Drifting by the Sloth of Disobedience

From the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict:

. . . The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. (v. 2)

It’s a funny thing about drifting:  you’re just there, and you get distracted by new ideas, new distractions, new activities . . . and you finally look up and — Whoa! where am I?  I was over there, but now I’m over here! How did that happen?

It’s particularly easy to do in our walk with the Lord.  A day of skipping prayer makes it easy to skip again, and before you know it, weeks and even months have gone by . . . and you’ve lost your bearings and you aren’t really even sure when or how it happened.

Sloth. Laziness. Slack off in the habits of discipleship and before you know it you’ve been carried way on downstream and not in the direction you’d intended to go.

So stick with it.  If you’ve been lazy, if you’ve been careless, renew your resolve and turn the “ear of your heart” to sound instruction.

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From Elisabeth LeSeur –

September 25, 1899 — No one knows what passes in the profound depths of our soul.  To feel God near, to meditate, to pray, to gather all our deepest thoughts so as to reflect on them more deeply: that is to live the inner life, and this inner life is the supreme joy of life.  But so many moving thoughts and ardent desires and generous resolutions should be translated into deeds, for we are in the midst of human life and a great task lies before us.

It is time for painful effort: one must tear oneself asunder, forsake the realm of thought for that of reality, face action, know that one will either not be understood or be understood wrongly; and that one will perhaps suffer at the hands of humanity for having willed the good of humanity.  We must already have drawn from God an incomparable strength and armed our hearts with patience and love, in order to undertake day by day and hour by hour the work that should belong to every Christian:  the moral and material salvation of his brothers.

(Leseur, Elisabeth. My Spirit Rejoices. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1996.)

What I wish I’d heard at Mass – Episode 1

I’ve been thinking for a while about composing my own “homilies” for the Readings of the Mass.

You see, I play organ for a small chapel in a nearby retirement village. The chapels on site are staffed by the elderly, retired priests who reside there. It would be better if we had a Catholic chaplain, but the facility hired a nonCatholic for that job, and, besides, there aren’t enough younger priests to go around as is. (So pray for Vocations!)

Now, I love our priests. They are kind, holy men, loving, generous of spirit, often wise… but I did point out that they are elderly, didn’t I? One of them is slipping more deeply into the “confusion” of being very elderly and frail, a couple of the priests who serve one of the other chapels have physical disabilities that makes it very difficult for them to stand and celebrate the Mass, and at least one was tagged from seminary to be a teacher and never pastored a parish in all his years in the priesthood.

The former professor tends to get excited by various and sundry academic issues (he keeps his mind alert by continuing to study, even into his mid-80s), and his homilies reflect that. The “confused” former parish priest almost always preaches about the Holy Rosary… which is lovely, but the residents there have been praying the rosary since before I was born and they don’t need to be reminded what the various Mysteries are. Do they?

So – yesterday the Gospel reading was Luke 9:28-36, the account of the Transfiguration. We’ve all heard the story before: Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on Mt. Tabor, and there he reveals to these privileged three His full glory …

His Glory. Can you imagine it? Because I can’t. I can barely get my mind around the idea of Jesus Christ as God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity… but just how deep and wide and far that goes is beyond my scope.

I would have loved to have heard more about this, but Father talked about the Rosary, instead (the Transfiguration is the Fourth Luminous Mystery).

And if I’d been offering the homily, I would have used the opportunity to remind anyone listening that there is something dangerous going on in our society – the evangelical and pentecostal tendency to reduce the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to “my buddy, JC.”

Jesus Christ becoming “my buddy JC” – what a travesty! No wonder Christians have gotten careless about moral theology! “My buddy JC” would be one of the guys, no different from myself, maybe swilling beer and chainsmoking – he wouldn’t be offended at a slightly off-color joke (like the attempted or alleged humor manifest in last night’s Oscars presentations?)…  nor would he care if John sleeps with his girlfriend, or Billy gets drunk and verbally abuses his wife, or if Lucy uses contraception and resorts to an abortion when it fails.

Right? And if the kids want to cohabit without benefit of clergy, God doesn’t mind. I mean, after all, “my buddy JC” doesn’t care. Nor does he care of Dan gets trapped in the gay lifestyle, because after all “my buddy JC” is all about love and tolerance and acceptance, right?

Wrong. Dead Wrong.

He’s our Friend, possessing integrity of His own identity and Character, concerned with our wellbeing and available to the most profound intimacy of our relationships.

But he’s not that careless lacksadaisical “Buddy JC” – not at all.

He is, most remarkably and mysteriously, both our most intimate friend AND the Creator of the Cosmos. He laid the rules down, and He calls us to follow Him in them because they are part of the design to bring us to our best selves and our ultimate complete Union with Him in the Beatific Vision.

The Transfiguration jerks us out of our lazy, selfish reduction of “my buddy JC” and into the remembrance that He IS the Great I Am, the Eternal Judge, Born of the Father before all ages…

And, oh, how we do need reminding!

Pre-Lent reflection on living in the Last Days

Dear friends, as I post on news comment boards and read the comments left by other participants, I am astonished by the willful ignorance, compounded by the unveiled hostility, of other posters toward Christianity and Christian moral values. We do indeed live in the age foretold by Isaiah, when people would call black, white, and white, black. The Enemy has so deluded men and women that they have become his willing servants, hating what is true, hating what is holy.

Rather than posting the list here (I am thinking of compiling a list of examples to post as a note here, or on my Facebook Notes), I simply ask you to commit yourself to renewing your part, as Church Militant, in the Great Battle during this season of Lent which begins tomorrow.

Let your Lenten sacrifice not be merely the continuing of an old tradition, but a genuine offering of self to God through some form of denial that brings you closer to Christ’s gift of self in His Passion, and on the Cross.

And I ask you to pray daily – throughout the day – for the salvation of souls, for the conversion of sinners, for the forces of this present darkness to be pushed back… for our beloved Nation to be once more spared from the Judgment we increasingly seem to be begging for.

We have come full circle. Christianity began as a small, persecuted minority in the midst of a great pagan Empire – rose in influence and political power through the centuries until the entire West was shaped by the Church’s teachings and values… only to have declined, so very rapidly, into, once again, this persecuted and despised minority.

It is because of this cyclical reality I am seeing that I feel that this present crisis differs from the crises of prior generations. Our modern technologies take the evils once confined to major metropolitan areas and push them into our own living rooms – when once upon a time outlying and rural areas were largely spared from the wickedness marking various rulers and Courts, preserving enclaves of quiet, peace, and safety.

I believe we will soon – perhaps in my lifetime – see the culmination of human history as we have known it, when Christ will “Come Again in Glory to Judge the Living and the Dead, and His Kingdom will have no end.”

So – “let us not weary in doing good” as we enter into this Lent, but let our love for Christ be flamed, and our desire for sanctity burn brighter than ever before.

The HHS Mandate

Every blogger in Christendom has addressed their reaction to the Health & Human Services mandate for religious institutions to fund contraception and abortion in their insurance packages. I think I’m ready to post mine, now. Goodness knows, I’ve commented on enough blogs and Facebook posts, this week.

Obviously, I do NOT support the Obama administration’s move. Sure, there are exceptions. If you only hire members of your church, and if you only serve members of your church, you’re exempt. But what church do you know of that is so self-limited and self-contained as that? Every church I know of, Catholic and Protestant, hires people outside its own membership. Most Catholic parishes have to hire nonCatholic musicians because there aren’t enough musicians to go around any more. Right now I have the pleasure (heightened by my delight in the irony of it all) of being a Catholic filling in for a nonCatholic church’s pianist while she recovers from surgery. Many churches have support staff not from the membership, for a variety of reasons – if nothing else, many hire cleaning teams.

Every church daycare I know of serves families not of its membership. Every charitable outreach, whether food pantry, clothes closet, or whatever, is extended to the larger community, not limited to that narrow congregation. Catholic hospitals comprise some 25% of medical services in this country – and they don’t limit their hiring or their caregiving to Catholics.

So the exemptions are worthless.

Right now, Catholics are being named as the target population being affected by this mandate, but let’s not fool ourselves, Mr & Mrs America: many, many nonCatholic Christians find this mandate a violation of their own religious sensibilities. Every Protestant Church I was ever part of – Methodist, Baptist, Christian & Missionary Alliance, FourSquare, Pentecostal Holiness – taught that abortion is wrong, that it is murder of an unborn child and therefore unconscionable to a Christian community. Many, many of those churches taught against certain types of contraception which act as abortifacients (IUD and the Pill). They, too, are being held in contempt by this Administration in this mandate.

We must band together in fighting this threat to our Constitutional liberty and to the salvation of souls. What’s more, we must learn to band together to fight the even great threat to souls: the paganization of our culture.

We’re told that we, as Christians, have an obligation to sit down and shut up and quit trying to manipulate the culture. This is a lie straight from the pit of Hell. Our obligation, friend, is twofold:

We are obligated, mandated, to carry the Gospel into the highways and byways, the marketplace and where we are often the only representatives of the Gospel encountered by our fellows;

And we are obligated, mandated, called by Christ to infuse that world with Gospel values.

If we sit, silent, and let a government agency that is hostile to Faith call the shots, if we sit silently by while our neighbors, coworkers and very family members wallow in grave sin, then we not only are failing to achieve our calling – we are bloodguilty of their souls through our silent complicity in their sins.

That’s serious business. That’s scary business.

And this “accommodation” of mandating insurance companies to cover things objectionable to thinking Christians? Just a wicked ploy to force a diabolical mentality on us. If I had a dollar for every time I encountered the argument that we Christians need to get out of the abortion debate “because it’s legal, so shut up,” I’d be a rival to Bill Gates in wealth. People really do think that because something is legal, it’s acceptable. (And point out that owning human beings through slavery was legal, or that all the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany were legal, and listen to the screams of indignation.)

We know better. Or we’re supposed to know better.

So I oppose this mandate as the forcing of a pagan values system on a nation that was founded on a premise of Christian moral and social values. I oppose the coercing of our children and our young adults to be desensitized to the utter wrong that is abortion and the contraception mentality – the divorcing of sex from love, commitment, respect and family life. Okay, from procreation. But that’s another blog post.

The American Catholic bishops have stood up and howled – a bit late; they should have begun standing like this when President Bush’s conscience protections were overturned almost as soon as Obama got into the Oval Office, and they should have stood united to defend Catholic Social Services when that fine organization, in several states, quit handling adoptions rather than yielding to new state “laws” that mandate serving gay couples in the adoption process. But they didn’t. Now they’re standing – and I hope they will continue to stand and give us leaders to be glad of, to rally with.

But if they fall flat on their faces, we the Faithful must continue the fight.

Gospel values

The Second Vatican Council gives the Christian laity a mandate: to carry the Gospel into the world, into the marketplace and neighborhoods where priests and religious have no access, and to infuse the world with Gospel values.

It’s a massive task – a massive responsibility… and I must say, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of it. The reasons why are many, but the fact remains – as Keith Green said, years ago, “This generation of believers is responsible for this generation of souls.” We need to wake up and do our job – because we will be held acountable for it, on the Day of Judgment.

So – what is this Gospel we’re supposed to be carrying into the world? It’s neatly summed up in the Credo – “I believe in One God….” and one doesn’t have to have a doctorate in Systematic Theology to get the gist of the Creed. It’s simple, basic, practical. It’s Theology For Beginners in a nutshell. It gives us a clear idea of Who God Is and what our relationship to Him is.

Furthermore, we ought not to be reluctant to speak of Him – particularly when we hear people who have a misguided sense of Who God Is. After all, instructing the ignorant is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.

What may be a bit trickier is this business of infusing the world with gospel values. Just what does that mean? And what difference does it make?

Well, because of Who God Is – the basic truths laid out in the Creed – there are things we are obligated to do. There are values and morals we are supposed to live. Yes, it really matters what we do in this world. While it is true that God wants us to be happy, it is not true that means we can pursue “happiness” without regard to His commands. In order to be God’s kind of happy – eternally happy with Him in the Beatific Vision – we have to live according to His blueprint.

Looking at the Old Testament, particularly in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus, we see a strange thing. Again and again, we see Commandments being introduced with words like these: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt….”  and then a rule or command follows. It is as if God is laying out for us a basic cause-and-effect proposition: Because of Who I am, you will behave in thus-and-such manner to reflect that you belong to ME, and not to some other god.”

Let’s face it – those other gods were not nice. We got a glimpse of this in our basic mythology lessons, back in our school days. Those Greek myths we were subjected to actually reflected the whole of the ancient pagan world. The gods were licentious, murderous, vindictive, manipulative, calculating, deceitful… utterly selfish. Self-serving. And the cultures that considered themselves governed by these gods were governed by the same self-serving qualities of the deities they had invented for themselves.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, on the other hand, was a very different character. He demanded a certain ethos from his people – an ethos very different from the pagan cultures that dominated the world – because He was a very different God.

Those values were obedience, honesty, kindness, hospitality, respect for life, due reverence to Him, sexual morality, respect for others’ self and property. The Ten Commandments is the same in-a-nutshell blueprint of the morality required of the people of God – but what we don’t often think of is that those Commandments stand in stark contrast to the rest of the world’s values.

The world we now live in has been infused – saturated! – with what are actually pagan values: sexual license, the treatment of people as utilitarian objects, acquisitiveness, and so on.

To infuse the world with gospel values requires two things of us – First, we must become familiar with what gospel values are. NO, GOSPEL VALUES DO NOT EQUAL WHAT THE WORLD CALLS “SOCIAL JUSTICE!” Often gospel values require us to stand up and say, “No, this thing you are doing is immoral and dangerous to society,” and we must say this even while the world insists we are wrong for saying it.

And that leads to the second thing – we must be willing to have God re-arrange us, to be, truly, our Lord. When Paul wrote to the Romans, “Be transformed… by the renewing of your minds,” he was speaking to a people who had converted to Christ out of one of the wildest, most depraved pagan cultures recorded in history. Paul realized that these people, in order to be truly converted to Christ, had to undergo a total paradigm shift. Their minds – their attitudes, their sensibilities – had to be transformed from their old pagan identity (what! did you think the gentiles were “Protestant Jews”?) to a completely different identity, an identity that reflected the integrity of this One they had given themselves to in Conversion.

And so must we. I believe we are obligated, as Christians, to hold each of our opinions and attitudes up to God and to ask Him, “does this please You?” – We have to embrace Gospel Values in order to be able to bring those into the world we inhabit.

Political Post #1

I used to have an aversion to politics. Oh, I enjoyed watching the election returns coming in, especially when my Daddy was home (he was a long-distance trucker). He’d let me go with him to the local newspaper office, where the returns would be written in wax pencil or soap on the plate glass windows – local returns on one side of the center door, national returns on the other.

But I didn’t like the debates, the negative tactics, and so on. I couldn’t keep up with issues; I was more inclined to parrot what I heard other people saying.

In the past four years, however, I have begun to be very interested in politics. Having some idea what is happening in our dear Nation, knowing how my elected representatives are representing ME, and having an idea of their intentions while they’re campaigning – it’s all part of good citizenship.

It’s also part of being a good Christian. In the Second Vatican Council, the role of the Christian laity was laid out:

First, to carry the Gospel into the world, into the marketplace, into the highways and byways of society where priests and religious do not frequent, or may not have access at all.

Second, to infuse this world with Gospel values.

Taking a basic interest in politics is very much a part of the latter.

But what are Gospel values? – (to be continued)