Thursday, November 24, 2011

Who Knew?! Squanto Was A Baptized Catholic Native American!

Taylor Marshall, in his blog "Canterbury Tales" discusses the Catholic roots of the Thanksgiving holiday.  He writes:
An interesting bit of trivia is that the first American Thanksgiving was actually celebrated on September 8, 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida. The Native Americans and Spanish settlers held a feast and the Holy Mass was offered.

The Catholic origins of Thanksgiving don't stop there. Squanto, the beloved hero of Thanksgiving, was the Native American man who mediated between the Puritan Pilgrims and the Native Americans. Squanto had been enslaved by the English but he was freed by Spanish Franciscans. Squanto thus received baptism and became a Catholic. So it was a baptized Catholic Native American who orchestrated what became known as Thanksgiving.
 How do you like that?

A Blessed Thanksgiving To All!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How To Observe Thanksgiving

Once upon a time, there were identical twin boys with absolutely non-identical dispositions.
One boy was a hope-filled optimist.  "Everything is coming up roses!" he would say.  The other twin was a sad and hopeless pessimist.  He thought that Murphy –  as in Murphy's Law (Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong) –  was an optimist!
The worried parents of the boys went to consult a  child psychologist.  The psychologist suggested  a plan  to balance each twin’s disposition, to keep both of them from over-reacting.  Force the pessimist into admitting that he has reasons to be optimistic; and force the optimist into admitting that life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. 
The psychologist told the Parents:  "On their next birthday, put each twin in a separate room to open his gifts.  Give the pessimist the best toys you can afford, and give the optimist a box of manure.
The birthday came, and the parents followed the instructions,  and carefully observed the results.
When they peeked in on the pessimist, they heard him complaining, "I don't like the color of this new computer... I'll bet this video game will break on me in a week ... I don't understand how to put this new bicycle together ... I know my friend Jimmy has a  cooler  wristwatch than this one... ."
Tiptoeing across the hallway, the parents peeked in on their little optimist and his gift box of manure.   He was gleefully throwing the manure up in the air.  He was giggling and deliriously happy!  When he noticed his parents peeking on him,  he jumped up and ran over to them, hugging and kissing them, and shouted, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!  You can't  fool me!  Where's my  new  pony?!

Some Catholics attend Holy Mass on Thanksgiving Morning to worship the Lord.  I wish many more Catholics would attend Mass on Thanksgiving.  Nonetheless, the Catholics who do attend Thanksgiving Mass do it because of their disposition.  
A disposition like the optimistic boy's – a disposition of gratitude. 
  • Gratitude like  the Samaritan freed from leprosy had toward Our Lord Jesus, as reported in Luke 17:11-19.   
  • Gratitude like Sirach spoke to us about in Sirach 50:22-24: "And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth... May He grant you joy of heart and may peace abide among you." 
  • Gratitude like Saint Paul wrote about in his First Letter to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 1:3-9]:  “I continually thank my God for you, because of the favor He has bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,  in whom you have been richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge.
This humble, joyful gratitude is the important disposition we are asked to keep in mind on Thanksgiving Day.  That’s what we do at Mass on that holiday.  We unite to thank the Lord for all His blessings:
  • We thank Our Lord for our health, our food, our houses and income;
  • We thank Our Lord for being alive today, in this challenging era;
  • We thank Our Lord for being chosen as a member of His Church now, in these excit­ing times;
  • We thank Our Lord for having been blessed with grace in so many ways, includ­ing the blessings that have come to us through very special persons we have known in our lives –  persons who have  literally helped us change our lives more meaningfully in  Christian discipleship; 
And we thank Our Lord for so much more!
  • Thanksgiving Day is a day for clearly and sincerely counting our blessings. 
  • Thanksgiving Day is a spiritual holiday, a dramatic reminder that America's roots are planted in religious attitudes.  
  • Thanksgiving Day reminds us that our Founding Mothers and Founding Fathers were intensely aware of God's presence and of God's provident goodness to us. 

The Lord Jesus and Saint Paul and Sirach all remind us that our dispositions should mirror our Founding Parents' dispositions.

     With them, and with one another, let’s create a pause in Thanksgiving Day's activities.  A pause: to offer grateful praise to our Loving God, Who -- through His Loving Son -- told the grateful Samaritan healed of the leprosy, “Stand up and go your way.  Your FAITH has been your salvation.”

May we all create a pause in silence on Thanksgiving Day, to offer grateful praise to our Loving God, Who -- as the traditional hymn sings -- "Has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love, And still is ours today."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Having The Guts To Pledge Your Allegiance To Christ Our King

Christ Surrounded By Angel Musicians, by Hans Memling

Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,and all the angels with him,he will sit upon his glorious throne,and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another,as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right,'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me,ill and you cared for me,in prison and you visited me.'Then the righteous will answer him and say,'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply,'Amen, I say to you, whatever you didfor one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'Then he will say to those on his left,'Depart from me, you accursed,into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food,I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,a stranger and you gave me no welcome,naked and you gave me no clothing,ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'Then they will answer and say,'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirstyor a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,and not minister to your needs?'He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,what you did not do for one of these least ones,you did not do for me.'And these will go off to eternal punishment,but the righteous to eternal life."
The Holy Gospel According To Saint Matthew 25:31-46
To speak the truth -- to accept and to live what we know in our hearts is morally right and ethically justified in God's sight -- is to follow Christ.  Feeding the physically hungry and the spiritually hungry; quenching physical and spiritual thirst; accepting and including strangers and outcasts; to not put ourselves first, but always put others ahead of ourselves. This is following Our Lord Jesus.  Even when it makes us unpopular.  Living according to His Way, following Him even when He is walking on His Way to the Cross.  It requires guts.

In your life as a Roman Catholic so far, 
  • If you have never been criticized because you are a practicing Catholic
  • If you have never been humiliated or cursed at for standing up for the truth, or speaking out against immorality, sin or evil
  • If you have never experienced prejudice and bigotry, never been hated and ostracized because of your loyalty to Christ and His Church
Then, consider yourself very fortunate, or consider yourself cowardly or ashamed to be known and publicly identifiable as a committed follower of Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.

  • Courage (mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty)
  • Humility (the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble)
  • Selflessness (having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself)
  • and Trust (assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of Jesus Christ and His Teachings) are ...

... Demanded of those who would pledge their allegiance -- their loyalty and devotion -- to Christ.  Demanded from those who would follow the example of Christ, our Crucified King!

Today, on this final Sunday of the Church's Liturgical Year, Our Lord Jesus,
Our King, is issuing a challenge to us —  to prove to Him that we fully accept, and proclaim, and live the truths He has taught us in His Gospel.Today, we are being challenged to continue proclaiming or to start proclaiming the truth about God’s unwavering love for all men and women.  Today we are being challenged to prove that we trust and live the truth about the never-failing promise that good will triumph over evil, that light will destroy the darkness.
Feast of Christ The King challenges us to fully accept and proclaim the truth about  the moral teachings of our Catholic Faith -- teachings which have remained rock-solid and relevant and  true -- long after trendy fads and self-indulgences proved to be nothing but evil and empty lies. It takes guts and loyalty and trust to follow Christ our King.And, yes, it  IS demanding and it  IS  difficult.  But it is NOT impossible, as the thousands of Saints have proven over 2000 years!
Following our Crucified and Risen King is the only path that leads us beyond our times and our  world ... to live forever in the timeless, infinite vision of the glory of God in Heaven!
We all SAY that we want that -- that we want to enter Heaven and eternal joy. But, do we have the guts to follow Him?  
"He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right,'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'"
Do YOU have the guts to prove how much you desire to be with Him in Heaven?

The Vatican Takes Action, Puts Legal "SmackDown" On Benetton For Inappropriate Use Of Pope Benedict's Image

Vatican Information Service [OP / VIS  20111117 (240)]  published a report on November 17, 2011, announcing that the Vatican's Secretariat of State issued the following communique,  concerning a commercial advertising campaign which makes inappropriate use of an image of the Holy Father:

  "The Secretariat of State has authorized its lawyers to initiate actions, in Italy and elsewhere, to prevent the circulation, via the mass media and in other ways, of a photomontage used in a Benetton advertising campaign in which the Holy Father appears in a way considered to be harmful, not only to the dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church, but also to the sensibility of believers".

  On the same subject, Holy See Press Office Director, Father Federico Lombardi S.J. released the following declaration:

  "We cannot but express a resolute protest at the entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends.  
"It is a serious lack of respect for the Pope, an affront to the feelings of the faithful and an evident demonstration of how, in the field of advertising, the most elemental rules of respect for others can be broken in order to attract attention by provocation.  
"The Secretariat of State is examining the steps that may be taken with the competent authorities in order to guarantee adequate protection for the figure of the Holy Father."

Let's give `em a full power yet loving smackdown!
Hey, I'm just sayin'...

"The Assistant Headmaster"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Three Preconditions For A Priest's Life To Ensure Its Conformity To Christ

On the evening of November 5, 2011, in the Vatican Basilica, Pope Benedict presided at Vespers for the opening of the academic year in pontifical universities.

His homily focused on priestly ministry, in the light of the current seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations by Venerable Pius XII.

The reading from the First Letter of Peter "invites us to meditate upon the mission of pastors in the Christian community", the Pope said.

  "Ever since the beginning of the Church, it was clear that the guides of those early communities were given particular importance, instituted by the Apostles to announce the Word of God through preaching and celebrating Christ's sacrifice. ... Peter also emphasizes reciprocal solidarity among pastors, highlighting his own and their membership of the single apostolic order. ... Tending Christ's flock is the vocation and task they share; it binds them to one another because they are united by a special bond to Christ. ... The apostolic vocation lives thanks to the personal relationship with Christ, it is nourished by assiduous prayer and animated by the passionate desire to communicate the message received from the same experience of faith as the Apostles".

  The Pope then went on to identify three preconditions for a priest's life to ensure its conformity to Christ:
  1. "The aspiration to collaborate with Jesus in spreading the Kingdom of God,
  2. "The gratuitousness of pastoral commitment,
  3. "And an attitude of service."
"God the Father sent the eternal Son into the world to accomplish His plan of salvation", the Holy Father explained. "Christ Jesus founded the Church so that the beneficial effects of redemption would be extended over time. The vocation of priests has its roots in this action of the Father, which was accomplished by Christ through the Holy Spirit. The minister of the Gospel, then, is a person who allows himself to be seized by Christ, who knows how 'to abide' in Him, who enters into harmony and intimate friendship with Him, so that everything occurs 'as God would have it', according to His will of love, with great inner freedom and profound joy of heart".

  Turning then to reflect on the gratuitousness of pastoral commitment, Benedict XVI noted that "we must never forget that we enter the priesthood through the Sacrament of Ordination. This means opening ourselves to the action of God by daily choosing to give ourselves for Him and for our fellow man. ... The Lord's call to the ministry is not the fruit of any particular merit, it is a gift we must accept and to which we must respond by generously and disinterestedly dedicating ourselves, not to our own project but to that of God, that He may dispose of us according to His will, even though this may not correspond to our own desire for self-fulfillment. ... As priests, we must never forget that the only legitimate ascension towards the ministry of pastor is not that of success but that of the Cross.

  "From this point of view, to be a priest means to serve, also by leading an exemplary life", the Pope added. "Priests dispense the means of salvation, the Sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist and Penance. They cannot dispose of them as they please, but humbly dispense them for the good of the People of God. Their lives are profoundly marked by this service - from tending the flock to faithfully celebrating the liturgy - and by readiness to serve all their brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and those most in need. By implementing this 'pastoral charity', on the model of Christ and with Christ, wherever the Lord may call, each priest fulfills both himself and his vocation."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November, Part Five: Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones And Reflecting On Our Own Death

Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death.  The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November:  Memento mori --  "Remember you will die."  Here is The Fifth and Final Part of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying.

Death has been conquered, as proven by Christ's resurrection. Death was rendered toothless by one Individual's obedience to the will of God.  This Individual was human and divine: Jesus Christ.  Therefore, if we live with Christ, we will live with Him forever.  If we die rejecting Christ, we reject Him for all eternity.
Because death is the decisive moment in the history of each person, we are foolish if we do not prepare for death.
Holy Souls Being Led Into Heaven, by Hans Memling

If we would die in union with Christ, we must live in union with Him.  If we are to have this union with Him, we must pray, because every prayer unites our will to God. "Pray always," Our Lord Jesus told us.  And, above all, Christ has given us the perfect means to prepare for death and eternal life -- the Sacraments.
Each of the Sacraments, in its own way, helps us to journey with Christ in this life's pilgrimage toward death and beyond death:

  • Baptism is the gateway.
  • When sin separates us from God, the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation restores us to His life.
  • The Eucharist allows us to enter the mystery of Christ's sacrificial death, to offer ourselves with Him, and to celebrate His Resurrection and the promise of our own eternal life.
  • Confirmation is a renewal and strengthening of our Baptism, enabling us to meet the challenges of adult Christianity, including the challenge of death.
  • Marriage is a death to selfishness and a mirror of the love that exists between Christ and His Church -- the love we will share in a very particular way after death.
  • The Anointing of the Sick is a spiritual fortification of grace against serious illness attacking the unity of our body and soul; Anointing also provides for our immediate preparation for death. 
The Damned Entering Hell, by Hans Memling

Those who lead their lives in union with Our Lord Jesus and His Church have no fear of death.  They can approach the hour of death with confidence that "They will see the Lord face to face, and His name will be written on their foreheads," as The Book of Revelation says.

For them, "
It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them.  They will reign for ever and ever." [Revelation 22:4-5] 

And, so, dear Academicians:  Memento Mori!

(Hey, Academicians: If you'd be interested in a continuation of Catholic teaching on these topics, including what Christ and His Church teach about Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, Limbo -- essentially the branch of Catholic theology known as Eschatology  -- please let us know through your comments!) 

Friday, November 11, 2011

November, Part Four: Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones And Reflecting On Our Own Death

Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death.  The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November:  Memento mori --  "Remember you will die."  Here is The Fourth Part of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying.
Christ Leading the Patriarchs Into Paradise by Bartolomé Bermejo,  c.1480

What is it like to die?   What happens at the moment of death?
We must approach these questions with caution.  
When we try to deal with something completely beyond our experience, we can mislead ourselves!
So-called near-death experiences concern the interim state of existence between this life and the existence which lies beyond the moment of death!A lot of believers and non-believers are fascinated by the experience of the moment of death.  Medical researchers, in particular Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr. Michael B. Sabom, and Dr. Melvin Morse have interviewed a few hundred adults and children who were medically "dead":  People whose heartbeat and breathing had ceased, whose blood pressure had dropped to zero, whose muscular reflexes had stopped, and whose brainwave patterns registered as a flat response, indicating that the brain was not responding to ordinary stimuli.
These medically "dead" people were eventually revived and their normal responses restored before they suffered permanent brain damage.   These people never experienced true death -- they experienced near-death!  Please note:   Near-death is NOT real death!

Only eight people in history are qualified to speak about what it’s like to die — and to return from the dead:

  • In 1 Kings 17:22, the prophet Elijah raised the son of a widow at Zarephath from the dead. 
  • In 2 Kings 4:34-35, the prophet Elisha raised a Shunammite woman’s son from the dead. 
  • In 2 Kings 13:20-21, a dead man, whose body touched the bones of the prophet Elisha, rose from the dead. 
  • In John 11:1-45, Our Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
  • In Luke 8:52-56, Our Lord Jesus raised from the dead the young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader.
  • In Luke 7:11-17, Our Lord Jesus raised a widow of Nain's only son from the dead.
  • In Acts 9:40-41, Saint Peter raised a woman named Tabitha from the dead. 
  • In Acts 20:9-20, Saint Paul raised a young man named Eutychus from the dead.
(Notice, Our Lord Jesus is not a part of the group of eight — because He died and rose from the dead in a new and totally glorified body, living a resurrected life, not a resuscitated life.)

Except for these eight people who were dead and were
resuscitated by God to continue their earthly lives and then die again,  no one else has returned from real death to resume his or her life again and tell others what awaits human beings in the next world.
Now, what are we to think about near-death experiences?  They are interesting!  For one thing, the near-death experiences of people who were declared  medically "dead"  are all strikingly similar.  These people's near-death experiences may help to motivate us in contemplating and preparing for the transition between this life and the next life.  To summarize the research findings concerning near-death experiences, we can say that there are six major phenomena:

  1. Many of the people surviving near-death experiences say they heard a ringing or buzzing sound.  They seem to enter a whirling cone or funnel, or a black tunnel.
  2. At the end of the tunnel, they encountered a brilliant light, a light they felt was benevolent towards them.  They experienced feelings of serenity and peace.  Many felt the light was a supernatural being.  Some Christians identified the light as an angel or as Jesus Christ.  Some Jews, as an angel.  Others, even agnostics, as the presence of the Divine, of God.
  3. Many found themselves in the company of deceased parents or friends.
  4. Quite a few experienced "out of body" experiences, wherein they were floating high above their bodies and the whole scene, able to see and hear the doctors, nurses, or bystanders as they tried to revive them.  After being revived, many were able to give startlingly accurate descriptions of who was there, what was said, and what was done.
  5. Still others experienced a review of their lives, a kind of rapid "instant replay" of significant and crucial episodes of their lives.  In any case, these "life reviews" led many of these people to recognize and admit mistakes and evils in their lives, eventually leading them to reform their attitudes and lifestyle.
  6. And, a lot of people having near-death experiences were reluctant to return to their bodies, but were encouraged and led back, to resume their lives with a new attitude. 

We must remember that people who reported these experiences did not truly die.  They survived a close brush with death and possibly a close brush with the afterlife, but they never crossed the threshold separating the this life and the afterlife. The shock of their bodily functions ceasing caused their consciousness to be altered, enabling them to have those experiences. But, all in all, their experiences were still experiences of life in this world -- they were never even close to the "great beyond" waiting at the other end of the passageway.  Scientists cannot measure, map, or videotape what awaits us in the mystery of the life to come.

But we can grapple with the mystery of this supernatural realm by using our intelligence enlightened by our Catholic Faith in what God has revealed to us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

In Catholic theology, death is only a doorway to God and everlasting life.  Death was transformed into a passageway by Christ who, in becoming human, took on all the consequences of being human, including death, the result of sin.
The late Cardinal John Wright called death "the decisive moment" in every person's life because, at that moment, the end of our earthly pilgrimage comes and with it comes God's decision on our eternity.
The Last Judgement, by Hans Memling

At the moment of death, each one of us will have already decided whether we belong to Christ or not.

Once death comes, we can no longer act to change the overall, habitual direction in which we have been taking our life.  

Each one of us will receive our recompense, Saint Paul tells us, "according to his or her life in the body."  

Before death, we are changeable creatures -- growing, aging, developing.

But with death, a spiritual and physical transition take place that are unchangeable.

  • If a person dies in hatred toward God, that hatred will continue throughout all eternity.
  • If one dies in friendship with God, that friendship continues, immutable.
There is an old spiritual axiom: "As you live, so shall you die."

To Be Continued...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November, Part Three: Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones And Reflecting On Our Own Death

Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death.  The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November:  Memento mori --  "Remember you will die."  Here is Part Three of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying.
Every November, we should bite the bullet and confront ourselves with some vitally important questions:
  • Where am I going?
  • What is the meaning of existence?
  • What is the 'end' or goal of my existence?
  • Why am I alive? 
  • Do I believe in God, or in impersonal "primordial forces of nature"?

During the 1990s, I noticed a bizarre warping of our western culture — toward narcissism and unbridled materialism.  In 1993, Forbes Magazine asked several influential and wealthy Americans why so many Americans "feel bad" -- depressed, anxious -- considering that they've never had it so good.  Various pundits have had answers centered on the economy, political stagnation, and the loss of the entrepreneurial spirit.  

I did not then and do not now think that any of these are the reason why people feel so bad.  It's much simpler than that: "For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead". (Psalm 143:3)   I believe that "feeling bad" is the result of our society elevating the lifestyle of the conspicuous consumer to a new secular religion.  

Many unchurched consumers' religious views in our society — views that are relativistic at best — do not present a Catholic understanding of God, life, death and the afterlife.  For instance, a little girl asks her mother, "Mommy, where do we go when we die?"   Mother’s answer:  "I don't know."   Or the bizarre repartee between the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the farmer who plowed his corn crop under to create a baseball diamond for ghost baseball players, in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams:  "Is this heaven?" "No ... it's Iowa."

Instead, I think a lot of people in our present culture do not practice nor affiliate with genuine religions.  Instead, there's a popular pseudo-spiritual attitude in our culture —  an attitude that may be affecting a lot of us who do practice a genuine religion.  This pseudo-spiritual attitude distorts the truth which Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us about human existence.  
I had written about this back in August 2009, in the post entitled, Spirituality For Catholic Jedi - Part One:

Twenty years ago, in American society, if you asked someone what their religion was, you would get simple answers: “Catholic”, Jewish”, “Methodist”, “Evangelical”, and so on. But, not these days. The old categories don't seem to work, because the religious landscape has changed so much. Today, ask someone, "What's your religion?" and you won’t get a simple answer. These days, many people describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious"— as spiritual seekers who are ANTI--religion, who like Jesus but hate His Church.
These days, many people describe themselves as “spiritual.” So, what does THAT mean? For these folks, the word, “spiritual” has been deliberately emptied of anything to do with God. The word, “spiritual” has become highly subjective and political.
Next time someone says to you, “I am spiritual but not religious,” let them know -- as the Catholic Jedi tha you are -- that they are speaking an oxymoron, a statement that is self-contradictory

The popular pseudo-spiritual attitude is founded on fear: a fear of death. Sacred Scripture frequently speaks of the fear of death as a fundamental affliction of the human race. This fear of death underlies many people's deviant impulses and destructive kinds of behavior:
  • Obsessive anxieties
  • Aggression
  • Neurotic cravings for power and possessions
  • Compulsive quests for pleasure and sensuality
  • Efforts to "escape" through sex, drugs, alcohol, food, sleep, movies, TV, video games, computers, etc.
Catholic Faith offers a resolution: The Resurrection, eternal life,  and perfect fulfillment in Heaven.  
It is hope in Christ which is the antidote to the fear of death.

Today, however, secularism contradicts and undermines hope.  It reduces human existence to the here and now.  In the secular worldview, there is no resurrection, no eternal life.  After death comes nothing.
These secularist views are unswerving in our popular movies, songs, TV shows and news programs.  They do have an effect on our Catholic religion.  The result: 
  • People manipulate and use people to guarantee the acquisition of affluence and control;
  • People buy and consume more and more of what materialistic culture offers;
  • YET, with more and more, they feel worse and worse.
Many people today speak and live as if there is no God. 
  • They will still sense sin and moral dis-ease in themselves.  
  • They will sense evil in the world.  
  • They will cower at the thought of suffering or of dying.  
  • They want to know what meaning they have: What is the purpose of existence?  Why am I?  Why do I exist?  
Yet, many people are nervous atheists or uncomfortable agnostics.

Nonetheless,  the possibility of God existing is not allowed to explain any of their questions about reality.  Many people are faith-less, with no sense of God.  They have no true religion, but do practice pseudo-religions: the "ME" religions.  Those who adhere to the "ME"-religions are completely immersed in physical matter -- in material objects, in the five senses, in whatever can become a source of personal pleasure or narcissistic advantage or power over others.  

BUT... the pit hidden along the consumerist way of life is uncontrolled narcissism and despair.  
It's logical!  Since the only things that count are the sensual things you can see, hear, taste, touch, or buy, then God and anything remotely connected to Him are impossibilities! There's nothing after this existence.

Here in the United States, our society focuses on the here and now.  We want:
  • Immediate satisfaction
  • Immediate responses
  • Perennial youth and good looks
  • Instant answers
  • Self-indulgence without any negative consequences.  
  • We are bathed in a consumer culture and a youth culture.  
  • If something isn't consumable, tangible, solid, and immediately pleasurable -- in the here and now -- we are told that it isn't worth our time or interest.
In our society, day-to-day living moves at high velocity.  Many people are burdened with worries and confusion. 
Ironically, history has shown that whenever difficulties are experienced in the here and now --  usually  -- a growing concern for a personal afterlife, for any form of afterlife,  begins to take hold.  

Thus the explosion of TV shows involving ghost hunting, psychics, and paranormal events.  At the same time, many people claim to believe in an anonymous "Higher Power" and an afterlife -- a non-descript afterlife, with no specifics.  “New Age” movements have crazy-glued (pun intended) spiritual-sounding pap to money-making and economic wealth.
  • An example: Oprah Winfrey  offers a ten-week, online “new age” class on the best-selling book, "A New Earth," by guru, Eckhart Tolle.  "A New Earth" has already sold some 3.5 million copies worldwide, thanks largely to the publicity given to it by Oprah.
Using these falsehoods to feed a growing personal concern for an afterlife only results in the birth of wishy-washy, non-committal,  pseudo-religions without God.  They are "build-your-own" religions:  "navel gazing,"  "be in control of the universe,"  and "do whatever you feel like" religions.  They are narcissistic pretensions that say, "You  are god!  Worship yourself!"   These are blasé, lazy, self-indulgent beliefs that have no true, life-giving moral influence in anyone's life.

In some ways, our Catholic faith and hope in the resurrection of the dead have been infected by the non-committal, empty, materialistic attitudes prevalent among the faithless in our society.   In centuries past, the Church described these attitudes as pagan. “Pagan” is an accurate description of the modern attitudes. Primitive pagan attitudes about God and human existence have been around a long time.  And the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Now, ancient pagan attitudes are just using iPhones and wearing better suits.

To Be Continued ...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November, Part Two: Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones And Reflecting On Our Own Death

Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death.  The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November:  Memento mori --  "Remember you will die."  Here is Part Two of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying.

How does our present culture affect people's religious faith and understanding of death and the afterlife?

I assert that many people's aversion to facing and accepting death began with a commitment to Consumerism (also known as Materialism) and to Consumerism's consort and companion, Sensualism. A commitment to the  "consumer culture" removes the reality and proximity of death from everyday living.

Let’s take a brief look at some statistics which indicate the damage done by “consumer culture” to our Catholic beliefs about the afterlife.

A 1986 Gallup Poll reported that 9 of 10 U.S. citizens believe in God. Among U.S. teenagers in 1986, a large majority accept the notion that there is a heaven and hell. But only 58% thought there's some kind of survival after death.

In June 1993, Pope John Paul II addressed the bishops of Spain about the moral and spiritual crises in Spain's social and family life. He said that the media were partly to blame for the increasing religious indifference, especially among young people. Church officials in Spain have been deeply concerned about a study that revealed that less 50% of the young people in Spain believed in the soul, an afterlife, or the concept of sin. Only 57% said they believed in the divinity of Christ.

 1991 U.S. Catholic Magazine survey claimed that only 50% of respondents stated that, at times, they thought about death and the afterlife!   Specifically regarding Catholics and the whole topic of death, the survey claimed that 68% of the Catholics they surveyed fear the death of a loved one more than their own death.  Here's an interesting breakdown of the religious views that U.S. Catholic reported to be held by Catholics:
  • Only 52% said, "If I had more faith in God, I'd probably be less afraid of dying."
  • 67% wanted to confess to a priest before they die; 23% stated they do not want or need to confess to a priest before dying.
  • 76% agreed with the statement, "After I die, I imagine I'll have to give an account of my life."
  • 96% stated they believed in Heaven; 60% stated they know they are going to Heaven.
  • 57% stated they believed in Purgatory; 21% stated they know they are going to Purgatory.
  • 78% stated they believed in Hell; only 1% stated they know they are going to Hell.
  • 30% agreed with the statement, "After I die, I do not expect to be punished for sins I've committed on earth"; 52% rejected this statement.
A lot of ambiguity arrives with opinion poll results. The poll outlined here, while intriguing -- and even a little disturbing -- isn't helpful, as far as expressing the true understanding of Catholic Faith in the afterlife.
Thankfully, our Catholic Faith has never been a religion founded upon opinion polls. The suppositions -- even the consensus -- of a majority never mutate or delete the Truths that God has revealed to us in Christ Jesus and through His Church.

My dear Academicians, it's my hope that you will take some time during November to reflect and pray about our Faith’s assurance of the Resurrection of the dead.  And your beloved Catholic Jedi Academy stands ready to assist you in more reliably recognizing which popular views are: 
  • Misinterpretations of our Catholic Faith
  • Barren versions of our Catholic Faith
  • Or outright denials of our Catholic Faith in the reality of LIFE after death.

To Be Continued ...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November, Part One: Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones And Reflecting On Our Own Death

Into The Void...
Every November, Catholics have traditionally honored their deceased loved ones by having Holy Mass offered for them, by visiting the gravesite of our loved ones, and by personally contemplating the mysterious reality of ... death. The ancient Latin phrase is recalled by the Living during November: Memento mori --  "Remember you will die." 
Here is Part One of a reflection to help our Academicians enter the Catholic spiritual perspective on living... and on dying:

St. Augustine said in one of his sermons, “Listen to the relatives and friends at a Baptism, speculating about the future of this baby: ‘Will he be famous? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Will he be happy? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Will his life be long and healthy? Perhaps so, perhaps not.’ But no one ever says, ‘Will he ever DIE? Perhaps so, perhaps not.’”
The old axiom, "All people are mortal" does not tell you what death is. Rather:
"The ones I love are mortal" does. 
“My husband is dead” does. 
“My friend is dead” does. 
“My parents are dead” does. 
Love brings the truth of our own mortality home to us, where it belongs. 

It's amazing how easily we forget our mortality. How could we forget death? It is life's one certainty!  How has our society managed to dismiss death? What means have we discovered to continuously disregard death?
My analysis is, that our society has learned to disregard death through the influence of five prevalent views or philosophies of the nature of reality: Skepticism, Relativism, Secularism, and Consumerism and it's consort Sensualism.
Skepticism is an attitude and philosophy of doubt or unbelief with regard to religion.
Secularism is a social and political philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith.
Relativism is a philosophy that asserts that all criteria for judging good and evil are relative, varying with each individual, each culture, each social system, or each political environment.
Consumerism is a philosophy that promotes a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods, because of the belief that the increasing production, distribution, and consumption of goods is economically and socially desirable. 
Sensualism or Sensationalism, is a form of hedonism that emphasizes the pleasures of the senses or of the body as opposed to the pleasures or activities of the mind.

As Catholics, we contradict these views as untrue and dangerously misleading distortions of the reality that we human beings experience. To secularize death, to separate it from religious or spiritual connections, as our culture is now doing, is a blasphemy for Catholics.
Saint Francis of Assisi called death, with astonishing affection, "Sister Death." She is an enemy -- our Last Enemy. Yet, through our Catholic Faith in the Resurrection, death becomes our sister, our friend and our teacher -- if we are honest enough to seek the truth. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not seeking the truth these days.
And the simple truth is:
Death is our one certainty in this age of skepticism. 
Death is our one absolute in this age of relativism.
Death is our one inescapable brush with other-worldliness in this age of secular this-worldliness.

In our society, we try to disguise death, to mask it, and pretend that it doesn't really happen. We say that someone has "passed away." Or we have "another victim of street crime." Traffic on the highway is tied up due to "a fatal collision." The pre-born child violently aborted from its mother's womb is "a procedure scheduled for next Wednesday" or "gynecological tissue which has to be removed."  
We tend to avoid discussing death and the afterlife. These topics make us uncomfortable. We find them unpleasant and threatening. The fact is, that few of us are at peace with the inevitability of death. It creates an uneasiness in us, because:
Death means leaving behind values we have chosen. 
Death destroys one's status as rich or famous. 
Death seems to end the relationships we cherish. 
Death wipes out the pleasures of this world. (As one elderly lady put it to me, "After I die, I don't know what I will do without television.")

As post-World War Two western society entered the age of amazing technological achievements, the philosopher, Aldous Huxley who, in 1938 became a Vedantist (a follower of the mystical branch of Hinduism) wrote in his 1946 book, The Perennial Philosophy,  "... cleverness becomes the enemy, a source of spiritual blindness, moral evil and social disaster. At no period in history has cleverness been so highly valued or, in certain directions, so widely and efficiently trained as at the present time. And at no time have intellectual vision and spirituality been less esteemed, or the End to which they are proximate means less widely and less earnestly sought for. Because technology advances, we fancy that we are making corresponding progress all along the line; because we have considerable power over inanimate nature, we are convinced that we are the self-sufficient masters of our fate and captains of our souls; and because cleverness has given us technology and power, we believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that we have only to go on being yet cleverer in a yet more systematic way to achieve social order, international peace and personal happiness." 
In 1950, Huxley also wrote in Themes And Variations, "A belief in hell and the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton have never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumour... ." 
Huxley acerbically echoes our Catholic sensibility which holds that death forces us to admit that we are not "masters of our fate and captains of our souls." 

To Be Continued …

Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!

Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!
Take a moment and visit the MOSJ website.