Monday 23 April 2012


A couple of months before his death Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was interviewed on national television. One of the questions was this:
"Bishop Sheen, you have inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you? Was it a Pope?"

Bishop Sheen responded that it was not a Pope, a cardinal, another bishop, or even a priest or a nun.
It was a little Chinese girl of eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near the Church. After they locked him up in his own house, the priest was horrified to look out of his window and see the Communists proceed into the Church, where they went into the sanctuary and broke into the tabernacle. In an act of hateful desecration, they took the ciborium and threw it on the floor with all of the Sacred Hosts spilling out. The priest knew exactly how many Hosts were in the ciborium: thirty-two.

When the Communists left, they either did not notice, or didn't pay any attention to a small girl praying in the back of the Church who saw everything that had happened. That night the little girl came back. Slipping past the guard at the priest's house, she went inside the Church. There she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for the act of hatred.

After her holy hour she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue received Jesus in Holy Communion, (since it was not permissible for laymen to touch the Sacred Host with their hands.)

The little girl continued to come back each night to make her holy hour and receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after she had consumed the last and thirty-second host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the guard who was sleeping. He ran after her, caught her, and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle. This act of heroic martyrdom was witnessed by the priest as he watched grief-stricken from his bedroom window.

When Bishop Sheen heard the story he was so inspired that he promised God he would make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament everyday of his life. If this frail, little child could give testimony and witness to the world concerning the real and wonderful Presence of her Savior in the Blessed Sacrament, then the Bishop was absolutely bound by all that was right and true, to do the same. His sole desire from then on was to bring the world to the burning Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

A Meditation by Anne

Our Lord at prayer
Jesus would pray. Frequently He felt the desire to leave, for a moment, the interested crowd and his often hard-headed disciples, to retire to a separate place or a mountain, and where He could be alone with the Father.

For himself, He had nothing to ask for – Neither bread, nor forgiveness, nor protection, nor favours. But in God’s presence, He would be what He was – and still is. He would be filled with peace. He would listen in the depth of his soul. The awareness of his child-likeness would fill him with strength and joy. Once again, Jesus would know that He was the beloved Son whom the Father had filled with His gifts. Again He would feel imbued with that infinite patience, with that untiring mercy that He shares with His Father, with that dynamic and creative love of the Trinity. His prayer would overflow in words of confidence and love: “Father, I know that You always hear me. Father, I bless You. I give You thanks. Father, everything yours is mine…..”

And when He would return – glowing, radiant, renewed – the Apostles would ask themselves: “Where is He coming from? What has happened to Him? Who has been able to transform Him in that way?” Someone would then tell them that He had been away to pray. Then they would say to themselves: “Ah, if only we would know how to pray that way! What a pity that nobody taught us to pray!” And one day they dared to say: “Lord, teach us to pray!”

And Jesus taught them that beautiful prayer, which we call the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that reflects what Jesus did – He hallowed God’s Name; He brought about His Kingdom; He did His Will. But, at the same time, it is a prayer adapted to the needs of the disciples: Give us our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; lead us not into temptation.

More than a prayer to recite, it is a prayer to meditate upon. Did He not need an entire night to only pronounce one verse of the Our Father: “Let not my will be done, but Thine!” It is a prayer that would transform the Apostles – moulding them from withi; a prayer which would lead them throughout their lives to the same total surrender of their Lord.

Through this prayer, Jesus shows us the true face of the Father: He is so good that – in the eyes of those who are superficial – He seems a ‘weak’; He is so loving that He seems unable to deny anything; He gives himself to us so much that, apparently, one does with Him whatever one wants.

In the Our Father, Jesus attacks our scepticism and our lack of confidence. He shakes up our timidity and affirms with all his might that there is no limit to Divine generosity. Our desires are seen limited only by our fears; our prayers only have the boundaries of our inconsistency; our doing only fails because of our lack of faith. One must never seek in God the reasons for our failures.

The only obstacle for us to be heard is not the difficulty for disposing the Father in our favour, it is the difficulty of convincing ourselves that we must go to Him with Faith. The only resistance to oppose persevering in prayer is not that of the Father who refuses to give, but ours in our insisting not to receive.

But it is not about our becoming even more interested than what we already are. The only thing which can be asked for, the only thing which God can give, is Himself: His spirit; His love. Therefore, let us be careful with God’s gifts: they are full of life, surprising, active, and dangerous to our egoism and laziness. God’s gift makes one give. God’s forgiveness makes one forgive. God’s love makes one love as He does; like the Son did even unto the Passion and the Cross.

Let us make a new beginning today, to pray the Our Father with that same spirit, with God’s spirit, so that it may be fruitful in us – so that it may be fertile in our lives as Christians and that we may be then go out and radiate it to others!

Anne C is a supporter of the Guild of Blessed Titus Brandsma 

Saturday 21 April 2012

The ten best Catholic blog titles

And I mean titles, I do not mean the content although, I am sure that you will agree that the ten I have chosen all have solid pedigrees in the literary context.

A name is so important; it can be a descriptor of the object or person; it can tease the imagination and also inspire.

The ten that I have chosen are, I underline, all my own selection. The fact that several of them are GOBTB members should not surprise anybody. The Guild does attract membership from some very distinguished bloggers, present company excepted.

So here they are, the plain and the enigmatic, if you wish to produce a list of your own then, please add a post on this site if you are a member, or post your list on your own site if not (or, become a member of the Guild, it's easy).

1. My all time favourite blog title is none other than our own Laurence England's "That the Bones You have Crushed May Thrill". An intriguing title taken from the Psalm Misere Mei and not without considerable significance.
In the time of Christ it was the custom of  shepherds, when faced with a lamb that had a tendency to stray, to take it and to break one of its legs with a rock.
The leg would then be bound up and the sheep more or less confined to quarters. When the flock moved, the shepherd would place the miscreant around his shoulders and carry it to pastures new. A close relationship was created and the lamb saved from an uncertain fate due to wandering from the flock. A wonderful analogy for anyone who is sick or terminally ill.

2. The Hermeneutic of Continuity really needs no introduction from me. Fr Tim Finigan must rank among the country's five best known and loved priests and he maintains this blog with a diverse series of posts, some serious, some humorous and all of them highly readable. Whenever I quote this blog to anyone, even fellow Catholics, it's always met with "The Hermen of Who?"
How few listen to our Holy Father, he knows what it means.

3. Another priest but one who is not a member of the Guild (as yet). Fr John Zuhlsdorf, better known as Father Z (pronounced "Zee" - for the sake of any Martians out there) posts on his blog, mainly from the USA. It is, of course, "What does the Prayer really say?". Fr Z must be one of the high hitters of all time (and he's still a young man!) Huzzah! as he might say.

4. And yet another 'American' blogger (Heather King is a Brit but living in the USA), new on the scene as far as I am concerned but with a blog title that will set you on fire.
It is, none other than "Shirt of Flame" A great title that reminds me of the line from the Basque Carol: "The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame..."
Fire is synonymous with zeal and one can imagine that, having one's shirt on fire would make you quick to respond, and that is what the Good Lord wishes us to do; react as if our very lives depend on it, which they do.

5. Left Footer - what can I say except that I like and admire Chris and will one day buy him a large Jack Daniels when we meet up. He claims to be "angry" but, in reality he is just portraying the justifiable anger that most of us feel at the state of play in the world today. I grew up being called a "Left Footer" (although, it has its origins, I believe in Northern Ireland and was a sectarian term of abuse). A great title.

6. The Tenth Crusade - from the USA. This is what Wikipedia has to say about the title: "The Tenth Crusade is a rhetorical device that builds an analogy between the US- led War on Terrorism and the historical Crusades".
I like the fact that the word "Crusade" is used (too much political correctness about its usage today) and I like the analogy. We will face major issues with Muslim communities in the future and we need to commence defining our own spiritual needs so that parameters are set (and commence a dialogue).
I also like Caro's direct way of speaking - let's have more of it.

7. Mary O'Regan's blog "The Path Less Taken" is an intriguing title. I am sure that I am going to show my ignorance by stating that I know not its provenance (please don't say that it's a line from Shakespeare, Mary). I do know that there are several works along the lines of 'The Road less travelled' but I shall have to await enlightenment. Anyway, it's a great title

8. We swing back to America for Anthony S Layne's title:
 "The Impractical Catholic" (actually, he has two blogs and it was a toss up as to which had the best title, The Impractical Catholic or Outside the Asylum - I like 'em both.
I eventually plumped for the impractical one as it sums up my own capabilities as regards the faith. I guess that we are all impractical Catholics and that is another reason for liking the title. Tony Layne writes some very deep posts and I often have to go and lie down after reading them.

9. Paul Priest is a well known commentator and blogger; he also has the enviable blog title "On the Side of the Angels" OTSOTA for short. Paul has a fine mind for Canon Law and an equally easy writing style that totally absorbs you, except that you have to keep reaching for the Kleenex (read his latest series of posts on the Guild site).

10. And, finally, Dylan Parry's "A Reluctant Sinner" is another five star title. Open to much interpretation (think about it) Dylan carries an explanation on his sidebar with a quote from Romans: (7): 14-19. It is good to use the word "Sinner" as the world seems to believe that sin was just a figment of Catholic imagination and, of course, we are all reluctant sinners.
Dylan's posts are wonderfully crafted and put together with pictures in a very design conscious fashion which makes me ever so slightly envious (not enough for it to be a sin though).

Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow

Thursday 19 April 2012

Another Newman...

Mississippi 1944 :
Claude Newman was a black man who worked the fields for a landowner. He had married when he was 17 years old to a woman of the same age. One day, two years later, he was out plowing the fields. Another worker ran to tell Claude that his wife was screaming from the house. Immediately Claude ran into his house and found a man attacking his wife. Claude saw red, grabbed an axe and split the man's head open. When they rolled the man over, they discovered that it was the favorite employee of the landowner for whom Claude worked. Claude was arrested. He was later sentenced for murder and condemned to die in the electric chair.

While he was in jail awaiting execution, he shared a cell-block of some sort with four other prisoners. One night, the five men were sitting around talking and they ran out of conversation. Claude noticed a medal on a string around another prisoner's neck. He asked what it was, and the Catholic boy told him that it was a medal. Claude said, "What is a medal?" The Catholic boy could not explain what a medal was or what its purpose was. At that point, and in anger, the Catholic boy snatched the medal from his own neck and threw it on the floor at Claude's feet with a curse and a cuss, telling him to take the thing.

Claude picked up the medal, and with permission from the prison attendants, placed it on a string around his own neck. To him it was simply a trinket, but he wanted to wear it.

During the night, sleeping on top of his cot, he was awakened with a touch on his wrist. And there stood, as Claude told the priest later, the most beautiful woman that God ever created. At first he was very frightened. The Lady calmed down Claude, and then said to him, "If you would like Me to be your Mother, and you would like to be My child, send for a priest of the Catholic Church." With that She disappeared.

Claude immediately became terrified, and started to scream, "a ghost, a ghost", and fled to the cell of one of the other prisoners. He then started screaming that he wanted a Catholic priest.

Father O'Leary , the priest who tells the story, was called first thing the next morning. He arrived and found Claude who told him of what had happened the night before. Then Claude, along with the other four men in his cell-block, asked for religious instruction, for catechism.

Initially, Father O'Leary had difficulty believing the story. The other prisoners told the priest that everything in the story was true; but of course, they neither saw nor heard the vision of the Lady.

Father O'Leary promised to teach them catechism, as they had requested. He went back to his parish, told the rector what had happened, and returned to the prison the next day to give instruction.

It was then that the priest learned that Claude Newman could neither read nor write at all. The only way he could tell if a book was right-side-up was if the book contained a picture. Claude had never been to school. And his ignorance of religion was even more profound. He knew nothing at all about religion. He did not know who Jesus was. He did not know anything except that there was a God.

Claude began receiving instructions, and the other prisoners helped him with his studies. After a few days, two of the religious Sisters from Father O'Leary's parish-school obtained permission from the warden to come to the prison. They wanted to meet Claude, and they also wanted to visit the women in the prison. On another floor of the prison, the Sisters then started to teach some of the women-prisoners catechism as well.

Several weeks passed, and it came time when Father O'Leary was going to give instructions about the Sacrament of Confession. The Sisters too sat in on the class. The priest said to the prisoners, "Okay, boys, today I'm going to teach you about the Sacrament of Confession."

Claude said, "Oh, I know about that!"

"The Lady told me," said Claude, "that when we go to confession we are kneeling down not before a priest, but we're kneeling down by the Cross of Her Son. And that when we are truly sorry for our sins, and we confess our sins, the Blood He shed flows down over us and washes us free from all sins. "

Father O'Leary and the Sisters sat stunned with their mouths wide open. Claude thought they were angry and said, "Oh don't be angry, don't be angry, I didn't mean to blurt it out."

The priest said, "We're not angry. We're just amazed. You have seen Her again?"

Claude said, "Come around the cell-block away from the others."

When they were alone, Claude said to the priest, "She told me that if you doubted me or showed hesitancy, I was to remind you that lying in a ditch in Holland, in 1940, you made a vow to Her which She's still waiting for you to keep." And, Father O'Leary recalls, "Claude told me exactly what the vow was."

This convinced Father O'Leary that Claude was telling the truth about his visions of Our Lady.

They then returned to the catechism class on Confession. And Claude kept telling the other prisoners, "You should not be afraid to go to confession. You're really telling God your sins, not this priest, or any priest. We're telling God our sins." Then Claude said, "You know, the Lady said [that Confession is] something like a telephone. We talk through the priest to God and God talks back to us through the priest."

About a week later, Father O'Leary was preparing to teach the class about the Blessed Sacrament. The Sisters were present for this too. Claude indicated that the Lady had also taught him about Holy Communion, and he asked if he could tell the priest what She said. The priest agreed immediately. Claude related, "The Lady told me that in Communion, I will only see what looks like a piece of bread. But She told me that THAT is really and truly Her Son. And that He will be with me just for a few moments as He was with Her before He was born in Bethlehem. And that I should spend my time like She did, in all Her time with Him, in loving Him, adoring Him, thanking Him, praising Him and asking Him for blessings. I shouldn't be bothered by anybody else or anything else. But I should spend those few minutes with Him."

Eventually they finished the instructions, Claude was received into the Catholic Church, and the time came for Claude to be executed. He was to be executed at five minutes after twelve, midnight.

The sheriff asked him, "Claude, you have the privilege of a last request. What do you want?"

"Well," said Claude, "you're all shook up. The jailer is all shook up. But you don't understand. I'm not going to die. Just this body. I'm going to be with Her. So, can I have a party?"

"What do you mean?", asked the sheriff.

"A Party!" said Claude. "Will you give Father permission to bring in some cakes and ice cream and will you allow the prisoners on the second floor to be turned loose in the main room so that we can all be together and have a party?"

"Somebody might attack Father," cautioned the warden.

Claude turned to the men who were standing by and said, "Oh no, they won't. Will you fellas?"

So, the priest visited a wealthy patron of the parish, and she supplied the ice cream and cake. They had their party.

Afterwards, because Claude had requested it, they made a Holy Hour. The priest had brought prayer books from the Church and they all said together the Stations of the Cross, and a had a Holy Hour, without the Blessed Sacrament.

Afterwards, the men were put back in their cells. The priest went to the chapel to get the Blessed Sacrament so that he could give Claude Holy Communion.

Father O'Leary returned to Claude's cell. Claude knelt on one side of the bars, the priest knelt on the other, and they prayer together as the clock ticked toward Claude's execution.

Fifteen minutes before the execution, the sheriff came running up the stairs shouting, "Reprieve, Reprieve, the Governor has given a two-week reprieve!" Claude had not been aware that the sheriff and the District Attorney were trying to get a stay of execution for Claude to save his life. When Claude found out, he started to cry.

The priest and the sheriff thought it was a reaction of joy because he was not going to be executed. But Claude said, "Oh you men don't know. And Father, you don't know. If you ever looked into Her face, and looked into Her eyes, you wouldn't want to live another day."

Claude then said, "What have I done wrong these past weeks that God would refuse me my going home?" And the priest said that Claude sobbed as one who was brokenhearted.

The sheriff left the room. The priest remained and gave Claude Holy Communion. Claude eventually quieted down. Then Claude said, "Why? Why must I still remain here for two weeks?"

The priest had a sudden idea.

He reminded Claude about a prisoner in the jail who hated Claude intensely. This prisoner had led a horribly immoral life, and he too was sent to be executed.

The priest said, "Maybe Our Blessed Mother wants you to offer this denial of being with Her for his conversion." The priest continued, "Why don't you offer to God every moment you are separated from Her for this prisoner so that he will not be separated from God for all eternity."

Claude agreed, and asked the priest to teach him the words to make the offering. The priest complied. At the time, the only two people who knew about this offering were Claude and Father O'Leary.

The next day, Claude said to the priest, "That prisoner hated me before, but Oh! Father, how he hates me now!" The priest said, "Well, that's a good sign."

Two weeks later, Claude was executed.

Father O'Leary remarked, "I've never seen anyone go to his death as joyfully and happily. Even the official witnesses and the newspaper reporters were amazed. They said they couldn't understand how anyone could go and sit in the electric chair actually beaming with happiness."

His last words to Father O'Leary were, "Father, I will remember you. And whenever you have a request, ask me, and I will ask Her."

Two months later, the white man, who had hated Claude, was to be executed. Father O'Leary said, "This man was the filthiest, most immoral person I had ever come across." His hatred for God, for everything spiritual," said the priest, "defied description."

Just before his execution, the county doctor pleaded with this man to at least kneel down and say the Our Father before the sheriff would come for him.

The prisoner spat in the doctor's face.

When he was strapped into the electric chair, the sheriff said to him, "If you have something to say, say it now."

The condemned man started to blaspheme.

All of a sudden the condemned man stopped, and his eyes became fixed on the corner of the room, and his face turned to one of absolute horror.

He screamed.

Turning to the sheriff, he then said, "Sheriff, get me a priest!"

Now, Father O'Leary had been in the room because the law required a clergyman to be present at executions. The priest, however, had hidden himself behind some reporters because the condemned man had threatened to curse God if he saw a clergyman at all.

Father O'Leary immediately went to the condemned man. The room was cleared of everyone else, and the priest heard the man's confession. The man said he had been a Catholic, but turned away from his religion when he was 18 because of his immoral life.

When everyone returned to the room, the sheriff asked the priest, "What made him change his mind?"

"I don't know " said Father O'Leary, "I didn't ask him."

The sheriff said, "Well, I'll never sleep if I don't."

The Sheriff turned to the condemned man and asked, "Son, what changed your mind?"

The prisoner responded, "Remember that black man ­ Claude - who I hated so much? Well he's standing there [he pointed], over in that corner. And behind him with one hand on each shoulder is the Blessed Mother. And Claude said to me, 'I offered my death in union with Christ on the Cross for your salvation. She has obtained for you this gift, to see your place in Hell if you do not repent.' I was shown my place in Hell, and that's when I screamed."

This, then, is the power of Our Lady.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

A Reminder...

A skinny young boy loved football with all his heart.
Practice after practice, he eagerly gave everything he had. But being half the size of the other boys, he got absolutely nowhere. At all the games, this hopeful athlete sat on the bench and hardly ever played.

This teenager lived alone with his father, and the two of them had a very special relationship. Even though the son was always On the bench, his father was always in the stands cheering. He never missed a game. This young man was still the smallest of the class when he entered high school. But his father continued to encourage him but also made it very clear that he did not have to play football if he didn’t want to.

But the young man loved football and decided to hang in there He was determined to try his best at every practice, and perhaps he’d get to play when he became a senior. All through high school he never missed a practice nor a game but remained a bench-warmer all four years. His faithful father was always in the stands, always with words of encouragement for him. When the young man went to college, he decided to try out for the football team as a “walk-on.” Everyone was sure he could never make the cut, but he did.

The coach admitted that he kept him on the roster because he always puts his heart and soul to every practice, and at the same time, provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed.

The news that he had survived the cut thrilled him so much that he rushed to the nearest phone and called his father. His father shared his excitement and was sent season tickets for all the college games. This persistent young athlete never missed practice during his four years at college, but he never got to play in a game.

It was the end of his senior football season, and as he trotted onto the practice field shortly before the big playoff game, the coach met him with a telegram. The young man read the telegram and he became deathly silent. Swallowing hard, he mumbled to the coach, “My father died this morning. Is it all right if I miss practice today?” The coach put his arm gently around his shoulder and said, “Take the rest of the week off, son. And don’t even plan to come back to the game on Saturday.”

Saturday arrived, and the game was not going well. In the third quarter,when the team was ten points behind, a silent young man quietly slipped into the empty locker room and put on his football gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate back so soon. “Coach, please let me play. I’ve just got to play today,” said the young man. The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he wanted his worst player in this close playoff game. But the young man persisted, and finally feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in. “All right,” he said.”You can go in.” Before long, the coach, the players and everyone in the stands could not believe their eyes. This little unknown, who had never played before was doing everything right. The opposing team could not stop him. He ran, he passed, blocked, and tackled like a star. His team began to triumph. The score was soon tied. In the closing seconds of the game,this kid intercepted a pass and ran all the way for the winning touchdown. The fans broke loose. His teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders. Such cheering you never heard.

Finally, after the stands had emptied and the team had showered and left the locker room, the coach noticed that this young man was sitting quietly in the corner all alone The coach came to him and said,”Kid, I can’t believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you do it?”

He looked at the coach, with tears in his eyes, and said, “Well, you knew my dad died, but did you know that my dad was blind?” The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile, “Dad came to all my games, but today was the first time he could see me play, and I wanted to show him I could do it!”

The Crisis was never 'New'...

From 'On The Holy Spirit' by St Basil the Great [329-379] ChXXX
76. To what then shall I liken our present condition?
It may be compared, I think, to some naval battle which has arisen out of time old quarrels, and is fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight.
Look, I beg you, at the picture thus raised before your eyes.
See the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack.
With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out.
Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost.
To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high.
From every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are dashed one against the other. Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants.
Jealousy of authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another.
Think, besides all this, of the confused and unmeaning roar sounding over all the sea, from howling winds, from crashing vessels, from boiling surf, from the yells of the combatants as they express their varying emotions in every kind of noise, so that not a word from admiral or pilot can be heard.
The disorder and confusion is tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness.
Suppose, too, that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the better of the other, while their ship is actually settling down into the deep.

77. Turn now I beg you from this figurative description to the unhappy reality.
Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion.
But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down.
We attack one another.
We are overthrown by one another.
If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side.
If a foeman is stricken and falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down.
There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another.
And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks?
Some have gone to the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their allies, some from the blundering of their own officers.
We see, as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith. 1 Timothy 1:19
And then the disturbances wrought by the princes of the world 1 Corinthians 2:6 have caused the downfall of the people with a violence unmatched by that of hurricane or whirlwind.
The luminaries of the world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have been driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and disheartening has settled on the Churches.
The terror of universal ruin is already imminent, and yet their mutual rivalry is so unbounded as to blunt all sense of danger.
Individual hatred is of more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare of mankind.
So all men alike, each as best he can, lift the hand of murder against one another. Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in that of defect.
On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism.
Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.
Plain speaking is fatal to friendship, and disagreement in opinion all the ground that is wanted for a quarrel.
No oaths of confederacy are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness in error.
Every one is a theologue though he have his soul branded with more spots than can be counted. The result is that innovators find a plentiful supply of men ripe for faction, while self-appointed scions of the house of place-hunters reject the government of the Holy Spirit and divide the chief dignities of the Churches.
The institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force himself into high office.
The result of this lust for ordering is that our people are in a state of wild confusion for lack of being ordered; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give orders to other people, as it is to obey any one else.

78. So, since no human voice is strong enough to be heard in such a disturbance, I reckon silence more profitable than speech, for if there is any truth in the words of the Preacher,
"The words of wise men are heard in quiet," Ecclesiastes 9:17 the present condition of things any discussion of them must be anything but becoming.
I am moreover restrained by the Prophet's saying,
"Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time, for it is an evil time," Amos 5:13
...a time when some trip up their neighbours' heels, some stamp on a man when he is down, and others clap their hands with joy, but there is not one to feel for the fallen and hold out a helping hand, although according to the ancient law he is not uncondemned, who passes by even his enemy's beast of burden fallen under his load. Ezekiel 23:5
This is not the state of things now. Why not? The love of many has waxed cold; Matthew 24:12 brotherly concord is destroyed, the very name of unity is ignored, brotherly admonitions are heard no more, nowhere is there Christian pity, nowhere falls the tear of sympathy.
Now there is no one to receive "the weak in faith," Romans 14:1 but mutual hatred has blazed so high among fellow clansmen that they are more delighted at a neighbour's fall than at their own success.
Just as in a plague, men of the most regular lives suffer from the same sickness as the rest, because they catch the disease by communication with the infected, so nowadays by the evil rivalry which possesses our souls we are carried away to an emulation in wickedness, and are all of us each as bad as the others.
Hence merciless and sour sit the judges of the erring; unfeeling and hostile are the critics of the well disposed. And to such a depth is this evil rooted among us that we have become more brutish than the brutes; they do at least herd with their fellows, but our most savage warfare is with our own people.

79. For all these reasons I ought to have kept silence, but I was drawn in the other direction by love, which "seeks not her own," 1 Corinthians 13:5 and desires to overcome every difficulty put in her way by time and circumstance.
I was taught too by the children at Babylon, that, when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our duty.
They from out of the midst of the flame lifted up their voices in hymns and praise to God, reeking not of the host that set the truth at naught, but sufficient, three only that they were, with one another.
Wherefore we too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth.
Had I not so done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day.
A further powerful incentive to my undertaking was the warm fervour of your "love unfeigned," and the seriousness and taciturnity of your disposition; a guarantee that you would not publish what I was about to say to all the world,—not because it would not be worth making known, but to avoid casting pearls before swine. Matthew 7:6
My task is now done.
If you find what I have said satisfactory, let this make an end to our discussion of these matters. If you think any point requires further elucidation, pray do not hesitate to pursue the investigation with all diligence, and to add to your information by putting any uncontroversial question.
Either through me or through others the Lord will grant full explanation on matters which have yet to be made clear, according to the knowledge supplied to the worthy by the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"Sublime Extravagance" - Lacordaire

A saint is not simply the point of confluence, the meeting of all the Christian virtues in one and the same soul. This is but ordinary sanctity, that which is necessary to the salvation of every Christian.

There is no Christian in the state of union with God in whom humility, chastity, and charity do not meet together in a degree more or less perfect. We call such people pious men and women; we might even, to speak widely, call them saints; but this is not what we understand by that great expression--the saints! What then are the saints? What then is sanctity thus understood?

Sanctity is the love of God and of men and women carried to a sublime extravagance. If communion between the Infinite and the finite really exists; if the heart of God creates a dwelling and lives in the heart of man, it is impossible, at least in certain souls more ardent than the rest, that the presence of an element so prodigious should not become visible, should not produce extraordinary effects which the weakness of our nature and of our language would constrain us to call extravagant. For what is the meaning of this word? It means that which goes beyond.

There is in sanctity a phenomenon of extravagance, a love of God and men which frequently defies ordinary human understanding. But this is not the unique characteristic of sanctity; extravagance alone would be only singularity, and singularity proves nothing in favor of the man or woman who makes it a part of their actions, if it is not perhaps a great deal of vanity and a little of bad education.

Extravagance in sanctity should be corrected by another element, and it is in fact by the sublime--that is to say, by moral beauty in its highest degree; by that beauty which causes the rapture of human sense. Thus, there is in sanctity something which wounds human sense and something which enraptures it; something which produces stupor and something which produces admiration.

And these two things are not separated there, like two streams which flow side by side. But the extravagant and the sublime, that which wounds human sense and that which enraptures it, mingled and dissolved the one with the other, make of sanctity but one tissue, in which it is impossible for the most active spirit of analysis, at the moment when it sees the saint in action, to distinguish that which is extravagant from that which is sublime--that which binds man to earth from that which lifts him up even to God.

Defining sanctity in these terms, we would naturally expect the history of the saints to be a rare phenomenon, reserved to one time or to one country. But the truth is the exact opposite.

It is a general and a constant phenomenon. Wherever Catholic doctrine takes root, even where (so to speak) it is placed as a grain of seed between rocks, sanctity appears and becomes manifest in some souls by fruits which defy the esteem and the scorn of reason.

That sublime extravagance dates from a yet higher and more unutterable folly--the folly described by Saint Paul of a God dying upon a Cross, His head crowned with thorns, His feet and His hands pierced, His body bruised and mutilated. Since that time the contagion of holiness has never ceased to choose victims in the world--victims to whom belong the heritage of the cross, the living tradition of voluntary martyrdom, the dignity of extravagance and the glory of the sublime.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Let no doubt trouble you...

Is there a shadow of doubt lingering in the remote recesses of your mind that certain aspects of Church teaching hang by a thread?
Possibly grounded upon superstition, fraudulent conspiracy and historical revisionism?
Is yours a faith like mine  haunted by fleeting bouts of fear that some spectre of medical science or archaeological discovery could potentially disprove all one holds dear, leaving one's beliefs - the ultimate meaning and purpose of one's life - in shreds? 
Few speculations torment more than the possibility that Christ did not die upon the Cross; with all its grave consequences for the faith.

With the death of Jesus came the death of His Gospel and any hope in His Truth and His Kingdom lay in ruins. Christ's message was so inextricably linked with His very Person that His teaching could not be ideologically amputated and isolated from Him; as one could a Socratic anecdote or Confucian aphorism.
In the shadow of the scandal of the cross, where Christ became officially a non-person to Rome and a Judaic false prophet hanged from a tree, the entire vision was discredited, shattered and the despondent apostles resigned to this failure were fully aware their brief time of hope was now consigned to oblivion and distant memory.
Yet this was not the end: But the beginning of a new world.
From the ashes of catastrophe and desolation a powerfully dynamic incandescent flame emerged -  a revolution that split time itself in two and ultimately within a dozen generations subsumed western civilization in its entirety so that no corner was not illuminated by the light of Christianity.

How did this arise?
The New Testament is unambiguous:

"This Jesus God raised up; and of that we are all witnesses" [Acts 2:32]
"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" [1 Cor15:14]

The witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ, initially overwhelmed with stubborn disbelief, fear and dismay; with a scoffing resignation; these disciples, far removed from any form of extravagant enthusiasm or fanaticism; these broken few were the ones to whom Christ proved His risen reality.
Far from a delusional mass hysteria, individual hallucinatory events and collective desire to believe in the Resurrection; rather the historical reality of Christ's return, the living, breathing, talking, eating, physical Christ - the actual manifest Truth of His being among them re-ignited and restored their fractured faith and hope.
The Resurrection of Christ alone brought about the resurrection of the Gospel.
After extensive scrutiny of over 3,400 academic studies,  Habermas has concluded that the Resurrection Kerygmatic formulae from the Church of Corinth in AD51 derive from Paul's immersion in early Jerusalem Church Apostolic tradition from AD35-41 and accounts of Resurrection appearances were already prevalent for decades before they took their Gospel form.
Ascending Christological speculation of a drawn-out development of doctrine from empty tomb to resurrection narratives, or the hypotheses of theologians like Barth & Bultmann that a spiritual awakening of faith through a form of 'wishful thinking' invoked a 'resurrection in spirit' external to historical reality - both are disproven by concrete evidence of early kerygma and reference to appearance narratives.
The Historical Christ's Resurrection and real presence among them heralded the Christian era. He was the cornerstone upon which the Apostles and St Paul built Christ's Church.
Those who had witnesses the Risen Christ were unswerving in this assertion - even unto martyrdom.

The contemporary prevailing assertion has become that St Paul would not have been able to foment Christianity across the mediterranean without the testimonies from many of a Christ after the Cross ; that Christianity could not have risen if Christ had not risen. Without it Christianity's psycho-historical sociocultural development, is - even in the opinion of those seeking to debunk it -  highly implausible and counter-intuitive.

It is with ironic ideological inevitability that speculation long considered dead and buried has now been resurrected in a vainglorious attempt to counter the 'Risen Christ':
A Jesus who did not die upon the cross.
Islam adamantly attests they crucified an imposter, as did some C19th academics and more recently controversially speculative books such as Holy Blood & Holy Grail.

But what of a Christ who died [in Pilate's eyes] surprisingly quickly? 
Is it possible he merely fainted? Or suffered a cataleptic event? Or drugged?
Did He actually have His heart pierced with the spear or was it metaphorical?
Was there a guard sent to watch over the sealed tomb or an intermittent watch? Did Joseph of Arimathea even place Jesus in the tomb? Were the guards bribed or did they misdiagnose? Was the whole execution an elaborate hoax arranged by powerful sympathisers?
The Judaic 'Tractate of Mourning' [Semahot] insisted that a corpse be revisited  upon the third day to ensure the person was actually dead.  Even in today's technology-intense medicine misdiagnosis of death is frighteningly estimated to be as high as 1 in 1000.

Most medical experts are without doubt Jesus died on the cross; and was probably more than hallf-dead even before He was nailed to it! Even though Josephus recounts a later crucifixion survival story, the victim was surely permanently incapacitated.

Our traditional desensitised imagery and artistic portrayals of the crucifixion is simply wrong.
Evidence from Apocryphal letters and Gnostic writings, substantiated with broken pericopal structure, indicate that the Evangelists removed the more graphic details present in proto-gospels to make the Passion Narratives more 'PG'.

Roman scourgings were acts of  malignant hyper-violent barbarism inflicted upon 'non-persons'.The prisoner's violation and torture was so extreme that many were already in their death throes before crucifixion.
Golgotha was an outcrop in a rubbish dump -a vermin-infested open sewer .The execution was a tangible intimate affair between executioner and victim who were in continual close contact. The top of the cross was barely 7ft high - not the lofty monoliths of art & cinema. [the sponge on a stick was to avoid being bitten, not for reasons of height]

Ironically everything we have discovered regarding 1st century crucifixions is verified by the shroud of Turin - the arms over the crossbeam , the hemlock wedge 'rawlplugs' holding the nails in place; the distension of the feet nail holes indicating the pivot to prevent long-term diaphragm respiration etc. with knees raised to the side the body is contorted.
The pains involved are unimaginable - the damage permanent and irreversible - the direct shredding of nerves, the excruciating rapid muscle death, the poisoning of limbs with tetany, oedema fluid flooding the pericardium and drowning the heart from without...yet death does not come !!!
The body dies around the victim before they ultimately expire...sadistic execution as a form of proselytism - a graphic warning - "thus die the enemies of Rome".
A survivor could never stand upright again, let alone walk - the muscles and fascia would have been damaged and poisoned irreparably; neuropathy would be the predominant sensation -little feelng except agonising electrical short-circuiting in the limbs - heart damage would prevent even the slightest physical exertion - brain damage would cause intermittent convulsions and fits. Blood loss and accelerated infection within a traumatised highly compromised immune system leaves the victim with a prognosis of a few days at most.

The Centurion's spear which tore open the pericardium and heart would have brought instantaneous death.
This Official Imperial representative could decree that this man Christ was truly dead; for he had seen Him breathe His last...
The Jewish hierarchy declared Jesus was dead [and His body stolen]
His Disciples witnessed and knew Jesus to be dead - and accordingly abandoned all hope.
And thereafter would non-Christian sources: Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara bar Serapion & the Talmud...and even today the most antagonistic sceptics like Richard Carrier believe Christ died during Crucifixion

Whatever doubts torment you.
Please: Do not let Christ's possible survival of a Crucifixion be one of them.
It did not : It could not happen.
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