Friday, April 29, 2016

Purgatory: The Prison-House of Grace

Sixth in a Series on the Life of Grace

 Fr. Raphael M. Moss, O.P.

When we speak of the Communion of Saints, we sum up one of the most important dogmas revealed to us by our holy Catholic faith. It is at the same time one of the most comprehensive and most interesting, and, we may add, perhaps one of the least understood. It seems to say so very little, whilst it implies so much. It is the consequence of our redemption and sanctification, the fruit of Christ's passion and the life of grace to which we have been raised. For, by this most glorious gift of grace, purchased for us by the sufferings and death of the incarnate Son of God, we are all made members of His mystical Body, and by mutual help, mutual support, and mutual sanctification, we are meant to carry on His divine work, looking forward to the day when that work shall be made perfect and complete by the gathering together of all the elect in the kingdom of heaven. Hence, to souls bound together by this supernatural chain of faith and hope and love, time is as though it were not, and real separation is impossible. Life passes away swiftly enough, and, sooner or later, death must come to all of us, but even death, to souls in grace, is but a passing change, and when we mourn for those whom it has taken from us, we "sorrow not as others, that have no hope." On the contrary, we may truly say that human affection finds in death its surest triumph, for whereas the many troubles that surround us and the weaknesses of our own frail nature must necessarily make the strongest love rejoice with trembling, death, viewed as grace would have us view it, puts an end to all these dangers, and gives to earthly love the immortality for which it craves, making it at once unchanging and eternal. "True love," says the inspired writer, "is strong as death," and therefore "many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it;" it builds a bridge across that dark abyss, so terrifying to our weakness, and that bridge is the "Communion of Saints." Our God, as Jesus Christ Himself reminds us, is not the God of the dead but of the living, and therefore those of His creatures who die in grace are never dead to Him. Underneath them are the everlasting arms, as surely as they are beneath us, and in this firm faith the loneliest soul can always find abundant light and consolation. The task before us is to contemplate this life of grace in the world to come, to see and understand, as far as possible, all that our faith can tell us of the dead who die in the Lord, and therefore are so truly blessed.

Our thoughts go up at once to that great multitude which no man can number, standing before the throne with palms in their hands, forever reigning with Christ on high, but even as that glorious vision seems to pass before our minds, the consciousness of sin and imperfection strikes us down and bids us realize our deep unworthiness. He who tells us of that white-robed multitude tells us also they are sine macula, spotless and unstained, and therefore we must first of all direct our thoughts towards that other world revealed to us by faith and reason as the dwelling-place of all those souls, who, though God's friends, are yet unworthy of a place amongst His saints. We call it Purgatory, and we speak of those abiding there as the souls of the faithful departed. We could not justly claim to be the children of the Church, were we unmindful of those for whom the Church is so solicitous. She never forgets them. Morning by morning the sacrifice of Calvary is renewed in her midst; morning by morning the divine Victim is offered up on her altars, and following closely on the loving welcome with which she greets His sacramental presence is a prayer of supplication for the dead:
Memento Domine - Be mindful, Lord, of Thy servants who have gone before us.
It is an indication of the spirit she would foster in our hearts, for the same thought concludes all her prayers:
May the divine assistance remain always with us, and may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
We believe then, as Catholics, that there exists a place of waiting, a place of trial and most keen suffering, created by an infinitely wise and loving God for such souls as depart out of this life in a state of grace, but yet in some way debtors to His justice. It is a dogma of our faith, which hardly seems to stand in need of proof, so strongly does it appeal to reason and conscience, so manifestly does it fit in with all we know of God. If we believe that heaven is the home of absolute purity and perfection, and that nothing which is in any way defiled can pass its gates, if we believe hell to be the prison-house of those who die in grievous sin, rejecting God's most patient love and hating Him until the last, we must admit the existence of a middle state for those who are not pure enough to see God face to face, and yet have not deserved eternal banishment from Him. To deny this consequence would be to lower our idea of heaven, until it ceased to be a motive for our hopes and longings, or to create a hell so cruelly unjust as to be unreasonable and impossible. Even the heathens could not be so foolish, and Plato graphically describes a future state of punishment for those who have done evil, where some must suffer hopelessly because so hopelessly corrupted, but where others, on the contrary, find a real good in what they have to undergo, since by it they are freed from all their stains. It would surely, therefore, be a matter for astonishment were we not to find some traces of this same belief amongst the Jews, but, instead of traces only, we have the dogma put before us in its fullness, by no less an authority than the inspired word of God. In the Second Book of the Machabees (12:46) we read how Judas sent an offering to Jerusalem that sacrifices might be offered for the souls of the soldiers who had fallen in battle, since "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be freed from sins." Yet it was not until the so-called "reformers" of the sixteenth century had ventured to assail this well-nigh universal belief that the Church confirmed it by a solemn definition, and declared it to be the divinely revealed dogma of our faith.

But if, as we have said, it is a doctrine which in every way accords with what we know of human nature, its weaknesses and capabilities, no less does it accord with what we know of God. Without it, faith in God would be impossible. True, there are many who profess belief in God and yet deny this doctrine, but a little thought would show us that their God is not the infinitely perfect Being who is our last end, but a counterfeit deity formed and fashioned by their own poor darkened minds.

Infinite perfection implies the possession of all perfections in an infinite degree. God is just, and His justice, therefore, is infinite; yet at the same time He is merciful, and His mercy is equally limitless. But because He is infinitely just, He must necessarily banish from His presence any creature in whom His all-seeing eye discerns the faintest shadow of an imperfection, and because He is infinitely merciful, He is ready to forgive the worst of sinners. How can we reconcile these two most glorious attributes of God except by Purgatory?

Think what sin is and what are its consequences. Broadly speaking, sin is the aversion of the will from God, and the immediate consequences of this are twofold, for it inflicts a stain upon the soul, and at the same time makes it a debtor to God's justice. The soul of man is pleasing in God's sight because of the bright, shining light of reason, and that glorious participation of the divine light which we call grace; but when man's will consents to sin, it violates the order of right reason as well as the order of grace, and withdrawing itself, as it were, from these refulgent sources of brightness and spiritual loveliness, it buries itself in what is vile and earthly, and so incurs the stain of sin. Moreover, by that same act it violates the order of divine justice, and thereby lays itself under the obligation of restitution by making itself God's debtor. In other words, the unlawful self-indulgence, which we call sin, must be expiated by voluntary or involuntary punishment, and this holds good even when the stain of sin may have been blotted out by sorrow and repentance and the return of the will to God. So David sinned, and repented of his sin on hearing Nathan's parable. "I have sinned against the Lord," he cried; and Nathan said: "The Lord hath taken away thy sin." But though the sin was forgiven, atonement had to be made, and a heavy punishment was inflicted.

How many there are like David, who may have sinned grievously, and like him also have wept bitter tears for their sin, crying out with him in the anguish of a truly contrite heart:
Peccatum meum contra me est semper - My sin is always before me.
And this although many years may have passed away since that dark hour when first they fell from grace. For who can measure the debt incurred by such a fall, quite apart from all those constantly recurring minor faults and sinful inclinations which are its miserable fruits? And how will such souls stand when death comes to weigh them in the scale of the awful exacting justice of Almighty God?

Then there are others who, though perhaps they never have rejected God so utterly, have nevertheless learnt by sad experience the weakness of our human nature in those daily falls and imperfections of which we think so little, but of which God necessarily thinks so much, and who may perhaps have suddenly been called away, without a moment for repentance. How must God treat them? If we except the little child who passes from this world in all the beauty of unsullied innocence, or the brave martyr who pours out his blood in one supreme and generous sacrifice, what must be the state of nearly every soul that quits this life in friendship and union with its Maker. It stands before His judgment seat, and for the first time realizes justice which is infinite. It sees the many follies of its life on earth, the countless faults and imperfections for which it never even grieved, the many others, sorrowed for it may be, and yet not fully expiated, the divine likeness in its being, which is its only claim to glory, so miserably disfigured and defaced. What fate could it expect save instant and eternal banishment, were justice only to be heard?

But mercy speaks as well, for in all God s works, says the Angelic Doctor, mercy and truth go hand in hand, or, as the inspired writer expresses it:
Mercy and truth are met together, justice and peace have kissed each other.
The soul passes from this world into the world of Purgatory, its stains are burnt away, its debts are fully paid, and the beauty of God's image is marvelously restored. Truly we have here a wonderful revelation of God and His attributes, and it is no exaggeration to say that without this dogma of our faith, belief in God would seem impossible. For not only does the teaching of the Church on this point reconcile these two grand attributes apparently so contradictory, but it goes further, and explains them in the fullest way.

We have already considered the light it throws upon God's justice, and its dealing with us, but as a revelation of God's mercy it is so wonderful that we may look upon it as its very masterpiece. For when we contemplate the world in which we live, and see and note the well-nigh universal triumph of the powers of evil; when, day by day, in a thousand different ways we are brought face to face with moral failure, and so realize - though ever so faintly - the utter forgetfulness of God in which the vast majority of His creatures seem to live, the sight of all this, the knowledge of all this, would surely extinguish our faith in God as the Almighty Ruler, our hope in Him as the Savior of mankind, our love of Him as a most tender Father, were it not for this creation of His mercy, where justice and mercy are so wonderfully blended. Purgatory is the solution of this most terrifying mystery. There, God wins back all that He seemed to lose in life, and the many defeats of time are more than compensated for by the great victory of eternity. There must be millions of souls who during life have wandered far from God, and yet have ever kept alive that little twinkling light of faith and reason which, even at the last hour, can show them how to find Him once again, and what we call a death-bed repentance, though always a miracle of mercy, must be a frequent source of joy to the angels of God. An old English writer expresses this very vividly in the well-known lines:
Between the stirrup and the ground
I mercy asked, I mercy found.
And it would not be just to call this a mere poetic exaggeration, for all that God wants is the beginning of the great work of grace, the conversion of the will, and purgatory will do the rest. We could not easily believe that one little act of contrition, imperfect perhaps in many ways, would have sufficient power to carry the sinner's soul into the glory of God's presence, but we can believe it strong enough to break the chains of sin, and make the soul God's friend, and then, in that mysterious world where sin becomes impossible, and grace triumphant, God repairs His handiwork, and fits it for a place in His eternal kingdom.
Souls must be saved, and the saved multiplied, and the heavenly banquet crowded, even if the constraints of fire be needed to anneal the hastier works of grace. Therefore is it that the vast realms of Purgatory are lighted up with the flames of vindictive love. Thus a huge amount of imperfect charity shall bring forth its thousands and its tens of thousands for heaven. Redemption shall cover the whole earth and be plentiful indeed, and the very unworthinesses and shortcomings of the creature shall only still more provoke the prodigality of the Blood of the Creator. Oh, the mercy of those cleansing fires! What could have devised them but a love that was almost beside itself for expedients?
And again, appealing to the very sufferings of Purgatory as a proof of God's wondrous mercy, the same writer continues:
The extreme severity of the punishments of Purgatory is a consideration which leads the mind to contemplate the immense multitude of the saved, and of those saved with very imperfect dispositions, as the only solution of these chastisements. Purgatory goes as near to the unriddling the riddle of the world as any one ordinance of God which can be named. [...] Now, does it come natural to us to look at all this system, this terrible eighth sacrament of fire, which is the home of those souls whom the seven real sacraments of earth have not been allowed to purify completely; does it come natural to us to look at it all as simply a penal machinery? [...] Does not the view at once recommend itself to us that it was an invention of God to multiply the fruit of our Savior's passion, that it was intended for the great multitudes who die in charity with God, but in imperfect charity, and therefore that it is, as it were, the continuance of death-bed mercies beyond the grave?
Let us, then, go down in spirit to that land of patient suffering, and contemplate the state of those most holy souls - holy, because incapable of sin, because so patient and resigned, because so precious in God's sight. It is quite possible, probable even, that many of them are bound to us by ties of blood and kindred, or the yet tenderer ties of love and friendship; once, perhaps, they shared the joys and sorrows of our lives, and helped us by their sympathy; for many reasons, therefore, we ought to feel compelled to do our best to find out all our faith can tell us of their state. Two things only has the Church defined in this most interesting subject, firstly, that there is a Purgatory, and secondly, that the souls therein detained are helped by our prayers and good works, but this implies enough to satisfy the most anxious inquirer, and with it as our groundwork, we may listen to what the Saints and Doctors of the Church can say by way of explanation.

It is quite true that, as a rule, the revelations of the Saints cannot be put forward as an argument, but the teaching of St. Catherine of Genoa on this subject is so solidly theological that we may be pardoned if we quote it here. In purgatory, she tells us, there is the extremity of suffering and the extremity of joy. The suffering is so great that no tongue can tell it, no mind can understand it, and on the other hand the joy is so abounding that there is nothing to compare with it, save the happiness of heaven. Moreover, it is a joy which is ever on the increase, as the separation between the soul and God is gradually destroyed. But this contentment does not take away the pain, for it is the retarding of love from the possession of its object which causes the pain, and the pain is greater according to the greater perfection of love, of which God has made the soul capable. Thus, the souls in purgatory have at once the greatest contentment and the greatest suffering, and the one in no way hinders the other.

A very little thought will show us how profoundly true and theological is this teaching. It puts before us joys and sorrows well-nigh unspeakable, and without appealing to the example of St. Paul and other Saints of God, who superabounded with joy in all their tribulations, our own little experience is sufficient to convince us of the possibility of a union of the two. We will take the sorrows first, because in our minds, the idea of suffering is always uppermost when we think of purgatory.

These holy souls suffer, and suffer most grievously. They are banished from God's presence at the very moment when, for the first time, they appreciate Him as He deserves. The heart of man was made for God, and God alone can satisfy its boundless power of love. In this life, many things combine to lead it far astray, and make it seek elsewhere the good for which it was created; but when death comes, and, for the first time, all created things must stand aside, the soul sees the truth, and with a passionate longing craves for that union which alone can make it blessed. But there is a barrier in the way. With that first mighty act of love there comes the realization of sin, the bitterness of separation which it involves, and the anguish of that "hope deferred, which maketh the heart sick." St. Thomas maintains that this suffering is far beyond all that we can feel or imagine in this life. It is, he explains, of a twofold nature, the pain of loss, which is the postponement of the sight of God, and the pain of sense, by which we understand the punishment of fire, and in both respects, says the Angelic Doctor, the least pain of purgatory exceeds the sharpest pain we could be called on to endure in this life. For the more intensely we long for anything, the more keenly do we feel its loss; and because the longing of these holy souls for Him who is their highest good is most intense, since the time for enjoying it has come, and there is nothing to distract the mind in any way, the anguish of their disappointment is unspeakable. So also with regard to what we call the pain of sense. It is altogether dependent on, and in proportion to, our sensibility, and hence it is that mental sufferings are worse than bodily, and any pain which acts directly on the soul itself, the source and cause of all sensibility, must of necessity be the keenest pain of all. Once we understand the two-fold cause of purgatory - the loving torment of unsatisfied desire for God, and the vivid realization of the horror of sin - we need say no more about the intensity of its sufferings. Cardinal Newman most perfectly and most beautifully expresses the same teaching in his Dream of Gerontius:

When then - if such thy lot - thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself, for though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinned
As never thou didst feel, and wilt desire
To slink away and hide thee from His sight,
And yet will have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not,
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,
Wilt be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.

So the work of expiation is gradually accomplished. How long it takes, God only knows; but with fixed, unwavering patience, the holy souls endure it all, lonely, though in the midst of such a multitude, in intensest silence, since their thoughts are not for words to utter, incapable of forgetfulness, or even of one poor solitary distraction, their whole being throbbing and pulsating with the fiery burning of a longing love, compared with which all other fire is but a painted imitation, ever waiting for the hour when suffering shall have done its cleansing work, and God's angels come to call them to their home of everlasting rest.

And this leads us to the joys of Purgatory, for, as we said, it is a land where joy goes hand in hand with sorrow, and the first and most abundant source of joy is to be found in this sure hope and certain knowledge of their final deliverance. For when the waiting seems most wearisome, when the keen fire thrills them through and through with anguish, when their whole being seems upon the point of being drowned in bitterness, there sounds within their souls the music of an angel's whisper:
Confortetur cor tuum, et sustine Dominum - Let thy heart be comforted, and wait for the Lord.
These words are the conclusion of the twenty-sixth Psalm, and seem to come as an inspired answer to the beautiful acts of hope of which the psalm is full, so that we might almost call it the Psalm of the Holy Souls:

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
My enemies that troubled me have themselves been weakened and are fallen.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after,
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
My heart hath said to Thee, my face hath sought Thee, Thy face, O Lord, will I seek.
Hide not Thy face from me, and turn not away in anger from Thy servant.
Be Thou my helper, forsake me not, do not Thou despise me, God my Saviour.
I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.

And oh, the flood of joy and happiness unspeakable which sweeps through these sorely tried souls at this thought:
Credo videre bona Domini - I believe, I know, that I shall see the good things of the Lord!
The certainty of heaven! Could any suffering neutralize a joy like that? But there is another joy to be found in the sufferings themselves, because of the clear understanding the holy souls have of them, their knowledge of their work and purpose, and the loving resignation with which they accept them. They are the means ordained by God for the breaking down of the barriers sin has raised, by them they are enabled to pay back the debt they have incurred, even to the very last farthing, and hence they submit to them most willingly. St. Catherine of Genoa writes:
When the soul, separated from the body, finds itself wanting in requisite purity, and sees in itself an impediment which cannot be taken away except by purgatory, it at once throws itself into it with right good will. Nay, if it did not find this ordinance of purgatory, aptly contrived for the removal of this hindrance, there would instantly be born in it a hell far worse than purgatory, inasmuch as it would see that because of this impediment, it could never get to God, who is its End. Wherefore, if the soul could find another purgatory fiercer than this, in which it could the sooner get rid of this impediment it would speedily plunge itself therein, because of the impetuosity of the love it bears to God.
Here again we may turn to the beautiful poem of Newman above quoted, and in the exquisite lines in which he expresses the feeling of the soul at the judgment seat, we may trace once more the marvelous identity of thought between the Italian saint and the great English cardinal:

Take me away, and, in the lowest deep,
There let me be.
And there, in hope, the lone night watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn,
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain
Until the morn.
There will I sing and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne'er can cease
To throb and pine and languish, till possess'd
Of its sole peace!
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love.
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.

Each moment, as we have said, sees the sufferings lessen and the joys increase. The brightest jewel in the world, to borrow a striking comparison from St. Catherine, cannot reflect the sunlight, if it be hidden beneath a coating of impurities, but as these are cleansed away, it manifests its brightness more and more, until at last we see it in its perfect beauty. So is it with the soul in the cleansing fires of purgatory. Its earthly stains are gradually destroyed, and when at last the work is done, God draws it to Himself, and being brought face to face with Him it is made like to Him and shines with the brightness of His glory.

Such then is the dogma of Purgatory, most beautiful, most reasonable and most consoling. For us it has a practical conclusion which we must not overlook, for the Church has also defined that these most holy souls are helped by our prayers, and we cannot refuse that help unless we are utterly wanting in generous love of our neighbor, in zeal for God's glory, and in care for our own interests. We have seen how they are suffering, and how God longs to give them rest, eternal rest, and justice bars the way. Therefore He turns to us, and placing in our hands the boundless treasures of His atonement, He begs us, out of love for Him and pity for those souls, to pay their many debts. That is our share in the beautiful Communion of Saints, and its reward is something hard to put in words, though faith can well imagine it, the unending gratitude of a ransomed soul. Hush for a while the many noises and distractions of a sinful, disappointing world, and with ears quickened by faith, listen to the grand harmonious song for ever going up before the throne of God from all His children, the hymn of the Communion of Saints: the voice of the Church Suffering, patient and pleading:
Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, for the hand of the Lord hath touched me.
The voice of the Church Militant, tender and compassionate:
Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
The voice of the Church Triumphant, ringing with gratitude and conscious power: 
Vouchsafe, Lord, for Thy name's sake, to reward with eternal life all them that have done us good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Marcus Aurelius

Reading N°45 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (161-180)
Marcus Aurelius was worthier in his private and public life than his three predecessors. He had a lofty mind, a heart that was kind even to weakness and tender even to illusion. Yet he did but aggravate the condition of the Christians in the Empire. The nineteen years of his reign were the most vexatious and cruel that the Church had passed through.[1] This seeming anomaly can be explained if we consider three facts, stated by all historians. The first is the disintegration of the ancient world, a break-up that took place under the government of the new Emperor. Upstarts, adventurers, coming one knew not whence, became suddenly popular and at every moment threatened that hereditary succession to the throne which by natural or adoptive sonship[2] seemed to be the most solid foundation of the imperial government. Moreover, the most powerful bond of the unity of the Empire, the old national religion, appeared to weaken and dissolve in contact with the Oriental religions which kept penetrating more and more. An imperiled power easily becomes a tyrannical power. Nothing is commoner in history than the violent and sudden activity of institutions that are about to perish. The Roman Empire was no exception to this general rule. The old society rose up by a sort of instinct of self-preservation against all the powers which it regarded as hostile.

And that was not all. Marcus Aurelius was not only an emperor, he was also a philosopher. Out of all the religious forces around him - the old Roman religion, so stern and strong; the need of purification which penetrated the religions of the East; Christianity, which he detested while secretly feeling the influence of its pure morality - he formed a new and lofty philosophy. This philosophy was made up entirely of elements taken from other sources, though he thought it quite original. He jealously defended it, as being his very own, against all other doctrines. The most formidable of these rivals he considered to be Christianity, to which its apologists were beginning to give the form of a philosophy.

The third fact is this: floods, famine, epidemics, disasters of all kinds had befallen Rome and Italy from the first months of the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Four years later the plague ravaged the Empire from end to end. In such circumstances, the first impulse of the Roman people was to look for some persons to blame for these calamities, that they might immolate them to the gods. Such victims were found.
They think the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which the people are visited. If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, "Away with the Christians to the lions!"[3]
Marcus Aurelius himself was superstitious. And he was also weak. Not on him could reliance be placed to suppress these uprisings of the populace. He allowed those outbursts to take place and permitted them to reach their utmost consequences.


[1] Cf. Allard, op. cit., I, 329.
[2] The imperial power, which was handed on by heredity under the Caesars and the Flavians, was transmitted by adoption under the Antonines.
[3] Tertullian, To the Nations, I, 9; Apology, 40.


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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mathias von Gersdorff: 1000 Missionaries to Turkey

Mathias von Gersdorff, director of the German office of the Society for the Protection of Tradition, Family and Property (Germany; America), has penned an appeal to the German Bishops collectively and German Chancellor Angela Merkel specifically to approve the sending of 1000 Catholic Missionaries to Turkey to preach the Gospel with the hope of converting them to Christ and His Church. I provide you with an English translation of the appeal below, without comment:


Re: Appeal to the German Bishops Conference and Chancellor Angela Merkel - 1000 Catholic Missionaries to Turkey

Your Eminence Reinhard Cardinal Marx,
Lady Chancellor Merkel,

A cursory glance through the newspapers is sufficient to ascertain that Islam will be one of the dominant themes in global affairs for some time to come.

The Catholic Church is faced with the following question: How can the Gospel of Christ be brought to the Muslim population? How can they be won over to the Christian Faith?

If nothing else, the fact that Christians are being persecuted, murdered and/or driven out of once predominantly Christian areas by Muslims should promt us to action.

Hitherto, exclusively political and military measures have been taken in the attempt to manage the crisis.

In the long term, however, this is not enough.

Missionizing Islamic countries is the only means to a sustainable resolution of the crisis.

Therefore, I appeal to the German Bishops:

Send 1000 missionaries to Turkey and other Islamic countries. Turkey has already sent 1000 Imams to Germany. Our response: We shall send 1000 Catholic missionaries to Turkey and other Islamic countries. Individuals willing to go on mission and bring the message of Christ to the Muslims can be found in a number of countries, such as Poland, Croatia, etc.

I appeal to Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Provide the German Bishops with any necessary diplomatic assistance so that this undertaking does fall victim to political chicaneries. Also, please provide financial assistance: the Federal Government has ample means to ensure the success of this mission.

Sincere reagrds,

Mathias von Gersdorff

(Original [German]: link)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Occasions of Sin

Forty-First in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

Occasions of sin are persons, places or things that may easily lead us into sin: this definition of the little catechism is simple and clear and requires no comment. It is not necessary that said places or things, or even said persons, be evil in themselves; it is sufficient that contact with, or proximity to, them induce one to commit an evil. It may happen, and sometimes does, that a person without any evil design whatever become an occasion of sin for another. The blame, therefore, does not necessarily lie with objects, but rather with the subject.

Occasions are of two kinds: the remote or far and the proximate or near; they differ in the degree of facility with which they furnish temptation, and in the quality and nature of such temptation. In the former, the danger of falling is less, in the latter it is more, probable. In theory, it is impossible to draw the line and say just when an occasion ceases to be proximate and becomes remote; but in the concrete the thing is easy enough. If I have a well-grounded fear, a fear made prudent by experience, that in this or that conjuncture I shall sin, then it is a near occasion for me. If, however, I can feel with knowledge and conviction that I am strong enough to overcome the inevitable temptation arising from this other conjunction of circumstances, the occasion is only remote.

Thus, since danger in moral matters is nearly always relative, what is a remote occasion for one may be a proximate occasion for another. Proneness to evil is not the same in us all, for we have not all the same temperament and the same virtue. Two individuals may assist at a ball or a dance or a play, the one secure from sin, immune against temptation, the other a manifold victim of his or her folly. The dance or spectacle may not be bad in itself, it is not bad in fact for one, it is positively evil for the other and a near occasion of sin.

Remote occasions cannot always be avoided, they are so numerous and frequent. Besides, the evil they contain is a purely imaginative, and therefore negligible, quantity. There may be guilt however, in seeking such occasions and without reason exposing ourselves to their possible dangers; temerity is culpable; he that loves danger shall perish.

With the other kind, it is different. The simple fact of embracing a proximate occasion of sin is a grievous fault, even in the event of our accidentally not succumbing to the temptation to which we are exposed. There is an evil in such rashness independent of its consequences. He, therefore, who persists in visiting a place where there is every facility for sinning and where he has frequently sinned, does a deed of crime by going there; and whatever afterwards occurs, or does not occur, affects that crime not in the least. The same is true of reading certain books, novels and love-stories, for people of a certain spiritual complexion. The same is true of company-keeping, street-walking, familiarity and loose conversation. Nor can anything different be said of such liberties, consented to or merely tolerated, as embracing and kissing, amorous effusions and all perilous amusements of this nature. When experience shows these things to be fraught with danger, then they become sinful in themselves, and can be indulged in only in contempt of the law of God and to our own serious spiritual detriment.

But suppose I cannot avoid the occasion of sin, cannot remove it. What then?

If it is a clear case of proximate occasion of sin, and all means fail to change it, then the supposition of impossibility is a ridiculous one. It is paramount to asserting that sin and offense of God is sometimes necessary; and to talk thus is to talk nonsense. Sin is a deliberate act of a free will; mention necessity in the same breath, and you destroy the notion of sin. There can never be an impossibility of avoiding sin; consequently, there can never be an impossibility of avoiding a near occasion of sin.

It may be hard, very difficult; but that is another thing. Yet, as we have already said, the difficulty is rather within than without us; it arises from a lack of will power. But hard or easy, these occasions must nevertheless be removed. Let the suffering entailed be what it may, the eye must be plucked out, the arm must be lopped off, to use the Savior's figurative language, if in no other way the soul can be saved from sin. Better to leave your father's house, better to give up your very life, than to damn your soul for all eternity. But extremes are rarely called for; small sacrifices often cost more than great ones. A good dose of ordinary, everyday mortification and penance goes a long way toward producing the necessary effect. An ounce of self-denial will work miracles in a sluggard, cowardly soul.

It would be well on occasion to remember this, especially when one in such a state is thinking seriously of going to confession: if he is not prepared to make the required effort, then he had better stay away until such a time as he is willing. For if he states his case correctly, he will not receive absolution; if his avowal is not according to fact, his confession is void, perhaps sacrilegious. Have done with sin before you can expect to have your sins forgiven.

Friday, April 22, 2016

On the Soon-To-Be `Ideal´ of Priestly Celibacy

The official internet portal of the Catholic Church in Germany,, published an article today which might well represent the opening salvo of the next battle in the war being waged against the remaining elements of Tradition in the Church: priestly celibacy. I present an English translation of the original article for your consideration below, without comment (emphasis mine):


"Non-Celibates, too, should lead the celebration of the Eucharist"

Bishop Emeritus Kräutler urges more intrepidity from priests and laymen

Bishop Emeritus Erwin Kräutler
(Salzburg) - In the opinion of retired Amazonian Bishop Erwin Kräutler, celibacy should no longer be seen as a prerequisite for a priest to celebrate the Eucharist. A decoupling is needed, said the longtime bishop of Xingu, Brazil, in an interview appearing in the Salzburg Rupertusblatt. To decide in favor of a life without marriage is "certainly a special grace," according to the native Austrian. The celebration of the Eucharist, however, must not depend upon whether "perchance a celibate priest" is present.

Admittedly, Pope Francis doesn't want to decide this matter alone, said Kräutler. He recalled the audience of 2014, during which the Pope encouraged the bishops of the Amazon to propose courageous solutions to the problem of priestless parishes. In regard to the ordination of women, too, Kräutler opined: "Nothing is impossible!" After all, many decisions made at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) would have been considered heretical at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). [!]

Women's Ordination "somewhat more difficult"

Nevertheless, the question of women's ordination is "somewhat more difficult" than the decoupling of the Eucharist and celibacy, as Pope John Paul II, in his Apostlic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of May, 1994, "ostensibly once and for all firmly closed that door and sought to cement his opinion for all times," said Kräutler. The Letter, however, touches no tenet of faith, and "doesn't even possess the authority of an encyclical."

Principally, the retired bishop wishes for more "boldness, audacity, intrepidity and simultaneously trust and passion" and less "paralyzing despondency" from laity, priests, bishops and religious.

On Wednesday (27 April) in Salzburg, Kräutler presents his new book with the title: "Be Brave! Change the World and the Church Now".

Holy Mass: The Fountain of Grace

Fifth in a Series on the Life of Grace

 Fr. Raphael M. Moss, O.P.

The concluding thought of the last conference was one which cannot be too clearly impressed upon our minds. It was summed up in the beautiful words of St. Thomas, and it reminded us once again that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is the author and source of all our grace; and since, in His loving goodness, He has vouchsafed to remain on our altars under the veils of the Blessed Sacrament, it is to this same most Holy Sacrament that He would have us look for all the grace and help of which we stand so much in need. Every poor tabernacle, therefore, is the prison-house of this divine Victim, whose death on the cross blotted out the handwriting that was against us, and gave us back our heavenly inheritance; and from that same lowly hiding-place He sustains us in the wearisome struggle of life, and encourages us to win a place in His everlasting home.

The Blessed Sacrament is, therefore, the means by which our Blessed Lord carries on the work He came on earth to accomplish: the sanctification and salvation of our souls. And that we might the more easily realize His most gracious design, He gave us this great pledge of His love on the last day of His mortal life. For although He was about to withdraw His visible presence from the world, it seemed as though He could not leave us altogether; and so He veiled His Godhead and Humanity beneath the sacramental species, that we might know and feel the consolation of His presence. Moreover, as St. Thomas so very justly says, when friends are on the eve of being parted, the near prospect of separation seems to give a new and mightier power to their mutual love, and the last words of farewell are treasured up with the most affectionate reverence; and our Lord appealed to this most natural human feeling when He gave to His apostles this token of His love in their last hour of sorrowful farewell. But there was another reason - the most important of all. He was about to lay down His life in atonement for the sins of all the ages, past, present and to come; and since it is only "through faith in His Blood" that salvation is offered to all, it was fitting that in all ages men should offer to their Creator some representation of this lifegiving atonement.

Before His coming into this world, there were the various sacrifices of the Old Law, which were in every way, as we shall see, most perfect types of His great sacrifice; and so on the eve of their fulfillment, He looked forward to the ages yet to come, and provided them with a sacrifice which should be at once the memorial and renewal of His own. In other words, the real presence of Jesus Christ on our altars is something more than a sacrament, or an outward sign of the mysterious working of divine grace; it is a sacrifice as well, and it is this truth that St. Paul asserts so briefly and yet so forcibly when he declares that we also "have an altar" - that is to say, our churches are not merely places of prayer and devotion, they are not merely the successors of the synagogues, in which we may hear the reading of the sacred Scriptures; but they are to us what the Temple of Jerusalem was to the Jews; they are places of sacrifice, and in them there is an altar, before which stands a consecrated priest, and on which, day by day, the blood of a victim is offered up to God. In the Temple of Jerusalem, the victim offered up was a poor trembling animal; on our altars the sacrifice appears to be of bread and wine, but, says St. Paul:
The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the Body of the Lord?
This is the great truth we have now to consider.

The doctors of the Church, and spiritual writers at various times, have suggested different derivations for the word "religion," each conveying a more or less correct idea of its meaning, but St. Thomas reminds us that, whichever we may prefer, the virtue of religion necessarily implies the subordination of man to God. We manifest this subordination by the various acts of worship and honor, which we offer to God as the first beginning and last end of all things. Some of these acts are altogether interior, such as the raising up of the mind and heart to God in prayer; whilst others demand an exterior manifestation. It is not simply for God's sake that His creatures shew Him honor and due reverence. Every such act implies a real blessing, the enjoyment of which is altogether our own. God is infinitely perfect in Himself, and therefore self-sufficing in every way, and creatures cannot add to His essential happiness. But by giving to the Creator that honor, praise and worship which is His due, the creature places itself and its whole being in subjection to Him, and in this submission ever finds its own true happiness and perfection.

Now we have it on the authority of the apostle that it is by the visible, sensible things of this material creation that the unseen things of God are brought home to the soul of man, for the work of his understanding depends on them to a very great extent, and, hence, man necessarily employs various outward and visible signs to stir up in his soul those interior acts which form the essence of religion, the first and most important of which we have already touched upon when we treated of prayer. It is not that God has any need of them, for He can read the heart; the necessity is altogether on the side of man, and is the outcome of that nature which leads him to manifest his thoughts by out ward signs; since, as we have pointed out, it is by means of outward signs and objects that he receives his knowledge. Hence St. Thomas concludes that the duty of offering sacrifice to God is laid upon us by the law of nature, or the dictates of our own reason, since it is that same power of understanding which prompts us to make use of exterior things, and offer them to God as a token of submission and obedience, and an acknowledgment of His universal dominion. For when man realizes the power of the Almighty Creator, and is filled with the sense of his own littleness and absolute dependence, the desire to express these feelings of reverence is a natural consequence, and impels him to have recourse to sacrifice. It is the highest act of worship of which the soul of a man is capable, and one which can be given to God alone; for it implies the total oblation of oneself, body and soul, to that infinite Being whom we thereby acknowledge to be our Creator and Master; it confesses Him to be the only Lord of life and death, the Supreme Ruler of all things.

The very earliest records of our race show us man engaged in this most solemn act of worship, for we read in Holy Scripture how Cain offered to God the fruits of the earth, and Abel the firstlings of the flock. The first act of those who were saved from the Deluge was to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and the history of the Patriarchs is full of similar pictures.

Then came the Law. It was promulgated amidst all the pomp and majesty of Sinai, in order to impress its importance upon a stiff-necked people, and, clear and distinct as is every part of it, the divine legislation with regard to sacrifice seems to stand out above all the rest in minuteness of detail. There were to be sacrifices for sin, sacrifices of thanksgiving, sacrifices of supplication, and they were not merely types and shadows and empty figures and ceremonies. They were ordained by the infinite wisdom of God to fulfill a double purpose. Sacrifice is, as we have said, a most solemn act of worship, and these multitudinous sacrifices of the Old Law were intended, first of all, to keep alive in the hearts of the chosen people the worship of the one true God. They were a public and official recognition of the great truth, that the whole earth and the fullness thereof belonged to God, and existed but for His glory, since He it was who had given life and being to all things. When he had gathered together all that was necessary for the building of the temple, David said:
Thine are the riches, and Thine is the glory, Thou hast dominion over all [...] all things are Thine, and we have but given Thee what we received of Thy hand.
But what follows from this? In all these acts of sacrifice, men were but offering God's gifts back to Him, and they were His lesser gifts, the lesser tokens of His goodness, never therefore really worthy of His acceptance. A more perfect gift was to come.
God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son; that whoso believeth in Him may not perish, but may have everlasting life.
Hence the best and most perfect of all sacrifices was that which was accomplished when the only-begotten Son of God offered Himself to His Father "as an odor of sweetness," and therefore the second purpose of the stately ceremonial of the Old Law was to shadow forth and prefigure this supreme and most complete sacrifice, in which it found its own fulfillment. 

And how clear was the shadowing forth! How complete the fulfillment! We read of the solemn feasts of expiation, when a poor innocent animal was brought before the high-priest, that he might lay his hands upon its head, and humbly confess all the iniquities of the people, and then how it was driven forth into the wilderness to die, the innocent victim of others sins, and we are vividly reminded of One who took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, and atoned for them by His death, suffering "without the gate."

Or, again, there was the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, so marvelously eloquent and significant. It was to be a lamb without spot or blemish, offered up by the whole people; its innocent blood was to be sprinkled on the doors to ward off the vengeance of the destroying angel, and its flesh was to be eaten with unleavened bread. Who could consider this most touching rite in the after-light of the Gospel, and not see in it with St. Thomas the most perfect type of that divine Savior, the "Lamb of God," who died for us on the Cross and abides with us in the most Holy Sacrament?

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is, therefore, at once the explanation and consummation of all other sacrifices. He came into this world to save and redeem a fallen race, and He accomplished this by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross of Calvary. It was a mighty work, and one which He alone could do, for being both God and man, He was able to make an infinite atonement for an infinite offence, and merit for man an infinite reward. This is the necessary consequence of the Incarnation. Because He was God, every act that He performed was the act of a divine Person, and was therefore infinitely meritorious; and because He was man He was able to die for us. The motive of the Incarnation, therefore, was our redemption, and at that most solemn moment when "the word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us," He entered upon His office as the "one great Mediator," at once the great High Priest of the world and its Victim. St. Augustine says:
How great is Thy love for us, tender Father, seeing that Thou hast not spared Thine only Son, but hast delivered Him up for us poor sinners [...] for us to Thee, both Victor and Victim, and therefore Victor because the Victim; for us to Thee, Priest and Sacrifice, and therefore Priest because the Sacrifice; making us of servants sons, by being born of Thee and serving us.
We do not think enough about this glorious office of our Savior, and our faith needs something of the proud loyalty of St. Paul when he speaks of "our great High Priest Jesus, the Son of God." For what is a priest but a mediator between God and man, inasmuch as by his office he is obliged to be their teacher, their mouth piece, and, in a sense, their victim? "For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth," and he, in return, must speak to God for them, and "offer gifts and sacrifices for sins," and all this is pre-eminently the work of Jesus Christ.

But He was more than our priest. He was, as St. Augustine so beautifully puts it in the passage we have just quoted, Sacerdos et Sacrificium, et ideo Sacerdos quia Sacrificium. Try to realize what our Blessed Lord has done for us by His Incarnation. He was "delivered up for our sins," and so obtained their forgiveness; He obtains for us the grace we need, being "made for all that obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation," and lastly, it is only through His Blood that we can win eternal glory. But it is precisely because of our great need of these three favors that we have recourse to sacrifice, and that we see God in the Old Law ordaining sin-offerings and peace-offerings and holocausts, and therefore, concludes the Angelic Doctor, our Lord and Savior was not only our great High Priest, but likewise our Victim and Sacrifice in every sense of the word. And He is our Priest and Victim forever. It is true that He can no longer suffer and die as He suffered and died on Calvary, for "death shall no more have dominion over Him." But besides the act of sacrifice in itself, we have to consider in the work of a priest - the consummation of the sacrifice, which consists in the attainment of its fruits by those for whom it is offered, and in this sense our Lord's priesthood is eternal. St. Paul says:
Because He continueth for ever, He hath an everlasting priesthood, whereby He is also able to save for ever them that come to God by Him, always living to make intercession for us.
What a wonderful thought is this, and what happiness it ought to bring to us who have the grace of faith! The death of Jesus Christ on Calvary was the central point of all creation. Around it revolved the eternal designs of God, as well as the faith and hope and love of all the hearts of men; and the ages that had gone before, as well as those that still lay hidden in the unknown future, were blessed and sanctified and consecrated in that most solemn moment when God heard the loud cry of His incarnate Son, and saw Him, Priest and Victim, die upon the altar of the cross, crimsoned with His Blood.
He was wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins. [...] By His bruises we are healed [...] and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
By the sacrifice of this divine Victim, the most ample atonement was made to God, and abundant grace was purchased for the cleansing of all sinful souls; and, therefore, all the sacrifices that had been the types of this were now fulfilled, and all necessity for future sacrifice was entirely abolished. But see the goodness of our loving God! When justice and mercy were satisfied, love yet demanded more, and "because of the exceeding love wherewith He loved us," He determined that His great sacrifice should endure until the end of time, not as a mere commemoration or as an empty ceremony, but in all its august and dread reality. Listen to the authoritative words of the Council of Trent:
Because of the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood [...] it was fitting, in accordance with the designs of the Father of mercies, that another Priest should arise who should be able to sanctify and make perfect all the elect, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And although He, our Lord and our God, would win our eternal redemption by the oblation of Himself to His Father in death, on the altar of the cross, yet by death, His priesthood was by no means to come to an end. Hence, at the Last Supper, on the night of His betrayal, He arranged to leave to His beloved spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as our human nature requires, which should represent the sacrifice of suffering accomplished once for all on the cross, and be, at the same time, a perpetual memorial of Himself, and a means of applying His saving graces to our daily offences. Declaring Himself, therefore, a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up His own Body and Blood to God the Father, under the appearances of bread arid wine, and then gave It under the same symbols, as food to His apostles, whom He then and there constituted priests of the New Testament. Moreover, by the words, Hoc facite in meam commemorationem, He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to offer It up in like manner, as the Catholic Church has always believed and taught. This is that clean oblation which God Himself, by the mouth of the prophet Malachy, foretold should be offered up in every place, and which can in no wise be polluted by any wickedness on the part of those who offer it. This, in fine, is the sacrifice which was prefigured by all preceding sacrifices, since it contains all the good things signified by them, and is at once their completion and perfection.
In these words we have summed up, clearly, distinctly, and authoritatively, the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to that special sacrifice of the New Testament which we call the Mass. We believe it to be the self-same sacrifice as that of Calvary, perpetuated and continued, the self-same Victim, the self-same priest, only the altar and manner of the sacrifice being changed.

There is the self-same Victim; for, as the holy Council says, it is the Body and Blood of the Incarnate God, under the appearances of bread and wine, so that, although the manner of the sacrifice is changed and there is no pain, no suffering, no agony of death, no violent shedding of blood, there are nevertheless all the constituents of a true sacrifice. A sacrifice consists in the oblation of any sensible thing, which undergoes some change by being given to God and consecrated to Him, by a duly appointed minister, and the essence of the Eucharistic sacrifice lies in that mysterious change by which Jesus Christ becomes present under the sacramental veils, and offers Himself to God, His heavenly Father.

It is the equivalent of His death on the cross, for He becomes present on the altar as a helpless Victim, in a state which is a sort of death, and this change is sufficient for a true sacrifice. When His Mother Mary and the weeping apostles adored His lifeless Body swathed in the wrappings of the grave, He was not more helpless or more passive than when He lies on the corporal, hidden under the white veils of the sacred host. Moreover, just as His precious Blood was drained from His most holy Body on the altar of the cross, so on our altars the Body and Blood are mystically separated by that twofold consecration which is necessary to complete the sacrifice.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
Jan van Eyck (1390-1441)

But if the victim is the same, so also is the priest. When our Lord Himself offered this mystical sacrifice for the first time, the very words which He used called attention to the act of sacrifice: "This is My Body which is given for you; this is the Chalice, the New Testament in My Blood which is shed for you;" and then by a further exercise of His almighty power He bestowed upon His apostles a share in the character and attributes of His priesthood, and commanded them to offer the same sacrifice in remembrance of Him. They shared His power, therefore, in the sense of being its administrators and His instruments; and so, at the solemn moment of the most holy Eucharistic sacrifice, the individual priest who stands at the altar seems to disappear, and for the moment He clothes Himself with the awful personality of the Son of God. "This is MY Body," he says; "This is the chalice of MY Blood." The words are the words of Jesus Christ, the act is the act of Jesus Christ, the power which effects the miracle is the power of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God. What a privilege, then, is ours to possess in our midst such a manifestation of God's power and wisdom and love, such an inexhaustible fountain of richest graces. By means of the holy Mass we can offer to God a perfect worship, and pay our debts to Him, to the very last farthing, infinite though they may be. We owe Him a debt of praise and adoration.

Think of the ages that passed over the world before the Incarnation, the long centuries during which the earth had never once been able to give to its Creator an act of worship worthy of Him. For the Law was laid upon it from the beginning, "Praise the Lord according to the multitude of His greatness," and His greatness is infinite in every way. The angels had veiled their faces in adoration; patriarchs and prophets and holy kings had wept and prayed and multiplied their sacrifices, and God stooped to accept them, simply because their very insufficiency had drawn from the bosom of the Godhead that cry of the eternal Word, Ecce venio - Behold, I come - a promise to be fulfilled on Calvary, and then to go on re-echoing until the end of time on every Catholic altar.

We remember our manifold sins and their appalling consequences, and we realize that we owe to God a debt of satisfaction which far exceeds ten thousand talents, and which we can never hope to pay if abandoned to ourselves. But He who so patiently bowed His thorn-crowned head in death on the cross, by the unspeakable dignity of the Godhead which was one with Him, by the extent and intensity of the sufferings through which He passed, no less than by the exceeding love with which He welcomed them and endured them, offered to God an atonement infinitely surpassing the debts of a thousand sinful worlds. And that same sacrifice of propitiation is daily placed at our disposal in the holy Mass, for there we are once again face to face with Jesus, the Mediator of the New Testament, and "the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel." He pleads for us, and intercedes for us, and obtains for us not only the forgiveness of our sins, but likewise the many graces and helps of which we stand so much in need.

What, then, must be our thanksgiving? When we think of all God's gifts to us gifts in the order of nature, our life, our health, our strength, our friends, our homes, our many joys, past, present and to come gifts in the order of grace, our faith and its priceless consequences, we are forced to ask with the royal prophet: Quid retribuam - "What shall I give back to the Lord for all he hath given to me?" And then hearken to the inspired answer: Calicem salutaris accipiam - "I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the name of the Lord." At the best, we can but lift to heaven sin-stained heads and sin-stained hearts, we can but give to God the remnants of our spoiled and wasted lives; but when the priest in the Mass offers up in our name the chalice of salvation, he offers to God the praise and thanksgiving of Him, by Whom God has given to us all these good things, and through Whom and in Whom likewise, He receives all honor and glory.
Through Christ our Lord, by whom, Lord, Thou dost ever create, sanctify, quicken, bless and give us all these good things. Through Him and with Him and in Him, is to Thee, God the Father Almighty in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory.
For when the awful mystery is accomplished, and Jesus is transfigured before us, though so very differently from that transfiguration on the mountain top in the days of His mortal life, yet faith is quick to see His glory, veiled beneath the whiteness of His sacramental garments, and hears from out the cloud the voice of the eternal Father:
This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
What, then, should be our devotion to the Holy Mass? What should be the place in our thoughts and in our lives given to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? It was at the foot of the altar that St. Thomas found the secret of all holiness and purity and intellectual greatness, for holiness of soul and cleanness of heart and true knowledge go hand in hand, and God is the giver of these as of all other good gifts. But He only gives them to those who seek Him and prefer Him before all His gifts. "Well hast thou written of Me, Thomas," said the voice of Jesus to the great Angelical; "well hast thou written of Me! What shall be thy reward?" "Lord," replied the saint, "naught, save Thyself!"

May God bestow on us something of this spirit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp

Reading N°44 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Providence has, at least, permitted to come down to us the authentic Acts[1] of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, disciple of St. John the Apostle. This venerable witness of the Apostolic times was the victim of one of those popular disturbances stirred up by the enemies of the Christian Church. It occurred in A.D. 155, under the proconsulate of Statius Quadratus, while Antoninus Pius was emperor. Polycarp had reached the age of eighty-six years. To the stadium, where the proconsul was then seated, the mob led him with indescribable tumult, in which could be heard especially this shout: "Death to the atheists!" But we will let the precious document speak for itself, somewhat abridging the account.

The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp
Mural, St. Polycarp (Izmir, Turkey)
Raymond Péré

The proconsul sought to persuade Polycarp to deny Christ, saying: "Have respect to thy old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, such as, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent and say: Away with the atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said: "Away with the atheists." Then the proconsul urging him, and saying: "Swear, and I will set thee at liberty; reproach Christ." Polycarp declared: "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" When the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said: "Swear by the fortune of Caesar," he answered: "Since thou pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian." The proconsul then said to him: "I have wild beasts at hand." But he answered: "Call them, then. It is well for me to leave this world for a better." Then the proconsul said to him: "I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts." But Polycarp said: "Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, but art ignorant of the fire of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly."
While Polycarp spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished.
The crowds cried out that Polycarp should be burnt alive; and they immediately gathered together wood and fagots out of the shops and baths. The funeral pile was made ready. When they had bound him, placing his hands behind him, he looked up to heaven and said: "Lord, I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and in all coming ages. Amen."
When he had pronounced this amen, those who were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And we then beheld a great miracle. The fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. Then those wicked men commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a dagger. The centurion then placed the body in the midst of the fire and the fire consumed it.[2]

Emperor Antonius Pius (138-161)
Nothing changed in the religious policy of the Empire under Antoninus Pius. He succeeded Hadrian in A.D. 138 and held power until 161. The surname given him by the Roman people and preserved by history is based on the veneration he showed for his adoptive father Hadrian, on the veneration he professed for the old memories of Rome, and on the moderation he exercised in the government of the Empire. Antoninus Pius guided the civilization and power of Rome to its apogee. But unfortunately he shared the baleful prejudice of his predecessors, looking upon the Christian religion as an enemy of Roman civilization. He merely prescribed, and not always with success, that order and regularity be adhered to in prosecuting the disciples of Christ.


[1] "These Acta defy the hostile efforts of criticism. They were written less than a year after the event." (Leclerq, Les Martyrs, I, 66.)
[2] Funk, Patres apostolici, I, 314-345. On the authenticity of this account, see ibidem, pp. ci-cv.


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Monday, April 18, 2016

Custody of the Heart

Fortieth in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

With all watchfulness keep thy heart,
because life issueth out from it. - Proverbs 4:23
The heart, the seat of the affections, is - after the mind whose authority and direction it is made to obey - man's noblest faculty; but it may, in the event of its contemning reason's dictates, become the source and fountain-head of inordinate lust and an instrument of much moral disaster and ruin. When the intelligence becomes powerless to command and to say what and when and how the affections shall disport themselves, then man becomes a slave to his heart and is led like an ass by the nose hither and thither; and when nature thus runs unrestrained and wild, it makes for the mud-holes of lust wherein to wallow and besot itself.

The heart is made to love what is good. Now, good is either real or apparent. Love is blind, and needs reason to discern for it what is good and what is not, reason to direct its affections into their legitimate channels. But the heart may refuse to be thus controlled, swayed by the whisperings of ignorant pride and conceit; or it may be unable to receive the impulse of the reason on account of the unhealthy fumes that arise from a too exuberant animal nature unchastened by self-denial. Then it is that, free to act as it lists, it accepts indiscriminately everything with an appearance of good, in which gets mixed up much of that which appeals to the inferior appetites. And in the end it gets lost.

Again, the heart is a power for good or evil; it may be likened to a magazine, holding within its throbbing sides an explosive deposit of untold energy and puissance, capable of all things within the range of the human. While it may lift man to the very pinnacle of goodness, it may also sink him to the lowest level of infamy. Only, in one case, it is spiritual love, in the other, it is carnal; in one case it obeys the spirit, in the other, the flesh; in one case its true name is charity, in the other, it is animal, sexual instinct, and it is only improperly called love. For God is love. Love, therefore, is pure. That which is not pure is not love.

People who trifle with the affections usually come to woe sooner or later, sooner rather than later; affairs of the heart are always morally malodorous affairs. Frequently there is evil on one side at least, in intention, from the start. The devil's game is to play on the chaste attachment, and in an unguarded moment, to swing it around to his point. If the victim does not balk at the first shock and surprise, the game is won; for long experience has made him confident of being able to make the counterfeit look like the real; and it requires, as a general rule, little argument to make us look at our faults in their best light.

Many a pure love has degenerated and many a virtue fallen. Why? Because people forget who and what they are, forget they are human, forget they are creatures of flesh and blood, predisposed to sin, saturated with concupiscence and naturally frail as a reed against the seductions of the wily one. They forget this, and act as though theirs were an angelic, instead of a human, nature. They imagine themselves proof against that which counts such victims as David and Solomon, which would cause the fall of a Father of the desert, or even of an angel from heaven encumbered with the burden we carry, if he despised the claims of ordinary common sense.

And this forgetfulness on their part, let it be remembered, is wholly voluntary and culpable, at least in its cause. They may not have been attentive at the precise moment that the flames of passion reached the mine of their affections; but they were well aware that things would come inevitably to such a pass. And when the mine went up, as it was natural, what wonder if disaster followed! Who is to blame but themselves? People do not play with matches around a powder magazine; and if they do, very little consolation comes with the knowledge of their folly when they are being picked up in sections from out of the ruins.

Of course there are easier victims than these, such as would not recognize true inter-sexual love if they saw it through a magnifying glass; everything of the nature of a fancy or whim, of a sensation or emotion with them is love. Love-sick maidens are usually soft-brained, and their languorous swains, lascivious. The latter pose as "killers;" the former wear their heart on their sleeve, and are convinced that every second man they meet who treats them gallantly is smitten with their charms and is passionately in love with them.

Some go in for excitement and novelty, to break the monotony of virtuous restraint. They are anxious for a little adventure and romance. A good thing, too, to have these exploits to narrate to their friends. But they do not tell all to their friends; they would be ashamed to. If said friends are wise they can supply the deficiencies. And when it is all over, it is the same old story of the man that did not know the gun was loaded.

They, therefore, who would remain pure must of all necessity keep custody over their heart's affections, make right reason and faith their guide and make the will force obedience thereto. If wrong attachments are formed, then there is nothing to do but to eradicate them, to cut, tear and crush; they must be destroyed at any cost. A pennyweight of prudence might have prevented the evil; it will now take mortification in large and repeated doses to undo it. In this alone is there salvation.