Friday, April 18, 2014

Sheen: Good Friday meditation

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.
Part III, here.
Part IV, here.
Part V, here.

Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

The Fourth Word:
"It is consummated … Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."

The Corresponding Virtue:
Justice and Charity


Excerpts from Sheen's March 22, 1940 address:

This is Good Friday -- the day when freedom revolted against Truth, and nailed it to a Cross. It is not a history everyone likes to hear recalled, and generally those who most shrink from the sight of the Saviour on the Cross are the very ones who delight in the grotesque murder stories in our tabloids and follow with bold interest in the harrowing details of a sex crime. Why is it that the lover of horror cannot stand the sight of the Crucifix? Why is it that the fanatics of murder stories are so cold to the story of the world's greatest sacrifice? The answer is that unlike all other crimes the Crucifix is self-accusing. 

We can look on other scenes of injustice without feeling we are involved in them; but we cannot look on a Crucifix without feeling that we had something to do with it, either for better or worse; either as a robber brought before his victim for judgment, or as a drowning man brought before his rescuer for thanks.

In the Crucifix is symbolized the perennial crisis in the soul of every man, the choice between the illusory end of time and the imponderable ends of eternity. Here are focused all the microscopic conflicts of good and evil that go on in every conscience; or, to put it another way, every man's soul is Calvary written small. That is why the Crucifix is inescapable; we either shrink from it or we embrace it; but we are not indifferent to it. 


For those who are brave enough to look at the Crucifix there is a revelation of the moral order -- not a moral order based on abstractions, theories and hypotheses, but a moral order revealed in a Person of absolute goodness who has met the impact of human evil and sin. It is more like a mirror than a scene, for it reveals not something unrelated to us, but ourselves, our moral beggary, our perversities and our defeats. 


Like nothing else in all the world [the Crucifix] seems to ask the questions: "Where do you stand?" "Which side do you propose to take from this moment on -- My side, or the side of moneyed Judas, cowardly Pilate, crafty Annas, or lustful Herod?" We cannot escape an answer. If on that Cross were someone who himself had been wrong and failed and had compromised with goodness, we could plead and excuse. But here neutrality is impossible, because there is no question of something more good or less good -- there is only right and wrong.… We cannot be on both sides, anymore than we can be in Light and Darkness at the same time.

The [empty] Cross they can look at, for that might be only a symbol of the contradictions of life; but the Crucifix -- they call it 'horrible' when they mean it is accusing. They may run away from it during life, but they will meet it at the Eternal Judgment when the Son of Man shall come bearing the Cross in triumph in the clouds of heaven to render to every man according to his works. It is better to face it now. 

The modern mood of mutilating the Gospel, choosing some texts and ignoring others, makes men miss the purpose of the life of Christ. He came on earth not primarily to preach, but to redeem. He came less to live than to die. His mission was not one of mere benevolence, nor to create a revolution in politics or economics, nor to heal, nor to leave a humanitarian ethics -- all these were secondary to the one absorbing purpose of His life, the redemption of man. 

What happens often in the economic order, happened in the moral order; man contracted a bigger debt than he could pay. A sin against Divine Love is greater than man alone can repair. But if God undertook to forgive the debt through mercy, justice would have been unrequited. God of course could pay the debt of man's sin, but He could not in justice do it apart from man. 

God could not pay our debt unless He became in some way involved in it. This the Son of God, Jesus Christ, did by becoming man, assuming a human nature like unto us in all things save sin. He did not merely substitute for us, nor take our place; there is an identification of Him with us. He is the Head of our sin-laden race. In a certain sense He and we are one Person -- the new Adam. Strictly speaking, Our Lord is man in an absolute sense, no just a man; His humiliation was not so much in assuming a human nature, but in making Himself one with us in the sinful conditions which we created. 

The Cross was not merely the outbreak of human passion -- it was the violent expression of anti-God. It was sin in its essence -- the attempted destruction of Divinity. Sin is self-mutilation, the destruction of personality -- when it takes the form of pride, it crowns Goodness with thorns; when it takes the form of dishonesty, it nails hands to a Cross; when it takes the form of hate, it blasphemes the dying; when it takes the form of lust, it crucifies. Nothing less than bloodshed could have been sin's worst crime and registered sin's deepest hurt.

Evil must work its power to the bitter end, use all its hatred, exhaust all its deceits, unsheathe all of its bloody swords, that being exhausted Goodness may be revealed as triumphant. And now that evil was spent in the final act of crucifixion, seeing that in Justice the last farthing was paid in the red coin of His blood and the mortgage against man paid back, He uttered His Cry of Triumph: "It is consummated … Father into thy hands I comment my spirit." All history, pagan and Jewish, looked forward to this moment; Heaven and earth were separated -- now they could be united. The Pontiff or Bridge-builder has spanned the shores of eternity and time, and the Bridge is the Cross. The last rivet has been put in place; the last nail driven; there is no "unfinished symphony"; with Him -- It is consummated.

It was the beauty and loveliness of the God-Man Christ which on the one hand made the crime so great, and on the other hand made the Divine forgiveness so final and so certain. That Figure on the Cross bore to the full not only the physical effects of sin which any man might suffer, and not only the mental effects of sin which all of us ought to feel, but the spiritual effects of sin which only He could feel because being sinless He was not part of it. Only the sinless know the horror of sin.

If you can stand the gaze of a Crucifix long enough you will discover these truths. First, if sin cost Him, who is Innocence, so much, then I who am guilty cannot take it lightly; second, there is only one thing worse in all the world than sin -- and that is to forget I am a sinner; third, more bitter than the Crucifixion must be my rejection of that Love by which I was redeemed. 



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sheen: Meditation on TEMPERANCE

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.
Part III, here.
Part IV, here.

Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

The Fourth Word:
"I thirst."

The Corresponding Virtue:

Excerpts from Sheen's March 17, 1940 address:

Because our needs are limited, but our wants are unlimited, a virtue is necessary to restrain our inordinate appetites and desires -- and that virtue is called temperance. It has for its object the regulation of the sensible appetites by reason. The two strongest appetites in man are eating and drinking which sustain his individual life, and the sexual act which propagates his social nature. Excesses in these appetites are the sources of the two sins of gluttony and lust. Temperance is the virtue which moderates them for the sake of the soul.

Temperance must not be confused either with Puritanism, which because of the abuse of a thing would take away its use; nor with license which would interpret all restraint as an infringement of liberty. Rather there is a golden mean, as revealed in Our Lord's first miracle at Cana where he changed water into wine to satisfy the individual appetite and blessed the married couple for the satisfaction of the creative instinct.  There is no consolation here for those gloomy souls who would kill the joy of living, nor for those frivolous souls who would isolate pleasure from the end of living, namely, the salvation of the soul. 

[T]he material exists for the spiritual. Christ expressed a physical thirst for a spiritual reason, namely, the fulfillment of a prophecy as a proof of His Divinity [Psalm 68:22]. In like manner, every material thing on the earth, from salt to flesh, is a means, not an end -- a bridge, not a goal of life. 

Because temperance teaches us that the earthly exists for the heavenly, the motive of a Christian is far different from the motive of a pagan. Take two persons who by cutting down on their food lose twenty pounds each. Materially, twenty pounds off a pagan is the same as twenty pounds off a Christian. But the motive in each case is quite different … The pagan diets for the sake of his bodily appearance; the Christian fasts for the sake of his soul. Each receives his corresponding reward, either the praise of men who love leanness or the praise of God who loves virtue. The tragedy of so much dieting, from a Catholic point of view, is how much restraint goes to waste. That is why one of the first questions in our [Baltimore] Catechism is: "Of which should we take more care, our soul or our body?" And the answer is: "We should take more care of our soul, for 'what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his immortal soul?'"

The basis of the Catholic secret of temperance and discipline is exchange. All life is founded on exchange … We get light in exchange for heat; bread in exchange for a dime. If you want to be an expert in mathematics you have to give up being an expert in tennis; if you want to give your body all its satisfactions, you have to give up the joys of the soul. 

A saint is always joyful, but our modern pleasure-hunter is always melancholy. He is not really happy, because he laughs too much. The laughter is artificially stimulated from the outside by a stooge with a wise-crack; it is not a joy that proceeds from the inside because of a duty fulfilled out of love of God. Happiness comes from self-possession through temperance, not from self-expression through license. 

Loving enemies out of a divine intention is worth more than loving friends out of a personal satisfaction. The philanthropists who give millions to erect art museums, libraries, and playgrounds out of purely humanitarian reasons will not further their eternal salvation as much as the poor widow who gives a nickel to a poor man on the street because in his need she sees the poverty of Christ. 

It is not what is given that profits unto salvation; it is why it is given. That is why a friendly meal given to an enemy in the name of Him who loved us when we were His enemies, is worth more on the day of our judgment than a 50 million dollar hospital given to perpetuate a family name. There is no injustice in this. Each gets the reward he wanted: In one instance, the love of Christ; in the other, the memory of men.

Great sacrifices without love are worthless for the soul; nor because they are great does it follow they were done with love; it is the motive that matters -- do them out of love of God!

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Quick Takes: The best article on gay "marriage" that I've ever read

Oh, man, I'm always so stinking late with my Quick Takes!!

1) I have read countless articles on gay "marriage", and this is perhaps the best I've ever encountered:

Just read it all. To the end. And pass it around.

(Thanks, Fr. Ed!)

2) As someone who has just had her (healthy) family's insurance premiums raised by several thousand dollars per year (thanks, Obama), I really appreciated these articles:

An excerpt:
When Obama pitched the Affordable Care Act in 2009, there were roughly 30 million uninsured. The Congressional Budget Office projects that in 10 years there will be . . . roughly 30 million uninsured under ObamaCare. According to Gallup, more people are uninsured today than when Obama took office. Indeed, most of ObamaCare’s alleged 7 million “enrollees” are people who lost their insurance because of ObamaCare.

As I've said before, leftism is that thing where you get to feel good inside about accomplishing nothing, and usually making things worse.

Or as Peggy Noonan puts it:

I just can't wait to see where this train wreck … that keeps going, and wrecking … will deliver us in the next few years. Sigh.

3) Sometimes a meme really just sums things up, no?


And of course, the Holy Father gives us the clear solution to everything:

4) When people ask what I love about being Catholic, here's my answer:

There’s no existential angst in being a Catholic. I know who I am. I know why suffering occurs in this world. I know where I’m going. I know Who made me and I can put it in a context that is coherent and cohesive, so there isn’t any turmoil interiorly. Even with the turmoil outside, I know I live in a cohesive, beautiful tapestry of truth. It makes sense, so life makes sense to me.

Catholics who accept and live the Faith in its entirety will understand just what I mean.

5) Many of you have read the terrible story of the murder of 24-year-old newlywed Nathan Trapuzzano, who leaves behind his grieving wife, Jennifer, and their unborn baby girl, Cecilia. Several of my readers know the young couple.

Looking beyond the senseless violence that killed this devout young man, I have been so incredibly moved by the beauty of his life and by the love and faith of those around him.

Read the funeral homily...

...and remember that this is what it all comes down to: Sanctity and a life well lived.

And on a more personal note, days ago our friend Ken lost his beloved wife Maria, the mother of their three children, just four weeks after she was diagnosed with cancer. So quickly can our loved ones be taken from this life, but we take solace in our Faith and knowing that God can be trusted to keep His promises. Please take a moment to pray for Ken and his children and for the repose of the soul of Maria.

For Nathan Trapuzzano and for Maria and for any loved ones you have recently lost:

Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

6)  The view from my kitchen window:

With dozens of buds that haven't even opened yet. Thank you, Mary! 

7) Look at Devan! Five years old and desperately in need of a family:

Click my photo for more info!

Devan has HIV and some eye trouble, and is a darling little boy. From someone who recently saw him at his orphanage:
He is so loyal and all boy in a good way. When we were visiting our son, he was upset that he (my son) didn’t get to be a part of the celebration that was going on. So he asked my son if he wanted one of the back pack things that they were letting the children play with. This treasure went and asked another kid if he could please let my son have a turn. He then took it off the child’s back and put it on my son. He really is such a gem. 
Could he be your son?

Have a blessed Sunday, and thanks to Jen for hosting!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sheen: Meditation on FAITH

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.
Part III, here.

Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

The Fourth Word:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The Corresponding Virtue:

Excerpts from Sheen's March 10, 1940 address:

[Y]ears ago, many who did not have faith knew what they disbelieved and why; today those who do not have faith do not even know what they disbelieve. Having abandoned all certitudes they have no standards by which to judge even their own agnosticism. 

Faith is not, as too many believe, an emotional trust; it is not a belief that something will happen to you; it is not even a will to believe despite difficulties. Rather faith is the acceptance of a truth on the authority of God revealing. It therefore presupposes reason.


You cannot start a religion with faith, for to believe someone without a reason for belief is credulity and superstition. The principal cause for the decline of religion in America is the irrational and groundless character of belief. Unless the foundation is solid the superstructure soon totters and falls. Try out the experiment and ask those who call themselves Christians why they believe and the majority of them will be found unable to give a reason. 

Since Truth is life, it must like a living babe be accepted in its entirety. Just as we are not falsely broadminded about life and accept a child on condition he has no arms or only one eye, so neither can we say we will believe Christ when He talks about the lilies of the field and not believe Him when He talks about the sanctity of the family. It is all or nothing.


[T]he condition of becoming a Catholic is the total, complete, and absolute submission to the authority of Christ and its prolongation in the Church. A Catholic may be defined as one who has made the startling discovery that God knows more than he does.

Faith then is related to reason as a telescope to the eye. A telescope does not destroy vision, but opens new worlds hitherto closed to it. We have the same eyes at night as we have in the day, but we cannot see at night because we lack normally the additional light of the sun. Let two minds with exactly the same education, one without and the other with faith, look on a piece of unleavened bread in a monstrance. The one sees bread; the other sees the Eucharistic Lord. One sees more than the other because he has a light which the other lacks -- the light of faith.

[Jesus experienced] isolation and abandonment. "Why hast thou forsaken me?" … And yet it was not abandonment, for it was  prefaced by: "My God, my God!" The sun does not abandon its task to light a world because temporarily overshadowed by a cloud. Even though these misty shapes hide its light and heat, we still know a day of dawning is near. Furthermore the Fourth Word was a verse from a Psalm of faith which ends: "He hath not slighted nor despised the supplications of the poor man. Neither hath he turned away his face from me: and when I cried to him, he heard me" (Psalm 21:25).

Faith does not mean being taken down from a cross; it means being lifted up to heaven -- sometimes by a cross.

Scripture states that when they crucified Christ, darkness covered the earth. That is exactly the description of our modern world. If the darkness of despair, the black-outs of peace, make our world wander blindly, it is because we have crucified the Light of the World.

It may even be that our woes are the last stage of sin. For a century or more, governments and people have abandoned God; now God is abandoning them. It is a terrible punishment when a just God strikes; but it is more terrible when He does not, but leaves us alone to our own devices to work out the full consequences of our sins. 

We are at the end of a tradition and a civilization which believed we could preserve Christianity without Christ, religion without a creed, meditation without sacrifice, family life without moral responsibility, sex without purity, and economics without ethics. We have completed our experiment of living without God and have proven the fallacy of a system of education which calls itself progressive because it finds new excuses for sins. Our so-called progressiveness, did we but realize it, is like unto the progressive putrefaction of a corpse. The soul is gone, and what we call change is only decay. How stop it except by reversing the process by which we drove God out of the world, namely by relighting the lamp of faith in the souls of men?

[We must not] abandon creeds, and water down the milk of religion to a point where it would no longer nourish. The Catholic Church for one would never do that, because since its truths are God-made they cannot be man-unmade. We are trustees not creators of faith. 

[T]o all, may there come the full-visioned understanding of how souls are won to truth by the Cross. As the poet puts it:
"I slipped His fingers, I escaped His feet,
 I ran and hid, for Him I feared to meet.
 One day I passed Him, fettered on a Tree,
 He turned His Head, and looked, and beckoned me. 
"Neither by speed, nor strength could He prevail.
 Each hand and foot was pinioned by a nail.
 He could not run or clasp me if He tried,
 But with His eye, He bade me reach His side. 
"For pity's sake, thought I, I'll set you free.
 'Nay -- hold this cross,' He said, 'and follow me.
 This yoke is easy, this burden light,
 Not hard or grievous if you wear it tight.' 
"So did I follow Him Who could not move,
 An uncaught captive in the hands of Love."
         -- Elizabeth Cheney 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quick Takes: Obama, Francis, Noah. Oh, and Leila "spreading the hate"

1) So Barack Obama goes to the Vatican and meets with Pope Francis for the first time. The Vatican then reports one thing and Obama reports a very different thing about what was actually discussed and emphasized. I wonder who can be trusted to be telling the truth here?
Looks a little bit like someone's at the principal's office.

I liked this insightful observation by Fr. Steve Grunow (h/t Brandon Vogt):
Today the Holy Father met with the President of the United States, one of many meetings with heads of state that happens in the course of the year at the Vatican. The strangeness of this should strike us given that the Holy Father is the successor of a Galilean fisherman, put to death by the powers of the world, a fisherman who was himself appointed to a mission by Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified by the power of Caesar. And now the successors of Caesar make their way to the successor of Peter. It's odd. It is strange and in its own peculiar way, it is a sign that the world has actually been upended by the revelation of Christ.
It reminds me of this:

Anyway, let us pray for the softening of Caesar's Obama's heart.

2) Don't be afraid to go see the movie Noah! My daughter looked into and dismissed the largely contrived controversies (fueled by non-Catholic Christian groups), and then she and her husband took my teenaged son to see it last night on IMAX. They are all faithful, knowledgable Catholics, and they all enjoyed it. It was not offensive or stupid… well, except for the "rock people", ha ha.

Disclaimer: I will not refund your money if you see it and hate it. (But do accept my apologies in advance!)

3) Cute!

4) This was fascinating to me!

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was 2, and doctors said he would never speak. She tried special education programs and therapies aimed at addressing his limitations. When teachers told her there was no hope, she rebelled and took her own path. 
“A lot of people thought that I had lost my mind,” she recalls. 
Instead of focusing on Jacob’s limitations, Kristine nurtured his interests. Now her 15-year-old son is on track to win a Nobel Prize for his work in theoretical physics.

Jacob and his mother Kristine are interviewed here:

5) Kind of a fun badge of honor, as I am on someone's list of "annoying Catholics":

Well, gosh, I can't blame this person entirely, as I am a Catholic and I certainly can be annoying.

I showed this to my adult, engaged, college-student daughter who laughed out loud and then said, "Wow, that is completely insulting to me." Yes, honey, it sure is. Hey, "pearls_clutched", why not join the discussion instead of being passive aggressive on another site? You're always welcome here. Come state your case, and let's reason it through.

6) If you have a child who is about to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), you really need to get this amazing book: A Little Book about Confession for Children:

My son came home from school with it (thank you, Mary Jo!), and I am so impressed. Trust me, it's fantastic, and it's not only good for children (my son is reading it out loud to me), but for anyone who wants a thorough and easy understanding of every facet of Confession.

7) Look at Julie! Just two years old, and ready to have a family of her own.

Click my picture for another photo and more information! 

Here is a description of this lovely little princess:
Julie has a big smile with huge dimples! She plays well alone and is known by her caregivers as being smart, lovely and pleasant. She is a strong little girl who can stand with help. She likes to play hide and seek and giggles when teased. Her favorite toys are those that make noise when shaken. Julie has also been diagnosed with a heart condition.
Let's pray her home, guys. Her adoptive parents are out there somewhere.

And while we're at it, thanks to Nubby for directing me to this wonderful video about an NHL coach who has a son with Down syndrome. Truly heartwarming:

Many blessings for a wonderful weekend!

Thanks to Jen, as always, for hosting!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Humans never become angels

With apologies to Clarence of It's a Wonderful Life (and all those good-hearted, well-meaning folks who comfort the grieving by saying that "Heaven just gained another angel"), our pop theology is all wrong. We humans will never become angels, and angels have never been human beings.

Angels and humans are completely different creatures. Both are made in the image and likeness of God in that each possesses an intellect and a will, but we cannot "turn into" one another.

Angels are pure spirits without bodies. Because they have no bodies, they are neither male nor female, though they can appear in bodily form for God's purposes. 

Humans are body and soul. We humans are only truly integrated when body and soul are united. We are not complete without our bodies, which is the reason that death is so unnatural for us, so hard to accept, so excruciating, so wrong. Death is a wrenching apart of what should be together, an unnatural, violent division of our essence. We were not created to be disembodied spirits as angels are.

Heaven is a place where the holy ones dwell, where both angels and humans share in the Beatific Vision. Angels don't need to die to get to Heaven of course (because without bodies, they cannot die), and humans who die in friendship with God will be perfected saints in Heaven (usually after undergoing a purgation/cleansing).  

So, it is correct to say that human beings in Heaven are saints, but never angels.

At the Final or General Judgement (as opposed to our own Particular Judgement), our souls will be reunited with their resurrected bodies -- bodies that will be glorified and transfigured, and not subject to the constraints, defects, and illnesses they had on earth. We will be as we should be: body and soul, integrated and whole.

Unfortunately, some Christians see the body as "less than" the soul, almost as a necessary evil that houses us until the day that the soul is freed from the shackles of the body. But how wrong this is! As Catholics, we know that God created us out of matter and called it "good". Our Savior then took on our nature by taking on a real body, as a real man. When He redeemed the fallen world by offering His human flesh on the Cross, He redeemed all bodies and all material creation. The Incarnation (God becoming Man) has implications in all we do as Catholics, from our theology to our liturgy and sacraments. Matter matters, as Jesus taught us. It is integral to Christianity, and to understanding Truth.

Another interesting fact is that angels are actually a higher order of creation than humans, with intellects that far surpass our own. Did you ever wonder why Lucifer and a third of the other angels rebelled against God before the creation of the material world? Well, it's traditionally held that God had revealed to the angels the future plan for His Son's Incarnation, and that Lucifer and his minions could not stand the thought of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity becoming a lowly human instead of an angel. Such a humiliating plan, God taking on human flesh, was too much for them to accept. They rebelled with Lucifer, whose rallying cry remains, non serviam or "I will not serve."

The angels who stayed faithful and obedient to God are those who share Heaven with the saints, i.e., the humans who are perfectly holy, as the angels are holy.

Now, all of this does not mean you can't still enjoy It's a Wonderful Life! It's one of the best movies out there, but it's not a theological work. Just keep in mind that movies are make-believe, humans don't become angels, and angels don't actually even have wings. 

I still love you, Clarence!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sheen: Meditation on PRUDENCE

Background and Part I, here.
Part II, here.

Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

The Third Word:
"Woman, behold thy son…. (Son) behold thy mother."

The Corresponding Virtue:

Excerpts from Sheen's February 25, 1940 address:

[T]hough men failed in this crisis [the Lord's Passion], there is no instance of a single woman failing. In the four trials the voice heard in His defense was that of a woman, Claudia Procul the wife of Pontius Pilate, warning her husband not to do anything unjust to that just man…. On the way to Calvary, it is the woman who offers consolation, first Veronica wiping away the blood and sweat from His Sacred Face … then the holy women to whom the Prisoner turned suggesting that only such multiplied mercies and charities as their own could avert catastrophe for their children…. Again on Calvary it is woman who is fearless, for there are several of them at the foot of the Cross. Magdalene, among them as usual, is prostrate. But there is one whose courage and devotion was so remarkable that the Evangelist who was there indicated that she was "standing." That woman was the Mother of the Man on the Central Cross.

Since He was the second Adam undoing the sin of the first, Mary would be the new Eve proclaiming the glory of womanhood in the new race of the redeemed. The woman Eve would not be so cursed that her most glorious daughter could not undo her evil. As a woman had shared in the fall of man, so woman should share in his redemption. 

Mary is a creature, human, not Divine. We Catholics do not adore Mary. That would be idolatry. But we do reverence her. And to those Christians who have forgotten Mary, may I ask if it is proper for you to forget her whom He remembered on the Cross? Will you bear no love for that woman through the portals of whose flesh, as the Gate of Heaven, He came to earth?

The gift of Mary was extremely prudent because it took cognizance of the difference between two faculties: The intellect, which knows, and the will, which loves. The intellect always whittles down the object to suit itself. That is why the intellect always insists on examples, explanations, and analogies. Every teacher must accommodate himself to the mentality of his class, and if the problem which he is presenting is abstract and complicated, he must break it up into the concrete, as Our Lord described the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in parables. 

But the will never works that way. While the intellect pulls down the object of knowledge to its level, the will always goes out to meet the object. If you love something, you lift yourself up to its level; if you love music you subject yourself to its demands, and if you love exploring you meet its conditions. We tend to become like that which we love…. It follows that the higher our loves and ideals, the nobler will be our character.

Our Divine Lord gave us His Mother as our mother. Too beautiful a treasure to keep only for Himself, He willed to share her with us. She was to become our Mother in the supernatural life of the Kingdom of God as really as a woman is our earthly mother in the human order. In giving her to us, He was equivalently saying: "Never do anything of which your Heavenly Mother would be ashamed." The nobler the love, the nobler the character; and what nobler love could be given to men than the woman whom the Saviour of the world chose as His own Mother?


Why is it that the world has confessed its inability to inculcate virtue in the young? Very simply because it has not co-related morality to any love nobler than self-love. Things keep their proportion and fulfill their proper role only when integrated into a larger whole. Most lives are like doors without hinges or sleeves without coats, or bows without violins; that is, unrelated to wholes or purposes which give them meaning…. The modern emphasis on sex is a result of tearing a function away from a purpose, a part away from a whole.


The level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. What they are, men will be, for, to repeat, love always goes out to meet the demands of the object loved. Given a woman like the Mother of Our Lord as our supernatural Mother, you have one of the greatest inspirations for nobler living this world has ever known.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Mother


Monday, March 10, 2014

Sheen: Meditation on HOPE

Background and Part I of this series can be found here.

Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

The Second Word:
"This Day Thou Shalt Be With Me In Paradise."

The Corresponding Virtue:

Excerpts from Sheen's February 18, 1940 address:

[W]e speak of the virtue of Hope to differentiate it from the emotion of Hope. The emotion centers in the body and is a kind of dreamy desire that we can be saved without much effort. The virtue of Hope, however, is centered in the will and may be defined as a divinely infused disposition of the will by which with sure confidence, thanks to the powerful help of Almighty God, we expect to pursue eternal happiness, using all the means necessary for attaining it. The virtue of Hope lies not in the future of time, but beyond the tomb in eternity; its object is not the abundant life of earth, but the eternal love of God.

[Jesus was crucified between two thieves.]

As one gazes on that spectacle of three crosses silhouetted against a black and frightened sky, one sees in prospect the future judgment of the world; the Judge in the center and the two division of humanity on either side: The Sheep and the goats; the blessed and the lost; those who love and those who hate; for the end shall be as the beginning, except that Christ shall appear for the final judgment not on the cross of ignominy but in glory in the clouds of heaven.

In a single moment a soul with a genuine fear of God can come to a greater understanding of the purpose of life than in a life-time spent in the study of the ephemeral philosophies of men. That is why death-bed conversions may be sincere conversions. The hardened soul disbelieves in God until that awful moment when he has no one to deceive but himself. Once the spark of salutary fear of God had jumped into the soul of the thief from the flaming furnace of that central Cross, fear gave way to faith.

Two thieves there were: One who loved and one who hated. Each was on a cross. Neither the good nor the bad can ever escape the cross. One thief was saved; therefore let no one despair. One thief was lost; therefore let no one presume. The two extremes to be avoided then are presumption and despair. Presumption is an excess of hope and despair is a defect of hope.

What we all have to realize is that when we sin we turn our back on God. He does not turn His back on us. If we are ever to see His face again we must turn around, that is, turn from sin. That is what is meant by conversion…. God cannot save us without that conversion; if we die in our unrepentant sin we are forever turned away from God. Where the tree falleth, there it lies. There is no reversal of values after death. We cannot love sin during life and begin to love virtue at death. The joys of heaven are the continuance of the Christ-like joys of earth. We do not develop a new set of loves with our last breath.

If He forgave the thief and Magdalene and Peter, why not you? What makes many in old age sad is not that their joys are gone, but that their hopes are gone. Your earthly hopes may decrease with the years, but not heavenly hope. Regardless of the sinful burden of the years, God's mercy is greater than your faults. Only when God ceases to be infinitely merciful and only when you begin to be infinitely evil, will there be reason for despair; and that will be never.

If you insist that you are disgusted with yourself, may I say that you can come to God even by a succession of disgusts? What does your disgust mean except that everything earthly has failed you? That is one of the ways God makes you feel hunger for the Divine. Do you not crave food most when you are hungry? Do you not want water most when you are thirsty? Your own disgust, if you knew it, is the distant call of Divine Mercy. If then the poverty of your merits makes you shrink from the Divine Presence, then let your needs draw you to it. And that, incidentally, is why we Catholics find comfort and solace in the Sacrament of Penance. When we are disgusted with our sins we can go into a little booth called a confessional box, unload our misery, have our sins washed away, and start life all over again. I know a thousand psycho-analysts who will explain sins away, but that is not what we want. We want them forgiven.

The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sheen: Meditation on FORTITUDE

I am repeating the Lenten series I ran last year on the Bubble. You won't be sorry if you dive in, either again or for the first time. Gems. Pure spiritual gems.


Eighteen years ago as I was coming back into the Church, my mother gave me an out-of-print book that my late grandfather had owned, written by Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen, later archbishop.

The book, The Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, was transcribed from Sheen's radio talks in 1940 and is a meditation on the seven last statements ("words") that Jesus spoke from the Cross, corresponded with the seven virtues of fortitude, hope, prudence, faith, temperance, justice, and charity. After 27 years of banal homilies and fluffy catechesis, I was blown away by Sheen's simple, profound way of exploring and explaining the Faith.

It made sense when I later learned that Archbishop Sheen had been a household name in America for decades, hosting his own national radio and television shows, and even winning an Emmy. Non-Catholics admired and loved the man as much as Catholics, and my own wonderful aunt (a Protestant) still talks of him so fondly and watches his videos when she comes across them.

Archbishop Sheen died in 1979, and recently his cause for canonization was opened.

Anyway, in cleaning out my dusty bookshelves for Lent, I stumbled again upon the book, and I knew that I had found my Lenten reading. Eighteen years later, the material is as rich and stirring as I remember.

I would like to share the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen with you over the next weeks, by posting brief excerpts from each chapter, for meditation, though the excerpts surely do not do justice to the whole.*

The First Word: 
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The Corresponding Virtue: 

Fortitude is that virtue which enables us to face undismayed and fearlessly the difficulties and dangers which stand in the way of duty and goodness. It stands midway between foolhardiness, which rushes into danger heedlessly, and cowardice, which flees from it recreantly. Because Fortitude is related to bravery, it must not be thought that bravery is devoid of fear; rather it is control of fear …. It is in the presence of the fear of death that Fortitude reaches its peak; that is why the highest peak of supernatural Fortitude is martyrdom.

[Jesus'] first word from the Cross is not in self defense, not a protestation of His own innocence, not a fear of death nor a plea for deliverance, nor even a fear of enemies. Fear of death makes most men turn away from doing good. It makes even innocent men thoughtful of themselves as they proclaim their innocence to their executioners. Not so with Him. Fortitude reaches the peak of self-forgetfulness. On the Cross He thinks only of others and their salvation. For his first word is not about death, but about the good it will accomplish; it is directed not to His friends, His Apostles, or His believers who will proclaim His gospel, but to those who hate Him and His Apostles and His Church …. Often during his life He preached: "Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you" (Matt 5:44). Now that He is strong enough to ignore death, He the Conqueror bestows on His momentary conquerors the very thing they had forfeited by their sins -- forgiveness.

Of all the nonsense our modern world has invented nothing surpasses the catch-words or claptrap we give the unfortunate or the sick: "Keep your chin up" or "Forget it." This is not solace, but a drug. Consolation is in explaining suffering, not forgetting it; in relating it to Love, not ignoring it; in making it an expiation for sin, not another sin. But who shall understand this unless he looks at a Cross and loves the Crucified?

There is no challenging the fact that Catholics could get on better with the world if they were less Catholic. Not a single sentence can be found in the words of our Divine Lord promising you the love of the world because of your faith. But you can find a golden string of texts warning you that the world will hate you because you are His….

[I]f Catholics will not be strong in their love of Christ because of Christ, then let them be strong out of fear of the scandal of their weakness. The example of a bad Catholic is most often appealed to as a justification for evil. Why is it that the world is more scandalized at a bad Catholic than a bad anything else, if it be not because his fall is rightfully measured by the heights from which he has fallen? 

[E]ntering into the Church lifts us into another world -- the supernatural world. It gives us a new set of values, a new objective, new ways of thinking, new standards of judgment, all of which are in opposition to the spirit of the world. The world with its hatred of discipline, its courtesy to the flesh, and its indifference to truth, cannot tolerate a life based upon the primacy of Christ and the salvation of souls.

Peace, we are just discovering, is in the identity of our will with God who wills our perfection. When we disobey His will we are not asserting our independence; we are mutilating our personality as we might mutilate a razor by using it to cut a tree. Being made for God, we can be happy only with Him. All our misery is traceable to that rebellion. All our peace is traceable to training the lower part of ourselves in service to Him. Hence the Cross, the symbol of that sacrifice inspired by love.


*Note: The whole of the chapter discusses three types of souls who need the virtue of fortitude in order to have peace: "Those who suffer and mourn, saying 'What have I done to deserve this?'; those who possess faith, but who through a love of the world deny their faith or hide it; and those who do not possess the faith, but are convince of its truth and yet refuse to pay the price."