening our intellects and wills. Have we become like the Romans who preferred evil than good. More importantly, let us not undergo the covenantal curse that our Lord quotes from Isaiah 6: 9-12:

And he replied: Go and say to this people: Listen carefully, but you shall not understand! Look intently, but you shall know nothing!
You are to make the heart of this people sluggish, to dull their ears and close their eyes; Else their eyes will see, their ears hear, their heart understand, and they will turn and be healed. “How long, O Lord?” I asked. And he replied: Until the cities are desolate, without nhabitants, Houses, without a man, and the earth is a desolate waste. Until the LORD removes men far away, and the land is abandoned more and more.

We need to have a discerning spirit. We need to cultivate the Church’s worldview. She has a particular way of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and even smelling the gift of creation. It is only then that we will experience John 10:10 and the joy He has for us.

Scripture discerns and transforms our life through the grace of conversion. But, it is through the Blessed Sacrament that we are healed and empowered to live the grace-filled life. Let’s live a life of contradiction in this land of Laodicea and remember,

“You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” -St.Therese of Lisieux