Author: tomlirish


      “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

We know that life is a mystery –  and yet we want to understand why there is life, and so much life. The other morning there was a loud noise coming from the back gutter of my house, so I opened a window upstairs and a bunch of Blue jays flew away – a beautiful sight to see! Everywhere we go the world is teeming with life – life, beautiful life!

But it was not supposed to be so! From everything I’ve read, inanimate matter, which preceded organic life, is utterly incapable of generating biological life. Like everywhere else in the universe, there should be physics and chemistry, but the stunning world of biology on planet earth is quite a surprise!!, and in a very real sense it is something akin to the miraculous. “The evolution of modern cells is arguably the most challenging and important problem the field of Biology has ever faced” (Carl Richard Woese, famous American microbiologist).

“…no life, no biology, only physics and chemistry….we only have evidence that it happened on one planet, after a lapse of half a billion to a billion years.  So the sort of lucky event we are looking at could be so wildly improbable that the chances of its happening, somewhere in the universe, could be as low as one in a billion billion billion in any one year.  If it did happen on only one planet, anywhere in the universe, that planet has to be our planet—because here we are talking about it”(Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable).

The Catholic Church claims to repeat on its altars each day this stunning transformation of inanimate or non-living matter into biological life through, anthropologically speaking, the incantation of a priestly blessing over bread and wine. The whole thing seems (without faith) wildly improbable, and yet in the well documented literature of Eucharistic miracles there appears to be compelling evidence that it has happened on more than one occasion. Amazing, but then again biological life itself is wildly improbable (see Joan Carroll Cruz’ well researched book, Eucharistic Miracles, which documents many stunning miracles of such sort)!

We come, then, to the person of Jesus Christ, who claims to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In his teachings he accentuates over and over again the central point that the meaning of life is eternal life. “In the preaching of Jesus everything is directed immediately toward Eternal Life” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). The Gospel of John, in fact, is often referred to as the “Gospel of Eternal Life.” Now we have this amazing phenomenon that a group of apostles witnessed the dead cellular structure of Jesus’ crucified body come back to life! Jesus, in fact, went out of his way to demonstrate to the apostles – and on more than one occasion – that his resurrected body was a real, human body, the very body he had before his death (“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” – Luke 24:39).

Thus, the apostles were not left wondering whether they had seen Jesus in the flesh following his death and burial – Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure that they had!  And these apostles were men that went on to live heroic lives, to suffer and die for what they had witnessed, spawning the amazing rise of the Christian faith despite insurmountable obstacles, and without any resort to violence.

And if we probe even more deeply into the heart of the “matter,” if we go all the way back to the very frontier of creation, we might say with Chesterton: “Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’ For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one” (The Everlasting Man, p. 24).

The mystery of life most certainly involves the stunning interplay between inanimate, inert matter and living things. And perhaps in this light it should not be so stunning, after all, that God can bring dry bones back to life! (see Ezekiel 37).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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“O for some corner, the least, the lowest, and the last in the world to come [Heaven], where we may spend an untired eternity in giving silent thanks to Jesus Crucified!” (F.W. Faber) 

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

That crucifix in your home is of immense spiritual value. Father Grou, a great spiritual writer, goes as far as to say the crucifix is the “answer to everything”! Everything as in everything!

Grou says: “Let the crucifix… be our chief spiritual book. Let it be a book not only for our eyes only but for our hearts! Let us beg of Jesus to teach us how to read in it, and to reveal to us all its secrets, not only that we may contemplate them in the sweetness of prayer, but that we may practice them faithfully during the whole course of our life.”

Grou tells us that “the crucifix is the greatest proof that God…could give us of His love , and it is the strongest motive He could employ to gain our hearts in return. Every virtue is included in the crucifix, and it is the consummation of the way of perfection.”

“The crucifix is the abridgment of all that a Christian ought to practice. All the morality of the Gospel consists in bearing our cross, in renouncing ourselves, in crucifying our flesh…and in sacrificing ourselves to the will of God….” The crucifix is “the most striking and living expression of the whole teaching of the Gospel.”

Even in Heaven, says Father Grou, we will never fully comprehend “the greatness of this benefit which faith places before our eyes when we look at our crucifix.” God “could not possibly …given us a greater proof of His love.” Such a “way of salvation could only have been conceived in the heart of a God who loved us infinitely.”

Grou says: “[Let us take our part] in the sufferings and humiliations” of Jesus, asking our Savior to “plant His cross deep in [our] hearts.” Jesus on “the cross will be an answer to everything,” and we will “leave His presence with the desire to suffer more.” Grou asks: looking at the crucifix “shall we argue with God about trifles?” Shall we complain about “what virtue costs us?” Jesus crucified, says Grou, will give us the courage and strength to bear our crosses, and our weaknesses, even to the point of living out the Gospel with a greater patience and charity towards our neighbors (especially the ones who cause us the most difficulties!).

Are you looking for a profitable Lenten exercise? Pull up a chair in front of your crucifix. Look at it, study it, let the crucifix be your chief spiritual book as you converse with Jesus crucified in deep prayer, and then place it in your heart, and let it do its work of sacrificial love in all the trials and tribulations of your life.

“He who desires to go on advancing from virtue to virtue, from grace to grace, should meditate continually on the Passion of Jesus…There is no practice more profitable for the entire sanctification of the soul than frequent meditation on the suffering of Christ” (Saint Bonaventure).


Thomas L. Mulcahy

Ref. This is a highly edited and condensed note from an essay by Father Grou, entitled, “On the Crucifix,” from his great work, A Manual For Interior Souls, and although in places he is sometimes talking to souls seeking perfection, it should be remembered that all baptized Christians are called to this lofty state, and I certainly consider his comments applicable to all Catholics in a state of sanctifying grace, wherever they may be on their spiritual journey. The essay itself is much longer (much more detailed) than this condensed and edited note.

P.S. A number of years ago I went out and looked for and bought a crucifix that I found particularly moving to my own sensibilities. That decision has paid many dividends for me.

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          “All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property’ ” (CCC 519)

A meditation by F.W. Faber…

Jesus belongs to us.

He vouchsafes to put Himself at our disposal.

He loves us with a love which no words can tell, nay, above all our thought and imagination; and He condescends to desire, with a longing which is equally indescribable, that we should love Him, with a fervent and entire love.

His merits may be called ours as well as His. His satisfactions are not so much His treasures as they are ours. His sacraments are but so many ways which His love has designed to communicate Him to our souls.

Wherever we turn in the church of God, there is Jesus.

He is the beginning, middle, and end of everything to us.

He is our help in penance, our consolation in grief, our support in trial.

There is nothing good, nothing holy, nothing beautiful, nothing joyous, which He is not to His servants.

No one need be poor, because, if he chooses, he can have Jesus for his own property and possession. No one need be downcast, for Jesus is the joy of heaven, and it is His joy to enter into sorrowful hearts.

We can exaggerate about many things; but we can never exaggerate our obligations to Jesus, or the compassionate abundance of the love of Jesus to us. All our lives long we might talk of Jesus, and yet we should never come to an end of the sweet things that are to be said about Him.

Eternity will not be long enough to learn all He is, or to praise Him for all He has done; but then that matters not; for we shall be always with Him, and we desire nothing more.

He has kept nothing back from us. There is not a faculty of His Human Soul which has not had to do with our salvation. There is not one limb of His Sacred Body which has not suffered for us. There is not one pain, one shame, one indignity, which He has not drained to its last dreg of bitterness on our behalf. There is not one drop of His most Precious Blood which He has not shed for us; nor is there one beating of His Sacred Heart which is not an act of love to us.

We know our own unworthiness. We hate ourselves for our own past sins. We are impatient with our own secret meanness, irritability, and wretchedness. We are tired with our own badness and littleness.

Yet, for all that, He loves us with this unutterable love, and is ready, if need be, as He revealed to one of His servants, to come down from heaven to be crucified over again for each one of us.

Oh, how is it we can ever turn ourselves away from this one idea! How is it we can take an interest in anything but this surpassing love of God for His fallen creatures!

Comment: The essence of what Father Faber is saying is that Jesus lived his life for us, and all that he merited by his life of expiation and suffering he shares with us. Another great spiritual writer says, “We must hope and expect great things from God, because the merits of our Lord belong to us…. His merits, His satisfactions, His graces are inexhaustible. He is so lavish of them that He offers them unceasingly to all the world, more ready to give than we are to receive….Everything in our Lord Jesus Christ belongs to us in a most special manner” (Father Lallemant, The Spiritual Doctrine, as edited).

Jesus belongs to me! Oh Jesus, I trust in you!

Tom Mulcahy

References: The edited quote from Father Faber (1814—1863) is from the very beginning of his famous book, All for Jesus.

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A Meditation by G.K. Chesterton

Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savor of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God. But the two ideas are not naturally or necessarily combined.

It has been created in our minds by Christmas because we are Christians; because we are psychological Christians even when we are not theological ones. In other words, this combination of ideas has emphatically, in the much disputed phrase, altered human nature. There is really a difference between the man who knows it and the man who does not. It may not be a difference of moral worth; but it is a plain fact about the crossing of two particular lights, the conjunction of two stars in our particular horoscope. Omnipotence and impotence, or divinity and infancy, do definitely make a sort of epigram which a million repetitions cannot turn into a platitude. It is not unreasonable to call it unique. Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet.

No other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man.  It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventourously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. 

It is if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.

Comment: The mysteries of our Lord’s life are packed with power, which is precisely the reason why we meditate upon them in the Rosary. 

Merry Christmas and a  Blessed New Year!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

Note: This highly edited and condensed quote is taken from The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton (from a much longer chapter called “The God in the Cave”). Chesterton’s book is highly recommended.  

Image:  Adoration of the Shepherds, circa 1622, by Gerard von Honthorst

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(Lake Superior)

               “We must not attempt to find an absolute in the flesh” (C.S. Lewis)

My niece came over a few days ago and she told me that her High School class in Michigan is reading America’s iconic novel about the roaring twenties, The Great Gatsby. She told me that the teacher often reads parts of the book to the class, and also shows them a movie version of the book. I told her she might want to consider listening to an audio rendition of the book because I have found that listening to this particular book being read is almost more edifying and real – or at least more pleasurable – than reading it.

In any event (as I explained) most of the action in the novel takes place in Long Island, and secondarily in Louisville, but almost unknown is the fact that one of the most important scenes in the novel takes place in Michigan! If you drive to the far western end of the Upper Peninsula – really as far as you can go west and south and still stay in Michigan – you will come close to a bay on Lake Superior known as Little Girl’s Bay or Little Girl’s Point (and there is a park nearby where you can camp called Little Girl’s Point County Park). A little further north along Lake Superior are the beautiful Porcupine Mountains where I camped two summers ago, and where I witnessed a spectacular display of stars the first evening there (my own mystical experience on Lake Superior!).

It is at Little Girl’s Bay that the dramatic transformation or recreation of James Gatz’s life takes place and he changes into the person known as Jay Gatsby. “James Gatz – that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment  that witnessed the beginning of his career – when he saw Dan Cody’s yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior” (Chapter 6). Dan Cody “had been coasting along all too hospitable shores for five years when he turned up as James Gatz’s destiny in Little Girl Bay” (Chapter 6).

Julie Kenyon points out in an essay on The Great Gatsby that there is a folk-tale associated with the naming of Little Girl’s Point, which tells of a “young maiden who runs off with her fairy lover. At night her moonlit figure is seen on the shore by the fisherman across the waters. When they approach she flees, sheltered by her lover’s green plumes.” It is interesting to note, in this context, that Daisy’s maiden name, Fay, means fairy, and that the euphoric green light that formed the basis for all of Gatsby’s dreams and aspirations signified her presence. One could argue that The Great Gatsby is a fairy tale that crashes into reality and ends with a very unhappy ending. 

But as the fairy tale goes, Gatsby hit it off with Cody, a multi-millionaire, hopped on his yacht, and sailed around the continent for five years! Pretty cool! During this voyage of discovery, Cody became a Father figure for Gatsby, educating him in a “vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty” (Chapter 6). If you look up the word meretricious it means fake, or insubstantial, or even prostituted. Fitzgerald adds, “So [Gatz] invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”  

Gatsby’s incarnation into a new person has a religious dimension because he sees himself, as Fitzgerald indicates, as a “son of God,” a clear reference to the life of Jesus, and a very poor and vulgar comparison. I think at this point Fitzgerald would have been better off sticking to his philosophical description of Gatsby’s “Platonic conception of himself” rather than bringing in the weak (and crude) religious comparison as well. After all, Daisy is a Platonic ideal for Gatsby, she is the perfect form that gives life a transcendent reality for Gatsby, and all his efforts are employed at getting her back from Tom Buchanan. 

And there is no Jesus sacrifice made by Gatsby at the end of the novel, implied by him “shouldering” his mattress to the pool and being asked if he needed help to carry it, and this is because Gatsby has no idea he is about to be shot by George Wilson. So again, the Jesus allusion is weak and pretty much unnecessary. 

The real relevance Jesus has to this novel are his warnings about the dangers of riches and a purely materialistic view of life. For the American dream, at least in its most elevated form, sees God as the transcendent reality by which all material gains must be seen in their proper perspective. It is said that F. Scott Fitzgerald admired the literary skills of G.K. Chesterton. But in actuality it is Chesterton’s theological insight that seems far more applicable to the life of Gatsby. Chesterton says:

“The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.”  

As Fitzgerald acutely observes in the novel, Daisy ultimately “tumbled short of Gatsby’s dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.”

And so to my niece I say: be careful what you dream about on the shore of Lake Superior!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

References: The essay by Julie Kenyon is entitled, “Little Girl Bay,” Frontier, and Folklore: Fitzgerald’s Use of Regional History in The Great Gatsby (available online). The quote from Chesterton is in his famous book, Orthodoxy. With respect to the spelling of Little Girl’s Point (or Little Girls Point) I note here that some internet sites use the apostrophe and some do not.

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                              “So put aside every trace of malice” (1 Peter 2:1)

Critics have mentioned that Wuthering Heights is ambiguous when it comes to providing an over-arching moral to the harrowing tale, and argue that this ambiguity might have been deliberate by the author. Thus, one famous critic of Wuthering Heights speaks to the “absence of anything” in the tale “one could confidently name a moral.” The critic continues: “…it is not a moral tale. The author’s preferences are not shown” (G.D. Klingopulus). And a very early review of Wuthering Heights makes the same point: “What may be the moral which the author wishes the reader to deduce from her work it is difficult to say; and we refrain from assigning any, because to speak honestly, we have discovered none but mere glimpses of hidden morals or secondary meanings. There seems to be a great power in this book but a purposeless power” (a review in the 1848 Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper).

Nevertheless, from my own reading of Wuthering Heights I find very strong moral themes, and whether these themes flow from my personal subjectivity or were actually intended by Emily Bronte is something I do not intend to dwell on. Moreover, I intend to keep my comments short and to the point.

First and foremost, what a valuable moral lesson we gain from the life of Heathcliff. I mean, who would ever want to be like Heathcliff? : confirmed in evil, ruthlessly vindictive, full of malice, a menace to the community, and impenitent to the end. If there is one giant lesson I learn from Wuthering Heights it is NOT to be like Heathcliff. The life of Heathcliff teaches me to set aside all malice, and all thoughts and temptations to revenge, and to move in the direction of mercy, renewal and forgiveness. What tremendous harm Heathcliff caused to the people around him –  becoming more a demonic presence than a human one as Chesterton points out. Heathcliff’s life is a wonderful model of the person you don’t want to become.

Secondly, the love between Heathcliff and Catherine is not rooted in reality. It is a moors love, infecund as that land, incapable of being for the greater good of the community. I mean, would you want your daughter to marry Heathcliff! A relationship based on fanatical Romanticism and occult salvation may make you one of literature’s most famous couples, but it is not a good foundation for a marriage. Their love is a delusive, destructive love incapable of producing true peace and happiness.

Third, there is no Jane Austen moment of self-discovery for Heathcliff, where he might have said: “Look what a son-of-a-bitch I have become. Who can save me from my wretchedness?” There is no redemption for Heathcliff as there was for Mr. Rochester (another brooding land-owner in the Byronic tradition) in sister Charlotte’s competing Gothic tale, Jane Eyre. Both Heathcliff and Rochester have women problems, the kind of problem that occurs when you love a woman other than your wife! And yet Mr. Rochester undergoes a significant conversion after the devastating fire at Thornfield, a conversion not unrelated to his prayer and penitence (“I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were but very sincere”). In reality, Mr. Rochester underwent the most painful of purifications, losing everything, as his entire life is essentially purged in the devastating fire at Thornfield, wiped out so to speak, burned up. He emerges from this holocaust as a new man, humbled, repentant, blinded and maimed. And yet in God’s Providence, which is an underlying theme in Jane Eyre, he and Jane will be reunited, and will experience true happiness, true communion of souls (which is not the case for Heathcliff and Catherine).

There is no conversion for Heathcliff, no change of heart. He is set in his ways. The only salvation for Heathcliff is the salvation he confers on himself. He will do it “my way” to the end, defiant and resentful. Now who do you want to emulate: Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff?

Next, there is the matter of Heathcliff’s final impenitence of which Emily Bronte does not leave in doubt.  Heathcliff is in fact offered a final chance to reconcile his life to God, but his is a deathbed without faith. “A deathbed without faith,” says F.W. Faber, “oh what a very wilderness it is – nothing can make up for it – all other beauty only darkens it….” It is Nelly who attempts to rescue Heathcliff from his “godless indifference” as related in the final pages of the novel. The scene unfolds as follows:

‘You are aware, Mr. Heathcliff,’ I said, ‘that from the time you were thirteen years old you have lived a selfish, unchristian life; and probably hardly had a Bible in your hands during all that period. You must have forgotten the contents of the book, and you may not have space to search it now. Could it be hurtful to send for some one–some minister of any denomination, it does not matter which–to explain it, and show you how very far you have erred from its precepts; and how unfit you will be for its heaven, unless a change takes place before you die?’

‘I’m rather obliged than angry, Nelly,’ he said, ‘for you remind me of the manner in which I desire to be buried. It is to be carried to the churchyard in the evening. You and Hareton may, if you please, accompany me: and mind, particularly, to notice that the sexton obeys my directions concerning the two coffins! No minister need come; nor need anything be said over me.–I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven; and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncoveted by me.’

You may want to do better on your deathbed than Heathcliff did. He shows no contrition, no sorrow, no repentance; his heart is hardened by malice, his revolt against God is complete. His death will be a good one, only in the sense that with Heathcliff gone order and peace can return to Wuthering Heights.

Finally, we come to the end of the story and the reestablishment of order. As mentioned above, it is not until Heathcliff is dead that the tranquility of order can be reestablished in Wuthering Heights.

The shutting down of Wuthering Heights, the blessing of a marriage that will take place on New Year’s Day between Cathy and Hareton, and the fearlessness of Cathy and Hareton (a fearlessness more powerful than evil), all of these things (mentioned in the final paragraphs of the novel) point to the reestablishment of order and goodness in Wuthering Heights. The “garden gate” that Cathy and Hareton pass through has swung wide open, and peace and happiness have returned to its inhabitants.

“Augustine of Hippo defines the term “Tranquillitas Ordinis” (tranquility of order) in Book 19 of the City of God as ‘the peace of all things’ or ‘well ordered concord’. Augustine links peace with his meaning of order, in which all things in the universe have their proper place established by God, their creator. Peace is therefore the state a person or thing achieves when it is in accordance with the larger created order” (Wikipedia).

The novel ends, then, not on the side of disorder and chaos, but on the side of order and true love, that is to say, on God’s side!


Is there to be no sympathy for Heathcliff in this note? Yes, there is sympathy for Heathcliff. Although he was loved by Mr. Earnshaw, Heathcliff suffered ongoing abuse and cruelty at the hands of Hindley (who, himself, felt unappreciated by his father), all of which had a deleterious effect on Heathcliff and spurred his lust for revenge. A Catholic psychiatrist observes: “Biological birth is not enough. Psychic birth through authentic affirmation is an absolute necessity for a man to be capable of finding true happiness in this life. Affirmation is at the root of all happy human existence” (Conrad Barrs, M.D.). Thus, another lesson to be learned from Wuthering Heights is the obligation of kindness (brotherly love) that we owe to our neighbor, and the harm that is done to another person when we fail in this obligation and tend towards contempt, derision or even hatred. The harm caused to others by the deprivation of love is a major theme in Wuthering Heights, and we see, by way of contrast, that the kindness of young Cathy is so very helpful to both Linton and Hareton. The key point here is that every person’s life touches the lives of many others – either for the good or bad. This is all about the solidarity that exists between human beings.  How we treat others really matters. “The worst kinds of unhappiness, as well as the greatest amount of it, come from our conduct to each other” (F.W. Faber). Thus, “if our conduct…were under the control of kindness” we would live in a vastly happier world.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References:  The quotes in the first paragraph are in Theresa M. Kenney’s helpful essay, “Compassion and Condemnation in Wuthering Heights,” in the Ignatius Critical Edition of Wuthering Heights. She says, “Heathcliff needed to be saved, and he was not saved.” The quote from Conrad Barrs is in his book, Born Only Once.

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“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Revelation 12:1).

One of the ultimate revelations of Christianity is that we are eternal persons – not only by virtue of our soul, but by virtue of our soul and body. “The Father’s power ‘raised up’ Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity” (CCC 648, emphasis added). The great Catholic historian, Warren H. Carroll, states: “Christendom is the reign of Christ…. Much of that reign is invisible, since His kingdom is not of this world. Much of it is personal, since the primary concern of this divine Person is with us as human and eternal persons. But some of it is public and historical.” Now Mary’s assumption into Heaven (soul and body) is no doubt an intensely personal matter, and yet it is public as well since the Church promulgates it not only as an established fact, but as a fact which has infallibly occurred. Do you want to understand the meaning of life? Well then, look at the life of Mary of Nazareth. Mary was closely united to Jesus, the Savior, and now she is a citizen of Heaven – forever.

Every Catholic firmly believes that Mary is in Heaven right now interceding for the faithful here on planet earth. Vatican II speaks of Mary’s intercession in these profound words:

“This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home” (Lumen Gentium, 62, Documents of Vatican II).

The dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, was declared infallible from the Chair of Peter in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, who wrote in Munificentissimus Deus:

“Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages” (40).

It is fascinating to note, in a Church overflowing with relics dating back even to Jesus’ crucifixion, that T. L. Frazier points out in his essay, “Assumptions About Mary,” : –

“Yet among all the relics there is not be found a single one said said to be a relic of Mary’s actual body.”

Biblically speaking, Jesus entrusted Mary to the care of Saint John (see John 19: 25-27). In the Book of Revelation – the final book in the Bible – John recalls a vision he experienced on the island of Patmos where he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary clothed in glory. He states:

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Revelation 12:1).

Saint Pope John Paul II explains that this woman “clothed with the sun” is preeminently Mary, “the woman of glory”:

“The mutual relationship between the mystery of the Church and Mary appears clearly in the “great portent” described in the Book of Revelation: ‘A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (12:1). In this sign the Church recognizes an image of her own mystery: present in history, she knows that she transcends history, inasmuch as she constitutes on earth the ‘seed and beginning’ of the Kingdom of God. The Church sees this mystery fulfilled in complete and exemplary fashion in Mary. She is the woman of glory in whom God’s plan could be carried out with supreme perfection” (Redemptoris Mater, 103; see also no. 47 – “And by her ecclesial identification as the “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1), it can be said that ‘in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle.’”)

And in the encyclical letter, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, Pope Saint Pius X wrote:

“A great sign,” thus the Apostle St. John describes a vision divinely sent him, appears in the heavens: “A woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.” Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, the stainless one who brought forth our head…John therefore saw the Most Holy Mother of God already in eternal happiness, yet travailing in a mysterious childbirth. What birth was it? Surely it was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unwearying prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect.

Revelation 12:1 shows Mary with a body, not as an disembodied spirit. She is seen, head to toe, with a Queenly crown on her head and the moon under her feet. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (ICSB) points out that the “woman of Revelation 12” is “Mary, the Mother of the Messiah and the spiritual mother of his disciples….And because the woman is a queen who wears a crown and a mother who bears a royal male child, she is also the Queen Mother of the Davidic kingdom reestablished by Jesus [Mary, the mother of Jesus].” The ICSB further states: “She also represents the faithful of Israel, crying out for the Messiah, as well as the Church, attacked by the devil for witnessing to Jesus.”

It is often argued that belief in Mary’s Assumption came late in the history of the Church, not even being formally defined until 1950. But as T.L. Frazier demonstrates, there was a genre of popular stories “enjoyed by the early Christians” and “devoted to just this single theme of of the Assumption of Mary.” This literature is known as the Transitus Mariae (Passage of Mary). Frazier explains:

What does the Transitus literature teach us? It teaches that the Assumption didn’t just pop up out of nowhere in 1950, which is often the vague assumption of non-Catholics. Indeed, the belief was so widespread in the fifth century that it is hard not to conclude that it must have originated at a much earlier date. Many scholars place the Syriac fragments of the Transitus stories as far back as the third century, and noted Mariologist Michael O’Carroll adds, “The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century–possibly, if research can be linked with archaeological findings on Mary’s tomb in Gethsemani, in the first [century].”(Michael O’Carrol C.S.Sp., Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Wilmington: Glazier, 1982) s.v. “Assumption Apocrypha,” 59.) This conclusion would seem to be supported by the fact that the doctrine flourished without anyone, especially the bishops, protesting against a growing “superstition.”

CONCLUSION: The dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven stands on a strong foundation, Biblically, theologically and historically. For faithful Catholics it has been proved over and over again in approved apparitions such as Lourdes and Fatima, and, of course, Guadalupe, imaged above.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Truth About Mary, Volume II, by Robert Payesko; “Assumptions About Mary” by T.L. Frazier, This Rock, Volume 3, Number 5 & 6May-June 1992; Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; and an EWTN note on Rev. 12:1 by Fr. John Echert containing the quote from Pope Pius X. This post is dedicated to my sister, Mary Colleen VanZandt, who passed away this year on July 18th. Mary was born on August 15th. Please pray for her.

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“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56)

The Feast of Saint John Vianney is on August 4th, and so I bring to your attention a supernatural event that occurred in his life involving the Holy Eucharist. G.K. Chesterton (the writer, the critic, the convert) held on to his faith in an age of increasing skepticism because, among other things, “the objective occurrence of the supernatural.” He states: “If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favor of the supernatural.” He adds: “Looking impartially into certain miracles of medieval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred…. I am forced…by a conspiracy of facts” to conclude “that miracles do happen.” Here, then, is an example of such a “supernatural occurrence” testified to by Saint John Vianney himself.


“Life! Life! Eternal Life!” cries Christian as he flees the City of Destruction

Here I am, living through a pandemic and a time of social unrest, and I’m somehow drawn to Bunyan’s ancient novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress! And this is because Bunyan’s novel reminds us so poignantly that life is a journey with many obstacles and difficulties to overcome.

Let’s face it – as pure adventure The Pilgrim’s Progress is a fantastic story. The fact that it is also an adventure story about getting to Heaven is an added bonus (one not to be underestimated!). The fact that the story is also one of the greatest examples of allegorical literature ever written is still another added bonus (full of pedagogical significance!).

Charlotte Bronte alludes to The Pilgrim’s Progress in the ending of Jane Eyre, and so does Louisa May Alcott (more specifically) in Little Women, and just mentioning these two examples, among many others, gives you an idea of the spectacular influence of The Pilgrim’s Progress in Western Literature. This was one of the most popular books in England (and elsewhere?) for quite a long period of time, although its present appeal and relevance has clearly waned under the influence of secularism. But still, as Professor Willison mentions, The Pilgrim’s Progress “with its allegorical form and content…is the best of its kind in the [English language] and will never be matched, for no one in our scientific, atomic, skeptical age could or would attempt anything like it.”

Of The Pilgrim’s Progress G. K. Chesterton states:

“The Pilgrim’s Progress certainly exhibits all the marks of such a revival of primitive power and mystery. Its resemblance to the Bible is not a mere imitation of style; it is also a coincidence of mood. Bunyan, who was a soldier in Cromwell’s army, had himself been thrown into a world almost as ferocious as that of Gideon, or the Maccabees, and he was really under the influence of the same kind of emotion. This was simply because, as I have said, Puritanism was a thing barbaric, and therefore eternal. Nowhere, perhaps, except in Homer, is there such a perfect description conveyed by the use of merely plain words. The description in Bunyan of how Moses came like a wind up the road, and was but a word and a blow; or how Apollyon straddled quite over the breadth of the way and swore by his infernal den– these are things which can only be paralleled in sudden and splendid phrases out of Homer or the Bible, such as the phrases about the monstrous and man-killing hands of Achilles, or the war-horse who laughs at the shaking of the spear.”

C.S. Lewis adds:

“We must attribute Bunyan’s style to a perfect natural ear, a great sensibility for the idiom and cadence of popular speech, a long experience in addressing unlettered audiences, and a freedom from bad models. I do not add ‘to an intense imagination’, for that also can shipwreck if a man does not find the right words….

Many do not believe that either the trumpets ‘with melodious noise’ or the infernal den await us where the road ends. But most, I fancy, have discovered that to be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead to very nasty places.”

But on a more practical level (one might say on a teaching level) The Pilgrim’s Progress is a veritable handbook or catalog of the vices that plague us all as we attempt to grow in moral goodness. And since Bunyan transforms these vices (and virtues) into allegorical images, these images can exercise a certain power in your life that an academic study is incapable of. Drawing from the novel, I might – and I have – in a certain type of examination of conscience ask myself: Am I becoming a Mr. Love-Lust or a Mr. Malice? I see I am becoming Mr. Talkative. Now I have become Mr. Morality living in the town of Legality. Now I appear to be Mr. Obstinate. Look now: I have fallen into the Slough of Despond because of my fears and doubts; I must climb out of this bog and rekindle hope and faith. Have I returned to live in the City of Destruction? Have I become enamored with prosperous living in Vanity Fair? Am I afraid to climb Difficulty Hill? Am I going to allow Giant Despair to imprison me in my thoughts? Do I understand that my true goal is the Celestial City? In short, I find these allegorical images of Bunyan –  images of the difficulties one encounters on the spiritual journey –  to be very helpful in assessing my own shortcomings. And what can be more useful than correcting our faults?

Published in 1678, The Pilgrim’s Progress is still quite a significant novel. Life is still an adventure. We are all still trying to get to Heaven. There are still significant obstacles and difficulties in the way of such a lofty goal. But The Pilgrim’s Progress helps us to better understand these obstacles and difficulties, and to overcome them, and thus to stay (or get back) on that narrow road that leads to the Celestial City!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. I therefore highly recommend this book for homeschoolers and even for a high-school theology or English class. Recommended: Max McLean’s audio rendition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the well done and enjoyable movie version of the novel starring Daniel Kruse (released in 2008).

Image: From Wikipedia, which states it is in the Public Domain, U.S.A.

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“I could never separate the devotion to the Heart of Jesus from the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and I will never be able to explain how and how much the Sacred Heart of Jesus deigned to favor me in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist” (Blessed Maria of the Divine Heart).


This short outline of the life of  Blessed Maria (or Mary) of the Divine Heart is derived from and based on Ann Ball’s short biography of her in Modern Saints (TAN), and also from the Wikipedia article on Blessed Maria. This saint (she is beatified) shows us how much Jesus desires consecration to His Sacred Heart. The story which follows is a powerful incentive to consecrate yourself and your family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

A short portrait of Blessed Maria of the Divine Heart:

1. Blessed Maria Droste Zu Vischering, 1863-1899, was a Catholic nun known as “Maria of the Divine Heart.”

2. She was born to a wealthy family in Germany, and upon attending boarding school at the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (at age 15), she began to understand “that the love of the Sacred Heart without a spirit of sacrifice is but empty illusion.”

3. According to Wikipedia, “While at school, she contracted pneumonia and shortly before her eighteenth birthday, returned home to recover. In 1883, at the chapel of the Castle of Darfeld, Maria is said to have had an interior locution of Jesus Christ who said her: ‘Thou shalt be the wife of My Heart’. On 5 August of that same year, on the Silver Jubilee of her parents’ marriage, Maria told them of her desire to become a religious.”

4. Maria joined the Sisters of Charity of the Good Shepherd and made her final vows on January 29, 1891 at age 27. She received the name Maria of the Divine Heart.

5. She had considerable success as a youth worker with young girls, and “attributed all her success in her apostolate to the Heart of our Lord.”She stated: “Only the Heart of Jesus is responsible for the success I always had with the girls….When you are appealing to His Divine Heart for a soul, He will never refuse you, although sometimes He demands much prayer, sacrifice and suffering.”

6. In her mystical life, while Superior of the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Oporto , Portugal , Jesus told her of His wish to consecrate the entire world to His Sacred Heart, and directed her to make this wish known to Pope Leo XIII.

7. Sister Maria “had predicted that she would die as soon as the consecration was accomplished.”

8. According to Wikipedia:

“On June 10, 1898, her superior at the Good Shepherd monastery wrote to Pope Leo XIII stating that Sister Mary had received a message from Christ, requesting the pope to consecrate the entire world to the Sacred Heart. The pope initially did not believe her and took no action. However, on January 6, 1899 she wrote another letter, asking that in addition to the consecration, the first Fridays of the month be observed in honor of the Sacred Heart. In the letter she also referred to the recent illness of the pope and stated that Christ had assured her that Pope Leo XIII would live until he had performed the consecration to the Sacred Heart. Theologian Laurent Volken states that this had an emotional impact on Leo XIII, despite the theological issues concerning the consecration of non-Christians.

Pope Leo XIII commissioned an inquiry on the basis of her revelation and Church tradition. In his 1899 encyclical letter Annum Sacrum, Leo XIII decreed that the consecration of the entire human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should take place on June 11, 1899. In the same encyclical, Pope Leo XIII referred to the illness about which Sister Mary had written, stating: ‘There is one further reason that urges us to realize our design; We do not want it to pass by unnoticed. It is personal in nature but just as important: God the author of all Good has saved us by healing us recently from a dangerous disease’.”

Pope Leo XIII also composed the Prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heat, and included it in Annum Sacrum. Pope Pius X later decreed that this consecration of the human race, performed by Pope Leo XIII, be renewed each year.”

9. “On June 8, 1899 , two copies of the encyclical were personally delivered to her [Sister Maria], and at 3:05 pm [on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, according to Wikipedia, although not confirmed by Ann Ball] she quietly gave her soul to God.”

10. “On June 11, 1899, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire human race to the Heart of Jesus.”

11. “Pope Leo XIII called  this consecration ‘the greatest act of my pontificate’. “

12. Sister Maria was declared Venerable in 1964, and was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

13. Blessed Maria of the Divine Heart, intercede for and share with us your great love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. According to Wikipedia, “Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart’s incorrupt body is exposed for public veneration in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Ermesinde, in northern Portugal.”

Image: Image and caption at Wikipedia (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

Book RecommendationThe Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: How to Practice the Sacred Heart Devotion by Rev, John Croiset (TAN Books).


Men Of The Sacred Hearts: Home Enthronement To The Sacred Heart .

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