Peace in Our Day

A gargoyle statue is seen among a property smoldering rubble in Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 09, 2018. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

During my silent Ignatian retreat four weeks ago I made and long and intense face-to-face confession with a retired priest and confessor. I confessed my sins and then as I confessed to the sin of anger I found myself unloading my anger about the sins of those priests, bishops and cardinals who undermine the faith of so many in their participation and covering up of the abuse of young boys, men and women. When the newest outbreak began to be reported this summer I was seething…OUTRAGED! I considered leaving, but to go where? This wasn’t of Christ. It wasn’t of His bride, the Church. This was sin and wrongdoing as old as Cain and of the sort that resides inside the deepest recesses of our fallen human nature. To leave Christ’s bride would be like abandoning my own spouse or closest friend or family member in a time of great need, one in which they needed to be defended while under attack. It would be my scurrying like a coward over the old city walls and escaping into the night when outside the ramparts the enemy was preparing for the final siege and rape of the city. What kind of man would I be to do this? The sacraments themselves are still valid. I’ve read too much, studied too much, and experienced too much to ever abandon the Church. But I have zero problem at all in the handing of those traitorous vermin who are to be her most ardent protectors and teachers over to authorities and to justice. I do not envy them the Divine Justice they will one day experience.

I closed by telling him that when asked at the start of the retreat to write down an answer to Christ’s question In Luke 18 “What do you want me to do for you?” I had written the following:

I want Jesus to release me from this anger.
And from my desire to control the uncontrollable
To make me a better husband and father
To make me more selfless and serving
To guard me from my own cynicism
To make me a better man

And when asked to read and meditate on Isaiah 55 and then to write what it is I hunger and thirst for, I had journaled:

For the Truth
For Beauty
For the Good and the Holy
For Peace

“The bottom line Father,” I said. “is that I long for peace.”

When I was finished the old priest looked up at me with a sense of fatigue that I cannot know. For he is likely pained by his brother priest’s betrayal moreso than I. After talking through it with me he gave me my penance: “Go, and search for peace until you find it.”

He completed the rite by absolving me of my sins and sending me on my way with a blessing.

The magnitude of what he said didn’t hit me until after I’d returned to my seat in the chapel. At first I laughed to myself at such a seemingly flippant and silly penance. But as I recalled the wry smile that he wore while saying these words to me and began to consider the magnitude of what he had assigned to me I was no longer laughing. I considered rushing back into the confessional and begging him to give me something else. “Can’t I just recite 100 Hail Mary’s instead? Or 100 Our Father’s?”

Go, and find peace. He just as well asked me to pick up Mount Everest and move it onto the plains of central Nebraska near Kearney. Finding peace would be as easy as that.

I say this as one who tells you that you would have to truly be blind to not see the increasing unrest and chaos in our world today. Events have picked up in intensity and volume at a pace that is destined for a crashing explosion. I do not have the time nor the inclination to attempt to document or list said events here. I don’t say these words as a “prepper” or one hiding behind his armory in a mountainside bunker in Montana. But I can see it with mine own eyes. I can feel it in my bones. Many times recently I’ve found myself uttering these words by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to myself:

There is a well-known song, and I’ve even seen it in meme form, that says “Let there be peace on earth.” Too many times we recite the first six words and overlook the six that follow: “…and let it begin with me.” This is the key, I think, for my quest to find peace. I have to start with myself. With my own mind. With my own heart.

As such I have decided to at long last eliminate the noise and distraction of social media from my life by greatly reducing my access. I posted to Facebook for the final time today (though I may include this blog post), a thank you for a baseball-related favor done for my son by a friend of mine. I’ve eliminated anything reeking of the stench of politics from my Twitter feed. I’ve had to do this because as much as I love and value my friends I simply cannot stomach the vomit of politics that goes on there every day. Yes, it still creeps into Twitter and recently I found myself responding in this manner to a question posed by someone sneering at Catholics:

Why shouldn’t I expect them to sneer? It’s what they’re taught to do by our educational system, the media, and our own politicians. Senators Harris (D-CA) and Hirono (D-HI) are now suggesting requiring a religious test for being considered for a federal judgeship as they deem membership in the Knights of Columbus to be “extreme”. Yes, those of us who assist the elderly with their moves, or serve at their funerals, or cook the flapjacks at the pancake breakfasts and Lenten fish fries across the world are now to be looked upon with suspicion. And then I log onto Facebook and see friends of mine, ardent and blindly partisan supporters of all things Democrat, cheering these so-called “leaders”. In a world too full of senseless, screeching identity politics these women are two of the worst.

Just typing that paragraph removed my peace and made my blood boil, and for no reason. After all I cannot control the actions of those moronic and evil politici-…”

See? I was about to lose it again.

So I logged off. Removed the app from my phone. I did so not only for my peace, but for the peace of others. Because I don’t know how much longer I could have remained there and not begun to tell people what I really thought of their politics. I was about to pull up broadside, light the cannon fuses and blow it all to Kingdom Come. Enough is enough.

But that, of course, would help no one. No peace.

I give you peace, my peace I give you

At 4:30pm on December 31st, I drove to the Pink Sisters chapel. Flurries were beginning to fall on the cold, gray New Year’s Eve. Once inside I settled in to pray a rosary before the sisters would arrive to sing Vespers at 5pm. On this night I prayed the Joyful Mysteries because despite what I feel is ahead in the coming year it is, afterall, Christmas and in a transcendental sense I do in fact feel joy. I also felt my strength nourished inside this sanctuary, safe and secure while the darkness descended outside the stained glass windows and the wind howled outside.

My rosary finished as I was able to hear the sisters assembling behind the screen for Vespers. I had brought my breviary so I could pray with them and turned to the page marked by the first ribbon. For the next twenty plus minutes I again felt buoyed by a sense of calm and of strength. I was not praying alone, nor was I praying with just the nuns. In those moments I was praying along with thousands of Catholics around the world who participate in the Divine Office every day in every time zone. And I knew I was praying with not just the Church Militant here on earth, but with the Church Triumphant in Heaven itself, the Communion of Saints. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and this is how I prepare myself for my days upon the earth. In this way I know I do not walk alone.

The Sentinel

After Vespers was finished the nuns shuffled out of the sanctuary and back into their living space. But a lone nun stayed behind, kneeling in silent prayer for a time in front of the altar before which the Blessed Sacrament was stationed. She eventually settled back into her chair, a vigilant sentinel of prayer. I left shortly after, walking back outside into the dark night where the flurries had increased their intensity. The old year was in its death throes; the new year would ring into existence in six hours.

I thought of that sister again the following morning when I woke up to the new year and my birthday with Lauds. The image was still very fresh in my mind and brought back into focus as I prayed these words from Psalm 63 that morning:

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

Lauds, January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

During the Catholic Mass we hear these words from John 14:27 during the Rite of Peace, which directly follows The Lord’s Prayer:

“I give you peace, my peace I give you…”

The full verse containing the words of Jesus is as follows:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Let there be peace on earth.

Let it begin with me.

[Written this 10th day of Christmas, on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

Basic Training with St. Vianney

[Note: This could probably be considered a Catholic “political insider” sort of post and not of much interest to non-Catholics. I get that. However, it also contains some of the most basic beliefs of the Catholic faith and things often misunderstood, misquoted or simply dismissed by those of a more anti-Catholic nature. Therefore if you are slightly interested in informing yourself this would be a good piece to glance over. Keep in mind St. Vianney uses a more direct form of 19th century speech that our 21st century ears may blanche at, but to be honest I prefer a more direct speech than trying to soften the issue when it comes to my soul and the souls of those I love and for whom I am responsible.]

sermonsofcureofars_bookYesterday I touched upon my opinion and desire for more “meat” in the homilies I hear at Mass. You can read it here. Today I’m going to give an example of what I mean, using a sermon I found by St. Vianney in the book The Sermons of the Curé of Ars. For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on his answer to the second question he posed in his sermon outline on the principal reasons why a priest may withhold Absolution during Confession. As I was reading this a week ago I realized that within his text he had laid out some of the most very basic tenets of our faith. They may seem so basic as to be boring and met with a roll of the eyes, yet I found myself wondering: If you were to quiz the average pew-sitter at a Sunday Mass would they know these basics? And why shouldn’t there be refresher sermons on the basics of Catholicism? I’m willing to bet more Mass-goers know the Nebraska Cornhusker football team’s schedule and depth chart than they do about what is contained in the sermon below. I love the Huskers as much as the next Nebraskan, but they are not responsible for the eternal salvation of my soul even if they break the drought and finally win a conference championship.

So I’m going to keep his text without changes, but arrange the sentences as an outline in parts to better illustrate just how much meat Vianney was able to get into a sermon. Also, any italics or boldface were added by me, and comments made by me are in red boldface.

*****

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

ABSOLUTION

“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” – John 20:23.

SYNOPSIS—The sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross made these words efficacious. The priest the dispenser of graces by giving Absolution. He is bound by laws, and must give or withhold Absolution according to these laws. The confessor’s position one of greatest responsibility. He must, therefore, proceed with the greatest care.

Among the reasons which oblige the priest sometimes to refuse or postpone absolution are, for instance

  1. insufficient preparation,
  2. absence of true contrition,
  3. refusal to make restitution, etc.

But there is another reason which I will make the chief object of our meditation today, and that is a neglect of the Christian to inform himself of the essential truths of his Holy Religion. [personal responsibility to educate oneself about your faith.]

St. Charles Borromeo tells us explicitly that “absolution cannot be given to persons who do not know the principal fats of the Christian Religion, and the duties of their state of life; particularly when their ignorance arises from their indifference concerning their salvation.” The laws of the Church in this connection also forbid absolution to be given to fathers or mothers who do not teach their children or have them taught, in everything that is necessary for their salvation. [It’s on you, mom and dad.]

What, then, are the essentials of our holy Religion? Listen and I will tell you what every Catholic must necessarily know.

A Christian should know

  1. the Our Father,
  2. the Hail Mary,
  3. the Creed,
  4. the Confiteor,
  5. the three acts of Faith, Hope and Charity,
  6. the commandments of God and the Church and an act of contrition.

By this, I do not mean that you must know the words only, but you must be able to give an explanation of each article in particular and say what they mean. This is what is expected of you and not simply to know the words.

You must know that

  • the Our Father was composed by God Himself;
  • that the Hail Mary was composted partly by the angel who came to announce the Mystery of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin, and partly by the Church;
  • you must know that the creed was composed by the apostles after the descent of the Holy Ghost, before they went out into the world; so that since the first beginning, the same Religion and the same Mysteries are taught in all parts of the world.
  • The creed contains the sum and substance of our entire Holy Religion, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, which is one God in three Persons, namely,
    • God the Father, who created us,
    • God the Son who redeemed us by His death and passion,
    • and God the Holy Ghost, who sanctified us in Baptism.

When you say:

  • I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator, etc.,
    • you must mean, I believe, that the eternal Father created everything, our bodies and our souls, that the world was not always in existence, that it will not always be, that it will one day be destroyed.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became man, that He suffered and died to redeem us, to merit heaven for us, of which we were deprived by the sin of Adam.
  • I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church,
    • means: I believe that there is one Church, which is the one that Jesus Christ Himself founded, that in her He has deposited all His graces, and that this Church will endure until the end of the world.
  • When you say: I believe in the Communion of Saints,
    • you must mean: I believe that all Christians take part in one another’s prayers and good works, I believe that the Saints, who are in heaven, pray to God for us, and that we can pray for those who are in purgatory.
  • When you say: I believe in the forgiveness of sins,
    • you mean, I believe that in the Church of Jesus Christ there are Sacraments which remit all sin, and that there are no sins which the Church of Jesus Christ cannot remit.
  • If we say: The resurrection of the body,
    • that means that the very same bodies which we now have, will one day rise again, that our souls will return to them to accompany them to heaven, or to hell, as we shall have deserved.
  • When we say, I believe in the life everlasting,
    • that means: I believe that the next life will have no end, that our souls will last as long as God Himself, who is without end.
  • When you say, from whence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead,
    • means, I believe, that Jesus Christ is in heaven, body and soul, and that He Himself will come to judge us, and to reward those who have been good, and to punish those who have been bad.

We must know, furthermore, that the Commandments of God were given to Adam at his creation; that is to say, that God wrote them in his heart, and that afterwards, God gave them to Moses written upon tablets of stone, upon Mount Sinai. They are the same which our Lord renewed when He came down upon earth to save us.

I say that you must know the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity. I repeat, not the words only, but the meaning of them.

  1. Faith enables us to believe all that the Church teaches. Although we may not be able to comprehend some of the mysteries, it teaches us to believe that God sees us, and that He watches over us; that He will either reward or punish us according to our acts of good or evil; that there is a heaven for the good, and a hell for the wicked; that our Lord suffered and died for us.
  2. Hope teaches us to do all our actions with the intention of pleasing God, and that they will be rewarded through all eternity.
  3. In this world the Love of God consists in our loving God above all created things, and preferring Him above all things, even our own life.

This, my dear brethren, is what is meant when we say that you must know the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Creed, the Confiteor, the one only God, and your three acts. If you do not know this, then you know nothing that is necessary for you to be saved; you should be able when you asked about these things to explain them:

But this is not all:

  1. you should also know what the mystery of the Incarnation is, and
  2. what the word Incarnation means.

You must know that this Mystery means, that the second Person of the Blessed Trinity took upon Himself a body like ours, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost. We celebrate this mystery upon the 25th of March, the feast of the Annunciation; for on this day the Son of God united His divinity with our humanity; He took a body like ours, but without sin, and He took all our sins upon Himself, to satisfy His Father’s justice. You must know that Jesus Christ died, that He died as man, and not as God, because as God He could not die;–that He rose again upon Easter day, when He united His soul again to His body, and that after remaining upon earth for forty days, He ascended into Heaven upon Ascension day. That the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.

You should be able to tell the Sacraments. If you are asked by whom they were instituted you must answer that they could only be instituted by Jesus Christ, not the Blessed Virgin or the Apostles. You should know what are the effects of each Sacrament, and what is the disposition which we must have to receive them properly; you should know

  • that Baptism wipes out original sin, which was the sin of Adam, and which we all have when we come into the world;
  • that the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred upon us by the Bishop, and that by it we receive the Holy Ghost with the abundance of His graces;
  • that we partake of the Sacrament of Penance when we confess our sins to the priest, and that if we confess them properly, all our sins are effaced by the absolution of the priest. [Confession]
  • In the Holy Eucharist we believe that there is really and truly present the adorable body and the most precious blood of Jesus Christ. [Holy Communion]
  • The Sacrament of Extreme Unction helps us to die well, and it was instituted to cleanse us from the sins which we have committed by all the different senses. [Anointing of the Sick]
  • Holy Orders confer upon man the power which Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles.
  • The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies the union of husband and wife if they are united according to the laws of the Church.

Now, my dear brethren, if I had asked you about these things, would you have been able to answer all these questions rightly?

*****

So…how would any of us do in answering those questions? Could this sermon be given today? Why not?

It looks overwhelming because of how I changed it into an outline form versus St. Vianney’s original paragraph structure. It may also be overwhelming because you’re used to sitting back and nodding off during Father’s latest story. That’s on us as much as it is on Father, and I’m not happy to admit that more times than not that is what I find myself doing. So maybe it is just me. Or maybe I’ve grown conditioned. All I know is all of these evangelization programs being created, published and sold all emphasize that we evangelize, and that to do this we must know our faith. “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”

“Go out into the world, two by two…”

Would it hurt to talk about the basics of our faith at Mass before we “go forth”?

We need a boot camp. We need basic training.

I’ll say it again: Fathers, feed your sheep.

Prepping for battle

Yes, organized religion is a crutch. You mean you didn’t know that you are a cripple? If you don’t know that, then you are a very serious cripple indeed, mentally and spiritually. Go back to Socrates: “Know thyself.” For Socrates, there are only two kinds of people: the wise, who know they are fools; and fools, who think they are wise. Similarly, for Christ and all the prophets, there are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners; and sinners, who think they are saints. Which are you? You can tell which class you fit into by whether or not you accept the “crutch”, the road map. Maybe the Jews were lost forty years in the wilderness because Moses was too proud to stop and ask for directions. (It’s a guy thing.)Manual for Spiritual Warfare, by Paul Thigpen

*****

Today, even secularists sense a disintegration taking place. Random violence, natural disasters, a collapse of traditional morality, the rise of vicious political movements and international “gangs”; these have left most people uneasy and wondering “What will happen next?”

medalsMy reaction to the current malaise, which is not going away any time soon, is to learn far more about the tradition of the interior life and spiritual warfare. Because I believe 100% that we are engaged in an age old battle whether we choose to participate or not. I’ve been reading book after book, as a sort of intellectual preparation for whatever is going to go down in the future. I want to not only be prepared myself, but to prepare my family and friends as well. Another reaction I have is a morbid fascination: history is unfolding before our eyes and we are witness to the unraveling of a great constitutional experiment that appears to have run its course. It is therefore necessary to fight the good fight and play a bit role, however ineffective, in countering the madness. Father Richard Heilman writes:

Early in the morning of January 21, 1610, the Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael appeared to Mother Mariana. Then Our Lady appeared to her and predicted many things about our own times: this is part of what Mother Mariana afterwards related that she told her:

“Thus, I make it known to you that from the end of the 19th century and shortly after the middle of the 20th century… the passions will erupt and there will be a total corruption of customs (morals)…

“As for the Sacrament of Matrimony… it will be attacked and deeply profaned… The Catholic spirit will rapidly decay; the precious light of the Faith will gradually be extinguished… Added to this will be the effects of secular education, which will be one reason for the dearth of priestly and religious vocations.

“The Sacrament of Holy Orders will be ridiculed, oppressed, and despised… The Devil will try to persecute the ministers of the Lord in every possible way; he will labor with cruel and subtle astuteness to deviate them from the spirit of their vocation and will corrupt many of them. These depraved priests, who will scandalize the Christian people, will make the hatred of bad Catholics and the enemies of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church fall upon all priests…

“Further, in these unhappy times, there will be unbridled luxury, which will ensnare the rest into sin and conquer innumerable frivolous souls, who will be lost. Innocence will almost no longer be found in children, nor modesty in women. In this supreme moment of need of the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent.”

Sound familiar? What’s the solution?

The solution is to prepare. I know many who prepare by buying gold, stockpiling guns and ammunition, food and water, or with ham radios. All of these are valid and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was doing some of this myself. But where I’ve felt the most compelled to prepare myself is in the spiritual realm, because this is where my senses are most acutely aware of the battle waged around us. It’s so obvious to me that I can’t understand how more do not see it.

I’ve been preparing by developing and strengthening my interior life. Many want to rush off to battle but after reading a few books or various well-meaning programs available it became clear to me that we already have the training laid out before us. It was revealed by Jesus Christ, the Scriptures and used by many of the holy men and women we call saints. St. Teresa of Avila. St. Frances de Sales. St. John Vianney. St. Maximillian Kolbe. St. Therese of Liseaux. St. Dominic. St. Benedict. St. John of the Cross. The list goes on and on.

All of them fought this spiritual warfare. All of them prepared themselves first by developing an interior life. That is what so many neglect today.

St. Paul implores us to set aside our misguided mundane and temporal lives, and enter into the full life of holiness and truth:

“Brothers and sisters: I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their mind; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess …  you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Eph. 4:17-19, 22-24)

Last night I read the following in the Introduction of Volume One of my 1989 TAN Publishing edition of The Three Ages of the Interior Life, by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (also available online here):

As everyone can easily understand, the interior life is an elevated form of intimate conversation which everyone has with himself as soon as he is alone, even in the tumult of a great city. From the moment he ceases to converse with his fellow men, man converses interiorly with himself about what preoccupies him most. This conversation varies greatly according to the different ages of life; that of an old man is not that of a youth. It also varies greatly according as a man is good or bad.

As soon as man seriously seeks truth and goodness, this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God. Little by little, instead of seeking himself in everything, instead of tending more or less consciously to make himself a center, man tends to seek God in everything, and to substitute for egoism love of God and of souls in Him. This constitutes the interior life. No sincere man will have any difficulty in recognizing it. The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary (Luke 10:41-42) consists in hearing the word of God and living by it.

[snip]

We conclude logically that religion can give an efficacious and truly realistic answer to the great modern problems only if it is a religion that is profoundly lived, not simply a superficial and cheap religion made up of some vocal prayers and some ceremonies in which religious art has more place than true piety. As a matter of fact, no religion that is profoundly lived is without an interior life, without that intimate and frequent conversation which we have not only with ourselves but with God.

All of us are having a conversation, but it’s difficult to converse when our focus is elsewhere or there is too much noise. Our focus needs to be off of ourselves and we must be detached from the things of this world. It’s true that for too many their religion is cheapened when they skim the surface by muttering prayers with a lot of repetition. They love their religion, but that is not the same as loving God. They do not go deep enough. For some great insights on detachment you’ll want to read Jessica Archuleta’s article Lessons From A Monastery: Detachment. She does a great job of describing this part of the interior life by using a favorite book of mine: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

Pictured below are a few of the “manuals” I’ve immersed myself in to prepare myself. I’m not a total neophyte and have myself fought a few skirmishes and battles along the way in this life. I’ve survived, but a quick look around at the world today tells me that I can’t rest on my laurels. It’s time to go deeper.

bookstack02

In addition to this stack of books I’m reading The Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (thank you Julie!). I’ve worn my Miraculous Medal for fifteen years and four years ago added the St. Benedict medal. I pray the Divine Office regularly (converse with God) and it goes without saying that I attend Mass (worship God) and partake of the Sacraments as well. The interior life is an examined life, and what better method is there than regular Confession?

Of course, there is the Rosary. Perhaps the most easily overlooked yet most powerful weapon I possess.

  • “Continue to pray the Rosary every day.” -Our Lady of Fatima to Sister Lucia
  • “Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood.” -Saint Louis de Montfort
  • “You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.” -Our Lady to Blessed Alan de la Roche
  • “Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” -Pope Blessed Pius IX
  • “If you persevere in reciting the Rosary, this will be a most probable sign of your eternal salvation.” -Blessed Alan de la Roche
  • “The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” -Saint Francis de Sales
  • “When the Holy Rosary is said well, it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and is more meritorious than any other prayer.” -Saint Louis de Montfort
  • “The Holy Rosary is the storehouse of countless blessing.” -Blessed Alan de la Roche
  • “One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, Our Lady will save the world.” -Saint Dominic
  • “If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, ‘you will receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5:4).” -Saint Louis de Montfort
  • “The Rosary is THE weapon.” -Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

The Feast of the Assumption is this Saturday, August 15. I’ve signed up to participate in the National 54 Day Rosary Novena that will continue through the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7. You can do the same or learn more information about this campaign at www.54days.org. I’ve signed up to receive the daily reflections and plan on using the rosary meditations found in The Manual of Spiritual Warfare.

crucifixOur society is at war with itself. Take a look around. Venture online into a comment box or two. Watch the news or your Twitter feed. Look at the dreck being sent over the airwaves by television producers/Hollywood. Listen to the politicians, not just as they vie for your primary election vote, but also look at how they talk and vote while already in office. Maybe you’re numb to it all because it continues to hit you nonstop. Take a step back for a day or two and then really look and listen with a discerning heart and mind. You may find yourself reaching for your rosary as I do.

Before any athlete steps onto the playing field he or she has undergone hours and hours of training for months leading up to their competition. The best train a lifetime. Soldiers, too, spend hour upon hour in monotonous drills, punishing mind and body to prepare themselves for combat.

Why would spiritual warfare be any different? There is too much history and I have too much personal experience to ignore it. Leadership is accepting this responsibility to not only myself but to my family and friends for the future. Living the virtues may be frowned upon as old fashioned, but it never goes out of style.

Ultimately it is a source of joy for me, and if there is one thing that will be sorely needed as we march forward it is joy.

*****

Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

 

Extremes

(This is likely my final post for awhile. I am exploring the possibilities of creating another blog that will be dedicated to the work I have begun on a devotional based upon John’s gospel. It exists on the written page in my journals for now and is a work in progress. If I feel it is passing muster I may pursue that course. Or I’ll continue here, until such time that I am deemed too extreme.

One more thing. There are those who will attempt to write this off as a screed, or a rant. If they feel this way it is perhaps because something I say touches a very raw nerve with them. I was quite calm and matter-of-fact when I wrote this last night. Were I typing with righteous rage or even indignation I’m not sure I would have been able to stay focused.)

*****

extremists_meme

“The fact that a chaotic and ill-educated time cannot clearly grasp the truth does not alter the fact that it always will be the truth.” ~ G.K. Chesterton: ‘Illustrated London News,’ 3/23/29.

Truth is not determined by a majority vote. Nor is it determined through a redefining of said truth. I can stand in front of Mt. Everest all day long for the rest of my life shouting “This is not a mountain, it’s an elm tree!” But doing so would not make Mt. Everest an elm tree.

Being Catholic is being countercultural and going against the pop-culture’s flow. Because of this simple fact I suppose it should have come as no surprise to me to learn that my government is on the fast-track to labeling me and my fellow Catholics as extremists. Oh, wait…it’s already happening at the U.S. Department of Defense:

Wow. This is not good. The Department of Defense in a training brief for military reservists reportedly lists “Catholicism” alongside other examples of “religious extremism” such as Al Qaeda and Hamas.

That’s right, your taxpayer money is going towards training reservists to view Catholics as dangerous as terror groups intent on America’s destruction.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) issued a statement about this.

From the DoD presentation, here’s the slide in question:

armyreservetrainingbrief_slide24

As an FYI about the term “Christian Identity”, it is defined a few slides earlier in this document:

Christian Identity: These letters stand for Christian Identity, which holds that white Europeans—not Jews—are the real Biblical “Chosen People,” that the white race is inherently superior, that Blacks and other nonwhite races are soulless “mud peoples” on the same level as animals, and that Jews are descendants of Satan.

Yeah, I…and every Catholic I know…do not fall into that category. Are there sadly some that do? Probably. It’s a big world. I had not heard the term before and wanted to be sure I understood what terms the Southern Poverty Law Center, hardly a friend to persons of faith, was using.

And so I am an extremists, but this man and others like him who seek to squelch the free exchange of ideas is not. He is simply the latest cause célèbre:

The University of Waterloo’s “Vagina Man protest” made news all over North America. A headline from an American blog of considerable reach, “Giant Vagina Man shouts down pro-life speaker at University of Waterloo,” was the rough template for stories everywhere. Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth was the object of this eerie display, which succeeded in disrupting his talk.

[snip]

How did the vagina man — and his accomplice, a woman whose own contribution to the seminar consisted of shouting “c–t” repeatedly and angrily barking slogans at the speaker — come to believe that raucous behaviour, vulgar shouting, disruption and insult amount to either discussion or meaningful protest? Especially within a university. Their behaviour was anti-intellectual, anti-dialogue, anti-exchange and debate.

It is not so much these two that concern me. It is the rash of similarly empty protests that now crowd the university calendars all over North America. How do these connect with any real university’s mission: The assertion of the primacy of intellect, the value of debate, the imperatives of challenging one’s biases, of dissent that does not exclude respect for a contending view.

The answer? There is no connection. But Vagina Man is to be celebrated. If you hold to a truth no longer recognized by the world and is in fact singled out for redefinition? You, sir/madam, are an extremist.

two extremes

I won’t be posting a photo related to my second example. This man isn’t celebrated, though his profession is. Kermit Gosnell is being ignored because he is an inconvenient face to the realities of his chosen profession. The mask has been ripped once and for all off of this horror and there is no way that those who worship at this altar want the successes of this monster known to the world because of the damage it would do to their cause. While I type the word “successes” with bile in my mouth what else would those who are in favor of what he does define his body of work? It’s time to be honest with one another, shall we?

It doesn’t matter to any of you when the baby dies, or how the baby dies, or where the baby dies, just as long as the baby dies. That is what you’re really all about, and not another breath should be wasted trying to say otherwise. No more soft-peddling with euphemisms and tip-toeing around the truth.

You are all advocates for killing defenseless children. You are not advocates for women’s health care, or women’s equality, or women’s freedom. You are advocates of child murder. If you find that statement harsh, too bad. You have gotten this far only because too many people are too squeamish to call things what they really are. The evil you do has thrived only because people are unwilling to confront you honestly and tear the sympathetic masks off your faces.

Jennifer Hartline has written one of the best articles documenting the failure of America’s leaders and its media to discuss what history will judge to be a failure on their part to inform its citizens about the evils this man has done. (Warning: while I can’t recommend this article highly enough I do want to warn those with squeamish stomachs about a graphic photo of “Baby Boy B” on page one of this two page piece. I have seen the image before as it was part of the original grand jury report released in January 2011.)

But remember kids: Catholics are the extremists.

And so in the interests of clearing the air and ensuring everyone knows just what sort of extremist they are dealing with, I thought I’d list a few of my beliefs as an extreme Catholic. These are pretty radical and if you are still reading may finally be enough for you to walk away from me in disgust. I just figured I’d better get that out there ahead of time.

I hold that the Gospels are true. I believe in the three-legged stool of the Catholic faith: Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium.

I believe that the Apostles’ Creed, the same creed I recite at the beginning of each and every rosary, is the epitome of Christian doctrine. In twelve articles, it contains the truths taught by the Apostles. It has existed essentially since the second century and was first referred to in the fourth century. The earliest text dates from the eighth century.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Amen.

I believe in the seven Sacraments as outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace.

I believe that while that while the story of Jesus Christ was made known in the New Testament, I believe that it was foretold in the Old Testament.

I believe in the sanctity and dignity of all life.

I believe in faith and reason.

I believe in science and its advances. Many of history’s greatest scientists were Catholic monks or laypersons.

I believe my greatest failures come from pride, or putting myself above God. This usually happens when I say “So what if I did that? God made me this way.” It happens when the world says:

  • “Your Honor, I know I raped 30 women. But God made me that way.”
  • “No I’m not going to look for a job. God made me lazy.”
  • “You may not like me sleeping with prostitutes and bringing VD into our marital bed, but your problem is with God because he made me this way.”

We wouldn’t accept these types of excuses from ourselves or from our children or loved ones, would we? And yet it’s obvious that we do, and now apply this same lack of standard to almost everything under the sun and use it as a means to force everyone to lower their standards through bullying, ridicule and even economic and legislative threats. As I said at the beginning my attempts to re-name something to fit my own personal desires or because that particular object is broken or suffering from the failings of humanity is not a tactic of reason. For example, at this very moment my Ford Explorer is sitting in my driveway immobile and in need of a $2000 repair. It’s still an automobile no matter how many times I want to call it something else.

I believe I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I recognize this and am constantly striving to imitate Christ and better myself as a human being. I, better than anyone else, know and recognize my faults and my sins. While I am far from perfect I do not suffer from interminable Catholic guilt, for I know the graces of forgiveness that comes from the Sacrament of Confession. Nor do I make attempts to legislate my sins into law, or force others to not just recognize them but celebrate them.

I believe in the Corporal Works of Mercy. I am not doing them to the extent that I know I am called to do. I am not perfect. I will continue to improve and to grow.

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned
  7. Bury the dead

I believe in and practice Spiritual Works of Mercy. I am not doing them to the extent that I know I am called to do. I am not perfect. I will continue to improve and to grow.

  1. Counsel the doubtful
  2. Instruct the ignorant
  3. Admonish the sinner
  4. Comfort the sorrowful
  5. Forgive injuries
  6. Bear wrongs patiently
  7. Pray for the living and the dead

No government has ever succeeded in performing the first seven. No government would ever allow any one or any thing to perform the second seven except to the extent where the state has become god and defines what doubt, ignorance, sin, sorrow and forgiveness means. The only wrongs we would need to bear are those inflicted upon us by the state for “our own good”. The only prayers prayed are towards our benevolent leaders or those of the past (See also 20th century Soviet Union, the current North Korea and Iran). That is why the Catholic Church has always been a threat to worldly governments and tyrants.

And why I am now considered an extremist by my own government.

My oldest son’s Catholic high school baseball team designed their own undershirts that have the stitches of a baseball in the shape of the cross on a sleeve. Below the image it says “Romans 5:3-5”.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

We rejoice in our suffering as it leads to hope. We are a nation that has a distorted view of suffering and seek to avoid any and all kinds through the soft drugs of distraction provided by our government and its media. We lack endurance. We have very little character. We despair due to having little hope.

Being a faithful Catholic is challenging and at times very hard. It is not a giant buffet whereby I pick and choose from among Christianity’s tenets and ignore those I do not like. It’s all or nothing. You have to go “all in.”

It is extremely difficult but just as rewarding.

Yep. I really am an extremist. I’m good with that.

*****

December 20 – O Key of David

The O Antiphons | O Sapientia | O Adonai | O Radix Jesse |
O Clavis David | O Oriens | O Rex Gentium | O Emmanuel

o-key-of-david


O Clavis David

LATIN: O clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris.

ENGLISH: O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and lead forth the captive who sits in the shadows from his prison.

Here are a few references from Scripture:

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:22)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:7-8)

St. Peter holding the keys to Heaven in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican

St. Peter holding the keys to Heaven in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican

Both the key and the scepter are traditionally used as symbols of kingly authority and power. Christ is the heir of David and the possessor of the kingdom. Jesus himself used this symbol when he showed the prophetic relationship of the earthly kingdom of David to the kingdom of God. All power and authority was given to him after the resurrection, and he entrusted this power to “bind and to loose” to Peter and the ministers of his Church in Matthew 6:19.

To point the way to His return Jesus gave us a visible point of reference as someone to exercise His own authority to open and to shut, to bind and to loose. He gave us His Church and the Vicar in the person of Peter and all of Peter’s successors. The key is David’s. It is the Lord’s. And the one who has the keys act’s with the authority of Christ and speaks with the voice of Christ.

As we head into Christmas, what are the sins, or chains, to which we are locked? What self-destructive habits, or even seemingly innocuous ones, do we perpetuate daily while at the same time telling ourselves it has to stop?

All of this serves to remind me that the Sacrament of Confession is available, and something I’d planned to do this Advent. I’ve yet to find anything to replace the grace and peace I experience afterwards and always walk out wondering why I don’t go more often.

Some chains bind tighter than others I guess.

*****

The fourth O Antiphon is referred to in the following verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel:

Veni, Clavis Davidica, regna reclude caelica,
fac iter tutum superum, et claude vias inferum.

O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Miserere

Friday night. It has been an amazing 24 hours since we began. Has it only been a day? So much ground covered. So many things brought forth. No wonder they’re called exercises. St. Ignatius would have made one heck of a tough gym teacher! I was feeling a little fatigued though refreshed at the same time. Once we finished in the chapel I went to my room to read a little and fell asleep. There would be no visit to St. Isadore’s with Cocoa on this night.

And so we had our final exercise of the day, an opportunity to go to Confession, and a Holy Hour of Adoration in the chapel. I’m going to try to be brief in this blog. And due to the naturally very personal nature of the subject at hand will not be revealing much. The grace of this session was to gain a true knowledge of my sins and to detest my turning from God. In other words it was time to be honest with myself and God. It was time to get real.

There are three ways in which we are tempted by Satan.

  1. Riches
  2. Honor
  3. Pride

In a talk on Christian morality, Fr. John Hardon expanded upon these three temptations:

“… the devil’s strategy is to get people to become attached to earthly things. He urges them to, well, acquire say material wealth, which is the cheapest kind of riches, or acquire education. … Or acquire mastery in the use of their emotions, or cultivate gifts in the social order, or, would you believe it, the devil will even tempt people to acquire spiritual riches. … But whatever the possession, whether as cheap a thing as money, or special things say as, secular knowledge or even spiritual wisdom, the beginning is to become wealthy and thus to attain to recognition, praise, honor. … Attachment to the things of this world gradually makes a person, not only satisfied with what he or she possesses, but hungry for acceptance, recognition, praise, and honor. And once, as Ignatius says, once a person becomes a victim of empty honors, then pride follows as a matter of course. … Because once a person falls into pride, there is no limit to that person’s malice. Proud people are the agents of the devil. He uses them to seduce others. In fact, he uses them to work with him, and under his demonic power he organizes proud people into what some of the Fathers of the Church, as I have said, call a distinct power, call it the mystical body of satan. By whatever name, it is mastered by the father of lies.”

Well said, Father.

There are also three ways in which we accept these temptations.

  1. Spoiled child – in other words it is if the temptation is an entity that whines until it gets its own way
  2. False lover – this temptation approaches us in secret
  3. Military commander – in this way the temptation seems to study our stronghold and then attacks the weakest points of our defense

We give in to the spoiled child.

We keep the secret of the false lover.

We surrender to the military commander.

We need the discipline to recognize a temptation for what it truly is and be able to resist its whines, its secret invitations and its reconnaissance efforts. The best way is to expose a temptation to the light in its seed form. The most effective way we have as Catholics is the light of the confessional.

*****

Father Jim and Deacon Andrew spoke of a few more things before we began our holy hour. There were no assigned readings. There was no assigned prayer. Just one hour face to face with Jesus exposed in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar.

I began my hour on my knees and after fifteen or twenty minutes sat down to read a psalm that had come to mind. It’s Psalm 51, a great psalm of David known as The Psalm of Repentance. It’s also called the miserere (miz-uh-rair-ee) because the first line in Latin is Miserere mei, Deus: Have mercy on me, O God.

Psalm 51 is one of the most foremost of the psalms of instruction. In it David is truly teaching us what sin is, where it comes from, the damage it does, and how one may be freed from it. In this psalm, it is shown that sin is an inheritance born in us, and that no works can help us against it, but only God’s grace and forgiveness. Through the Holy Spirit He creates us new again as a new person and a new creation. Afterwards when by grace and the Spirit we are once more made new, we not only learn how to praise but to actually thank and praise God.

Non-Catholics and Catholics alike have asked me what one does during a holy hour. I’ve made many at my own parish, usually at night when I can’t seem to sleep or I’m wrestling with an issue in my mind. To those who ask I can only echo the reply given to St. John Vianney after he asked an older man who prayed often before the Blessed Sacrament what he was speaking about to Jesus.

“I don’t say anything. I look at him. He looks at me.”

What else is there to say, really?

Maybe just one thing more. A quote from St. Julian of Norwich in which she speaks of Jesus:

“So I saw him and sought him; and I had him and wanted him. And it seems to me that this is how it is and how it should be in this life.”

And so it was that after examining my conscience I got into the line for confession. On the wall where the line formed was a large portrait of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. Perfect.

The chapel at Broom Tree.

*****

There is a line in this psalm (verse 15) that reads “O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.” Since Vatican II as we pray the Liturgy of the Hours we begin the Invitatory Psalm (Invitation to Pray) with this verse. Prior to Vatican II this office was known as Matins and prayed or sung at midnight. To that end Italian composer Gregorio Allegri composed the “Miserere mei, Deus” in the 1630s for use in the Sistine Chapel during Matins, specifically for use on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. There’s a neat story about it here. While we did not hear this sublime piece of sacred music that night, I offer it to you now. It’s a little over fourteen minutes long and sung in Latin but you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. I’ve downloaded it to my MP3 player from iTunes. I find myself listening to a lot of music like this as we draw closer to the election and the inflammatory rhetoric launches into overdrive.

Even better, explore the Sistine Chapel while listening to it by clicking here. Be sure to shut the music off at that site by clicking the music note button in the lower left hand corner or you’ll get another piece of music in your speakers or headphones.

In the pages of my journal I personalized and rewrote a shorter version of this psalm by using its original text. That is for my eyes.

This is for yours.

Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out
my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence
and blameless in thy judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
and sinners will return to thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
thou God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.

O Lord, open thou my lips,
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice;
were I to give a burnt offering,
thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, thou wilt not despise.

Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on thy altar.

The First Night, part 2 – Illuminations

In the nights prior to my retreat I had become a night owl, staying up too late reading or being way too absorbed in current events. I have a problem, of sorts, in that I have always been a news junkie. True, as a conservative I tend towards more right-leaning news sites, but I try to keep a bit of balance. Mostly I read Catholic news portals or blogs. Anyhow, the night before my road trip I was up much too late. My wife and I on Wednesday night had bought what we thought would be a nice gift for our son Jonah who would be turning nine on Friday, but this inexpensive MP3 player wasn’t just inexpensive. It was cheap. As in it sucked. So I found myself scouring the web to research ideas I had on getting our family’s first tablet. There was no way I was buying an iPad for him and I didn’t want other tablets that allowed access to the internet and all the incredibly wonderful stuff that flourished unfettered out there. I finally found what appeared to be a solid option containing parental controls and that wouldn’t break the bank. After reading tons of reviews and having a pow-wow with my wife had decided to purchase the Nabi 2.

And this is how I found myself driving to a Wal-Mart on the north side of town after midnight hoping that their website hadn’t lied to me and that they had one in stock. They did, and by 1am I was back home setting it up and making sure it would function “out of the box” for Jonah and my wife when I was absent on Friday.

And so it was that less than 24 hours later I was sitting wide awake on the couch in a room over two hundred miles from home with my bible and my journal on my lap. Having read, re-read and prayed for over an hour I seemed stuck. Restless. Wait…the purpose of this first lesson was to find REST, right? So I decided to take a step out into the cool evening and clear my head.

Now while on the couch I had discovered some themes that were personal to me at this time in my life. For instance, in Isaiah I kept coming back to Chapter 55, verses 2-7 that read:

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

While not off in the weeds entirely, I had recently sensed an increasingly sense of imbalance. It began to increase with my decision 6-8 weeks ago to create a study program to introduce and teach the Liturgy of the Hours to your average Catholic. Below I’ve boldfaced the passages that seemed to stand out to me.

From Psalm 63:

O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee. So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.

So after chewing on this for awhile I decided that I needed to heed the words in the final verses I was looking at in 1 Kings 19:11-12:

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

And so I decided to “climb the mount” and spend some time in the white country parish that resides on the grounds at Broom Tree. Located about two football fields away it would be a straight shot due south from the door in the west wing where my room was and across the parking lot to the church steps. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a mount but a slight incline from the north. When you approach it from the south it really is up a hill. The parking lot is brightly lit at night as are the grounds surrounding the main retreat center. And as you can see from this photo I took, St. Isadore’s is illuminated at night as well.

St. Isadore & Maria at night.

I got about halfway across the parking lot when I heard something behind me. I turned to see movement between two of the parked cars. I froze to watch as the wolf-shape moved into the light and I recognized it as the other dog I’d seen on the grounds. Seeing her eyes glow when reflecting the light caused the phrase “hound of hell” to pass quickly through my mind, but I called out softly “Come here, Cocoa” and she slowly walked towards me. She allowed me to pet her once and walked by me to the church. I think she’s escorted more than one soul there before. After pausing outside to take a photo of the church at night I walked up the steps and into the dark church.

After taking a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness I was able to see the lit, red candle flickering at the front of the church. Catholics worldwide know this means that Christ, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is present. This soft, flickering flame is a source of great comfort when spending countless hours at night (or in the day) praying in church. My eyes continued to adjust as the bright lights inside were able to enter the church sanctuary somewhat through a few front windows. The wooden floor creaked as, after finding the holy water font and making the sign of the cross across myself, I made my way to the front pew on the right side. Genuflecting and again crossing myself I entered the pew and knelt. After several minutes of prayer and settling my mind I sat down.

Other than the candle, all I could make out in the darkness were the shadowy forms that I knew to be the altar, the ambo (or podium), and the tabernacle itself. What I could see was the crucifix mounted on the back wall above the tabernacle. Specifically the corpus, or the body of Christ, was illuminated and easy to see. Whether by design or by accident, the spotlights outside the church entered through two upper windows above the balcony at the front of the church and joined to form a beam of light that shone on the body of Christ only. I thought that was pretty cool.

…you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. ~ 2 Samuel 22:29

And so finally after a few more minutes of settling in, I was able to ask Jesus to help me answer the question that had been the cause of my walk to sit in this spot. It is the verse that follows the passage I quoted above from 1 Kings.  I had climbed the mount. I was seated before the Lord. I knew that I was not able to hear his voice clearly due to the din and the normal noise of life. Current events (or “wind”, “earthquakes” or “fire” was not where the Lord’s voice was easily heard. It is a still small voice. And because the question had been stuck in my craw ever since I read it I was now here.

In 1 Kings 19:13 Elijah finally hears that voice. He goes out. And the voice asks him a question. It says to him “What are you doing here Elijah?”

A question God? I strain to finally get a clear frequency so I can hear you and receive your wisdom and your answers and get through this thing called life and you ask me a freaking question?? If Elijah didn’t say it I bet he was thinking it. Ok, Lord…ok. (Deep breaths)

What are you doing here, Jeff?

What am I doing here? I considered what I had read in my room:

  • “Eat what is good” (Holy Communion / The Body of Christ)
  • “Hear, that your soul shall live” (Holy Scriptures / The Word of God)
  • “Return…for he will abundantly pardon” (Contrition/Confession/Mercy)

God is calling me back to Him through the Sacraments that have always been before me. But I lose sight of them when life gets “busy” and I get lazy. Unappreciative. Here, in a small wooden church out in the middle of nowhere out on the prairies I expressed my desire to return to His mercy, and He reminded me that He had already provided what I needed. Secure in that knowledge I would leave my pew after an hour and be escorted back to the retreat center by Cocoa. I had found her waiting for me curled up against the front door at the top of the steps.

But first, before that walk back to my room, I heard a still, small voice ask me:

“What are you doing here, Jeff?”

I answered:

“O God, you are my God…”

©2012 Jeff A Walker