PATIENCE UNDER ADVERSITY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

“And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” (James 1:4)

Patience is a huge – indeed critical – virtue in the spiritual life and for life in general. Consider St. Paul’s description of the many characteristics of love – the first thing he says about love is that it is patient, and the next thing he says is that it is kind (1. Cor. 13:4). Dear God, give me the grace to be patient and kind and I certainly will grow in charity!

Here, then, by the practice of patience, is a simple yet profound way to grow in holiness. To be sure, growth in holiness means, as already mentioned, growth in the love of God and neighbor. All the virtues, including patience, are directed to the fulfillment of Christ’s law of charity. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14).

So this simple method to grow in holiness is nothing more (or less) than the exercise of patience under adversity for the love of God. Virtue is tested by the people and circumstances of our day to day life. When, for the love of God, we meet these challenges and adversities with patience and meekness, we grow in holiness and sanctifying grace increases within us (see CCC 1266, which explains that the supernatural virtues – including patience –  are given to us in the sanctifying grace of baptism, and nos. 2010-2011 pertaining to the increase of sanctifying grace by way of meritorious acts).

The motive for our patience (which is truly a mortification of our self-will) is the love of God, and, secondarily, the love of neighbor. It is this “purity of intention,” as the theologians say, which makes the act of being patient supernaturally meritorious, thus causing sanctifying grace to grow within us, which, as Father Garrigou-LaGrange frequently mentions, can continually increase inasmuch as the precept of the love of God has no limits!

Patience is a power – a supernatural virtue sustained by sanctifying grace. Patience is an exercise of the cardinal virtue of fortitude. “Patience, says St. Thomas, is a virtue attached to the virtue of fortitude, which hinders a man from departing from right reason illumined by faith by yielding to difficulties and to sadness. It makes him bear the evils of life with equanimity of soul, says St. Augustine, without allowing himself to be troubled by vexations. The impatient man, no matter how violent he may be, is a weak man; when he raises his voice and murmurs, he really succumbs from the moral point of view. The patient man, on the contrary, puts up with an inevitable evil in order to remain on the right road, to continue his ascent toward God. Those who bear adversity that they may attain what their pride desires, have not the virtue of patience but only its counterfeit, hardness of heart” (from The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume II, Chapter 10).

Now, my friend, get this! The great theologian and Dominican, Father Garrigou-LaGrange, from whom I am drawing the material for this note, specifically states that among one of the three important signs of predestination (there are more than three) patience in adversity for the love of God is one of them. He states:“Therefore, as a rule, among the signs of predestination are…patience in adversity for the love of God (he names love of the poor and love of enemies as two other such signs)”. See The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume II, p.395, which, in context, is dealing with the passive purification of the spirit.

Your sure path to holiness and Heaven is patience and meekness under adversity, done for the motive of loving God and neighbor. Father Garrigou-LaGrange mentions that the devil often tempts us to anger, so we should not be surprised if this happens as we try to practice the great virtue of patience. “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things….” (1 Cor. 13:4,23). The corresponding virtue of meekness, says Father Garrigou LaGrange, curbs anger and bitterness. When you feel anger, allow meekness to descend into your anger.

To accomplish this goal of patience under adversity, we will need constant recourse to prayer and fervent reception of the sacraments. The practice of examining our conscience at the end of the day (to mark our progress) is also valuable.  In the Eucharist, Jesus shares his life and virtues with us. When we receive Holy Communion, we should specifically ask Jesus to help us grow in patience and meekness.

Remember, “In your patience you shall possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). Pray for the grace to grow in the all- important virtue of patience.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: I am basing this note entirely on The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Father Garrigou-Lagrange. All of my thoughts proceed from this amazing work! Father Faber has an excellent chapter on patience in his Growth in Holiness book, wherein he shows that patience is the “rule” for those of us living in the world. Note that the word “patient” in James 1:4 is also translated as endurance or steadfastness, or one might say, “patient endurance.” According to Father Garrigou-Lagrange, patience is united to fortitude, whereas meekness is united to temperance. The natural virtue of patience, which may be carried out purely for pragmatic reasons, must be contrasted with the supernatural virtue of patience, done for the love of God and neighbor by reason of sanctifying grace (see CCC 1804-1811).

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THE STRONG BIBLICAL BASIS FOR MARY’S QUEENSHIP

Diego_Velázquez_-_Coronation_of_the_Virgin_-_Prado

“Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” (1 Kings 2:20)

These are the words of him who is holy and true [Jesus], who holds the key of David. What he opens no one  can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Rev. 3:7)

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Queenship of Mary one week after the Feast of her Assumption into Heaven (on August 22).

The Virgin Mary is the true Davidic Queen assumed into Heaven. This is so because Jesus Christ is the true Heavenly King who holds the key of David.

There can be no doubt that Matthew’s Gospel envisions the restoration of the Old Testament Davidic Kingdom through the person of Jesus Christ, whom Matthew right away identifies as the “son of David” (see Matt 1:1).  This is the very first verse of the New Testament, and the Jewish reader back then would have known automatically that the messiah was to be a descendant of the royal line of David. God had promised David an everlasting Kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-17), and Jesus was clearly seen as the person who would “rebuild David’s fallen tent” (Acts 15:16). The overarching theme of Matthew’s Gospel is the Kingdom, or more precisely the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus inaugurates this Kingdom by establishing his church which brings the ancient Davidic monarchy to its true “perfection” (see references below).

Just as David established the Kingdom of Israel with its twelve tribes, Jesus established His Heavenly Kingdom on the foundation of the twelve apostles. And just as the Davidic King would have a  Prime Minister, who was given the “keys to the Kingdom” as a sign of his office (see Isaiah 22: 20-22), Jesus selected  Peter as his first Prime Minister and entrusted to him the keys of the Kingdom (see Matthew 16:19).  Jesus even promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, which is his “Kingdom on earth.”

According to Dr. Hahn, “The structure of David’s monarchy was neither incidental or accidental; in God’s providential plan, it foreshadowed the Kingdom of God” (Hail, Holy Queen, p.76). “The Davidic monarchy finds its perfect fulfillment in the reign of Jesus Christ – and there was never a Davidic King without a Davidic Queen: the King’s own mother, the queen mother” (Id at 83, emphasis added). The queen mother was known as the gebirah or “great lady” (Id at 79). The “Gebirah was more than a title; it was an office with real authority” (id at 80). Thus, at 1 Kings 2:20 we read the reigning King say, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” Neither could Jesus refuse his mother’s request at Cana, even though the Lord’s time had not yet come to perform his first miracle (John 2:5). Mary, although ever-Virgin, is the mother of Jesus and the mother of the church. “Hear then, O house of David!…The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:13-14).

Rightly so, Mary is the Queen and mother of all Christians. From the cross, Jesus told John to “behold his mother” (John 19:27), and in his vision of Heaven described in the Book of Revelation John sees the Blessed Virgin “clothed with the sun…and on her head a [queenly] crown of twelve stars….” (Rev. 12: 1). The Queenship of Mary, Mother of God, is no mere sentiment of overly maternalistic Catholics: it was foreshadowed by the Davidic  monarchy in the Old Testament and brought to fruition by the best of all Kings, Jesus Christ. Mary now reigns forever as Queen and Mother in the Kingdom of Heaven:

“…the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death….This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.” (From the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, quoted at CCC 966, 969).

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.


Ref. I am carving this short note out of Dr. Hahn materials including The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on MatthewHail, Holy Queen (Double Day); audio series on Gospel of Matthew Rome Sweet Home (Ignatius); and see also Disc six of Why the Hell? on “The 
New Eve.” In Redemptoris Mater, 47, Saint John Paul II states:

“Thanks to this special bond linking the Mother of Christ with the Church, there is further clarified the mystery of that “woman” who, from the first chapters of the Book of Genesis until the Book of Revelation, accompanies the revelation of God’s salvific plan for humanity. For Mary, present in the Church as the Mother of the Redeemer, takes part, as a mother, in that monumental struggle; against the powers of darkness” which continues throughout human history. 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.” Hence, as Christians raise their eyes with faith to Mary in the course of their earthly pilgrimage, they “strive to increase in holiness.” Mary, the exalted Daughter of Sion, helps all her children, wherever they may be and whatever their condition, to find in Christ the path to the Father’s house.Thus, throughout her life, the Church maintains with the Mother of God a link which embraces, in the saving mystery, the past, the present and the future, and venerates her as the spiritual mother of humanity and the advocate of grace.”

Image: The Coronation of the Virgin by Diego Velazquez, circa 1645 (according to Wikipedia, “The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.”).

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IS MARY’S ASSUMPTION INTO HEAVEN BIBLICAL?

“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).

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.

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VERITATIS SPLENDOR IS AN INFALLIBLE TEACHING

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)

Long before Pope Francis became Pope competent theologians had already established that the teaching in Veritatis Splendor was an infallible teaching. Referencing Veritatis Splendor, the Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (Our Sunday Visitor), published in 1997, specifically states that the Church’s teachings therein about mortal sin “are decisive,” having “been taught insistently by the Church” with the “degree of universality and firmness associated with infallible teaching of the ordinary Magisterium.” Pope John Paul II seemed to say as much in Veritatis Splendor itself when he said:

“Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuials but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts” (No. 115).

It is shocking but nevertheless accurate to say that Pope Francis did not agree with Veritatis Splendor, and the launching of his Pontificate has essentially been a carefully strategized attack on Veritatis Splendor. This whole unfortunate matter is brought to our attention again by the Vatican’s recent sacking of certain moral theology professors at the John Paul II Institute (see George Weigel’s important article linked below).

The Vandals sack Rome….again

The point of this short note is merely to state rather forcefully that Pope Francis was under every obligation to follow and promulgate Veritatis Splendor, but in Amoris Laetitia he boldly and even cavalierly adopted the very situation ethics arguments condemned in Veritatis Splendor (see AL 301-303). Naturally concerned about this contradiction in Papal teaching in the all-important area of moral theology, Professor Germain Grisez (a great theologian of Catholic morality) sent a lengthy letter to Pope Francis in which he said:

“When a bishop acts in persona Christi, fulfilling his duty to teach on matters of faith and morals by identifying propositions to which he calls upon the faithful to assent, he presumably means to state truths that belong to one and the same body of truths: primarily, those entrusted by Jesus to his Church and, secondarily, those necessary to preserve the primary truths as inviolable and/or to expound them with fidelity. Since truths like these cannot supersede or annul one another, papal or other episcopal statements made while teaching in persona Christi must be presumed to be consistent with one another when carefully interpreted. Thus it is a misuse of such a teaching statement to claim its support without having first sought so to interpret it.”

It is therefore quite clear that where Amoris Laetitia attempts to circumvent Veritatis Splendor, that is, where it attempts to provide a moral calculus which allows one to transform an intrinsically evil act into something good (and even willed by God) under particular circumstances (again see AL 301-303), such a formulation lacks fidelity to the clear limitations imposed by Veritatis Splendor and is, therefore, ipso facto, invalid. This is the only possible way to resolve a conflict which never should have happened in the first place.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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THE EVERLASTING GOD

(Prophet Isaiah by Antonio Balestra, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28)                            

We are caught up in the simple but precise argument that if there was nothing to begin with how could there be anything at all? And the core of our argument is that the existence of God is “an imperative of metaphysical reasoning,” or even of simple logic.

Wilhelmsen states that “the metaphysics of being is simultaneously the Philosophy of God.” Such a statement finds correlation in the Bible, where God is revealed to Moses as I AM (Exodus 3: 14 ). And Jesus says –  rather amazingly –  that he is “the life” (John 14:6 ). In other words, God is that very beginning, or that very unbeginning, the absence of which there would simply be nothing.

The “Supreme mystery,” then, is the mystery of a Being whose very essence is to exist. The philosopher says that God exists simply in virtue of Himself, so that God is the pure act of existing. “God affirms himself as the absolute act of being in its pure actuality” (Etienne Gilson).

Father Garrigou-Lagrange, a great scholar of St. Thomas Aquinas, explains that:

“God is the eternally subsisting being. God, then, is not only pure spirit, He is being itself subsisting immaterial at the summit of all things and transcending any limits imposed by either space or matter or a finite spiritual essence. Now, because God is the self-subsisting being, the infinite ocean of spiritual being, unlimited, unmaterialized, He is distinguished  from every material  or spiritual creature. The divine essence is existence itself, it alone of necessity exits. No creature is self-existent; none can say: I am being, truth, life, etc. Jesus alone among men said: “I am the truth and the life,” which was the equivalent to saying, “I am God” (Providence, 70-71).

Another scholar, quoting Jacques Maritain, says that “the act of existing is the key to St. Thomas’s philosophy, and it [being] is something super-intelligible which is revealed in the judgment I make that something exists. ‘This is why, at the root of metaphysical knowledge, St. Thomas places the intellectual intuition of that mysterious reality disguised under the most commonplace and commonly used word in the language, the word to be…that victorious thrust by which it [being] triumphs over nothingness.’” Our affirmation or intuition of being, then, leads us to “the affirmation of Being Itself, God” (Wilhelmsen).

The Incarnation is the revelation that Jesus is LIFE! One day Jesus revealed his glory to the apostle Thomas, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). As the Pulpit Commentary explains, “I am the Life [means that Jesus is] the life eternal, the Possessor, Author, Captain, Giver, and Prince of life.”

On another occasion Jesus encountered a grieving woman, Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died, and Jesus said to her (before raising Lazarus back to life): I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). This profound pronouncement of Jesus demonstrates that he “possesses the absolute sovereignty over life and death” that is “the sole prerogative” of God (ICSB).

CONCLUSION: God is life, or, as the Bible says, God has LIFE in himself (John 5:26). “God is the ultimate Possessor of life per se” (Pulpit Commentary). This is a great mystery, but it is a mystery confirmed by Scripture and human intelligence, and St. Paul warns that our minds are darkened if they don’t rise to a knowledge of God (Romans 1: 19-22; ICSB). So, we return to the ultimate philosophical question, Why is there something rather than nothing?, and we must conclude that nothing can produce nothing! And it is only because God IS (that is, because God is ETERNAL LIFE, the eternally subsisting Being) that we hold on to life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Our present “to-be-ness” is completely dependent on Him who IS I AM. And in this light we can come to see in a more penetrating way that God has the power – as the eternal custodian of life –  to raise up our mortal bodies on the last day (John 6:40). 

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Paradoxical Structure of Existence by Frederic D. Wilhemsen; Providence by Father Garrigou-Lagrange; Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics under the title, “Principle of Causality” beginning at page 120; The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson; Existence and the Existent by Jacques Maritan; and Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.

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THE THEOLOGICAL SIDE OF POETRY

(G.K. Chesterton, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

Every now and then I get interested in poetry and spend some time reading a few poems. But to say I live immersed in the world of poetry would be flat out false! I’m no poet, and I owe it to you to say so.

But lately I’ve been listening to Christopher Lee’s enchanting recitation of Edgar Allan Poe’s disturbing but strangely enjoyable poem, The Raven, which has a certain “hypnotic rhythm” to it. The poem speaks to the narrator’s irreparable loss of the radiant maiden, Lenore, who has died (all of which haunts the mind of the narrator). Will he ever see Lenore again? The raven is sent to speak but one word to this man: “Nevermore.” Thus, those famous words from the poem: “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore!’ ” Could the poem possibly have any theological relevance? Is not the narrator living in a type of hell? And, theologically speaking, what is hell? “Approach the Father, Nevermore.” It seems to me that almost all the poems I have read contain theological relevance in one form or another, so that poetry touches upon theology, directly or indirectly.

Even Humpty Dumpty reminds me of my mortality, to wit: that there will come a day when even the best doctors won’t be able to put me back together again! And the memory of impending death is of incredible spiritual importance.

And Emily Dickinson’s depressing poem, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died,” raises all those perplexing questions about the meaning of death and whether the soul is immortal. But for a Christian, if the evocative power of a poetic word is what makes poetry special, then a Word which actually became human very well might be the key to understanding everything. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

C.S. Lewis says that there is “no general agreement as to what ‘poetical truth’ means, or whether there is really any such thing,” but he adds, nevertheless, that “man is a poetical animal and touches nothing which he does not adorn.” Lewis argues that poetry has a particular power “of arousing and satisfying our imagination,” and that “there are two things the imagination loves to do. It loves to embrace its object completely, to take it in at a single glance, and see it as something harmonious, symmetrical, and self-explanatory.” Lewis’ point is that theology, while it is not poetry, can certainly fit poetry into the grand scheme of things because “the waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world….” He says: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see by it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Chesterton also speaks to the imaginative dimension of poetry. He says: “Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and to make it finite. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane” (as edited). Mysticism, says Chesterton, “keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.” It is because poetry can express meaning with less restrictions than a purely rationalistic approach to life, and is therefore not enclosed in the “prison of one thought,” that it more closely approaches the frontier of “first principles,” the light of which “we look at everything” else.

Gerard Manley Hopkins says in one of his poems, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” This famous verse from Hopkins seems to me to be almost the very aim and purpose of poetry: to dig deeper into the meaning of things by producing for us a poetical freshness and originality carved out of symbolically transformative words that express the very depths and transcendence of the human experience in amazing simplicity, concurrently charged with poetical rhythm, all of which sheds light on the meaning of life. As W.H. Gardner once observed of Hopkin’s poetry, there is in it the “sensation of inscape – a quasi-mystical illumination, a sudden perception of the deeper pattern, order, and unity which gives meaning to external forms….” Hopkins is one of the great religious poets, and one of the greatest poets of more recent times.

Paul Roche speaks to the epistemological and even metaphysical dimension of poetry (and the manner in which poetry draws from the primordial reality of things). Roche states that “the reason why pure poetry cannot be immediately understood is because it returns us to that level of immediate contact which is inaccessible to the conscious mind except in so far as it is sieved through the subconscious.” He says: “a double thing takes place in poetry: the idea is broken down again into the sensory data that gave rise to it and is re-incarnated into the symbols which are stored in the treasury of the subconscious. In other words, the idea is returned to the stratum of primary knowledge from which it came, and at the same time the incantatory pulse of the rhythm flows into the blood-beat of the universe, thus coaxing the spirit away from from the tight limitations of the cerebral and letting the psyche merge again with subliminal experience.” It is thus, says Roche, that this “poetic transmutation” becomes “analogously divine in the way that the divine essence permeates equally all….” Thus, “poetry reaches universality not by being universal in its language, but by being specific and particular, just as the senses are. It cuts into and from reality magical facets each one of which shines forth the whole.” What is more, says Roche, these “symbols, these carriers and unifiers of being, are not only images but also rhythms, because the universe is constituted in rhythm.” And this is why, at least for a moment, poetry can make “the universe as coherent and translucent as a drop of water.”

Bob Lerner (a distinguished, contemporary poet) says that “poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical – the human world of violence and difference – and to reach the transcendent or the divine.” If we were to point to a place where theology and poetry meet it is in the use of symbolic and imaginative language in order to arrive at a deeper, more unified, more comprehensive view of life. And, theologically speaking, only a symbolic or metaphorical language can express an ultimate, supernatural truth. “Divine truth and grace are conveyed to us in earthen vessels, the infinite of the finite; the ineffable and the transcendent is clothed in visible forms and signs” (Karl Adam, edited). As St. Paul reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Of course, Christianity also relies on historical facts and conceptual arguments in support of its truth claims. Poetry, and the poetic dimension of life, are contained within Christianity, with the added caveat that Christianity’s symbols and metaphors point to true, supernatural realities that represent a complete picture of life, therefore making sense of everything else. Could it be that man is a poetical animal because he is first and foremost a religious being?

Thomas Mulcahy, M.A.

References: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton; “Is Theology Poetry?” by C.S. Lewis. Of Edgar Allan Poe, Chesterton states: “Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical.” And regarding the English poet, Cowper, Chesterton remarks: “…he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination…poetry partly kept him in health.”

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HAVE YOU SEEN THE TREE WITH THE LIGHTS IN IT?

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“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Have you seen the tree with the lights in it?

Father Irala laments that many of us fail to have “clear sensations” of the beauty of the external world. “Only rarely,” he says, “do we come out into the exterior world, beautiful and joyful as it was created by God.” We are preoccupied, worried, and caught up in our own subjective world. Some people even find it difficult to put down their cell phones as they walk along a beautiful nature trail.

The great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, tells this tale: “Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbi Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see these things anymore.’”

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek  states that “there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.” She says, “When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens , and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.” Father Dubay adds: “The personal inability to perceive truth and beauty is related…to a lack of wonder….It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives.” 

Dillard relates in her book that “the secret of seeing is…the pearl of great price.” For “the newly sighted,” she says, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning.” Dillard mentions a girl who, born blind, underwent surgery which restored her sight. “When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it.’” Dillard’s quest was to recover this pure sensation of sight so that she too could see the tree with the lights in it.

We can relearn to receive the true “sensations” of nature’s beauty. Here are instructions given by Father Irala to improve our receptive power in the areas of sight and sound.

Sight: “For your re-education you should apply your sense of sight for about ten or twenty seconds to a landscape, an object, a detail. Keep a tranquil or almost passive attention. Take your time. Consider the object before you and no other. Pay no attention to any other idea. Let the object enter within you as it is in itself, without any special effort. Look at it the way a young child does. [Remain] loose and relaxed.”

Hearing: “Apply your hearing to a near or distant noise. Let yourself be penetrated by the sounds, as above, naturally, without mental discussion of the fact or its cause. Be a mere receiver of sound and perceive it with pleasure and relaxation.”

Dillard learned how to see like the young girl who, through her doctor, received the gift of sight. Dillard relates the following: “One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.”

The great Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, states: “The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well nigh-indispensable…only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful.” “At first,” says Father Irala, “it is not so easy to practice these fully conscious sensations with no attention at all paid to anything else. So, in your first attempts, you might find yourself thinking about the process itself, or the cause, effect, or some circumstances, instead of what you perceive. But in a few days, after a series of good tries, you will succeed in separating the pure sensation from accessory mental processes. And then you will find joy or rest in the sensation itself.”

Commenting on the healing power of nature, Saint Pope John Paul II made the following observation: “The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.”  (John Paul II, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, no. 14.)

Have you seen the tree with the lights in it? Learning to slow down and gather in the beauty of nature with child-like simplicity will be of immense value to all of us.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard; Achieving Peace of Heart by Father N. Irala; and The Evidential Power of Beauty by Father Thomas Dubay.

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“CONFESS YOUR SINS TO ONE ANOTHER”

THE COMFORTING POWER AND FRIENDSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

“And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever” (John 14:16)

In this note we will be discussing the tremendous comfort and strength the Holy Spirit can bring to someone suffering from loneliness, ostracization, and the crushing difficulties of life.

A great spiritual writer of the twentieth century wrote the following:

“God the Holy Spirit is the divine friend of the human souls to whom he is sent. Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to us in order, among other purposes, to banish from our life on earth that which constitutes one of the great pains of our present existence. There are few things so hard for a man to bear as loneliness and isolation. Man is not made to live alone. In a world which is ever hostile to Christ and will always hate his followers as it hated him, the Christian necessarily suffers from a certain measure of ostracism.

Moreover, the Christian has to bear the loneliness that, with the advance of years, is the common lot of mortals. Death and other causes tend to thin the ever narrowing circle of one’s friends and acquaintances. How frequently the pathos of this abandonment shows in the eyes of the aged whose contemporaries have vanished year by year.

Jesus has provided for the comfort of lonely hearts. When it comes to a human creature, neither to love nor to be loved by anyone, then existence has turned to dust and ashes. The disciples of Christ need never experience this dread starvation, this withering of their powers of affection, seeing that they may, by grace, possess within themselves in the closest intimacy a Person who, by the Word of Truth [Jesus], has been declared to be preeminently a consoler (John 14:16) – a Person who may be loved without limits and who repays every mark of affection by more than the hundredfold in warmth and tenderness. Consider for a moment the POWER of loving in the Holy Spirit who is love personified, who IS the personal love between the Father and the Son!

The Holy Spirit has not only an infinite capacity for friendship – He has, as well, an infinite power to make his friendship effective for the consolation and comfort of those he loves. In the great trails of life, notably in the bereavement caused by the death of those dearest to us, how impotent we find the well-meaning efforts of our friends to touch our grief with healing. When the soul is burdened by a great sorrow, nothing can bring alleviation and strength except that which can penetrate and change the spirit of man. This the Divine Friend – the Holy Spirit – alone is capable of doing.

How frequent an experience it is to find the faithful who, when faced with an overwhelming calamity, which should normally paralyze and crush them, manifest a courage, calm and resolution, traceable to no natural source. The origin of this mysterious peace and confidence is the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Their turning to God in their distress has provoked the inner and direct action of the Holy Spirit on the substance of the soul itself.

All that love demands is that it be given free scope to express itself. The affection of the Holy Spirit for the soul he inhabits and adorns is not only strong and ardent…it is faithful as well. Let us train ourselves to be open to this potent, strengthening influence of the Divine Friend within our souls by a constant, loving attention to His presence. The Holy Spirit is the consoler of hearts because Jesus expressly sent Him to us in order to find comfort in all the trials and adversities of life, and Jesus further promised that the Holy Spirit would abide with us forever in a never ending friendship of love (John 14:16).”

This long quote, significantly edited and adapted, is from The Holy Spirit by Father Edward Leen (Scepter Publishers), pages 160-163. Father Leen, who belonged to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, wrote extensively on spiritual topics and his books are full of powerful spiritual insights.

Dear Friend, be ever more attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the depths of your soul, and of His infinite capacity to help you through the daunting difficulties of this present life, through a most remarkable and intimate friendship that will never end.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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THE HERO OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO HAS BEEN GIVEN TO US!

“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5)

In his great Epistle on justification, Saint Paul presents the Holy Spirit as the hero of the Christian life, whose full power has been unleashed by Jesus’ death and resurrection! The overarching theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapters 1-8) is POWER leading to LIFE. Thus Paul says at Romans 1:16:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

This POWER flows from Christ’s resurrection:

“[Jesus] who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).

The general condition of humanity before the Gospel is powerlessness, both for Jew and Gentile. “We have already brought the charge against Jew and Greek alike that they are under the domination of sin” (Romans 3:9). Even compliance with the “works of the law” in the Old Testament economy is insufficient for justification: “a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

Our reconciliation and justification comes from faith in Jesus Christ (chapters 4-5). “At the appointed time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us godless men” (Romans 5:6). This justification by faith flows not only from Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death, but also from the power flowing from his resurrection! “Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

Moreover, flowing from this gift of justifying faith is HOLY SPIRIT POWER! “We have gained access by faith to the grace in which we now stand, and we boast of our hope for the glory of God….And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Paul then asks: does this grace of justification give us immunity from sin?, to which he essentially answers: HELL NO! “Are we to say, ‘Let us continue in sin that grace may abound?’ Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2). Why is this? Because through faith we have been baptized into the sin-forgiving death of Jesus and the new life giving resurrection of Jesus. “Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life” (Romans 6:4). “Do not, therefore, let sin rule your mortal body” (Romans 6:12).

We then come to chapter seven of Romans where we encounter this mysterious, representative man who is struggling so mightily with the power of sin in his flesh. He cries out: “For I do not what I want, but the very thing I hate (7:15), and, “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (7: 21). Is Paul speaking of himself here, or of Israel, or of the “universal plight of all men” (ICSB)? Whichever the case may be, the powerlessness this man feels in the flesh (in his human weakness) has a solution: it is the HOLY SPIRIT who will give him – give us – victory over sin through our new life in the Spirit!

The flesh may be weak, but the Holy Spirit is POWER! And as Paul foreshadowed at Romans 5:5, the Holy Spirit has been given to us! We are not on our own in our fight against sin. We have a most powerful ally: the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here is the solution to the man’s problem in Romans 7: through faith in Jesus Christ, received in baptism, we have access to the Holy Spirit.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:24-25). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:1-2).

And if you think Paul is being subtle in pointing out the Holy Spirit as the solution to this man’s problem, think again! In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul makes reference to the Holy Spirit some 18 times! He uses the didactic method of repetition in order to drill into our minds that we have victory over sin in the power of the Holy Spirit! The following verses are representative:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life  because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of  his Spirit who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8: 5-14).

Conclusion: Do you know why St. Paul never allows even a shade of unethical conduct in his Epistles? Because the Holy Spirit empowers you to lead a holy life. Paul is utterly taken up by the reality of the Christian life. He is ablaze to the core with the Holy Spirit. The hero of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit. His full power has been unleashed, as Paul points out, by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is a radical quality of Christian morality. God has given you the Holy Spirit! This is a supernatural reality made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a reality perceived by faith, and received in baptism. Holiness is a POWER. The Gospel has come to you in POWER! You are justified, you are set right with God, because Jesus has given you access to the full power of the Holy Spirit, who gives you victory over sin, because of His indwelling, sanctifying presence in your soul. The power of the Holy Spirit is the principle of LIFE! The death and resurrection of Jesus is therefore the engine which carries us along to the state of justification. “Romans 8 unveils the solution to the problem laid out in Romans 7. It is a divine solution orchestrated by the Trinity. The Father sent the Son to redeem the world from sin (8:3) and sent the Spirit to raise the world from death to new life (8:9-13)” (ICSB). See the source for this conclusion under References below.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: As you can see, I am relying on the notes in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. But primarily I am relying on notes I typed up years ago from a class on the Epistles of Saint Paul. I don’t even remember the name of the professor, but the entire conclusion above, and the whole theme of power leading to life, and of the Holy Spirit being the hero of the Christian life, comes directly from his lectures, and the notes I took. He was a Jewish convert, teaching at the St. Mary’s Campus in Orchard Lake Village, MI. Finally, I have also relied extensively on Dr. Scott Hahn’s excellent audio series on Romans.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism:

‘But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ [Romans 6: 8-11].

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:

‘[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized’ [Saint Athanasius].”   (nos. 1987-1988)

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